Orléans Guide: Planning Your Trip

Cathedral Sainte-Croix in Orleans
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Orléans in central France is a perfect central starting point for trips around the gorgeous Loire Valley, with its famous châteaux, gardens, and historic attractions. The city is best known for being the location of France's victorious battle against England in the 100 Years War, thanks to the indispensable help of Joan of Arc.

The Loire Valley is one of the most-visited parts of France, especially since it's so easy to reach from Paris. While you could make it a day trip, Orléans is a city worth staying in with an attractive old quarter that transports visitors back to a bygone time.

Planning Your Trip

  • Best Time to Visit: For comfortable weather with minimal crowds, plan your trip for May, September, or October. From April 29 to May 8 every year, the city holds a Renaissance-like festival celebrating Joan of Arc's victory.
  • Language: The language spoken in Orléans is French, although some English is generally spoken in restaurants, hotels, and tourist attractions.
  • Currency: Euros are used in Orléans, although credit cards are widely accepted.
  • Getting Around: If you plan to stay around the city center, everything is easily walkable. Otherwise, there are two tram lines that run north-south and east-west for moving around. To visit the surrounding Loire Valley, it's best to go in your own vehicle or by bike.
  • Travel Tip: If you're already in the Loire Valley region, don't overlook nearby towns that also pack a lot of charm like Angers, Saumur, or Tours.

Things to Do

Most visitors come to Orléans to learn more about the famous heroine Joan of Arc, whose history is inextricably tied to the city. Her story is fascinating even if you aren't interested in historical events, but there's plenty more to explore like art museums, wineries, and the French countryside. For true outdoor enthusiasts, the Loire à Vélo is a well-maintained bicycle route that's 500 miles long and passes through Orléans on the way to the Atlantic coast.

  • Maison de Jeanne-d'Arc: This half-timbered building is a reconstruction of the house of the Treasurer of Orléans, Jacques Boucher, where Joan stayed in 1429 during her watershed battle. An audiovisual exhibit tells the story of the lifting of the siege by Joan on May 8, 1429.
  • Cathedrale Ste-Croix: For a superb view, approach the city from the other side of the Loire River and you'll see the cathedral standing out on the skyline. It's the place where Joan celebrated her first victory and the stained glass windows inside depict the story of her efforts. Other highlights inside include the 17th-century organ and the 18th-century woodwork.
  • Musee des Beaux-Arts: Right next door to the cathedral is the Muse des Beaux-Arts, with an impressive collection of paintings by renowned artists like Picasso, Van Dyck, Correggio, Velazquez, and Gauguin. Apart from the permanent exhibits, there's also some interesting temporary exhibition going on.
  • Hotel Groslot: A huge Renaissance house built in 1550, the Hotel was the home of Francois II who married Mary, Queen of Scots. The mansion was also used as a residence by the French kings Charles IX, Henri III, and Henri IV. You can see the interior and the garden.
  • Le Parc Floral de la Source: This large botanical garden around the Loiret River—which runs into the Loire—offers plenty to do including free croquet and badminton among the different gardens. Don't miss the dahlia and iris gardens that fill the place with color, plus a delightful vegetable garden.

What to Eat and Drink

The Loire Valley is known for its game meats, like quail, pheasants, deer, and boar, hunted in the nearby forest of the Sologne. It may be far from the coast, but the city also specializes in freshwater fish from the local Loire River. In a country celebrated for cheese, the Loire Valley is particularly known for its chèvre, or goat cheese. Thanks to the valley's rich soil, local produce is often the star of Orléans cuisine. Local strawberries are famous throughout France in the summer, and you can go foraging for mushrooms in caves along the Loire River.

The Loire Valley produces some of France's best wines with over 20 different appellations and is especially renowned for its white wines. You'll find local wines in restaurants and bistros around Orléans, but don't miss out on visiting the wineries in the area—oftentimes located in enchanting medieval villages. To the east, you can discover the town of Sancerre with its wines produced from the Sauvignon grape. To the west, the area around Nantes produces Muscadet.

Where to Stay

The majority of the city's biggest attractions are in the historical center, including the Orléans train station. From here, you can walk pretty much anywhere that you want to get to. However, if you're arriving by car then parking is also the most complicated in the city center. Consider looking for accommodations outside of the center but close to a tram station so you can still easily move around.

Student travelers who want to save money can also look for cheaper options outside of the center. To the south of the city is the University of Orléans with a lot of student life for going out and meeting locals, but still with easy access to the tram for getting to the center.

Getting There

It's easy to take a weekend trip—or even a day trip—to Orléans from Paris. The fastest way to get there is by train, shuttling passengers from Austerlitz Station in Paris to Orléans in under an hour. If you're planning on exploring more of the Loire Valley, driving your own vehicle from Paris takes about an hour and a half—just be prepared to pay up on expensive toll roads.

Money Saving Tips

  • Admission to the Musee des Beaux-Arts is free on the first Sunday of every month, which is just one further reason to pay a visit to the museum.
  • If train tickets go up drastically in price, take a look at bus companies like Flixbus, which often costs less than 10 euros.
  • Peak tourist season is July and August when the city fills with French and international tourists and prices go up. Winter is very cold, but low season prices and Christmas markets offer their own appeal.