In Troyes (pronounce: trwa), the smallest, and most upstream, of the four cities traversed by the river Seine, you will find plenty to amaze and entertain you for at least three days.
Be astonished by the greatest number of colorful, medieval half-timbered houses in France – there are 3000 of them. Admire stained glass windows – the city boasts some of the most wonderful in the world with a dedicated museum to boot – then wonder at the ingenuity of humankind in the lovely MOPO museum, which focuses on tools, trades and crafts over the centuries. Soak in some world-class modern art, and then shop till you drop in factory outlets. When your feet are tired and your mind is full, you can quench your thirst (in moderation, naturally) with Champagne – Troyes is the capital of the Aube department, which produces a quarter of the region’s famous bubbly beverage.
Plan your visit to Troyes with this first-timer’s guide to everything from where to stay to the best things to see and do.
When should I go to Troyes?
Anytime. When it’s warm and sunny, enjoy wandering around the old city, known as Le Bouchon (the cork) because it is shaped like a champagne cork lying on its side with the head, fashioned by the Seine, facing east. A canal with fountains slices the cork north to south. West of this canal the parallel sides of the cork’s body lie where the ancient city walls used to be.
In more inclement weather, keep warm and dry visiting the churches and museums, or trying the local delicacy, andouillette de Troyes (chitterlings sausage), in one of the many restaurants.
At the end of October you can catch the six-day Nuits de Champagne (Champagne Nights) music festival.
How long should I spend in Troyes?
Two or three days is an ideal length of time to explore Troyes. Although Le Bouchon is small (2km/1.2 miles from east to west and 820m/2690ft north to south), you can spend at least half a day just wandering along the streets, many of which are pedestrianized, admiring the colorful, medieval, half-timbered houses. Take special notice of the Maison des Chanoines, on the corner of the rue Émile Zola (the main pedestrianized shopping street) and the rue Turenne, and you’ll notice that the front door is on the first floor. That’s because the house was moved here in 1969 but reconstructed on a modern, concrete ground floor to align its roof with others in the street. Apparently it’s easy to move half-timbered houses, as long as you make sure you number all the beams and put them back up in the right order!
Don’t miss the narrowest street, the ruelle des Chats (cat street). It’s nothing to do with cats, apparently, but is an ancient misspelling. It should have been the ruelle des chas (eye of a needle street), which is much more appropriate given how small the road is.
In three days you’ll be able to visit your pick of the eight remarkable churches and at least two museums, and still have time left over to shop or go 25km (16 miles) east to the Lac de la Forêt d’Orient. This is the biggest of three artificial lakes to the east of Troyes, created to regulate the flow of the Seine river and limit flooding in Paris. The lake is a haven for fishers, bird watchers and water-sports enthusiasts.
Is it easy to get to and around in Troyes?
It’s a 90-minute, €33 train ride from Paris Gare de l’Est to Troyes and there are 16 trains a day. The train station is at the western end of Le Bouchon, so it’s a quick and easy walk into the heart of the city, which is best explored on foot.
If you prefer to cycle, you can rent a bicycle (€6 a day for a traditional pedal bike, €8 for a tandem, €15 for an electric bike ) from La Maison du Vélo at the train station. In summer, it’s best to book ahead either by phone (03 25 70 72 08) or by email (firstname.lastname@example.org). Child-carriers and helmets are also available to rent.
If you come by car either east along the A5 from Paris (178km/111 miles, approx 2.5 hours from central Paris) or, straight south down the A34 and A26 from Belgium and the Netherlands, you can park your car in the large (and free) outdoor car park in front of Le Cube, the Troyes exhibition center just beyond the south-west corner of Le Bouchon. From there it’s an easy 700m (2297ft) walk into the historic city center.
The tourist office and hotels can provide you with a walking-tour map that takes in all the major sights. To make it easy, the route is indicated by small bronze triangles marked with an engraving of a knight templar embedded in the pavements.
What are the best things to do in Troyes?
About 40% of the planet’s stained-glass windows, the oldest of which are 850 years old, are concentrated in Troyes and its department, Aube. So even if you have only a short time to spend here, make sure to visit at least a few.
Start your visit at the western end of Le Bouchon where the train station and Le Cube car park are. If you’re not in a hurry, your first port of call could be the most baroque of Troyes’ churches: Église St-Pantaléon (where the local Polish community worships), remarkable for three things: height, light and statues.
Because the nave is narrow, it makes the chestnut-wood barrel-vaulted ceiling which rises 28m (92ft) seem immensely high. The glass windows, decorated with grey-tone paintings, fill the 17th-century top half of the nave, allowing light to flood inside the building and giving an impression of weightlessness. But its most extraordinary feature is its abundant population of statues (more than 60), most of which were not made for this church but found a home here after the French Revolution.
Some came from religious buildings that were closed and others from two religious buildings in Troyes that were totally destroyed during the Revolution: the Notre Dame aux Nonnains abbey and the St Etienne collegiate church. For the latter, Dominique le Florentin (1501–1570), a Florentine artist who’d come to France to work on Fontainebleau Palace, sculpted a number of statues, which are now in St-Pantaléon.
Then head north, keeping to your right the atypical open-air belfry of the St-Jean-au-marché church where King Henry V of England married Catherine of France, and head towards Troyes’ oldest church, Ste-Madeleine, which contains one of only 21 rood screens in France. This early 16th-century stone partition between the chancel and the nave drips with intricate, flamboyant sculptures that were all polychrome until they were whitened in the 18th century. It’s worth taking the 20-minute audio guide.
Then continue north and west, squeezing through the ruelle des Chats, to the St-Urbain basilica which, after having been turned into a grain silo and then a general store during the French Revolution, has resumed its place as a jewel of Gothic architecture, often compared to the Sainte Chapelle in Paris because of the stained glass. On a sunny day the colors transfer to the stone walls and pillars bringing them alive.
Cross the Trévois canal (on your left look for the statue of the dog who’s jumped through the bridge railings to chase geese), to La Cité du Vitrail, a stained glass museum that opened in mid-December 2022. Instead of straining your neck to look up, as you would in a church, here you are at eye-level with the stained glass to better admire the skill of the craftspeople who made them and learn about their craft.
Just behind the Cité du Vitrail, slip through the large black and gold wrought iron gates into the lovely medicinal herb garden, one of a number of similar-style gardens recently created in Troyes.
Continuing west for 350m (1148ft) you’ll reach the single-towered (because money ran out to build the second one) Cathédrale St-Pierre et St-Paul with its absolutely stunning 1500 sq m (16,146 sq ft) of stained-glass windows, amongst the most remarkable in France. Here too on a sunny day the colors reverberate onto the light Burgundy stone of the soaring Gothic pillars that rise to create a vault 29.5m (97ft) high. Don’t miss the Treasure house, a low-vaulted room to the right of the nave, which experts say is one of the three or four most important church treasures in the country.
Just alongside the cathedral is the Musée d’Art Moderne, reopened in 2022 after a four-year renovation. It was created in 1982 to house the extraordinary collection of Pierre and Denise Lévy who made a fortune in the textile industry. They had discerning taste: Ernst, Dufy, Millet, Rodin, Degas, Courbet, Gaugin, Matisse and Braque are just a few of the artists whose work is exhibited.
Because textiles made Troyes’ fortune before Champagne was a thing (you’ll notice quite a few old factory brick chimneys), this is the city where the first factory outlets opened. Today, there is a vast shopping center of factory outlets, McArthurGlen Troyes Designer Outlet, which you can reach by taking bus 1 from Troyes train station or bus 12 from the city center, or by driving – the complex is 8km (5 miles) north-west of the Le Cub parking.
My favorite thing to do in Troyes
Now I am not particularly skilled in home improvements nor particularly enamored of tools, but am nevertheless enchanted by the Maison de l’Outil et de la Pensée Ouvrière (Tools and Trades museum), known as simply MOPO.
This boasts a collection of more than 12,000 handmade tools from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, beautifully showcased in 65 displays organized by theme and divided into four families: wood, iron, animal and mineral. Its resource center, containing more than 32,000 ancient and contemporary reference books, is the second-largest technical library of the country. Explanatory panels in the museum are in French, but the excellent audio guide in English (and other languages) gives an overall introduction to the showcase in one voice, and a second voice then gives details on a number of the tools on display. If you don’t want to spend two hours in the museum, you could skip this second voice.
How much money do I need for a visit to Troyes?
Troyes is not an expensive city to visit. You won’t need any money to visit the churches: entry to all of them is free (they open at 9:30am, are shut from 12:30–2pm and close at 5pm in winter and 6pm from April 1 to October 31).
If you visit in winter (November 1–March 31) entry to the Modern Art Museum is free, as it is all year for those under the age of 26. Otherwise the tariff is €7. All the museums are free on the first Sunday of the month year-round. The Cité du Vitrail is €4 (€5 if there’s a temporary exhibition), free for anyone under 26, while MOPO is €8 (€4 for 12–18 year olds, free for under 12s). The excellent audio guide is €1.
There is accommodation for every budget from luxury to youth hostel. If you prefer independent establishments at the top end you may like the gorgeous 5-star La Maison de Rhodes (€300+ a night), its 4-star sister hotel (€230+ a night) Le Champ des Oiseaux next door, or the Maison M guesthouse (€140–180 breakfast included).
The environmentally-aware will like the Ibis Styles hotel (from around €88, breakfast included), the first in France to get the low-energy building BBC (Bâtiment Basse Consommation) label. Those on a tighter budget should look to the €18 a night charged by the Troyes-Rosières youth hostel (25 minutes on bus 8 from the city center and the bus ticket costs €1.35).
If you’d rather go for self-catering accommodation, the average price per night in the historic city center is €102.
A guide to average daily costs in Troyes
Lunch for two: €15
Mid-range three-course meal: €60
Pint of local beer: €6
0.33 liter bottle of imported beer: €2.50
But we are in Champagne here! At Chez Philippe (11 rue Champeaux) you can taste three different Champagnes for €15. Or join the crowds of locals at Le Millésimé (7 Place St Rémy), a tapas bar that specializes in Champagne. Aux Crieurs de Vin (2 place Jean Jaures) you choose your bottle of Champagne or wine in the cellar and then enjoy it accompanied by a simple meal of charcuterie and cheese. The price obviously depends on the bottle you’ve chosen.