Reims is the largest city in Champagne with around 200,000 inhabitants. Some of the most famous Champagne houses have their cellars here, but the city also has other industries and a large university. The fast train from Paris will take you to Reims quickly and smoothly in just 45 minutes.
The big Champagne houses in Reims are Pommery, Taittinger, Veuve Clicquot, Piper-Heidsieck, Mumm, Charles de Cazenove, Charles Heidsieck, Henriot and Lanson. Some of the smaller houses are Ruinart, Krug, Bruno Paillard, Thiénot and Roederer. The large cooperative Jacquart is here, as well as the smaller coop Palmer & Co.
In 125 miles of underground chalk cellars, millions of champagne bottles are aged in cool temperature. Some cellars were originally quarries. Some of them began to be excavated as early as the 4th century. Builders used the stone for houses and churches. Later on, wine producers excavated cellars in the 19th and 20th centuries specifically for the ageing of their Champagne.
Reims has been modernized and much refurbished in recent years. Today it is a lively and young city. It is nice to stroll around, and it is easy to find a good restaurant or an outdoor cafe. Several streets in the centre are pedestrian streets.
Right in the middle of the town is the magnificent Notre Dame de Reims Cathedral which celebrated its 800th birthday in 2011. Here, many French kings have been crowned. The last one was Charles X in 1825. The cathedral was one of the first monuments to be listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Don’t miss the modern blue windows behind the altar, designed by Marc Chagall.
Many of the original windows have had to be replaced. During World War I, Reims was bombed, and the cathedral was severely damaged. They worked on the renovation for twenty years, mainly with the help of money from the John D. Rockefeller Fund. The cathedral was inaugurated in 1938. Choose rue Rockefeller for the best view of the cathedral.
Just south of the centre, around 40 minutes walk, are some of the big houses, Pommery, Veuve Clicquot, Taittinger and more. Nearby is another amazing church, the Basilica of Saint Rémi. It is slightly older than the cathedral and very beautiful. It is named after the first bishop of Reims who was also the one who christened France’s first Christian king, Clovis, in 498. The oldest parts of the basilica are from the 11th century.
Close to Pommery is the famous Michelin star restaurant Les Crayères for those who want a gastronomic experience. Otherwise, there are many excellent brasseries in Reims, for instance, around the food market Boulingrin. At rue du Temple look for Version Original at number 25 and Brasserie L’Affaire at number 23. At rue de Mars 31 is the classic Brasserie Le Boulingrin.
Around the corner, on the boulevard Desaubeau, you can admire Porte de Mars, an impressive Roman triumphal arch – arc de triomphe, that there are many of in France – from the 4th century. At Rue de Mars 4 take a look at Champagne Jacquart’s famous facade mosaics that represent various works in the vineyard and wine cellar.
For a glass of Champagne and some cheese and charcuterie, Le Wine Bar at place du Forum offers some superb bottles. On the square there is actually an antique Roman forum although one cannot see much of it. There are many cafés and restaurants around this lively square. Nearby is the beautiful 18th-century Place Royal, built to honour Louis XV. In the evening, stroll past the stately town hall, Hôtel de Ville. It is usually beautifully lit up at night.
More reading: Our guide to wine shops in Reims and Epernay.
If you really want to discover Reims, the Champagne region and all the great champagne wines, the you should come on a luxurious wine tour to champagne with BKWine.