15 Best Things to Do in Tours (France)

The attractive city centre streets of Tours have led to this city in Western France being given a series of celebratory nicknames, from Little Paris for its culture, to the Garden of France for its parklands.

Situated on the River Loire as it makes its way towards the Atlantic Ocean, the city boasts a historic centre that is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Once the capital of France, Tours is simply awash with wonders old and new, from important museums to the botanical garden. The surrounding countryside is also filled with vineyards that have been producing renowned wines for decades.

Here are the best things to do in Tours.

1. Tours Cathedral

Cathedral of Saint-GatienSource: wjarek / shutterstock
Cathedral of Saint-Gatien

With a fine riverside location, the current Cathedral of Saint-Gatien was begun in 1170. However, the two intricately-decorated towers on its main façade date from only the fifteenth century. They incorporate some of the city’s original Roman-era walls in their form.

The several centuries of building work means the cathedral shifts in style from Romanesque to Renaissance, via the Gothic architecture often associated with such structures.

Its interior is decorated with a series of stained-glass windows, including a spectacular symmetrical window behind the organ, which is itself a masterpiece of artistry at least 500 years old.

2. The Old City

ToursSource: DiegoGarcia Photography / shutterstock

Typified by the medieval timber-framed buildings of Place Plumereau, the Old City of Tours has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its historic importance.

Its cobbled streets are filled with atmosphere, and dotted with all manner of independent cafes and boutique stores, mixing souvenirs with local foodstuffs.

The smell of freshly-baked bread, ripening cheeses, and spice blends hits its peak in the covered market of Place des Halles, where you can find rillette confit-like meats, local wines, and tasty traditional nougats.

Elsewhere, the winding and narrow streets are perfect for a little urban exploration, leading to stunning historic structures amid the sounds of the gently-flowing river.

3. Museum of Fine Arts

Museum of Fine ArtsSource: saiko3p / shutterstock
Museum of Fine Arts

The Musée des Beaux-Arts is located close to the cathedral in the former bishop’s palace. Its collection has expanded to some 12,000 works of art, with around one thousand on public display at any one time.

Its ground floor is dedicated to local art from the 1400s and 1500s, while other rooms are hung with paintings by Delacroix, Degas, and Monet among many other famous names.

The museum is surrounded by well-tended gardens, which include a large Lebanon cedar said to have been planted by Napoleon Bonaparte. A niche also contains the taxidermy remains of an elephant that escaped the Barnum and Bailey circus when it visited Tours in 1902.

Website: http://www.mba.tours.fr/

4. Tours Castle

Château de ToursSource: Flying Camera / shutterstock
Château de Tours

Also close to the cathedral, on the south bank of the Loire, is Tours Castle, the Château de Tours.

Built from the eleventh century onwards, the castle was a royal residence, and home to the Carolingian dynasty.

Taking the form of a rectangular mansion attached to the much older, round form of the Tower of Guise, its many notable occasions includes the marriage of King Louis XI to Charlotte of Savoy in 1436, which led his father to send an army to try and stop him.

It now hosts temporary exhibitions throughout the year, with a focus on contemporary art and photography.

Website: https://chateau.tours.fr/

5. Botanical Garden

Botanical GardenSource: Flying Camera / shutterstock
Botanical Garden

Spread over five hectares, Tours botanical garden, or jardin botanique, is the oldest of the city’s parklands, founded in 1843 by public subscription.

It began life as a medical garden for the nearby hospital, housing several thousand plants thought to have medicinal properties within the garden, greenhouses, and orchard.

The greenhouses and an orangery survive to this day, alongside attractions including a pool planted with water lilies to the north of the garden, and a small petting zoo.

Website: https://www.tours.fr/services-infos-pratiques/585-jardin-botanique.htm

6. Hôtel Goüin

Hôtel GoüinSource: facebook.com
Hôtel Goüin

Important enough to have previously appeared on a French postage stamp, the Hôtel Goüin is a hôtel particulier mansion built in the 1400s by a family who made their fortune in the silk trade.

It takes its name from the banking family that purchased the property in 1738, and is now occupied by the collection of the Goüin Museum.

A delight inside and out, its exterior has beautiful carvings above the windows and on the various projecting surfaces, while the interior displays objects from the region’s prehistory right up to the 1700s.

Website: http://www.hotelgouin.fr/

7. Touraine vineyards

Touraine vineyardsSource: KanphotoSS / shutterstock
Touraine vineyards

Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, this time for its landscape of rolling vines and hill-top castles, the Loire Valley is home to world-famous vineyards.

The Touraine sub-division centred on Tours produces millions of litres every year, with white, red, and rosé wines that meet pretty much every taste.

Among them is Domaine Nicholas Paget, operated by a family has been in the wine trade for five generations.

This vineyard offers visitors a huge range of options for exploring, from tours of their underground cellars to bicycle routes around the grounds, in addition to picnics and more traditional tasting sessions.

The vineyard is 35 kilometres southwest of central Tours.

Website: https://domainepaget.fr/

8. Pont Wilson

Pont WilsonSource: Leonid Andronov / shutterstock
Pont Wilson

Crossing the Loire in the centre of Tours, the Pont Wilson, or Wilson Bridge, was named after US President Woodrow Wilson. He received the honour after providing American troops to support French and British forces during the First World War.

Often decked out with flags gently fluttering in the wind, it is the city’s oldest river crossing, first dating to the 1760s.

Pont Wilson is just one of the many bridges, both ancient and modern, that now cross the Loire at various points along its journey to the ocean.

Of the 40 or so that exist today, each and every one has contributed to the history and look of this stunning region.

9. Basilica of Saint Martin

Basilica of Saint MartinSource: Leonid Andronov / shutterstock
Basilica of Saint Martin

Constructed over the traditional burial site of the saint, this basilica was first established in 471 AD.

Replaced several times since, the current structure dates from 1886, with the rebuilding of religious structures destroyed during the French Revolution almost a hundred years earlier. It was only rededicated in 1925.

The church was constructed in a Neo-byzantine style, distinguishing it from Tours cathedral. Its Charlemagne Tower is one of the main survivors of the former structure, alongside the clock tower.

Devotees can find the re-established tomb of Saint Martin in the crypt, whose walls are covered with votive prayers.

Website: https://www.basiliquesaintmartin.fr/

10. Château de Plessis-lèz-Tours

Château de Plessis-lèz-ToursSource: Yannick Bonnet (yannick.bonnet@laposte.net) / Wikimedia | CC0
Château de Plessis-lèz-Tours

The remaining portion of Plessis-lèz-Tours Castle in La Riche represents a much larger U-shaped structure also pulled down during the French Revolution, this time because of its association with French royalty and the ancien régime.

A favourite residence of Louis XI, it also witnessed a meeting between France’s Henry III and IV a hundred years later.

The small red-brick building with limestone detailing that can be visited today includes the room in which Louis XI died, carved wood dated to the 1400s, and cramped metal cages that were once used to hold prisoners.

La Riche is on the western outskirts of modern-day Tours, close to the botanical garden.

11. Cruise down river

Tours river cruiseSource: saiko3p / shutterstock
Tours river cruise

Enjoy incredible views of the town from the waters of the Loire, slipping under bridges and past the city’s most important sites, including the castle and cathedral.

The most authentic tours take place on traditional wooden-built flat-bottomed boats known as Toue that are able to slip across even the shallowest parts of the Loire.

With seating for around 10-30, even on the busiest of summer days these cruises are a tranquil way to explore Tours further without wearing out your feet.

12. Musée de Compagnonnage

Musée de CompagnonnageSource: facebook.com
Musée de Compagnonnage

This museum hosts a vast collection of pieces related to France’s Guilds – the stone masons, leather workers, carpenters, and roofers that has made the country what it is today.

Its display cases show off everything from shoes to scale models of cathedrals, all housed within a dramatic chateau with sweeping rooflines pierced with stonework chimneys.

Certainly worth the short journey to the countryside around the town of Blois in the Loire Valley, you can reach the museum’s home of Château de Chambord in roughly an hour.

Website: https://www.museecompagnonnage.fr/

13. Town Hall

Town HallSource: Leonid Andronov / shutterstock
Town Hall

Equally decorative is Tours Town Hall, or Hôtel de Ville. In many ways its structure is typically French, with its columned frontage dotted with statuary reminding many of train stations and palaces that can be found throughout the country.

Officially, it boasts a Louis XIII style, rich in rococo detail. Inside, the Town Hall is just as fine, with grand staircases leading to rooms that are undeniably luxurious. Here you’ll find huge fireplaces, and stucco work that spans its walls and ceilings.

14. Cloître de la Psalette

Cloître de la PsaletteSource: wjarek / shutterstock
Cloître de la Psalette

The setting for the story Le Curé de Tours by Balzac, who was born in Tours, these cloisters date from the fifteenth century.

Connected with the cathedral, the cloister takes its name from the religious psalms that were heard entering its doorways from the music school next door.

It once contained one of the most important libraries in France, and while this has now been distributed to other centres across the country, its historic architecture remains, and has been legally protected since 1889.

Website: http://www.cloitre-de-la-psalette.fr/

15. Grand Theatre

Grand TheatreSource: Pierre-Olivier / shutterstock
Grand Theatre

The city’s premier performance space, the Grand Theatre is the base for both the Opéra de Tours opera company and the region’s official symphony orchestra.

Constructed in 1872 in the Second Empire style, it took its influence from the Opéra Garnier in Paris. It is situated in the Old Town and has seating capable of receiving an audience of 900.

However, even if there are no shows scheduled while you’re in town, you can still take pleasure in admiring its front from one of the cafes nearby.

Website: http://www.operadetours.fr/

15 Best Things to Do in Tours (France):

  • Tours Cathedral
  • The Old City
  • Museum of Fine Arts
  • Tours Castle
  • Botanical Garden
  • Hôtel Goüin
  • Touraine vineyards
  • Pont Wilson
  • Basilica of Saint Martin
  • Château de Plessis-lèz-Tours
  • Cruise down river
  • Musée de Compagnonnage
  • Town Hall
  • Cloître de la Psalette
  • Grand Theatre