Rouen is the capital of Upper Normandy and was one of the most prosperous and largest cities in medieval Europe. Even though 45% of the city was destroyed in the Second World War there is still a great deal of stunning Gothic architecture to enjoy. Two of the most famous people to have come from Rouen are Gustave Flaubert and the French President François Hollande.
After crossing from Dover-Calais, driving from Calais to Rouen takes around 2 hours 20 minutes - and if you take our Newhaven-Dieppe route then it’s only about an hour’s drive due south. It’s well worth making the trip as Rouen is home to some of the very best things to do in Normandy.
WHY VISIT ROUEN?
It’s often said that walking through the streets of Rouen is like stepping back in time. Around almost every corner there is a magnificently preserved medieval building or church. In fact with over 50 religious buildings it has one of the highest concentrations of churches of any French city.
A great deal of the city centre is pedestrianised which makes it very easy to stroll around, discovering winding lanes dating back to medieval times and half-timbered houses with many of the original features miraculously still intact.
As you’d expect, it’s a city that is also very rich in history. For example it was in Rouen that Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake for heresy in 1431. There’s also a reminder of more recent events at the city’s beautiful and ornate Palais de Justice which still bears the scars of Allied bombing raids from the Second World War.
Rouen today is a vibrant and exciting city with a population of well over 100,000. There’s a huge choice of restaurants, cafés and bars and the region’s climate means that a great deal of fruit including cherries, plums and apples are both grown in the area and feature in much of its cuisine.
WHAT TO SEE IN ROUEN
First stop has to be Notre Dame Rouen. This amazing cathedral is one of the finest examples of Gothic religious architecture in the whole of France. It took over 300 years to complete, spanning from the 13th to the 16th centuries and was the famous subject of a series of paintings by Claude Monet. It has the highest spire in France at 151 metres and a Butter Tower – so called because it was paid for by a tax that people paid to allow them to eat butter during Lent.
In Rue de Gros Horloge you’ll find a Gothic belfry tower which was originally built in 1389. The very ornate clock was added in 1889 and is still in operation today. As well as being lavishly decorated it also features a dial showing the phase of the moon and deities which change according to the day of the week.
Joan of Arc is commemorated by a church of the same name and which was built on the site of her execution. The design is very modern and the pointed shape of its roof is meant to represent the flames at the stake. Inside, there are stained glass windows which were originally in the Renaissance-period Church of Saint Vincent.
In the Musée des Beaux-Arts there is one of the most important art galleries outside of Paris where you’ll find paintings by many old masters including Rubens, Caravaggio, Degas, Monet and Poussin.
WHERE TO STAY IN ROUEN
Not surprisingly as it’s the region’s capital, there’s a wide choice of hotels in Rouen. Search from hundreds of Rouen hotels, with our accommodation partner, Booking.com.
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