Literally translated as “the harbour”, Le Havre is France’s second largest port after Marseilles and the country’s most important container port. It is also where the River Seine flows into the sea. Originally founded as a port in 1517, the city sustained huge damage in World War Two and was largely rebuilt between 1945 and 1964.
While we don’t offer any ferries to Le Havre, it is under 90 minutes’ drive when you take our Newhaven-Dieppe route or around 2.5 hours if you travel from Dover to Calais. It’s also only around an hour from Rouen and two hours from Amiens.
WHY VISIT LE HAVRE?
Because of its tactical position and importance as a port in the Second World War Le Havre was a major target for Allied air raids. As a result it suffered devastation on a huge scale – it’s estimated that over 12,000 buildings were destroyed.
This meant that the city had to be largely rebuilt after the war and the major designer for the project was an architect called Auguste Perret who was a pioneer in the use of concrete. His creative use of this material led to Le Havre becoming one of the very few modern UNESCO World Heritage sites and a city which has been redesigned to be light, airy and easy to find your way around.
As with most Channel ports one of its key appeals is for shopping, whether for stocking up on great value French wines, beers and foods or for designer goods. You’ll find the main shopping area around Avenue René Coty and there is an ultra-modern new development packed with big name retailers at the Vaubun Docks.
Le Havre also has a long pebble beach which has cabins for bathers and which is not only lined with a wide choice of sea-front bars and restaurants but also has a wide cycle path that runs along its entire length.
WHAT TO SEE IN LE HAVRE
With so much to see and do in Le Havre it’s well worth a visit, even if only for a day or two.
Very little of the old city remains and the most notable building that does is the magnificent Notre Dame Cathedral. Originally a parish church dating back to the 16th century it became a cathedral in 1974 following its complete restoration to repair the damage sustained in the war.
There are more examples of what the city used to be like in both the Musée du Vieux Havre and in The Shipowner’s House. They are both filled with objects like maps, statues, paintings and furniture from the 18th and 19th centuries.
A much more modern construction can be found at Le Volcan. This dramatic cone-shaped building is by Le Havre’s old docks and is a major cultural and artistic centre. Designed by the world-famous Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, it was opened in 1982.
Le Havre is also home to the Malraux Museum of Modern Art – or MuMu for short. This is a stunning glass building that houses France’s second largest collection of impressionist art – the biggest collection is in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. You’ll find works by Monet, Degas, Dufy and Renoir. The building was designed to let in a great deal of the Normandy light through its huge glass windows as it was this same light that originally inspired so many of the impressionist painters.
On fine days Les Jardins Suspendus are a great way to get an excellent view of Le Havre. As the name suggests, they are hanging gardens that have been created on the site of an old fort and are free to visit. For a small fee you can also have a tour of the adjoining greenhouses where many of the plants are cultivated.
WHERE TO STAY IN LE HAVRE
Le Havre hotels are plentiful and varied. You'll find many Le Havre hotels, when you visit our partner, Booking.com.
Prices are subject to availability. Telephone booking fees apply. Terms & Conditions apply.
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