11 reasons to visit Grenoble this summer

Kirsten Henton

Kirsten Henton

Looking for an affordable city break with a difference this summer? Step forward Grenoble - the other 'Capital of the Alps'. This compact city in the Dauphiné region of southeast France - all too often thought of as a winter-only destination - has so much to offer urban explorers.

11 reasons to visit Grenoble this summer © Pierre Jayet - photo courtesy of Grenoble Tourism Office
11 reasons to visit Grenoble this summer © Pierre Jayet - photo courtesy of Grenoble Tourism Office

Think warm, sunny days spent admiring period architecture, checking out scenic views, spying famous artwork, sipping on Chartreuse cocktails, and cheese-sampling - just a few of the things you can do in this Alpine city among the mountains.

1. You're guaranteed a crowd-free start

Fly through petite Grenoble Alpes Isère Airport in winter and you'll contend with thousands of powder-hungry snow-lovers hitting the slopes of popular resorts throughout the ski season.

Go in summer, and what a difference! Gone are the countless groups wielding trolleys piled precariously high with ski-paraphernalia, and departure boards listing flights off across Europe and beyond.

On a peaceful day from late spring to late autumn, it's not unusual to see one flight on the board - Ryanair's low cost seasonal summer route from/to London Stansted. What better excuse do you need to stop and stay in a peaceful, activity-full city that has plenty of surprises in store?

2. The weather is delightful

For a warm and sunny city break, Grenoble ticks every box. Sitting in the foothills of the low Alps, Grenoble enjoys fresh, humidity-free air as well as pleasant daytime temperatures and plenty of sunshine, especially between May and September.

Meanwhile June, July and August average daily highs are even higher - around the upper twenties. Just remember to pack a layer or two, as the altitude ensures evenings are cool.

3. It's cycle heaven

Grenoble may well be located in the foothills of the Alps, hemmed by no less than three dramatic mountain ranges, but it's also said to be France's flattest city. This means it's one easy place to explore on two wheels, and thanks to MetroVelo you can do just that.

You can rent MetroVelo's zingy yellow bikes from as little as €3 per day*, including a lock, helmet and basket if you so desire. Just don't forget to pick up a copy of the city's cycle routes to help you find your pedals on the easy-to-navigate streets of Grenoble.

3. Discover a hilltop fortress

The mid-19th-century Grenoble Bastille is a curious warren of ramparts, steps, caves, blockhouses and museums - don't miss the Mountain Troops Museum buried deep inside the fort, which shows how soldiers perfected the art of fighting in this rugged terrain.

For dinner with a view, book a table at Chez Le Pèr'Gras behind the Bastille with its huge picture windows and exceptional take on local cheese ravioli.

Visiting the Bastille also gives you the chance to really take in the layout of Grenoble. It offers a wonderful panorama including the mountains that ring the city, the terracotta roofs of the higgledy-piggledy old town, modern scientific heartland, and joining of the meandering Drac and Isère rivers.

Sail over the Isère River in Grenoble's vintage 'bubbles' © Pierre Jayet - photo courtesy of Grenoble Tourism Office
Sail over the Isère River in Grenoble's vintage 'bubbles' © Pierre Jayet - photo courtesy of Grenoble Tourism Office

4. Take a ride in a vintage bubble

Another reason to head for the Bastille is that you get to hop in one of the city's iconic 'bubbles', also known as the Grenoble Bastille Cable Car. This retro ride - which dates from 1934, although the bubbles were added in 1976 - will have you at the top in a matter of minutes.

Get a little more from your visit by riding the cable car up and hiking back down the hairpin GR9 walking route to the pretty, historic neighbourhood of Saint Laurent. Alternatively, head for the hills by following one of the various routes from the Bastille into the Chartreuse Mountains for a truly memorable day's walking.

5. Fromage is a big deal

There's no denying it - cheese is a diet-staple in and around Grenoble. Call by the counter at Les Alpages where moustachioed-Bernard will enthusiastically show you his mighty fine collection of local and international cheeses - make sure you try the rich and creamy Bleu du Vercors Sassenage - a speciality of the Dauphiné region.

Visiting in October? Aim for the spectacle that is the annual Descent of the Alps. Grenoble throws one great street party as producers and farmers celebrate the return of the cattle from the Alps for winter. You'll find tastings, live music, and the all important procession of the hard-working cattle themselves - not to mention an award-ceremony for the best beast.

Enjoy a drink in one of Grenoble's many sunny squares © Pierre Jayet - photo courtesy of Grenoble Tourism Office
Enjoy a drink in one of Grenoble's many sunny squares © Pierre Jayet - photo courtesy of Grenoble Tourism Office

6. The multitude of museums

Grenoble is well stocked with museums paying homage to its cultural heritage. Inspect ancient finds at the Grenoble Archaeological Museum before examining classical pieces and modern art at the Museum of Grenoble.

An ode to the city's celebrated scientific and research achievements, The Chemistry Museum charts the growth of the chemical industry, while the Resistance Museum tells the moving, courageous stories of those brave citizens who worked - at great personal cost - against the occupying German forces during WW2.

There's truly something for everyone. You can see the full list of Grenoble's museums and galleries on the tourist board's website.

7. It's a sanctuary for street artists

Did you know that Grenoble hosts the only urban street art festival in France? Launched in 2015, it attracts visitors and artists from around the globe, showcasing all sorts of styles, from sculptures and installations to stencilled images, tags, frescoes and murals with meaning created using a variety of techniques.

Admire the calligraphy of 'The Weapon of Peace' by street artist SNEK © SNEK - photo courtesy of Grenoble Tourism Office
Admire The Weapon of Peace by street artist SNEK © SNEK - photo courtesy of Grenoble Tourism Office

The Grenoble Street Art Fest runs throughout June each year, and is free to attend. There's a busy schedule of activities including conferences and screenings plus guided walking tours for anyone keen to learn a little more about what's on show. Alternatively, get your hands on a copy of the festival's route map to tick off edgy art around the city at your own speed.

8. Take your pick of free festivals

Grenoble also hosts a multitude of music festivals throughout summer, such as the much-loved Cabaret Frappé, which takes place around mid-July each year. This free event brings all sorts of talented musicians together, with public concerts and gigs filling the air around the band stand in the City Garden (Jardin de Ville).

Wine and classical music mingle at Le Millésime Festival each October - photo courtesy of Grenoble Tourism Office
Wine and classical music mingle at Le Millésime Festival each October - photo courtesy of Grenoble Tourism Office

Add the film, wine, walking, free-flight, and mountain festivals that take place at various times from July to October, and you've got one seriously good reason to visit Grenoble in summer. Check out the tourist board's website to see the full calendar of events in Grenoble.

9. Sample the local liqueur

Hands up who's tried Chartreuse? Renowned throughout France and the wider world, original Chartreuse is a historic blend of 130 botanicals, which still adds its signature 'green bubbles' to a variety of cocktails today.

Make an afternoon of it by heading to the Chartreuse Cellar in Voiron (around one hour by bus EXP1 from Grenoble) - said to be the longest liqueur cellar in the world - where you'll learn everything from the history to production of Chartreuse before enjoying a well earned tasting. Salut!

10. You can do it on a budget

One of the many things that makes Grenoble a cracking city break is its affordability. From getting there to accommodation and sightseeing, it's geared towards budget-friendly travel, especially in the summer months when demand is low.

Consider buying a Grenoble Pass to experience the attractions for less. Choose from one, two or three-day options, which include tickets for public transport, entry to 20 sites around the city, including the Bastille cable car and Museum of Grenoble, as well as discounts at various restaurants and independent shops (of which there are many).

11. ...and you can get there from £9.99

While flights during the ski season can be somewhat pricey owing to Grenoble's popularity as a launching pad for winter sports, it's a different case altogether in summer.

Ryanair has launched a special summer schedule, which whisks you from London Stansted Airport (STN) to Grenoble Alpes Isère Airport (GNB) in around an hour and a half, three times per week, from as little as £9.99* each way.

* Prices correct as of June 2018.

Weather2Travel.com travelled as a guest of Grenoble-Alpes Métropole Tourist Office in May 2018. All views expressed are those of the writer.

Kirsten Henton

Kirsten Henton
Posted on Thursday 7th June 2018 in: City Europe Summer

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