Known as the mustard capital of France and part of the most famous French wine region is the city of Dijon. It is located in the Burgandy region of eastern France where the well-known red and white burgundy wine originated. The city produces more than 22 million wine bottles per year. This then offers backpackers a wide variety of quality wine for less than $5.
This city is created for those who want to escape the crowds and explore a hidden gem in France which also brings lower costs. All of the museums in Dijon, France offer free admission and inexpensive paid exhibits.
These are some of the best things to see while visiting Dijon, France on a budget.
A huge scenic monument located in the heart of the main square, Cour De Bar, is the Ducal Palace otherwise known as the Dukes and Estates of Burgundy. However, today, the palace is now the town hall for the city; a remarkably well-preserved building that has been used by the city since its construction in the 14th century. In the 17th century, however, the building was extended by Jules Hardouin Mansart who also built the Grand Trianon at Versailles.
Half of the palace is occupied by the local Marie and the Art Museum which are all free to visit. If you are up for a 300 stair climb you can make your way up the “guette” or watchtower overlooking the whole city of Dijon.
The palace is known as a center of culinary excellence with a huge kitchen that features six different fireplaces. Today, the palace is an administrative center with offices for the Mayor of Dijon.
Musee de la Vie Bourguignonne
An Ethnographic museum that presents rural and urban life in Burgandy from the 1700s to the early 1900s is the Musee de la Vie Bourguignonne. It is situated in a cloister of the former Bernardine Cistercian monastery just south of the city center of Dijon, France in the Ste-Anne District.
On the main floor, you’ll find an ethnographic collection from the 19th century along with common household items, decorations, and furniture. Ten tableaus representing traditional trades from the Burgandy region are found on the main floor. With it are grocers, hatters, butchers, and tools used in the 1800s. You’ll find life-size figures dressed in period costume demonstrating weddings, work, and family life.
The next floor presents a series of ten common shops that would have existed in Dijon prior to WWII. These include a beauty parlor, a watchmaker, a pharmacy, and the Pernot Biscuit Factory. The complete history of Dijon mustard can be found on this floor. Mustard production started in the Dijon area in the 13th century and was then named after the town. Historic mustard pots and equipment indicate the importance of the industry to the region.
As with other museums in Dijon, the Musee de la Vie Bourguignonne is free to the public making for a budget-friendly destination for backpackers.
Rue des Forges
One of the city’s oldest streets located in the heart of the city center. Among a variety of historic buildings is the Rue des Forges. The Hotel Morel Sauvergrain is found on the street which once belonged to a wet nurse of former Duke of Burgundy’s, Charles the Bold.
Other noteworthy hotels can be found on the block such as the Hotel Aubriot and the Hotel Chambellan which presents an example of civil architecture. Nestled between the upscale boutiques you’ll find mansions belonging to significant inhabitants from Dijon’s history.
Traditional French cuisine is easily found along this street making for one the best areas to stop and eat as it is buzzing with life and activities. Exploring the city by bicycle is highly recommended as being one of the fastest and easiest ways to explore. Velodi is a bike rental system with over 40 kiosks spaced throughout the city. Good for backpackers, to rent a bike costs less than $2.
Church of Notre Dame of Dijon
Visiting the churches and cathedrals in Dijon, France is one of the most recommended things to do; these sites are all free of charge. A medieval Catholic church considered a masterpiece of Gothic architecture is the Church of Notre Dame of Dijon. It is situated in the old center of the city close to the Palace of Dukes of Burgundy.
The church is situated on the street of the owl or the rue de la chouette; known as the owl’s trail. It was built in the 13th century with a large porch made of three arches on the lower level.
On the above levels are columns lined with gargoyles depicting monsters, animals, and humans. Facing the western entrance you can also get a view of the Jacquemart Clock; constructed in 1383. It also includes an automated bell with four statues including the jacquemart who hits the bell every hour.
However, there is one horrific legend of the church. It includes a groom who died from being hit on the head from a gargoyle that fell. Shortly after the event, the gargoyles were removed from the church but were reconstructed centuries later.
Museum d’Histoire Naturelle
A natural history museum located in Arquebuse Park in Dijon, France is the Museum d’Histoire Naturelle. It is one of three entities that make up the Jadin des Sciences. The other two parts include Hubert Curien Planetarium and the Arquebuse Botanical Garden. It was founded in 1836 by the Dijon naturalist Leonard Nodot. Later it was then built on the grounds of the former barracks of arquebusiers,1608.
On the ground floor, you’ll find geology which relates to the Burgundy region. This includes fossils like the leg bone of a mastodon and antlers of an Irish megaceros deer which has been extinct for thousands of years. The upper floor also includes interactive exhibits about the natural world featuring shells, taxidermies, and butterfly collections. As it goes with the museums in Dijon, it includes free admission and open Monday thru Friday.
Also known as the Cathedral of Saint Benignus of Dijon, the Dijon Cathedral is a Roman Catholic Church from the 15th century. The design of the church is intended to resemble the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. It originated as the church of the Abbey of St. Behignus which later became the seat of the Diocese of Dijon during the French Revolution.
Upon entering the building you’ll notice an amazing Burgundian patterned roof. Also, the crypt is the oldest part of the church and reveals part of the transept with four apsidioles. It contains the remains of the sarcophagus of St. Benigne who was Burgundy’s first martyr. Admission to the cathedral is free. Additionally, an option to view the crypt is available for $2 which is well worth the price.
Les Halles Market
One of the largest and best known covered markets in France is Les Halles. The ironwork throughout the Les Halles market in Dijon is much like the design of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. It was designed by a well-known French civil engineer, Gustave Eiffel; known for building several railways including the Garabit viaduct.
The market includes a massive selection of meats, candies, cheeses, fruits, vegetables, and pastries. A popular selection is the jambon persille; a laborious ham jelly mixed with garlic and parsley used with dishes such as boeuf bourguignon or coq au vin.
The La Buvette des Halles is a popular café found in the center of the market. It offers nibbles and some of the local wine. More than 200 stalls fill the market inside along the street with plenty of shaded tables set up for eating. The Owl Trail is also a special walking tour. It will take you to the market and other popular sites. This tour is free with, of course, a suggested donation. Les Halles is open mornings on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Also, remember to arrive early if you wish to get the best selections of produce.
Musee Des Beaux-Arts
Part of the Ducal Palace is one of the oldest museums in France, Musee Des Beaux Arts; also known as Dijon’s Fine Arts Museum. It was founded in 1787 during the Age of Enlightenment. This museum is greatly known for its collections related to the dukes of Burgundy. The museum also hosts diverse art collections. These range from medieval armor and religious paintings from the 15th century to ancient Egyptian art. Additionally, it also has Impressionism paintings.
Also, the museum features famous tombs such as Philip the Bold, John the Fearless and Margaret of Bavaria. Many benefactors have donated their collections to the museum. These include items such as Oriental porcelain, Islamic weapons, African ceremonial masks, Ancient Egyptian antiquities, and Roman art from Germany. The main galleries also include work from famous artists like Titain, Lorezno, Lotto, Monet, Manet, Sisley, and Gericault.
Backpacking through Dijon, France is a great way the explore the country. There’s always something to see and do wherever you go. This French city is perfect for your backpacking budget. Also, any money you spend will certainly be worth it; to see the culture, taste the food, and explore the city.