24 Hours in Reims: The Unofficial Capital of the Champagne Region
Reims, or ‘Reemz’, as it is pronounced, is a city that has so much to offer, including culture, architecture, and exceptional wine. Afectionately known as ‘The City of Champagne’, Reims has an impressive history that goes back to before the Romans occupied the region.
Roughly 90 miles north-east of Paris, Reims is reachable via car and takes just under two hours to drive from the capital. Famed for its spectacular architecture and surrounding vineyards, culture-lovers shouldn’t miss the former capital of France that is Reims.
This article covers everything you need to need to know about Reims: from what to see and do, to an overview of the best parts of its history.
What to know about Reims
Founded by the Romans, Reims was named after the group of people who lived there at the time. The Roman settlers that inhabited the region began to till the land in the region, to start growing vineyards that would produce wine for the Roman Empire.
The city of Reims is known for being the former capital city of France. Its impressive gothic cathedral was once the location used to crown French monarchs, and was greatly revered by the people of France, inspiring many to come and pay homage. The Cathedral of Notre Dame, as it is also known, is famous for having a story written about it by Victor Hugo. The character of Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame was supposedly based on a bell ringer at the cathedral, and Esmerelda is based on a woman he saw on the rue Folle Peine in 1825.
Furthermore, Dom Perignon, who is heralded as the ‘Father of Champagne’, had links to Reims and was based at a Benedictine monastery outside the city. In the seventeenth century, Dom Perignon is credited as having improved the blend of grapes used to make the eponymous sparkling wine that we all know and love as champagne, and the techniques used by winemakers in the Champagne region.
Reims was badly bombed during World War One, and its cathedral was damaged by a fire in 1914, destroying much of its interior. In World War Two, Reims was also the location that the German Wehrmacht surrendered at 2.41pm on 7th May 1945, thus ending the war. Following the wars, Reims Cathedral was fully restored, and some stained-glass windows replaced with new designs.
What to see in Reims
Visitors to Reims can experience the impressive architecture of the city by wandering its streets to enjoy some sightseeing. There are grand squares lined with arcades and shops, and spectacular buildings like the Gothic Reims Cathedral and the Romanesque Abbey of Saint Remi. If Art Deco architecture is something you’re interested in, you might like to experience the Carnegie Library, too.
Reims Cathedral is famous as the cathedral that crowned 30 kings of France. Visitors shouldn’t miss an opportunity to see Notre-Dame de Reims, which was founded as early as the 5th century. It’s a stunning example of high Gothic architecture and its northeast façade has an impressive rose window with statues of saints on its upper tier. During the second world war, the cathedral was damaged and some of the stained-glass windows in the choir stalls were replaced with designs by artist, Marc Chagall.
What to do in Reims
With some structures dating back to Roman times, Reims is not short of art, culture, and history. You will be spoilt for choice of what to do when you visit, so we recommend the Abbey and Basilica of Saint-Remi and the city’s Cryptoporticus Tunnels.
The Abbey of Saint Remi is situated just outside Reims and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Dedicated to the bishop who baptised the very first king of France, the Abbey of Saint-Remi has a museum, and the 11th century basilica of Reims Cathedral is also in its vicinity.
Based at the Abbey of Saint Remi, the famous Musée des Beaux-Arts displays an extensive art collection covering art from the German Renaissance to the Impressionist era. Visitors can enjoy seeing works by Lucas Cranach the Elder, Nicholas Poussin and Henri Matisse, within its walls.
For a unique experience, head underground and explore the Cryptoporticus Tunnels. Originally built to extend for around 200 kilometres, the Gallo-Roman tunnels were carved into the chalk in the first century AD. Though many of the tunnels have now collapsed, one restored section remains and is open to visitors. Other sections of the original tunnels are now thought to form part of underground cellars to buildings in Reims and are still used to store bottles of champagne.
Another not-to-miss location for history lovers is the Palais du Tau. As the residence of the Archbishop of Reims, the palace served as a location for banquets once the Kings of France had been crowned in Reims Cathedral. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Palais du Tau has been transformed into a museum to hold the treasures of Notre-Dame cathedral.
What to eat and drink in Reims
Unsurprisingly, the wine of Reims is champagne. Supposedly drunk at the coronations of many French kings, champagne is now the wine we associate with celebrations. Surrounded by rolling hills that are planted with vineyards, it’s no surprise that Reims is full of great restaurants and bars that serve champagne. A lesser-known fact is that Reims is also the home of the biscuit rose de Reims, which is sometimes served as an accompaniment to a glass of champagne.
Most of the large champagne houses have headquarters in Reims and it is possible to tour the facilities. Some tours include a visit to the underground cellars where champagne is stored in chalk caverns to age. Visiting Reims with European Waterways, you’ll have the opportunity to visit world renowned champagne house, Moët & Chandon, which has been producing champagne founded since 1743. You can enjoy a private champagne tasting in an elegant private salon, with all your questions answered by an experienced cellar master. You’ll also have the opportunity to enjoy a private winery tour and tasting at Maison Pannier, the largest champagne house in the western Marne Valley, and visit the boutique grand cru champagne house of Frerejean Frères with lunch in the domaine.
Cruise to Reims aboard Kir Royale & Panache
Book a cruise aboard the 8-passenger Ultra Deluxe Kir Royale, or the 12-passenger Deluxe Panache and visit Reims in style with European Waterways. Enjoy your own luxury cabin and enjoy gourmet meals served by an expert chef who will travel with you on the barge. With wine pairings served with every meal and local cheeses and ingredients added to every dish, you can enjoy the sights Reims has to offer knowing that you’re enjoying all the best bits of the Champagne region!
Want to know more about champagne? Here’s everything you need to know about champagne. We talk about the best food pairings for champagne, and you can also brush up on your champagne etiquette, before visiting Reims.