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During my university degree, I spend 8 months living in the town of Grenoble, France. I taught English in three primary schools in the Grenoble suburbs, spent my weekend skiing, mornings exploring and vastly improved my French. If you’re planning on visiting Grenoble then check out this list of the best things to do in Grenoble from a former local.
Grenoble is a city in France known for its winter sports, hiking, museums, universities and research centres. It’s also sometimes referred to as the capital of the Alps. It’s a pretty city surrounded by mountains and it sits in between the Drac and Isère rivers.
There’s a tonne of history in this city as well as adventure, great food, bars and more.
Where is Grenoble?
Grenoble is in southeastern France in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region at the base of the French Alps.
How to get to Grenoble
My personal preference when it comes to getting to Grenoble from the UK is to take the train. However, I’d laid out a few other ways to get to Grenoble too.
Flights to Grenoble from UK
Whilst there is a Grenoble airport, this is only open in the winter season and tends to be more expensive to fly to. Instead, I recommend flying to either Lyon or Geneva. Both these airports near to Grenoble are well served by flights from London and the rest of the UK and Europe.
I used Skyscanner to find my flight to Grenoble when I flew back from visiting friends at university back home. It’s my go-to to find and book cheap flights when I know when I want to go.
However, if you don’t know your dates, or can be flexible, I highly recommend checking out Dollar Flight Club. Once signed up you can set your home airport(s) and then they’ll let you know when they find amazing deals on flights. The savings they find every day AMAZE me.
Lyon airport is just over an hour away from the centre of Grenoble and Geneva airport is about 1.5 hours driving, or around 2 – 2.5 hours by public transport. Getting from Lyon to Grenoble is slightly easier as you don’t have to deal with the border crossing you’ll do if coming from Geneva to Grenoble.
Trains from London to Grenoble
When I travelled between the UK and Grenoble I usually caught the train. Getting the train is longer than flying but I personally think it’s more fun. You have more space, can take as much luggage as you can carry and the train takes you directly to the centre of Grenoble so you don’t need to transfer after your flight.
To get the train to Grenoble you’ll first take the Eurostar from London to Paris. In Paris, you’ll switch from Gare du Nord to Gare de Lyon and there you’ll catch the Paris-Grenoble train for the rest of the trip. The whole journey (including the change in Paris) takes about 6 hours. The Paris to Grenoble section is the prettiest as you’ll speed through the French countryside.
TOP TIP: You need to validate your train tickets before getting on the train in Europe. This is usually done by getting it stamped by a small machine on the way to the platforms. This is because train tickets don’t usually have dates on and punching it in the machine adds a date and means you can’t keep fraudulently using the same ticket over and over again. Failure to validate means you’ll be fined if caught.
Buses to Grenoble
The bus journey is, of course, longer than both flying or taking the train from the UK to Grenoble. If it’s your preferred method you’re looking at about 20 hours of travel compared to 6 on the train. You’ll also need to change in Paris.
The buses arrive at the Grenoble trains tation which is the main hub for getting the tram of buses around the city. It almost couldn’t be easier.
Getting around Grenoble
Whilst the whole area that makes up Grenoble including the suburbs is quite large, the actual centre of Grenoble is quite small. It’s a great city for walking around or cycling thanks to numerous bike lanes but on those occasions, you want something less tiring then it’s also very well served by public transport!
Cycling in Grenoble
Cycling in Grenoble is great since there are so many bike lanes. They also have a bike share system known as Metrovelo. They’re bright yellow and cost just €3 for a day’s rental. If you’re visiting in summer this is a nice way to get around Grenoble.
TOP TIP: There is a lot of bike theft in Grenoble as with in any major city. To avoid your bike being stolen, always use a thick ‘D’-lock rather than a cable.
Grenoble public transport
The public transport system in Grenoble is very, very good. There are 5 tram lines and 36 bus lines! It’s also very easy to use and you’ll get the hang of it very quickly. The buses and the trams in Grenoble use the same tickets, Tag, so you don’t need to worry about buying separate ones.
Take a look at these Grenoble tram maps and Grenoble map to get an idea before you go.
TOP TIP: Remember to validate your ticket before getting on the tram. This is done by punching it or tapping it on the machines at the tram stops. If you don’t do this and are caught by a guard onboard the tram you’ll face a pretty hefty fine!
Where to stay in Grenoble
I always use Booking.com or Airbnb to book my accommodation. When my parents visited they stayed at both of the following places which were great due to central location and quality.
- Hôtel d’Angleterre: Great location for a hotel in Grenoble right in the city centre but off the busiest streets.
- Happy Appart Grenoble: Super close to the station so good for catching the bus to the mountains in the morning. Walking distance to Centre Ville (about 20-30 minutes) and good for bigger groups who want kitchen facilities. Would recommend this accommodation in Grenoble.
Best things to do in Grenoble
1. The Bastille of Grenoble
The Bastille of Grenoble is one thing every visitor to Grenoble should do. It’s on top of Mount Rachais; a small hill in the city. It’s an old fortress with many old walls and ruins that were used during battles to protect the city. There’s plenty to explore. There’s the old Mandarin Caves, tunnels, great viewpoints, a museum and even a couple of restaurants at the Bastille.
You can get to the Bastille by walking up the mountain, running, or taking the cable car also known as “Les Bulles de Grenoble”.
2. Take the cable car
The Grenoble cable car which takes you up to The Bastille first opened in 1934. At the time it was the first city cable car in the world. The bubbles give you a great view of the mountains, one of the Grenoble rivers (the Isere River) immediately below, and the city of Grenoble itself. It’s worth taking a trip during your visit to Grenoble!
3. Le Tord Boyaux
We used to head to Le Tord Boyaux quite a lot during my year abroad! It’s super popular with students thanks to cheap drinks, graffiti all over the walls and dancing on tables not being frowned upon. If you’re looking for some Grenoble nightlife then you could do a lot worse than here!
This was truly one of the best Grenoble restaurants I ate at. It was hidden a little out of the way but had a great set menu deal where three courses for dinner were very reasonably priced. At L’Ardoise they serve traditional French cuisines such as duck, pates, and some steak-frites!
5. Eat Pizza along Quai Perriere
I don’t think you’ll have ever, or will ever, see as many pizza restaurants in the same place as you will along Quai Perriere. There are easily over 20 pizza restaurants here. I ate at a fair few of them during my time in Grenoble and the best tip is to head to one that looks busy. If it’s busy then it’s probably one of the better ones.
6. Shop at Halles Ste-Claire
This big covered market in the centre of Grenoble is a great place for picking up your fresh fruit and vegetables. As I recall it is slightly more expensive than some of the others a bit further out of the city centre, but it’s also one of the prettiest.
If you love exploring markets when you travel then make sure Les Halles Saint Claire are on your to-do list for Grenoble!
7. Learn at the Musée de la Résistance et de la Déportation de l’Isère
Given that this was what I wrote my A-level history coursework on I was keen to visit the Resistance museum. It’s expansive and teaches you all about the history of Grenoble and the resistance to Italian and German forces during WWII. It also covers the deportation of over 1000 local Jewish people to Nazi camps.
It’s not lighthearted that’s for sure, but it’s very interesting if you like history.
8. Drink rum at Barberousse
Another bar in Grenoble popular with students is Barberousse. This bar is ship themed and specialises in flavoured rums (some of which are dangerously good!).
9. Warm up at La Fondue
If you’ve spent the day skiing at Chamrousse, or Les Deux Alpes or Alpe d’Huez, then warm up with a big fondue once you get back into town. La Fondue has the wood panelling you’d expect of a restaurant serving this type of food.
It’s got 17 different types of cheese and meat fondues, Raclette and tartiflette and also chocolate fondues! You’ll leave feeling very, very full!
10. Grab a post-work aperitif at Les Copains d’Abord
Another year abroad favourite was aperitifs at Les Copains d’Abord. This bar had some outside seating and had great prices on beers. It does get busy though so arrive early to secure a space for you and your friends.
11. Explore the markets outside of the centre
There’s at least one market in pretty much every region of Grenoble. My local, and favourite, one was Marché de l’Estacade. It’s full of good quality, traditional and local produce.
I remember a man who brought his own honey to sell and he’d spoon it out of these massive silver tubs to put into your empty jam jars. Then there was the man who’d fry up his homemade tortellini and ravioli and offer samples.
This was on top of fruit, vegetables, cheese, milk, meat, charcuterie, fish and flowers. I’ve never found a market quite like it.
Marche de l’Estacade runs from Tuesday to Sunday from 06:00 to 13:00 on Avenue de Vizille/Rue Joseph Rey, with stalls set up underneath the overpass.
12. Drink all the beers at Les Frères Berthom
If you like beer then head to Les Freres Berthom which has an absolutely huge menu of beers. They’ve got fruity ones, strong ones, beers of all sorts!
It gets super busy at the weekend so go there early.
13. Browse a flea market
Every Sunday morning there’s a big flea market at the Porte de France on the far side of Isère to centre-ville. There’s lots of absolute rubbish here, but there are also some gems to be found. There’s an even bigger Brocante (flea market) held every few months along Quais Perrière and Saint Laurent.
14. Explore the old town
You can’t come to Grenoble without discovering the old town. It’s all cobbled streets, dead ends and little market squares. By the end of my 8 months in Grenoble I knew every turn and shortcut, but the first few weeks I definitely got lost a few times!
15. Party until 6 am at a club in Grenoble
Grenoble has a big student population and it’s also got a pretty good party scene for such a relatively small town. In Grenoble, you head to a bar until 1 am and then it’s time for the club. I remember having some late nights at Ambiance Cafe in southern Grenoble and Le Vertigo near Jardin de Ville.
16. La Ferme à Dédé
Another place for a hearty winter or post-ski meal is La Ferme à Dédé. Expect traditional fare from the region like gratin dauphinois, grilled hanger steak and more.
17. Celebrate Beaujolais
Beaujolais is a massive party that takes part all over France in November to celebrate the release of that year’s wine. Everyone heads to the shops to buy a bottle (or 5) of the new wine and then heads to the streets to drink it.
Although police have been trying to crack down on street drinking I’m pretty sure it still happens. It sure did when I was living in Grenoble in 2012!
18. Get a fancy coffee at The French Coffee Shop
If you’re missing your coffee topped with cream and lots of added sugar then you’ll love The French Coffee Shop. They’re Grenoble’s answer to Starbucks and offer drinks such as oreo hot chocolates, and caramel lattes. Plus there’s wifi and comfy seating!
19. Attend Le Millésime in Grenoble
One of the first events I attended in Grenoble was Le Millesime. It was a wine festival in Place Victor Hugo where for about 10euros you were given a glass and could visit all the stalls and producers to try their wine. The festival tends to take place during the last week of October every year so if you’re visiting Grenoble then, add it to your list of things to do!
20. Browse the Christmas Market
Grenoble also has a great Christmas market which takes over the town centre. There are stalls all along Place Grenette and in Place Victor Hugo. They’re the traditional wooden hut type stalls and there’s lots of Vin Chaud, gifts and tasty food to warm up with. Plus, it’s entirely free to visit.
21. Cycle up to Sassenage
In the weather permits hire a bicycle and cycle along the cycle path next to Le Drac river all the way up to Sassenage.
At Sassenage you’ll find a castle and some caves to explore. It’s a great way to spend an afternoon when the weather is nice!
22. Brunch at Pain et Cie
My absolute favourite place for brunch in Grenoble was Pain et Cie. At the weekends they do special breakfast deals where you’ll get croissants, coffee, fruit juice, salamis and hams with housemade spreads to go on top. It’s a great place for a leisurely breakfast with a paper or a good book!
23. Visit some of the gardens
After a lazy day and wondering what to do in Grenoble? One of my favourite spring activities in Grenoble was to visit the parks.
Grenoble is a very green city and there are so many beautiful parks. Some of my favourites were Parc Paul Mistral and Jardin de Ville. I used to love picking up a croissant from one of the markets or boulangeries before heading to a park with a good book.
24. Take a day trip to Vizille Castle
The castle and grounds of Vizille are absolutely beautiful and well worth taking a trip to if you’re visiting Grenoble. It’s a thirty-minute drive by car or bus to get here from Grenoble.
The castle is one of the most important and prestigious in the entire region and was used to house the inheritor of the French throne.
The town itself is very small, but charming in that typical French way. The real attraction is the castle. It’s free to enter the gardens which span for 320 acres. They’re stunning with a river, deer and plenty of flowers. The castle has now been turned into a museum of the French Revolution for which there is a fee.
25. Try the famous Chartreuse spirit made by monks
Chartreuse is a local spirit. It’s a minty green colour and very, very strong. It’s the only liqueur in the world which is this colour naturally!
I think it’s a bit of an acquired taste but if you want to try it then head to where it’s made over at the town of Chartreuse. Here you’ll discover the spirit is made by monks and you can visit the monastery which is just a short drive away from Grenoble.
26. Ski the Olympic slopes at Chamrousse
There’s quite a bit of choice when it comes to ski resorts near Grenoble but Chamrousse is one of the closest. It’s just thirty minutes drive away from downtown Grenoble and is the locals’ ski resort. If you’re visiting Grenoble in winter you simply have to add a visit here to do some Grenoble skiing!
In 1969 the Winter Olympics were held in Grenoble and you can still ski the downhill course today. It’s pretty steep in sections (obviously) but worth doing if you’re an intermediate skier!
Other Grenoble ski resorts nearby include Les Deux Alps, Les Sept Laux and Alpe d’Huez. Grenoble to Les Deux Alpes and Alpe d’Huez is about 1.5 hours and to Les Sept Laux it’ll take about 1 hour.
27. Get cultured
You might not come to Grenoble expecting to find a good museum, but you’d be wrong. The Musee de Grenoble is one of the best museums in Grenoble. It’s much bigger than it looks from the outside and has some really great exhibitions. There are paintings, sculpture and even some Egyptian artefacts.
You could easily spend a few hours exploring the galleries here and there’s a sculpture garden included with admission too.
Prices for adults range from 5 – 8€, depending on the exhibition.
TOP TIP: If you’re under 26 you can get free entry to most museums in France!