In 1429 Joan of Arc liberated Orléans from the British siege, and the city has never forgotten this event. There are statues in his honor, an entire wing in the museum of liberation, and an annual festival in May to celebrate it with ceremony and full splendor.
Many tourists rush to Orléans to bypass the Chateau Loire, but there’s plenty to be found in the old center, which is full of log houses and renaissance houses where nobles lived and died. Each monument bears witness to the city’s bloody but captivating history. If it’s not English, it’s Huguenot wreaking havoc!
Let’s explore the best things to do in Orleans:
- Parc Floral de la Source
Welcoming more visitors than any other attraction in the department, Parc Floral de la Source is a semi-wild park next to the university, where Orléans meets the countryside.
Indeed, you can see how the terrain changes here: The plains of the river and the source of the Loiret host the garden’s beautiful flower gardens (dahlias, irises, roses, and alpine flowers), kitchen gardens, butterfly houses, and aviaries.
And then you can descend the hill to step onto the Sologne Plateau where there are deep oak and birch forests, and more stables with Breton sheep and alpaca.
- Orléans Cathedral
Taking in the solemn cathedral on Place Sainte-Croix it can be hard to imagine the devastation this great landmark has endured in the past.
The Huguenots did a fine job of destroying it during the French Wars of Religion in the 16th century.
The building, where Joan of Arc came to attend mass during the siege of Orléans in 1429, was almost completely rebuilt from 1700 to 1829. During this time magnificent stained-glass windows were installed, presenting the life of one of France’s national heroes.
- Musee des Beaux-Arts
If you’re the type of person who likes to slow down and meditate on art all morning or afternoon it might not be enough to see all of this vast art museum.
There are thousands of works, only 700 of which hang permanently, including the second largest collection of pastels in France behind the Louvre.
If you prefer a thick visit then look for paintings by Vélazquez, Corregio, van Dyck, Breughel the Elder and Younger, Delacroix, Courbet, Picasso and Gauguin.
Also, make time for rare prints by Albrecht Dürer and sculptures by Rodin.
- Place du Martroi
Apart from the “Ligne A” tramline that still runs across the square, the Place du Martroi has been completely pedestrianized in recent years.
What catches your eye immediately is the impressive statue of Joan of Arc on horseback, created in 1855 by Dennis Foyatier, on a large marble plinth with relief from the siege in 1429. On the east side is a delightful fountain with jets coming straight in. through paving, and there’s also a vintage carousel for kids here in the summer.
And if you’re already on the tourist trail each day, you can take a break at one of the cafe tables to enjoy Belle Epoque and neoclassical architecture with a café au lait.
- Hôtel Groslot
The former town hall of Orléans began as a mansion built in the mid-1500s for the town bailiff of Jacques Groslot.
Over the following decades, she hosted some of the most important people of the era, not least the viceroy François II, who died in what is now the wedding hall in 1560. Another personality who has lived at Hôtel Groslot was Mary Queen of Scots, François ‘young wife, Catherine de Medici, her mother, and subsequent kings Henri III and Henri IV. Take a free tour to learn about these royal relationships, and enjoy antique furnishings, Aubisson rugs, and additional insight into Joan of Arc’s time in Orléans.
- History Center
The old town of Orléans is huge and is well beyond the pedestrian zone in its center.
It’s not all historic buildings, but it just makes you appreciate the beautiful half-timbered houses and resurrection palaces more.
To understand the size of the old quarter, you can enter Orléans as Joan of Arc did in 1429, along with the Rue de Burgundy, a friendly street of restaurants and bars that runs east to west, starting a few hundred meters from the center.
There are rustic collages, many with their painted wooden frames, side by side with 19th-century mansions.
Soon the street becomes car-free and you can rush down the adjoining streets to find out, Then there’s the rue de la Bretonnerie, which starts north of the cathedral and is almost filled with mansions from the 1400s to the 1900s.
- Musée Historique et Archéologique
At the 15th-century Hôtel Cabu, one of Orléans’ many beautiful old houses, there is a small number of interesting artifacts from around Loiret.
The Gallo-Roman Treasure of Neuvy-en-Sullias is probably the most interesting thing here.
This is a cache of 30 2,000-year-old bronze statues recovered from a sand quarry in the 19th century.
They represent animals such as wild boars, deer, and horses, as well as mythological figures such as Hercules and Mars.
You can also see the remains of the region’s medieval buildings that were carefully transferred here, such as the Roman capital of the monastery of Benoît-Sur-Loire, or, even earlier, the ornate plaster of the orator at Germigny-des-Prés. , dates back to the 800s.
There’s nature, exercise, and relaxation just moments from the center of Orléans in this 70-hectare park and lake complex on a large river island in the Loire.
For a break from the summer heat, you can laze on two beaches, and you’re free to take a dip in the expansive 28-acre lake to cool off.
You can also rent a canoe or kayak and test your skills on the canoe trails by hanging gates, or let the little ones scramble on the massive adventure playground.
On dry land, there are ping pong tables, a mountain biking circuit, a pétanque field, and even a pony center.
- Collégiale Saint-Aignan
Forever in half-finished condition, the fragmented Church of Saint-Aignan tells you more about Orléans’ tumultuous history than a finished monument.
Being close to the Loire and on the outskirts of the city, it was withdrawn twice during the 100 Years’ War to prevent British troops from turning it into a fortress.
But that wasn’t the last of the problems, as a century later the nave was ravaged by the Huguenots during the French Wars of Religion.
So now only the chorus and the transept remain.
But against all, the dungeons, which date back to the 1000s, have survived, and you can head down to see the barrel-vaulted ceilings and sculpted capitals.
- Valley Velo
The Loire in this region of France is one long bike path and every step has been taken to ensure that your journey is as easy as possible. Orléans is near the eastern boundary of the Loire Valley, and if you’re so inclined, you can drive the 314 kilometers to Saint-Nazaire on the coast, and there’s never a shortage of stations to service your bike and a cycle-friendly place to spend the night (Accueil Vélo). These companies even design special breakfasts for motorists.
On this relaxing stretch of the river, you’re never more than a few minutes from a château or vineyard, and the river also weaves plantations, forests, and even quaint saffron groves.
- Ftes Johanniques d’Orléans
In the spring of 1429, Joan of Arc arrived in Orléans and defeated the English, who had been threatening to take the city for more than six months.
These 10 days, from April 29 to May 8, have been celebrated by Orléans ever since.
Every year the town re-enacts Joan’s arrival in the city for full medieval payoff, parading her through the streets, which is something that happened in the last days of the siege to boost morale.
There are also pop and rock concerts for young people, and the city’s historic venues hold special exhibitions to retrace the steps of the heroine through Orléans.
- Maison des tangs
The Sologne plateau, which begins just south of Orléans, is very different from the wine-growing regions of the east and west.
It is a land of marshes and ponds that for most of its history was only semi-inhabited.
As you would expect, the people of Sologne have their traditional way of life and customs.
The Maison des tangs is an ecomuseum of old wooden houses in the commune of Saint Viâtre, which has 135 individual pools.
Step into the workshop to see how flat-bottom boats are made for the local fishing industry and how hemp is cultivated for nets and lines.
The traditional fisherman’s house has been decorated with antique furnishings, and you can also find out about the freshwater fish and bird species that this unique environment supports.
- Château de Chambord
At the turn of the 16th century, a new type of stately home for the nobility and nobility began to emerge on the banks of the Loire.
Borrowing from the Italian revival this château differs from the castles that came before it in that it was built for luxury and aesthetics ahead of any defensive purpose.
The largest, and arguably the most important, of the abundance of the world-famous Loire valley is Chambord, which François I built as a hunting lodge, which makes it sound simpler than ever.
Because the Château de Chambord is colossal, and instantly recognizable by the forest of chimneys and the dome on its roof.
There is a historical, garden, and architectural trivia worth a day, like the central double-helix staircase, to keep you engrossed and amazed.
- Château de Chamerrolles
A little closer than Chambord is a palace that looks a little more like a medieval fortress, having been built right at the start of the revival.
The Château de Chamerolles was in ruins until decades ago, but it has been completely restored and is home to an unusual museum.
The Promenade des Parfums is on the first and second floors and gives you an insight into regional perfume production from the 1500s to the 1900s.
There is a historic distillery and interactive exhibits that allow you to sample a large number of fragrances and bottles of perfume throughout the ages.
The renaissance gardens are sublime, and if you’ve never seen a formal French garden before you’re sure to be impressed by the diligent symmetry of the vegetable plots in particular.
- Local Delicacy
There is an AOC around Orléans that produces very easy-to-drink white chardonnays and is red with pinot noir and Meunier pinot wine.
In the early days, when the wine sent to the Loire went bad it was no big deal, as it could be saved as vinegar.
In medieval times vinegar makers even shared guilds with city pharmacies and controlled the “vinaigrier” which branched out into cornichon (pickles) and mustard making.
Stop by Martin Pouret, who is one of the master vinaigriers, and pick up a gift or souvenir.
Other local specialties include quince jam, pear spirit, Chavignol goat cheese, and honey from Sologne.