Tours (with a silent s) is an important city located in the Loire Valley of west-central France. With a city population of 140,000, and 360,000 in the agglomeration, Tours is the largest city in Centre-Val de Loire, though the status of regional capital is held by Orléans. Tours sits on both the river Loire and its large tributary the Cher, with the city centre located between the two. The city has a number of attractions, including two cathedrals, a number of interesting museums and great local cuisine. Furthermore, Tours is excellently placed to serve as a base from which to explore the countless châteaux of the Loire Valley. The administrative département of Indre-et-Loire, of which Tours is the prefecture, is known almost exclusively to residents by its much older name of the Touraine, and is renowned for its wines and for the perfection of its local spoken French.
- Tours has a very small international airport, which receives regular year-round flights from London Stansted, Porto and Marrakech (all operated by RyanAir) and seasonal flights from Marseille, Dublin (both RyanAir) and Corsica (Figari, operated by Corsicatours).
- Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport receives by far the largest number of international flights into France. TGV trains run direct from the airport to Saint-Pierre-des-Corps (see below), from where you can pick up a shuttle train into central Tours. The journey time is approximately two hours.
From the United Kingdom
The high-speed TGV is the fastest way to get to Tours from Paris and costs about 50€ each way. The journey from Paris Montparnasse (to Tours central station) takes just over 1 hour, while you can reach Tours from Paris Charles de Gaulle airport in 2 hours (via Saint-Pierre-des-Corps). You could also take the slower Intercités train from Paris Austerlitz which passes Orléans and Blois too, taking a little over 2 hours. Tickets can be bought for about 25€ each way.
From elsewhere in France
- Saint-Pierre-des-Corps, located on the eastern edge of Tours, is a hub of the national railway network. The station is at the junction of the north-south LGV Atlantique high speed line, the east-west line along the Loire Valley, and several radial routes around the region. Visitors arriving from Angers, Bourges, Bordeaux, La Rochelle, Lille, Nantes, Poitiers and Strasbourg will need to change here for the fast and frequent shuttle train into Tours proper.
Tours is situated at the centre of a highway crossroads: the A10 between Paris and Bordeaux, the A85 from Nantes and Bourges, and the A28 from Le Mans and the rest of Normandy, including the English Channel ports of Cherbourg, Dieppe and Le Havre. The A10 passes between Tours and Saint-Pierre-des-Corps, and Boulevard Heurteloup links junction 21 to the city centre.
By public transport: bus, tram, train
Fil Bleu is the authority responsible for all public transport in Tours and the agglomeration. They operate:
- A comprehensive network of buses throughout the urban area, including several high-frequency routes and one bus rapid transit line (Tempo 2), which connects the north and north-east of Tours and the airport with the city centre, the south of Tours and the suburban town of Chambray-lès-Tours. The most important routes operate at between every 2-to-5 and every 10-to-15 minutes, with less important routes following a significantly less frequent timetable
- A single tram line (Tram A) which connects the north of Tours near the airport with the city centre, the L'Heure Tranquille shopping and entertainment complex and the suburban town of Joué-lès-Tours. Trams operate every 4-to-8 minutes during the day and early evening about every 10-to-20 minutes in the late evening
- An SNCF / Fil Bleu shuttle train (Navette), which runs between Tours and Saint-Pierre-des-Corps railway stations at regular intervals throughout the day and evening. Its travel time of 5 minutes is considerably faster than the equivalent bus journey
Buses and trams generally operate between 05:00 and 01:00 every day of the week, though services are often reduced early mornings and late evenings, and on Sundays and bank holidays. The website offers timetables for every route and an electronic journey planner.
A single Fil Bleu fare costs 1€50 and can be used for up to an hour on any route, including changes. The fare for two journeys is 2€70 and a day pass costs 3€70. There are numerous other fares available for families, concessions, groups and other types of journey, the details of which can be reviewed (in French) on their website. Tickets can be purchased and recharged on board any bus (from the driver) and at every tram stop (using the machines on the platform), as well as at the Fil Bleu information centre on rue Charles Gille and in certain newsagents around Tours. You must validate your ticket or pass each time you board a bus or tram, even when making transfers, by pressing the ticket or pass to one of the blue touchscreens on board. There are frequent inspections on the network and if you are found to be travelling with a ticket or pass which hasn't been validated, you will be treated the same as a fare-evader and may be given an on-the-spot fine.
Maps of the Fil Bleu network can be downloaded from their website.
Cycling is one of the best ways to see the city; Tours lies at the heart of the Loire à Vélo project which has made the entire Loire Valley cyclable, and there are numerous bike rental stores.
Vélociti is the municipal bike hire scheme provided by Fil Bleu. Customers may rent a bike for 7€ a month from the Fil Bleu travel centre at 9, rue Michelet.
Central Tours is compact and very pedestrian friendly so walking is usually the easiest and most pleasant way to get around, particularly as many of the city centre streets are so narrow that the public transport network doesn't directly serve some of the major attractions. A visitors' guide with a recommended walking route can be picked up for free at the tourist office on the corner of rue Bernard Palissy / boulevard Heurteloup.
Tours is compact enough that you will generally not need your car to get around town. A car would, however, be useful if you plan on exploring the towns, châteaux and countryside outside of Tours, though many sites of interest can be reached by public transport and by bike.
Beware that although Tours is easily driveable and not often congested, the many pedestrianised and limited-access streets in the city centre may mean your desired address isn't directly accessible to cars, though there will always be nearby on- or off-street parking.
There are numerous underground car parks in the city, such as at place du Général Leclerc (underneath the large square in front of the railway station), place des Halles (underneath the Halles market hall, ideal for visiting the old town), and at place Anatole France (easy access to the shops on rue Nationale).
- Basilique de Saint Martin de Tours (Basilica of Saint Martin of Tours), Rue Baleschoux (Entrance on Rue Descartes), ☎ +33 2 47 05 63 87. Open all day. Built between 1886 and 1924 on the site of a much earlier basilica (whose two remaining towers, the Tour d'Horloge and Tour Charlemagne still stand next to the current edifice), this Romanesque church's dome stands proudly on the city's skyline. The main attraction within is the crypt which houses the tomb of St Martin of Tours. The basilica's nuns can be stern but are generally very welcoming to respectful visitors. Free.
- Cathédrale Saint Gatien (Tours Cathedral), Rue Lavoisier / Place de la Cathédrale (The pedestrian route from the railway station takes you via Rue Bernard Palissy and Place François Sicard, from where the cathedral is signposted.). Open all day; cloister closes between 12:30 and 14:30. A Gothic cathedral with a monolithic façade, spectacular flying buttresses and plenty of gargoyles, some of which have some rather rude appendages. The interior is no less impressive and there is very detailed information available on boards all around the cathedral. Adjoining is the Cloître de la Psallette, which may or may not be worth the small entrance fee depending on your level of interest. Free, cloister 3€.
- Château de Tours (Tours Castle), 25 avenue André Malraux, ☎ +33 2 47 21 61 95. Tu – F 14:00–18:00, Sa Su 14:15–18:00. Architecturally unimpressive by anybody's standards (especially if you've been spoilt by the likes of Chenonceau and Chambord), the castle nonetheless has an interesting history and hosts free art exhibitions all year round. Free.
- Hôtel de Ville (City Hall), Place Jean Jaurès. This grand 19th-century municipal building stands proudly in front of the ever changing fountains on Tours' central square. If you're there on a day where there is an exhibition inside, it is worth paying the entrance fee just to see the lavishly-decorated ball room.
- Jardin Botanique (Botanical Garden), 35 Boulevard Tonnellé (Bus route 4 from Anatole France or route 15 from Gare de Tours / Jean Jaurès each take about 10 minutes and stop outside the garden.), ☎ +33 2 47 21 62 67, fax: +33 2 47 21 62 90. Open daily, dawn until dusk. Greenhouse and petting farm times vary. This large botanical garden holds year-round interest, with extensive borders dedicated to azaleas, as well as a large herb garden and a rockery. There are also a medium-sized glasshouse, several animal enclosures and a children's petting farm. Each spring is the Printemps des Poètes, with poems displayed around the garden, and there are other events throughout the year. Free.
- Musée des Beaux Arts (Fine Arts Museum), 18 place François Sicard (Almost next to the cathedral), ☎ +33 2 47 05 68 82. W–M 09:00–12:45, 14:00–18:00. Inside the former Palace of the Archbishops of Tours, the Musée des Beaux Arts possesses a sizable collection, including paintings by Debré, Degas, Delacroix, Monet, Roslin and Van Goyen, sculpture by Rodin as well as antiquities, objets d'art, tapestry and medieval religious artwork. The gardens are popular in the summer months and include an enormous Lebanese cedar and a life-sized model of Fritz the elephant, one of Tours' less welcome visitors who went on a rampage after escaping the circus. Adults: 5€; 12-18 year olds, students, over 65s, disabled: 2,50 €; Under 12s: free; first Sunday of each month free entry to all; gardens free.
- Musée du Compagnonnage, 8 rue Nationale (By Anatole France tram stop), ☎ +33 2 47 21 62 20. Open daily 09:00–12:30, 14:00–18:00 except Sep–Jun closed Tu. A most unusual museum depicting artifacts of various guilds of master craftsmen, including many masterpieces of tools, sculpture, bells, clothing, shoes, decorated cakes and the exhibition hall of the museum itself, whose roof is supported by tree-trunk size woodbeams. The museum is especially welcoming to children, with quizzes available and friendly staff on hand to inform and educate. Conspiracy theorists can have fun seeing how many masonic symbols they can spot. Adults: 5,30 €; 12-18 year olds, students, over 65s: 3,80 €; Under 12s: free.
- Muséum d'Histoire Naturelle (Natural History Museum), 3 rue du Président Merville (located between the Old and New Towns, it is well-signposted from the Rue Nationale), ☎ +33 2 47 21 68 08. Tu–F 10:00–12:00, 14:00–18:00; Sa Su 14:00–18:00. Spread across four floors. Level 4, where the visit starts, is the natural history library. Level 3 focuses on the natural history of the Touraine, including many taxidermied specimens and geological artefacts. Level 2 is global natural history, including taxidermied specimens from the 5 inhabited continents, as well as live insects, spiders, snakes, fish, amphibians and reptiles. Level 1 has the reception, shop and temporary exhibitions, recent examples of which being snakes of the world and mammoths. Adults: 3,20 €; 12-18 year olds, students, over 65s, disabled: 1,60 €; Under 12s: free.
- Prieuré de Saint Cosme (Demeure de Ronsard / Pierre de Ronsard's home), rue Ronsard, 37520 La Riche (Although walking from central Tours is possible, the distance may make it preferable to catch the bus or drive. Car park on site. Bus routes 3a and 3b depart from Gare de Tours / Jean Jaurès to La Pleiade. A map would be helpful as the 5 minute walk from here to the priory is not signposted.), ☎ +33 2 47 37 32 70, fax: +33 2 47 37 25 20, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. 1 May–31 Aug 10:00–18:00; low season times vary, check website. A tranquil corner of suburban La Riche, this ruined priory is most noted for being the home and final resting place of Pierre de Ronsard, celebrated poet of the 16th century. Recent renovations have seen the restoration of the gardens and some of the buildings, the erection of new information boards in English and the addition of an interactive feature whereby visitors can listen to readings of Ronsard's poems within the walls of his former residence. Adults: 6 €; Concessions: 4,50 €; Under 7s: free.
- Tours by night is just as spectacular as during the day, as most of the landmarks' façades, including the Basilica, Cathedral, City Hall and railway station are illuminated. The Pont Wilson looks especially brooding when the Loire is foggy.
- Vieux Tours (the Old Town) is the neighbourhood of mainly-pedestrianised medieval streets centred on lively Place Plumereau. Known to the locals as "Place Plum'", this square is bounded by timber-framed maisons à colombages, cafés and bars, whose seats colonise the entire space when the weather is fine. The commercial thoroughfares of Vieux Tours hum with people day and night, but even in this most buzzing of neighbourhoods you can find many quieter ruelles (side streets), quaint alleys and peaceful squares. West of Place Plum', on and around rue de la Monnaie is the Quartier Artisanal where you can spot craftsmen busy in their workshops. Look out for the former hostel at 7, rue des Cérisiers, which was reportedly the inspiration for the Pension Vauquer in Tours native Honoré de Balzac's most celebrated work Le Père Goriot.
- Quartier Lamartine is in many ways a western continuation of the Old Town, albeit without the crowds (and, sadly, the pedestrianisation). As such there are many medieval buildings of note and traditional local businesses, boucheries, boulangeries and florists. The Gothic church on rue Georges Courteline is worth a look.
- Quartier de la Cathédrale, is, unsurprisingly, the district around the cathedral. This well-heeled neighourhood is mainly residential, with a mishmash of grand houses, and their frustratingly hidden gardens, from every century between the 13th and 19th. Particularly of note are Rue Colbert, as much for its interesting history (Joan of Arc's personal armourer and the site of public executions by guillotine being two highlights) as its brilliant restaurants, Rue de la Scellerie for its antiques shops and imposing Grand Théâtre, and the green oasis and handsome homes of Place François Sicard. East of the cathedral, you venture off the beaten track, meaning you usually get to enjoy the ancient Roman walls of the confusingly-named Jardin des Vikings, hear the sweet notes emanating from the Conservatoire de Musique and bask under the mature trees of the Jardin des Ursulines in near-solitude. Don't miss the lovely Romanesque church at the the top of rue de la Porte Rouline and the tiny Musée de Sainte Marie de l'Incarnation on rue du Petit Pré.
- Quartier des Prébendes: Take a walk through the quiet streets west of avenue de Grammont (rue d'Entraigues and rue Roger Salengro are good starting points) and you will be rewarded with elegant 19th century townhouses built in the typical Tourangeau style as well as the Jardin des Prébendes d'Oé, a much-loved municipal park dating from the Second Empire.
Walk through the old city, which is very colorful and full of old houses in the unique Tours style.
- Cycle, walk or jog along the Loire: Starting at Pont Wilson, on either bank of the river, you can walk or cycle for many miles up- or down-stream.
- Visit La Gloriette , a public parc South West of the centre with an experimental vegetable garden and an adventure park, high in the trees. For Free!
- Le Petit Train de Tours (road train) (Departs from boulevard Heurteloup in front of the tourist information centre), ☎ +33 6 63 18 45 68. May–Sep every day; Apr, Oct weekends only: departures every hour on the hour from 10:00 to 18:00, except 13:00. A delightful little road train that follows a circular route through the city centre, passing by all the major landmarks on the way. Adults (13 and over) 6,50 €; Disabled, children aged 3–12 4,50 €; under 3s free..
- La Calèche (horse and carriage ride), rue Bernard Palissy / place François Sicard (The far end of rue Bernard Palissy from the tourist information centre.), ☎ +33 2 47 66 70 70. 1 May–30 Sep, Christmas holidays Tu–Sa 10:00, 11:00, 15:00, 16:00, 17:00; Su, bank holidays 15:00, 16:00, 17:00. See Tours in style, for a very attractive price. 1,50 €, free with a Fil Bleu monthly pass.
The Université Francois-Rabelais offers French courses for people of any level and from any country starting at the beginning of September and ending in May, costing between €1,000-€1,500. Classes are held at the Fromont campus west of the city centre in a quiet residential neighbourhood.
There are several major shopping destinations in Tours. Most people who work in these shops are young so there is a large possibility that they will speak English. Never start speaking English with someone before asking politely : "Parlez-vous anglais?" (pronouncation : par-lay voo on-glay). It is also polite to start with "Bonjour" or "Bonsoir", depending on the time of day, before you say anything else.
- Rue Nationale is the beautifully-pedestrianised main shopping street in central Tours, where the only traffic is the occasional tram gliding past. Along with surrounding streets (west into the New Town around Place de la Résistance', and south past Place Jean Jaurès to Rue Bordeaux), this is home to many high street brand names including a large Galéries Lafayette department store and is especially busy in the early evening. There is also a small indoor shopping mall halfway along Rue Nationale called Galéries Nationale which complements the main street rather well without taking away its business.
- L'Heure Tranquille (L'Heure Tranquille tram stop is 15 minutes' ride from central Tours and just outside the centre. Driving not recommended, though if you do the first 90 minutes are free.). Open every day 10:00–20:00. A new shopping and leisure centre that has a good selection of shops, as well as eating and entertainment facilities (cinema, bowling, laser tag)
- Les Atlantes, Avenue Jacques Duclos, 37700 Saint-Pierre-des-Corps (Easily reachable in 10 minutes on the 3a / 3b bus from Jean Jaurès or in front of the railway station (Vinci end). Driving not recommended.), ☎ +33 2 47 32 25 25. M–Th 9:30–20:30; Fr, Sa 8:30–21:30; Su closed. An out-of-town shopping centre with several large hypermarkets, notably Carrefour, IKEA and Toys 'R' Us, and lots of smaller chain stores.
Souvenirs and crafts
- The Old Town particularly has many tourist-oriented shops and is also home to the Quartier Artisanal, where you can purchase locally-made arts, crafts and other handmade œuvres
- Head to Rue de la Scellerie for the best collection of antiques stores in the Loire.
- The vast majority of newsagents and tobacconists (identified by a red diamond "TABAC" sign) in central Tours stock postcards and basic souvenirs such as fridge magnets.
Apart from the Halles covered market hall (more about that below), there are a few food shops and supermarkets which may be useful for your stay. Note that almost everything of this genre is shut on Sundays.
- Monoprix, 63-65 Rue Nationale, ☎ +33 2 47 61 96 00. 9:00–21:00 (last entry about 20:45, when security locks the entrance doors). The largest and best supermarket in the city centre, with a large clothing section at the front and a food hall at the back.
- Simply Market, Two locations: Place du Général Leclerc / Place Jean Jaurès (Leclerc: in front of the station, next to Le Grand Hôtel / Jaurès: on the corner of Rue Victor Hugo), ☎ Leclerc: +33 2 47 05 29 51 / Jaurès: +33 2 47 60 11 60. Leclerc: M–Sa 7:30–20:00 / Jaurès: M–Sa 9:00–19:30. Medium-sized and well-priced supermarkets
- Intermarché Express, 13 bis - 17 Rue Charles Gille (One block down from Rue de Bordeaux, between the station and Jean Jaurès), ☎ +33 2 47 70 49 49. M–Sa 9:00–20:00, Su 9:30–13:00. The only central supermarket open on Sundays.
- 8 à Huit, 77 Rue Colbert. Despite its rather explicit name, M–Sa 8:30–13:30, 15:00–20:00; Closed Su. French version of a 7-11, albeit with shorter opening hours.
- Cocci Market, Rue Constantine (On the corner of Rue du Commerce heading into the Old Town). Open every day 8:45–22:00. Small convenience store
- A tiny off-licence on Rue Colbert simply signed Alimentation Générale ("general foodstuffs") has a surprisingly good selection of tinned foods, confectionery and some fresh fruit as well as plenty of alcohol. Best of all, it's open well into the early hours, far later than any of the supermarkets. Great for after-hours drinks and snacks!
Artisan food stores
- Hardouin, Two locations: 70 Rue Bernard Palissy / Les Halles de Tours (Palissy: Next to the Vinci Convention Centre / Halles: inside the covered market.), ☎ +33 2 47 05 12 87. "Charcuterie tourangelle de tradition" says it all really. Easily the best and most well-known charcutier (delicatessen) in the Touraine, serving dried and cured meats and saucisson, cheeses, and wonderful seasonal pastries, all using locally-sourced ingredients.
- Any one of the dozens of boulangeries / patisseries around town. No directions needed, there's one on practically every corner. While all are of good quality and sell roughly the same mix of bread, pastries and desserts, different shops specialise in different products; you may find the place that does your favourite baguettes may not sell the tastiest croissants, the best place for a cheeky quiche or tartine may not have the nicest selection of cakes, etc. So shop around, explore and enjoy!
- Place Plumereau and Rue Colbert are arguably the best 2 places to eat in Tours. Rue Colbert has cuisines from all over the world including Iranian, Turkish, Arab, Japanese, previous French colonies and Italian.
- There are many Kebab (Shawerma) restaurants all over and the meal (Formule: Kebab, chips and a drink) costs around €5.
- L'Academie de la Biere Bar at the end of Rue Colbert with about 200 types of beer, along with a tiny dance area.
- Place Plumereau There are lots of places to drink in the old town around Place Plumereau. Many people go to the square at night and people just sit on chairs placed there belonging to restaurants surrounding the square, sometimes maybe not even knowing whose chairs they are.
- The Pale, 18 Place Foire le Roi. An Irish pub popular with Erasmus and American exchange students, a great place to go if you are feeling lost and don't speak any French as the clientele is about 75% Anglophone and all the staff are Irish.
- Le Café Chaud, 33 Rue Briconnet. A nightclub aimed at 18-30s, cool bar area on ground level and downstairs club area with cheesy music, a dancefloor and another bar. Try a cocktail, they are very large and reasonably priced, the 'Malmaison' is popular. Entry is free, though they require you to buy a cocktail. Open every night.
- Le G.I, 13 Rue Lavoisier. Tours' main gay club. Mostly gay men (with female friends) and lesbians, although anybody is admitted on the weekends. Expect to pay about €10-15 entry, but that price includes a drink ticket that can be redeemed at the bar. You need to ring the doorbell to get in, a safety procedure, but don't be put off by this as the door staff are welcoming. Almost nobody arrives before 1am.
- ZooStation - huge out of town club on the north end of Tours, free parking with a car, however to avoid getting lost on the way it is advisable to jump into a taxi and say "Zoostation s'il vous plait", the driver will know where you mean and will cost about €10 each way. Drinks are pricy but the entrance fee is low, the music is mostly American and French R&B. Best enjoyed if there is a group of you as Saturday nights are busy and, like any large club, there may be some people who are out to pick a fight.
- L'Excalibur, 35 Rue Briconnet (just next to Le Café Chaud). It is very small but is the place to be for the "uber-cool" crowd.
- Le Pyms. Another large club located along the Avenue de Grammont to the south of the town center. A bit out of the way, but very popular with students. The club includes two dance floors and has many theme nights.
- AJ du Vieux Tours 5, Rue Bretonneau, is a cheap, safe and clean hostel with no curfew. Individual, long-stay rooms are ideal for international students in Tours as the staff speak English and is a great way to make friends quickly. Has communal bathroom facilities and meals are available to buy in the cafeteria area. Also has cooking facilities for making your own meals. Great location next to a couple of internet cafés and all the bars and pubs of Place Plumereau, and just across the road from the main campus of the Université Francois-Rabelais.
Tours is a very safe city in comparison to other French cities. But if you don't speak French, you might get intimidated by homeless people asking you something in French, most likely asking for spare change or a cigarette if they see you smoking.
The quartiers to the south east of the city are best avoided at night, and there are many high-rise low-rent apartment buildings, but any area in Tours is safe during the daytime.
- Angers Home of a chateau that houses the fantastic medieval Tapistries of the Apocalypse
- Orleans Famous through its historical association with Joan of Arc, Orleans is an interesting, cosmopolitan city
- Le Mans famous for 24 Heures du Mans, the world's oldest sports car race in endurance racing, held annually since 1923. Also has a unique and impressive cathedral.