Haloed by mountains, France's self-styled 'Capital of the Alps' unites city pleasures and breathtaking nature. Every road leading out of Grenoble brushes a different regional park. The Isère River slices through the city, girding the clifftop Bastille and a ravishing set of riverside museums. On the opposite bank, Grenoble fizzes: a historic quarter lined with cafes and shops, world-class galleries and an efficient tram system zipping between neighbourhoods both glamorous and gritty.
Though it's surrounded by land preserved for nature, Grenoble is an engine of industry – thanks in part to an economic boost from the 1968 Winter Olympics held here. Since then, high-tech industries have carved out niches in Grenoble, fuelled by the university's reputation for maths and computer sciences. Students (more than 45,000) and culturally engaged locals stimulate an arts scene and nightlife that are the envy of the French Alps.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Grenoble.
After a fun ride in the téléphérique, or a steep, hour-long climb, the reward is a magnificent mountain panorama from Grenoble's stocky fortress, built during the first half of the 19th century to strengthen the city against Alpine rival the Duchy of Savoy. On the viewing platform known as the Belvédère Vauban, panels (in French and English) indicate what you're looking at. On clear days you can see not only the peaks of the Vercors but also the snowy hump of Mont Blanc.
For lovers of European art, this museum is an uplifting place to get lost for a day. There's an even spread of artistic eras on display: an antiquities wing with statuettes from ancient Egypt and Greece, and mostly European art from medieval religious paintings to an impressive assembly of 20th-century luminaries like Bonnard, Ernst, Léger, Magritte, Miró, Modigliani and Soutine.
This ever-evolving museum unleashes a century of regional history on visitors. Suits of armour are back-lit in brightly coloured rooms, 3-D family trees and highland traditions are reimagined as cutting-edge modern art. The museum, occupying a 17th-century convent, has permanent exhibitions on skiing and rural lifestyles, but installations constantly change. You're sure to find something interesting in this impressive collection.
This highly impressive museum unveils the secrets of a 12th-century church and cloister using light effects, a haunting choral soundtrack and an informative audioguide. Interactive, self-guided visits allow you to explore parts of the time-worn sanctuary at your own pace, from images projected on its lofty walls to 4th-century amphora burials in the basement.
Though the subject is niche, this museum exploring France's elite Alpine regiments, which date to 1888, is riveting. An audioguide (in French, English, German or Italian) enlivens displays of military gear, tales of WWII resistance, and brings you right up to present-day mountain troops.
This thoughtfully curated exhibition presents the history of Grenoble's vigorous resistance to Italian and then German forces during WWII, with plenty of translation into English and German. Mournfully lit, the permanent exhibition features emotive displays on the region's résistants (Resistance fighters) and the fates of the thousand local Jews – including 80 children – sent to Nazi camps.
A run-through of regional history, from prehistory through medieval times to the 20th century, is presented within the atmospheric walls of the 13th-century Bishops’ Palace. The building, its walls built atop 3rd-century Roman foundations, is sometimes more interesting than its displays; a highlight is the vaulted chapel. Bonus: there are enjoyable views over the cathedral as you wander around.
A cavernous glass-and-steel warehouse built by Gustave Eiffel has been turned into one of France's leading centres of contemporary art. Many of the cutting-edge temporary exhibitions were designed specifically for this space. It's situated about 2km west of the centre; to get there, take tram A to the Berriat–Le Magasin stop.
Hop into a clear-panelled spherical pod for dreamy views of Grenoble's red roofs and magnificent mountains on this cable-car ride up to the Bastille. Les bulles ('the bubbles'), as they're known, have been floating along the 610m cable since 1934, making them the world's first urban cable car system for sightseers.