Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes City Guides

Best Things to Do in Saint-Etienne, France

27/02/2024

Article written by Elisa - Travel Writer & Local in France
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Visit Saint-Etienne, France

Saint-Etienne is an exciting and creative city that will surely surprise you. Located in the Auvergne-Rhône Alpes region (Eastern – Central France), Saint-Étienne is only 50 km from Lyon, so it makes a perfect day trip from the City of Lights. However, there are so many cool things to do in Saint-Etienne that we highly recommend spending at least one night here.

Saint-Etienne is a former industrial city whose economy revolved around mining. Now it’s a place with an openly creative vibe, so much so that it has been declared a “City of Design” by UNESCO. From visiting museums to simply walking around the city, you will see art installations everywhere. Saint-Etienne has a very special atmosphere that will make you fall in love instantly!  

Saint-Etienne is one of the 2024 Summer Olympics cities (football), so it’s the perfect excuse to discover this creative city. Here are the best things to do in Saint-Etienne, France, for unforgettable times.

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What to Do in Saint-Etienne, France

Saint-Etienne - France

What to do in Saint-Etienne for a day or a weekend getaway? Here’s the list of the best things to do in Saint-Etienne, France – places to visit and Saint-Etienne attractions – with something for every traveler.

1. Explore the Old Town

There’s nothing better than getting to know a city than exploring it on foot. Saint-Etienne’s Old Town has charming streets dotted with numerous reminders of the past, like the Demeure Chamoncel (XV-XVI centuries), the Tour de la Droguerie, and the Bourse du Travail. Unfortunately, the Musée du Vieux Saint-Etienne closed its doors permanently, but there are still plenty of things to admire during your stroll around.

Another unmissable element to discover during your Saint-Etienne sightseeing is the “traboules,” the passageways linking alleyways usually associated with Lyon, which you can see in Saint-Étienne too! In the past, there were around 200 traboules in Saint-Etienne, while only 60 or so would remain today. Two good examples of traboules in Saint-Etienne are the one connecting Rue des Frères Chappe and Rue République and the Passage Saint-Barthelemy that connected the lower town with the upper part of the Crêt du Roc neighborhood

2. Grand’ Eglise

One of the most impressive buildings in Saint-Étienne is the Grand ‘Eglise or Eglise Saint-Etienne Saint-Laurent. This Gothic church was the largest in the town until the main cathedral was built in the 20th century.

The Grand’Eglise dates back to the 14th century and has pretty rustic walls made from sandstone. Step inside the church to admire a 1922 organ and a gorgeous sculpture of the Burial of Christ from the 16th century.

Saint-Étienne’s Grand’Eglise has a very peculiar look, both outside and inside, which makes it an absolute must-see!

3. Cité du Design

Saint-Étienne boasts a special neighborhood, the Manufacture-Plaine-Achille, designed to host creative industries.

The district showpiece is the Cité du Design, which opened in 2009, and displays magnificent collections. It is also home to the École Supérieure d’Art et Design de Sainté.

The Cité du Design occupies the site of the Manufacture Nationale d’Armes (1864), one of the symbols of Saint-Etienne industrial power, which produced weapons during the 19th and 20th centuries. Visit the Cité du Design to enjoy interesting design exhibitions and design-themed events, and don’t miss its futuristic greenhouse!

The Biennale Internationale Design of Saint-Étienne

The Biennale Internationale Design celebrates creativity. During three weeks, expect a large number of concerts, music festivals, and street art throughout the territory of Saint-Etienne. There are also design-themed city tours and several temporary exhibitions mainly held in the Manufacture district. The next rendez-vous is in 2025; will you miss that?

4. Urban Art

We said already that Saint-Étienne is an exciting and creative city. You will find interesting artwork here and there, so it’s a great idea to wander the city’s streets with your camera and go hunting for some street art!

Among the best pieces you can admire when you visit Saint-Etienne are “L’Arbre multi couleurs” by Philippe Million, the peculiar and enigmatic cast-iron bollards made by François Bauchet, and the astonishing “Chevaux Bleus” sculpted by Assan Smati.

Besides sculptures, you will also have fun shooting pics of rehabilitated buildings and factories and the superbly creative “bancs d’essai,” the designer benches scattered all over the city.

Saint-Étienne’s Birthday Street or “Cake Street”

Rue du Frère Maras in Sainté, just next to the Halles Biltoki, displays funny birthday cakes in graffiti by Ella & Pitr. Each inhabitant of this street has their cake on the wall with their first name and age. A funny and touching gesture that places the people of Saint-Etienne at the heart of the subject. “La rue des Gateaux” is the first birthday street in the world!

5. Musée de la Mine

Saint-Étienne used to be a mining town, and the best way to discover its history is by visiting the Musée de la Mine. One of the top Saint-Etienne attractions, the museum is hosted inside the last mine in the city, which closed in 1973.

The experience of descending into a reconstruction of a mining tunnel is pretty unique. During the visit, you will wear helmets and take elevators and trains to experience for yourself what a day in the life of a miner was like. The Musée de la Mine also displays industrial mining machinery, like a huge steel headframe, and various rooms as the workshop for the mine’s locomotives.

Musée de la Mine – 3 Boulevard Maréchal Franchet d’Esperay; Opens from Tuesday to Sunday, from 10 am to 6 pm. Closed on Mondays.

6. Musée d’Art et d’Industrie & Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain

Saint-Etienne boasts excellent museums mostly related to its industrial past and creative present.

The Musée d’Art et d’Industrie is a great introduction to the citys’ culture and history. The museum hosts three industrial exhibits for which Saint-Etienne was famous in France and abroad: bicycle manufacturing, weapons, and textile industry (ribbon making). Learn the history of these three industries in Saint-Etienne, and admire some antique prototypes.

Musée d’Art et d’Industrie – 2 Place Louis Comte; Opens from Tuesday to Sunday, from 10 am to 6 pm; Closed on Mondays.

DID YOU KNOW? The first French bicycle was manufactured in Saint-Étienne in 1886. It was the founding act of an industry that would enjoy international fame!

Another unmissable artistic spot in the city is the Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain. Located in the same complex as the Mining Museum, the MAMC has 24 large galleries housing over 20,000 works.

The museum displays 20th-century international artwork, with the permanent collection boasting pieces ranging from modern art movements to abstract expressionism to minimalism. Besides admiring works by Pablo Picasso, Fernand Léger, and Claude Monet, the MAMC hosts incredible temporary exhibitions.

Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain – Rue Fernand Léger. Currently closed for renovation works (expected reopening in spring 2024).

7. Place Jean-Jaurès

This square became the administrative and commercial core of Saint-Étienne when the city flourished in the 19th century. Its centrality in the city’s life was so important that it was chosen as the location for Saint-Étienne’s modern cathedral.

Place Jean-Jaurès has a lovely outlook with its lawns, tree-shaded paths, statues, and fountains, and it is locals’ favorite meeting place. After a stroll, sit in one of the many cafes and restaurants for some people-watching and admiring the 19th-century bandstand, which gives the place a lovely Belle Époque feel.

Place Jean-Jaurès is a few metres walk from Place de l’Hotel de Ville. Don’t miss this beautiful building and the contemporary fountain on the other side of the square, which sprouts green water!

8. Musée des Verts & “Le Chaudron”

An integral part of Saint-Étienne culture is the city’s football team, the AS Saint-Étienne (ASSE). This historic football club is the eternal rival of Lyon’s team.

If you are a fan of this sport and want to catch a game, head to the city’s stadium, nicknamed “le Chaudron” (the cauldron in English). The Stade Geoffroy-Guichard is one of the most iconic stadiums in France, so much so that it will host some of the rugby competitions for the Rugby World Cup 2023 and football competitions for the Summer Olympics 2024.

Stade Geoffroy-Guichard boasts a whole museum dedicated to football and the local team, the Musée des Verts. A Saint-Etienne must-see for football lovers, this is an unmissable spot to really grasp how football is much more than a sport in Saint-Étienne.

Musée des Verts – 14 Rue Paul et Pierre Guichard; Opens from Monday to Saturday, from 2 pm to 6 pm; Closed on Sundays.

9. Take a Day Trip to Lyon

Vieux Lyon - Old Lyon

Located only 50km northeast of Saint-Etienne, Lyon is an excellent day trip by train. If possible, book your train tickets Saint-Etienne – Lyon to Lyon Perrache train station, which is the closest station to Lyon’s Old Town.

What to do in Lyon in a day? You can pick some of the activities from this list of the best things to do in Lyon. We recommend, however, this fun Lyon bike tour that explores the best of Lyon in 4 hours, with a break for an apéritif. Visit the banks of the Saône River and Rhône River, the Hôtel Dieu, and Parc de la Tête d’Or before climbing up to Fourbière Hill for the most spectacular views (super easy with their electrical bikes!).

If you prefer something less sporty, this Old Lyon walking tour is a great introduction to the city.

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