Le Havre Travel Guide
Sitting on the English Channel and at the mouth of the River Seine, Le Havre is a popular harbour in the northern part of Normandy, the second busiest port in France after Marseille.
In fact Le Havre is French for ‘the harbour’ and has historically served Paris with a transport connection to the city by the River Seine. Today people take the ferry to Le Havre for its proximity to places like Paris, Rouen and Brittany. Portsmouth ferries to Le Havre run daily, with an overnight service to this famous port.
Le Havre was originally called Franciscopolis after King Francis I who founded the city in 1517. The Notre-Dame-de-Grâce Chapel, existed before this time and led the port, to be called Le Hable de Grâce in 1489, but was later shortened to Le Havre.
In 1564 it became the main port of departure for colonists seeking a life in the New World and who would eventually create the first French colony at Fort Carolina near Jacksonville in Florida.
During the 18th century, Le Havre built itself around trade from the West Indies. In 1759, the city was a central point for a French invasion of Britain but this was abandoned when many of the vessels were destroyed at the Raid on Le Havre and the naval defeat at Quiberon.
The city was occupied by Germany during the Second World War and pretty much destroyed during the Battle of Normandy, primarily by allied forces. It was subsequently re-built and designated a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2005.
St Joseph's Church
This Roman Catholic church, a key project of designer August Perret, who re-built the city after the war, was completed in 1958 and is a memorial to the 5,000 people who died during the conflict. The 107m tower dominates the city skyline, its coloured glass creating a unique interior setting from natural light.
Hotel de Ville
The town hall, also designed by Auguste Perret sits in one of the largest squares in France with its fountains, flower beds and paths. If you climb its tower you’ll get an outstanding view over the city.
Apart from in Paris, this museum houses the largest Impressionist collection in France, a collection spanning five centuries. There are paintings by Monet and other artists who lived and worked in this area of France. There are also paintings by Boudin, indeed the largest collection of his in the world, as well as Degas, Manet, Renoir, Gaugin and Pissarro. Modern art is also represented with works by Matisse and Dufy amongst others. The old masters section includes painting by our very own John Constable.
The Cultural Centre
Known as the Volcano, the cultural centre designed by top architect Oscar Neimeyer can be found in the town centre. Two structures, a small and large volcano, are part of the Maison de la Culture, inside which you’ll find a theatre, cinema and café.
Maison de l'Armateur
This is one of the few houses not destroyed during World War II. On 5 floors this magnificent property is decorated and furnished in its original 18th century style. Visit this alongside the Auguste Perret show flat in City Hall Square with its contrasting 1950’s style and architecture.
Museum d'histoire Naturelle
Another building that survived the bombing during World War II, this museum is in the old law courts. Part of the building, including the staircase, is a listed historical monument. The museum collection includes mineralogy, zoology, ornithology, paleontology and prehistory departments, and a collection of early 19th-century paintings by local naturalist and traveller Charles-Alexandre Lesueur. It’s particularly enjoyed by children...and is free.
Cathedrale Notre Dame
This 15th Century cathedral is a further contrast between the original architecture and the buildings constructed by Auguste Perret that sit beside it. The cathedral’s foundations are lower than the buildings around it as the new buildings were built on ruins.
Next to a lovely bridge, the north quay has many great restaurants, a casino, hotels and a spa. Every other year, the next being in 2014, a Contemporary Art Exhibition is held at the casino.
St Vincent District
The old town near the beach survived the war and is pretty much unspoilt. The small church and square will take you back in time and is reminiscent of southern France. It’s where painters gather.
Festivals & Parades
In May "Fest Yves", a traditional festival from Brittany, takes place in the St François area of the city with dancing, music and much more.
Every 14th July there’s a fireworks display on the beach to celebrate Bastille Day, commemorating the storming of the Bastille on the 14th July 1789, marking the beginning of the French Revolution and the breaking down of Louis the16th's Ancient Regime.
On the first Sunday after the 15th August there’s a traditional annual parade with carriages adorned with flowers, floats, costumes and much merriment! And, every year on the first weekend of September, Le Havre hosts a "Fishermen's Festival".
Our ferries to Le Havre
Book your ferry to Le Havre today and find the best rates for your crossing. Alternatively we offer a number of other ferries to France including Calais, Dunkirk and Dieppe.