City Guide: Poitiers
Poitiers is a lovely French town in the region of Vienne. The city is known for its various historic facades and its interesting location on a mountain, making it quite difficult to even get to the core of the city. However, you should take the steps up as Poitiers is awaiting you with real beauty.
In this city guide, I’ll try to help you get an idea of what to expect in Poitiers. I arrived by TGV from Paris, which takes less than two hours and even makes Poitiers a good option for a day trip.
However, be aware that you are arriving in the lower part of town, which means that you’ll have to take quite some steps to get to the city center.
Yet, the way up is quite fascinating as you’ll be able to enjoy a nice view of the surroundings. If you feel lazy, you may also take a bus.
Poitiers Town Hall & Prefecture de Vienne
Upon reaching the city, you’ll first pass the beautiful Post Office of Poitiers, which already showcases how nice the historic architecture of the city is.
Just a few steps away, you’ll find yourself at the main square of the city, which is dominated by the Mairie de Poitiers, the Town Hall. As it’s the norm for French cities, this one is truly beautiful and looks shiny and brand new, while having a historic character.
Additionally, the whole square is a beautiful place to walk around, sit down for coffee or just enjoy the sun (which you’ll get plenty of when visiting Poitiers).
When at the Town Hall of Poitiers, I’d recommend walking in the opposite direction of the building on Rue Victor Hugo. In the distance, you’ll already see an interesting big building.
This one is the Prefecture de Vienne, the historic and actual administration building of the Vienne region. The building is truly beautiful and comes with two identical wings.
However, it’s also worth turning around and admiring the Place Aristide Briand, which is symmetric and comes with historic buildings, too.
UNESCO World Heritage Eglise Saint Hilaire
Interestingly, the Eglise Saint Hilaire or Saint Hilaire Church is often skipped by visitors of Poitiers, despite the church being part of the UNESCO World Heritage. It’s a ten minute walk from the Prefecture, but it’s not directly located in the city center, which might explain why there was pretty much nobody around.
However, I’d totally recommend taking the detour as I enjoyed this area of Poitiers in general and the church in particular. It’s not only a very interesting building, which differs from many other churchs I’ve seen so far, but the inner space is even more fascinating.
Especially interesting is the use of subway tiles in the church, which I haven’t seen before.
Poitiers Cathedral and the Baptisterium Saint-Jean
Another area of Poitiers you should definitely see is Poitiers Cathedral, which is located a good ten minutes away from the city center. It’s a little tough to take a picture of the cathedral, but it is actually a very beautiful building.
It looks quite different to most cathedrals I’ve seen in Europe in general and France in particular so far, but it has its very own charm. Sadly, it wasn’t possible to visit it from the inside, but I at least had a look at it from different angles.
The area around the Cathedral of Poitiers is also interesting for other reasons as there are a couple of museums as well as the historic Baptisterium Saint-Jean.
So, if you have some time, be sure to plan one or another hour for this part of the city.
Les Palais and the City Center of Poitiers
When walking from the city to the cathedral and back, you’ll have the chance to admire the historic architecture and lovely narrow streets, which make Poitiers so fascinating.
You’ll also walk by the famous “hôtels”, which aren’t hotels, but rather historic city houses, which once belonged to the most wealthy families in Poitiers. When back in the city, you’ll find yourself close to the Notre-Dame-la-Grande de Poitiers, which is located at Place Charles de Gaulle.
Not only the church itself is worth seeing, but the whole area around is very nice, too. There are several historic buildings as well as the University (Sciences Po) and the Tourism Office if you want to get some more information about the city.
From this area of Poitiers, you’ll reach a couple of interesting spots in just a few minutes walking. Those include the two famous “Palais”. That’s the Palais des Comtes de Poitou et Ducs d’Aquitaine, which looks like a fortress and the Palais de Justice, which is hidden a little bit at Place Alphonse Lepetit.
If you still have some more time to explore Poitiers, I’d recommend visiting the Place de la Liberte, which has a little remake of the Statue of Liberty – a little smaller though.
Other than that, just strolling through the streets of Poitiers City Center is an experience in itself.
Overall impressions of Poitiers
Visiting Poitiers is a very enjoyable experience and I can just recommend doing so. While the city might be located a little off the typical touristy route of exploring France, it has enough charm to be worth a trip on its own. The several historic buildings make the city feel like it has fallen out of town. The many beautiful squares and the shiny mairie as well as the interesting churches and cathedral are further things that make Poitiers a great place to visit. Overall, a beautiful little city I can just recommend visiting. However, be aware that walking up to the city from the train station can be quite strenous.
Have you been to Poitiers? What do you like most about the city?