11 Best Sights in Reims, Champagne Country

Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims

Fodor's choice

Recently restored for its 800th birthday, this magnificent Gothic cathedral provided the setting for the coronations of French kings. The great historical saga began with Clovis, king of the Franks, who was baptized in an early structure on this site at the end of the 5th century; Joan of Arc led her recalcitrant Dauphin here to be crowned King Charles VII; Charles X's coronation, in 1825, was the last. The east-end windows have stained glass by Marc Chagall and Imi Knoebel. Admire the vista toward the west end, with an interplay of narrow pointed arches. The glory of Reims's cathedral is its facade: it's so skillfully proportioned that initially you have little idea of its monumental size. Above the north (left) door hovers the Laughing Angel, a delightful statue whose famous smile threatens to melt into an acid-rain scowl now that pollution has succeeded war as the ravager of the building's fabric. With the exception of the 15th-century towers, most of the original building went up in the 100 years after 1211. You can climb to the top of the towers and peek inside the breathtaking timber-and-concrete roof (reconstructed in the 1920s with Rockefeller money) for €8. A stroll around the outside reinforces the impression of harmony, discipline, and decorative richness. The east end presents an idyllic sight across well-tended lawns.

Ruinart

Fodor's choice

Founded back in 1729, just a year after Louis XV's decision to allow wine to be transported by bottle (previously it could only be moved by cask), Ruinart effectively kick-started the Champagne industry. Nicolas Ruinart established the high-end Champagne house in Reims, realizing the dreams of his uncle Dom Thierry Ruinart, who was a close friend of Dom Pérignon himself. Four of its huge, church-size chalk galleries (24 in all, over three levels) are listed as historic monuments. The two-hour guided tour starts with a view of the high-tech production line behind a glass wall, and then takes you through the warren of chalk-hewn caves stacked with Champagne bottles undergoing various stages of maturation. This is the costliest visit in the area; if you're willing to shell out €75, you can taste a cuvée premium and a vintage cuvée prestige Champagne, either a Blanc de Blancs or a rosé, in the stylish tasting room. Visits need to be reserved online, at least two weeks in advance.

4 rue des Crayères, Reims, France
03–26–77–51–53
Sight Details
Rate Includes: From €70, Closed Tues. and Wed. in mid-Oct.–mid-Jan.

Taittinger

Fodor's choice

Cavernous chalk cellars, first used by monks for wine storage, house 15 million bottles and partly occupy the crypt of the 13th-century abbey that used to stand on this spot. Inside, you can also see a model of the abbey and its elegant church, both demolished during the French Revolution. The 1½-hour guided tour starts with a short film, then continues with a walk through the 4th-century Gallo-Roman cellars and 13th-century vaults of St-Nicaise Abbey, and ends in a huge cave where locals were once sheltered from the Germans. The visit is topped off with a tasting. There are seven categories of tastings; the top-end choice, L'Instant de Grâce (€77), offers three Champagnes, including Taittinger's finest cuvée, the Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs. Tours in English happen just about every hour—check online for times. No appointment is necessary. Due to major restorations Taittinger's cellars will be closed until 2025.

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Basilique St-Remi

This 11th-century Romanesque-Gothic basilica honors the 5th-century saint who gave his name to the city and baptized Clovis (the first king of France) in 498. The interior seems to stretch into the endless distance, an impression created by its relative murk and lowness. The airy four-story Gothic choir contains some fine stained glass from the 12th century. The holy phial used in the crowning of monarchs was formerly kept alongside the basilica in the Abbaye Royale; today that building houses an interesting museum that highlights the history of the abbey, the Gallo-Roman history of the town, and the military history of the region.

Pl. Chanoine Ladame, Reims, 51100, France
03–26–35–36–90
Sight Details
Rate Includes: Museum €5.50, Museum closed Mon.

Cryptoportique

A Gallo-Roman underground gallery and crypt, now a semi-subterranean venue for municipal expositions, was initially constructed around AD 200 beneath the forum of Reims's predecessor, the Roman town of Durocortorum.

Pl. du Forum, Reims, 51100, France
03–26–77–45–00
Sight Details
Rate Includes: Free, Closed Oct.–Apr.

Le Vergeur Museum

One of the best examples of late medieval and early Renaissance architecture in Reims was built during the 13th century. Originally overlooking the historic linen-and-wheat market in the center of town, this noble town house changed hands between aristocrats and Champagne traders before being acquired in 1910 by Hugues Kraft—a man whose sole passion was preserving the city's historic buildings. It was completely restored after the WWI bombings and today houses an impressive collection of historical prints, paintings, and furnishings from the region, as well as an original, complete series of 15th-century Albert Dürer prints of the "Apocalypse" and "Large Passion." Guided tours, included in the ticket price, at are 10 am, 11 am, and every 30 minutes from 2 pm to 5 pm.

Mumm

Now the third-largest Champagne producer in the world, Mumm's distinctive Cordon Rouge label with the red slash is proudly held up at every Formula 1 winner's podium. These may not be the most spectacular cellars in the region, but it's a practical option if you don't have much time; you can walk here from the cathedral and the train station. Mumm was confiscated by the French state in World War I because it had always remained under German ownership. Later the state sold it to Dubonnet, and today Pernod Ricard is the proud owner. The 1½-hour visit starts with a short film and then takes you on a journey into the cavernous cellars. A guide leads the way (English tours need to be reserved in advance online) explaining the Champagne-making process step by step. There is also a small museum showcasing ancient tools, machines, and barrels. The tour ends with your choice of three dégustations: a glass of Cordon Rouge (€28), a guided blind tasting of a vintage cuvée (€35), or a Grand Cru tasting of two special cuvées (€50).

29 rue du Champ-de-Mars, Reims, 2712 51053, France
03–26–49–59–70
Sight Details
Rate Includes: From €28, Closed Nov. and Dec., Tues. in Jan.–May, Wed. in Jan.–Apr., Mon. in Jan.–Mar., and Sun. in Jan. and Feb.

Musée de la Reddition

Also known as the Salle du 8-Mai-1945 or the "little red school house," this museum is a well-preserved map-covered room used by General Eisenhower as Allied headquarters at the end of World War II. It was here that General Alfred Jodl signed the German surrender at 2:41 am on May 7, 1945. Fighting officially ceased at midnight the next day. The museum also presents a collection of local photos, documents, uniforms, and artifacts recounting the fighting, occupation, and liberation of Reims. Guided tours begin with a short film in English and French.

Musée des Beaux-Arts

Two blocks southwest of Reims's massive cathedral, this noted museum has an outstanding collection of paintings, which includes no fewer than 27 Corots, as well as Jacques-Louis David's unforgettable Death of Marat (the portrait shows the revolutionary polemicist Jean-Paul Marat stabbed to death in his bath—a deed committed by Charlotte Corday in 1793). It also houses a significant collection of 20th-century art featuring Art Deco, surrealist, and post-1945 abstract pieces. Due to major restorations, the museum will be closed to the public until 2025.

Palais du Tau

Formerly the Archbishop's Palace, this UNESCO World Heritage List museum has an impressive display of tapestries and coronation robes of 32 French kings, as well as several statues rescued from the facade of the Notre-Dame de Reims. The second-floor views of the cathedral, which stands alongside it, are terrific. Due to major restorations, the Palais du Tau is currently closed to the public until 2025.

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2 pl. du Cardinal-Luçon, Reims, 51100, France
03–26–47–81–79
Sight Details
Rate Includes: €8, Closed Mon. Temporarily closed until 2025

Pommery

This turreted wedding-cake extravaganza on the city outskirts was designed by Jeanne-Alexandrine Pommery (1819–1890), a formidable Champagne widow. The 18 km (11 miles) of cellars (about a hundred feet underground) are reached by a grandiose 116-step staircase. The visit continues with either a self-guided or one-hour guided tour of the cellars, which date to Gallo-Roman times. Along the path, contemporary artwork and installations sit next to the stacks of bubbly. The tour ends with a sommelier-guided tasting of either one or two cuvées. Reserve ahead of time for guided tours. Be sure to also visit the Art Nouveau Villa Demoiselle across the street (also owned by Pommery).