Reims, France, is the city that has been long associated with the Champagne region. Many of the prestigious Champagne houses operate their headquarters from Reims with the nearby caves where the Champagne is stored and vineyards close by.
Besides being the bubbly capital of Champagne, Reims has an impressive array of other activities and sites including one of the oldest and most significant gothic cathedrals in France, beautiful Art Deco architecture, and excellent restaurants.
Trains to Reims from Paris only take 45 minutes, so it’s an easy day trip, or if you want to extend your stay to visit more Champagne houses, there are plenty of hotels to accommodate you.
Reims’s recorded history dates back to 80 B.C. when it was conquered by the Romans and believed to have a population of up to 100,000 people. By the 10th century, it became a religious and intellectual cultural capital, where archbishops, popes, and kings gathered. Much of Reims was destroyed during WWI, with extensive damage to the cathedral. To rebuild the city, the local government enticed architects and builders from Paris to construct new buildings with few restrictions, and many of the structures currently standing in Reims are from the Art Deco period of the late 1920s and early 1930s.
1. Reims Cathedral
A Gothic-style architectural marvel, construction of the Reims Cathedral began in 1221, on the former site of another church from the early 400s, which was destroyed by a fire in 1210. The architectural highlight of the cathedral is the flying buttresses on all four sides, along with limestone archways, a smiling angel, and 2,300 religious statues. Reims Cathedral was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991 and is also a historically relevant site since it where the kings of France were officially crowned from 1027 to 1825. The awe-inspiring, stained glass windows include a series of nine panels designed by artist Marc Chagall for the cathedral right before his death in 1985, and on the cathedral's 800th anniversary in 2011, the German artist Imi Knoebel created six windows, signifying a friendly alliance between France and Germany.
2. Saint Remi Museum
Once the abbey of Saint Remi, the fascinating history of this structure began in the sixth century when a modest chapel was built to honor Saint Christopher. Today it's the Saint Remi Museum, which features collections of tapestries from the 16th century, jewelry, weapons, furniture, pottery, and glasswork from the sixth to eighth centuries, plus crafts and artifacts from the Gallo-Roman and Gallic periods.
3. Reims Library
American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie extended his charitable donations to build a Carnegie Library in Reims in the early 1920s. The building has a treasure trove of Art Deco architectural details including mosaic panels, two Sevres porcelain vases at the entrance, and onyx and green marble reliefs on the outside. The calming reading room has a rich mix of mahogany-paneled walls and oak floors, along with an extensive glass ceiling, which lets in natural light. The library contains over 400,000 volumes.
4. Cafe Du Palais
Stop by the Cafe Du Palais for a coffee or lunch and admire the quirky interior. Cafe Du Palais was an instant hit after it was opened in 1930 by Louis Millet. It went on to be owned and operated by his grandson Jean Louis in the 1960s, who made it into an eclectic showplace to show off his collection of antiques. Look for a special drawing by Marc Chagall and a fabulous stained-glass ceiling. The menu includes a staple of French classics including foie gras, Croque Monsieur, and chocolate gateau.
5. Villa Demoiselle
Villa Demoiselle, a former mansion built between 1904 and 1908 by architect Louis Sorel, is a stunning showcase of Art Nouveau and Art Deco design. In 2004, Francois Vranken, the head of Vranken Champagnes, bought Villa Demoiselle and embarked on a five-year restoration to return the villa to its forgotten glory. It is now open to the public. Villa Demoiselle offers self-guided tours starting at 20 euros with a glass of Champagne, and also hosts art exhibitions
You can’t leave Reims without at least one visit to one of the iconic Champagne houses.
6. Tau Palace
The Tau Palace, another UNESCO Heritage site, was the palace of the Archbishop of Reims, and before that, it was where a number of French kings resided. The name derives from the Greek letter Tau, or T, because of the T-shape of the building. Originally a villa from the Gallo-Roman period in the 6th and 7th century, there’s still a part of the original chapel from 1207 still standing. The structure was updated in the gothic style in the early 1500s and the Baroque style in the late 17th century. Today the palace contains the Musee de l’Oeuvre, which houses tapestries, statues, and other religious artifacts associated with the crowning of the kings of France.
7. L’Iris De Florence
If you want to get in a bit of shopping in Reims, visit L’Iris de Florence, a family-owned shop originally opened in the 1930s. L’Iris de Florence is an art and sculpture gallery, also selling china and glassware, specializing in works from local artists and craftsmen.
8. Maison Mumm
Maison Mumm, one of the most prestigious Champagnes, was developed in 1827 by the Mumm brothers from Germany. They offer a one hour and fifteen-minute tour which includes a visit through the extensive network of underground caves, where thousands of Champagne bottles are stored and rotated on a regular basis, plus a step-by-step explanation of the long process by which Champagne is made, from grape all the way to the bottle. At the end of the tour, you are rewarded and refreshed with a flute of Mumm Cordon Rouge, a Brut Champagne aged over 20 months, with a blend of over 100 crus.
Tours start at 23 euros per person, which includes one glass of Champagne, and run up to over 40 euros per person for a tour that includes two glasses of their premium labels.
9. Ruinart Champagne
A brand more well known in France than internationally, Ruinart Champagne is the oldest Champagne brand in Reims, originally established in 1729 after King Louis XV decreed that Champagne could be sold and shipped in quantities of 50 to 100 bottles. The house chooses quality over quantity, producing much less than the other major Champagne houses.
Experiences at Ruinart include a two-hour tour of the UNESCO-designated crayeres, which are vast, ancient chalk caves where the Champagne bottles are aged and stores, plus a tasting of two top Champagne vintages. On the weekends, Ruinart offers a Champagne brunch prepared by Valerie Radou, the in-house gourmet chef, serving local dishes accompanied by two flutes of Champagne.
Every year Ruinart commissions an artist to create a limited-edition bottle design, which you can also purchase during your visit.
Trains from Paris to Reims leave the Gare de l’Est station starting at 6:58 a.m., and there are 12 direct trains and 20 trains altogether. Most of the attractions listed above are walking distance from the train station, but some of the Champagne houses are on the outskirts of the city, so you may want to take a taxi or Uber. For more inspiration, consider