The real attraction of this hidden gem is that it’s off the main tourist radar and uncrowded. It was also the birthplace of the Michelin brothers, so expect the food to be tip-top. Explore our guide on the best things to do in Clermont-Ferrand, plus the best places to eat.
A city break in Europe would be incomplete without at least a passing glance at the cathedral. The majestic Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-l'Assomption is utterly unique; its striking gothic façade is carved from local volcanic rock, giving it a jet-black colour. The cavernous interior is equally impressive, with towering stained-glass windows, and it looks stunning when illuminated in the evening too. It’s open every day and is free to enter.
The pale-cream exterior of the Basilique Notre-Dame du Port couldn’t be more in contrast with the neogothic cathedral. Its barrel-arched Romanesque front from the 12th Century is sure to delight fans of architecture, and it’s even a designated UNESCO World Heritage site, partly because it’s on one of the traditional pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela.
There are two big squares worth photographing, or at least stopping to admire, while you’re in Clermont Ferrand. Place de la Victoire is a tree-lined square, fringed with pretty cafes and bars where you can sit and enjoy a drink and meal al fresco with a great view of the cathedral. The best view of the cathedral is at night, when the square is glowing with atmospheric light. The Place de Jaude is a wide and sunny plaza, frequented by families in good weather, with an impressive statue of Vercingetorix (a tribe chieftain led a revolt against the Romans). The statue was actually designed by famous sculptor Auguste Bartholdi who is also responsible for the Statue of Liberty in New York.
Art lovers will find plenty of things to do in Clermont Ferrand, as the city is almost overflowing with art galleries of all styles and sizes. FRAC Auvergne is an impressive modern art museum, right next to the cathedral and not far away you’ll find Fontfreyde centre photographique, a photography museum hosting multiple exhibitions across several floors in a beautifully juxtaposing historical building. You’ll find dozens of smaller, unique galleries, including Galerie AA, Galerie Claire Gastaud, Galerie Quatrième and many more. A little out of the centre, in the Le Vieux Montferrand district, the Musee d'Art Roger Quilliot is an impressive modern building tucked in a historical corner of the city. It houses sculpture, portrait and paintings from throughout history in a unique and well-curated space.
One of the top things to do in Clermont Ferrand, especially if the weather isn’t on your side, is to lose an afternoon at one of the enchanting museums. The Henri-Lecoq natural history museum is an easy place to spend a few hours, packed with exhibits on animals, geology and textiles – it’s especially good for children. Next door, the Musée Bargoin focuses on ancient civilisations and archaeological finds from the Clermont region, with plenty to discover in its halls, as well as a separate exhibition on global textiles history. It’s the perfect place for a few-hours’ visit, as it isn’t too big or overwhelming, but still fascinating and informative. Both of these museums are free to enter on the first Sunday of every month.
The Michelin Museum may not have immediately topped your list of things to do in Clermont Ferrand – but it’s a hidden gem. This fascinating museum is dedicated to cars, tyres and vehicles in general, with a series of interactive and immersive exhibits that will capture the imagination of adults and kids alike. Motor enthusiasts might also like to book a group tour of the Serre tropicale (glasshouse) at the Michelin headquarters in Place des Carmes Dechaux.
Located conveniently opposite the Henri-Lecoq museum, Jardin Lecoq is one of the prettiest gardens in the city. Think sculpted flowerbeds, fountains and grottos, sculptures and lovely, wide paths that are perfect for prams and wheelchairs. There is parking and toilets (both paid-for), as well as a pretty terrace café which is open for breakfast and lunch. Of course, the park is at its best in spring when everything is in bloom, but it’s also a lovely spot for a sunny sojourn in summer and autumn. To the north of the city centre, Parc Montjuzet is a sprawling greenspace stretching up a volcanic hill, with swathes of trees and a sculpture trail. Once at the top of the hill, you’ll have a fantastic view of the entire city stretching before you, the steeple of the cathedral strikingly and prominent above the low city-skyline. Parc Bargoin is a similar style park in the south-west of the city. Climb the wooded hillside, speckled with sculptures and follies, and emerge at the top of the verdant park for another glorious city view.
One of the best things to do in Clermont-Ferrand is to take advantage of the spectacular volcanic mountains, less than 45 minutes out of the city centre. Take the D941 motorway and make your first stop at the Pierre Carree viewpoint – a roadside pullover with a truly breath-taking panorama. From here, you can take your pick of epic hiking scenery in Puy de Dôme or Puy de Pariou. This entire national park is made up of a chain of 80 extinct volcanoes, now turned into lush mountainous terrain – it’s a guaranteed escape from the everyday. Puy de Montaudoux, just three kilometres from the city centre, is the closest mountain peak and a great place for an afternoon’s hike, while barely having to leave the city (no car required). At the base of the mountain is the Châtaigneraie forest, with perfect, verdant trails to complete your wholesome day’s walking and still close enough to head back to the city centre for dinner.
Obviously, in the birthplace of the Michelin brothers, it would be remiss not to mention Michelin-acclaimed Restaurant Jean-Claude Leclerc. This fine-dining establishment service artfully presented French cuisine with a focus on making local ingredients really shine. La Fée Maison is another elegant restaurant serving colourful, European dishes and Pavillon Lamartine has an haute cuisine menu to match its smart interior. The British Book Club is a quirky concept restaurant serving British-inspired dishes like fish and chips or a full English breakfast, alongside a fun cocktail menu. The interior is lined with books, guitars and vinyl records, making for a cosy and individual atmosphere. For something lighter, or sweeter, head to Crêperie Le 1513 which serves crepes and other French fayre in a traditional restaurants and charming stone-walled courtyard. More budget-friendly options include Bougnat Burger craft-beer and burger joint with plenty of vegetarian options, or stylish restaurant alfred, with French set menus that are particularly good value at lunch time.
Just a few miles from the centre, Royat is a green suburb, with its quaint, castle-like architecture interspersed with trees and terraced gardens. There are plenty of footpaths and walks leading into the verdant hills for a fabulous view back to Clermont-Ferrand, but the real draw of the petite locale is the spa. Its location on natural thermal springs has made the town popular over the years with visitors making a beeline for the ornate and traditional spa, and the vibrant gardens that are fed by the mineral-rich water. Book in for a massage, facial or simply use the indoor and outdoor pools, the jacuzzi, steam room, sauna and ice-chamber and return to Clermont-Ferrand utterly relaxed.