As a UNESCO City of Design, Saint-Étienne is the place to indulge your artistic leanings, be inspired by the innovative, and visit some of France’s most unique museums. If you’re visiting Saint-Étienne for the France Rugby World Cup 2023, why not plan a few days before or after match day to take in the highlights of this eastern city? To get you started, here’s our pick of the top 10 things to do in Saint-Étienne.
1. Take a Walking Tour of the Historic Centre
Saint-Étienne stands out from the crowd with its mix of historic and modern architecture, and there’s plenty to admire around the centre-ville. Start your walking tour at the central Place Jean-Jaurès with its 19th-century bandstand and modern Saint-Étienne Cathedral. Continue to the 20th-century Grand Church and nearby La Maison François 1er, built in 1547, then look out for the Art Nouveau-inspired La Martre de France along Avenue de la Libération.
American visitors can also get a little taste of home along Rue Chevreul—Saint-Étienne has its very own Statue of Liberty, created by Auguste Bartholdi, the same artist behind the original New York City icon.
2. Get Creative at the Cité du Design
The city’s most striking modern building is the centrepiece of Saint-Étienne’s design district. Housed in a former weapons factory, its futuristic façade is a geometric feast with steel framework and mirrored triangular panels, making it one of the city’s most emblematic buildings.
Inside, head up to the 32-metre-high lookout tower for a view over the city, take a peek inside the urban greenhouse, and check out the design halls, which host an eclectic range of temporary exhibitions.
3. Discover Saint-Étienne’s Footballing Legacy
2022 might be all about rugby, but Saint-Étienne is best known for its legendary football team ‘Les Verts’ (the Greens), who have won more championships than any other team and remain the ‘team to beat’ in France’s Ligue 1.
You’ll already be visiting the iconic Geoffroy Guichard stadium—nicknamed “Le Chaudron” (The Cauldron) and “L’Enfer Vert” (The Green Hell) after the team’s famous colours—on match day, so why not tag on a pre-match visit to the ‘Musée des Verts’ (The Greens Museum)? Packed with trophies, football memorabilia, and personal accounts, it’s a tribute to the beloved team and their narrow miss at the European Champions Cup in 1976.
4. Seek Out Saint-Étienne’s Street Art
Saint-Étienne wears its creative heart on its sleeve, so look out for street art and sculptures as you wander around the city. Stop by Place Chavanelle, where you’ll see the bright red Gigogne Cube (which also serves as a market stand for local traders), a flock of 150 cast-iron pigeons, and the ‘Pas à Pas’ walkway of mirrored circles, all of which are the works of local designers.
Ella and Pitr’s amusing murals are the star of the show along Rue Général Leclerc, while Le Mur de Saint-Etienne (The Wall) is a huge billboard along Rue des Frères Maras, redesigned by a different artist each month.
5. Admire the Unique Saint-Pierre Church
A 20-minute train ride from Saint-Étienne, the suburban town of Firminy is worth a detour to marvel at its unique Saint-Pierre Church. The work of Swiss architect Le Corbusier, the church was completed in 2006, more than 40 years after his death, and resembles a space-age pyramid, sculpted from concrete and pointing up to the sky like a telescope.
The astrological theme continues inside, where tiny round windows are set out in the shape of the constellation of Orion. Visit on a sunny to experience it at its best, when sunlight streams in through the windows, lighting up the ‘stars’ on the roof.
6. Venture Underground at the Mine Museum
Saint-Étienne’s most unique museum is housed in a former coal mine, in use up until 1973. Experience a day in the life of the miners as you peek into the former changing rooms and washroom, learn about the history of coal mining and coal mining techniques, and admire the 20th-century machinery.
The biggest thrill is the chance to descend into a reconstructed mining tunnel, where you can get a feel for the miners’ everyday routines and working conditions down in the pit. You’ll need to join a guided tour to visit the mine, but you can explore the rest of the museum at your own pace.
7. Visit the Museum of Art and Industry
Another one of Saint-Étienne’s most fascinating museums is devoted to the city’s rich industrial heritage. Housed in an elegant three-story mansion, it’s split into three main collections, each with a legacy linked to the city.
First, admire the world’s largest collection of ribbons and discover Saint-Étienne’s traditional handicrafts, then see prototypes of the first French bicycle, created in the city back in 1886. Finally, peruse the weapons and arms collection, with more than 6,000 traditionally crafted items on display.
8. Indulge Your Sweet Tooth at Weiss Chocolatiers
Like all great French cities, Saint-Étienne knows how to indulge its sweet tooth, whether you’re chomping on bugnes (sugary fried doughnuts sold from street stalls) or picking up a bag of Pralulines (pink-praline brioche) from the legendary Pralus bakery (9 rue Michelet). Chocolate lovers also won’t want to miss the city’s famous Weiss chocolatiers.
Discover the history of the artisan chocolatiers, who have been making chocolates since 1882, with a tour of the Weiss chocolate factory, sample delicious Weiss chocolates and hot chocolate, or have their chocolatiers create your own custom-recipe chocolate bar. Don’t forget to swing by the gift shop before you leave, too!
9. Marvel at the Gouffre d’Enfer Dam
Just a half-hour drive south of the city, the evocatively named Gouffre d’Enfer Dam—the ‘Chasm of Hell’—is thankfully not quite as dramatic as it sounds, but it’s still a spectacular sight. Soaring rock faces, a gleaming expanse of water, and a thundering waterfall gushing down from the bottleneck dam make for some impressive photos.
Climb the twisted stone stairway up to the top of the dam for the best views, then follow the trail to the adjoining Pas du Riot dam. For the adventurous, there’s even a Via Ferrata climbing trail that runs through the valley.
10. Go for a Hike in the Pilat Regional Park
Forested hills, sloping vineyards, and dairy pastures blanket the eastern foothills of the Massif Central in the Pilat Regional Nature Park. With some 72,000 hectares of hiking and biking trails, dotted with heritage villages and mountain lookouts, this is Saint-Étienne’s rural playground, just a 45-minute drive from the centre-ville.
Hike the 1,431-meter peak of the Crêt de la Perdrix, the highest point in the park; head up to the Crêt de l’Oeillon mountaintop for a view over the Rhône Valley and the Alps, or stop by the historic towns of Rochetaillée and Pélussin. While you’re there, be sure to sample local speciality Chèvre du Pilat, a creamy, locally produced goat’s cheese.