Cognac is a beautiful town in the South West of France. mostly known for its luxurious spirits. I’ve been living in France for years but somehow visiting Cognac has never crossed my mind until we moved to Bordeaux. As a very occasional Cognac drinker, I was wondering if there’s anything to do there beyond distillery tours. But from my first visit, I quickly realized that there are plenty of things to do in Cognac!

This little town will surprise you with its impressive architecture, delicious restaurants, and remarkably nice people. In this article, I gathered the top 10 things to do, see, and eat in Cognac and its surroundings. Don’t forget to also check my article about the best hotels in Cognac.

If you are here mostly for the spirit, here’s my article about the best distilleries to visit in Cognac. Also, don’t miss my article about other fabulous places in the Charentes department: the stunning village of  Aubeterre sur Dronne,  and Angouleme, the French comics capital.

1. Discover the Old City of Cognac

Stroll the narrow paved streets of the city center to absorb the charm of Vieux Cognac (the old Cognac). The impressive architecture is a time machine to the early days of the salt trade that was a catalyst for the economic growth of the city.

Many old houses in Cognac date back to the 16th and 17th centuries, displaying the eclectic architectural style of the city. The wealth of the Congac’s traders at that time can be reflected in the large windows.  The “newer” part of the old city unveils the vibrant economic and cultural development of Cognac in the 19th century. That trail called the “Belle Epoque” starts at Place Francois I and ends at the Jardin de l’hotel de ville. 

While the center is relatively small, there are plenty of charming streets and nice boutiques so give yourself some time to get lost.

2. Take a tour of a Cognac distillery

With almost 200 Cognac producers in the area, visiting distilleries is the main attraction in the region. Four big Cognac houses produce most of the Coganc exported to the world. These include Hennessy (book a tour), Martell (book a tour), Rémy Martin (book a tour), and Courvoisier. Other known brands include Camus (book a tour), Meukov (book a tour), Otard, and Delamain (located in the neighboring town of Jarnac). 

Many distilleries offer tours in French and English. However, if you need an English-speaking tour, be sure to book in advance. Martell and Hennessy are very popular tours as well as those by Otard where you get to visit the old Chateau de Cognac (the place of birth of King François I). 

You can also take a private tour that includes a visit to several distilleries and a walk in the city of Cognac. 

Best Distilleries to visit in Cognac, France
Best Distilleries to visit in Cognac

In the years since first releasing this article, I’ve visited many distilleries, both big and smaller family-owned ones. If you want to read about my favorite ones, check out my article about the best distilleries to visit in Cognac. You should know, however, that many distilleries are closing for winter so consult their tour schedules before heading to Cognac.

If you never visited a distillery before and you have time only for one visit, the Hennessy tour is a great choice. The company’s boat takes you to the other side of the river to visit the cellars. You get to learn about the production of this luxurious spirit, from the terroir to the maturing and assembling processes. At the end of the tour, you get to taste two different Cognacs and a Cognac-based liqueur (which to be honest, I loved the most).

3. Walk along the Quai of the Charente River

For years banks of the Charente River were the trade center of the city. King François initiated the salt trade in Cognac, making the river an important economic player. Later, all the big Cognac houses would establish their main buildings on the riverfront. 

Charente river - Cognac
The promenade by the Charente river in Cognac

The promenade itself is very pleasant and makes for a nice tour on both sides of the Charente River. Walking along the promenade you’ll pass by the port of Cognac, the Hennessy house, le Chateau de Cognac (now the Otard Cognac house). One monument you can’t miss along the river is the impressive Tours Saint Jacques, one of the only remains left from medieval times. 

4. Take a day trip from Cognac to discover the region

Cognac is a stunning region with plenty of things to do. One really fun way to discover its surroundings is by taking this Quad biking tour. It’s a 1.5-hour experience where you get to discover the vineyards of the Grande Champagne region (don’t worry it’s in Cognac, not Champagne 🙂 ) and its sumptuous landscapes.

If you want to concentrate on visiting distilleries, there are quite a few other towns and villages included in the Cognac production region. To visit more distilleries go to Jarnac, the second distilling town in the area. There you can find Cognac houses like Courvoisier, Hine, Delamain, and Cognac Braastad. Jarnac is also the place of birth of the former French president François Mitterrand. You can visit a nice museum with all the presents he received during his presidency. 

There are also quite a few distilleries to visit in the town of Segonzac. There you can visit family-owned distilleries such as Cognac Frapin, Cognac Rabi, and Cognac Painturaud Frères. Other pretty villages in the area are Bassac and Bourg Charente.

Other places in the region that are not Coganc-related but are worth visiting include: the comics capital Angouleme, Saintes, and the Paléosite in Saint-Césaire.

5. Eat great local food

With its reputation for producing one of the most prestigious spirits in the world, it only makes sense that the town of Cognac will dominate the gastronomic scene as well. There are plenty of great restaurants in Cognac, both in the old city and on the other side of the river (in Quartier Saint Jacques). 

The one we particularly liked was L’atelier des quais. A lovely place on the riverfront with an incredible view of the old part of Cognac and a delicious menu. They also have a big Terrace which is perfect for lunch on sunny days. Other recommended restaurants are La Courtine, La Poulpette, L’arty show.

6. Taste Pineau des Charentes

Although Cognac is the main star here, there’s another spirit you must taste when visiting the Charente department. Pineau des Charentes is a fortified wine, created from the mix of grape juice and Cognac eau-de-vie, which then goes through a maturing process. 

This is a very popular aperitif in Charente but not very well known in other parts of France. It’s really good so don’t miss the chance to taste it! You can find it in every bar and alcohol store in Cognac.

7. Visit the local market

the market in Cognac
The covered market in Cognac

I absolutely adore French markets so I was very happy to discover that there’s a covered market in Cognac. This market is not on my top 10 French markets list but it’s a nice place to buy some local products. One of the stands sells great local alcohol and cheese and you can even order a cheese plate and take it to the picnic area in the middle of the market.

8. Learn about Cognac at the Musée des savoir-faire du cognac

If you’re interested in learning more about the production of the spirit head to the Musée des savoir-faire du cognac. The museum located in a 16th-century mansion, next to the quai, holds an impressive amount of articles, documents, and an audio-visual exhibition that will help you learn everything you need to know about Cognac.

The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday from 14:00 to 18:00.
The address is: Les Remparts, Place de la Salle Verte, 16100 Cognac

9. Drink a Cognac cocktail

As Cognac became an international success it took a life of its own. A fair amount of Cognac-based cocktails have been developed outside of France, in particular in the US. Some cocktails can be ordered in bars and restaurants in Cognac and they are worth a try. In the summer you can drink on the chic rooftop, Indigo which is located on the building on Martel.

 Some of the most popular ones are Classico, Sidecar, French75 and Le Cognac Summit (the tourist information even gives you the recipe, click here to learn how to make it).

10. A city of festivals

Despite its small size, there are plenty of cultural events and festivals taking place in the Cognac area throughout the year. In the summer the city hosts one of the biggest music festivals in the region, the Cognac Blues Passion. The festival, taking place in July, attracts some of the biggest names in the Blues world. 

Another big summer festival is Fête du Cognac. The Cognac festival celebrates the spirits of the region, the Cognac, Pineau des Charentes and wines of the region.

Another cool festival is Distillerie en fête which takes place during the winter. From December to February, plenty of activities are put in place by the Cognac distilleries to help you discover the behind-the-scenes of Cognac production. For more info check out the tourist info website.

Where to stay in Cognac 

I have a new article dedicated to the best hotels in Congac, so you can read about my recommendations in detail here. But here’s a short list of a few good options: Logis des Tourelles and Hôtel Chais Monnet & Spa in the city center and Hôtel L’Yeuse – Les Collectionneurs and Domaine de Pladuc in other parts of the Cognac region.

Get into the atmosphere with more photos from Cognac

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cognac for pinterest

Looking for more destinations in the South of France? Check out my articles about:
A guide to a weekend in Bordeaux
The most beautiful villages in Île de Ré
The most beautiful villages in Dordogne
A guide to the Bordeaux wine region

You can also get plenty of tips on things to do in the Southwest of France via lost in Bordeaux’s social media accounts and email list, check them out here:

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*Note – Some of the links in this article include affiliate links for which I earn a small commission. It adds absolutely nothing to your cost and helps me continue writing about this amazing region. Don’t worry, I’m not getting rich here, I’ll never recommend anything I don’t believe in 🙂 

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4 Comments

  1. We have family reasons for visiting the Bordeaux region often and for reasonably long periods. Your suggestion to visit Chateau de Lacquy in Armagnac has prompted three fantastic visits to that distillery and the region. Thank you for that! In a few weeks we return and we’re wondering about an equivalent in Cognac. I see the big international houses but are there any really special smallish distilleries in Cognac you might suggest? Btw, my wife and I are not oenophiles or even much of a drinking family but we are adventurous reporters who appreciate the remarkable shoulder-season, off-the-tour-bus-track quest. And an exceptional glass of something with a simple, extraordinary meal every once and a while is awfully nice. Finally, I must tell you we very much appreciate your site!

    • Ira Szmuk Reply

      Hi Roland! Thank you so much!
      I apologize for the late response, hope my answer is still relevant 🙂
      If you’re looking for a more small family-owned distillery, I highly recommend Cognac Pasquet. Contact them before you go
      Enjoy!

  2. James Nisbet Reply

    Would also recommend the Camus visitor center, the largest independent family owned cognac house. If you prebook you can try XO grade Cognacs from the different terroirs and then blend them to make your own bottle of Cognac. You record the blend in a register so you can order it again when you run out!

    • Ira Szmuk Reply

      You are absolutely right! I discovered it after writing this article, I need to update it

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