The third year of my French and International studies degree was spent teaching English to primary school kids in France. It was hard to choose between spending a year in Paris or a year elsewhere and in the end I chose elsewhere. That elsewhere was Grenoble, a beautiful town surrounded by mountains in every direction. Grenoble is perfect for people who like an outdoors lifestyle; think walking, skiing, rock climbing and cycling. But there’s also plenty to keep the less activity-inclined interested.
Update: After visiting Grenoble and speaking with the locals, I added 11 extra tips to Hannah’s article. Hope you enjoy! (Natalie, creator of Tourist2Local)
Have the World's Only Naturally Green Drink
If there’s one drink you should try in Grenoble, it’s the Chartreuse. This local drink stems from the Chartreuse mountains that border Grenoble and is made up of 130 plants that give the Chartreuse its naturally green look. Also adding to the mystery of the drink, only two monks in the entire world know how to make it. You can experience this drink at the Chartreuse Cellar in Voiron, at The Museum of the Grande-Chartreuse, or simply by ordering a Chartreuse in Grenoble.
Try the Ravioles du Royans
They aren’t raviolis, they are ravioles! Don’t make the mistake of confusing these with the more popular Italian raviolis, because there’s a difference. Ravioles du Royal come from Royan region in France, and are one of the most popular local dishes you can get in the city. If you want to get even more cultural, order them with some tasty regional cheeses as well such as the St. Marcellin and le Bleu du Vercors Sassenage.
Hike Up the Bastille and Have a Picnic
When the weather’s nicer, taking a hike up to the top of the Bastille is what the locals love to do. You’ll see some crazy fools deciding to run up the track too! Take a picnic and relax at the top.
The Market Under the Railroad Tracks
There’s no shortage of markets in Grenoble, but by far the best is the market under the railway tracks called Marché de l’Estacade. Perhaps I’m biased as it was my local favourite. Sunday’s are the best day to visit when all the stallholders are present. My favourites? the man cooking up fresh tortellini and ravioli (time it right and you’ll get a taster!), the honey being dripped out of huge vats into jars and the rotisserie chicken (the fat drips down and cooks the potatoes below), order a whole chicken and some potatoes and you’ve got most of your Sunday lunch sorted!
Eat Like a Local at La Ferme à Dédé
I always ask the locals where to eat when I’m traveling, and in Grenoble, everyone mentioned to La Ferme à Dédé. It’s a cute, traditional restaurant in the city center serving lots of regional specialties such as Ravioles, local cheeses, and walnut pies (tarte aux noix).
Watch the 6 Nations Rugby in a Great Atmosphere
If you’ve timed your visit to Grenoble around the same time as the 6 Nations, you’d best get into the spirit of things and visit a pub in the centre of Grenoble for a pint and some screaming and shouting at the TV. O’Callaghans is Grenoble’s well-known Irish pub (every city has at least one!) and is where you’ll find a lot of expats, as well as locals, watching the games.
Hike up the Third Most Prominent Mountain in France
If you’re looking for a somewhat challenging hike with spectacular views, then Chamechaude is your answer. It’s located in the Chartreuse mountains and is the third most prominent mountain in France. We started the hike at Cop du Porte and it was about a 4 hour hike from top to bottom. Just remember to follow the yellow marks up to the peak.
Try the Murçon de la Matheysine
If meat is your thing, then you’ll want to try the regional sausage called Murçon de la Matheysine. It comes from around the corner, and you can eat it alongside another local favorite, the gratin dauphinois. Personally, I’m not a big sausage fan, and I thought the Murçon de la Matheysine was a bit dry. However, I’m always happy to try something new, and I have to say that those gratins dauphinois were tasty!
Shop the Boutiques on the Rue de Strasbourg
An excellent place to spend your money is on the Rue de Strasbourg. There are plenty of boutiques that offer all kinds of French goodies you’ll want to take home with you. From the famous cheese boutique of Fromagerie Les Alpages to chocolate, sausage, and wine shops, there’s something for everyone on this neat street.
Spend your weekends skiing at Alpe D’huez
You can’t spend time in Grenoble in the winter and not go skiing. Alpe D’huez is one of the biggest ski resorts and is just 1 ½ hours away from the centre of Grenoble. Ski Ligne offer great deals on transport and ski passes that actually cost less than a day’s ski pass when bought in the resort!
Enjoy a Lazy Sunday Brunch
There’s nowhere in Grenoble I’d rather go for breakfast than Pain & Cie. This Grenoblois institution serves up freshly made bread with a wonderful assortment of homemade spreads. Think speculoos, nutella and white chocolate, as well as sweet and tangy jams. The coffee here is great too!
Dig into Grenoble's Favorite Nut
When it comes to food in France, wine and cheese usually comes to mind. However, if you are wanting to dive into Grenoble’s cuisine, you are going to have to get nuts… walnuts that is! The climate surrounding Grenoble is ideal for growing walnuts, and you can find them everywhere. They have walnut cakes, pies, liquors, oils, and, of course, plain old walnuts themselves!
Take a Hike Around the Breathtaking Lac du Monteynard
A short day trip away from Grenoble that provides you with stunning views from start to finish is an outing to Lac du Monteyard. Its bright blue water, surrounded by rolling hills and peaking mountains will leave your eyes roaming as you take in all of that beautiful scenery. A great way to experience Lac du Monteyard is by hiking around it. You can start the adventure in Treffort as you take the 10:00 a.m. boat across the water. From there, you can trek 3-4 hours around the lake, cross it’s famous bridges (Drac and Ebron), and be back in Treffort by mid-afternoon.
Sample the Local Cheeses
The stereotype is true. French people love cheese, and each region has its own specialities. Two of the most popular local cheeses in Grenoble are the St. Marcellin and le Bleu du Vercors Sassenage. You can eat them alone, with bread, or with some of the local dishes.
A Great Dinner at a Great Price
While Pain & Cie is great for breakfast, L’Ardoise is my go-to for dinner. Their very reasonably priced set menus include the best items on their menu such as the honey duck.
Nibble on Some of Grenoble's Most Popular Cookies
Adélaïde Cookies is Grenoble’s cookie shop. It’s been around since 1989, and the locals love it. Their cookies are a bit smaller than American cookies, but they have a huge selection of cookies to choose from. So, there’s sure to be a cookie (or a few!) that you’ll want to try.
If You're Missing Your Favorite Lattes
Play Board Games Well into the Night
For a slightly different night out grab your friends and go to K Fée des jeux. There’s a massive range of board games and card games at this cafe where you can also order some food and drinks to keep you going well into the night.
Take on all the pizza restaurants along Quai Perrière
The road on the far side of the river has a lot of pizza restaurants. And when I say a lot I mean about 20+. If you’re in Grenoble for a while take it upon yourself to see how many pizza restaurants you can visit!
Visit a Beautiful Castle
There’s plenty of great day trips from Grenoble, but if you’re going to do just one then head to Vizille. Take the bus from the Gare for about 30 minutes and you’ll arrive in the small and picturesque village of Vizille. There’s not a whole lot to do here other than see the castle, but what a castle! Wander through the grounds with its trickling river, say ‘Bonjour!’ to the animals and try and avoid the swans!
Gooey Cheese and Fresh Baguettes in the Park
There are numerous parks around Grenoble but two of the best, and most central, are Jardin de Ville and Parc Paul Mistral. Grab some gooey cheese and fresh baguettes and you’ve got yourselves a great picnic!
Work your way through the beer list at Les Berthom
Les Berthom has a huge beer list, the biggest in Grenoble without a doubt. If you’re a beer drinker this is definitely the place to visit. My favourite was Kirsch, a cherry flavoured beer.
Get a little drunk on Beaujolais night
Beaujolais night is the night when the first wine of the year comes into the shops around France. In cities all over the country the French will buy a bottle (or three) of the new season wine and drink it at home or out on the streets. Street parties form and you can be sure you’re in for a great night!
Eat a French Hamburger
This is not specific to Grenoble per say. Big Ferdnand is a hamburger chain in France. However, after having multiple locals telling me to eat there, I knew I had to put it on the list. The hamburgers at Big Ferdnand are like American burgers, but with a twist. Instead of using traditional American burger ingredients, they use French toppings instead. I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical at first. Yet, after my first hamburger, they had me converted. These could possibly be the best burgers I’ve eaten in Europe so far. Tip: If you want to eat the burger with local ingredients from Grenoble, get the Barcelin.
Cycle Along the River As Far As You Can
Grenoble has a great cycle hire scheme. Simply rent a bike from the main train station and follow the river north. There’s a wide cycle track right alongside the river and it’s beautiful when the sun is shining. On the whole, Grenoble is great for cyclists with many locals opting for two wheels rather than four.
Drink Mulled Wine at the Christmas Markets
In mid-November, the Christmas markets spring up all over Europe. The entire centre of Grenoble is filled with small wooden huts and fairy lights selling mulled wine, cider, warming food and pretty decorations.
Wine, Wine, and Wine
In autumn, Le Millésime comes to Grenoble. Held in Place Victor Hugo in the centre, this is a festival of wine. The entry price gets you a souvenir wine glass and as much wine as you can manage!
Drink a Monaco
A Moncao is beer with grenadine and lemonade. It’s pink in colour and you’ll see locals drinking it all over Grenoble – for good reason! Just make sure you get your pronunciation right or you’ll end up with a mojito like I did a few times!
Explore the Autrans
When the sun comes out Grenoble is gorgeous. Head up to Autrans to explore the open fields, rolling hills and get a stunning view onto Grenoble.
Have Drinks in a Ship-Themed Bar
Barberousse only serves rum and lots of it. But don’t let you put that off! Far from being disgusting, the rum at Barberousse is flavoured. You’ll find strawberry, cherry, chocolate.. In fact, pretty much any flavour! Visit on a Friday or Saturday night when the party is in full swing!
Hannah is an adventure travel lover and has been since her parents marched her up Mount Vesuvius at the age of 6! When she’s not out exploring she can probably be found eating her way through a country’s local cuisine. Find out more on her blog, That Adventurer.