Arras is the capital of the Pas de Calais region of northern France and sits on the River Scarpe. It was originally inhabited in the Iron Age by ancient Gauls and was also occupied by the Romans in the 4th Century. Every year hundreds of thousands of people visit Arras drawn by its historic and architectural attractions.
Whether you choose our Dover-Dunkirk crossing or our Newhaven-Dieppe route both have great road access to Arras. The former takes less than an hour and a half to drive and the latter is an hour further away. Arras is also a great base from which to reach Paris which is around 115 miles away and two hours by car or you can make the trip in under an hour by rail on the high speed TGV.
WHY VISIT ARRAS?
Of all the cities in northern France, when you visit Arras you will be bowled over by the architecture, culture and history on show.
A great deal of the history comes from the two world wars that did so much to shape this whole region of France in the 20th Century. For example in the First War Arras was a only six miles from the front line and after the hostilities ended three quarters of the city had to be rebuilt. It fared better in the Second World War although it was occupied by the Germans until it was liberated by the British in 1944.
The city is dominated by two great squares around which the Flemish style of architecture is predominant and it is here that the world-famous Christmas market takes place from late November and into December. It’s the biggest of France’s Christmas markets outside Paris and every year there are over 80 exhibitors selling everything from seasonal decorations to local arts and crafts.
A visit to the markets is also the ideal opportunity to sample some unique local delicacies including Coeurs d’Arras biscuits - small heart-shaped biscuits that are made in both cheese and ginger flavours – and chocolate rats which symbolise the many rodents that used to live in the city when it was a major centre for storing grain.
WHAT TO SEE IN ARRAS
Arras’ history surrounds you wherever you are in the city and provides no end of sights to see and places to visit when you’re there.
Going back to Roman times, at Nemetacum you can see the results of an archaeological investigation that has revealed fascinating insights into what life may have been like in the 4th Century. Among the most recently revealed findings are the workshops used by the guild of woodworkers of the time.
No less than two Arras attractions have also been given UNESCO World Heritage Site status. The first is the Vauban Citadel, one of twelve fortified buildings built by the famous military engineer all over France. It is here that you will also find the Arras memorial to 218 members of the French Resistance who were executed next to the Citadel in the Second World War.
The second World Heritage Site is the city’s famous town hall and belfry. Built between 1463 and 1554 in the Gothic style they were rebuilt after being largely destroyed in the First World War. The belfry is 75 metres high and if you’re feeling energetic you can climb to the top for amazing views of the city.
Heading underground, there is a huge network of tunnels called the Boves Maze 10 metres under the surface which were built in the 10th Century with the aim of connecting the cellars of the city’s homes. The chalk that was excavated was used for more buildings and the tunnels were used as invaluable bunkers for keeping inhabitants, and their property, safe during the wartime years.
Also central to the city are its two adjoining squares, La Grand Place and La Place des Héros. These are surrounded by no less than 155 townhouses built in the Flemish Baroque style. Originally made from wood these were rebuilt in stone after 1918.
In the Abbey District, which is where the Abbey of St. Vaast once stood, you’ll find the magnificent Musée des Beaux Artes. This gallery has a number of masterpieces by Breughel, Rubens and Rousseau as well as many fine examples of medieval art and sculpture.
WHERE TO STAY IN Arras
Arras hotels are very plentiful and are available in a wide choice of price ranges. You'll find many places to stay in Arras, when you visit our partner, booking.com.
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