While France may be among the most popular tourist destinations in the world, with the lure of Notre-Dame, the Eiffel Tower, and the Louvre, many travellers sadly don’t venture beyond the nation’s capital.
Yes, it’s easy to fall in love with Paris, but France is full of plenty of other worthy destinations; smaller cities and rural towns that are bursting with authentic French culture and intriguing history.
One such city is Metz.
Known as the “Ville d’Art et d’Histoire” (City of Art and History), and named as one of France’s ‘Top French Cities‘ for 2020, Metz is the capital of the Lorraine region in north-eastern France, set along the beautiful Moselle River.
Just three hours by car from Paris, or half that by train, Metz elegantly blends a rich past and priceless monuments with modern innovation, and is especially well suited for pedestrians and bikes. Its lively atmosphere and perfect size makes it ideal for short breaks, though you could easily find more than enough to keep you entertained for weeks.
No idea where to start? Here’s a list of things to do; a full run down of churches, parks, museums, festivals, and food! Before you travel check things like your passport, and do US citizens need a visa for france? etc.
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Things to do in Metz: The Best Churches, Museums, Festivals & Food!
Visiting Metz in 2020
With the arrival of 2020 comes the best time to explore the city of Metz – there are a number of significant events this year, including the 800th anniversary of Saint-Etienne Cathedral, and the 10th anniversary of the Centre Pompidou-Metz art museum.
2020 is also bringing exciting new luxury hotels to Metz.
The future Maison Heler Metz will become one of the newest additions to Hilton’s Curio-Collection, designed by the great Philippe Starck; a French designer who is responsible for a number of popular hotels and restaurants, and was commissioned to design Steve Jobs’s yacht, Venus (fun fact!).
With a history dating back thousands of years, Metz’s extensive Roman ruins and rich cultural offerings have seen it placed on a tentative list for becoming a future UNESCO World Heritage Site, which we’ll hopefully hear about soon. In fact, Metz was once larger than Paris if you dig deep into history, back when ancient Paris was known as Lutetia!
With so much happening, Metz is fast becoming one of France’s top trending travel destinations. From delicious food and exciting festivals to relaxing parks and beautiful museums, a Metz holiday can be enjoyed on nearly any budget, and for any interest.
Image: Temple Neuf by N i c o l a (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr
Churches to Visit in Metz
Cathédrale Saint Étienne de Metz
Metz is home to a church so popular it goes by a bunch of different names. While the locals call the city’s most splendid church Cathédrale Saint Étienne de Metz, it is also called Cathedral of Saint Stephen of Metz, The Lantern of God, or simply Metz Cathedral.
This Gothic style Roman Catholic cathedral displays one of the highest naves and greatest expanses of stained-glass windows in the world. Built during the 13th century, the cathedral turns 800 years old in 2020.
One of Europe’s tallest Gothic buildings, the cathedral sits in the historic centre of the city and cannot be missed. While the exterior is impressive, the cathedral’s interior with its 6,500 square metres of colourful stained-glass windows crafted by Gothic and Renaissance master glass makers are the true highlight.
Image provided by Inspire Metz
The Lorraine region’s only octagonal-shaped chapel, Templiers Chapel is the last remaining remnant of the Knights Templar in Metz, and features beautiful frescoes that climb the walls and ceiling.
Construction began on the church back in the 12th century and it displays a blend of Romanesque and Gothic architecture. Today the chapel forms part of the Arsenal Cultural Centre, and although it may not always be opened to the public, it pays to inquire about the possibility of taking a guided tour.
The chapel is sometimes also used as an exhibition hall.
Image credit: LaurPhil (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr
Surrounded by the Moselle River and towering high above Petit Saulcy Island, Temple Neuf is a Protestant church constructed in the Romanesque Revival style. While it may only be roughly 120 years old, it is one of Metz most beautiful churches.
The church, which could be mistaken for a medieval castle is especially splendid to see at night when it’s lit up, the lights being reflected off the river below.
Today, Temple Neuf is often used for art expos, music concerts, and as a conference centre.
Basilica of Saint-Pierre-aux-Nonnains
The oldest church in Metz and one of the oldest churches in Europe, the Basilica of Saint-Pierre-aux-Nonnains dates back to the 4th century.
The pre-medieval church once formed part of an ancient Roman spa, went on to become a Roman school, and then became a warehouse. The church has recently been transformed into a cultural centre, hosting concerts and various exhibitions.
Best Museums in Metz
A branch of Paris’s Centre Pompidou, Centre Pompidou-Metz features a mix of modern and contemporary art. The museum houses France’s largest temporary exhibition space outside Paris, containing both semi-permanent pieces of art as well as works of art borrowed from the Musée National d’Art Moderne within Paris’s Centre Pompidou.
Centre Pompidou displays Europe’s largest collection of 20th-century art, and the branch located in Metz will celebrate its 10th anniversary in 2020.
The museum sees more than half a million people pass through its doors annually, making it the most popular cultural venue in France outside Paris. In addition to admiring art, you’ll find a lovely restaurant where you can enjoy views of the surrounding gardens in the outdoor terrace seating area.
Image provided by Inspire Metz
La Cour d’Or
Also known as The Golden Courtyard, La Cour d’Or is Metz’s must-see history museum. The museum explores the city’s rich history, displaying artefacts dating from the ancient Roman times up until the 19th century.
The museum’s Gallo-Roman collections were acquired from archaeological finds in the area and are some of the most important discovered in France.
Notable displays include the Mithraic Altar discovered in Sarrebourg and ancient Roman baths. Other displays include European paintings from the 16th to 20th centuries as well as medieval and Bronze Age treasures.
The FRAC Lorraine
This public collection of contemporary art is housed in the Hôtel Saint-Livier, which is said to be Metz’s oldest public building.
Displaying nearly a thousand works of art from hundreds of regional, national, and international artists, The FRAC aims to educate the public about today’s art and offers new fresh exhibitions several times a year.
Image credit: Fred Romero (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr
Parks & Gardens in Metz
Metz is known for its wealth of green spaces in the form of parks and gardens. The city boasts one of the country’s largest commercial pedestrian areas and offers up nearly 600 acres of parks.
You’ll find the lovely Seille Park near the Centre Pompidou-Metz. Running along the Seille River, this park is especially nice during the spring and summer months when flowers are in bloom and it’s possible to spot otters and various bird species.
Plan d’eau sits along the Moselle River where a lake of sorts is formed, allowing for boating and kayaking. Bask in the sun on the grass and be sure to take in the unique views of Saint-Etienne cathedral and Temple Neuf.
The Jardin botanique de Metz also makes for a nice afternoon in nature, displaying rose gardens and greenhouses containing exotic palms, cacti, and orchids.
Food to Feast on in Metz
Metz offers a food scene filled with both local specialities and international delights. You’ll find plenty of Michelin star restaurants to choose from and a visit to the Covered Market or Marché Couvert is a must.
Considered to be France’s most extravagant market, the Covered Market is home to dozens of local food producers selling fresh local produce and culinary delights. You’ll find the market in the historical centre of Metz.
The region is known for its quiche Lorraine, Moselle wines, Lorrain pâté, potée, and the golden plum known as the Metz Mirabelle which is often used to make jams and fruit brandy.
Don’t forget to sample some suckling pig and maybe a few Metz Balls which are ganache-stuffed biscuits coated with marzipan, caramel, and dark chocolate.
Festivals in Metz
So loved is the Metz Mirabelle plum that the city hosts a festival to celebrate it. The Mirabelle Plum Festival is held every August during the annual plum harvest.
The golden coloured and very flavourful plums are used in all kinds of culinary delights including jams, sweet alcohols, beauty products and cosmetics, and soaps. The festival takes place over several weeks, and you can enjoy concerts, dances, hot air balloons, firework shows, and craft markets. They even crown a Mirabelle Plum Queen!
Also held in the summer is the several month long Constellations digital arts festival. Running from June to September, the festival features projections, art trails, exhibitions, and music acts from both local and international artists. The festival is a rather recent addition to Metz’s line-up of annual festivals, the first taking place in 2017.
Come winter, it’s all about the Marché de Noël. The Christmas markets and festivities of Metz are the second most visited in France (click here for a full list of French Christmas markets).
The celebrations kick off around late November and include the Saint Nicholas festival which takes place at Place de la Comédie. You’ll find plenty of Christmases shopping stalls here and can enjoy the annual parade with its many magical floats.
Christmas also brings the Trail of Lanterns where you can see illuminate bears, elves, toy soldiers, and more along the Moselle River as well as take a ride on the giant 60-metre-tall ferris wheel, Europe’s largest temporary big wheel. Check out the open air ice rink and warm up with Mirabelle plum white mulled wine.
Porte des Allemands
Last but not least, we’ll leave you with one of Metz’s medieval structures that’s so prominent it deserves a section of its own.
Porte des Allemands, or “Door of the Germans”, stands prominently in the Quartier Outre-Seille proudly above the Seille River. One of the city’s most loved attractions, the medieval bridge castle with its 13th century towers is a sight to behold.
Named after the Teutonic Knights of the day, the fortification provided protection against attacks for centuries. Today, sections of Porte des Allemands have been converted into walking paths, allowing visitors the chance to see this impressive structure from all angles.
This post was sponsored by France Tourism as part of their Top French Cities campaign. Check out the other French cities that made the list here:
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