15 Best Things to Do in Blois (France)

Written by Veronique Raes
Updated on
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The noble city of Blois is slap bang at the centre of the Loire Valley World Heritage Site, where you can hardly walk down the street without bumping into a renaissance châteaux.

But Blois is much more than a gateway to the region’s big sights, as it’s chock full of marvellous stately townhouses of its own.

Not to mention the Château de Blois, which is directly in the centre of the city and regarded as one of the unmissable palaces in the Loire Valley.

Dawdle along old stone streets, visit the fabulous Saturday market and get to know the Loire River, on the banks or in the water.

Lets explore the best things to do in Blois:

1. Château de Blois

Château de BloisSource: flickr
Château de Blois

In Blois you’re lucky to have one of the Loire Valley’s absolute must-see châteaux, in the middle of the city like any other attraction.

Seven kings and ten queens of France have lived at the Château de Blois, and the marvellous architecture will tell you all you need to know about the opulence of the French court in the renaissance.

The postcard image of the palace is the 16th-century Aile (wing) François I, feted for its majestic spiral staircase.

It’s impossible to capture all the intrigues, assassinations and plots staged at the château, but it’s more than enough to fill a period drama series!

2. Fondation du Doute

Fondation du DouteSource: flickr
Fondation du Doute

After overdosing on châteaux you may be in need of some culture of a different speed, and you’ll get just that at the Fondation du Doute.

This museum is dedicated to the radical movement Fluxus, a loose, cross-disciplinary network of artists in the 60s and 70s that included Yoko Ono, “Ben” and John Cage.

Roughly speaking, Fluxus pushed  the boundaries of what could be considered “art”,  and explored the question of how art fits into people’s lives.

You’ll get the gist at the museum, which has a permanent collection of 300 works by 50 artists, among them Yoko Ono and Wolf Vostell.

3. Maison de la Magie

Maison de la MagieSource: flickr
Maison de la Magie

Across the way from the Château de Blois is a rare museum, devoted entirely to magic but also a performance venue for illusionists, on top of being a magic workshop.

The attraction is named for the Blois native, Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin, the 19th-century conjurer described as the modern founder of this art.

Harry Houdini was such a fan that he based his stage name on the Frenchman.

There lots of background on Houdin at the Maison de la Magie, and younger members of your group will be spellbound by the live magic show and whimsical exhibits that call to mind the golden age of stage magic and carnival illusions in the 1800s.

4. Château de Chambord

Château de ChambordSource: flickr
Château de Chambord

You’ll be cheating yourself if you come to Blois and don’t go to the largest and possibly the most impressive of all the châteaux in the Loire Valley.

It boggles the mind to think that this 16th-century palace, which began its life as a humble hunting lodge, was never actually finished.

At 56 metres in height the grandeur of the château is what will stay with you, as well as the sight of that iconic facade with its forest of cupolas and chimneys.

Inside are Louis XIV’s royal apartments, while the emblematic double helix staircase, said to have been designed by Leonardo da Vinci, has wowed everyone  who has seen it for half a millennium.

5. Les Jardins de l’Ancien Évêché

Les Jardins de l’Ancien ÉvêchéSource: flickr
Les Jardins de l’Ancien Évêché

The town hall of Blois is in the city’s former Episcopal Palace, constructed after the diocese of Blois was created at the end of the 17th century.

This is where the name for these super terraced gardens comes from.

At the lowest level is the roseraie (rose garden), open from  May to September and a bewitching blend of colours and scents in late-Spring.

Higher up, with commanding views of the Loire is Le Jardin des Sens (garden of the senses), where horticultural students have collaborated on a garden with plants and landscaping intended to stimulate each of the five senses.

6. Escalier Denis Papin

Escalier Denis PapinSource: flickr
Escalier Denis Papin

Yes, this is indeed a stairway, but the Escalier Denis Papin is as interesting as stairways come because it was made at a time when the city’s streets were realigned in the 1800s.

And as you work those thighs there’s an sweet flower bed in the middle of the way, with wrought iron arabesque fencing.

At the top is a statue of Denis Papin, the man who invented the forerunner to the pressure cooker and steam engine in the 1600s.

Like him you can stand at the summit and meditate over a satisfying view that goes straight down and along the Pont Jacques Gabriel over the Loire.

7. Place Louis XII

Place Louis XIISource: flickr
Place Louis XII

A time when you can really “get” Blois is Saturday, and the location is here at a square that has been here for centuries.

On Saturdays some 120 traders set up shop for a sociable market, selling anything from farm-fresh fruit and vegetables to enticing delicacies like cheese, honey, wines and pastries.

At any other time you could hover here for a few moments to seek the shade of the plane trees or come for a chat and drink at one of the bar terraces.

On the east side there’s something fascinating too: The Fountain of Charles XII is from 1511 and is decorated with sculpted trefoils and fleurs de lys.

8. Tour Beauvoir

Tour BeauvoirSource: flickr
Tour Beauvoir

One of the oldest things still standing in Blois is a square tower that first went up in the 1100s.

One of the curious things about it is that the tower was originally in a whole fortress belonging to the Lords “Seigneurs” of Beauvoir, who were vassals to the Count of Blois.

In the 13th century though, the tower was integrated in to the city’s defensive ramparts, and the prison that had previously been in the Château de Blois was moved here.

The jail remained here in this tower in one fashion or another until as recently as 1945!

9. Rue du Puits-Châtel

Hôtel de VilleSource: flickr
Hôtel de Ville

One street that communicates the great age and prestige of old Blois is the Rue du Puits-Châtel, running parallel to the river just below the Hôtel de Ville and the cathedral.

This is a corridor-like alleyway, laid with cobblestones and hemmed by tall stone houses.

But make sure you’re paying attention because these houses have courtyards that reveal their true splendour and have renaissance arches, stone towers or half-timbered galleries.

10. Hôtels Particuliers

Hôtel AlluyeSource: wikiwand
Hôtel Alluye

In renaissance times the nobility needed to be close to the royal court in Blois, so at this time stately townhouses cropped up all over the city.

Which means that for a smallish city Blois has an absurd number of “monuments historiques” and many are Hôtels Particuliers.

Few open their doors, except on heritage days in September, but that won’t stop you from seeking out the best on a jaunt around the city.

The Hôtel de Villebresme, also known as the Maison de Dennis Papin, is a half-timbered marvel with mullioned windows and strange carvings of mythical beasts and acrobats on the beams and corbels.

Later, and built from stone is the 16th-century  Hôtel Alluye, still the largest private residence in the centre of Blois at 30 metres wide.

It’s an interesting transitional building with gothic corbels and renaissance ornamental scrolls in the same design.

11. Château de Chaumont

Château de ChaumontSource: flickr
Château de Chaumont

An easy 15 minutes along the Loire, this attraction is also known as the Domaine de Chaumont-sur-Loire.

The castle surpasses everything round it, on a natural rise next to the river, and its fantasy-like appearance dates to the 1400s when it was completely rebuilt.

Chaumont is how we all pictured castles as children, with drawbridge and bulky circular towers capped with spires and sloping roofs.

Catherine de Medici lived here in the 1560s where she entertained guests such as the astrologer Nostradamus.

The estate is as important as the castle because of the international garden festival that invites the best landscaping talent from around the world to astonish visitors with their creativity from April to October each year.

12. Château de Cheverny

Château de ChevernySource: flickr
Château de Cheverny

There are plenty of reasons why Cheverny deserves your time, not least because it looks quite unlike most of the châteaux in the Loire Valley.

Cheverny isn’t renaissance, but rather baroque and was constructed in the 1620s.

Your other motive for coming should be to see the interior decoration and  furniture, which are probably richer than at any other stately home in the region.

There are tapestries from Flanders and Paris, paintings from the school of Raphael and by Rigaud, Clouet, Mignard and Maurice-Quentin de La Tour.

In the grounds are waterways for boating in summer, and finally, if the Château de Cheverny rings any bells it was Hergé’s model for Captain Haddock’s Marlinspike Hall in the Tintin books.

13. Château de Fougères-sur-Bièvre

Château de Fougères-sur-BièvreSource: flickr
Château de Fougères-sur-Bièvre

The final château, a short hop south of Blois, is smaller than the others and less visited too.

But that takes nothing away from the compact majesty of the castle, which started out as a fortress before taking on its more gentrified appearance in renaissance times.

Approaching the castle is always a joy, as you’re met with a tough fortified gate beefed up with two round towers on each flank.

Inside you’ll wander down passageways, up winding stairways and see the masterful joinery in the interior of those sloping roofs.

There’s a medieval kitchen garden in the grounds, with formal, raised beds irrigated by the Bièvre stream.

14. Loire River Trips

Loire River TripsSource: flickr
Loire River Trips

From May to October you can board a traditional “toue cabanée” vessel for an hour-long cruise on the Loire, with an experienced guide filling you in on river life in centuries past.

Boats such as this haven’t changed much since the 1700s, when they were used by salmon fishers, and consist of a sail and a wooden cabin.

These trips are offered both in Blois and Chaumont, a few minutes in the car downstream.

In Vineuil, just moments from Blois, you can also hire a kayak, canoe or paddleboard to glide through the Pays des Châteaux with total freedom.

15. Chateaux à Vélo

Chateaux à VéloSource: flickr
Chateaux à Vélo

Going carless isn’t a problem in Blois; if anything you’ll get a better perspective of the Sologne countryside as you wheel through it on the designated and well-maintained cycle trails.

You can do Chambord, Cheverny or Chaumont in less than an hour, with a complete infrastructure of hire centres to equip you with all the gear you could require.

And being in the Loire Valley the going is as light as you could wish for.

The only hills you’ll encounter will be away from the river, in the Bois de Boulogne on the way to Chambord for instance, where you’ll ride in a landscape of orchards, vines, birch forest and blackcurrant shrubs.

15 Best Things to Do in Blois (France):

  • Château de Blois
  • Fondation du Doute
  • Maison de la Magie
  • Château de Chambord
  • Les Jardins de l’Ancien Évêché
  • Escalier Denis Papin
  • Place Louis XII
  • Tour Beauvoir
  • Rue du Puits-Châtel
  • Hôtels Particuliers
  • Château de Chaumont
  • Château de Cheverny
  • Château de Fougères-sur-Bièvre
  • Loire River Trips
  • Chateaux à Vélo