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15 Best Places to Visit in Northern France

It’ difficult to encapsulate the sheer variety in France’s Northern Regions, and how somewhere like Brittany can have such a different character to its neighbour Normandy .

If you’re pondering where to go, this list may give you some holiday inspiration.

There’s a mixture of famous cities with spectacular monuments, and old villages in which hardly a brick has been moved in hundreds of years.

You’ll also find out about the historical figures associated with each place, from William the Conqueror and Joan of Arc to Claude Monet and Jules Verne.

Lets explore the best places to visit in the North of France :


Right against the border with Belgium, Lille wasn’t even part of France until a siege by Louis XIV in 1667. Up to then it had been firmly Flemish, within the Duchy of Burgundy.

This Belgian influence manifests itself in the architecture of beautiful Vieux-Lille, at Grand’Place and Place Rihour.

See the 16th-century Vieille Bourse, with its Flemish mannerist style, and the neo-Flemish building for the Voix du Nord newspaper.

As you wander these cobblestone streets you’ll be enticed by another Belgian hallmark: The sweet smell of waffles.

The cuisine is Flemish too, an nothing beats carbonnade flamande (beef stew) on wintry days.


In an idyllic green valley where the Steir and Odet Rivers join, this dreamy city is the capital of Brittany’s Finistère department.

You could pass a carefree afternoon simply walking the streets, admiring the 17th century colombage houses or taking in the city from the bridges on the Odet.

If you need refreshment after walking these cute, pedestrianised streets, just plonk yourself at a crêperie or bar for a glass of Breton cider.

A lot of the architecture is from a time when Quimper generated a lot of wealth through its hand-painted faience ceramics, still sold by many shops in the historic centre.

But there’s an obvious sight you have to tick off: The medieval cathedral with its famous twin spires.


You could come to this city just to see its great squares: The Grand’Place and the Place des Héros, will tell you almost everything you need to know about Arras.

They total 17,000 square metres and have rows of exquisite houses in the Flemish-Baroque style.

These are from the 17th and 18th century, and have arcades on the ground floor.

You’ll want to inspect each one closely, as there’s always a piece of sculpture or other unique feature to meet your gaze.

Beneath these squares is a large system of tunnels dug in the sandstone over centuries and used as shelters during the many wars that have beset this part of France.

You can explore these, as well as the UNESCO-listed belfry – if you don’t mind climbing the 326 steps to the top!

4. Honfleur


Chances are you may already know Honfleur, even if you’ve never been there.

That’s because the harbour at this seaside town in Normandy has been the subject of paintings by Monet, Courbet, Eugène Boudin, among many others.

It’s an image you need to see for yourself from Quai Saint-Etienn, gazing across at the implausibly narrow old fishing houses, many clad with slate.

This isn’t the only wonder in Honfleur ; another is the all-wood Sainte-Catherine Church, built by ship carpenters in the 16th-century and separated from its equally endearing bell-tower in case of fire.

Both were crafted without the use of saws, as the shipbuilders of Honfleurs preferred axes, in a Norman tradition that went back to before William the Conqueror.

5. La Roche-Guyon

La Roche-Guyon

On  a bend in the River Seine, La Roche-Guyon is a lovely old settlement at the foot of a château built into a cliff in the 1100s to control the river crossing.

It’s open to the public, and you can get a sense of the ingenuity here, with a keep connected to the lower fortress by tunnels cut from the rock.

The view from the tower, and the path on the ridge behind will be the pride of your facebook page! A few minutes away in Giverny is Monet’s house, which is exactly how the famous artist left it.

Even if you’re not a student of his art you’ll know many of the scenes in the gardens, which Monet painted many times.


One building that can’t be avoided in Amiens, visually or otherwise, is the enormous gothic cathedral.

It’s a World Heritage site, and is one of the largest medieval churches in the world, filled with precious sculpture, both on the jaw-dropping west facade and inside, and with a soaring nave and choir that are flushed with light by the innumerable stained glass windows.

There’s also no denying the charm of the Saint-Leu quarter on the north side of the cathedral.

It’s where much of the city’s nightlife can be found, in a neighbourhood of little brick or timber houses next to canals.

Jules Verne also lived in the city for the last two decades of his life, and his house is now a museum, full of little curiosities to thrill fans of his work.


A weekend is not nearly enough to see and do everything in Rouen: This city on the Seine is Normandy’s cultural and historic capital, a historic river port where English kings held court in the middle ages, and where Joan of Arc met her end at just 19. There’s a new museum to this French heroine in the city, appropriate given the medieval feel of the place.

The old quarter is an evocative maze of creaking timber-framed houses ushering you to sights like the Gros Horloge, an astronomical clock from the 1300s, or the cathedral, once the tallest building in the world.

Monet famously painted the cathedral in a series of works done in different lights and seasons of the year.

8. Saint-Valery-sur-Somme


Joan of Arc is the thread between Rouen and this seaside commune at the mouth of the Somme in Picardy.

She was held here before being dispatched to Rouen for her execution.

Saint-Valery was host to a number of interesting events like this because of its strategic position, on a promontory next to the Estuary.

The high old quarter, a former citadel, still has its ramparts, and the original gates still mark the entrance to this part of the town.

On the water Saint-Valery is equally quaint with a boardwalk that goes on for a couple of kilometres, passing painted fishing cottages and plush old villas, while giving perfect vistas of the Somme Estuary all the way over to Le Crotay on the other side.

9. Lyons-la-Forêt


In Haute Normandie, this small town is surrounded by the kind of idyllic farmland that people dream of when they think of the Norman and Breton countryside.

This is known as “bocage”, pasture for cattle and orchards bounded by thickets.

Lyons-la-Forêt is also one of those classic villages with timber-framed houses, kept almost exactly as it was in the 1600s after it was rebuilt following a fire.

What’s great about Lyons-la-Forêt is that it also feels lived in: The covered marketplace and its wooden columns still shelters market stalls on Thursdays and the shops all around buzz with trade.

10. Beuvron-en-Auge


Normandy is loved for its many towns and villages with half-timbered (colombage) houses, but few are as beautiful as the little village of Beuvon-en-Auge.

The star here is a 15th-century manor house, with cream-coloured daub and a jaunty turret on one corner.

There’s a small square where you could sit for a few moments, and every direction you look there’ll be a charming old house with a cafe, restaurant or village amenities, all decorated with geraniums and other flowers.

You’re in Normandy’s cider country in Beuvron-en-Auge so there’s no excuse not to have a glass of cider or Calvados, apple brandy.

11. Le Havre

Le Havre

Where most of Northern France’s favourite tourist destinations are medieval settlements with ramparts and wooden houses, Le Havre is one for those who appreciate modern architecture.

After this port city was badly damaged in the war, the city consulted the architect Auguste Perret whose designs recently earned the city World Heritage status.

One that mesmerises all-comers is St.

Joseph’s Church, the 107-metre tower of which is held up only by the concrete’s internal reinforcement.

You can pause beneath this hollow structure, lit by geometric stained glass windows, and just stare in awe! The modernist Hôtel de Ville has a lookout from its gallery, while you’ll also struggle to miss Oscar Niemeyer’s Cultural Centre, known as “The Volcano”.

  • 12.  Vannes


Set in Morbihan, this old city is blessed with nearly all the things people associate with the best of Brittany.

It’s a walled city, with ramparts still in place and enclosing quaint streets and squares with overhanging half-timbered houses.

Some of these are five storeys tall, with beams buckled from the weight, and you’ll be left wondering how they’re still standing.

The suitably grand entrance to old Vannes is the baroque Porte Saint-Vincent, named for the city’s patron saint.

Equally splendid are the Jardins des Remparts, flawless parterres on the west side of the walls.

13. Bayeaux


The first thing many will picture when they think of Bayeaux is the tapestry, and with good reason.

It’s a lasting piece of medieval storytelling, and the purpose-built museum presents it such a way that you can see the individual stitching made almost 1,000 years ago.

As you come to the city, the tapestry may dominate your plans, but what dominates the city is the gothic and romanesque cathedral completed in 1077: William the Conqueror was here for the consecration.

There are also several sites relevant to the Normandy Invasion in 1944, including the British War Cemetery and the Museum of the Battle of Normandy.


As with Bayeaux you may have only one thing on your mind when you come to this city in Champagne.

Most of the most vaunted champagne houses are headquartered in Reims, and nearly all open their doors for walking tours of the caves, and tasting sessions.

Reims’ chalky foundations has a part to play in this, as the man-made caves underneath the city provide just the right environment for champagne to ferment in the bottle.

Start with Maison Veuve, Clicquot, Tattinger and Lanson, and you’ll still hardly have popped the cork! In between tastings, you have to spare some time for the cathedral, not least because it was where almost every King of France was crowned.

15. Beauvais


The highlight of this city in Picardy is the exquisite “unfinished” cathedral, which would have been the largest building in the world had it been completed.

Unfortunately the design was too ambitious and there were fatal structural problems, though it does still contain the highest gothic vault ever built.

Around this buildings are lots of intriguing old sights from the 1100s to the 1500s, like the Episcopal palace, which now contains exhibitions about the history of the Oise Department, of which Beauvais is the capital.

On Rue de Paris to the south of the city,  spend some time at the Maladerie, a 12th-century hospital for plague and lepers victims, run by monks.

15 Best Places to Visit in Northern France:

  • La Roche-Guyon
  • Saint-Valery-sur-Somme
  • Lyons-la-Forêt
  • Beuvron-en-Auge

Best Places to Visit in Northern France

Article written by Elisa - Travel Writer & Local in France This article may contain compensated links. Please read disclaimer for more info.

Visit North of France

In general, Northern France is still rather unknown among international tourists, as its offer differs somewhat from the ‘classic’ holidays in France. However, once you visit North of France, it’s difficult not to fall in love with this part of the country, with a rich and diverse historical heritage and a range of natural environments unrivaled by any other regions in France .

Whether you plan to spend your holiday sightseeing, road tripping, or simply relaxing by the sea, north France is an ideal destination.

Ile-de-France is France’s cultural and political heart. It offers a unique backdrop for any trip to Paris, with countless historical monuments, magnificent châteaux, picturesque villages, and beautiful countryside.

Normandy offers visitors a stunning coastline, picturesque harbors, and elegant seaside resorts.  It is also the land of Impressionism, a movement inspired by Monet’s ‘impression’ of the sunrise at Le Havre.

Hauts-de-France is a region of awesome cathedrals, belfries, castles, and WW sites, but it is also a land of wide-open spaces, wild coasts, and beautiful countryside.

For this article, we asked some fellow travel bloggers and friends about the best places to visit Northern France. From cities and top sights to hidden gems, here’s the list of the best places in Northern France and the top things to do in Northern France.

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Ile de France

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Best Things to Do in Northern France

If you’re wondering where to go, and what to do in Northern France, this list of best things to do in Northern France may give you some holiday inspiration.

Eiffel Tower (Paris, Ile-de-France)

Paris - France

The Eiffel Tower is the most iconic site of Paris and France and a must of any first trip to Paris. Built between 1887 – 1889 for the 1889 World’s Fair, the Eiffel Tower had such a success that the City decided to keep it. Today, the Eiffel Tower is one of the most visited sights in Paris, with more than 7 million visitors annually.

Is it worth going up the Eiffel Tower? We say YES! Apart from the great views of Paris from above,  the permanent exhibition about its construction and the most curious facts is fascinating, plus there’s always something cool going on on the second floor.

If you want to visit the Eiffel Tower during your next trip to Paris be sure to book your tickets well in advance.

>> Click here to book your Eiffel Tower tickets

Versailles Palace & Gardens (Yvelines, Ile-de-France)

Most Beautiful Castles in France - Château de Versailles

Another of the best places to see in Northern France is the Palace of Versailles and its surrounding gardens.

Versailles is one of the most popular day trips from Paris, and for a reason. The Palace, home to three French Kings, is a jewel of French Baroque architecture and the center of the royal power from 1682 to 1789.

When visiting Versailles , keep some time to explore the beautiful gardens, with their fountains, grooves, and the Grand Canal. Versailles Gardens are a masterwork of André Le Notre and one of France’s finest examples of French-style gardens.

>> Book your tickets to Château de Versailles

Dunkerque (Nord, Hauts-de-France)

Plage de Zuydcoote - Dunkirk

Dunkirk (Dunkerque), the northernmost city of France just 10km west of the border with Belgium boasts a number of attractions that make this itself a destination rather than just a ferry port.

Widely known as the scene of an incredible evacuation of over 330,000 British and French soldiers during World War II the town of course has military and maritime connections. The fabulous and recently refurbished Operation Dynamo Museum is one particular highlight but do also head to the town’s harbor area.

Dunkirk also boasts the magnificent 4km long Malo Les Bains beach and adjacent Digue de Mer promenade . Linking Dunkirk to the neighboring village of Leffrinckoucke these are perfect for family days out, followed by a hearty meal in one of the many splendid restaurants and a leisurely stroll. For the more active these are also ideal for cycle rides or even sailing and kitesurfing.

Other cultural highlights include the LAAC Modern Art Museum and FRAC collection of over 1,500 contemporary artworks.

Suggested by Paul |

>> Click here to book your hotel in Dunkerque

Giverny (Eure, Normandie)

Giverny - Normandy

Just over an hour northwest of Paris is Giverny in Normandy, the home, gardens, and water lily pond of French impressionist painter Claude Monet. 

A  day trip to Giverny  makes a great excursion from Paris, and you can see so much in a little amount of time. At Giverny, you’ll be able to tour Monet’s house and painting studio , visit his overwhelmingly beautiful flower gardens and walk around his famous water lily pond. It was here at his home in Giverny where Monet painted his famous  Water Lilies  series, and you can see that exact pond for yourself. 

During this quick and easy day trip, you’ll be able to learn all about Monet’s life and his quest for artistic perfection, as well as get to appreciate his love of gardening. There are over 100 varieties of trees, plants, and flowers on Monet’s property, and different times of year yield different blooming experiences. However, the most popular times to visit are in May to see the Japanese Bridge covered in purple wisteria, and July to see the water lilies in full bloom.

Suggested by Ashley |My Wanderlusty Life

>> Click here to book a half-day tour to Giverny from Paris

Amiens (Somme, Hauts-de-France)

Amiens is one of the most beautiful cities in Northern France, set only 120 km from Paris. This lovely place is known for its flower canals or floating gardens and the largest cathedral in France.

Flower canals or hortillonnages are intertwined around the river Somme and can easily be visited by foot or by boat. The path is filled with artistic bridges, educational trail, and some art installations through the islands that happen at the Festival of gardens. It’s 7 km long starting near the Saint-Leu district and the cathedral where the boat can be arranged also. At this spot, the water market takes place every Saturday.

Canals of Amiens

Amiens cathedral is characterized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site where the stained glass makes a colorful impression. Not only Amiens deserves a visit but also Samara, an archeological park in the surroundings which takes you in prehistoric times.

Amiens can easily be reached by train or by bus specially Flixbus which takes 3 hours.

Suggested by Gabi |

>> Click here to book your hotel in Amiens

Lille (Nord, Hauts-de-France)

Lille - France

Lille , the so-called capital of French Flanders, is one of the best places to visit in Northern France.

One of the criminally underrated cities in France , it owes much to its location near the Belgian border, feeling more Flemish than French, from its architecture to its food. Picture large cobblestoned squares lined with extravagant Flemish Baroque buildings you will have the measure of the place.

Take a  self-guided walking tour of Lille  to discover the best that the city has to offer.  Browse the bookstalls in the porticoed courtyard of La Veille Bourse , formerly the city’s stock exchange. Pay your respects at the  Notre Dame de la Treille , an intoxicating mix of Gothic and contemporary architecture and Lille’s spiritual beating heart.  In stark contrast,  L’Église Saint Etienne , one of France’s largest Jesuit churches, is the epitome of elegant simplicity.

Art aficionados won’t be disappointed: Lille is home to the Palais des Beaux-Arts, a fine art gallery, second only to Paris’s Louvre in size and stature.

Finally, no visit to Lille is complete without sampling merveilleux, little cakes of melt-in-the-mouth meringue liberally covered in fresh cream and chocolate shavings.

Suggested by Bridget | The Flashpacker

>> Click here to book your hotel in Lille

Etretat (Seine-Maritime, Normandie)

Étretat - Normandy

One of the most beautiful natural sights North of France is Etretat, located in Normandy. The small town is niched in a valley ending on a beach, where, on both sides, magnificent white cliffs are sculpted by the sea. There are arches, sea stacks, and tunnels cut into the 50 to 80m high walls of chalk.

It is easy to understand why it has inspired many artists through the centuries, such as Claude Monet.

Wear walking shoes to go explore some of the most beautiful sights:

  • The top of the cliffs and their impressive views to see the rock formations: l’Aiguille Creuse (the Hollow Needle) and the arches such as Manneporte…
  • The pebble beaches at the bottom of the cliffs, reaching the hidden ones via tunnels (at low tide only)
  • The old town with brick houses typical of the region
  • The fun gardens mixing art and nature

Etretat is 2h30min away from Paris by car and not easily accessed by public transportation. It deserves at least 2 days for you to discover its beauty.

Suggested by Claire | Zigzag On Earth

>> Click here to book your hotel in Etretat

Bayeux (Calvados, Normandie)

Bayeux - Normandie

No trip to North France is complete without a visit to Bayeux . This pretty town may not be large, but it boasts plenty of worthwhile sights.

The town’s attractive center is dominated by the imposing Cathedral de Notre Dame , which dates back to the 11th century. The Gothic-style cathedral features two massive spires and its interior houses a crypt with restored frescoes from the 15th century.

A bigger drawcard, though, is the Bayeux Tapestry, a 70 meter-long embroidery that depicts the Battle of Hastings, when William the Conqueror invaded England in 1066.

Housed in a special glass cabinet in a purpose-built museum, the Tapestry consists of 50 scenes stitched on linen panels. It served as a pictorial book to explain the events of the battle to a largely illiterate population.  The Tapestry was commissioned in 1077 and remarkably, has survived for over 1000 years. It has been classified by UNESCO as a ‘memory of the world’.

You can visit the Bayeux Tapestry in the Centre Guillaume-le-Conquerant-Tapisserie de Bayeux , close to the center of Bayeux and just a 10-minute walk from the train station. Entry costs less than €10 per adult, and audio guides with commentary are available.

Suggested by Carolyn | Holidays to Europe

>> Click here to book your hotel in Bayeux

Mont Saint-Michel (Manche, Normandie)

Mont Saint Michel - Normandy

Perched on top of a rocky island just off the coast of Normandy, this Benedictine abbey the most spectacular location of any abbey in France.

It seems like a more appropriate spot for a fortress than for a place of worship, and over the centuries Mont Saint-Michel has served as both. Attacked by English soldiers on multiple occasions in the Hundred Years’ War, it was never conquered.

A small medieval town grew up around the abbey, and it became one of the most important places of pilgrimage in Europe, second only to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1979, it has long been recognized as one of the most important landmarks in France.

The waters around Mont Saint-Michel have silted so much that it’s only really an island at high tide. Nevertheless, you are strongly recommended not to attempt to reach Mont Saint-Michel by crossing the mudflats, as the deep mud and quicksand can be very dangerous. Use the designated footbridge instead.

Mont Saint-Michel is one of the top places to visit in North France. The nearest train station is at Pontorson, and from there you can continue by bus to Mont Saint-Michel.

Suggested by Wendy | The Nomadic Vegan

>> Click here to book a day trip to Mont Saint-Michel from Paris

Vaux-le-Vicomte (Seine-et-Marne, Ile-de-France)


The castle of Vaux-le-Vicomte , near Paris, has a troubled history in France. Its past is scattered with conflicts, rumors, and jealousy.

The castle’s construction finished in 1661. Fouché, its owner, was then Louis XIV’s Finance Secretary. During a party, guest Louis XIV discovered that Vaux-le-Vicomte was more beautiful and expensive than his own castle of Versailles and retaliated: Fouché was sent to prison two months later. 

Visiting Vaux-le-Vicomte is one of the top things to do in Northern France and a great experience. Everything is in perfect condition in the castle. You wander from room to room, jumping back centuries. You get the same luxury and details as in Versailles but without the crowd. The gardens are wonderful in the summer. 

Vaux-le-Vicomte is easy to access: you can drive or take the P train from Paris, get off at Verneuil-l-Etang about an hour later and hop on a shuttle aligned on the train schedule.

You can find more information about the castle with this guide to visiting Vaux-le-Vicomte .

Suggested by Kenza | Cups of English Tea

Compiegne (Oise, Hauts-de-France)

Château de Compiègne

Just 45 min train outside of Paris, the imperial city of Compiègne is well known for its palace, its spectacular forest, and for the role it played in both World Wars. 

In the center of the town is the Château De Compiegne , the summer residence of former French royalties. Adjacent to the palace, the 700 hectares parc is crossed by the Beaux-Monts alley, a 5km promenade leading to a hill with a spectacular view of the forest and the palace.

In the Compiegne forest also took place two major events of the 20th century.  In 1918, the Armistice was signed in a train wagon on the Clairiere de l’Armistice, ending the 1st World War. And in 1940, Hitler chose that same location to impose his terms on defeated France. The train carriage is now a memorial.

In the city center, don’t miss the imposing Hôtel de Ville , and the Unesco World Heritage Saint Jacques Church . In between the two, stop by Les Picantins , a pastry store selling the delicious local specialty of the same name: three hazelnuts covered in caramel and chocolate. 

Suggested by Emma | Bonjour Sunset

Honfleur (Calvados, Normandy)

Honfleur - Normandy

One of the most picturesque cities in Northern France, Honfleur is known for cobbled streets and half-timbered houses typical of the Normandy region.

Honfleur’s beauty inspired artists over the centuries and in particular the masters of Impressionism including Monet. They painted the colorful town centered around its safe harbor – Le Vieux Bassin – on the Seine estuary where reflections shimmer in the water. Later they would retire to the cafes and bars and no doubt enjoyed some of the famed local seafood dishes and cider. 

When you visit Honfleur, make time to visit the  Sainte-Catherine church . This is the largest wooden church in France and has stood in place for over 400 years. The separate bell tower keeps watching over the town and its regular produce markets where you can pick up delicacies of the region, especially the famed Normandy Camembert.

On the last Sunday of each month, Honfleur hosts a wonderful brocante market where, if you’re lucky, you can find wonderful antique bargains. 

Suggested by Kathy | Untold Morsels

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10+ Gorgeous Places You Must Visit in Northern France

By: Author Sophie Nadeau

Posted on Last updated: 10th August 2023

Categories France

Last Updated on 10th August 2023 by Sophie Nadeau

Picture France. What do you think of? Baguettes, bicycles, and the Eiffel Tower? Now, think of French life away from Paris. I’m guessing you’re probably conjuring up images of the picture perfect azure blue French Riviera, and the endless stretches of Provence beaches in your mind’s eye. Well, there’s also a whole load of France worth visiting in the north of l’Hexagone as well! And so here are 11 gorgeous and breathtaking places to visit in Northern France .

10 gorgeous places to visit in Northern France: dreamy view of Dinan, Brittany

Saint-Malo, Ille-et-Vilaine

Bayeux, calvados, rouen, seine-maritime, le havre, seine-maritime, mont saint michel, manche, amiens, hauts-de-france, carnac, morbihan, honfleur, calvados, etretat, seine-maritime, lille, hauts-de-france, dinan, côtes-d’armor, enjoyed reading about the most beautiful places to visit in northern france pin it now, read it again later:, best places to visit in northern france.

The walled city of Saint-Malo  has seen plenty of events and history over the years; including pirates during the middle ages and inhabitation by the Gauls in the 1st-century.

So iconic is the settlement in Brittany that it has been featured in countless books, art works, and movies over the years. The fortified city was even the birthplace of Jacques Cartier, the man who claimed modern Quebec for what is now France.

All that is left of what was New France is the archipelago of Saint Pierre and Miquelon . With this being said, head to northern France and you can visit the Breton city of Saint-Malo for yourself; wander the ramparts, explore ancient buildings, and soak up the historic atmosphere.

Top things to do in Brittany, very best things to do in Western France: walled city of Saint Malo

Bayeux may well be one of the best places to visit in Northern France, but it is often overshadowed by its more famous wall hanging of the same name, that of the Bayeux Tapestry, which depicts the events leading up to the Norman Conquest of England. The tapestry is a staggering 70 metres long and 50 centimetres tall.

Situated 30km northwest of Caen, Bayeux itself was first founded during the Gallo-Roman period and is now filled with plenty of museums, making this city the perfect French destination for history enthusiasts.

Some of the best museums to visit in Bayeux include the Battle of Normandy Memorial Museum (a tribute to those who took part in the D-Day landings) and, of course, the Bayeux Tapestry Museum, where you can see the Bayeux tapestry for yourself.

Bayeux France

With its timber-framed houses and links to Joan of Arc (who was allegedly burned at the stake in the centre of the city) , you can’t go wrong by dedicating at least a day or two to exploring the city of Rouen on any Northern French adventure.

Capital of the Normandy region, the old part of the city is dominated by one of the most impressive Gothic cathedrals in France, if not all of Europe, as well as plenty of cobbled lanes to meander along. At Christmastime, Rouen also boasts its own cozy Christmas market in the shadow of the cathedral.

Best things to do in Rouen, Normandy, Northern France! Acitivites, places to go and history to see in Rouen.

The fishing city of Le Havre is situated at the very mouth of the River Seine (yep, the same waterway which flows its way through Paris) and Le Havre’s name literally means ‘the Harbour’ or ‘the Port’.

Though not the most aesthetically pleasing city in France, the architecture of the city has been listed as a UNESCO world heritage site on account of its unique post war architecture.

Founded in 1517 by Francois I, the city was constructed to cope with the ever-increasing maritime needs of the tiny towns of Harfleur and Honfleur.

Today, Le Havre is filled with plenty of things to do; including traditional French eateries and various museums. Elsewhere in the city, Le Havre boardwalk offers plenty of restaurants serving up fresh sea-inspired menus.

le havre france beach huts

Of course, no Northern France bucket list would be complete without a mention of the ever-iconic and ever-famous conically shaped tidal island that is Mont Saint Michel , which is separated from mainland France twice a day by the tide.

Once there, you’ll find an impossibly peched Gothic-style abbey (thanks to renovations by Viollet-le-Duc- a man who also had a go at altering Notre Dame and Carcassone, with varying degrees of success).

An ecclesiastical building has been situated on the mount for well over a thousand years and is just as impressive today as it must have been centuries ago. Today, a small village has sprung up around the abbey and the fortified church can be visited throughout the year.


This medieval city was once home to author Jules Verne, writer of Around the World in Eighty Days , and today his house can be visited in the centre of Amiens. Elsewhere, the city is filled with medieval architecture, as well as plenty of museums, and one of the most impressive Gothic cathedrals in Europe.

In December each year, one of the largest Christmas markets in France can be found in the centre of the city, a real treat for those of us who love a cozy ambiance, vin chaud, and piping hot snacks!

Amiens Cathedral (Cathédrale Notre-Dame d'Amiens )

Known in the language of Breton as ‘Karnag’, Carnac is home to one of the largest Neolithic sites in the world and is filled with menhirs, stone circles and dolmens aplenty. In total, there are 10,000 slabs of granite; all aligned in various ways and each of varying size and form.

No one knows why they were erected and so the mystery surrounding these UNESCO world heritage protected stones remains. Nearby there’s the town of Carnac , and in a forest closer still, is said to be the birthplace of Merlin from Arthurian Legend.

Carnac Stones, Brittany, France

Pretty and picturesque, Honfleur is situated by the sea and filled with fairytale-like houses; exactly the kind of scene you’d expect to find on a vintage French postcard, or perhaps in an old movie.

While much of the attraction of Honfleur lies in its old world charm and picture-perfect views, there are also a few museums in town, as well as some excellent coastal walks nearby.

Much like other popular spots in Normandy, Honfleur gets particularly busy in high summer and so the best time to visit is either in the late spring or early autumn. Honfleur also boasts a surprising number of hidden gems .

maritime museum honfleur

While England has the White Cliffs of Dover, France has Etretat . This stunning stretch of coastline comprises of the village of Etretat, a set of chalky sea pillars, and an outstanding area of natural beauty encompassing ancient churches and winding coastal paths.

Just remember though, Étretat is where all the Parisians come to holiday, and so if you’re expecting some of the cheaper prices that can be found in the rest of Northern France, you’ll be in for a shock- the accommodation and restaurants in Etretat and its surrounds are all Parisian prices.

Hidden Gems & Secret Spots in Étretat you must visit in Normandy North of France

A pretty city with plenty of history, Lille is located right on the border with Belgium, and the resulting blend of French and Belgian cultures means that the city is full of Flemish influences, including beautiful Flemish architecture and cuisine that is typical of the region.

One of the top spots in the city where you can enjoy Flemish Renaissance architecture is the Vieille Bourse de Lille , which today functions as a second-hand book market. Be sure to bring cash and be prepared to look through piles of books- you’re sure to find treasure!

A trip to Lille can easily be combined with a visit to Brussels or Ghent, although you’ll likely want to spend at least a day or two dedicated entirely to exploring this fascinating city, especially its stunning old town and the streets surrounding Grand Place. For even more inspiration, be sure to check out our one day in Lille suggested itinerary .

sunrise in Lille, France

While more West of France than East, the medieval town of Dinan is still Northern French enough to make the list! And just as well, because this is the French fairytale town you’ve never heard of, but should most definitely visit.

Filled with pretty houses, a steep medieval high street, and plenty of local bakeries, no trip to Brittany, or indeed Northern France, would be complete without a visit to the walled city of Dinan!

Governors house dinan brittany france

Sophie Nadeau loves dogs, books, travel, pizza, and history. A Francophile at heart, she runs when she’s not chasing after the next sunset shot or consuming something sweet. She splits her time between Paris and London and travels as much as she can! Subscribe to Sophie’s YouTube Channel.

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Boulogne Boy

Friday 7th of July 2023

Great choices, but I am very surprised that Boulogne-sur-Mer, with its well-preserved, medieval city walls, lovely “vieille ville”, beautiful beach, and the largest aquarium in Europe, was not mentioned. In fact, nothing on the Côte d’Opale was mentioned at all! Ça m’étonne. It is a major part of the North.

Joseph marcucilli

Sunday 20th of January 2019

Normandy Beach and cemetery.

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10 Best Places In The North Of France To Visit

Best Places In The North Of France (8)

From thousands of years of history to beautiful castles and enough delicious food to fill your tummy every waking minute, Northern France is stunning. Honestly, you’re going to be spoilt for choice when it comes to all the best places in the north of France, especially if you’re travelling around the region.

A Weekend In The Quaint French City Of Lille... Part 1 of 2 (4)

One thing that I love most about the north of France is that it’s easily accessible from England, especially if you want a day trip (on foot, believe it or not) or a long weekend break in your car.

Both options are perfectly doable if you take a ferry from Portsmouth , Poole or Plymouth (all in England) across the English Channel to some of the best places in the north of France. where you’ve got the options for about five starting points to begin your adventure in the north of France.

With that in mind, I wanted to share some of the best places in the north of France. You’re going to have an amazing trip.

Best Places In The North Of France (1)

Take a look at some of the very best places in the north of France to visit, below. 

 1.) Le Havre

Best Places In The North Of France (7)

Le Havre is much more than just a port town, with lots of things to see and do when you arrive. Make sure to visit the museum of Modern Art, the stunning Le Havre Cathedral and the beautiful, Les Jardins Suspendus.

Don’t forget to pack your walking shoes and trail the Côte d’Albâtre coastline that’s close by. It’s one of the prettiest coastlines and one of the best places in the north of France.

Now, it might get a little windy at times, from the sea breeze, but don’t be fooled, the sun is strong here! Make sure to pack some sunblock as you’ll easily leave red-faced if you don’t.

Best Places In The North Of France (8)

Afterwards, take a few minutes’ car ride over to Honfleur, too. The harbour area is totally beautiful and well worth visiting. 

Read more: Best places in France to visit

 2.) Caen

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Caen is one of Normandy’s prettiest cities that is perfect for exploring some of that gorgeous French history that fills the region.

Make sure to stop at Château de Caen which was actually built by William the Conqueror almost 1,000 years ago.

Best Places In The North Of France (6)

For a great bite to eat, make sure to gorge yourself silly at A Contre Sens – a well-deserving Michelin Star restaurant that creates some yummy and creative meals.

It’s easily up there as one of the best restaurants in the north of France; that’s for sure. You’ll leave stuffed. 

3.) Mont Saint-Michel

Best Places In The North Of France (14)

Mont Saint-Michel is one of the most iconic communes in the north of France.

Perched on its own island it’s not too far from the mainland itself, which makes it easy to access. At low tide, at least.

Make sure to spend an afternoon exploring this gorgeous UNESCO World Heritage Site that has a history dating back to the 6 th Century. Honestly, it’s so iconic and easily one of the best places in the north of France to see.

Best Places In The North Of France (15)

Just be aware, it does get very busy on the weekends and during public holidays. If you can, try and avoid these times and visit earlier in the morning or midweek.

You won’t fully get rid of the crowds, but they will be much less. 

Read more: How to visit Mont Saint-Michel

 4.)  Brest

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Brest is a relatively large city situated on the westerly fringes of the north of France.

Make sure to visit Tour Tanguy, indulge in some local seafood from Le Crabe-Marteau, all after a long day of exploring the cobbled streets and independent stores.

Afterwards, if you want to take a break from the city, pop over to Nature Park of d’Armorique. It’s totally stunning and the whole area around here is gorgeous.

Read more: Best hikes in France

Best Places In The North Of France (12)

Carnac is a relatively small commune on the north-west coast of France. One of the most famous places to visit here has to be the Carnac Stones which are thought to be over 6,000 years old!

If you decide to take a dip in the sea, head over to one of the commune’s five local beaches which are perfect on a summer’s day.

 6.)  Paimpont

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Away from the breezy sea air, Paimpont is a gorgeous place to discover a little more history of this gorgeous region.

Make sure to visit the Abbey and discover the ancient forest of Paimpont which once was part of the vast forest that covered Brittany . It’s idyllic and one best places in the north of France to experience the region’s history.

Head into the forest and walk the nature trails, which are especially great in both winter and summer.

Just make sure to pack some good hiking shoes, though. Sometimes, the ground can be waterlogged from moisture here and it’s not fun to hike with wet feet.

Read more: Best places in Brittany to visit

7.) Combourg Castle

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Château de Combourg is one of the region’s prettiest castles! Perched right next to Lake Tranquil, this medieval castle is the perfect place to see the beautiful castles of the region.

Best Places In The North Of France (13)

It’s a stunning area to visit and one of those castles that are amazing to explore on a sunny day.

If you’re interested in French castles and Château’s, make sure to check out our full post on which to visit, right here .

Best Places In The North Of France (4)

Vannes, is a relatively large town that is steeped in over 2,000 years of history.

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Visit this walled town to discover some of its impressive timber-framed houses in the old town and the beautiful city walls.

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Make sure to grab a bite to eat at La Tete En L’air. Not only is the food delicious but it’s totally beautiful and one of the best places in the north of France to gorge. 

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You’ll love it. 

 9.)  Belle Island

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Around 10 miles or so from the mainland of France, Belle Island is so close but it can feel like a million miles away. It’s easily one of the best places in the north of France to visit if you want to get away from the mainland itself. 

Make sure to visit some of its pretty towns, explore its rugged coastline, especially Côte Sauvage and discover some of the fresh fish restaurants that line the harbour fronts.

Read more: Best places to visit in France

10.) Rest of France

Beautiful French Chateaus And Michelin Star Dining In The Dordogne Valley (56)

Okay, so, in lots of ways the north of France can be a gateway to exploring so much more of the country. Make sure to plan your route and stop off at places like Nimes , the stunning Dordogne Valley and Bordeaux , to name a few. 

It is a stunning country. 

20 Stunning Places To Visit In France

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Northern France: what to do, what to see…

Visits you cannot miss in northern france.

• Chantilly Castle From the Middle Ages to the 19th century, the castle has preserved its exceptional and imposing setting. We visit the various galleries of paintings (the second collection of old paintings after the Louvre), the romantic gardens including the one designed by Le Nôtre, the great stables of the 18th century and the museum of the horse.

• The Lewarde Museum The historic mining center, located in the heart of the mining basin, recounts with emotion and pedagogy, the ages of the mine, the daily life of miners, and takes you into the galleries of the pit Delloye.

• The Louvre-Lens Since 2012, the Paris museum has been decentralized in Lens, and exhibits more than 200 masterpieces in the Galerie du Temps, which covers Antiquity, the Middle Ages and modern times. A visit in a unique space!

• The Tripostal in Lille As its name suggests, the Tripostal is an old post office building of the 1950s. In the heart of Lille, it is today an original place of art and life, which hosts exhibitions of contemporary artists and performance.

• The swimming pool, museum of art and industry André-Diligent de Roubaix Housed in an Art Deco-style pool, this museum, unlike any other, showcases 19th and 20th century sculpture, the Roubaix Group (artists of contemporary art), and organizes temporary exhibitions.

• Amiens Cathedral This gigantic cathedral is one of the most beautiful models of Gothic sacred art. Built in the 12th and 13th centuries, it was restored in the 19th by Viollet-le-Duc. Detail the portals and their 700 fine sculptures of saints and apostles, which are adorned with a thousand colors during the night show Chroma.

• The walled city of Montreuil In Montreuil-sur-Mer, 1000 years of history await you! The ruins of the castle of Philippe Auguste, the citadel of the 13th century rebuilt by Vauban in the 17th, the beautiful mansions of the 18th, the remains of the Great War during the Battle of the Somme and the American painters of the early 20th.

• The Canadian Vimy Monument The memorial, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2023 alongside 138 other memorial and funerary sites, was erected at the very site of the terrible Vimy battle that took place in April 1917 between Canadian soldiers and the German army. It dominates the plain of Douai with its two huge white stone pillars.

• Le Touquet and the Opal Coast The big seaside resort unfolds its ribbons of beach, between dunes and forests. In the streets behind the waterfront, there are the beautiful villas of the early 20th century, so popular with the British. From Belgium to the Bay of Somme, the Côte d'Opale offers nearly 200 kilometers of beaches, punctuated by historic sites and preserved natural areas.

• The Grand Place of Arras Place of great markets from the 11th century, the square is lined with many gabled houses, baroque-Flemish style, mostly rebuilt after the war of 14-18. Push up to the nearby Heroes' Square and climb to the top of the belfry for the breathtaking view.

Essential activities in Northern France

• Get lost in Old Lille and meet friendly students While strolling in the historical district of Lille, you will cross more than a thousand years of history, around the cathedral Notre Dame of the Treille, in the old paved streets, towards the Citadel. In addition, the atmosphere is cheerful, restaurants and bars are very popular with the many students in Lille.

• Watch a football match at the Bollaert-Delelis stadium in Lens This legendary stadium has existed since 1932 and welcomes more than 38,000 spectators. It has received Euro football matches in 2016, and at every meeting of the Racing Club, the Lensois are setting the mood!

• Admire the dance of Berck's kites International Meetings of Kites are a global meeting of the discipline, every year in April. What a great sight to see hundreds of "canvas birds" of all sizes fly into the sky of Berck, according to the wind! Installed on the beach, you will enjoy these magical moments ... and maybe master the art of flying them.

• To mingle with the crowd at the Dunkirk Carnival The first festivals took place in the 18th century to mark the departure of fishermen to Iceland and the tradition has continued. Today, the carnival is very popular, one goes there disguised and grim, one follows the Drum Major, joining "bands", in music, from one district to another. Be careful of the jet of herring in front of the City Hall!

• Bargain hunt at the Braderie de Lille The first weekend of September, the city center beats to the rhythm of this gigantic flea market, a medieval tradition. A golden opportunity to find a collector's item or antiques, among the 100 kilometers of stands and the million visitors.... !

• Discover sand yachting in Wimereux Near Boulogne-sur-Mer, on the Côte d'Opale, the beach of Wimereux is an ideal spot for practising sand yachting. At low tide, you will run fast to the sand, propelled by the wind!

• Watch a sunset in the Bay of Somme Lovers of the great outdoors, the Bay of Somme is for you! Ranked among the most beautiful bays in the world, it is a sanctuary for seals and a stopover for migratory birds. An exceptional landscape on 4500 hectares, to walk or cycle.

• Have a passion for powerkite in Wissant This sport of slips is practiced with a wing of traction equipped with a bar, first step towards Kitesurf. Thanks to the power of the wind blowing on the beach of Wissant, strong emotions are guaranteed!

• Furrow the citadel of Lille It is called the Queen of Citadels, built by Vauban on the order of Louis XIV, to defend the city at the end of the 17th century. Star-shaped, it is superbly preserved, in brick and sandstone.

• Be amazed by the cultural space of Saint-Sauveur train station This former freight station has been transformed into a venue for artistic events, concerts, cinema screenings, for young and old alike. When a 23-hectare industrial wasteland reinvents itself as a popular space, it is no doubt, successful.

  • Plan your trip (External link)
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The magazine of the destination unravels an unexpected France that revisits tradition and cultivates creativity. A France far beyond what you can imagine…

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A French Fairytale: The Best and Most Beautiful Towns in Northern France

Ready for a French fairytale? Here’s my guide to the 30+ of the most beautiful towns in Northern France for your bucket list.

street in the medieval village of Gerberoy in northern France

Northern France is a wonderful travel destination and one of the best places to road trip in France. Some of these beautiful towns in northern France can even be done as day trips from Paris . Northern France is also easily accessible from England.

Northern France includes the regions of Oise, Picardy, Normandy, Brittany, Champagne, and Grand Est.

It’s difficult to encapsulate the sheer variety of Northern France. For example, rugged and wild Brittany has a completely different character and feel to its pastoral neighbor Normandy.

Pinterest pin for guide to the most beautiful towns in northern France

Most people dream of visiting the lavender fields and dreamy towns of Southern France . But there’s a million reasons to visit Northern France instead. The region is a spectacular land of natural and man-made beauty.

Northern France is rich in historic sites, cultural heritage, and appealingly diverse landscapes. It’s a romantic melange of must see medieval towns, sun-drenched seaside resorts, chandeliered chateaux, and towering Gothic cathedrals.

The farm to table gastronomy in Northern France is first rate haute cuisine. And, oh la la, the cheese! Lille especially has some fantastic eateries. And the bubbly in Champagne is some of the world’s most famous fizz.

Saint-Leu neighborhood of Amiens

30+ Beautiful Towns To Visit in Northern France

Let’s take a tour of the prettiest and most unmissable towns in Northern France. If you’re wondering where to go in this region, this guide may give you some destination inspiration.

Amiens is a sophisticated town with some of the best shopping in northern France. Amiens is sometimes called the “Venice of Northern France” because of its canals.

The city even has floating market gardens that you can visit by boat. Amien’s cutest neighborhood is the canal district of Saint-Leu. Cafes and shops line cobblestone streets.

But the pride and joy of Amiens is its mighty Gothic cathedral. The 13th century Cathedrale Notre-Dame d’Amiens is the largest cathedral in France. It’s an 800 year old UNESCO-listed icon of French Gothic architecture. It packs a punch.

Amiens Cathedral, a UNESCO-listed site in France

The enormous cathedral is known for the beauty and harmony of its architecture and art. It has a triple portal facade similar to nearby Reims Cathedral.

The central door is flanked with statues of the apostles. The facade has been recently cleaned and appears quite white.

Inside, the stone vaulted nave reaches almost 140 feet. According to locals, the volume is double that of Paris’ Notre Dame. Most of the glass is clear, as the windows were blown out during the world wars. But that means the church is flooded with natural light.

You can walk through the “labyrinth,” a typical medieval church feature. A black line leads you to the center, which represents paradise.

You may have to wait in line to secure paradise. While inside, admire the 16th century choir, with wood carved stalls and over 4,000 figures.

Then, climb the 307 steps of the north tower for fabulous views from the top. Amiens Cathedral has a nighttime “son et lumieres” show . It’s specifically designed to show the polychromatic colors of the facade as they appeared in the Middle Ages.

Flemish architecture in Arras

The town of Arras is quiet and unexpectedly charming. It’s an elegant town full of lovely squares and grand 17th and 18th century Flemish-Baroque architecture.

Its two main squares are the Grand Place and the Place des Heros. A market runs in the Place des Heroes on Thursday and Saturday.

In 2005, the Belfry of Arras was designated a UNESCO, along with 56 other belfries in France and Belgium. The entry is just inside the Town Hall, where the tourist office is also located.

Construction of the belfry began in 1463 and took almost a century to complete. The top of the belfry offers amazing views. You can take an elevator most of the way, with a few additional steps to hike up.

Arras also has a warren of underground passages, called Les Boves, dating from the 10th century. They were originally chalk mines.

But were later used by the Allies in WWI as they prepared for the Battle of Arras, a major British offensive. If you want to re-live history, you can take a guided tour.

pretty lane in Auvers-sur-Oise in northern France, a Vincent Van Gogh town

3. Auvers-sur-Oise

Auvers-sur-Oise is a lovely underrated French village, surrounded by wheat fields and set on the banks of the Oise River. The legendary painter Vincent Van Gogh described Auvers as “gravely beautiful.” To him, the quiet village calmed his nerves and inspired his art.

In Auvers, you can walk in Van Gogh’s footsteps. Van Gogh spent the last 70 days of his life creating 70 paintings of Auvers-sur-Oise. He was buried in the village with his brother Theo, and you can visit his grave.

Common wisdom holds that Van Gogh committed suicide, as a notoriously tortured soul. But there is growing evidence that it was murder. You can read my analysis of the whodunit here .

Some of Van Gogh’s greatest masterpieces were painted in Auvers — Crows Over Wheatfield , the Portrait of Dr. Gachet, and Church at Auvers. The Roman-Gothic Church of Auvers is sober and beautiful. It was built between 1137-1227, and is instantly recognizable as the subject of one of Van Gogh’s most famous paintings.

northern france tourist destinations

If you’re feeling especially arty, you can visit the studio-home of Charles-François Daubigny. Daubigny was an important member of the Barbizon school, a precursor

oeuvre to Impressionism. With his friends Camille Corot and Honore Daumier, he decorated the home with paintings and massive floral murals.

You can also stop by the House of Dr. Gachet, Van Gogh’s friend and confidant, which is now an art gallery.

The Chateau d’Auvers is also stately and impressive. It’s a 17th century Louis XIII-style building. And it features an immersive multimedia Impressionist exhibit, with a beautiful garden to boot.

historic center of Bayeux, a pretty town in Normandy

The Norman town of Bayeux is a lovely town that played an outsized role in French history. It’s the site of the Norman invasion of France in 1066 and WWII’s D-Day landings of 1944.

Most people go to the village of Bayeux to see the thousand year old, and exceedingly long (230 feet), Bayeux Tapestry.

Housed in the Bayeux Tapestry Museum , the tapestry chronicles the events leading up to William’s invasion of France. In 50 scenes, it focuses on the battle of Hastings and the showdown between William and King Harold II.

It’s unclear when the The Bayeux Tapestry was created. But historians speculate that it was not long after the events it depicts.

The tapestry is remarkably well-preserved given its age, though it has been restored several times. The Bayeux tapestry (actually an embroidery) was most likely created by William’s queen, Matilda, and her court.

detail of the Bayeux Tapestry, in the town of Bayeux in northern France

The Nazis seized the tapestry during WWII and took it to the Louvre , which they had commandeered and were using as a clearinghouse for art theft. After the war, the tapestry was returned to Bayeux, its rightful owner.

READ : Underrated Masterpieces of the Louvre

But Bayeux isn’t just a piece of cloth, however impressive. Full of medieval architecture, the town itself is delightful and fairytale-like. Honey colored stone buildings are topped with black slate roofs. Flowing flower boxes spill into the narrow lanes.

While you’re strolling, pop into Bayeux’s Notre Dame Cathedral. This rather large church was consecrated in 1077. It’s thought to be the original home of the Bayeux Tapestry. Fierce gargoyles on the exterior scowl down at you.

For history buff, the D-Day beaches are nearby. You can immerse yourself in the history of Operation Overlord. You can book a guided day tour from Bayeux .

Chateau de Chantilly

5. Chantilly

The beautiful Northern France town of Chantilly is just 30 miles from Paris, so makes an easy day trip. The village of Chantilly is quaint, with houses with glowing tan facades. Chantilly is renowned for its Chantilly Cream, if you have a sweet tooth.

The must visit site in Chantilly is the opulent Chateau de Chantilly . This imposing palace is a 19th century version of Renaissance architecture. The chateaux is wrapped with a fairytale lake.

The chateau was built by Henri d’Orléans, son of the last king of France Louis-Philippe. He was a great patron of the arts and made Chantilly the showcase for his masterpieces.

Andre Le Notre designed the gardens. The 18th century stables are original and now contain an equestrian museum.

READ : Famous Chateaux in France

 Gallery of Paintings in the Musee Conde

Inside, you can see how 18th and 19th century royalty lived. The recently-restored interiors were designed by Eugene Laminators in the 1840s.

The grand rooms, in striking red, gold, and purple colors, are sumptuous — with damask covered walls, marquetry-inlaid furniture, and inlaid marble floors.

You’ll also find Chantilly’s crown jewel, the Musée Condé . The museum is chock full of precious art, sculpture, and a breathtaking library with medieval manuscripts.

The most valuable pieces are the Renaissance paintings by Raphael , Botticelli, Giotto, Delacroix, Ingres, and Lippi. This is one of the best collections in all of France, after the Louvre.

READ : Guide To Botticelli’s Paintings

the pretty town of Chartres outside Paris

6. Chartres

Step off the train in Chartres, just southwest of Paris, and the two very different steeples of its glorious 13th-century cathedral loom above. Chartres is typically a day trip for visitors to the French capital.

But it’s ideal to spend a night or two away from the crowds thronging Paris and savor the tranquility of Chartres.

Chartres has a rich history, charming streets, interesting medieval churches, and museums and galleries focusing on French art. Chartres is most famed for its massive 13th century Cathedrale Notre-Dame, designated a UNESCO site in 1979.

Architect Eugene Viollet-le-Duc called Chartres Cathedral “the greatest and surely the most beautiful monument of this kind that we possess in France.”

Finished in 1220, the Gothic cathedral features 2 towering spires, flying buttresses, ornate sculptures, a 16th century astrological clock, relics, and elaborate rose windows — all you’d expect in an architectural wonder.

facade of Chartres Cathedral

Interesting, however, the 2 steeples don’t match. One’s in the Gothic style and one’s in a Romanesque style. The cathedral’s south, west, and north entrances all boast ornate triple portals.

The cathedral’s interior is intimidating, built on a superhuman scale. The most stunning feature is its dramatically hued stained glass, almost 3/4 of an acre of gentle light. Chartres is especially renowned for its “Chartres Blue” color tones.

The cathedral also has a collection of relics, including the Sainte Voile (Holy Veil) said to have been worn by the Virgin Mary when she gave birth to Jesus, which has lured pilgrims since the Middle Ages.

You can also climb 350 steps up the lacy north tower, known as Clocher Neuf. There, you can inspect the rooftop and the flying butresses.

restored interior of Chartres Cathedral

An $18 million restoration of the cathedral began in 2009. It’s been controversial . Some critics labelled its interior restoration a “catastrophe,” “cultural vandalism,” and a “gaudy pastiche.”

You should also visit Chartres’ Musee des Beaux-Arts. It’s a fine arts museum housed in the former home of Chartres’ bishops.

The museum is creaky and dusty, but there are treasures worth admiring. The collection includes works by Francisco de Zurbaran, Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin, Maurice Vlaminck, and Chaim Soutine.

You can visit Chartres on a guided day trip from Paris .

the glamorous resort town of Deauville in Normandy

7. Deauville

Glamorous Deauville is a beautiful town in northern France. It’s a favorite spot of wealthy Parisians.

Deauville is like the Hamptons of Paris, a convenient beach resort just far enough away from city life. It’s known as the “Parisian Riviera.”

Deauville is a beautiful town, stuffed with aristocratic Anglo-Norman mansions from the Victorian era. They’re elegant old world half timbered homes with Queen Anne style accents. They’re even more distinctive and ornamental than those in Alsace.

Aside from architecture, Deauville is renowned for its stately seaside strand (Promenade des Planches), horse racing, luxury shopping, and film festivals.

the pretty town of Deauville in northern France

In addition to attracting Parisians, Deauville also enamored the Impressionist painters.

Those included Monet, Berthe Morisot, Boudin, and Gustave Caillebotte. Lured by the setting, they set up their easels outside on the beach and painted Deauville’s beautiful coastal landscapes.

Right next door to Deauville is Touville-sur-Mer. Like its neighbor Deauville, Trouville is an elegant Belle Epoque resort town, although more down to earth.

In Trouville, majestic villas flank a golden beach with a boardwalk. In summer, the beach is dotted with colorful beach huts.

cityscape of Dijon, a pretty town in Burgundy

When you hear the word “dijon” you think of mustard, right? In Dijon, you can enjoy free tastings of almost any mustard imaginable.

But Dijon France is so much more than just its culinary specialty. It’s an adorable hidden gem, southeast of Paris and resembling a mini-Paris.

Dijon is the capital of Burgundy and designated a UNESCO site for its vineyards. Dijon was the birthplace of Gustav Eiffel, of Eiffel Tower fame.

Dijon is sophisticated, and filled with medieval architecture, cobbled lanes, and elegant shops. Its main attraction is the Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy, an incredible architectural ensemble. The palace also houses a nice museum, the Musee des Beaux-Arts.

The symbol of Dijon is the owl, and you’ll see owls adorning its architecture and footpaths. The Owl’s Trail, or Parcours de la Chouette, guides you to the main attractions in Dijon. Try to spy the owl on the facade of Notre-Dame Church.

Dinan, one of Brittany's prettiest medieval towns

Hanging on the side of a cliff, Dinan is one of the most famous and magical villages in Brittany. In all of France really. If you only have time for one stop in Brittany, make it Dinan. It’s an impeccably preserved ancient city that escaped the bombing of WWII.

Dinan is a walled village with hefty ramparts, cobbled lanes, and half timbers everywhere. Dinan has barely changed since the middle ages. What could be more romantic?

The best thing to do in Dinan is to simply savor its old world charm. Wander the port, walk the ancient medieval walls (1.8 miles), admire the 14th century Chateau de Dinan, and visit St. Sauveur Basilica.

The basilica dates from the 12th century and is charming blend of Romanesque and Gothic architecture. It has striking modern stained glass in a well lit nave.

READ : Most Beautiful Villages in Brittany

the town of Epernay in the Champagne region

10. Epernay

Epernay lies in the Champagne region, about an hour outside Paris. Epernay is a jewel of graceful streets and centuries old mansion.

It’s the perfect laid back alternative to Reims, where you’ll be swamped by tourists sipping bubbly and gawking at the magnificent Reims cathedral. Though quaffing champagne is always glamorous, prepare for uneven cobbled roads on your walkabout.

In Epernay, you’ll find some of the most famous champagne houses — Moët & Chandon, Perrier Jouët, Mercier, and Pol Roger. Some of Pol Roger’s fame derives from the fact that it was Winston Churchill’s champagne of choice. He had it for lunch every day.

If you’re staying in the Champagne region for a long weekend, Epernay makes a fantastic base. It’s very central to all the champagne houses.

chalky cliffs of Etretat in Normandy

11. Etretat

Etretat is another must visit town on the Impressionist Trail in Normandy . Sleepy Etretat is a classic old world French town with absolutely mesmerizing scenery.

Etretat is set on the sea. Waves crash against the shores of a jagged chalky coastline, with a pretty beach promenade. A monumental arch, Porte d’Aval, plunges into the sea. It’s France’s version of England’s White Cliffs of Dover.

The town’s beauty inspired artists like Claude Monet, Henri Matisse, Eugene Boudin, and Gustave Courbet. The cliffs, known as the Elephant and the Needle, were one of the artists’ favorite spots to paint.

The best way to admire the seascape is to walk along the cliffs. On your walk, you’ll come across the Chapel of Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde. The original was destroyed in WWII, but it was rebuilt in the 1950s.

cliffs of Etretat in Normandy

As you walk along the seaside path, you’ll find placards depicting the precise spots where Monet painted some of his most famous paintings. You can hike to the top of the arch via a pathway and stairs to see different perspective of the alabaster cliffs.

When you’re done admiring the caves and tunnels carved into the cliffs, head down to the sparkling turquoise waters of Etretat Beach. The water is cold, but the pebbles are soft and smooth, not hard on the feet.

Etretat’s town center is quaint and shouldn’t be ignored. It’s bursting with shops, eateries, and art galleries.

Cider is a local specialty and there are plenty of crepes. There’s also quite a number of small bed and breakfasts — a testament to Etretat’s appeal to (mostly) French tourists.

pretty house with hydrangea in Gerborey, one of the most beautiful towns in Northern France

12. Gerberoy

Located in the Oise region, the beautiful small town of Gerberoy is a “plus beaux village de France.”

Time warp Gerberoy is filled with charming cobbled streets and half timbered buildings clad in painted shutters and flowers. It’s known as the “City of Roses.” It’s a perfect day trip from Paris.

The early 20th century artist Henri Le Sidaner put Gerberoy on the map. The town was recommended to him by sculptor Auguste Rodin. Sidaner captured its 17th and 18th century houses, winding lanes, and profusion of roses.

READ : Guide to the Rodin Museum in Paris

cobbled street in idyllic Gerberoy

The Gardens of Sidaner are one of Gerberoy’s must see sites. It’s a three level Italianate garden, filled with roses and wisteria, boasting views over Gerberoy.

You can also visit the Jardin des Ifs. This garden is listed as a Jardin Remarquable, with a stunning topiary yew garden.

Gerberoy also has plenty of adorable squares, eateries, galleries, and museums to keep you busy. Have lunch at Les Remparts. Check out the Collegiate Church of Saint Pierre, begun in the 11th century and completed in the 15th century.

Claude Monet's pretty-in-pink house in Giverny

13. Giverny

Just 50 miles northwest of Paris lies Giverny, home to Monet’s stunning house and gardens. Giverny is a one-of-a-kind pastoral paradise, born from the great artist’s obsession. It’s a must see site for art lovers and Monet addicts in France.

Monet lived half his life in Giverny. You won’t find any original Monet paintings. Instead, you’ll feel as if you’ve stepped into one of his utopian paintings.

In Giverny, Monet, a devoted horticulturist, created an ethereal and exquisitely staged garden in the French-Norman countryside.

With the scent of roses wafting in the air, Monet’s garden is one of the world’s most beautiful and popular gardens.

rose trellises in Giverny

To wander through Monet’s Garden is akin to living in one of his paintings. A world of flowers of every color fills your field of view, nodding slightly in the breeze. It looks like a paint factory explosion, or a few flicks of Monet’s paintbrush.

There are two parts to Monet’s labor-of-love gardens — the Clos Normand flower garden and the Water Garden. The Clos Norman is a boldly colored display and expressly Western. The Water garden is organic, Asian, and more exotic.

The two gardens are connected by a tunnel passing under the road. The gardens are immensely popular — a pilgrimage both for Monet fans, Francophiles, and avid gardeners.

Here’s my complete guide to visiting Giverny . You may want to book a guided day tour from Paris .

the Norman town of Honfleur, on of the most beautiful towns in northern France

14. Honfleur

Honfleur is a classic Norman town, sometimes called “the jewel of Normandy.” In Honfleur, the Seine flows into the English Channel, reflections mirrored in the Vieux Bassin or old harbor. The novelist Baudelaire once declared, “Honfleur has always been the dearest of my dreams.”

Honfleur is lined with gorgeous 16th to 18th century row houses with slate roofs and facades. Honfleur also has some beautiful churches and is laced with a maze of tiny cobbled streets.

The medieval Church of Saint Catherine is the largest wooden church in France, and Honfleur’s spiritual heart. It was built in the 15th century by sailors.

All this beauty besotted the Impressionists and fellow artists and writers. Art historians claimed that Honfleur was the “birthplace of Impressionism. There, local artist Eugene Boudin urged Monet to paint outside in “plein air,” changing the course of art history.

READ : The Monet Guide To Paris

medieval Church of Saint Catherine in Honfleur

Honfleur is a cultural treasure. The town boasts 95 art galleries, with works by contemporary painters keeping Boudin’s spirit alive.

Housed in a 19th century chapel, the Musee Eugene Boudin is a pleasing small museum. You’ll find myriad samples of Normandy Impressionism, especially the Honfleur School.

There are plenty of meteorological coastal scenes by its namesake painter Boudin.

There are also paintings by the likes of Courbet, Monet, Vuillard, Sisley, and Pissarro. You can see how Boudin inspired later masters, who took Boudin’s techniques to the next level.

To see it all, you may want to book a guided walking tour .

entrance to the medieval village of Laon in Picardy

I have big love for Laon France. It’s a delightful hidden gem in France, especially if you’re looking for an authentic, un-touristy town.

Laon is an ancient medieval village, perched high on a steep limestone rock. It’s encircled by walls with formidable gates, and is one of France’s oldest historical centers. There are more than 80 historic monuments in what was once the capital of the Carolingian Empire in the early Middle Ages.

Begin with a leisurely stroll down Rue Châtelain, Laon’s pedestrianized main drag. The quaint signs may remind you of the Musée Carnavalet in Paris.

Poke in and out of the quaint artisan and antique shops. Eventually, you’ll arrive at the stunning main attraction of Laon, it’s massive Gothic cathedral.

Rue Châtelain, Laon's pedestrianized main drag

From miles away, you can see the towers of the beautiful Cathedral of Notre Dame de Laon. It is one of the earliest and finest Gothic cathedrals in France , dating to the 12th century.

It’s known for its six imposing towers and is a key stop on the pilgrimage route to Santiago in Spain. It’s unspoiled by modernity or excess adornment and a bit endearingly grimy.

But what most enchanted me, and what sets Laon Cathedral apart from its cathedral brethren, is the nature of the adornment that does exist. There’s a veritable farm on the upper towers — 16 oxen in total.

Local legend holds that the sculptures are a tribute to the animals who hefted the granite up the steep hill. The accompanying adorable menagerie of animal gargoyles also demands your attention.

Museum of Modern Art in Le Havre

16. Le Havre

Le Havre was largely obliterated during WWII. The town was rebuilt by the Belgian architect Auguste Perret, a mentor to Le Corbusier. His post-war modernist vision still marks the town, earning a UNESCO designation.

Le Havre was a favorite haunt of the Impressionist artists. Its location at the mouth of the Seine estuary gave the town exceptional light.

The water runs in a current, giving off glimmer and glints as the light catches it. Le Havre’s port, dockyards, beaches, and regattas inspired all the major players in Impressionism.

Claude Monet grew up in le Havre. In 1872, when he was 32, he painted the groundbreaking harbor scene Impression: Sunrise . The Post-Impressionist Raoul Dufy was also born in Le Havre.

READ : Guide to Paris’ Musee Marmottan Monet

Monet, Impression: Sunrise, 1872 -- in the Musee Marmottan Monet in Paris

You may not have Le Havre on your Normandy bucket list because the town is modern rather than quaint.

But the once gritty town has become a dynamic art center. The Andre Malraux Museum of Modern Art (known as MUMA) is an excellent reason to visit Le Havre.

Housed in a light-filled building overlooking the Seine, MUMA boasts one of the largest collections of French Impressionism in the world.

It’s a mini Musee d’Orsay without the crowds. There are works by Boudin, Monet, Renoir, Degas, Sisley, Pissarro, Courbet, and Dufy.

Opera house and chamber of commerce in Lille France

Are you wondering if Lille is worth visiting? My answer is most definitely, yes! Lille is one of France’s best kept secrets. It may be one of the most underrated cities in Europe.

Lille is France’s fourth largest metropolis, but still eminently walkable. Lying close to the Belgian border, Lille offers visitors a plethora of historical, architectural, gastronomic, and outdoor attractions. It’s an amazing and eminently likable French city.

Vieux Lille, the old city, is striking. It has two gorgeous squares: Le Grand Place and Le Place du Theatre.

Lille has winding cobblestone streets, quaint shops, and restaurants. The Place aux Oignons is especially lovely. There is beautiful Flemish architecture, different from other places in France.

Yayoi Kusama's Tulips of Shangri-La, a symbol of Lille

Lille also has a splendid museum, the Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille . Inaugurated in 1892, Lille’s Fine Arts Museum has France’s second largest collection after Paris’ Louvre .

Its cache of 15th to 20th century paintings is sublime, including works by Rubens, Van Dyck, Manet, and a host of other artists. The Belle Epoque-style museum itself is a work of art, decorated with even more works of art.

Lille also has a hopping craft beer scene, some seriously pungent Maroilles cheese (also called Gris de Lille), and restaurants galore. La Capsule , and it was a hip, stylish watering hole.

pretty street in Lyons-la-Foret

18. Lyons-la-Forêt

In Haute Normandy, the charming small town of Lyons-la-Foret is set in a large beech forest. The stunning town is one of France’s Les Plus Beaux Villages. It’s surrounded by the kind of idyllic farmland that people associate with the Norman and Breton countryside.

Lyons-la-Foret is a classic French village with half-timbered houses, mostly dating from the 17th and 18th century. The town has cozy cafes, quaint antique shops, and a covered marketplace.

On Thursdays, in the town’s heart, shops are abuzz with trade.

ancient market hall of Lyons-la-Foret, one of the most beautiful towns in northern France

Many artists were attracted to the pretty town, including Claude Monet. The town was also a filming location for two different versions of the film Madame Bovary .

While there, be sure to see Saint-Denis Church, dating from the 15th century, and the Cordeliers and Benedictines Convents. The Place des Trois Moulins has three picturesque water mills and a small garden.

Chateau Vaux-le-Vicomte

19. Maincy | Vaux-le-Vicomte

In Maincy, less than an hour from Paris, you’ll find Vaux-le-Vicomte. It’s the prettiest privately owned chateau in France, a pinnacle of 17th century elegance. The chateau is so lavish that it landed its original owner in jail for life.

When Princess Elizabeth visited in 1948, she pronunced Vaux-le-Vicomte “more beautiful than Versailles!” In fact, Vaux le Vicomte was the inspiration for Versailles. Built between 1656-61, it’s a fine example of France Baroque architecture.

The chateau is situated on a 1,200-acre estate in Maincy, about 50 minutes from central Paris. There won’t be nearly as many tourists here as at Versailles or Fontainebleau, and it’s just as lovely.

Designed by Le Vau, the chateau was originally owned by the ill-fated Nicholas Fouquet, Louis XIV’s finance minister and the wealthiest man in France. In 1661, against his friends’ advice, Fouquet invited the king and his entourage to a luxurious dinner reception.

elegant room in Chateau Vaux-le-Vicomte outside Paris

Three weeks later, teeming with jealously at such grandeur, a peeved Louis XIV ordered Fouquet’s arrest on embezzlement charges.

After a three year trial, Fouquet spent 19 years in prison. Louis XIV packed up Le Vau and his team of artists and delivered them to Versailles.

Vaux-le-Vicomte can be visited year round, except for an annual winter closure. You can tour the lavishly furnished chateau and explore private royal apartments, ceremonial salons, reception areas, staff quarters, and the basement kitchen. Tickets can be purchased on site or online .

On Saturdays in the summer, the Le Notre gardens are lit with 2,000 candles during “candlelit evenings” every Saturday. The candle evenings usually run from from May 4 to October 5. There’s also theatrical shows and concerts at the chateau.

Mont St-MIchel, a UNESCO-listed abbey in Normandy France

20. Mont St-Michel

A crown jewel of the Normandy, Mont St-Michel is a pretty-as-a mirage island abbey. A medieval stage set, its slender spires, stout ramparts and rocky outcrops rise dramatically from the sea. They stand guard over gleaming sands laid bare by a receding tide.

The hulking abbey is one of the most visited pilgrimage sites in Christendom. The Mont’s star attraction is the abbey crowning its top.

The mystical abbey was settled in 996 by Benedictine monks. The abbey is a mix of architectural styles, with religious and military overtones.

After the French Revolution, when France was de-Christianized, the abbey became a prison. It was closed in 1863. In 1979, Mont St.-Michel was declared a UNESCO site.

Here’s my complete guide to visiting Mont St.-Michel . You can visit the Mont on a guided day trip from Paris or a day trip from Bayeux .

Place Stanislas in Nancy France

Nancy is a beautiful town in northern France known for its stunning Art Nouveau and Renaissance architecture. Nancy was once the capital of a powerful Duchy of Lorraine.

The town lies at a the crossroads between northern and southern Europe. During the 18th century, Stanislas Leszczynski, the deposed king of Poland, beautified the city with palatial monuments.

Nancy has both an old town and a new town, which seamlessly connect. Ville Neuve is the commercial heart of the town, full of shops and a covered food market. Vieille Ville is a tangled maze of cobbled streets, home to galleries, craft shops, and several historic mansions. The main drag is Grand Rue.

The 15th century Ducal Palace on Grand Rue houses the Musee de Lorraine (under renovation until 2023). The ornate facade resembles the Chateaux de Blois.

The palace contains a Gothic-Renaissance cloister. Off to one side is the Chapelle de Cordeliers, which was modeled on the Medici Chapel in Florence .

READ : 3 Day Itinerary for Florence

Neptune Fountain on Place Stanislas in Nancy France

The heart of Nancy is the royal square, the UNESCO-listed Place Stanislas. The pedestrianized square is lovely, with creamy stone facades, fountains, and Rococo-style wrought iron railings. Two monumental statues are framed by ornate Rococo porticos.

On one corner is the unmissable Musee des Beaux-Art. It has a diverse collection of European paintings, furniture, and artifacts.

It has a startlingly good modern art collection with works by Picasso, Modigliani, Matisse, and Bonnard. But the museum’s real treasure is the stunning collection of Daum Art Deco glass on display in the underground floor within remnants of the city walls.

READ : Guide To Paris’ Picasso Museum

Other pretty squares are the Place de la Carriere (lined with 18th century mansions) and the Place Vaudemont. Off Place Vaudemont, you’ll find the Rue des Marechaux, nicknamed La rue Gorumande. On that street, you’ll find the most famous Nancy restaurant, La Gentilhommiere.

Chateau de Pierrefonds

22. Pierrefonds

The quaint town of Pierrefonds is home to a fairytale castle, the Chateau de Pierrefonds.

In 1857, Napoleon III hired the famed architect Eugene Viollet-le-Duc to rebuild the romantic ruins of Pierrefonds Castle. Napoleon III longed for a lavish castle, fit for a king and evoking a medieval fantasy.

Viollet-le-Duc was inspired by Coucy Castle , one of my favorite French ruins. He sought to maintain an equilibrium between a fortified palace with beautiful state rooms and a residence.

The rooms are recreated in vibrant rich colors as they would have appeared in the Middle Ages, with medieval motifs like St. George and the Dragon.

Here’s my complete guide to Pierrefonds Castle .

the medieval UNESCO-listed town of Provins

23. Provins

Provins is an utterly quaint medieval walled city and a perfect easy day trip from Paris. Like many medieval towns, Provins has an older “upper” city and a slightly more modern “lower” city.

You arrive in the lower city, or ville basse. As you start climbing, you’ll see the ramparts and Tower de Caesar.

The atmospheric Provins is filled with historic and architectural gems, including no less than 58 listed historic monuments. The town is a designated UNESCO site and was once home to a great medieval fair. If you’re on the UNESCO trail in France, this is a must see site.

On your visit, inspect the Tower Cesar, a well preserved medieval tower. Then, walk the ramps and the moat and take in the world’s most charming medieval bookstore.

You should also visit the underground tunnels, Les Souterrains. Provins is famous for its roses, so you’ll find rose everything in its tiny shops.

beautiful half-timbered architecture in Quimper, a must see town in northern France

24. Quimper

Originally settled during Roman times, Quimper is the ancient Celtic capital of the westernmost region of France and proud of it. The bright Breton city of Quimper is all bright architecture, footbridges, ancient cobbled lanes, and bagpipers.

Quimper’s most famous landmark is the Cathedral of St. Corentin, built between the 12th and 18th centuries. Quiimper is also lined with beautiful 17th century townhouses.

If you’re an art lover, you can wile away a couple hours in the Musee des Beaux-Arts or Quimper’s Pottery Museum.

Quimper had an economic boom in the 17th century thanks to its pottery trade. You can pick up some gorgeous hand painted faience ceramics, with blue flour-de-lys, for souvenirs at La Civette or Heoligou.

If you’re a fan of the BBC’s Poldark series, you may remember that Quimper is where Ross Poldark makes a daring rescue of Dwight Enes from prison. The episode (Season 3, Episode 5) was filmed onsite at the former convent turned prison in real life.

Reims Cathedral

The town of Reims (pronounced Raaaance with a swallow of the n) is the unofficial capital of France’s Champagne region.

The town is decorated with Art Deco buildings and has some of France’s best champagne houses — Mumm, Veuve Cliquot-Ponsardin, Tattinger, and Ruinart. The hard part is choosing. (I picked Veuve Cliquot.)

On each tour, you’ll see the man made chalk tunnels, the crayeres. They offer the perfect temperature and humidity for the second fermentation.

three ornate portals on the facade of Reims Cathedral

With or without a glass of champagne, don’t forget to visit the Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Reims in Reims France. It’s one of Europe’s greatest cathedrals.

Some experts think it’s France’s most beautiful cathedral, surpassing even Notre Dame de Paris. Reims Cathedral was designated a UNESCO site in 1991. There are over 2,000 sculptures on or inside the cathedral.

Reims Cathedral was built over 60 years, beginning in 1211. The ornate western portal is distinctive for its beauty, unity, and harmony.

There are three main doors, all with a theme carved in limestone — the passion, the coronation of Mary, and the Last Judgment (from left to right).

statues on the facade of Reims Cathedral, with the

Across the top is the Gallery of Kings, with statues of 56 unnamed kings of France. On the sides, you can see the massive flying buttresses that support the building.

Inside is the real treat. You step into a towering 500 foot nave.

You’re greeted by a wall of 52 intricately carved statues. Admire the choir and 1954 stained glass windows in the south transept, which replaced the ones damaged in WWI.

The interior’s undisputed highlight is in the apse behind the altar. There, you’ll see the catastrophically beautiful stained glass windows created by the painter Marc Chagall in 1974.

interior of Reims Cathedral, with Chagall-designed stained glass windows

It’s rare to see a modern artist working to such stunning effect in a ancient church. In 2011, six abstract windows were added, flanking the Chagall pieces.

Reims Cathedral is also the spot for the coronation of French kings, making it the equivalent of Westminster Abbey in England. Joan of Arc made an appearance in Reims, crowning Charles VII in 1429.

The Saint-Remi Basilica is also included in Reims UNESCO designation. I’s an acclaimed Gothic masterpiece. The naves and the transept date from 1000.

You may want to book a guided walking tour of Reim s . Or take a champagne tour from Paris .

Place du Puits in Rochefort-en-Terre, a beautiful town in northern France

26. Rochefort-en-Terre

Rochefort-en-Terre is one of France’s les plus beaux villages and a must see village in Brittany. It was voted “France’s favorite village” in 2016.

It’s difficult to imagine a more beautiful and well-manicured French hamlet. Rochefort-en-Terre is fairytale-perfect and almost mind blowing, a sensation I had upon glimpsing the beautiful Rothenburg ob der Tauber on Germany’s Romantic Road .

Rochefort-en-Terre is an architectural dream, beautifully sited on a hilltop overlooking the Valley of Arz. It’s a town where rich merchants built lavishly decorated chateaux. Most date from the 17th century.

pretty street in Rochefort-en-Terre in Brittany France

The mansions run from the Rue de Porche to the Place du Puits. They’re made of granite and half timbers and adorned with corbelled turrets, sculptures, and wood carvings.

As you stroll, inspect the Notre Dame de la Tronchaye church, which dates from the 16th and 17th centuries. It’s famed for a statue of the Virgin Mary, which was discovered by a shepherdess in a tree trunk.

The most swoonful place in Rochefort-en-Terre is the Place du Puits. It’s the perfect intimate village setting with stone buildings, hanging iron signs, a fountain, and flower boxes on every facade.

Pop into L’Art Gourmand for delicious chocolatey things. If hunger calls, try Le Café Breton, boasting original medieval decor. There are plenty of crepes and waffles to be had as well.

beautiful half-timbered architecture in medieval Rouen France

Medieval Rouen is 2000 years old. It’s one of Normandy’s most engaging and historically rich destinations, with half-timbered homes and winding medieval lanes.

With its lantern tower piercing the clouds, Cathddrale Notre-Dame de Rouen is Rouen’s crown jewel.

Rouen’s central square is where Joan of Arc, the teen who rallied France to drive out the English, was tried for heresy and burned at the stake in 1431. During WWII, Allied bombing raids laid waste to the city. A lot to endure, no?

But Rouen is still lovely and its cobbled old town is a joy to wander. Stroll the length of the Rue du Gros Horloge, the pedestrianized main drag, to Notre-Dame Cathedral.

Gros Horloge, an astronomic clock on a Renaissance church

Along the way, take in all the colorful half timbers, the Place du Vieux Marche, the massively ornate Great Clock, and the Joan of Arc Church. If you have time, climb the clock tower’s 100 steps for panoramic views.

Rouen’s Notre Dame Cathedral is a landmark of art history, one of Europe’s best cathedrals. Constructed between the 12th and 14th centuries, the cathedral was built on the foundations of a 4th century basilica.

The cathedral rises 151 meters tall, making it one of the tallest in France. The Dukes of Normandy were traditionally crowned and buried there. Richard the Lionhearted insisted his heart be kept there.

You can still see what Impressionist artist Claude Monet painted more than a century ago. Monet spent parts of 1892 and 1893 in Rouen. He painted 31 versions of the cathedral, extreme close ups of one part of the pale filigreed stone facade.

Monet, Rouen Cathedral at Sunset, 1892

Sometimes he worked on 14 canvases at once. Monet groaned: “Everything changes, even stone.”

Inside, Rouen Cathedral is High Gothic at its best. The nave soars four stories high. In length, only Amiens Cathedral and Reims Cathedral are longer. Many of Normandy’s most famous citizens are buried there, including Richard the Lionheart and early Norman rulers Rollo and William I.

Rouen also has a wonderful museum, the Musée des Beaux-Arts. It has masterpieces from the 15th century to the 21st century, including works from Velasquez, Van Dyke, Delacroix, Gericault , Delaroche, and the Impressionists.

To get the full scoop, you may want to book a guided walking tour .

the walled town of Saint-Malo in Brittany, a beautiful town in northern France

28. Saint-Malo

Saint-Malo is a charming walled town, thrust out into the sea and straight out of the history books. Founded in the 1st century, Saint Malo became a prominent Roman fortified site. Though seriously damaged in WWII, Saint Malo was restored to perfection.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the town was a famous port used by trade ships and pirates alike. Saint Malo starred in the wonderful and evocative book All The Light We Cannot See , winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize.

The best things to do in Saint Malo are to wander along the town’s 12th century crenellated ramparts (a rewarding 1 mile romp), which encircle the town, and explore the ancient churches. You mount the stairs at St. Vincent Gate.

Saint Malo Cathedral also dates from the 12th century. It has some beautiful stained glass windows. But strolling the cobbled streets is the main attraction. Discover Maison Hussaye, the oldest house in the city with a cute turret. After a stroll, head to the beach and relax.

the White Spring Fountain in the center of Senlis France

Historic Senlis will appeal to medievalists and history-architecture buffs. Although it’s a tad larger than Sarlat in the south, it has a similar vibe.

You could also combine a visit to Senlis with a visit to Chateau de Chantilly, which is just 15 minutes away.

Senlis has a rich history. It’s a royal town and was the cradle of the Capet Dynasty. Hugh Capet was the Lord of Senlis before becoming King in 987. Senlis was a royal seat from the time of Clovis in the 5th century to Henri IV in the 16-17th centuries.

Senlis is bursting with ancient buildings and relics from the 10th to18th centuries. A large portion of its ancient Gallo-Roman walls are intact and you can admire the 16 lookout towers.

cobbled street in Senlis

Stroll the winding cobblestone streets and admire the stone houses. Senlis is the kind of town you can get lost in. Many streets still sport names from the middles ages, signifying the occupation of their residents.

There’s also a historic abbey, a medieval cellar, and the ruins of a Roman arena that you can visit. Opposite the cathedral are the 12th century remains of a royal castle, now part of an open air garden.

Senlis’ cathedral, the Cathédrale de Notre Dame, is an imposing highlight of Senlis. Built between 1150 and 1191, it’s 10 years older than Paris’ Notre Dame.

It’s an impressive reminder of Senlis’ past power. It has a 78 meter tower and a magnificent carved-stone Grand Portal that is thought to have inspired the one in Chartres’ cathedral.

the beautiful town of Troyes in France's Champagne region

Visitors to France’s Champagne region usually make a beeline for the more famous Reims. But Troyes , further south, is a beautiful medieval town in northern France, just bursting with romance.

I definitely preferred it over Reims. And there are plenty of champagne houses to visit nearby.

Troyes is unpredictably pronounced “twa.” But it rolls off the tongue in a languid chic French kind of way. Troyes also has a big heart. Literally, it has a big heart embedded along the Canal du Trevois. The two ton metal sculpture is the symbol of the romantic town.

The main activity in Troyes is simply strolling around the well-preserved historic center. There’s no need to seek out romance. It will assault you from all angles and, unless you are a complete skeptic, you’ll be entranced.

half timbers in Troyes

Everywhere you look, there are multi-colored half-timbered houses in pastel palettes with vertical, horizontal, and diagonal stripes. The buildings lurch and slouch with an engaging lack of symmetry.

Troyes is known as the village of “ten churches,” so there’s plenty to see.

Be sure to at least take in the Gothic Cathedral of Saint Peter and Saint Paul and the slightly grimier Basilica of Saint Urbain. There’s also some cultural heft to go along with all the Gothic splendor.

Tucked behind the cathedral is the Musee d’Art Moderne . It’s an unexpectedly good museum housing a private collection in the bishop’s palace. It has an abundance of modern art, especially Fauves, including works by Degas, Rodin , Matisse, Picasso , Modigliani.

Chateau de Versailles

31. Versailles

Here comes the Sun King. France’s most famous Baroque chateau is the Chateau de Versailles, where Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette spent their last days. The UNESCO-listed palace is one of the most frequented sites in the world.

Versailles was once the center and cultural heartbeat of Europe, until the French Revolution. The Sun King Louis XIV used Versailles as his royal seat from 1682 to 1789.

The Palace of Versailles is ornately decorated, to say the least. It’s massive, flashy, and very, very gold. The opulence is overwhelming. Even the bathrooms are gold-plated. You enter through the Neo-Classical portals designed by Ange-Jacques Gabriel.

As exemplifies the Baroque style, Louis XIV’s palace was decorated with gilding, stucco, arabesques, frescoed vaulted ceilings, mirrors, and tromp l’oeil effects.

Hall of Mirrors

The king waged architecture like he waged war. The Charles Le Brun-decorated apartments were in the center, because the world revolved around Louis XIV.

The Hall of Mirrors is 220 feet long. Overlooking the gardens, it has 357 mirrors, chandeliers, ceiling frescos, and marble walls. The Hall of Battles is even longer, at almost 400 feet, lined with oil paintings by Eugene Delacroix and Jean-Honore Fragonard.

But the palace itself wasn’t enough for the king who ruled by divine right. In 1687, Louis XIV built the Grand Trianon. This swishy pad is where Louis XIV escaped the viper pit of court life and pursued his affair with Madame de Montespan.

the Petit Trianon

The architect, Jules Hardouin-Mansart, described the refined structure as “a little palace of pink marble and porphyry, with marvelous gardens.”

Aside from Louis XIV, Versailles’ most famous occupant was Marie Antoinette . The queen made major changes to the palace’s decor in the 18th century. With the exception of the Hall of Mirrors, the interior is more Louis XVI style than Louis XIV style.

Marie Antoinette also adored the Petit Trianon, a little Neo-Classical palace on the grounds. When Louis XVI inherited it, he gifted it to his queen, saying “This pleasure house is yours.”

The Petit Trianon bears her distinctive decorative style — ornate floral motifs run amok in cornflower blue, lilac, and green, without the glitz of the main palace.

the formal gardens of Versailles

Marie Antoinette also created a pastoral fantasy, the Hameau de la Reine. On the surface, the Queen’s Hamlet appeared as a rural village of crackled tumbledown cottages and wisteria vines. (The countryside was fashionable at the time.) But inside, the cottages were decked out.

Designed by Andre Le Notre, the gardens of the Palace of Versailles are a vast showstopper. Louis XIV wanted a verdant display to demonstrate his power and to entertain VIPs.

It’s one of the most influential landscape designs in French history — with a series of geometric gardens, groves, fountains, and parks.

READ : Filming Locations for the BBC Series Versailles

the quaint Norman town of Veules-les-Roses, a beautiful hidden gem town in Northern France

32. Veules-les-Roses

The charming coastal hamlet of Veules-les-Roses is one of Normandy’s prettiest and oldest spots. So lovely is Veules-les-Roses that’s it’s been voted one of France’s Les Plux Beaux Villages.

The villages is a hidden gem in Normandy, usually overlooked by tourists. Victor Hugo famously frequented the town, spending his summers at the home of playwright Paul Meurice. There’s a memorial to Hugo on the town beach.

READ : Guide to the Victor Hugo Museum in Paris

thatched cottage in Veules-les-Roses, one of the prettiest towns in northern France

Perched on the River Veules, the town has been inhabited since the 4th century. Veules-les-Roses has more thatched cottages, stone houses, and picturesque water mills than any photographer could want.

The road that winds through town is dubbed the Champs-Elysées. Be sure to pop into the 13th century Church of Saint Martin.

Thanks to its seaside location, Veules-les-Roses also has a pebbly beach set amid dramatic white cliffs. You can walk the cliff path for amazing vistas.

The town is known for its oysters and fresh seafood. It even has four Michelin starred restaurants, including Les Galets on Rue Victor Hugo.

beautiful houses in Trouville-sur-Mer, another pretty town in Normandy

I hope you’ve enjoyed my guide to the most beautitful towns in Northern France. You may enjoy these other France travel guides and resources:

  • 2 Day Itinerary for Paris
  • 3 Day Itinerary for Paris
  • 3 Day Art Weekend in Paris
  • Hidden Gems in Paris
  • 10 Day Itinerary for Southern France
  • Secret Towns in France
  • Hidden Gems in Provence
  • Hilltop Villages of the Luberon Valley
  • 40+ Landmarks in France
  • Historic Landmarks in Southern France
  • Beautiful Villages in Occitanie

If you’d like to visit the most beautiful and historic towns in northern France, pin it for later.

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2 thoughts on “A French Fairytale: The Best and Most Beautiful Towns in Northern France”

What an extensive list– and with plenty of details. Thank you!

Thank you too. I hope you have a great trip to northern France! Love France!

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Last Updated on February 17, 2023 by Leslie Livingston

The Ultimate Northern France Itinerary: Normandy, Loire Valley, and Paris

This post may contain affiliate links.  when you click on these links we receive a small commission, at no expense to you, that helps this blog run.  all opinions are our own..

Home of grand and impressive castles, spectacular cliffs, historical WWII monuments, a city built on a rock off the coast, picturesque gardens, and breathtaking cathedrals: Northern France is a must visit!  This region has so much to offer and so much great food to enjoy.  We spent a week driving around Normandy and Loire Valley before settling in Paris for another 5 days.  

Home of grand and impressive castles, spectacular cliffs, historical WWII monuments, a city built on a rock off the coast, picturesque gardens, and breathtaking cathedrals: Northern France is a must visit!  This region has so much to offer and so mu…

Day 1: Giverny

Day 2: upper normandy, day 3: lower normandy, day 4: lower normandy -> loire valley.

  • Day 5 - 7: Loire Valley
  • Day 8: Loire Valley -> Paris
  • Day 9 - 12: Paris

We arrived into Paris's Charles de Gaulle Airport early, grabbed our rental car and headed to our VRBO outside of Vernon .  This was an absolutely unbelievable place to stay – you have full access to the grounds which includes unique sculptures, forests, llamas, horses, and an outdoor barbeque.  This magical property is only a few minutes drive away from the city of Vernon and Giverny gardens.

The Ultimate Northern France Itinerary - Vernon, France

Monet Gardens

After a couple hours settling in and exploring the property, we visited the famous Monet Gardens .  Tickets to the garden are 9.50 euros and can be bought in advance online for a slight extra charge for the benefit of avoiding lines (recommended).  Monet Gardens is split into two areas.  One is surrounding the Monet's home – expansive flower beds, fruit trees, a central alley with iron arches.  

The Ultimate Northern France Itinerary - Giverny, Monet Gardens #monetgardens #giverny #france

The other is a Japanese-style water garden that is across the road from the main garden.  It is accessible by a clearly marked underground walkway.  This is the famous garden with the large pond full of water lilies (depending on the season) and a Japanese bridge over one side of the pond.  The gardens can be quite busy, so be ready for crowds on the narrow pathways.  We spent about two hours exploring, which could be definitely stretched longer.

Monet Gardens, Japanese Water Gardens

Vernon is just a few miles away from Giverny and also has a few neat sights to visit.  Vernon is right on the River Seine and has an old half-timbered mill hovering of the river.  Throughout the village, there are few other half-timbered houses.  There is also a small Château - Château de Bizy if you have time to kill.  We also picked up food for dinner and breakfast the next day to cook at our VRBO .

Ultimate Northern France Itinerary - Vernon, France

This was a fairly considerable driving day - about 4 hours in total, with regular stops along the way.  The drive begins going north along the River Seine.

The first stop was the medieval city of Rouen.  The old downtown has pedestrian-only cobblestone streets - filled with street performers, gothic-style cathedrals, half-timbered houses, small boutiques, and an astronomical clock.  We parked on the other side of the river from the downtown (as there is more plentiful and cheaper parking) and walked across the bridge into the old town.  The medieval area is easily walkable and most is along pedestrian-only streets.

Rouen, France - Astronomical clock, Ultimate Northern France Itinerary

Rouen is home to a beautiful astronomical clock – Le Gros Horloge, dating to the 14th century.  We also walked into Rouen's Notre Dame Cathedral  (free entry).  We walked past St. Ouen's Abbey, City Hall, and the park adjacent to them.  Next, we walked to the Joan of Arc Tower – the only part of Rouen castle that remains that imprisoned Joan of Arc.  Contrasting the previous gothic style building, we visited the modern church of St Joan of Arc.  

Now it was time to head for the coast.  Étretat is a small town on the Northern coast of France with stunning white cliffs and a rock pillar rising from the sea.  You can climb up a short steep path from the beach to dramatic views.  Parking can be challenging, so be prepared to walk a bit to get to the beach.  If you have time, go up the pathways on both sides of the beach.  The highlight of the day!

Etretat, France - Ultimate Northern France Itinerary - A Happy Passport

An idyllic harbor town in Normandy, Honfleur is a 45-minute drive from Étretat.  The drive there goes over Pont de Normandie, a high bridge... a very high bridge.  As long as you are not the driver, there is a stunning view looking off the bridge.  There is a toll to get across the bridge.  Honfleur is on the mouth of the Seine River.  There is a lively market on Saturdays (lots of Cheese!).  Walk around the city center to find a large wooden church, named Saint Catherine's Church. This is also a great place to grab a scoop of ice cream and walk along the old Harbor/Vieux-Bassin.  

Honfleur, France - Ultimate Northern France Itinerary

From Honfleur, we drove to our hotel in Bayeux, France .  We stayed in Bayeux for two days as our base for Normandy.  

This day we spent the morning visiting the Normandy beaches and D-Day sights.  We visited the sights on our own, but looking back a guided tour would have been a better choice.

If you want to do a guided tour, which will provide you information on all the historical sights you are seeing – this one comes highly recommended.  A guide can help you appreciate the events that occurred and the turbulent past of this area.

Pointe Du Hoc

A few miles west of Omaha Beach, is Pointe Du Hoc.  Here, American soldiers coming from the English channel climbed the massive cliffs.  The area was full of German gun pits and artillery.  Incredibly, this was a site of great Ally victory.  You can see the many craters from exploded bombs in the lunar landscape and peek inside the bunker remains.  Well worth a 45-minute visit.

Pointe Du Hoc, Normandy, France - The Ultimate Northern France Itinerary

Omaha Beach

There are much less specific D-Day artifacts to see here than Pointe Du Hoc.  This is where a guide really comes in handy to make the beach come alive with the impressive and haunting events that occurred.  Even if you are not into history at all, this is a great beach to visit.  There are several small places to eat near the beach – perfect time to get lunch.

Omaha Beach, Normandy, France - Ultimate Northern France Itinerary

American Cemetery

Right along the water, the expansive Normandy American Cemetery is thought-provoking.  It is a beautiful cemetery with 9,386 grave sites.  If visiting on your own, there is a good visitor center that is incredibly informative.

American Cemetery, Normandy, France - Ultimate Northern France Itinerary

After visiting the cemetery, we stopped at the Overlord Museum , which has displays for uniforms, tanks, weapons, and WWII equipment.  It is relatively small and good for a quick visit, despite being a bit outdated.  Admission is 7.80 euros.

Once back in Bayeux, we walked into the city center.  Bayeux is known for a tapestry... yes a tapestry.  A 70-meter (230-feet) long embroidered piece of cloth.  It depicts conquests and battles of England from the Normans.  The tapestry is located in the Bayeux museum and costs 9.50 euros to enter.  Other must-see stops include a water wheel along the L'Aure River that runs through the middle of the town and a cathedral.  

Bayeux, France - The Ultimate Northern France Itinerary #bayeux #france #itinerary

A bit outside of the center of town is the botanical gardens, which is a free public park with amazing trees, plants, and a very unique playground.  The highlight is a huge weeping beech tree.  Unlike the rest of the city, there will likely be very few people in the gardens – a hidden gem.

Bayeux Botanical Gardens, Normandy, France - Ultimate Northern France Itinerary

We packed up our stuff and headed to the Loire Valley – but first a stop at the magnificent Mont Saint-Michel!

Mont Saint-Michel

Wow!  Breathtaking!  If you skip everything else in Normandy, still make the journey up from Paris to see this.  Mont Saint-Michel is a city on top of a rocky island just a short distances away from the mainland.  You will be in awe of it the first time you spot it from the road.  It is accessible by a bridge, but during low-tide, you could walk to it along the sand.  You can walk from the (paid) parking lot or take a bus.  We walked there and took the bus back.  It is quite magical walking up to it, as it appears bigger and bigger.  At the very top, and what you first notice when looking at the island, is the impressive Abbey.  To get up to the alley, you will walk up cobblestone streets and steps.  It will likely be crowded with both people and tourist traps trying to sell you cheap souvenirs.  Just by-pass all of that mess and get to the Abbey.  

Mont Saint-Michel - Ultimate Northern France Itinerary #montsaintmichel #france

The Abbaye du Mont-Saint-Miche l has been a religious site since the middle ages.  The abbey was constructed over a 1,300 year period.  Just like the rest of the island: it will be crowded.  If you can, get there early or later in the afternoon, before or after the large bused-in groups from Paris come.  Admission is 10 euros but I would suggest opting for the audioguide for an additional 3 euros.  You can learn and explore the Abbaye's past as a prison, including the shocking human hampster-wheel and other torture devices.  It is worth visiting for the views alone.

Mont Saint-Michel - Ultimate Northern France Itinerary #montsaintmichel #france

Amboise Château

For our three and half days in the Loire Valley, we stayed in the small town of Amboise.  This charming village sits on the Loire Valley and has not one.. but two gorgeous castles right in town!  It is centrally located between the other castles in the valley.  We stayed at the affordable Hotel Chaptal Amboise , within walking distance to everything in Amboise.  

Amboise Chateau, Loire Valley - The Ultimate Northern France Itinerary #amboise #france #chateau

Amboise Château  has a lot less of the original building remaining than the other castles in the Loire Valley, but the exterior structures and the view from the castle are not to be missed.  We wrote another post about our favorite castles we visited and brief descriptions of their interesting history throughout the centuries.

Check out our post on the 5 most magnificent castles of the Loire Valley !

Amboise Chateau, Loire Valley - Ultimate Northern France Itinerary #amboise #france #chateau

Day 5: Loire Valley

Tours is the largest city in the Loire Valley and known for its many free public gardens and parks.  This can be used as your hub for exploring Loire Valley if you prefer a larger city, than the small idyllic town of Amboise.  Tours has a few grand cathedrals and a nice town square as well.  Even if you are not staying in Tours, stop by for a visit or eat at one of the many gourmet cafes.

Château de Chambord

The sheer scale of this place is impressive!  It is the quintessential French Renaissance castle.  It takes a few hours just to walk around the property.

Chateau de Chambord, Loire Valley - Ultimate Northern France Itinerary #loirevalley #chambord

Balloon Ride over Loire Valley

If you have never been on a Hot Air Balloon – this is the place to do it.  What can be better than floating over castles and the beautiful French countryside?  We took off on the opposite side of the river from Amboise Château.  The take-off site can change based on the wind direction.  The wind also controls where you end up, so if you are lucky you might get to fly over a few other castles as well.  We went over the city of Amboise and the nearby rivers and forests.  The only way you can tell you are going up is the buildings beneath you getting smaller and smaller.  It truly feels like you are floating.  We had a quite exciting landing into a large grass field, skidding a couple times to slow down.  They have a chase van and trailer that follows the balloon to where it stops, and you can help put the balloon and basket onto the trailer.  To celebrate a successful flight, you get champagne and neat certificate!  

Loire Valley is one of the most popular bases for a Hot Air Balloon Ride and for good reason – splurge a little and take this once in a lifetime experience.  Absolutely incredible!

Amboise - Hot Air Balloon Ride over the Loire Valley - Ultimate Northern France Itinerary

Day 6: Loire Valley

Whoa! Our largest castle day.  Believe it or not, you can get a bit tired of touring castles.  We saw 3 castles and a massive Abbey.  All were amazing, but if you wanted to go at a bit slower of a pace, I would skip Azay-Le-Rideau.

Villandry Gardens

There is a Chateau here, but we came for the amazing gardens!  Going in May, there were a good amount of flowers in bloom but little crowds.  Acres of well-maintained fairytale gardens - full of boxed hedges, fruit trees, and fountains.  

Villandry Gardens, Loire Valley, France - Ultimate Northern France Itinerary


While we were there, the outside and some of the inside of Château D'Azay-Le-Rideau was being restored.  Tickets were 10.50 euros per person, but as it was part of a network of other sights, we had discounted entry into Fontevraud Abbey and Villandry Chateau (and the option for others).  There was scaffolding and tarps over the castle, taking away some of the charm.  Compared to the other castles, it is smaller than the others in the Loire Valley.  The inside rooms are well decorated and the audioguide adds to the enjoyment.  One of the best furnishings of the castles we saw.  We had lunch and ice cream nearby in the town.

Azay-le-Rideau, Loire Valley, France - Ultimate Northern France Itinerary #loirevalley

Château d'usse

This is Sleeping Beauty's castle and the romantic feeling of this castle is straight out of a fairytale.  They use mannequins to tell the story of Sleeping Beauty and make the castle come to life.  To read more about the Loire Valley Châteaux, read our post here .

Chateau D'Usse, Loire Valley, France - Ultimate Northern France Itinerary

Fontevraud Abbaye

Founded in 1101, Fontevraud Abbaye is the largest surviving monastery from the Middle Ages.  It had a long history as a prison from 1804 to 1963.  Prior to that, it was a thriving royal monastery complex that was the final resting place for King Henry II, his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine and son Richard the Lionheart.  The buildings were imposing and the setting is stunning.  They have several exhibits around and fascinating audioguide.  The Abbaye is in a charming village, perfect to walk around in or grab a bite.

Fontevraud Abbaye, Loire Valley, France - Ultimate Northern France Itinerary

Day 7: Loire Valley

We renting bikes from a small shop in Amboise, Loca Cycle .  While they were not the best bikes, they were good enough for our 32km round trip bike ride.  We rode the bikes to Chenonceau Château, mostly through vineyards, forests, and fields on bike paths.  We used this guide for the route, but most of it is well marked while you are riding.  For the very irregular biker, this route was fairly easy with only a few hills.  There are bike racks once you get to Chenonceau.  

Biking Riding to Chenonceau Chateau - The Ultimate Northern France Itinerary

Château de Chenonceau

This is the most popular castle of the Loire Valley, an architectural marvel build over the Cher river.  Mainly resided and designed by women, the history of this castle is fascinating.

Chateau de Chenonceau, Loire Valley, France - Ultimate Northern France Itinerary

Day 8: Loire Valley -> Paris

Now it was time to head back to Paris.  On the way from the Loire Valley, we stopped by Fontainebleau.  


Fontainebleau is a massive palace, similarly decorated on the inside as Versailles.  Being one of Napoleon's favorite palace's he was responsible for many of the design choices.  While not the extremely tight crowds of Versailles, the rooms are still filled with other visitors.  Admission is 12 euros per person, and it is advantageous to buy online in advance to avoid lines.  Or what we did, was get the Paris Pass .  This gets you free entry into most museums and attractions across Paris.  Depending on how many of these places you are already going to, it can be a great deal.  The price is based on the number of days you will be using it, to take into account how many places you can logistically see during your time.  Fontainebleau was staggering.  If I were to rank all of the castles we saw in terms of grandeur and opulence, this would come ahead of all the Loire Valley castles and only be 2nd to Versailles.

Fontainebleau Palace, France - The Ultimate Northern France Itinerary

Before settling in Paris, we dropped off our rental car at the airport and took the metro into the city.  We stayed at an Airbnb near the Montmartre area.   Click here to get $40 off your first Airbnb stay .

sacre Coeur Basilica

From our Airbnb, we walked to Sacre Coeur Basilica .  Knowing that Sacre Coeur is up on a hill does not prepare you for the number of stairs you have to climb to get up there. But man, there is a great view of the city after all those stairs.  One thing you will notice, now being out of the French countryside and in a large city, is all of the people trying to scam you or sell you cheap trinkets or knockoffs.  

Sacre Coeur Basilica, Paris, France - The Ultimate Northern France Itinerary

Day 9: Paris

Paris is an extremely walkable city.  For tackling Paris, we took the metro to one section of the city and walked around to all the main sights.  Since we were only using the metro two or three times a day, we just bought individual tickets rather than a multi-day or single-day pass.  A single ticket (at the time of writing this in 2018) costs 1.90 euros and is good for all the transfers you may make.  You can get a deal on tickets if you buy 10 at a time, which is called a carnet (14.90 euros, so 1.49 euros a ticket).  A single day pass for Zones 1 and 2 costs 7.50 euros.  So if you plan to go on the metro more than 5 times in a day, go for the day pass (Mobilis).  This day we took the metro to the Concorde stop and walked down the Tuileries Garden towards the Louvre.

There is much more to see here than the famous Mona Lisa from Leonardo da Vinci.  Honestly, it is overrated.  It is a relatively small painting with a huge crowd of people.  Once you are in the room, turn around from the Mona Lisa and the painting opposite it – The Wedding at Cana – is way more impressive.  Definitely, go see the Mona Lisa, so you can say you did, but give yourself a few hours to explore the rest of the Louvre .  We are by no means art lovers or museum people, but the Louvre has so much to offer.  Our two favorite sections were Napoleon's apartment and the great historical artifacts stolen from Egypt.  

Louvre Museum, Paris, France - The Ultimate Northern France Itinerary

With the Paris Pass , you can skip the very long line to enter the Louvre.  You will still have to wait 15-20 minutes to get through security, but you do not want to waste an hour or several hours in the sun outside of the Pyramid.  

Louvre Museum, Paris, France - The Ultimate Northern France Itinerary

Sainte Chapelle

This is the place to go if you are even the tiniest into stained glass windows.  After entering the church and going up a short spiral staircase, you enter into an amazing spectacle of stories told through colored glass that completely surrounds you.  Unlike most of the other cathedrals in Europe, Sainte Chapelle does have an admission price of 10 euros (included in Paris Pass ).  Even with a pass, you have to wait in line to go through security, which depending on the day and time may be up to an hour.

Sainte Chapelle, Paris, France - The Ultimate Northern France Itinerary

Musee de l'Armee and the Dome Church

From Sainte Chapelle, we walked to the Army Museum , which houses many historical military objects and the tomb of Napoleon.  We went because we already had the museum pass.  While Napoleon's tomb was imposing, this would have been a place to skip if you had to pay for admission individually, especially if you are not a history or military buff.  

Dome Church, Musee de l'armée, Paris, France - The Ultimate Northern France Itinerary

Day 10: Paris

After a day break from castles and palaces, it was time to visit the best of France: Versailles.  Versailles is 10 miles from Paris and is easily accessible by train.  Note that you will need a metro ticket that includes zone 5.  We got the metro to Balard station and got the RER C to Versailles - Rive Gauche.  Versailles is a short 10-minute walk from the train station.  Pretty much everyone on the train is going to the same place, just follow the direction the crowd is going and you will find the palace.  

To get into Versailles , there was a two hour or long line.  We noticed many tour groups that skipped straight ahead.  This was another place we wish we had a chosen to join a tour for part of our visit at least (the price for skipping the line is worth it alone, and someone to provide you valuable insight is just a bonus).  Versailles is gorgeous.  Complete opulence.  However, it is overwhelmingly crowded.  Another benefit of a guide is someone able to cut through the crowds and help you move through the hallways faster.  You will be slowly shuffling with what feels like everyone else in the world.  

Versailles Palace, Paris, France - The Ultimate Northern France Itinerary

Depending on your speed and interest, you could spend a couple hours or the whole day touring the rooms.  If you can, plan to go to Versailles on a Tuesday or the weekend dates for when the Musical Fountain Shows are.  At the many fountains throughout the gardens, they have speakers that play classical music that is timed perfectly with the fountains launching water.

Seine River Boat Cruise

After a mid-afternoon break back in the hotel/Airbnb, you can spend a romantic night cruising along the sights while eating dinner.  A Seine River dinner boat cruise is a must-do experience in Paris.  Even with a bit of rain, the atmosphere is perfect.  It is a 75-minute slow boat ride, great food, and better views.

River Boat Cruise View, Paris, France - The Ultimate Northern France Itinerary

After the boat ride, we took a stroll along the Seine River near the Notre Dame.  There will likely be some entertainers or artists painting the night landscape.  Just magical.

The View of Sacre Coeur and Montmartre from our Airbnb

The View of Sacre Coeur and Montmartre from our Airbnb

Day 11: Paris

Arc de triomphe.

The Arc de Triomphe is the best place to get a view of Paris from above.  But you might say... what about the Eiffel Tower?  You cannot get a picture of the Eiffel Tower from the Eiffel Tower.  There is a spiral staircase to take you up.  If you are out of shape or get dizzy easily, you might have to take a break.  It is well worth the climb for the view on the other end.  Unlike the Eiffel tower, there will likely be a little to no line and the staircase will be mostly empty.

View from the Arc de Triomphe, Paris, France - The Ultimate Northern France Itinerary

Note, there is an underground tunnel to get to the monument, do not even think about going across the extremely busy roundabout.  Arc de Triomphe is at the end of the Champs-Élysées, the most beautiful avenue in the world.  If you are into luxury shopping, this is the place to go.

View from the Arc de Triomphe, Paris, France - The Ultimate Northern France Itinerary

Musee de l'Orangerie

After walking down the Champs-Élysées, we went to Musee de l'Orangerie , home to eight of the beautiful Water Lilies paintings.  The Water Lilies paintings are placed into two oval-shaped rooms.  There is more artwork on the lower level, but overall it is a small museum compared to the others in Paris.  Easily manageable in an hour or less.  Museum entry costs 9 euros or is included in Paris Pass .

Musee de L'Orangerie, Paris, France - The Ultimate Northern France Itinerary

Musee d'Orsay

Musee d'Orsay  is a beautiful art museum inside an old railway station.  This might be ... dare I say it .. a better museum than the Louvre.  It houses many famous paintings from Van Gogh, Monet, Renoir, and Degas.  It is a lot more manageable of a size than the Louvre and less crowded.  Admission is 12 euros or is included on the Paris Pass .

Musee D'Orsay, Paris, France - The Ultimate Northern France Itinerary

Day 12: Paris

Notre Dame cathedral is the most well-known church in Paris and is a beautiful piece of architecture.  Entry is free, but depending on the season and time of day, there might be a line to enter but it is fast moving. 

Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, France - The Ultimate Northern France Itinerary

Across from Notre Dame is the Archaeological Crypt of the Ile de la Cité.  If you have the Paris Pass, this is a cool underground museum that shows you the origins of Paris.  It is not busy at all, with most of the focus in the square on Notre Dame.

Behind Notre Dame is access to Île Saint Louis, a small island in the Seine River.  It is a quiet place to walk the streets.  A lot fewer tourists visit this island and it almost feels like a small French village. There are a lot of cafes for a meal and one of the best ice cream shops in the world. 

Eiffel Tower

After staring at it, pointing it out every chance you get; it is finally time to go up the Eiffel Tower .  The perfect way to end your time in France.  Buy tickets in advance!  You will be so thankful you did when you see the line.  Currently, tickets go on sale 90 days in advance and sell out fairly quickly after they are posted at 8:30 am Paris time.  Set a reminder to book the tickets 90 days before you plan to visit so you can get your desired time.  

View from the Eiffel Tower, Paris, France - The Ultimate Northern France Itinerary

We went about 30 minutes before sunset so we could see the city with a bit of daylight and at night.  We bought tickets only to the 2nd floor, which was plenty high to see the whole city.  Going all the way up to the summit is an experience, but you miss a lot of the details of Paris from up that high.  On the 2nd floor, they have a section with glass floors so you can see what is below your feet, a gift shop and a restaurant.

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When conjuring up exotic holiday locations, you’re unlikely to light upon the north of France. Largely flat Artois and Flanders include some of the most heavily industrialized parts of the country. However, there are many good reasons to explore the area, not least its strong associations with the most devastating battles of World War I, which recently marked its hundredth anniversary. Other big draws are the bustling port town of Calais , Dunkerque 's university atmosphere and poignant war memorials, and the delightful village of Cassel ,a rare example of a Flemish hill settlement. St-Omer , Le Touquet and Montreuil-sur-Mer are strong contenders in terms of charm and interest and the castle at Pierrefonds would make Walt Disney proud.


Calais and around, crécy and agincourt battlefields, dunkerque and around, the flemish cities, montreuil-sur-mer, parc ornithologique du marquenterre, regional food and drink, the somme battlefields, st-valéry-sur-somme.

Northern France has always been on the path of various invaders into the country, from northern mainland Europe as well as from Britain, and the events that have taken place in Flanders, Artois and Picardy have shaped both French and world history. The bloodiest battles were those of World War I, above all the five-month-long Battle of the Somme ; at Vimy Ridge , near Arras , the trenches have been preserved in perpetuity; a visit to either of these is highly recommended in order to understand the sacrifice involved and the futility of the war.

Picardy , meanwhile, boasts some of France’s finest cathedrals, including those at Amiens , Beauvais and Laon . Other attractions include the bird sanctuary of Marquenterre ; industrial archeology in the Lewarde coalfields around Douai , where Zola’s Germinal was set; the great medieval castle of Coucy-le-Château ; and the battle sites of the Middle Ages, Agincourt and Crécy , familiar names in the long history of Anglo–French rivalry. In Lille , you’ll find your fill of food, culture and entertainment.

Tailor-made travel itineraries for France, created by local experts

An active walking tour out of the way in France

14 days  / from 3767 USD

An active walking tour out of the way in France

Your trip starts with an in-depth introduction to France in Paris: several unique day excursions connect you with local Parisians to show you their city and way of life. Afterwards continue south to start a few days walking journey through Southern France before ending around Avignon.

Southern France – Walks in the Alpilles and Lavender fields

10 days  / from 2353 USD

Southern France – Walks in the Alpilles and Lavender fields

Start your tour in the coastal city of Marseille, exploring Cassis on the way. Around the Alpilles in Provence, you will be provided with detailed walking materials to explore the area on foot, from both Les Baux and St Remy. End your tour in famous Avignon.

Tasting Eastern France

12 days  / from 2877 USD

Tasting Eastern France

A delicious yet active journey through Eastern France. Start your trip in Lyon with some unique food tours before setting off on a 4-day walk across the Beaujolais region. Almost every day ends with a wine tasting in your guesthouse, soothing for body and soul.

Boulogne-sur-Mer is the smallest of the three main channel ports. The ville basse is pretty unprepossessing but rising above the lower town is a diminutive, cobbled medieval quarter, the ville haute , contained within the old town walls and dominated by a grand, domed basilica. The main tourist street in the ville haute is rue de Lille , where you’ll find the Hôtel de Ville , whose twelfth-century belfry is the most ancient monument in the old town (only accessible via guided tour arranged with the tourist office).

The most impressive sight in the ville haute is the medieval walls themselves, beautifully conserved and set out with rosebeds, gravel paths and benches, and providing panoramic views of the city below; it takes about 45 minutes to walk around them. Within the walls is the domed Basilique Notre-Dame , which is an odd building – raised in the nineteenth century by Father Haffreingue, the town’s priest, without any architectural knowledge or advice – yet it seems to work. The vast medieval crypt contains frescoed remains of the Romanesque building and various sacred objects.

Calais is less than 40km from Dover – the Channel’s shortest crossing – and is by far the busiest French passenger port. In World War II, the British destroyed Calais to prevent it being used as a base for a German invasion, but the French still refer to it as “the most English town in France”, an influence that began after the battle of Crécy in 1346, when Edward III seized it for use as a beachhead in the Hundred Years’ War. It remained in English hands for over two hundred years until 1558, when its loss caused Mary Tudor to say: “When I am dead and opened, you shall find Calais lying in my heart.” The association has continued over the centuries, and today Calais welcomes more than nine million British travellers and day-trippers per year.

Cité Internationale de la Dentelle et de la Mode de Calais

Housed in a former lace factory, the extensive Cité Internationale de la Dentelle et de la Mode guides visitors from the early days of handmade lace – when it was worn only by the aristocracy – to the Industrial Revolution, when machines were smuggled in from England, and up to the present day. The working machines are particularly engrossing, as are the interactive exhibits and videos showing off the complex lace-making process itself. Models display early seventeenth-century costumes, the elegant clothes of the twentieth century and the futuristic inspirations of tomorrow’s design names.

Drivers keen to avoid Calais should take a left out of the ferry terminal – the autoroute bypass begins almost immediately, leading to the A26 and the N1.

Eating and drinking

Calais has enough good restaurants to make eating here worthwhile, mainly on place d’Armes and rue Royale. Drinking establishments, ranging from Gaelic theme pubs to trendier offerings, are concentrated on rue Royale and rue de la Mer.

Agincourt and Crécy , two of the bloodiest Anglo–French battles of the Middle Ages, took place near the attractive little town of Hesdin (familiar to Simenon fans from the TV series Inspector Maigret ). Twenty kilometres southwest of Hesdin, at the Battle of Crécy , Edward III inflicted the first of his many defeats of the French in 1346. This was the first appearance on the continent of the new English weapon, the six-foot longbow, and reputedly the first use in European history of gunpowder. Today you just see the Moulin Édouard III (now an inconspicuous wooden watchtower), 1km northeast of Crécy-en-Ponthieu on the D111 to Wadicourt, site of the windmill from which Edward watched the hurly-burly of battle. Further south, on the D56 to Fontaine, the battered croix de Bohème marks the place where King John of Bohemia died fighting for the French, having insisted on leading his men into battle despite his blindness.

Ten thousand more died in the heaviest defeat ever of France’s feudal knighthood at the Battle of Agincourt on October 25, 1415, the six hundredth anniversary of which was recently celebrated. Forced by muddy conditions to fight on foot in heavy armour, the French, though more than three times as numerous, were easy prey for the lighter, mobile English archers. The rout took place near present-day Azincourt , about 12km northeast of Hesdin off the D928. Agincourt Centre Historique Médiéval uses video and interactive facilities to bring the story to life and a map takes you for a circular drive around the English and French lines, including an orientation point by the crossroads of the D104 and the road to Maisoncelle.

Less reliant than Boulogne-sur-Mer or Calais on the cross-channel ferry trade, Dunkerque is the liveliest of the three big Channel ports, a university town with an appealing, boat-filled inner harbour, the Bassin du Commerce . It was from the shores of Malo-les-Bains , an attractive beachfront suburb, that the evacuation of Allied troops took place in 1940. Dunkerque remains France’s third-largest cargo port (following Marseille and Le Havre) and is a massive industrial centre, its oil refineries and steelworks producing a significant proportion of the total French output. Devastated during World War II, central Dunkerque is largely the brick-built product of postwar reconstruction, slightly more ambitious and stylish than the rebuild of Calais or Boulogne-sur-Mer. But among the 1950s architecture, you come across some delightful Art Nouveau-style villas with curving forms and balconies.

Among the few buildings of any significance that survived World War II (or were rebuilt afterwards) are the tall medieval brick belfry , the town’s chief landmark; the impressive, bullet-ridden fifteenth-century church of St-Éloi opposite, to which the belfry belonged; and, a few blocks north of the church on place Charles-Valentin, the early twentieth-century Hôtel de Ville , a giant Flemish fancy to rival that of Calais.

The tiny hilltop town of Cassel is just 30km southeast of Dunkerque. Hills are rare in Flanders, so Cassel was fought over from Roman times onwards. It was supposedly to the top of Cassel’s hill that the “Grand Old Duke of York” marched his ten thousand men in 1793, though, as implied in the nursery rhyme, he failed to take the town. In more recent history, during World War I, Marshal Foch spent some of the “most distressing hours” of his life here.

The town was originally a Flemish-speaking community – until use of the language was suppressed by the authorities – and it still boasts a very Flemish Grand’Place , lined with some magnificent mansions, from which narrow cobbled streets fan out to the ramparts.

Dunkerque’s 1940 evacuation

The evacuation of nearly 350,000 Allied troops from the beaches of Dunkerque from May 27 to June 4, 1940, has become legendary, concealing the fact that the Allies, through their own incompetence, almost lost their entire armed forces in the first weeks of the war.

The German army had taken just ten days to reach the English Channel and could easily have cut off the Allied armies. Hitler, unable to believe the ease with which he had overcome a numerically superior enemy, ordered his generals to halt their advance, giving Allied forces trapped in the Pas-de-Calais time to organize Operation Dynamo , the largest wartime evacuation ever undertaken. Initially it was hoped that around 10,000 men would be saved, but thanks to low-lying cloud and more than 1750 vessels – including pleasure cruisers, fishing boats and river ferries – 140,000 French and more than 200,000 British soldiers were successfully shipped back to England. The heroism of the boatmen and the relief at saving so many British soldiers were the cause of national celebration.

In France, however, the ratio of British to French evacuees caused bitter resentment, since Churchill had promised that the two sides would go bras dessus, bras dessous (“arm in arm”). Meanwhile, the British media played up the “remarkable discipline” of the troops as they waited to embark, the “victory” of the RAF over the Luftwaffe and the “disintegration” of the French army all around. In fact, there was widespread indiscipline in the early stages as men fought for places on board; the battle for the skies was evenly matched; and the French fought long and hard to cover the whole operation, some 150,000 of them remaining behind to become prisoners of war. In addition, the Allies lost seven destroyers and 177 fighter planes and were forced to abandon more than 60,000 vehicles. After 1940, Dunkerque remained occupied by Germans until the bitter end of the war. It was the last French town to be liberated in 1945.


Malo-les-Bains is a pleasant nineteenth-century seaside suburb on the east side of Dunkerque, from whose vast sandy beach the Allied troops embarked in 1940. Digue des Alliés is the urban end of an extensive beachfront promenade lined with cafés and restaurants, though things are rather nicer further east along Digue de Mer, away from Dunkerque’s industrial side. Much of the promenade’s attractive architecture survived wartime destruction; there’s more fin-de-siècle charm a few blocks inland, along avenue Faidherbe and its continuation avenue Kléber, and around leafy place Turenne with its dainty old-fashioned bandstand.

From the Middle Ages until the late twentieth century, great Flemish cities like Lille , Roubaix , Douai and Cambrai flourished, mainly thanks to their textile industries. The other dominating – but now virtually extinct – presence in this part of northern France was the coalfields and related industries, which, at their nineteenth-century peak stretched from Béthune in the west to Valenciennes in the east. At Lewarde you can visit one of the pits, while in the region’s big industrial cities you can see what the masters built with their profits: noble townhouses, magnificent city halls, ornate churches and some of the country’s finest art collections.

Despite the tank battle of November 1917 to the west of the town, and the fact that the heavily defended Hindenburg Line ran through the town centre for most of World War I, Cambrai has kept enough of its character and cobbled streets to make a fleeting visit worthwhile, though it is less attractive than either Douai or Arras. The large, cobbled, main place Aristide-Briand is dominated by the Neoclassical hôtel de ville . The imposing building hints at the town’s former wealth, which was based on textiles and agriculture. Cambrai’s chief ecclesiastical treasure is the church of St-Géry , off rue St-Aubert west of the main square, worth a visit for a celebrated Mise au Tombeau by Rubens.

Cambrai 1917

At dawn on November 20, 1917, the first full-scale tank battle in history began at Cambrai, when more than four hundred British tanks poured over the Hindenburg Line. In just 24 hours, the Royal Tank Corps and British Third Army made the biggest advance by either side since the trenches were dug in 1914. A fortnight later, however, casualties had reached 50,000, and the armies were back where they’d started.

Although the tanks were ahead of their time, they still relied on cavalry and plodding infantry as backup. The primitive tanks were operated by a crew of eight who endured almost intolerable conditions – with no ventilation, the temperature inside could reach 48°C. The steering alone required three men, each on separate gearboxes, communicating by hand signals through the mechanical din. Maximum speed (6kph) dropped to barely 1kph over rough terrain, and refuelling was necessary every 55km. Of the 179 tanks lost at Cambrai, few were destroyed by the enemy; most broke down and were abandoned by their crews.

Right in the heart of mining country, 40km south of Lille, Douai is an unpretentious, surprisingly attractive town, despite being badly damaged in both world wars. Its handsome streets of eighteenth-century houses are cut through by the River Scarpe and a canal. Once a haven for English Catholics fleeing Protestant oppression in Tudor England, Douai later became the seat of Flemish local government under Louis XIV, an aristocratic past evoked in the novels of Balzac.

Lille (Rijsel in Flemish), northern France’s largest city, surprises many visitors with its impressive architecture, the winding streets of its tastefully restored old quarter (Vieux Lille), its plethora of excellent restaurants and its bustling nightlife. It boasts a large university, a modern métro system and a serious attitude to culture, with some great museums.

Historically the main stop on the rich trading route between Flanders and Paris, Lille was first and foremost a merchant city: instead of a soaring Gothic cathedral, taking pride of place are secular temples like the Flemish Renaissance gem, the Ancienne Bourse . The focal part of central Lille is the place du Général de Gaulle, always referred to as the Grand’Place , marking the southern boundary of Vieux Lille. South of this, the pedestrianized shopping area runs along rue de Béthune to the squares of place Béthune and place de la République. The city’s museums are a short walk from the centre and the top museums are outside the city limits: La Piscine in Roubaix and the Museum of Modern Art in Villeneuve d’Ascq. The city spreads far into the countryside in every direction, a jumble of suburbs and factories, and for the French it remains the symbol of the country’s heavy industry and working-class politics.

Lillois cuisine

A Flemish flavour and a taste for mussels characterize the city’s traditional cuisine , with the main central concentration of cafés, brasseries and restaurants around place Rihour and along rue de Béthune. Vieux Lille has a reputation for gastronomic excellence, particularly on the eastern side towards and along rue de Gand, where you’ll find most of the worthwhile places. The student quarter along rue Solférino is good for ethnic eating – the former mostly Chinese or Japanese, the latter dominated by cheap kebab shops. The cafés around the Grand’Place and place Rihour buzz with life. Up near the cathedral in Vieux Lille, rue Royale, rue de la Barre, rue Basse and place Louise-de-Bettignies have trendier spots, with a few stretched out along rue de la Monnaie. West of the centre, Celtic-style pubs dominate in studenty rue Masséna, attracting a young crowd.

Accessible by métro (line 2 to Gare Jean Lebas) and just 15km northeast of Lille, right up against the Belgian border, Roubaix is a once-great Flemish textile city that fell into decline and is still striving to rejuvenate itself – but it’s worth a visit to see its showpiece museum, La Piscine . Opened in 2001 and home to the magnificent Musee d’Art et d’Industrie , it is the improbable setting of one of France’s most beautiful swimming pools and bath complexes, originally built in the early 1930s for the poor of the city. Architect Paul Philippon’s contemporary conversion retains various aspects of the baths – part of the pool (it can’t be swum in nowadays), the shower-cubicles, the changing rooms and the bathhouses – and uses each part to display a splendid collection of mostly nineteenth- and early twentieth-century sculpture and painting, plus haute couture clothing, textiles and photographs of the pool in its heyday.

Nestled among dunes and wind-flattened tamarisks and pines, leafy Le Touquet (officially called Le Touquet-Paris-Plage) resembles some of the snootier places on the English south coast. This is no real surprise, given its interwar popularity with the British smart set: Noel Coward spent weekends here, while the author P.G. Wodehouse lived in the town from 1934 to 1940. He was captured here by the rapidly advancing Germans, then interned, later making his notorious wartime broadcasts from Berlin. Though the town’s seafront has been colonized by modern apartments, magnificent villas still hide behind the trees a few blocks inland.

Once a port, Montreuil-sur-Mer is now stranded 13km inland, after the River Canche silted up in the sixteenth century. Perched on a hilltop above the river and surrounded by ancient walls, it’s compact and easily walkable, with fine views from its hilltop ramparts. Laurence Sterne spent a night here on his Sentimental Journey , and it is the scene of much of the action in Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables , best evoked by the steep cobbled street of Cavée St-Firmin, first left after the Porte de Boulogne.

Two heavily damaged Gothic churches grace the main square: the church of St-Saulve and a tiny wood-panelled chapelle tucked into the side of the red-brick hospital. To the south cobbled lanes are lined with little artisan houses. In the northwestern corner of the walls lies Vauban’s Citadelle , ruined and overgrown, with subterranean gun emplacements and a fourteenth-century tower that records the coats of arms of the French noblemen killed at Agincourt. Don’t miss the World War I exhibition in the vaulted underground rooms of the tower.

The landscape at the Parc Ornithologique du Marquenterre is beautiful and strange: all dunes, tamarisks and pine forest, full of salty meres and ponds, thick with water plants and birdlife. There’s a choice of walking itineraries – two longer, more interesting walks (2–3hr) and a shorter one (roughly 1hr 30min). On both you can see dozens of species – ducks, geese, oyster-catchers, terns, egrets, redshanks, greenshanks, spoonbills, herons, storks, godwits – most taking a breather from their epic migratory flights. In April and May they head north, returning from the end of August to October; in early summer the young chicks can be spotted. You can rent binoculars or talk to the guides at some of the observation huts, who set up portable telescopes and will tell you about the nesting birds.

To the southeast of the Somme, away from the coast and the main Paris through-routes, the often rainwashed province of Picardy becomes considerably more inviting. Amiens is a friendly city whose life revolves around its canals, while both the Amiens and Beauvais cathedrals are highlights of the region. In the départements of Aisne and Oise , where Picardy merges with neighbouring Champagne, there are some real attractions amid the lush wooded hills. Laon , Soissons and Noyon all have handsome Gothic cathedrals, while at Compiègne , Napoleon Bonaparte and Napoléon III enjoyed the luxury of a magnificent château. The most rewarding overnight stop is off the beaten track in the tiny fortified town of Coucy-le-Château-Auffrique , which is perched on a hill between Soissons and Laon.

Amiens was badly scarred during both world wars, but sensitively restored. Most people visit for the cathedral – the enormous Cathédrale Notre-Dame – but there’s much more to the city: QuartierSt-Leu , the renovated medieval artisans’ quarter north of the cathedral with its network of canals, is charming, while the hortillonnages transport you into a peaceful rural landscape. A sizeable student population ensures enough evening entertainment to make an overnight stay worthwhile.

Cathédrale Notre-Dame

Amiens' Cathédrale Notre-Dame dominates the city by sheer size – it’s the biggest Gothic building in France – but its appeal lies mainly in its unusual style. Begun in 1220 under architect Robert de Luzarches, it was effectively finished by 1269. The west front shows traces of the original polychrome exterior, in stark contrast to its sombre modern appearance. A spectacular summer evening sound and light show shows how the west front would have looked, with an explanation of the various statues on the facade in French and then in English. The interior, on the other hand, is a light, calm and unaffected space. Later embellishments, like the sixteenth-century choir stalls, are works of breathtaking virtuosity, as are the sculpted panels depicting the life of St Firmin, Amiens’ first bishop, on the choir screen. Visitors with strong legs can mount the cathedral’s front towers . One of the most atmospheric ways of seeing the cathedral is to attend a Sunday morning Mass (9am and 10.30am), which is accompanied by sublime Gregorian chants.

As you head south from Amiens towards Paris, the countryside becomes broad and flat; Beauvais , 60km from Amiens, seems to fit into this landscape. Rebuilt in tasteful but unexciting fashion after World War II, it’s not a town for aimless wandering – however, the audacious, eccentric Gothic cathedral is anything but boring.

Soaring above the town, it perfectly demonstrates the religious materialism of the Middle Ages – its main intention was to be taller and larger than its rivals. The choir, completed in 1272, briefly 5m higher than that of Amiens, collapsed in 1284. Its replacement also fell and, the authorities having overreached themselves financially, the church remained as it is today: unfinished, mutilated and rather odd. At over 155m high, the interior vaults are impressive, seemingly on a larger scale than at Amiens; though the props and brackets reinforcing the structure internally show its fragility. The building’s real beauty lies in its glass, its sculpted doorways and the remnants of the so-called Basse-Oeuvre, a ninth-century Carolingian church incorporated into (and dwarfed by) the Gothic structure. It also contains a couple of remarkable clocks: a 12m-high astronomical clock built in 1865, with figures mimicking scenes from the Last Judgement on the hour; and a medieval clock that’s been working for seven hundred years.

Château de Compiègne

Compiègne’s star attraction, the opulent Château de Compiègne , is an eighteenth-century château, two blocks east of the Hôtel de Ville along rue des Minimes. Despite its pompous excess, it inspires a certain fascination. Napoleon commissioned a renovation of the former royal palace in 1807, and the work was completed in time for the emperor to welcome his second wife, Marie-Louise of Austria – a relative of Marie-Antoinette – here in 1810. The ostentatious post-revolutionary apartments stand in marked contrast to the more sober Neoclassicism of the few surviving late royal interiors, a monument to the unseemly haste with which Napoleon I moved in, scarcely a dozen years after the Revolution. The Théâtre Impérial was first planned by Napoléon III in the historic apartments of the Second Empire. It was only completed with a restoration project in 1991 at a cost of some thirty million francs. Originally designed with just two seats for Napoleon and his wife, it now seats nine hundred and is used for concerts.

To see the Musée de la Voiture in another part of the vast palace, you have to join a one-hour guided tour. It contains a wonderful array of antique bicycles, tricycles and aristocratic carriages, as well as the world’s first steam coach.

You can visit the excellent palace gardens separately. Much of the original French-style garden was replanted on Napoleon’s orders after 1811. The result is monumental; the great avenue that extends 4.5km into the Forêt de Compiègne was inspired by the Austrian imperial summer residence at Schönbrunn on the outskirts of Vienna.

Château de Pierrefonds

Pierrefonds is home to an astonishing medieval château built in the twelfth century, dismantled in the seventeenth and restored by order of Napoléon III in the nineteenth to create a fantastic fairy-tale affair of turrets, towers and moat – one of the finest in the country. The nearby picturesque villages of Vieux-Moulin and St-Jean-aux-Bois are in the heart of the forest, the latter retaining part of its twelfth-century fortifications.


About 30km west of Laon and 15km north of Soissons, in hilly countryside on the far side of the forest of St-Gobain, lie the straggling ruins of one of the greatest castles of the Middle Ages, Coucy-le-Château . The castle’s walls still stand, encircling the attractive village of Coucy-le-Château-Auffrique . In the past this was a seat of great power and the influence of its lords, the Sires de Coucy, rivalled and often even exceeded that of the king. The retreating Germans capped the destruction of World War I battles by blowing up the castle’s keep as they left in 1917, but enough remains, crowning a wooded spur, to be extremely evocative.

Looking out over the plains of Champagne and Picardy from the spine of a high narrow ridge, still protected by its gated medieval walls, Laon (pronounced “Lon”) is one of the highlights of the region. Dominating the town, and visible for miles around, are the five great towers of one of the earliest and finest Gothic cathedrals in the country. Of all the cathedral towns in the Aisne, Laon is the one to head for.

The magnificent Cathédrale Notre-Dame , built in the second half of the twelfth century, was a trendsetter in its day. Elements of its design, such as the gabled porches, the imposing towers and the gallery of arcades above the west front, were repeated at Chartres, Reims and – most famously – at Notre-Dame in Paris. The creatures craning from the uppermost ledges, looking like reckless mountain goats borrowed from a medieval bestiary, are reputed to have been carved in memory of the valiant horned steeds which lugged the cathedral’s masonry up from the plains below. Inside, the effects are no less dramatic – the high white nave is lit by the dense ruby, sapphire and emerald tones of the medieval stained glass. Crowded in the cathedral’s surrounds is a quiet jumble of grey stone streets. South of the cathedral on rue Ermant is the crumbly little twelfth-century octagonal Chapelle des Templiers – the Knights Templar chapel – set in a secluded garden. The rest of the ville haute , which rambles along the ridge to the west of the cathedral, is enjoyable to wander around, with sweeping views from the ramparts .

French Flanders has one of northern France’s richest regional cuisines. Especially on the coast, the seafood – oysters, shrimps, scallops and fish , and above all, sole and turbot – are outstanding, while in Lille moules-frites (mussels and chips) are appreciated every bit as much as in neighbouring Belgium. Here, too, beer is the favourite drink, with pale and brown Pelforth the local brew. Traditional estaminets or brasseries also serve a range of dishes cooked in beer, most famously carbonnade flamande , a kind of beef stew; rabbit, chicken, game and fish may also be prepared à la bière . Other pot–cooked dishes include hochepot (a meaty broth), waterzooi (chicken in a creamy sauce) and potjevlesch (white meats in a rich sauce). In addition to boulette d’Avesnes , the Flemish cheese par excellence is the strong-flavoured Maroilles , used to make flamiche , a kind of open tart of cheese pastry also made with leeks ( aux poireaux ). For the sweet-toothed, crêpes à la cassonade (pancakes with muscovado sugar) are often on menus, but waffles ( gaufres ) are the local speciality and come in two basic varieties: the thick honeycomb type served with sugar or cream, or the wafer-like biscuit filled with jam or syrup. Game looms large on menus around the Ardennes, with pâté d’Ardennes being the most famous dish and juniper berries used to flavour food à l’Ardennaise .

Picardy, Artois and Flanders are littered with the monuments, battlefields and cemeteries of the two world wars, but they are nowhere as intensely concentrated as in the region northeast of Amiens, between Albert and the appealing market town of Arras . It was here, among the fields and villages of the Somme, that the main battle lines of World War I were drawn a hundred years ago. You can get a real feel of trench warfare at Vimy Ridge , north of Arras, where the trenches have been left in situ. Lesser sites, often more poignant, dot the countryside around Albert along the Circuit de Souvenir .

Arras is one of the most architecturally striking towns in northern France, the cobblestoned squares of its old centre surrounded by ornate Baroque townhouses that hark back to its Flemish past. It was renowned for its tapestries in the Middle Ages, giving its name to the hangings behind which Shakespeare’s Polonius was killed by Hamlet. During World War I, British and New Zealand miners dug tunnels under the town to surprise the Germans to the northeast, while the Germans bombarded the town. Only a handful of the famous medieval Arras tapestries survived the conflict, including The Annunciation, now on display in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Reconstruction after the war was meticulous, and the townhouses lining the grand arcaded Flemish- and Dutch-style squares in the central Grand’Place and the smaller place des Héros preserve the historic character.

The Battle of the Somme

On July 1, 1916, the British and French launched the Battle of the Somme to relieve pressure on the French army defending Verdun. The front ran roughly northwest–southeast, 6km east of Albert across the valley of the Ancre and over the almost treeless high ground north of the Somme. The windy terrain had no intrinsic value, nor was there any long-term strategic objective; the region around Albert was the battle site simply because it was where the two Allied armies met.

There were 57,000 British casualties on the first day alone, approximately 20,000 of them fatal, making it the costliest defeat the British army has ever suffered. Sir Douglas Haig is the usual scapegoat, yet he was only following the military thinking of the day, which is where the real problem lay. As historian A.J.P. Taylor put it, “Defence was mechanized: attack was not.” Machine guns were efficient, barbed wire effective, and, most important of all, the rail lines could move defensive reserves far faster than the attacking army could march. The often ineffective heavy bombardment before an advance only warned the enemy of an offensive and churned the trenches into a giant muddy quagmire.

Despite the bloody disaster of the first day, the battle wore on until bad weather in November made further attacks impossible. The cost of this futile struggle was roughly 415,000 British, 195,000 French and 600,000 German casualties.

The Circuit du Souvenir

The Circuit du Souvenir takes you from graveyard to mine crater, trench to memorial. There’s little to show the scale of the destruction nor do you get much sense of battle tactics. But you will find that, no matter what the level of your interest in the Great War, you have embarked on a sort of pilgrimage, as each successive step uncovers a more harrowing slice of history.

The cemeteries are deeply moving, with the grass perfectly mown and flowers by every gravestone. Tens of thousands of them stand in precise rows, all identical, with a man’s name – if it is known, as nearly half the British dead have never been found – along with his rank and regiment and, often, a personal message chosen by the bereaved family. In the lanes between Albert and Bapaume you’ll see cemeteries everywhere: at the angle of copses, halfway across a field, in the middle of a wood.

Getting around the Circuit de Souvenir

Perhaps not even the truly dedicated would try to see all four hundred Commonwealth cemeteries in the area. The easiest way to explore the circuit is by car, though the distances are short enough to do it by bicycle. Both Albert to the west and Péronne to the southeast make good starting points, their tourist offices and museums offering free maps of the circuit. The route is marked (somewhat intermittently) by arrows and poppy symbols, with Commonwealth graveyards also indicated in English.

Vimy Ridge , or Hill 145, was the scene of some of the fiercest trench warfare of World War I: almost two full years of battle, culminating in its capture by the Canadian Corps in April 1917. It’s a vast site, given in perpetuity by the French to the Canadian people out of respect for their sacrifices, and the churned land has been preserved, in part, as it was during the conflict. Of all the battlefields, this is the best place to gain an impression of the lie of the land, and to imagine how it may have felt to be part of a World War I battle.

Near the visitor centre, long veins of neat, sanitized trenches wind through the earth, still heavily pitted by shells beneath the planted pines. Under the ground lie countless rounds of unexploded ammunition – visitors are warned not to stray from the paths. Free guided tours of the trenches are run by friendly, bilingual Canadian students, who supervise the visitor centre. An exhibition in the centre illustrates the well-planned Canadian attack and its importance for the Canadians: this was the first time they were recognized as fighting separately from the British, which hugely influenced their growing sense of nationhood.

On the brow of the ridge to the north, overlooking the slag-heap-dotted plain of Artois, a great white monument reaches for the heavens, inscribed with the names of 11,285 Canadians and Newfoundlanders whose bodies were never found. Back from the ridge lies a memorial to the Moroccan Division who also fought at Vimy, and in the woods behind, on the headstones of another exquisitely maintained cemetery , you can read the names of half the counties of rural England.

St-Omer , a popular stop en route to or from the ports, is an attractive old Flemish town of yellow-brick houses, 44km southeast of Calais. The hôtel de ville on place Foch and the chapel of the former Jesuit college on rue du Lycée are genuine flights of architectural fancy, but for the most part the style is simple yet handsome. For a little greenery, head to the pleasant public gardens to the west of town or to the nearby marais , a network of Flemish waterways cut between plots of land on reclaimed marshes along the river.

A short distance southwest of St-Omer, La Coupole is the site of an outstanding World War II museum.

Of all the World War II museums in northern France, La Coupole , 5km southwest of St-Omer, is the best. As you walk around the site of the intended V2 rocket launch pad, individual, multilingual infrared headphones tell you the story of the occupation of northern France by the Nazis, the use of prisoners as slave labour, and the technology and ethics of the first liquid-fuelled rocket – advanced by Hitler and later developed for the space race by the Soviets, the French and the Americans. Four excellent films cover all aspects.

St-Valéry-sur-Somme , on the opposite side of the bay from Le Crotoy, is where William, Duke of Normandy, set sail to conquer England in 1066. With its intact medieval citadelle and brightly painted quays, St-Valéry is the jewel of the coast. The main sight is the Écomusée Picarvie , with its interesting collection of tools and artefacts relating to vanished trades and ways of life. Otherwise, activities include boat trips, cycling and guided walks, led by the Maison des Guides. Digging for shellfish is also popular, but be extremely careful about the tide: when it’s high it reaches up to the quays, but withdraws 14km at low tide, creating a dangerous current; equally, it returns very suddenly, cutting off the unwary.

Top image: City of Lille (north of France) - Main square with belfry © MisterStock/Shuttertock

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The best places to visit in northern France

UNESCO World Heritage sites, awe-inspiring art and the largest aquarium in Europe – where to go and what to see when touring northern France by car.

The sun-drenched glamour of the south gets a lot of attention, but there are so many things to do in northern France . The north offers such a mix of history, culture, architecture, and stunning scenery. Follow the historic path of Joan of Arc and photograph your own Monet along the beautiful coastline. To help you plan your holiday in northern France, here is our pick of what to do and see on your next road trip.

Places to visit close to Calais

You may be surprised to find there are some spectacular and beautiful places near Calais, with many top spots within an hour’s drive of the town. LeShuttle takes you to Calais in just 35 minutes, so touring northern France by car is an easy and fun way to explore.

You can reach any of the following destinations in under 2 hours .


Distance from Calais: 35 km / 35 min

A city of art and history, this coastal town with its leading fishing port will let you sample the northern coast’s finest fish and seafood, relax on the beach, and visit a castle.  Boulogne-sur-Mer is home to Europe’s largest aquarium,  Nausicaá , which is one of the best things to do in northern France for families. It’s home to 1,600 species, and kids will love watching the sharks, giant manta rays, and sea lions.

Outside, the old town of Boulogne has pretty cobbled streets, wooden shopfronts, and 13th-century buildings that look like the backdrop to ‘Beauty and the Beast’. Be sure to call in at Fromagerie Philippe Olivier to pick out some delicious cheeses to take home.

Huge stretch of golden sand dotted with yellow buoys with a row of buildings in the distance and cliffs under blue sky

The Saint-Omer region

Distance from Calais: 45.1 km / 45 min

Just 45 minutes from Calais this ‘town of yellow bricks’ has it all, from abbey ruins to boutique shops, restaurants to beautiful public gardens. France is peppered with historic World War II sites, but  La Coupole war museum  is possibly the most impressive. The abandoned bunker, hidden in the hills, has 5.5m-thick walls made from more than 55,000 tonnes of concrete. Built by the Nazis as a key site to launch rocket missiles, the bunker now houses a fascinating exhibition that tells the story of its dark past. For the kids, there is an immersive 360-degree planetarium that they’ll enjoy as much as exploring the underground tunnels.

Distance from Calais: 99 km / 1 hr

Lens is former mining territory , awash with places of industrial interest including railway stations and mining villages. In contrast to this history, the modern  Louvre-Lens museum  displays prestigious collections on loan from the Louvre in Paris, as well as major temporary exhibitions that make it a must-see museum in its own right.

Beer lovers may be surprised to find the city of Lens is packed with independent breweries; just outside the city, the Saint-Germain Brewery offers a tour and tasting on selected days.

Distance from Calais: 109.2 km / 1 hr 15 min

Packed with amazing restaurants, Arras is particularly popular in winter thanks to a wonderful Christmas market. But you can visit its French, Flemish, and Spanish architectural highlights year-round. These include the 2,000-year-old cathedral and town squares, lined with shops and restaurants. La Faisanderie is possibly the most famous example of this, with a sumptuous wine list and a seasonal menu that includes local produce.

Distance from Calais: 109 km / 1 hr 8 min

Lille has an impressive citadel, town hall (complete with belfry), and is a fantastic place to shop with markets of all shapes and sizes selling traditional French treats. Lille Zoo is also popular as three-quarters of the 400 animals are endangered species, making it a fascinating place to spend an afternoon. A popular Lille delicacy to try is the merveilleux: mini meringues sandwiched together with whipped cream and topped with chocolate shavings.

art deco style swimming pool with stained glass windows and marble statues lining the pool edge

Distance from Calais: 121.4 km / 1 hr 20 min

Here you’ll find former swimming pool,  La Piscine , now home to the André Diligent Museum of Art and Industry. The building, which was constructed between 1927 and 1932, is a work of art itself, but also houses paintings by Picasso, Giacometti and Hervé Di Rosa.

There is also a botanic garden to explore and Parc Barbieux which has an interesting origin story: The water channel that meanders through the centre is what remains of an attempt to link the centre of Roubaix with the Marque River. The project began in 1840 but was abandoned half-way though. The banks and mounds that the works left behind were turned into the garden at the turn of the 20th century.

Distance from Calais: 157.3 km / 1 hr 36 min

Amiens is a surprisingly quaint and colourful town, often overlooked when planning  things to do in northern France. Canals wind through the picturesque streets and visitors can shop for fruit, souvenirs, and art from the floating markets that line the water’s edge.

The absolutely-can’t-possibly-miss attraction in Amiens is the Cathédrale Notre-Dame d'Amiens. The stunning Gothic cathedral is the largest in France. Beautiful stained-glass windows light the interior with a rainbow glow when the sun shines and if you happen to be visiting in the summer or at Christmas, the incredible sound and light show that illuminates the building will be the highlight of your trip.

Large stone cathedral with decorative details and large red doors looming up into a blue sky

A slightly longer trip from Calais – but worth the drive!

If you’re happy to drive a little further from Calais, plenty of exciting destinations await you.

Distance from Calais: 336.7 km / 3 hr 40 min

The region of Normandy is filled with things to see and do. From the beaches where the Allied forces launched a surprise attack that was to mark the beginning of the end of WWII, to the Bayeux Tapestry, this is also a wonderfully rich historical area. Le Havre , Caen , and Rouen are the three main cities in this region, each with its own unique features, but if you prefer your surroundings a little more natural there is the beautiful Lyons-la-Forêt, a postcard-pretty village surrounded by the hush of the trees.

Reims, Champagne-Ardenne

Distance from Calais: 273.9 km / 2 hr 28 min

There’s no better way to toast to your holiday in northern France than with some of the best Champagne in the world, freshly poured in the region it was created. One of the most beautiful places near Calais, Reims is a curious city with a mismatch of architecture, set in the picturesque verdant landscape of vineyards.

Tour the historic houses and discover the fascinating history and process of growing, making, and storing Champagne. Choose from famous brands such as Laurent-Perrier and Veuve Clicquot or explore some of the family-run companies that have been in Reims for hundreds of years.

Pommery is probably the most impressive; guided tours will take you through the incredible Gallo-Roman cave, said to store almost 25 million bottles. But be cautious not to overindulge if you are driving. In France, the alcohol limit is 0.05mg/ml (as opposed to 0.08mg/ml in England, Wales and Northern Ireland) and penalties are severe. Check out our post on this and other  road rules  when touring northern France by car.

A lush green vineyard stretching out and down over a hill towards fields with hills in the distance

Distance from Calais: 348.2 km / 3 hr 36 min

Founded by William the Conqueror (who’s final resting place is the Abbaye aux Hommes), Caen is one of the main points of interest in northern France for history fans. It was destroyed during the Battle of Normandy and later WWII, but lovingly restored. Chateau de Caen and the Caen Memorial are particular places of interest, especially the latter which is considered one of the best memorials in Europe.

To the northeast of Caen is Deauville , where the rich and famous have graced its beach for decades. If you are visiting from April to September, you can rent one of the famous beach umbrellas, only available here, to shelter from the sea breeze.

Distance from Calais: 260.0 km / 2 hr 31 min

Chantilly is one of the most popular day trips from Paris. The train Paris leaves from Gare du Nord train station hourly and only takes 20 minutes, so it's a fantastic place to stay if you're looking for accomodation outside of the city. This is of course, the place where Chantilly cream and Chantilly lace are made, and there’s also a history rooted in equestrian sports.

The beautiful Château de Chantilly, featured in the James Bond film A View to a Kill, attracts many visitors as one of the top castles in France (and unlike these it isn’t haunted). It may not be a royal residence but this fairytale palace hosted Kings and Queens and was home to Henri d’Orléans, son of the last King of France. Henri was exceptionally cultivated man and a compulsive collector, resulting in the Château de Chantilly hosting the second largest collection of artwork in France, only beaten by the Louvre.

Distance from Calais: 217.0 km / 2 hr 13 min

Just an hour and half drive from Paris, this town came into fashion in the 1800s when it won the approval of Napoleon and Joséphine, who extravagantly redecorated the Château, which was initially conceived for Louis XV. He had used it as a royal hunting lodge for the nearby forest of Compiègne. It’s well worth a visit to see the opulent interiors and art collection.

The forest makes for a natural escape but is also attractive to history buffs. Here, in the Glade of the Armistice (known as Clairière de l’Armistice in French) is where Germany and the Allied soldiers of the First World War agreed to end their battles on land, sea, and air. Adolf Hitler selected the same spot to sign the Armistice of June 22, 1940. It’s a poignant war memorial that includes the railway site where the armistice took place and a replica of the carriage in which it was signed.

A beautiful French castle next to water with people riding horses in the foreground

Distance from Calais: 460.5 km / 4 hr 23 min

Lorraine’s graceful capital, Metz (pronounced ‘mess’) sits where the rivers Moselle and Seille meet, offering a stunning Gothic cathedral, museums filled with rare art, and Michelin star restaurants. Wander the riverside parks or make a stop at the historic market, one of the oldest in France and home to over 40 different stalls. Many of the locals buy their food here, so the freshest produce is guaranteed. Even better, you don’t have to worry about the weather as this market is held underground.

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Helene in Between

Helene in Between

Lifestyle and Travel blog helping Bloggers Succeed Online.

12 Beautiful Places to Visit in Northern France

By Helene Sula

When most of us think of France, we think of Paris. Or perhaps the gleaming southern cities on the French Riviera like Nice. But I urge you to look north to find some of the best places in all of Europe: culture, cuisine, and history galore. I've got 12 beautiful places to visit in Northern France that will win you over.

Going to Northern France was an incredible experience. Despite being on a different continent, seeing the war history made me proud to be an American. We planned a trip centered around Normandy and some areas in Brittany, ending in Verdun. There are so many wonderful cities in Northern France to visit but we picked 12 that really stood out.

I thought the trip would be introspective and educational. But I was floored to find beautiful, Beauty-and-the-Beast-type stone cities that quickly won my heart. Add in the divine food, and you've got a recipe for a truly captivating trip.

northern france tourist destinations

France is a large country and places like Paris and Nice are drastically different from places like Bordeaux or Saint Malo. Because there's so much to see and do, it can be hard to choose where to start. I've created a Northern France itinerary that is easy to follow. Along the route I've picked some of the most picturesque towns, historic cities, and hidden gems that will steal your heart.

Know Before You Go Northern France

One of the best parts about this area of France is that it's very accessible. We drove our car over from Heidelberg, Germany. You can also take the ferry from England to quickly and easily reach Northern France. You can also make the short trip from Paris to this region as well.

northern france tourist destinations

Immediately, you'll notice this area is all about their “C's”. You won't be drinking wine, Normandy and Brittany are known for their delicious ciders. You'll also find a plethora of cheese, but Camembert is king. The other c's center on: crepes, caramel, creme, and, for a different path, cemeteries. Since D-Day took place on these beaches, there are many memorials, museums, and some of the largest cemeteries dedicated to those that fought in World War II.

Getting around this area is very easy, but I suggest that you take a car to make sure you see it all. Parking is very easy to find and often cheap or free. We drove our car, and recommend renting with Sixt if you need to rent.

Northern France Route

Because we were coming from Germany, we first stopped off at a more eastern city, then made our way west. You can easily make this itinerary your own. I just want to illustrate some of the best cities to see in Northern France.

We spent seven days in the region and really covered a lot of ground:

  • We started the trip spending one night in Rouen and explored the town.
  • Day two we stayed in the small town of Pontorson and visited the cities of Arromanches and the next day in Mont Saint Michel.
  • We then headed to Saint Malo and Dinan.
  • Days four and five were spent focusing on the D-Day beaches and the towns nearby. We stayed in Caen for three nights while touring this area and toured Bayeux.
  • Our last few days we headed back west, towards Germany, and visited Honfleur and spent the night in Reims. O
  • ur last day was spent in the Champagne region in Epernay and Hautevillers.
  • On our way back to Germany we also headed to Verdun for some WWI history.

northern france tourist destinations

We did all of this easily in seven days. I thought this was the perfect mix of beautiful castles, powerful history, and some of the best food I've ever had.

Things to Know About Normandy

Normandy is well known as the beginning of the end of World War II. The beaches stand out because so many Americans, British, and Canadians flock here to pay their homage in remembrance. But there is more history here than just a war-torn past.

The Impressionist movement was born in Normandy in the second half of the 19th century when people like Monet, Sisley, and Renoir painted the Seine river. These painters and more got out of the studio and painted outside. There's even a festival held each year to celebrate art n Normandy.

Best Places to Visit in Northern France

There are so many things to do in Northern France that taking a few days to a week is best to ensure you see it all. We focused our efforts in Normandy since this area is famous for William the Conqueror and his caste in Caen, the incredible 1,000-year-old tapestry in Bayeux, and the events that happened on the D-Day beaches that shaped our future.

Below you can find a map of all the places discussed in this post:

I might be biased, but Rouen immediately put this trip on the right path. It could have been the perfect weather, the Summer Solstice festival, or the delicious meal, but it left a wonderful impression on me. This is the capital of Normandy and is set on the River Seine. You'll find an incredibly gorgeous Gothic church that stands imposingly over the city square.

northern france tourist destinations

Rouen is the place where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. So you'll find a church in her honor as well as an extremely good museum. Historical Jeanne d'Arc museum is where you can visually see her trial that led to her death as well as her path to leading the French army in battle.

We headed to the tourist office and purchased a walking tour which comes with an audio guide and map- such a great option! I try to always do a walking tour in a new city because it helps me understand the history and see more of the beauty of a town. We started off at the incredible Notre-Dame Cathedral which is directly in front of the tourist's office. This is the epitome of Gothic art with a huge structure and very yellow “buttresses” and is the only cathedral in France that has an adjoining archiepiscopal palace still occupied by an archbishop today.

It's a treat to walk around Rouen- especially when you have an ice cream macaroon. If you do anything, buy one of these and be charmed as you stroll the streets. The Gros-Horloge is a stunning 14th-century astronomical clock and arch. Make sure you take a look under the arch as you pass.

northern france tourist destinations

Stop for dinner at funky Le Kitsch . I had one of the best meals of pulled duck baked in a dish with potatoes. Divine!

We stayed at Saint Sever Hotel which was convenient and a quick walk to the city center.

We drove further west to head to the town of Pontorson. This is a tiny town not far from the main attraction in the area, Mont Saint-Michel. Truthfully, there isn't much to see and do in the town, but it's a good place to sleep and be in close proximity to other beautiful places like Dinan and Saint Malo. Of course, you can stay within Mont Saint Michel, but the prices are pretty expensive. We crashed here for the night to explore more of Northern France.

There was also a great little restaurant called La Casa De Quentin where we had excellent cider- which is the drink of choice in this region, and delicious crepes. A very traditional meal.

northern france tourist destinations

Here are some great hotels in Pontoroson . If you're wanting to see how I book great hotel deals in Europe, check out this post .

Mont Saint-Michel

One of the most unforgettable sights is the steep monastery village, the sanctuary of Mont Saint-Michel. It rises out of the sand, sometimes surrounded by water, to shine like a beacon into the sea. Twice dubbed a UNESCO World Heritage site and boasts an interesting history.

northern france tourist destinations

It's called the “Impregnable Fortress” since, during the Hundred Years War, the monks defended the abbey against English invaders. About seven or eight times a year, the tide rises, sometimes so high you can't drive a car. Now there's a bridge that solves this problem but back then this would be very hard for intruders to combat.

northern france tourist destinations

The Monastery was built early in the 8th century after Aubert, bishop of the nearby hilltop town of Avranches, dreamed that the Archangel Michael pressured him into having a church built atop the island just out to sea. Mont Saint-Michel has also been used as a prison from 1793 o 1863. Now tourists flock here to see it's beauty. There's also a pilgrimage route where visitors can walk the Camino de Santiago which was a route since the 9th century.

This is one the most visited sites in France so it's a good idea to plan your visit in advance. Getting there is very easy, with shuttles running almost constantly. You can't drive directly into the Mont, but easily accessible parking costs €11.70 for 24 hours and a free shuttle or walk on a footbridge brings you directly to the site. There's even a dog kennel here since dogs are not allowed in the city.

northern france tourist destinations

I recommend getting there early and taking a guided tour of the abbey. The tour is about an hour long and shares the history of Mont-Saint Michel and details of the cloister.

Walk around the town and through the Bavole Gate on the tiny streets stuffed with shops and restaurants.

northern france tourist destinations

The omelets are famous on the island since they are made in a unique way and are very fluffy. However they were around €30 a person, so we passed. Instead, we drove over to Saint Malo for some delicious and fresh seafood.

Pro tip: for a great view of Mont Saint-Michel take the farmer's roads on either side to get away from the crowds and snap some pictures.

northern france tourist destinations

This beautiful walled in port city has gorgeous views of the coast and beaches. There is ample underground parking and it's very easy to see this city in a half day. The tall, granite walls surround the town and are thick and sturdy enough that you can walk around the ramparts.

northern france tourist destinations

I was utterly floored by the beauty of the beaches here. The crystal clear blue water with the ramparts in the background made for an impressive sight.

northern france tourist destinations

Check out the Saint-Malo Cathedral in the center of town, you can tour Fort National , a 17th-century granite fortress, and check out the local seafood.

We had a delicious lunch here, but an even more delicious dessert. We stopped for decadent chocolate cake at Timothy . If you'd like to save a few bucks make sure you order it to-go .

northern france tourist destinations

I wish we had more time in this charming little stone town. Unfortunately, I fell and turned my foot on a cobblestone, so I only got a peek at its beauty. I suggest walking around the town, stopping for lunch, and touring the castle.

northern france tourist destinations

Dinan is in the Brittany region of France and it's known for the medieval ramparts, cobblestone streets, and charming half-timbered houses. The Chateau de Dinan is an interesting look back at the 14th century in France.

D Day Beaches

One of the most moving places I've ever been to before was walking the D-Day beaches in Normandy, the same beaches my grandfather fought on and where so many lives were lost. It's hard for me to put into words just how important it is to remember our past, and I believe the D-Day beaches in Normandy are a necessary part of learning and understanding our history.

northern france tourist destinations

We visited Utah beach , Omaha beach and memorial, and Pointe Du Hoc . We went to the museums which were incredibly well done and interesting. We also had a guided tour (it's free) at the Normandy American Cemetery . You can walk through German bunkers and even see some debris still left in the water at Gold Beach .

northern france tourist destinations

I wrote about how much theses beaches impacted me right here and this post showcases just how much these places meant to me.

northern france tourist destinations

I recommend about 2-3 days here in order to really experience the museums, take a guided tour of the cemetery, and walk around the beaches.

This small, pretty port city is a great place to stay in order to go to the beaches and also go to other lovely towns nearby. This is a bit of a bigger city, so you also have ample opportunities for good restaurants.

This was the first big city freed by the Allies in WWII, so there's lots of history surrounding this place. There are the US armed forces memorial and museum , a medieval chateau ( Chateau de Caen ) and two abbeys ( Abbaye aux Hommes and Abbey aux Dames ).

northern france tourist destinations

We ate at a delightful restaurant called Villa Eugene . Well-priced, trendy but traditional cuisine with a great atmosphere. Highly recommend.

northern france tourist destinations

I found the hotels here extremely convenient and well priced. Check out where to book a room right here .

The town of Bayeux has an exceptional heritage. What stands out the most is the incredible cathedral and the famous “ Bayeux Tapestry .”

northern france tourist destinations

The 900-year-old tapestry was in Bayeux Cathedral , it's now housed in a museum, tells the story of William the Conqueror and battle of Hastings. William was promised the throne, but Harald took it, and William battled him at Hastings and took the throne.

northern france tourist destinations

Don't forget to check out the cathedral, pictured above. The town is charming and a short drive from Caen.

Driving into Honfleur I noticed the tree-lined boulevards speckled with roses. This artistic and historic town has picturesque streets reminiscent of Copenhagen ‘s Nyhavn. There are colorful buildings lining the port which make for a beautiful backdrop for photos.

northern france tourist destinations

I recommend heading to the tourist information center to pick up a town map and taking the shot route that guides you through the city. After visiting Vieux Bassin , head over to St. Catherine Church .

For thousands of years sailors came here and they built a church that looks similar to a boat. Along the way you'll find narrow cobblestone streets and traditional craft shops. St. Catherine Church is the largest wooden Church in France and richly decorated. Also, go to St. Léonard Church which dates back to the 16th century.

There's also lots of art in this city since they say this is the birthplace of impressionism. You'll find lots of art shops. But my focus was on the delicious crepes and refreshing cider.

northern france tourist destinations

We picked up some sinfully yummy liquid caramel sauce that we pour on pancakes or ice cream for special occasions. Our favorite thing for souvenirs is always local food!

This city sparkles with beautiful architecture and champagne. The impressive Reims Cathedral towers over the city and makes a grand statement. It's in Gothic style and also was the coronation site for 25 king and queens.

northern france tourist destinations

The 900-year-old history here includes some very major events. Joan of Arc came here with Charles to crusade for his right as king. The cathedral was badly bombed in WWII and went under extensively reconstruction. Also, Chagall designed a stained glass window here in 1964. But originally, Reims cathedral was a Roman bath. It first became a church in 407 and it's also where Saint Demi baptized Clovis. This cathedral has some of the most beautiful stained glass I've ever seen.

northern france tourist destinations

After checking out the cathedral, we did a walking tour of our own around the town. There are so many interesting spots along the way.

Make sure you check out the beauty of Palace of Tau , which is where the treasury of the town is kept. Not far away is the Saint Remi Cathedral which is equally as impressive.

northern france tourist destinations

Here we did a champagne tour of champagne house Taittinger . We learned all about how champagne is made, toured the cellars, and had a tasting. This was so much fun and made me really appreciate champagne! Walking through the UNESCO chalky cellars transport you back in time.

northern france tourist destinations

That night we ate pizza at L'Antica which was scrumptious and a nice change from our fancy French dinners.


This tiny town is where Dom Perignon discovered champagne and we couldn't resist stopping here. His remains are still in the cathedral and it's worth it to walk around for a stroll.

northern france tourist destinations

As a monk, Dom Perignon proclaimed, “Come quickly, I’m drinking stars!” after double fermenting his grapes.

You can also pop into designated houses for a free (or very inexpensive) champagne tasting.

You'll find the town on top of a hill surrounded by vineyards and a picturesque outlook.

After our fill our fill of champagne, we popped into the town of Epernay for a couple hours. There is, surprise, another stunning cathedral , an entire avenue dedicated to champagne , or see Perrier's Chateau .

northern france tourist destinations

If you'd like to stay and learn more about champagne, and, let's get real, keep drinking, you could extend your stay here. You can even stay in a former mansion of Monsieur Auban-Moët in Hôtel de Ville.

Our last stop on our way back to Germany was Verdun. Since we came to learn so much about WWII history, we wanted to see some WWI history as well.

northern france tourist destinations

The Battle of Verdun was the largest and longest battle of World War One. The museum here, called the Verdun Memorial , was an interesting look into understanding more about war. We also went to the Douaumont Ossuary which is a monument to those that died in WWI along with the cemetery. It contains the remains of 130,000 unidentified soldiers from WWI.

Best Places to Stay in Northern France

I found hotels to be priced very reasonably and since you have a car, you don't necessarily need to be in the heart of the city. I booked all of my hotels (albeit very last minute) right here and didn't spend more than 70 euros a night. I was pleasantly surprised by how nice, clean, and convenient all places were- not to mention, pet friendly!

I went to Northern France without many expectations but I left with a renewed love of this region. This area of France left a deep impression on me, and I know I'll come back again and again to eat, learn, and remember our past. To me, this is one of the most important places an American can travel to.

Explore more:

The Essential Paris Travel Guide

Germany, France, Switzerland, Austria: Charming Central European Itinerary

8 Day Northern Italy and French Riviera Itinerary

northern france tourist destinations


Helene Sula

I believe that one trip can change your life. It did for me. I'm a self proclaimed home body that quit her job, moved abroad, and more often than not, lives out of a carry-on bag. If I'm not traveling, I'm most likely re-reading Harry Potter or watching "Midnight in Paris" while snuggling my dogs. I'm a digital marketing expert who turned my love of travel into a full-time career. And I help others do it too.

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12 Best Places To Visit In Northern France

May 28, 2022 by Claire Filed Under: Europe , France Leave a Comment

12 of the best places to visit in Northern France -  Perfect for your French Bucket List

With over 89 million visitors each year, France tops the list of the most visited countries in the world. Yet, most parts of the Northern France region have remained off the maps as far as tourism goes making it one of the best parts of the country to visit especially if you’re yearning for unspoiled beauty.

From captivating castles, and resplendent vineyards to unrivalled natural beauty, and captivating hamlets full of culture and history, Northern France is undoubtedly the best-kept secret in this country. It’s also the birthplace of some of the most renowned historical figures in France such as Claude Monet and Joan of Arc.

If you’re curious to know where you should visit in this beautiful region, here is a list of the best places to visit in Northern France

  • 1.2 Provins
  • 1.5 Honfleur
  • 1.7 Mont Saint Michel
  • 1.9 Le Havre
  • 1.11 Saint-Malo
  • 1.12 Bayeux
  • 2 Plan Your France Itinerary

You really couldn’t have a list of the best places to visit in northern France without including the country’s capital. While to many Paris is an obvious choice of destination, sometimes that means it can be underestimated. Paris is one of those great destinations that can be returned to many times, with each visit offering something new.

Paris reflects the city’s rich and cultural history. With plenty of museums and historical buildings, there’s plenty to see. And lets not forget, plenty of incredible places to eat too.

With easy connections to many countries around the world, Paris is easy to get to and makes a fantastic base for visiting the other beautiful places mentioned on this list.

READ ALSO: 35 Books Set In France

France's capital city Paris has to be the number 1 best place to visit in Northern France

Located in the north-central of France, this fortified UNESCO town makes a great day trip from Paris . While this medieval town is known for hosting the best medieval fair in France, it is worth visiting all year round.

The main attraction Provins offers is the well-preserved, original fortification from the 12th Century. Visitors can climb up Tour Cesar which offers spectacular 360 degree views of the surrounding countryside.

Not all the sites are above ground though. While the original purpose of the underground tunnels remains a mystery, guided tours are available in the summer months.

READ ALSO: Things To Do in Provins

Not only is Provins a great day trip from Paris but it's a historical place to visit in Northern France

Located on the north-eastern edge of France, Lille is a significant commercial and cultural hub. But most importantly, it’s the capital of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region. It’s just a few miles east of the Belgian border which makes it pretty easy to visit if you’re coming from Belgium, Germany, Netherlands, or England.

Although this city has a lot of attractions, it’s particularly a captivating locale to visit if you’re yearning for a historical and cultural adventure. The beautiful historical edifices and baroque buildings plus cobblestone streets in the Old Lille give you a taste of the Flemish heritage of the city. However, it’s probably the hearty cuisine and the jolly character of the locals that will make the memories of your visit here indelible.

The city boasts an amazing public transport system including a well-connected railway which makes it a delight to transverse through the city.

Beautiful Lille is easily one of the best cities to visit in France

Charming medieval streets, a beautiful harbour, incredible gastronomic scene, and buildings that are steeped deep in history are the top traits that define Vannes. Pervaded by quaint timber houses dating back to the 13th century, Vannes is one of the largest towns in Morbihan, a department found within the region of Brittany.

With medieval and modern structures standing side by side, the difference in the architectural styles creates a stunning contrast between the past and the present. Built on the foundations of an embattled Roman city, Vannes is nestled within a majestic well-preserved wall that was extended in the 15th century to encircle new parts of this town.

Although there are a lot of things to see and do in the city, walking along the ramparts is by far one of the most incredible attractions in Vannes. There is a huge public garden in most parts of the ramparts where you can enjoy the sight of groomed flowers, pathways, and picturesque views of the fortified wall.

Vannes is a great medieval place to visit in Northern France

Honfleur, one of the most beautiful coastal towns in France is located south of Le Havre right on the estuary of the Seine River. The town’s main attraction is probably its old harbour , Vieux Bassin, which dates back to the 17th century and is surrounded by colourful narrow buildings. Once jammed with commercial vessels and fishing boats, this port played a huge role as a commercial center, but today, the waters around the dock are filled with beautiful yachts.

Other notable attractions in Honfleur include its wooden main church and the beguiling views of the Seine estuary. The city is also pretty famous due to its association with renowned French artists and painters such as Claude Monet, Gustave Courbet, and Eugène Boudin.

Honfleur is one of the most beautiful coastal towns in France

Home to the standing stones, one of the most significant prehistoric sites in Europe, Carnac is a resort town on the south coast of Brittany and an amazing place to visit for a dose of historic architecture, a laid back town centre, and amazing cuisine.

While visiting the town you should also look forward to the expansive sandy beaches that Carnac has to offer especially if you’re a sun and sand fanatic.

Carnac standing stones have to be one of the most fascinating landmarks in France

Mont Saint Michel

Set on a rocky islet and rising from the sea, Mont Saint Michel is one of the most beautiful sights in France and the third most visited attraction in the country.

Located slap-bang at the border between Normandy and Brittany, this captivating commune initially started out as a sanctuary around the year 708. Many centuries later, Mont Saint Michel, a magnificent structure that was allegedly built after a divine direction, is home to a stunning church , an ancient town and it boasts incredible views of the sea.

You can see why Mont Saint Michel is one of the best attractions in France

With its 1.7 mile-long ramparts, a beautiful port, a 13th-century castle, and a huge collection of half-timbered houses, Dinan looks like a town straight from a fairytale. This glorious Breton town is located in Northern Brittany and it’s one of the most well-preserved medieval towns in the region.

In addition to the town walls, other popular attractions in this town include the Donjon de la Duchesse Anne, the alluring cobbled streets of the old town, and the laidback harbour, among other architectural wonders. You can see why it’s one of the most beautiful places to visit in northern France.

With beautiful timber houses, it's easy to see why Dinan is a great place to visit in Northern France

Le Havre is a stunning port city perched at the mouth of the Seine River. While it’s not one of the most popular tourist destinations in France, it’s a UNESCO-listed city. Unlike most Normandy cities that were reconstructed to reflect their old self after destruction during wars, this city took a different direction. Most parts of Le Havre were totally destroyed during World War II.

When Auguste Perret was given the lead role in the reconstruction of the city, he introduced a new design and popularised the use of concrete in the country. This design shaped the city as it is today, and helped Le Havre earn a listing as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Aside from the unique architecture, Le Havre is home to some beautiful museums, pebbled beaches, and it has the busiest port in the Normandy region.

The UNESCO city of Le Havre is one of the best port cities to visit in France

Conveniently located between Le Havre and Paris on the banks of the River Seine, Rouen is a city that oozes history, culture, and architectural charm. Its location played a major role in trade during the medieval times making it a favourite spot among merchants.

Between the 14th and the 15th century, a lot of traders settled around the area building astounding timber-framed homes and this brought exponential growth to the city. Today, most of these buildings are still intact and they’re part of the long-standing history of a vibrant art scene that Rouen has offered its visitors for centuries.

While the city boasts a lot of beautiful monuments and picturesque chill spots, it’s famous for a more sombre reason. It’s the city where a national heroine, Joan of Arc was executed.

The historical city of Rouen is definitely one of the most gorgeous places to visit in northern France

This ancient coastal city is situated in Ille-et-Vilaine and remains to be one of the best-kept secrets in the Brittany region. It was designed as a citadel, with its gigantic walls and fortifications dating back to the 12th century.

However, save for the town walls, the Château de Saint-Malo, and Cathédrale Saint-Vincent de Saint-Malo, large parts of this town were destroyed during World War II. So much of what you’ll see here was reconstructed between 1948 and 1960.

Once a haven for the privateers (state-sponsored pirates), Saint-Malo gets some of the largest tides in Europe and this results in an ever changing landscape around the coastline.

The coastal city of Saint-Malo is one of the best places to visit in northern France

The cradle land of the historical Bayeux Tapestry, this town is situated just a 2.5-hour train ride from the city of love. If you’re a history enthusiast then Bayeux will seem like an open museum with its medieval charm and countless artefacts in every corner.

To start with, Bayeux was the very first town to be liberated from the Nazis during the Normandy Invasion on 6th June 1944 which makes it a great base from where you can explore the D Day Landing Beaches . Despite the fact that its museums, as well as the memorials, have a gloomy tale to tell especially when it comes to the invasion of England and World War II, the streets of this town are the quintessential architectural heritage and a lively place to visit.

The Bayeaux Cathedral is stunning and easily one of the most beauitful landmarks in France

There you have it, 12 beautiful places to visit in northern France. Which will you visit first?

Plan Your France Itinerary

Looking for more amazing places to see in France? Why not check out some of these

  • Provins: An Easy Day Trip From Paris
  • 11 Beautiful Towns and Villages in Dordogne
  • The Best Castles in Southern France
  • 35 Books Set in France
  • Wine Tasting in Corsica
  • Famous Bridges in Europe
  • The Ultimate European Bucket List

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Planning a trip to France but want to visit more than Paris? Northern France has many beautiful and historical cities and towns to visit. Use this list to find the best places to visit in Northern France

Disclosure : This post contains affiliate links which means I earn a small commission at no additional cost to you.

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THAT BACKPACKER - A travel blog about food, culture and adventure.

Places to Visit in Northern France that are Bucket List Worthy!

There’s no denying that France has an abundance of good food, history, culture and much, much more! Furthermore, each region of France has its own quirks, its own unique vibe and so Northern France is no exception!

Filled with legends ( think: King Arthur ) and home to good food ( all the pastries! ), you could easily spend ten lifetimes just exploring Northern France. The region is the centre of languages and wildlife not found anywhere else in the world. It’s here that you’ll find the Breton Language ( a Celtic language that’s one of the official languages of Brittany ) and many more fortified towns, castles and gardens than you can even imagine.

The region also happens to be ‘ Entre Mer et Terre ’ (between land and sea), meaning that there is no shortage of ocean wanderlust in the area. So here’s a quick guide to places to visit in Northern France which you won’t want to miss!

Places to Visit in Northern France that are Bucket List Worthy! Mont Saint Michel: One of the most popular places to visit in Northern France.

Mont Saint Michel

As one of the most beautiful feats of architecture in France , it’s not at all surprising that Mont Saint Michel welcomes over a million visitors annually. The mount is also UNESCO World Heritage site due to its rich history and cultural importance. Situated on a tidal island, cut off from land by the sea twice a day, it really is in a fairytale location.

The conical island has been home to a fortified abbey since the 8 th  century and since the island has been inhabited for such a long time, the entire commune is filled with narrow passageways, quirky storefronts and much more to explore!

Travel tip: Due to the nature of the weather in the region, the temperature can change pretty suddenly so make sure to bring some warm layers!

Address: Mont Saint-Michel, Normandy, 50170, France

Dinan, Brittany: This place is another must visit in Northern France.

Stepping into this preserved medieval town is like stepping straight into the pages of a history book. With a population of a little over 10,000, Dinan is one of those towns that is often forgotten in guidebooks (although it obviously shouldn’t be!)

Travel tip: Make sure to try out a ‘Kouign-Amann’ at one of the many bakeries dotted along the high street. It’s a warm pastry comprised of predominantly sugar and butter- a regional specialty!

Address: Dinan, Brittany, 22100, France

Saint Malo: This seaside escape tops the lists as one of the best places to visit in Northern France.

Founded as early as the 1 st  century, Saint-Malo is a fortified town in Brittany. The town is notorious in history for producing ‘privateers’ (the medieval equivalent of hired hit-men) and pirates. St-Malo also happens to be the town where Jacques Cartier came from; he is significant in world history as he is acredited as the first European to ‘discover’ Canada .

Today, St-Malo is best known for its proximity to the sea, its treasure trove of architectural gems and rich history.

Travel tip: Due to the popularity of the town, a lot of the restaurants are pretty expensive; even if you just want to buy a crêpe! If you want to visit on a budget , head to one of the supermarkets in the town and create your very own ‘French Picnic’.

Address: Saint-Malo, Brittany

Etretat: Known for its white chalk cliffs, this is another beautiful place to visit in Northern France.

England may have the White Cliffs of Dover, but Normandy has the chalky cliffs of Étretat. Much like the Cliffs of Dover, Étretat too is home to natural arches which rise up from the sea and are a real sight to behold!

Travel tip: Although visiting the sea is considered a summer activity , it may be more preferable to visit Étretat in late September. The weather is pretty good anyway and you’ll be able to capture those perfect ‘Instagram-worthy’ shots without the crowds!

Address: Étretat, Normandy, France

Places to visit in Northern France

Have you visited Northern France? What were some of your highlights?

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We visited this part of France when my son was younger – it’s such a beautiful place. I took a photo of Mont St Michel and my dad created a painting for me from it so I always have happy memories of that holiday on my wall. So pleased you had a great time.

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Excellent picks! So many tourists go to Paris and that’s it and there are a bunch of places that are an easy drive or train ride away. Pretty much anywhere on the coast is a win for me. 😉

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Angers is farther inland but very beautiful, with a big château and the Apocalypse Tapestry. The D-Day beaches are very beautiful and moving.

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OMG OMG OMG!!!! This is just so WOAW!!! I love this post soo much that it reminds me of my childhood which I spent in France. Thanks a lot for this amazing post. Keep up the wonderful work 🙂

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This is more the west part of France, the North is rather about Lille, Amiens, Rouen and Paris :). But yes Bretagne is a beautiful part of France with amazing people. There are wonderful beachand isles in the south of Bretagne that deserve to be seen in summer !

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Northern France (Hauts-de-France)

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northern france tourist destinations

The Northern France (Hauts-de-France) region offers many natural and cultural gems to discover.

Between the sea and the countryside, the Hauts-de-France region offers something for everyone. Wide open spaces, protected natural environments, dynamic cities, thrilling water sports, seaside resorts, war memorials, monuments – the list goes on! The region is colored by a rich tradition and history that you can discover through visiting its many museums, sampling the local delicacies and exploring local heritage sides.

For additional Northern France travel ideas, visit the region’s tourism website:


Don’t forget to check out our tourism hub for more Destination Inspiration !

Source: Adapted from Atout France


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  • Top Northern France Tourist Attractions
  • French Weekend Breaks

Here is our selection of the best places to visit in Northern France (Nord, Pas de Calais, Somme, Aisne and Oise departments). If you are looking for places to see, or things to do in France, our list of the top northern France tourist attractions is here to help!  Northern France, with its wealth of historical and cultural heritage and diverse range of architecture influenced by great chapters in the region’s history, is filled with interesting museums and lively cultural venues where you can take your pick of shows, events, exhibitions, cultural tours, discovery trails and other great activities to enjoy at your leisure for an unforgettable stay.   Lille is the capital of the Hauts-de-France region . A French foodie city trip is wainting for you only a 80-minute train ride from London. Get your free guide couv-carnet-voyage-uk-couple-gourmet.png

Things to do in Lille - French weekend breaks

From Fine Art museums to painting and sculpture exhibitions - the region has hundreds of places to visit! Lose yourself in the innovative ‘Louvre-Lens’ art museum or in the Musée Condé at the Château de Chantilly. Continue the adventure and visit the amazing collections in our ‘Museums of France’. Feel inspired in the heart of an ancient abbey, an Art Deco pool, a Baroque palace or a former industrial area... Here, art is lively, surprising and entertaining!

From UNESCO listed monuments, to wide open spaces and gorgeous French villages, the northern France region is rich in activities and attractions to keep you busy. 

northern france tourist destinations

With its well-preserved network of trenches and its Canadian, Scottish and British memorials, the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial in the heart

northern france tourist destinations

Rebuilt in the 1870s after being destroyed during the French Revolution, it’s home to the imperial apartments with their period decor but also to t

northern france tourist destinations

The most dramatic remnant of 17 mine explosions that were engineered beneath the German frontline to disorientate the enemy forces on on 1st July 1

northern france tourist destinations

Perfectly located for families travelling to France by car, the country’s Centre National de la Mer is one of Europe’s largest public aquariums but

northern france tourist destinations

Birdwatching in northern France at the Parc du Marquenterre

northern france tourist destinations

In a green setting in the city of Villeneuve d’Ascq a 20-minute drive east of Lille itself, the Lille Métropole Museum of Modern, Contemporary and

northern france tourist destinations

A spectacular and quite wild area of open water, dunes, marshes and saltwater meadows sprinkled with charming villages and small-scale coastal reso

northern france tourist destinations

Few sites are more thought-provoking or moving than the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme with its mighty columns inscribed with the na

northern france tourist destinations

When Amiens’ 13th-century Gothic cathedral is lit up at nightfall, visitors can gain a full understanding of how its gorgeous facade looked in medi

northern france tourist destinations

A museum and memorial to those who fought in the Battle of Arras in 1917, Carrière Wellington occupies part of kilometres of tunnels that were dug

northern france tourist destinations

The closest points in France to the British coast, Cap Gris-Nez and Cap Blanc-Nez – which together comprise the Grand Site des Deux Caps nature res

northern france tourist destinations

In 2012 the town of Lens half an hour north of Arras and 40 minutes south of Lille leapt to the attention of cultural aficionados around the globe

northern france tourist destinations

The ‘Ring of Remembrance’ beside the national military cemetery of Notre-Dame-de-Lorette at Ablain-Saint-Nazaire in the north of France – site of t

Mer de Sable Theme Park - French Weekend Breaks

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  • Captivating! Plunge into the hundred years' war

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The Talking Suitcase

Experience the World With Kids

Northern France Travel Guide: 2 Week Roadtrip to Normandy, Brittany & Loire Valley

January 17, 2018 by Dana Zeliff Leave a Comment

Disclosure: This post may contain an affiliate link & I may have been compensated for my time writing this article.

Arriving in Paris, we picked up our rental car and hit the road to explore Northern France on a two week roadtrip. While the temperature and weather didn’t always cooperate in late October, autumn is a lovely time to drive through France.  The changing leaves and crisp air were a welcome change to the beaches of the South of France.

I’ve included our stops as well as some restaurant and accommodation recommendations. I’ve also mentioned how I would change the itinerary and offer suggestions for alternatives to suit other travel styles. So keep reading for an extensive 2 week Northern France travel guide.

Northern France Travel Guide

northern france tourist destinations

Day #1 Monet, Château-Gaillard and Lyons-la-Forêt

  • Depart Paris ORY airport (we were on the road around 11am)
  • Drive 1h 1 min to Giverny to visit Monet’s House and Gardens (Spend 2 hours) or add another hour if visiting the Museum.
  • Drive 25 min to Les Andelys to see the Château Gaillard and village of Les Andelys.
  • Drive 20 min to Lyons-la-Forêt to wander the village.
  • Drive 34 min to Rouen

Monet’s House and Gardens in Giverny is a must.  If you’re arriving late and can’t fit in anything else, stop by Giverny. Art enthusiast may want to spend longer than 2-3 hours. However, with kids, it was the perfect amount of time.

Read more tips for visiting Monet’s House & Gardens

The Château-Gaillard looks over Les Andelys and the River Seine in Normandy. The stones of the château were first used by the Capuchin monks and then by the Penitents. The ruins have undergone some restoration. The outer bailey can be viewed for free, while the Upper court and dungeon have a small entrance fee.

We stopped for a quick visit to see the château and took a short drive through the village. You can visit in under an hour or explore longer if visiting the inside of the château and spending more time in the village.

Lyons-la-Forêt is a cute village worth a stop. We spent approximately 30 minutes wandering it’s streets. We’d planned to have a coffee in the square but the rain was moving in, so we decided to jump back in the car. We were just pulling out of the parking lot when the first raindrop fell.

The village is classified among “The Most Beautiful Villages of France”. Take time to appreciate the half-timbered houses from the 17th and 18th centuries and admire the old covered market.

Arrive late afternoon/early evening and spend 2 nights in the city of Rouen.

northern france tourist destinations

Day #2 Rouen, France

Spend the day exploring Rouen. Wander the streets of the old town, then head to the shopping district to look for the Gros Horologe above a passageway. This beautifully detailed astronomical clock contains a mechanism from the 1300s!

Then see the Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Rouen, visit the Church of St. Joan of Arc and take a minute to examine the walls of the Aitre St-Maclou.

Boys particularly may be fascinated by the morbid carvings in the timber walls there. The site was a burial ground during the Black Plague in 1348. Look in a glass case near the entrance to see a cat skeleton found in the walls.

Learn the history of Joan of Arc at Historial Jeanne d’Arc. The kids were begging to go back to the hotel and swim, so we skipped a visit to the museum. If you want more information on the life and trial of Joan of Arc, the museum is supposed to be extremely well done. Since we didn’t get our history lesson, I’m making the kids read, “ Who Was Joan of Arc? “.

Where to stay:

This is rather difficult. We stayed at the Hotel de Bourgtheroulde, part of the Marriott Autograph Collection.  It’s a 5-star hotel and looked fantastic from the photos and reviews.  However, for the price, I really can’t recommend it. While the hotel itself was gorgeous and the staff definitely 5-star, I did not get a good night’s sleep. You can see more information on our upcoming Rouen article.

northern france tourist destinations

Day #3 Jumièges, Fécamp and Étretat

Drive 29 min to Jumièges to visit the Abbey ( could skip ) Drive 54 min to Fécamp to see the cliffs and Benedictine Palace Drive 15 min to Étretat for more beautiful cliff Drive 38 min to Honfleur

Day 3 was all about the cliffs of Normandy. Our first stop, Jumièges, was to visit the ruins of Jumièges Abbey. The city located next to the River Seine could easily be skipped if short on time.  We opted not to visit the Abbey (even though it looks charming from the outside) and kept driving to our next destination.

The tallest cliffs in Normandy are located in Fécamp making it a must stop on your journey. The Alabaster Coast is lovely, even on a chilly, rainy autumn day.  We suggest driving up the hillside to the Cap Fagnet .  We only stopped quickly for photos as a light drizzle had just started.   In July and August, inexpensive tours are offered in English by the  Fécamp tourism office .  If visiting during the summer, I think a tour would be a great option – plus kids are free.

The  Benedictine Palace is also well worth a quick stop.  If you want to tour the Palace, keep in mind that it will be closed during lunch.  We ended up arriving during this time, so didn’t get to take a tour.  The reviews we read on the tour were pretty mixed.  People either said it was a must stop or not worth the money.  However, the café was open for tasting Benedictine liquor. Derrick and I shared a DOM, which is the Benedictine liquor, champagne and a lemon twist – tasty!

At our hotel in Rouen, Derrick tried a Singapore Sling, also made with Benedictine liquor, that he enjoyed.

After a quick sandwich lunch, we hit the road to explore Étretat. The stunning white cliffs were my favorite of the day. First, we parked by the Chapelle Notre-Dame de la Garde and walked along the cliffs. Then we drove down to the coast to explore the town.  A cute store to find local goods was La Mer à Boire . We purchased sardines, candy for the kids and chatted with the proprietor about the region.

Afterwards it was time to head to our apartment in Honfleur. We arrived in the early evening.

Spend 2 nights in Honfleur.

Helpful addresses:

Chapelle Notre-Dame de la Garde – Falaise d’Amont, 76790 La Mer à Boire – Place du Général de Gaulle, 76790

Where to Stay

We booked an apartment in the Old Town through VRBO .  The stairs leading to the apartment could be a bit precarious for little ones, but it was a nice 2 bedroom for a reasonable price.

northern france tourist destinations

Day 4 Honfleur

You may be ready for a bit of relaxation at this point. I know we were!  After a go, go, go first few days, we spent a leisurely day exploring Honfleur. We rose late and spent the afternoon meandering through the cobble stoned streets and checking out the shops.

The Vieux Bassin is literally picture perfect and a great spot to check out the boats and admire the architecture. My kids enjoyed visiting Naturospace , a butterfly garden. We spotted countless species of butterflies that were flying throughout the greenhouse. Derrick had a butterfly land on his head then move to his hand. It hung out on him for over 10 minutes! None of the butterflies landed on the kids, so they were a bit bummed.

Honfleur isn’t a large village, so it would be possible to visit in the morning then head to another destination instead of spending 2 nights there.

northern france tourist destinations

Day 5 Deauville, Pont-lÉvêque, Merville Battery, Cookies and Umbrellas

Drive 27 min to Deauville Drive 20 min to Pont-lÉvêque Drive 26 min to Beuvron-en-Auge Drive 25 min to Musée de la Batterie de Merville (1.5 hours) Drive 44 to H2o Parapluies in Crepon to purchase umbrellas Drive 5 min t0 Les Sables in Asnelles for cookies

Per a recommendation from friends that have visited the region many times, our first stop of the day was Deauville.  This classy city has grand half-timbered houses, shopping, and restaurants. We parked and wandered along the lovely, sandy beach which is massive at low tide and makes a great spot for kids to run.

As mentioned above, Honfleur can be seen in 1/2 a day. An idea would be to spend a night in Deauville, omitting one night in Honfleur. However, spending two nights there worked well with our drive times and kept the schedule fairly relaxed.

After stomping the sand from our shoes, we were back in the car to visit the villages of Pont-lÉvêque and Beuvron-en-Auge. These were brief stops to stretch our legs and see the half-timbered houses.  Derrick had planned to purchase Calvados from Père Magloire in Pont-lÉvêque, but he found the bottles he wanted in Honfleur.  The store and tasting room has good reviews if you want to purchase Calvados during your trip.

We spent approximately 1.5 hours touring the  Musée de la Batterie de  Melville  (Museum and the Merville Battery.) The WWII museum is a restored Nazi fortification complete with bunkers and a C-47 American Military aircraft. The museum is well done and does a great job of explaining the importance of capturing the site during Operation Overlord. I think it’s an especially good museum for kids with the audio/visual display and outdoor areas.  Plus the museum isn’t as crowded as other WWII museums we visited during the trip.

A unique souvenir from the region can be found at  H2o Parapluies . Purchase the beautifully crafted umbrellas  made locally at the workshop in Normandy. The umbrellas were pricy but include a lifetime guarantee. I bought a pretty pink umbrella with scalloped edges.

Another must stop is Les Sables in Asnelles . You do not want to miss these cookies! The shortbread cookies have been made from the same recipe since 1904 using Isigney butter, eggs, four and sugar. We loved them so much we tried to go back for more a couple of days later, but sadly they were closed.  I wouldn’t complain if someone wanted to ship me some 🙂

After stocking up on cookies, we made our way to Bayeux where we stayed for 3 nights.

northern france tourist destinations

Today was all about the Battle of Normandy. Choose from a guided tour or explore on your own.  We booked a guided tour as we typically like all the extra tidbits of information that can only be obtained during a tour. However, for the price and since we had a car, we should have just planned our own.

Our tour focused on the U.S. beaches and included the German Cemetery of La Cambe, Sainte-Mère-Église,  Airborne Museum , Utah Beach, Pointe du Hoc, Omaha Beach, and the American Cemetery . I highly recommend stopping to learn the history at each of these locations.

While the tour was a full day, another place to add if you have time during your trip is taking a self-guided tour to discover the German Battery of Longues-sur-Mer. It’s the only one on the coast with the original guns.  See more on our D-Day tour in Normandy, coming soon.

Return to Bayeux in the evening.

northern france tourist destinations

Spend the day wandering the streets of Bayeux. We explored the Bayeux Tapestry, Old Town, Cathedral and Memorial Museum of the Battle of Normandy during our one full day.

You can read all the details on our Bayeux travel Guide here.

northern france tourist destinations

Day #8 Arromanches 360°, Port-En-Bessin, Caramels and Mont Saint Michel

Drive 20 min to Circular cinema Arromanches 360° Drive 21 min to Port-En-Bessie Drive 23 min to Les Halles d’Isigny for caramels Drive 1h 17 min to Mont Saint Michel

We almost skipped the Circular Cinema Arromanches 360°, but I’m so glad we decided that morning to visit.  The film shown on 9 screens was a powerful look at the Battle of Normandy and served to reiterate the importance of remembering the story of the 100 days of this battle. The cinema is also located on the remnants of one of the two artificial Mulberry harbours set up by the Allies during the war.

Next up was a stop for lunch in the fishing town of Port-en-Bessin. The port is known for it’s scallops which is evident by a beach made up entirely of scallop shells.  We enjoyed lunch at Fleur de Sel by the harbor. Since we arrived right at noon, we were able to get a table. People that arrived 30 minutes after us were turned away if they did not have a reservation.

Lunch suggestions:

  • Le Bistrot d’à Côté, 12 rue Michel Lefournier 14520 Port-en-Bessin
  • Fleur de Sel, 6 quai Félix Faure, 14520 Port-en-Bessin
  • Hôtel de la Marine, 5 quai Letourneur, 14520 Port-en-Bessin

After lunch, we stopped by Les Halles d’Isigny for caramels and made our way to Mont Saint Michel.  Derrick and the kids pronounced these to be the best caramels they’ve ever had. However, they are still debating over whether hard or chewy caramels are best.

northern france tourist destinations

The island of Mont Saint Michel was picture perfect and well worth a visit.  We only needed a couple of hours to explore the island, but it was nice to be there after all the other tourist left. The tide changes drastically there, so visitors need to check the tide schedule before arriving.  Unfortunately, we visited during one of the few times when the tide doesn’t change.  The tide was out during our entire visit.  We were able to walk around the island to get photos, but missed seeing the island surrounded by water.

We wandered in and out of the shops and had dinner at La Mère Poulard. A friend had visited years ago and highly recommended the restaurant, but I should have read the reviews. The food was just okay, it was way overpriced and the service was horrible.  We would have been better off grabbing sandwiches for dinner.

Where to Stay:

We stayed at the  Auberge Saint Pierre on Mont Saint Michel.A bit pricey, a better option would have been  to stay off the island, although all area prices are somewhat high. We were torn when booking and I loved the idea of being on Mont Saint Michel in the evening and early morning, but to be fair, I did envision it as an island surrounded by water. If you do stay on the island, pack minimal luggage as you will be carrying it up a lot of steps.

Brittany/Bretagne Region

northern france tourist destinations

Day #9 Saint-Malo, Dinard and Dinan 

Drive 50 min to Saint-Malo Drive 24 min to Dinard Drive 27 min to Dinan

Before leaving Mont Saint Michel in the morning, we visited the Abbey.  The Mont Saint Michel Abbey was one of the first UNESCO World Heritage sites in France and dates back to 708!  I suggest purchasing an audio guide for 3€ to listen to the history of the Abbey as you explore the rooms. You’ll also want to have your camera ready to capture the sweeping views.

After taking the tram back to the parking lot, we took off for Saint Malo.  The fortified city of Saint Malo turned out to be cooler than I expected.  Unfortunately, there was an event taking place during our visit and we couldn’t find parking to explore the city.

Since we had extra time, we were able to add on a visit to Dinard. Dinard was one of France’s top summer resort areas until the 1930’s, when visitors starting flocking more to the French Riviera. The villas are spectacular making this a nice stop, if you have time.  We ate lunch at a pizza restaurant, Castor Bellux .  The food and service were good plus the prices were reasonable.

We arrived in Dinan fairly early, so there was a plenty of time to get settled into the apartment and explore in the evening.

Spend 2 nights in Dinan.

northern france tourist destinations

Day #10 Dinan

It was another relaxing day as we explored Dinan.  We slept in, then explored the Old Town, walked the ramparts, and saw the Basilique Saint-Sauveur de Dinan.  We skipped the Château de Dinan as it didn’t seem worth the expense.

Where to eat:

We had dinner at Chez la Mere Pourcel in the square one night.  The restaurant is more upscale than we typically take the kids to but the food and service was good.  For lunch one day we ate at Crêperie Le Be New, where everyone had a galette.  We all wanted to eat at the Greek restaurant, Osa Boutique Gourmet , as it had great reviews but it was closed during our visit.

northern france tourist destinations

Day #11 Pontrieux, Meneham, Le Faou and Locronan

Drive 1h 27 min to Pontrieux ( could skip ) Drive 28 min to Meneham Drive 47 min to Le Faou ( could skip ) Drive 28 min to Locronan

We left Dinan by 9am to get on the road and see the beaches of Brittany.  Our first stop was to Pontrieux.  It was a cute village, but similar to what we’ve seen earlier on the trip. We only drove through and kept going.

Meneham in Kerlouan was the highlight of our day.  The kids loved the beaches and enjoyed climbing all over the rocks. Well, at least until the tide came in so fast it stranded them one rock short of a path to shore. Lucy had a bit of a meltdown, but K came to the rescue and “saved” her.

The village of Meneham dates from the 17th century. The main building has a stone roof and is literally built into the rocks next to the beach in Kerlouan.  We spent almost 2 hours there, but could have easily spent an entire day, had the weather been warmer.

Le Faou was another village we just kept driving through. We added many of these villages to our list after weeks of researching the most beautiful towns in Northern France.  Le Faou was cute, but we were kind of over cute little towns by this point.

We spent the night in Locronan, but I don’t recommend it. You can see Locronan in about 30 minutes.  We ended up here for the night because it fit in with our driving times.

northern france tourist destinations

Day #12 Pont-Aven, Auray, Carnac, Vannes and Rochefort-en-Terre

Drive 38 min to Pont-Aven Drive 49 min to Auray ( could skip) Drive 13 min to Carnac Drive 26 min to Vannes Drive 28 min to Rochefort-en-Terre

We started the day off early again with our first visit being to Pont-Aven. This picturesque village was worth a quick look and was a nice place to grab a cup of coffee for the adults and hot chocolate for the kiddos.

We drove quickly through Auray and onto Carnac to see the  Carnac stones . The site has more than 3000 megaliths & tombs that were erected around 4000BC.  We stopped quickly for photos, but the kids weren’t really excited to see a “bunch of rocks.”

I would have liked to see more Vannes, but we didn’t have time for more than a quick walk through the city center.

Spend 2 nights in Rochefort-en-Terre.

Our apartment through Airbnb was great and highly recommended.  We even had 3 bedrooms, so the kids didn’t have to share a room.  The 2nd and 3rd bedrooms are located on the 3rd floor, so it may not be ideal for young children.  There is a bathroom on this level, so our kids didn’t need to go down stairs in the middle of the night. The apartment also featured a real dryer which is rare in Europe.

New to Airbnb? Use  THIS LINK  to sign up and get a $20 credit on your Airbnb rental!

northern france tourist destinations

Day #13 Rochefort-en-Terre

Allow most of the day to relax and limit sightseeing to Rochefort-en-Terre. The village is fairly small, so you really don’t need more than an hour of exploration here. Wander the streets of the village, visit the château and church (Notre-Dame-de-la-Tronchaye). There are a bunch of cute shops to browse as well.

We planned more of a “down” day. The previous days had been fairly busy and we knew we would be busy the last couple of days of our trip. However, there are several châteaux to visit in the area if you want to explore more and relax less.

Optional visits: The Naia Museum is an interesting but odd art gallery. The Parc de préhistoire de Bretagne is nearby, but we didn’t visit. It just didn’t seen like a place my older kids would be interested in.

An option would be to stay in Rochefort-en-Terre or Vannes for one night and spend a night in Nantes.  We had to skip Nantes as we couldn’t work it into the schedule.

northern france tourist destinations

Day # 14 Château d’Ussé and Château de Villandry

Drive 3h 4 min to Château d’ussé ( could skip ) Drive 31 min to Château de Villandry

Our first château visit was to Château d’Ussé.  We were looking forward to this château and it’s references to Sleeping Beauty.  The château was nice but the Sleeping Beauty exhibition was a bit disappointing. This was our least favorite château and I wish we had decided to skip it. There are so many châteaux in the Loire Valley that I would suggest swapping in another for this one.

Next we drove to Château de Villandry, Lucy’s favorite.  The Renaissance gardens are gorgeous and are separated into 4 distinct gardens including ornamental, herbal and medicinal, and the kitchen gardens. We could have spent hours just in the gardens alone – there is even a children’s maze! The château is well restored and is the best value for the money.  The rooms are all well decorated so visitors get a sense of the rooms use, but without distraction.

Tip – Eat before getting to Villandry.  The restaurant choices were poor and the boulangerie (bakery) was sold out of sandwiches by the time we arrived.

After our visit, we drove to Azay-le-Rideau.  We arrived late and only had a little time to explore before turning in for the night.

We spent the night in Azay-le-Rideau at the  Hotel de Biencourt .  The hotel was clean and comfortable with a nice breakfast from organic, local goods. We usually don’t eat breakfast at a hotel, but we wanted everyone to be well fed before starting our day.

northern france tourist destinations

Day #15 Château d’Azay-le-Rideau, Château de Chenonceau and Château de Chambord

Drive 37 min to Château de Chenonceau Drive 57 min to Château de Chambord Drive 1h 44 min to Paris

It’s all about the châteaux in this part of France!  We spent the morning wandering the Château d’Azay-le-Rideau. This was an unplanned visit, but one that we recommend. The château was built on an island in the Indre River. The reflection pond was lovely and the inside spectacular – it even had fun moving displays that Lucy adored.

Château de Chenonceau was next on the list. The château was gorgeous and has an interesting history. In 1547, Henry II offered the château as a gift to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers.  The “ladies château” was one of my favorites and even featured Catherine de Medici’s bedroom.  We could have spent and entire day here, exploring the château, gardens and grounds.  This was one of the most expensive châteaux, so I wish we had been able to spend more time here.

Our last visit was to another famous and incredible château, Château de Chambered.  This is another one that you could spend several hours touring. I loved the view from the rooftops and the massive double spiral staircase.  We were short on time, but many visitors had a HistoPad. These iPads are available in 12 languages, provide a history of the château and even include a treasure hunt for children.

We didn’t have nearly enough time for all 3 châteaux and the long drive back to Paris.  I’d highly suggest breaking this up into 2 days.

We stayed at the Best Western by the airport as we had an early flight.

Day #16 Flight Home

Sadly, all trips must come to an end.  We flew back to Nice out of Paris Orly Airport (ORY).

Where to Rent the Car:

We tend to use Auto Europe for booking our rentals and typically chose Europcar or Hertz as the provider.

northern france tourist destinations

We drove mostly on the back roads, so we were able to skip a majority of the costly tolls. We hit toll roads on our way to Château d’Ussé and again on our way back to Paris.  We also unexpectedly rented a hybrid car, so we saved some money on petrol.

Number of Travel Days: 16 Distance Traveled: XX Number of Hotels: 5 Number of Apartments:  4 Price of Gas: ~$144.60 Price of Tolls: 33.10€

As shown in this extensive roadtrip itinerary, it’s possible to cover a lot of ground in 2 weeks. We were inspired by the home of Monet, learned the history of D-Day in Normandy, explored the beaches of Brittany and were awe-struck by the châteaux of the Loire Valley. We could have easily spent more time in each of these regions, but this trip gave us a great overview of what Northern France has to offer. I’m looking forward to visiting again.

Don’t miss our guide to understanding French road signs .  It will be super helpful as you drive through the country.

What are your roadtrip plans?  Can you add other ideas to our Northern France travel guide?

*Please note all times and distances are approximate.  Gas and toll prices can also vary.

northern france tourist destinations

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18 Most Beautiful Towns and Villages in Northern France

By: Author Angela Price

Posted on Last updated: July 15, 2023

18 Most Beautiful Towns and Villages in Northern France

Northern France is a stunning region often overlooked as a destination in its own right. Travellers head for Central Paris, the Eastern Alsace wine route or the postcard-pretty Southern areas of the Dordogne, Provence and the French Riviera without realising that Northern France has many hidden depths to discover.

Rennes restaurants offer a cornucopia of regional and national dishes for food lovers. Bayeux is a great base to explore the region’s rich war history, and Le Touquet, with its promenade and never-ending sandy beach, rivals any in the South of France.

Add to that the string of picturesque towns and villages, from Honfleur’s colourful harbour to Metz’s medieval charms, and you won’t be able to stop yourself from falling in love with this beautiful northern region of France.

I have asked fellow travellers what they loved best about Northern France. With their contributions, I have put together a guide to the most beautiful towns and villages to inspire you to visit Northern France in the future.

This travel guide may contain affiliate links – For more information, please read my  disclaimer and privacy policy.

Do you need to arrange travel insurance, car hire or accommodation? Please check out my  resources page  to help you plan your trip.

Table of Contents

Spring or Autumn are good times to visit Northern France; fewer tourists and pleasant temperatures.

The roads in summer can be busy with tourists using the region to travel through to other locations in France.

Winter can be cold and gloomy, and the weather can be unpredictable, so pack sweaters and rain macs.

How to get to France

From the united kingdom.

Eurostar  runs seven trains a day from London St Pancras to Lille. Routes also run from London St Pancras, Ashford International and Folkestone to Calais. Taking the car? Eurotunnel LeShuttle runs between Folkestone and Dieppe.

P&O Ferries run daily services between Dover and Dunkirk, Calais and Bologne. DFDS Ferries run from Newhaven to Dieppe, and Brittany Ferries run a Portsmouth to Le Havre route and a Poole to Cherbourg route.

northern france tourist destinations

Within France

French national rail network ( SNCF ) connects Lille, Boulogne, Dunkirk and Calais with Paris Central. 

A car or motorhome is best for making the most of the northern region.

Visiting from Further Afield

Fly into Paris, pick up a rental car and be in Northern France in 2-3 hours.

The Most Beautiful Towns and Villages in Normandy

Barfleur, Lyons-La-Foret and Veules Les Roses make up three of the six prettiest villages in Normandy, according to the Plus Beaux Villages de France Association. The prestigious title is awarded to highly picturesque villages in rural locations with a population under 20,000 and a rich culture.

The other three villages in Normandy that share this title are Beuvron-en-Auge, Le Bec-Hellouin and Saint-Céneri- le-Gérei.

Contributed by Joanna from The World In My Pocket

I chose to visit  Barfleur  because it shares its name with the ferry I arrived on in France. Living next to the harbour in the UK, the Barfleur ferry is part of the local life. So, when I boarded it to visit Cherbourg, I decided to pop to Barfleur, a beautiful small village an hour away. 

Getting to Barfleur from Cherbourg is easy, with a direct bus. However, it doesn’t run very often, so pay attention to the schedule.

Barfleur is known locally for the mussels harvested here, called “Blonde de Barfleur”. There are a few restaurants in the village, and all have mussels on their seasonal menus.

If you want to eat in Barfleur, I recommend Café de France overlooking the harbour; this is where I had a delicious breakfast. Also, for yummy cakes, go to Fontaine Sylvain patisserie, which is very close to the bus station. 

Walk to Gatteville Lighthouse

Barfleur is a lovely, quiet village with charming stone houses decorated with lavender pots at the windows.

I loved discovering the path starting behind the church and leading to the Gatteville lighthouse – the third tallest lighthouse in the world. Along the way, I stumbled upon stunning secluded beaches and a cute windmill transformed into a home. 

As Barfleur is not a touristic destination, you can still see the local fishermen working on their boats. I arrived early in the village and observed them preparing their boats after returning from the sea with their daily catch. 

A large medallion fixed to a rock in the harbour marks William the Conqueror’s departure from Barfleur to England in 1066 for the  Battle of Hastings .

northern france tourist destinations


Contributed by Kat from Wandering Bird

We’re always a little sceptical about beautiful towns or villages, but Lyons-la-Forêt, situated in the heart of Normandy’s largest forest , does live up to the hype. This charming village near Rouen is worth the effort to reach.

A former residence of the Dukes of Normandy , nowadays it’s more a tourist destination than anything else. Timber-clad buildings surround the square, and there are cafes, antique shops and fountains all over the place, with plenty of beautifully kept flowers, making it look like a set from a fairytale. 

We visited Lyons-La-Foret purely because people said it was pretty, but there are a couple of things to see in the village. The composer Maurice Ravel lived there, and his house (which is beautiful) is worth seeing. The picturesque Church of St Denis and convents, set beside the Lieure river, is also worth visiting. 

Royal Connections

The village was built on a 12th-century castle site, so there is plenty of history connecting it to the historical courts of Paris. The poet from Louis XIV’s court used to live here. 

We ate lunch at the Cafe de la Halle, right on the square and an excellent place for people-watching. If you’re  motorhoming in France , like we were, there’s a great campsite on the village’s outskirts, within easy walking distance.

Alternatively, there is a lovely looking hotel in the centre called La Licorne , which looks to have a pool or spa – well deserved on a hot day in Northern France!

Timber Panelled house in Lyons La Foret, Northern France

Veules Les Roses

Contributed by Where Angie Wanders

The pretty town of Veules-Les-Roses in Northern France is undoubtedly worthy of a place in the “ Plus Beaux ” list of the most beautiful French villages.

From its timbered and thatched roof cottages to its rustic lodges, you will feel like you have stepped into a fairytale setting as you wander around the tiny lanes leading to the village centre.

We loved walking beside the River Veules, the smallest river in France , and seeing the water cress beds growing there.

In spring, the neighbourhood is awash with pretty flowers, and in summer, roses adorn the footpaths beside the river, highlighting where the name of the village originated.

After exploring the village, enjoy lunch at the Hotel Douce France – the pretty courtyard is befitting this fairytale village or perhaps stay the night.

Veules-Les-Roses can be visited on a road trip through Northern France and is a 2-hour drive if arriving from Paris.

Thatched cottage by river in Northern France

Want to Find Out Where To Go in Eastern France? Please Read

The Most Beautiful Towns and Villages in Eastern France

Contributed by Karen from Where I Wandered

Bayeux is a charming town in the Normandy region of France. The town miraculously escaped bombing during WWII and is one of the few towns in Normandy that has remained the same throughout the years.

e found it the perfect place to base our stay to see the D-Day beaches and other WWII sites.

Bayeux is a prosperous and pretty small town with buildings in calming shades of faded greys and weathered mustards. A river runs sedately through the town, and the cobblestoned streets are quiet and serene.

View the Bayeux Tapestry

The town is most well-known for its impressive cathedral, the Cathedral Notre Dame de Bayeux, which dominates its centre.

It is even more famous for its renowned Bayeux tapestry . The tapestry was created to be displayed in the cathedral but now is enshrined in its climate-controlled museum. The tapestry is a must-see while you are visiting Bayeux!

There are also some excellent restaurants in town! La Rapier is one of the top-rated restaurants in Bayeux.

Our bed and breakfast hosts recommended that we make reservations here, and we were so glad that we did, as this ended up being one of our favourite meals in France.

We loved everything about our stay in Bayeux, from the friendly and kind local people to our time exploring the farmer’s market and from wandering the well-lit streets in the evening to sipping a cider on a restaurant patio at lunch.

It is a perfect place to visit in Normandy, with plenty of great places to stay in Bayeux catering for all budgets. A particular favourite among guests is Hotel Reine Mathilde .

northern france tourist destinations

Contributed by Elisa from Travel France Bucket List

Etretat  is a beautiful town on the Alabaster Coast in Normandy, Northern France.

It has beautiful architecture built in Anglo-Norman style, a pebble beach, a sea promenade, and a couple of interesting sites to keep you busy for a day or two.

Most of all, Etretat is world-known for its impressive chalky cliffs. This unique landscape was captured by many Impressionists’ paintings ‘en plein air’.

One such artist is Claude Monet, and it is possible to see the Etretat cliffs in 80 of Monet’s masterworks spread worldwide. 

For this reason, Etretat is a touristy place that sees crowds even in wintertime; however, the landscape is so unique that it is well worth visiting.

At One with Nature in Etretat

The list of interesting things to do in Etretat includes a stroll along the sea promenade to admire the cliffs, a lazy beach day, or a climb up to the little chapel Notre Dame de la Garde to admire the cliffs from another point of view.

However, my favourite place in Etretat is the Etretat Gardens, a mesmerising, neo-futuristic green space combining plants and plant sculptures with contemporary sculptures. 

In Etretat, don’t miss the opportunity of eating fresh fish or shellfish washed down with white wine or cider. It is an excellent place to eat Moules-Frites or Norman crêpes.

The best way to travel to Etretat is by train to Le Havre and then by local bus. Travel from Paris to Etretat is possible by a direct local bus in the summer. Dormy House is a good choice if you want somewhere to stay in Etretat.

northern france tourist destinations

Looking for More Beautiful Places to Visit in France? Please Read

16 Most Beautiful Places to Visit in the South of France

Giverny is a beautiful village in Northern France that is home to the sensational house and gardens of Claude Monet.

A trip to Normandy must include visiting the iconic artist’s famous Japanese water-lily gardens, the subject of some of his most well-known paintings.

Monet’s house is a riot of colour, from its pastel pink and green facade to the canary yellow dining room and sky-blue kitchen. But it is his two gardens that draw the crowds, and rightly so.

Monet’s first garden is Clos Normand , densely planted with flowers and plants from Europe and abroad.

This garden has no formality, and roses, honeysuckle and clematis climb the buildings and garden arches, ensuring a visit is quite magical.

The second garden is the Japanese water-lily garden – the inspiration for Monet’s classic paintings. Water lilies, a bamboo forest, weeping willows, and even a green bridge across the lake all contribute to Monet’s Japanese theme.

Giverny is a great place to visit on a day trip from Paris or as part of a road trip around the beautiful towns and villages of Northern France.

northern france tourist destinations

Contributed by Veronika from Jigsaw Puzzle Queen

Honfleur is a picturesque medieval port town in the North of Normandy, in the department of Calvados. It’s where the River Seine flows into the English Channel.

I only spent a day in Honfleur, as we visited it on a road trip through Brittany and Normandy. I would highly recommend anyone stop in this picturesque town, and should you want to stay overnight; a good choice would be Hotel Le Dauphin Les Loges .

Honfleur’s prominent landmarks are tall, narrow houses with slate-tiled roofs that line the harbour. They originate from the 17th-18th centuries – the time of the most significant development of the city.

It’s lovely to stroll along the quay and admire the buildings’ architecture and see their reflection in the water or stop at one of the many delicious seafront restaurants.

I also found the unique wooden church from the end of the 15th century fascinating. It’s called Église Ste-Catherine , and you can walk inside to admire the structure.

French Impressionism in Honfleur

Honfleur became popular among French artists of the 19th century, including the famous poet Charles Baudelaire and it is believed that Honfleur is where French Impressionism began.

You can see some fantastic artwork by French impressionists at the local museum Musée Eugène Boudin . Book a tour of Honfleur with a local tour guide to explore its charms.

In Northern France, you must try the local crêpe – the savoury version is made with buckwheat flour. One of the best crêpe bistros in Honfleur is Bistrot à crêpes , but you can pop into any Crêperie.

Since you’re right by the sea, you must have some oysters too!

We found a cute oyster bar on top of a boat with only a few seats and the owner running around barefoot. Look for a boat with the sign “Bar à Huîtres”; the oysters are fresh daily and taste delicious.

northern france tourist destinations

Contributed by Catherine from Her Bags Were Packed

After a traumatic couple of months, I was planning a work trip to France and grieving my father’s death. I knew I’d need to centre myself and recover from jet lag before being “professional,” so I didn’t want a list of attractions to distract and exhaust me. Craving rest, I googled “small towns in France” and stumbled upon Vernon in Normandy.

Arriving in Vernon by train, I was greeted by my Airbnb host, Evelyn. The French often get a bad rap for being rude and unfriendly, but Evelyn completely undid those stereotypes. My visit would not have been what it was without her incredible hospitality.

Vernon was the perfect destination for my “do-nothing” week because I could effortlessly take in the sights.

Two of the town’s most well-known landmarks, La Vieux-Moulin , a 16th-century mill, and Chateau des Tourelles , built in 1196 and one of the many fairytale castles in France , were a five-minute walk from Evelyn’s home.

I picked up my lunch at a delicious bakery, Boulangerie Bosquetup , across the street from both landmarks, and then ate and read my book just steps away from both, soaking in the sun and watching the swans float along the river.

Cycling Around Vernon

Visitors arriving by train need not worry about renting a car – I didn’t.

The town centre is small and walkable. To further explore the 13-square-mile town and its surroundings, rent an electric bike from Givernon Rental Station , across from the train station.

I rode to Monet’s Gardens along the River Seine, checked out Fleur de Seine Creperie , and explored Vernon’s picturesque architecture.

Whether you’re looking for an active few days or some serious R&R, Vernon is the beautiful and charming town in Northern France that you need to visit.

northern france tourist destinations

Want To Find Out About France’s Best Seaside Resorts?

Read my post: 9 most beautiful coastal destinations in france, mont st michel.

No visit to Northern France would be complete without visiting the iconic French landmark, Mont St Michel, situated on the Normandy/Brittany borders.

The fairytale medieval abbey sits on a tidal island and is immortalised in paintings and photographs. It is home to approximately 40 inhabitants, mainly nuns and monks, and it was one of Europe’s major pilgrimage sites for centuries. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

If the tide is out, reaching the abbey across the seabed is possible.

Make sure that you check daily tides before setting off, as you might find you can get there but are cut off for your return visit! It looks almost identical to St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall , so British visitors may feel they have seen it before!

We travelled to  Mont Saint-Michel from Paris by train in 1 hr 30 mins.

The train stops in Rennes, and you can take a direct shuttle coach bus to Mont Saint Michel. If you are holidaying on the Brittany coast, it will take one hour by road from Saint-Malo.


Why Not Also Check Out 11 Most Beautiful Towns in Eastern France

The most beautiful towns and villages in brittany.

Contributed by Breanne from Family Camping Europe

I was dubious when my husband first suggested Carnac in Brittany as our main summer holiday destination. Brittany? But isn’t it cold and miserable there? I’m pleased to say I couldn’t be more wrong. Staying at the beginning of September, we arrived in blistering heat and bright sunshine at our campsite. 

But it wasn’t just the weather that surprised us in this idyllic place. The campsite we stayed on, Camping Des Menhirs , was within easy walking distance of the fantastic sandy beach and the bustling town centre.

Like most seaside towns, Carnac is full of seafood restaurants, ice-cream parlours and striped t-shirt shops. Yet, something about it seemed way more upmarket than the many other French seaside towns we’ve visited. Perhaps it was the clean streets or the well-cared-for shop fronts?

We tried around seven restaurants in the town during our ten-day holiday, and whilst they were all good, our favourite was Le Cavok . The food was delicious, and they even gave us little blankets to put over ourselves when it got a little chilly in the evening.

Carnac’s Famous Stones

In addition to the stunning beach and charming town, Carnac is steeped in history. Perhaps the most famous thing about Carnac is its Neolithic standing stones , also known as Menhirs. The stones, erected between around 4500 BC and 2000 BC, bring tourists from around the globe.

Of course, we had to go and see them. We decided the best way to view them would be via the little Carnac tourist train.

I love tourist trains because they take you to where you want to go and give you a running commentary, too, so it’s a fantastic way to learn Carnac’s history. 

Overall, our stay in Carnac was incredible, and I believe it is one of the most charming towns in northern France. We loved it so much that we’ve decided to make it an annual holiday destination.

northern france tourist destinations

Contributed by Veronika from Travel Geekery

Locronan is one of the most beautiful towns in Northern France and appears frozen in time. You can find it in Brittany, in the département of Finistère, Châteaulin arrondissement.

Since the centre of Locronan’s development in the 16th to 18th centuries, no visible new construction has occurred there. The Locronan authorities have done the maximum to preserve that status, even hiding underground city cables! It’s no wonder that Locronan has become a popular site for filmmakers.

Locronan is also titled “ the flower town ” as there are flowers everywhere – on window sills and in flower pots scattered all around.

Historical Sights in Locronan

The majestic structure of the Church of Saint Ronan , built in the 15th century, dominates Locronan’s main square. Its distinct decorative elements are a prime example of the so-called Flamboyant Gothic style.

As is the case with most significant churches in the region, there’s a notable calvary, a depiction of Christ’s crucifixion, present on the church grounds and a cemetery.

Locronan is popular among both foreign travellers and locals. It shows by the number of shops selling traditional Breton biscuits and souvenirs. Many a tourist’s sweet tooth can be satisfied in one of the numerous chocolate shops or crêperies. 

We visited Locronan on a road trip through Brittany and Normandy after hiking on Brittany’s coast .

It was lovely to grab a cup of coffee in a typical local bar called “Ostaliri Ti Jos” and watch the buzz of the day. 

Latitude Ouest Hotel and Restaurant is a good choice if you are looking for overnight accommodation.

northern france tourist destinations

Contributed by Faith from XYUandBeyond

Rennes was a must-visit town for me when I travelled to Northern France. Known as a city of heritage and art , its historic centre has preserved its classical and medieval heritage with over 90 protected buildings, and I wanted to wander the ancient streets and see all those glorious coloured half-timbered houses for myself.

Rennes’ medieval centre around the Place Ste-Anne has around 286 incredible coloured half-timbered buildings. In 1720, a fire burnt down most of the city, but this area of cobbled streets and crooked houses was virtually untouched. 

You can visit the incredible Couvent des Jacobins (a former Dominican friary) or hang out in the square and people-watch.

A must-do is a visit to the Place des Lices where knights used to joust and which is now the location of one of France’s largest markets. Nearby you will find the remains of the Porte Mordelaise, the 15th-century gate into the central city.

A Creative and Culinary Hotspot

Rennes is famous for being one of  France’s  most lively cities, and every month, there is a festival celebrating something. Due to its large student population, Rennes has music and art events ranging from electronic music and Jazz to contemporary art and design. 

Rennes is where you come to if you are a food lover.

With its international reputation for a fantastic food scene, some must-eats include the Breton Galette, a savoury buckwheat pancake often stuffed with tartiflette, a type of scalloped potato, crêpes, the sweet version of the galette and, of course, washed down with the famous Breton Cidre.

Many of the restaurants around Place Ste-Anne square specialise in Breton dishes, and at the Creperie Sainte Anne , I enjoyed a galette stuffed with tartiflette – heaven on a plate.

northern france tourist destinations

Contributed by Victoria from Guide Your Travel

Saint-Pabu is a beautiful little coastal town located around 30 minutes from Brest. With only 2000 inhabitants, this is by no means a busy place and the perfect spot to escape the tourist crowds.

Most people come to Saint-Pabu for kite surfing or a camping vacation. La Clé des Champs is an insider tip for those looking for high-quality accommodation at affordable prices.

What makes Saint-Pabu so unique is its incredible beach. The water here looks more like that in the Maldives or a Caribbean island , and if you’re not yet convinced if Northern France should be your next destination for a beach vacation, then this seascape will persuade you to go.

You’ll love the white-sand beach and the shallow waters, which are perfect for families or couples. Saint Pabu is not the place to go for nightlife, but if you appreciate peace and quiet and an experience close to nature, you’ll love it here.

Beach Activities in Saint-Pabu

Explore the dunes, go kayaking or paddleboarding and enjoy the incredible French coastline. Saint-Pabu is small and hasn’t been overrun by tourists yet, so life here is still very similar to what it was fifty years ago.

The town used to be a fishing village and has transformed into a beautiful place to relax and unwind.

For a truly authentic French experience, stop by the Ruzven restaurant and pub . Located right by the main beach with fantastic views, this little rustic restaurant is the perfect way to immerse yourself in the local culture and try some of the  best snacks and foods from Brittany .

northern france tourist destinations

Don’t forget that if you are a UK resident and holidaying in France, you can now shop Tax-Free !

The most beautiful towns and villages in hautes de france.

Contributed by Elisa from World in Paris

Chantilly is a good option if you want a picturesque town to visit in Northern France. It is located 45 km north of Paris, in the region of Hauts de France.

Because of its excellent train connections with the French capital and its various tourist attractions, Chantilly is considered one of the easiest and  best day trips from Paris .

Chantilly is home to the Château de Chantilly , a fairytale castle with magnificent rooms and halls to explore. I especially like the château’s artwork collection (the second most important in France, only after the Louvre Museum) and the beautiful library and lecture room.

The château is surrounded by magnificent French-style gardens designed by André Le Notre, and when I visit Chantilly, I always like to have a picnic in the gardens. However, the restaurant inside the castle always has good ratings for a more relaxed lunch. 

Chantilly Horse Riding

The Great Stables are also fascinating to visit. Louis-Henri de Bourbon commissioned this spectacular building for his 200 horses and 500 hounds, and it is as magnificent and impressive as the château.

Today the Great Stables hosts one of the world’s most prestigious horse training centres and the Chantilly Horse Museum , with a daily horse performance (in the morning) under the building’s central dome. 

Chantilly is world-known for its Chantilly Racecourse , founded in 1834, which hosts today two of the most prestigious France Galop races: the Prix du Jockey-Club and the Prix de Diane Longines.

During my visits to Chantilly, I have never seen any of these races, but the racecourse is spectacular even when empty.

northern france tourist destinations

Contributed by Nichola from Family Hotel Expert

Hardelot is the perfect northern French town – full of charm and with the most beautiful beach.

Situated just 8 miles south of Boulogne, it is a peaceful getaway with everything you need for a great stay here. We visited with kids, and it is the perfect destination for  family holidays in northern France . 

We decided on Hardelot as our base for a trip exploring the Opal Coast, which looked idyllic with a vast stretch of sandy beach and quaint little town.

Staying in the Hotel du Parc , which was packed full of leisure facilities, was a great retreat at the end of long days out sightseeing.

The town has some great history – an Englishman, John Robinson Whitley, bought a castle and some land here and wanted to develop the area as a leisure resort. King George V even visited. Extensively bombed during the Second World War after the Nazis took over the town, today it has been rebuilt and has a natural seaside feel.

We loved the ice-cream-coloured beach huts that line the promenade, and it felt much less crowded than many usual French seaside resorts. It is the spot to try out outdoor pursuits; windsurfing is particularly prominent here, along with golf and tennis.

There are plenty of patisseries to pick up pastries and little restaurants dotted about the town. The real reason to come here is the outstanding beach that feels like a breath of fresh air. We loved our time here and can’t wait to return.

northern france tourist destinations

Le Touquet is a seaside resort in Northern France that I have visited with friends and family on many occasions.

Referred to as “ Jardin de la Manche “, Garden of the English Channel, it is just south of Boulogne .  The white sandy beach is enormous and continues further than the eye can see, meaning you always have plenty of space to yourself.

Grassy dunes with walking routes line the beach should you fancy stretching your legs to explore the shoreline.

But Le Touquet is so much more than just a French beach destination . Its town has restaurants and bars galore, serving regional and international dishes. Cute bars serve cold beers and are a place to people-watch.

Rue Saint-Jean is the central place to find shops, including fashion boutiques, trendy artisan stores, tempting bakeries, and mouth-watering chocolatiers, not forgetting Kokoa – Le Touquet’s best artisan ice-cream store. Be aware that parking in town is terrible, so you may need to find a space on the outskirts and walk into town.

While much of Le Touquet was rebuilt in the ’60s, you can still see several unique preserved villas from the 1920s when Le Touquet was the place to be seen by the Paris jet set.

Outdoor Activities in Le Touquet

Golfers will be impressed by Le Touquet’s golf course and its luxurious Le Manoir Hotel , while wind-surfers and kite-surfers will enjoy taking to the waters.

Horse riders will find several riding schools in the area, and children and adults alike will love Le Petit Train, which takes you around town. Further out of town Le Touquet has a beautiful pine forest with an expanse of walking and cycling lanes.

A nice place to stay in Le Touquet is Hotel Gaspard , a 2-star hotel with 4-star reviews located opposite the beach.

northern france tourist destinations

Saint Valery-sur-Somme

Contributed by Suzanne from The Travel Bunny

Saint Valery-sur-Somme is an utterly charming medieval town in  northern France . Just 75 minutes by car from Calais, the town is on the coast, near the mouth of the River Somme.

The town has a pretty outlook over the Baie de la Somme , with colourful fishing and sailing boats moored in the harbour. We spent a day exploring the town’s medieval alleyways, ramparts, riverside walks and colourful boutiques and restaurants.  

William the Conqueror assembled his fleet at Saint Valery-sur-Somme before sailing to England’s south coast and defeating King Harold at the historic battle in 1066. Saint Valery-sur-Somme is twinned with Battle in East Sussex, the site of the Battle of Hastings. As we live nearby, we were keen to see the twinned town. 

There’s a rich history in Saint Valery-sur-Somme. Joan of Arc was imprisoned here the night before being taken to Rouen and burned at the stake. The ruins of her cell, the ancient town walls, ramparts and towers can still be seen.

Explore the Old Sailor’s Quarter

My favourite thing was to wander through the old sailors’ quarter, the ‘ Courtgain ‘ (which means small salary). The cobbled alleyways lined with fishermen’s cottages adorned with colourful flowers and half-timbered buildings are incredibly quaint.  

I’d also recommend a stroll along the harbourside, lined with brasseries, cafes and bars. Check out the impressive villas – Victor Hugo, Jules Verne and Dégas once lived in the town.  

The food market is on Wednesdays and Saturdays, where you’ll pick up some excellent local produce. Try a local favourite like Ficelle Picarde , a delicious crêpe dish made with ham, mushrooms and cream. Seafood is abundant with mussels grown on wooden poles in the sea.

You’ll find freshly caught fish on the menu at family-run restaurant Le Mathurin where the day’s catch dictates the dish du jour.  

northern france tourist destinations

The Most Beautiful Town in Lorraine

Contributed by Tegan from Why Not Walk Travel Guides

Metz is tucked away in northeastern France’s Lorraine region, a delightful town sometimes known as “the Bride of France.” We visited Metz as part of a road trip from Paris through the Loire Valley to Strasbourg , and Metz was a definite highlight of the trip.

Perhaps best known for its Gothic cathedral , Metz is full of historical places to explore. From the Gare de Metz-Ville, built for transporting Kaiser Wilhelm II’s soldiers during World War I, to the historic Place Saint-Louis , which features architecture dating back to the 14th century.

The Porte des Allemands towers date back to medieval times and is open to the public, and the Église Saint-Pierre-aux-Nonnains , the oldest church in France (dating back to 390 CE!)

Beautiful Views from Temple Neuf

You can’t miss strolling along the river, admiring the charming architecture along its banks, and visiting the Esplanade park.

Don’t miss the view of the picturesque Temple Neuf , located on the small Île du Petit-Saulcy in the middle of the river.

Metz is an eminently walkable city with green spaces, walking paths, and narrow cobblestoned streets galore.

Maybe you prefer to bike, and if so, Metz has reinvented itself recently as a major biking hub , which we enjoyed while there.

If you want to spend longer than one day in Metz, La Citadelle Metz MGallery is an up-market hotel in the heart of the city.

Be sure to grab a bite to eat at the Covered Market between Tuesday and Saturday.

You will find a splendid variety of stalls selling bread, cheese, charcuterie, and other local delicacies.

Check out the small cafes and eateries serving Lorraine’s regional specialities and international options like pizza or sandwiches. Metz is also a great place to try Quiche Lorraine , the region’s best-known dish. 

northern france tourist destinations

Want to continue this road trip from Metz? Check Out the 11 Most Beautiful Towns in Eastern France to Visit on a Road Trip

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northern france tourist destinations

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Faith Coates

Tuesday 23rd of February 2021

Love this and since I am currently in N. France under curfew (sigh) I am hanging onto this post so I can visit all these lovely places. I had no idea there were so many, but I should have known as every time I do manage to get out the beauty of N. France is just jaw dropping. I think I'm going to have a very busy spring and summer.


I am glad you found the post useful. There are certainly a few more places I need to check out in the future. The beach at St Pabu for one!


Northern France things to do and 23 Incredibly beautiful places to visit

Northern France things to do and 23 Incredibly beautiful places to visit

Northern France things to do and 23 incredibly beautiful places to visit

Northern France tends to be rather unknown by North American tourists, most will come to France to see Paris or the WWII memorials on the Normandy beaches or perhaps the lavender fields of Provence.

The British and Europeans know many of the secrets of north France but for many non-Europeans, it is not a traditional vacation but once you visit the towns of Northern France you will find it hard not to fall in love with the area. The northern region of France has much to offer from its incredibly rich natural forests and parks to its outstanding historical heritage.

flowers in underrated destinations in Europe

If you are a first-time visitor to France remember to plan your visit carefully you can get carried away trying to visit all the places you have read about. From ancient medieval villages like Dinan and great historic works of art like the Bayeux Tapestry, northern France has a lot to see and do.

Northern France encompasses the regions of Hauts de France, Normandy, and Brittany. Where I’m based these days housesitting is right on the border of Normandy and Brittany in the Mayenne so I get to scope out all the best things to see in this region. With a little help from my travel writer friends, we have picked out some of the best places to visit in Northern France.

Let the road trip of north France begin and here are our picks of the best places in Northern France and my personal northern France highlights.

Northern France map

23 places to visit in northern france, getting to the hauts de france, cap gris nez and cap blanc nez, château de pierrefonds, battle of the somme, getting to normandy, mont st. michel, normandy beaches, getting to brittany,  st. malo, fougères , vitré, côte de granit rose  .

Northern France things to do and 23 Incredibly beautiful places to visit

Hauts de France

The Hauts-de-France region is located in the most northern region of France to the north of Paris. This area is also the closest to England and much of it is along the border of Belgium.

There is much to see in the northern area of France from Amiens along the white sand beaches and chalk cliffs similar to Dover all along what is called the Opal Coast. The Bay of Somme is a birdwatcher’s paradise, this area (if you remember your history) was the side of some brutal WWI battles and is home to several major monuments and military cemeteries.

Amiens, France - May 30 2020: The Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Amiens (French: Basilique Cathédrale Notre-Dame d'Amiens), or simply Amiens Cathedral, is a Roman Catholic church.

This region was of paramount importance during the first world war. Most Canadians learned of Vimy Ridge in their history classes. Its capture was essential to the advances by the British Third Army to the south and of exceptional importance to checking the German attacks in the area in 1918.

Hauts-de-France has six Gothic cathedrals and 23 belfries that are on the UNESCO World Heritage list throughout the region. Don’t forget to make a stop in Lille, Amiens, Beauvais and Dunkirk, Check out the castles at Chantilly, Compiegne and Pierrefonds and the incredible medieval towns and villages along your route.

Northern France things to do and 23 Incredibly beautiful places to visit

The Hauts de France region is about a 2-hour drive from Paris but you can get there by train easily from Paris from the Gare du Nord station. Driving is easy either from Paris or if you get to France by Ferry you may arrive in Calais via boat from Dover. There are also ferries from Dover to Dunkirk.

Northern France things to do and 23 Incredibly beautiful places to visit

The best places to visit in the Hauts de France

The garden of Monet in Giverny is amongst the most beautiful places to visit in Northern France! Claude Monet, the famous French impressionist painter, lived with his family in a beautiful house in the little town of Giverny in Normandy from 1883. Over the years he created a garden around it that will become a real piece of art and an important source of inspiration for his work.

Having seen the beauty of Monet’s paintings, Giverny has always been on my bucket list! I visited it during the summer of 2020 and it didn’t disappoint! I totally understand why it’s the second most popular tourist site in Normandy (after Mont-Saint-Michel). The garden is enchanting and full of flowers: it was even more beautiful than in my imagination!

Northern France things to do and 23 Incredibly beautiful places to visit

Monet’s garden is divided into two parts. The first one, in front of the house, is the “Clos Normand”. The Clos Normand is a flower garden of around 1 hectare. The main alley leading to the house is especially picturesque with its metallic arches covered and lined with flowers. The second part is the “Japanese garden”, a water garden located on the other side of the road. Some water lilies are blooming on the pond in summer: a feast for the eyes! This is what inspired the iconic “Nymphéas”.

You can also visit the house of Claude Monet. I was pleasantly surprised by the colours of the place! The house is furnished and full of objects from the time Monet was living here. Once you have visited the house, you can walk around the charming village of Giverny and visit the pretty neighbouring town of Vernon. Le Bistrot des Fleurs is a great traditional French bistro in Vernon. Address: 73 Rue Sadi Carnot. Recommended by Ophelie of Limitlesssecrets.

One of the most beautiful cities in northern France is the picturesque Metz. This lovely city is located in the northeast of the country, close to the border with Germany and Luxembourg. It is well worth a visit, as you will have the opportunity to explore many magnificent sights and places. The charming old town of Metz, the wonderful gardens, the beautiful location on the Moselle and of course the excellent French restaurants and patisseries are just some of the top attractions you will experience on a city trip

The city is beautifully situated directly on the Moselle River, where a bridge connects to the island of Saulcy. Here you will discover beautiful 18th-century buildings and enjoy an authentic French ambience. Especially in the summer months, tourists and locals alike stroll along the riverbank, have a picnic or take a romantic boat trip on the beautiful river.

Northern France things to do and 23 Incredibly beautiful places to visit

One of the best things to do in Metz is a visit to the cathedral. It is the main attraction and one of the most beautiful and largest Gothic churches in France. Exploring the cathedral of Metz – Saint-Étienne is also worthwhile from the inside, where you can discover many art treasures. 

For a leisurely break, you should visit Place Saint-Jacques, which is known by locals and tourists for its many nice cafés and restaurants. Here you can enjoy delicious coffee with a grand view of the hustle and bustle. 

All in all, the city of Metz is really something special. It has a lot of historical charm, a long history and is definitely one of the most beautiful cities to visit in France! Recommended by PlacesofJuma

Cap Gris Nez and Cap Blanc Nez are two magnificent places where you can really enjoy the vastness of the landscape in Northern France. These two viewpoints located close to Calais and Boulogne-sur-Mer are one of the only places where you can actually see Great Britain in the distance, only when there’s a clear sky of course.

What I believe makes these locations so unique is not only the view but also the enormous limestone cliffs! At Cap Blanc-Nez there’s even a beach where you can enjoy the sunny weather as well. Although the weather here might be less warm than in the South of France, the region is definitely as beautiful! I’m sure you’ll be blown away by the beauty of these landscapes!

Northern France things to do and 23 Incredibly beautiful places to visit

At both Cap Gris Nez and Cap Blanc Nez you’ll have plenty of parking spots to park your car. The region is also perfect to discover by motorbike as the landscape and little roads are wonderful. Hiking is another beloved activity and the small villages you’ll encounter on your way will for sure charm you. Both viewpoints are carefully maintained and attract many tourists, in particular in summer. If you want to have these places all to yourself, I recommend going off-season, when there’s less of a crowd.

If you have plenty of time, it is also worthwhile to visit the nearby Boulogne-sur-Mer for its wonderful aquarium Nausicaa. After seeing the vastness of the sea from the two viewpoints, it’s a great experience to discover what lives under the sea as well! Contributed by Emma of Emma’s Road Map .

The Château de Pierrefonds is a stunning castle in the Pierrefonds commune of France and carries the historical remnants of a Middle-Age defensive architectural structure. The village itself is nestled on the edge of the Forest of Compiegne, and home to a beautiful lake where you can hire a pedalo boat, a charming town square, and a heartfelt memorial at the Place de l’Hôtel-de-Ville to remember the nurses who died during WWI.

There is also the impressive Church of Saint-Sulpice, a beautiful 11th-century church that was reconstructed in the 13th century to showcase some gothic elements. Meanwhile, the upper belltower carries traces of Renaissance architecture. Exploring the different parts of the church, I could almost imagine myself exploring through these different time periods.

Northern France things to do and 23 Incredibly beautiful places to visit

Of course, the beating heart of Pierrefonds is none other than the Château de Pierrefonds. I truly feel that it’s among the most impressive castles in all of Picardy. With imposing spires and towers, its history is a fascinating one spanning from the 12th century to Napoléon III’s time in the late 1800s.

I really enjoyed exploring the huge salons, donjon, and chapel, as well as walking around the gorgeous parapet, where a view of the lake and village awaits. More interestingly, the castle has been used as a film set for many popular movies and series, including the recent Merlin show.

Pierrefonds is also very close to Paris and an excellent destination to add to your trip to the capital. Hop on the hourly train from Gare du Nord, then catch the bus from Compiègne to Pierrefonds. Or you can simply drive there in less than an hour! Recommended by Cazzy of Dream Big, Travel Far

I’m sure you have heard of Chantilly lace a song by the Big Bopper in the 1950s, well Chantilly lace is a real thing and has decorated many a wedding gown. You can tour the Musée de la Dentelle (Museum of Lace) where you can see demonstrations of this famous lace being created and a history of who wore it when.

Chantilly is also the birthplace of Chantilly Cream which the myth says was created by the chef Vatel for a party for the Duc de Condé, and his cousin Louis XIV at the Chateau de Chantilly.  However, the truth is that the recipe for whipped frothy cream goes back much further, but it became known as Chantilly for being served to the King.

Château de Chantilly is one of the most beautiful castles near Paris built in the 16th century for the House of Montmorency and later owned by the princes of Condé, cousins of the King of France. The château has a beautiful library and an important collection of French artwork. The surrounding gardens were designed by Le Notre, who also created the gardens at Versailles.

Northern France things to do and 23 Incredibly beautiful places to visit

The Prince of Condé was horse mad and in the 17th century, he had Les Grandes Ecuries (the Grand Stables) built. Since that time Chantilly has become renowned for being home to the largest horse racing and training facility in France. Les Grandes Écuries hosts the Horse Museum and also a prestigious centre of dressage.

The Castle of Pierrefonds is situated on the southeast edge of the Forest of Compiègne. It was built in the 14th century, by Louis d’Orléans, the brother of Charles VI, but in the 17th century is was destroyed and forgotten until Napoléon I bought it and it was Napoléon III who appointed the Architect Viollet-le-Duc for its restoration.

Sadly, Hauts-de-France also hosts a large number of battlefields, war cemeteries and memorials of WWI and WWI. During the First World War, the Battle of the Somme lasted four and a half months during which more than one million men and women lost their lives.

Northern France things to do and 23 Incredibly beautiful places to visit

The Armistice which marked the end of the First World War was signed in the Forest of Compiègne, and you can visit the railway carriage where the armistice was signed. There is a Remembrance Trail, which is a walking route linking Albert and Péronne which takes you through the footsteps of the men of WWI through the battlefields and cemeteries and the memorials that mark their sacrifices on the Western Front.

When I lived in England (yes many years ago) shopping in Calais was the perfect day out and we would come home loaded with French wine, cheese, bread and other items we couldn’t find in London and the journey only took around 2 hours.

Calais has a fabulous beach that many French holidays at as an escape from Paris. Make sure you check out the gorgeous architecture of the Town Hall and its belfry it is a mix of Neo-Renaissance and Flemish styles and was constructed in 1911. The Halls bell tower is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

This is where Charles De Gaulle was married in the building’s wedding hall back in 1921 in a civil ceremony. You will also spot a Rodin statue in front of the Town Hall

Northern France things to do and 23 Incredibly beautiful places to visit

The statue commemorates Les Bourgeois de Calais (the Burghers of Calais, six brave men of the city who in 1347 offered themselves as hostages to the English, who were besieging the city, to spare the townspeople from a massacre. In the event, their lives were spared by the English king Edward III after the intervention of his wife Philippa of Hainault.  

Things to do in Northern France – Normandy

Normandy is a charming region just north of Paris. It’s both a rural and seaside area famous for producing excellent cheeses, apple and pear cider, and seafood, such as scallops, mussels, and oysters. The quality of the cuisine of Normandy makes it a must-visit area if you’re a foodie.

Normandy is of course where many tourists come to see the WWII battlefields, the Beaches of Normandy and the memorials. You will also travel through several smaller Northern France towns with many a memorial to Liberation Day in 1945. The North of France bears many scars from WWII and many villages will have central village squares which commemorate the liberation. The small village I am near has named the central square the Place du Mai which commemorates the liberation of Lassay les Chateaux on that date in 1945.

You can get to Normandy via ferry from several ports in the UK or Ireland and there are domestic flight airports. If you are coming from the USA, Canada or further away you are probably going to come to Paris. From Paris, you can take a train, bus or rent a car to see Normandy.

Places you should visit in Normandy

Bayeaux is a must-visit for those captivated by history. A chance to see the great Bayeaux Tapestry which hangs in the Bayeaux Museum is a bucket list stop for me. This incredible 70-metre long work of art tells the story of William the Conqueror , Duke of Normandy and the Battle of 1066 when he became King of England

While it is possible that the Tapestry was designed by men the work would all have been carried out by the superb women embroiders at the time. Only women did this kind of work and the Tapestry was made in England and paints a point of view from the French or rather the winning side in that eponymous battle

BAYEUX, FRANCE - FEB 12: Detail of the Bayeux Tapestry depicting the Norman invasion of England in the 11th Century on February 12, 2013. This tapestry is more than 900 years old, no property release is required.

Cathédrale Notre Dame is a spectacular Gothic cathedral dating from the 13th century although the crypt there dates back to the 11th century. It has some stunning stained-glass windows that commemorate the sacrifice of the allied forces during the World Wars. You can also visit many of the WWII landing sites, memorials and cemeteries that can be found around Bayeaux.

The Port of Honfleur couldn’t be any prettier. The brightly coloured half-timbered buildings along the quays are full of restaurants, cafes, art galleries and speciality shops Honefleur literally sparkles.

Honfleur is also the port from which Champlain sailed on his voyage to discover Canada and found Quebec. Champlain set up a very lucrative trade for the shipping barons of Honfleur which included cod fishing off the coast of Newfoundland.  

Northern France things to do and 23 Incredibly beautiful places to visit

Honfleur is extremely proud of its Impressionist roots – Claude Monet’s mentor Eugène Boudin was born in the town, and Monet and his fellow painters would often set up their easels at the Ferme Saint-Siméon on the hill above Honfleur, to capture the beautiful light of the Seine estuary. 

A visit to Northern France is not complete without seeing Rouen , the largest city in the Normandy region and located on the banks of the Seine river. The city is historic and the site where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake also has cultural treasures to visit like the historic city centre. You can easily walk around the historic district and find lots of wonderful architectural sites in the city centre.

This includes ornate buildings like the main cathedral, public square and treasures like the Musee de Beaux-Arts, Eglise Saint Maciou, Abbey Saint-Ouen, the Renaissance clock, Palais de Justice, the many pedestrian streets and even the gorgeous gardens around Rouen. If shopping and dining is your thing then it is easy to wander around the historic district with fabulous shopping and dining venues in the city to explore and enjoy the many promenades in town.

Northern France things to do and 23 Incredibly beautiful places to visit

You can actually do an easy day trip to Rouen by train from Paris or an overnight stay. If you want to explore more of the city and region and away from the crowds and noise of Paris, then a longer visit to explore the wonderful streets, architecture and other historic treasures and museums make this a worthwhile visit in the Normandy region of France. You can reach Rouen by car in about two hours and slightly longer by train so either a day trip or longer stay to visit other towns and landscapes in Normandy makes it an easy getaway from the Paris bustle and tourist crowds. Contributed by Noel of Oahu Travel Now .

Mont St Michel is one of those iconic places that tourists to Northern France put on their bucket lists. Mont Saint-Michel is not a castle but it certainly arises out of the sea as if it was.

Mont Saint Michel is located on a small island just off the coast of Normandy and is a stunning UNESCO World Heritage site. Mont St Michel is not a castle it is a medieval Abbey and village constructed over 1300 years on a tiny island surrounded by the sea.

Mont Saint Michele at dusk France

Located on the coast of Lower Normandy Mont-Saint-Michel is in the Manche département, Normandy region. Approximately 41 miles (66 km) north of Rennes and 32 miles (52 km) east of Saint-Malo and around 4 hours from Paris. When you first catch sight of the Mont you will spot ramparts that circle the island and a 3 tiered assembly of buildings from the 13th century known as La Merveille (The Wonder) that rise up to the abbey’s pointed spire.

Only 350 or so steps to reach the Abbey and when you get there the entry ticket will cost €10 euros.

Before the world closed down Normandy was one of the most visited places in France during the month of June. Naturally, most tourists divided their time between a visit to Paris and other locations such as Provence but many American tourists specifically come to France to pay their respects to family members who fought and those who died on the Normandy Beaches during WWII.

D-Day and the Battle of Normandy were predominantly fought in the areas of Calvados, Manche and Orne, and it is here that you will find the many memorials, cemeteries and museums that commemorate what happened.

Northern France things to do and 23 Incredibly beautiful places to visit

The D-Day Landing Beaches extend over 70km from Sainte-Marie-du-Mont to Ouistreham, via Colleville-sur-Mer and Arromanches-les-Bains. 

A wonderful location that’s a must-see in Normandy is Etretat. This picturesque location is a place I visited with my boyfriend during a Spring road trip and it was the highlight of the whole trip! 

Etretat is famously known for the pretty white cliffs that make up the 130km long Alabaster Coast from Dieppe to Le Harve. These white cliffs can be explored from above along the walking routes, else head down to the pebbled beach to see them from below. If exploring from below, climb through the cave if you dare, allowing you to reach the other side and explore with fewer people.

Northern France things to do and 23 Incredibly beautiful places to visit

We did this in time for sunset which we loved being below the cliffs during sunset, which made the location very romantic! Just keep in mind and check the tides of the sea, as it’s possible you can get stuck here during high tide!

The town of Etretat is also lovely, with some delicious restaurants selling local fish dishes as well as popular typical places selling pizzas, chicken and pasta dishes. There are many local boutiques to shop from when not eating, whether you want a souvenir or something cute for yourself. I didn’t buy anything myself, but sure did eat lots of delicious food here! 

Our recommendation for a place to stay is Hotel Dormy House. It’s perfect for those visiting by car and only a 10minute walk from the town centre of Etretat. They have panoramic views with the cliffs and the little Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde church at the top. Contributed by Zoe of Together in Transit.

While it is quite famous amongst the french, Deauville is still relatively off the beaten path for the average tourist in France (but it shouldn’t be). Located on the coast of Normandy, Deauville is a very popular beach town/resort for the rich and famous. If you are looking to spot French celebrities then this is the place to go. Not only is it the place to be seen during a weekend getaway from Paris, but Deauville is also one of the nicest beaches you will find in Northern France. I like to call it Paris’ Riviera.

Northern France things to do and 23 Incredibly beautiful places to visit

I somewhat accidentally discovered this beautiful place when I was invited by a friend of a friend to come along and I am so glad I did! Deauville is all about relaxing in style. The main things to do here are to get dressed up and head to a casino, be trackside at a horse race, go shopping at the designer boutiques lining the streets, eat some amazing food and of course, make sure to enjoy the beach itself. If you are feeling a little more active I recommend renting a bike and exploring the whole harbour on two wheels. It’s perfect for a warm summer afternoon!

While you are experiencing the glamorous life of the upper-class Parisians, you have to try some Mussels! A lot of restaurants sell them but you can’t get more authentic than trying some at the Hippodrome Deauville La Touques or simply along the beach. We also ate at Cocotte Cafe which had some delicious options to satisfy my appetite after a long day of relaxing. Recommended by Yulia from Miss Tourist.

Things to do in Northern France – Brittany

La Bretagne (which is Brittany in English) is one of the most visited Northern France regions complete with deep secretive forests, historical cities, rich culture, fabulous food and imbued with Celtic legends. Located in North-Western France Brittany is an immensely popular destination for both British visitors and where many ex-pats move to live in France.

Brittany’s landscape is dotted with picturesque medieval villages , and Disneyesque fairy tale chateaus all set in verdant green landscapes. The views range from stunning craggy coastlines to sweet white sandy beaches and pristine forests.

Northern France things to do and 23 Incredibly beautiful places to visit

A land of Celtic myths and legends the area has a fascinating history entwined with Celtic groups from Cornwall , Wales and of course the Breton culture of Canada.

The Brittany region offers endless sightseeing opportunities and authentic local experiences. Plan your trip with our list of the top attractions and best places to visit in Brittany.

You can get to Brittany by plane and the two major airports are Brest and Rennes. Flights come into these airports from London, Manchester, Dublin, Southampton, Manchester, or Exeter.

From London, visitors from the UK can get to the Gare du Nord in 2 hours 20 minutes by Eurostar. Then, to continue their journey, Brittany has an excellent rail high-speed rail service from Parison the TGV Atlantique train.

Brittany is well connected with the UK and Ireland through the ports of Roscoff and St-Malo. The ferry companies serving these destinations are Brittany Ferries and Condor Ferries.

Rennes in Northern France was a must-visit for me as I wanted to wander the ancient streets with all those glorious coloured half-timbered houses. Known as a city of heritage and art its historic centre has preserved its classical and medieval heritage with over 90 protected buildings. 

Place Ste. Anne is the very heart of the old town of Rennes and a favourite spot for photographers and Instagram influencers the medieval centre around the Place Ste-Anne holds around 286 incredible coloured half-timbered buildings. In 1720 there was a fire that burnt down most of the city but this area of cobbled streets and crooked houses was re-built.

Northern France things to do and 23 Incredibly beautiful places to visit

Off the Place Sainte-Anne, you will see the rue Saint-Michel which is nicknamed the Road of Thirst because there are dozens of bars all along the street which are frequented by the many students who make their home in Rennes. On the Rue Saint-Michel, you will note there is a bar every 7 metres which is a French record. A small cobbled street that has existed since the Middle ages it is home to 13 bars and the place to hang out in the evening in Rennes. 

In Rennes, you will find everything from fabulous museums, opera and theatre along with gorgeous parks, amazing architecture and medieval history. Oh, and the food of Brittany is served to perfection here in Rennes.

St. Malo dates back to the 1 st  century B.C. under Roman control, taking its name from a 6 th- century abbey, and the inhabitants even considered themselves “Malouines” rather than Bretons. Long sandy beaches sweep east from the old town to the district of Rothéneuf. Here you’ll find the former house of one of St Malo’s most famous sons, Jacques Cartier, who discovered Canada and the 15th-century Manoir de Limoëlou house a fascinating museum dedicated to the explorer.

Aerial view of the beautiful city of Privateers - Saint Malo in Brittany, France

The city’s pirates wreaked havoc on shipping in the 18th and 19th centuries. The town was made an Asylum town in the 12th century, making it the perfect safe haven for pirates and privateers. They lived like gentlemen in the town but ranged the seas and oceans robbing and raiding.

In 1944 the Allies all but bombed the walled city into rubble. The result was that Saint-Malo has been rebuilt in bits and pieces, with some reconstructed timbered structures alongside faux-Neoclassic and modern architecture. You can walk around the walls of the city and definitely visit the 12th-century Cathedral of St. Vincent (whose 15th-century steeple was destroyed in 1944 by Allied bombing and took three decades to restore).

Fougères owes its origin to its imposing castle, installed over a thousand years ago on a rocky outcrop surrounded by the waters of the Nançon river which served as a natural moat.

The town falls into two distinct halves, with the Chateau de Fougeres and the Medieval Quarter being in the lower town and quite high above is the upper town which has been largely rebuilt following a fire in the 18th century.

Northern France things to do and 23 Incredibly beautiful places to visit

The medieval old town sprung up to the south of the castle around the River Nançon whose waters were used by the cloth-makers, dyers and tanners; tanning was a by-product of cattle breeding, which was a major industry in the surrounding area. The prettiest and most atmospheric part of the old town is Place du Marchix, which is lined with half-timbered houses.

These days the main part of Fougères is the upper town, which overlooks the castle. On the main shopping street, Rue Nationale, you’ll see a 14th-century belfry, which is the oldest one in Brittany. The Belfry  of Fougères is the first to be built in Brittany, in 1397.

Northern France things to do and 23 Incredibly beautiful places to visit

At the far end of this street is St Léonard’s church whose bell tower is open to the public in summer and offers fabulous views over the castle and surrounding area; at other times of the year, the views from the adjacent gardens are almost as good. You can also see the stunning Theatre Victor Hugo whose Belle Epoque architecture looks like a wedding cake.

Vitré has it all 15th and 16th-century half-timbered buildings, cobblestone streets, medieval gates, stone cottages built into the slopes and a fairytale castle.  Dating from the 13 th century the castle has pointed turrets and these days houses a museum where you can learn about the history of the area and admire a collection of 19th-century curiosities.

Northern France things to do and 23 Incredibly beautiful places to visit

Vitré’s most famous resident was Mme de Sévigné, known for her letter-writing, who spent a lot of time at the Château des Rochers-Sévigné on the outskirts of town when not in Paris. The manor now houses a museum, which displays objects from her life, and don’t forget to explore the superb garden designed by Le Nôtre, the man who created the gardens at Versailles.

One of the most beautiful places in Brittany in the North of France is the Côte de Granit Rose or the Pink Granite Coast. It is a remarkable area filled with pink sand and rock formations. 

The Côte de Granit Rose extends for more than 20 kilometers from Plestin-les-Grèves to Louannec. The best way to appreciate these unique pink rock formations is to hike by the coast. 

There are several trails along the coast, but the best place to hike the Côte de Granit Rose and where we opted to hike is in the Côtes-d’Armor in the Perros-Guirec Municipality. 

Northern France things to do and 23 Incredibly beautiful places to visit

This is an easy 5km hike passing through beautiful landscapes sculpted by erosion. Along the trail, there are several charming beaches like Plage de la Bastille and La Plage Saint Guirec. Plus a cute lighthouse, Phare de Men Ruz, which was our favourite part of the trail. Along the way, there are several spots to grab a bite or have a picnic.

The area of the Côte de Granit Rose also has great beaches to sunbathe with unique pink sand. We recommend two famous beaches Plage Trestraou and Plage Trestrignel. By Cláudia & Jorge From Travel drafts

Mention Cancale to any foodie and they will immediately think oysters. Famed for its breathtaking views over the Baie du Mont-Saint-Michel Cancale produces over 15,000 tons of oysters a year. At La Ferme Marine which is a family-run business, you can visit an exhibition of shellfish and see the oyster farmers at work.

Northern France things to do and 23 Incredibly beautiful places to visit

Surrounding Cancale’s port La Houle you can try the king of shellfish literally pulled just from the sea and eat watching the waves. Book a cooking lesson at the Culinary School of Olivier Roellinger a retired 3 Michelin starred Chef.

You will also find some great walks along Brittany’s coast and some fabulous beaches.

Dinan is an incredibly well preserved medieval town set on the River Dance and it managed to escape much of the damage caused by WWII. Many of its buildings date back over 700 years.

A wonderful town for a stroll you can take a long walk around the ramparts and enjoy the narrow streets filled with the wonky half-timbered buildings on the Place des Merciers.

Northern France things to do and 23 Incredibly beautiful places to visit

Plenty of outdoor cafes with terraces can be enjoyed for food and drink. The Old Quarter Clock tower provides amazing views if you can take the 158 stairs up. There is a Rail Museum for those who love model trains. If you are in town on a Thursday go and enjoy the outdoor market which has been here for hundreds of years at Place Duguesclin.

Dinard is a seaside resort on the Emerald Coast and is famous for its Belle Époque architecture and over 407 listed villas. A favourite beachside holiday for the British in the 19 th century and today Dinard is famous for its mild climate and beautiful beaches.

Northern France things to do and 23 Incredibly beautiful places to visit

There are beautiful walks along the bottom of the cliffs or you can stroll like the Victorians taking the sea air along the Promenade au Clair-de-lune to admire those incredible villas.

Saint Pabu is a small town located in the north of France close to the city of Best. You can reach St Pabu in around 30 minutes from Brest so it’s a great day-trip destination. You can definitely spend a few weeks here if you have time because there’s a lot to see and do in the area.

St Pabu is small and only has around 2000 permanent inhabitants. However, because it’s so quiet you won’t have to worry about tourist crowds. St Pabu is authentic and the perfect place to get to know the real Brittany. Try some authentic dishes from the area such as the Gateau Breton or the delicious cider that is produced in the area. 

Northern France things to do and 23 Incredibly beautiful places to visit

St Pabu sits right by the ocean and is known for having one of the best beaches in the area. If you haven’t visited northern France you’ll be surprised how incredible the beaches here look. They almost seem like they should be located in the Maldives so to say that this is an underrated tourist destination is an understatement. However, the water is quite cold so make sure to visit during the summer if you plan to go for a swim. You can also enjoy water sports such as kite or windsurfing and paddleboarding. 

St Pabu hosts a weekly market where you can shop for fresh produce and local products. During the summer, sometimes little town festivals with live music and lots of delicious food to try. Contributed by Victoria from Guide Your Travel.

These 23 beautiful places to visit in Northern France is a mere handful of sites you may want to see. The North of France is incredibly beautiful and you could spend years exploring the entire area of Normandy, Brittany and the Hauts de France areas.

What part of northern France have you been to and where would you love to visit again?

Want to read more about France?

French Cheese – 23 amazing types of French cheese

Exploring the beautiful Mayenne – Pays de la Loire, France

French Food Culture: The Ultimate Guide

Best food markets in Europe

Beautiful villages in Normandy

14 Fabulous French Castles to visit

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Northern France things to do and 23 Incredibly beautiful places to visit

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northern france tourist destinations

Over 5 to 7 days in northern France, you can see many beautiful seaside towns, wander around historic villages and indulge in some excellent French food and drink. Our northern France itinerary will take you from Saint-Malo on the border of Brittany and Normandy, up the coast to the Belgian border city of Lille. Whatever your interests, there’s something for everyone on the north coast of France.

Table of Contents

How Many Days in Northern France?

The North of France encompasses everything from Brittany to Alsace, including Normandy and of course, Paris – each of which has its own distinct culture and traditions. So, to see all of these amazing places in one northern France road trip, you’d need to spare at least a month.

That’s why we’ve focused primarily on the northern coast of Normandy, as you can happily spend at least 4 to 5 days in Brittany alone, and a further 4 to 5 days discovering the magical city of Paris . Or, if you want to experience beautiful castles and world-class wine, consider heading to the Loire Valley for a few days .

But if you want to spend just 5 days in northern France, sunbathing on the beaches, exploring the seaside towns and eating wonderful seafood, it’s best to stick to the Normandy coast and travel around at your leisure by car.

Normandy also has wonderful cycling routes, without too many inclines for a more easy-going journey, so you can have a fantastic 7 days in northern France on your bike, without spending too much time on the road. This way you also get to discover the quaint villages and rural locations that won’t come up on a standard itinerary.

Port of Honfleur in Northern France

Getting To & Around Northern France

There aren’t many major airports in northern France, especially near the towns on our north France itinerary, however, if you’re planning to reach France by aeroplane, you can fly into Rennes Airport, Paris-Orly or Paris Charles de Gaulle Airports and rent a car, or take a train to the first stop on our itinerary.

But, this will take the best part of a day to fly into Paris and make the journey out to Saint-Malo, so bear this in mind when planning your trip.

The best way to reach the starting point of your road trip in northern France, if you’re following our road trip itinerary and beginning in Saint-Malo, is by ferry from Portsmouth or Poole on the south coast of England, which takes about 7 hours; that way, you can also bring your own car to make your journey easier and cheaper.

If you’re following the itinerary in reverse, you can take your car on the ferry or Eurotunnel from Dover to Calais, or take the passenger train the Eurostar from central London to Lille.

If you need to rent a car for your trip, you can browse which compares prices across major companies.

Each stop on the itinerary is reachable by public transport so you can take the train or bus to arrive at each destination as well as book your tickets as a foot passenger on the ferries, or utilise the fast and eco-friendly Eurostar trains. You can view schedules here.

However, if you choose to use public transport, you will have to arrange your holiday according to transport times, rather than having the freedom of moving as you please with your own car.

Mont Saint-Michel Abbey

5 to 7-Day Northern France Itinerary

Beaches, castles, cathedrals and history abound on our northern France itinerary, so don’t forget to pack your beach towels, sunglasses and guidebooks so you’re ready for everything that awaits you.

Day 1 – Saint-Malo

Ferry is the best way to arrive in Saint-Malo, not just for comfort and ease, but also to see the wonderful seaside town from a different perspective, arriving majestically on the French shore to explore your first destination.

Saint-Malo is predominantly famous for its large and scenic port area where you can find some delicious seafood as well as wander around the small side streets and coastal promenade. But Saint-Malo is also full of ancient history, with the 15th-century Saint-Malo castle and the National Fort standing proudly on the coastline, surrounded by the town’s ramparts.

You can spend a day walking along the 2 km-long city walls, enjoying views over the town, as well as the incredible coastline, filled with small islets.

You can walk to some of the islets at low tide to spend some time on the beautiful beaches, reach the National Fort and look back over the town.

There are several hotels in Saint-Malo, most of which are moderately priced, but you can also travel further inland to find holiday lets and gîtes if you’re travelling with several family members.

Saint-Malo in Brittany

Where to Stay in Saint-Malo

Hôtel Bristol Union Intra Muros – This 3-star hotel is an excellent choice for those looking for a great place to stay in Saint-Malo. They have a number of chic rooms to choose from and a superb breakfast to enjoy each morning. Click here to check availability

La Maison des Armateurs – This grand hotel is an excellent choice for visitors looking for a bit of luxury on their northern French adventure. They have a number of lovely rooms on offer, they’re pet-friendly and also offer wine and champagne to guests. Click here to check availability

Hôtel Le Nouveau Monde – This 4-star beachfront hotel is another wonderful place to stay while in Saint-Malo. They have a great location and beautiful rooms along with amenities like a spa, indoor swimming pool and a great breakfast in the mornings. Click here to check availability

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Saint-Malo hotels!

Day 2 – Mont-Saint-Michel

When most people think of north France, the first image that comes to mind is the small rocky island, with mediaeval houses and winding streets below a magnificent abbey with pointed turrets reaching up into the sky.

This quintessential French town is the island of Mont-Saint-Michel, about 1 km from the French coast – although thanks to the massive number of visitors the town receives every year, you can now reach the island by road.

Having become a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, the first French site to be listed, Mont-Saint-Michel is one of the most popular spots in North France and is a must-see destination on any northern France road trip.

You can wander around the winding cobbled streets either independently on or on a walking tour , enjoying the remnants of the mediaeval architecture, as well as walk around the 13th-century ramparts to enjoy views over the French coastline and reach the Benedictine Abbey of Saint Michael that defines the island. You can buy your tickets in advance

The Saint Michael’s Abbey is a wonder of mediaeval and flamboyant Gothic architecture, built after Saint Michael appeared three times before Bishop Saint Aubert in 708, and welcomes visitors to discover its refectory, beautiful cloister, ornate chapels and crypts over several levels across the place of worship.

You can learn about the abbey’s transformation into a prison for almost 100 years, as well as the artistic history of the breathtaking island from its four museums in the town’s lower streets.

It’s definitely worth spending a full day in Mont-Saint-Michel as the changing light throughout the day will make you crave a photograph from every angle. At night, the island is lit up, looking even more picturesque as the shadows dance on the layered roofs, especially during the light shows in summer.

Stay on the island in one of the many bed and breakfasts and fancy hotels, or head back to the mainland to enjoy views of Mont-Saint-Michel in all its glory, with many hotels in the small village of La Caserne to accommodate the 2.5 million yearly visitors.

However, the longest journey on this north France itinerary takes place between Mont-Saint-Michel and Honfleur, so if you want to save yourself the 2-hour drive in the morning, get on the road in the evening and stay closer to the city of Caen for a shorter drive on day 3.

Mont Saint-Michel

Day 3 – Honfleur

Further north along the French coast, before reaching the industrial port of Le Havre, is the beautiful port city of Honfleur. Located on the Seine estuary into the English Channel, this lovely city is a great place for a peaceful afternoon wandering around the old harbour and enjoying fantastic fresh seafood.

The city’s beauty is undeniable, having been a popular destination for many artists, including Claude Monet and Eugène Boudin, who adored the seafront as much as the 16th-century houses with their uneven and characterful roofs. You can  organise a walking tour  if you prefer to learn more from a guide.

The best part of Honfleur is the seafront, although, of course, you can enjoy a bit of shopping in the old and new town located just outside the harbour. So, if you have a full day to spend in the area and don’t mind driving a little further, it’s worth heading slightly further north to the picturesque gardens of Ertretat.

The Jardins d’Etretat is a wonderfully diverse ornamental garden, divided into separate areas, with one garden designed to replicate the area’s famous oyster farms, with unusual sculptures by Samuel Salcedo hidden amongst the topiary.

You can happily spend a few hours here, so it might be best to head here in the morning of day 3 of your 7 days in the north of France, before heading back down to Honfleur for an afternoon walk and evening meal.

There are lots of lovely hotels in Honfleur, with some budget hotels and several 4-star hotels if you’re looking for a bit more luxury, so finding somewhere to stay in the area is not a problem. However, if you don’t want to move accommodation many nights in a row, consider making the city of Rouen a base for the next few nights.

Honfleur Harbour

Where to Stay in Rouen

Hotel Cardinal – Located in the very centre of Rouen on the banks of the Seine River, this hotel is an excellent option for mid-range travellers. They have a number of great rooms to choose from along with a lovely terrace for guests to enjoy. Click here to check availability

Hôtel de Bourgtheroulde – This 5-star hotel is the perfect choice for those who want to spare no luxury while visiting the north of France. There are countless incredible amenities available to guests, the hotel is excellently located and there are plenty of great rooms to choose from. Click here to check availability

La Villa – If you’d like to have your own apartment while visiting Rouen, then these fully furnished flats are a great choice. There are a range of different flats to choose from along with plenty of great amenities and a fantastic location in the city. Click here to check availability

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Rouen hotels!

Day 4 – Rouen

Moving away from the coastal towns and further inland towards Paris along the Seine, we reach the wonderful capital city of Normandy, Rouen.

Rouen is a fantastic city to walk around and admire the remaining architecture of the Romans and the Mediaeval period, with numerous Gothic churches to be found scattered around the city. You  take a walking tour  of the area.

The most famous is the huge Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Rouen which gives the Parisian cathedral of the same name a run for its money with its incredibly ornate stone carvings decorating the building from floor to spire.

Rouen’s Cathédrale Notre-Dame was another favourite of impressionist painter Claude Monet, so you can find many replicas and other paintings in a similar style in art shops all around the centre.

The city is perhaps most famous, however, for being the location of the death of French legend Joan of Arc. The 19-year-old was burned at the stake for heresy in May 1431 and quickly became a symbol of French freedom and heroism thanks to her efforts in leading the French army to defeat the British in Orléans in the Hundred Years War.

You can see the location of the young heroine’s death, now marked with a monument, as well as a statue in her honour beside the church dedicated to her.

Besides the beautiful half-timbered houses, historic monuments and churches, you can also find a number of lovely restaurants, the gorgeous 14th-century astronomical clock, the Gros Horloge, a brilliant Fine Arts Museum and the oldest auberge in France, La Couronne, dating back to 1345. Rouen has a bit of everything.

So, if you have more than 5 days to dedicate to your itinerary, it’s worth having a couple of days to spare for Rouen.

Astronomical Clock at Rouen

Day 5 – Dieppe

If you choose to continue on for another day rather than spending two nights in Rouen at the end of your 5 days in northern France, you’ll have a relaxing beach day in the town of Dieppe.

To get back home at the end of your day, you can head South to Paris to fly out of the country or take the Eurostar to London , Brussels or Amsterdam . Or, head up to Calais to take the Eurotunnel back across the English Channel in your car.

Dieppe is a small fishing community located on the Normandy coast, so it’s a perfect location to get your fresh fish, oysters and langoustines as well as enjoy the sunshine and a dip in the sea on a warm day.

You can visit the Château de Dieppe which houses a museum dedicated to the town’s history as a significant location in France’s ivory trade, with many skilled ivory carvers having lived there, as well as it being a place of influence in the impressionist artistic period.

For those with a historical interest, you can also learn about Operation Jubilee in the town’s permanent exhibition the Memorial of 19 August 1942; this military endeavour saw many soldiers from Dieppe killed during the Second World War.

The town itself is also lovely to wander around, with such gems as the Gothic Church of Saint-Jacques, the huge white cliffs looming over the beach and the harbour for you to discover.

Castle in Dieppe

Day 6 – Le Touquet

Making the most of the coast before heading inland again on day 7 of your northern France itinerary, we come to the delightful small town of Le Touquet.

Also known as Paris-Plage, le Touquet is one of the main destinations that saw thousands of Parisians descend on it during summer from the early 1900s onwards to enjoy the wonderful beaches.

Many large villas were built as summer homes for the wealthy Parisians, as well as tennis courts, golf courses and a casino, so there are plenty of activities to enjoy in the warm weather.

A lot of the town of Le Touquet was destroyed in both Allied and Nazi German bombings during the Second World War, and some buildings remain partially destroyed as memorials to the destruction.

However, several wonderful large houses also remain, showing off the fanciful designs of the Roaring Twenties. The town has also kept up its famous nightlife, so it’s a great place to spend your evening with a few cocktails and dance the night away.

Just along the coast from Le Touquet, you can find another lovely seaside town, Berck-sur-Mer. Film and literature enthusiasts will know the town as the setting of the internationally renowned book and film, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly ; the true story of a man who overcomes incredible adversity by writing a novel despite having Locked-In Syndrome. Definitely give it a watch before you go or read the book while you lounge on the beach.

This part of the coastline is also famous for having seal colonies living on the beach all year round, especially on the Plage des Phoques.

You shouldn’t approach the animals, but admiring them from the clifftops (you may need a pair of binoculars at low tide) is a wonderful way to spend your afternoon. For families with young children, there’s also a small amusement park, Bagatelle, just outside of the town.

End your day of exploration in the city of Lille, where there are plenty of great places to stay.

Buildings in Le Touquet

Where to Stay in Lille

Moxy Lille City – This 3-star hotel in the centre of Lille is an excellent choice for mid-range travellers. They have an array of great rooms to choose from, breakfast on offer each morning and a perfect location for exploring the city. Click here to check availability

Grand Hotel Bellvue – Those after a luxury option in Lille will love this opulent hotel located on the Grand Place. There are a myriad of gorgeous rooms to choose from and endless great amenities available to guests. Click here to check availability

Aparthotel Adagio – This aparthotel is a fantastic choice for travellers looking for their own furnished flat while visiting the north of France. They have a great location in Lille along with a range of flats to choose from. Click here to check availability

The People – Lille – Budget and solo visitors to this historic French city will love this centrally-located hostel. Not only do they have a range of private rooms and dorms available, but there is also an on-site bar and restaurant to enjoy here. Click here to check availability

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Lille hotels!

Day 7 – Lille

There’s no better place to spend the last day of your road trip, than the beautiful city of Lille . With its wonderful central square, Place du Général de Gaulle, lined on all sides by exquisite architecture, especially the city’s old stock exchange, La Vieille Bourse, this is a great place to enjoy your final night and say your farewells to France.

Take a quick ride on the big wheel for views over the city, visit the stunning modern Notre Dame de la Treille Cathedral and walk down to the Citadelle de Lille for a pleasant stroll and marvel at famed architect Vauban’s work.

While in Lille you can also visit the Maison Natale Charles de Gaulle, where the former French president and leader of the Free French during WWII grew up, expertly restored to accurately resemble his original childhood home, with the addition of information about the Frenchman and his contribution to defeating the Nazis in France.

To learn more about the city you can take a walking tour with a guide. If you plan to visit many attractions then the Lille City Pass could be worth it as well.

You’ve probably eaten enough fish so far on the Normandy coastline, so it’s time for some cheese-covered treats like Le Welsh, similar to Welsh Rarebit and the Portuguese Francesinha, or the Flemish-style Chicory Gratin.

You can, of course, get fantastic Moules Frites in the city, but whatever you order, make sure you get some classic French Fries on the side.

To end your trip, you can then easily take the Eurostar back to London or on to Paris, Brussels or Amsterdam .

Notre Dame de la Treille Cathedral in Lille

Have More Time?

If you’re lucky enough to have more than a week in northern France, there are many more activities you can enjoy and small coastal communities to visit, especially for those with a keen interest in history.

Between Mont-Saint-Michel and Honfleur, if you want to break up your journey slightly, you can stop by the small town of Bayeux, famous for its enormous tapestry of the same name.

Created in the 11th century and depicting the battles of William the Conqueror, the Bayeux Tapestry is an impressive 70 metres long and almost half a metre tall, and has survived the last thousand years in remarkable condition.

Along the coast north of Bayeux and on to Honfleur, are the famous D-Day beaches of Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword, which saw the Americans, British and Canadians land in June 1944 before pushing through northern France and freeing the French from Nazism. You can take historic guided tours of the beaches to learn of the significance of D-Day and the Allied efforts in the war.

You can also spend a day in the lovely historic city of Caen. With brilliant Romanesque architectural remnants all over the city and a castle constructed by William the Conqueror, there’s plenty in the city of history fans – not to mention the museums dedicated to WWII and the Cold War.

Another great option is to visit the lovely city of Giverny, which is en route to Paris coming from Rouen and another popular place to visit within Normandy . It has a beautiful, historic old town and a great vibe to explore.

Caen Towm Hall

Northern France has plenty to excite any traveller, from families to solo adventurers. Enjoy the wonderful beaches, delight in the incredible seafood and immerse yourself in a thousand years of history as you drive or ride along on your North France itinerary.

Are you planning a trip to northern France? Have any questions about this itinerary? Let us know in the comments!

northern france tourist destinations

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Brittany Scott-Gunfield

About Brittany Scott-Gunfield

Brittany is a writer for The World Was Here First. Originally from Colchester, England, she is slowly but surely travelling the world as a digital nomad. She loves to hike around different landscapes and has a deep love for travelling around France (and elsewhere in Europe).

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Northern France Travel Guide

Most people only see Northern France from behind a car window as they drive south towards postcard-pretty Provence or the chateaux-studded Dordogne. But look beyond the flat, barren expanses edging the A26 to discover hidden depths. Secret valleys cradle farm-to-fork foodie spots, the cliff-lined coastline edges sandy beaches, and the region’s rich history is there at every turn. That’s not to mention a string of picturesque towns with unexpected sights, from Amiens’ sky-piercing cathedral to Boulogne-sur-Mer’s medieval charms, and many are home to our luxury French chateaux too. Here’s what we love about about  Northern France holidays .

Visit in spring or autumn to avoid heavy crowds and jam-packed roads, but be warned – the weather, like Britain’s, can be unpredictable.

How to get there

Eurostar runs seven trains a day from London St Pancras to Lille (1hr 20mins) and three trains to Calais (1hr); Eurotunnel also runs from Folkestone to Calais (35mins).

Alternatively, P&O Ferries and DFDS Seaways run frequent services between Dover and Dunkirk (2hrs) or Calais (1hr 30mins).

French national rail network SNCF connects the towns of Lille, Boulogne, Dunkirk and Calais, although a car is advised for making the most of the northern region.

Remains of HMS Crested Eagle on Dunkirk beach, destroyed during WWII

Remains of HMS Crested Eagle on Dunkirk beach, destroyed during WWII

Northern France is dotted with important war monuments and memorial sites, from Dunkirk’s battlefields to the world’s largest French war cemetery at Notre-Dame de Lorette and the 40-mile Circuit of Remembrance from Péronne to Albert.

There are plenty of places to visit in Northern France for foodies. Lille is brimming with eateries serving local specialities, from crêpes at Le Repaire du Lion and gaufres (waffles) at 17th-century pâtisserie Meert to regional goodies in the historic food hall and bistrots galore on Rue des Bouchers. Calais is peppered with excellent restaurants while, further afield in Nord-Pas-de-Calais, independent food and drink producers are scattered throughout the hills.

Paris may be France’s pièce de résistance, but a wave of museums and galleries have put the north on the arts map. Lille’s Palais des Beaux-Arts is a fine-arts institution (check out the pieces by Rubens and Goya), while former mining town Lens hosts an outpost of the iconic Louvre. Lesser-known gems include Roubaix’s La Piscine museum set in an opulent Art Deco swimming pool, and LaM in Villeneuve-d’Ascq, which traces defining art movements – don’t miss the Modigliani.

Hidden gems

Château de Pierrefonds

Château de Pierrefonds

  • Roubaix is stepping out of the shadow of neighbouring Lille as a top cultural destination, not only with La Piscine museum but also Le Vestiaire, a textile factory filled with pop-up design boutiques, and Ateliers Jouret, a complex of artists’ studios.
  • The sleepy hilltop hamlet of Cassel, 19 miles southeast of Dunkirk, is a great example of a Flemish town, with ramparts encircling its mansion-lined Grand Place and narrow cobblestoned streets.
  • Fringing the Forest of Compiègne in Oise, the fairy-tale Château de Pierrefonds, with its soaring turrets and moat, is one of the finest places to visit in Northern France.

Now that you’ve had a taste of what we love about Northern France holidays, why not check out our Top 5 places to visit in Northern France ? Or if you’ve already been swayed, why not have a look at our villas in Northern France ? Our friendly concierge team are always happy to help!

Top 5 places to visit in Northern France Top 11 villas in Northern France Top 10 villas in Normandy Best foodie experiences in Brittany



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North Coast of France: The Ultimate Road Trip From Dieppe to Calais

 Tripsavvy / Christine Wehrmeier

The north coast of France is often ignored, but passing up this seaside paradise means missing a real treat. It’s a fabulous area with a long sweeping coastline, charming villages, and gorgeous landscapes. This neglected treasure of coast is ripe for a road trip.

There are two ways to do this driving tour. If you’re starting in Paris , this tour makes an excellent few days outside the capital . All of the destinations are within a three-hour drive from Paris, so you can easily do the entire route or simply pick the parts that most stand out to you. If you’re coming from the U.K. via ferry, it’s a perfect short break that delivers the best of France in a nutshell.

This route starts in the town of Dieppe in Normandy, which is about two and a half hours from Paris by car or four hours from Newhaven, U.K., by ferry service from DFDS . The destination city of Calais is only two hours away if you were to drive straight there, but this guide highlights all of the charming towns and attractions to stop in along the way.

Day 1: Dieppe

If you're coming from the UK, take the DFDS ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe, leaving at 9.30 a.m. and arriving in France at 2 p.m. local time. 

If you're coming from Paris, the 195-km (121-mile) drive will take around 2 hours 30 minutes. 

Walk along the small streets parallel to the English Channel starting at the Estran-Cité de la Mer, the local museum of the sea. Seventeenth-century houses made of white brick line the Grande Rue; continue onto rue de la Barre where number 4 housed a pharmacy in 1683. Voltaire lodged here with his friend the apothecary when he came back from exile in England in 1728 then went to live with his lover Emilie du Châtelet in Champagne. Other houses date from the 18th century.

The old section ends at the Château, originally a huge circular tower that was part of the 14th-century fortifications of this once vital seaport. Today the massive stone structure with its rounded defensive walls and small windows high up above the surrounding countryside houses a good museum. Ship models, maps, and instruments along with Dutch paintings and furniture catch and keep your imagination. But don’t miss the superb collection of Dieppe ivories, made from the ivory imported from Africa and the Orient. The 17th century saw 350 ivory carvers in Dieppe, but today you’ll only see a small workshop in the museum.

Beyond the Château, you come to the Memorial to August 19, 1942. It commemorates the date when a force of 7,000 soldiers—mostly Canadians—was launched from the U.K. against the Germans in northern France. It was a disaster, as 5,000 men were killed or taken prisoner. But lessons were learned and during the later Normandy D-Day Landings , artificial ports were towed over, while heavily defended harbors like Dieppe, were avoided.

Eat in Dieppe, where the tang of the ocean means fish or shellfish. Oysters or a huge plateau de fruits de mer at the Comptoir à Huîtres will hit the spot in this simple restaurant.

The Café des Tribunaux is a large brasserie-style café that started as an inn at the end of the 17th century. It was the favorite place for the Impressionists and was painted by Sickert, who spent his summers in Dieppe in the 1890s, moving there permanently from 1896 to 1905. It’s a great place for people watching while sitting on the terrace with a cold beer or glass of wine.

If you want to stay in Dieppe and like sea views, try the Inter-Hotel de la Plage . It looks just like a pleasant seaside hotel and has rooms for every budget, although the sea view options are more expensive. There’s no restaurant, but with plenty of choice in Dieppe, this is no hardship.

Outside Dieppe, the Auberge du Clos Normand is everything you want from a former coaching inn. Today it’s a delightful old building with wooden balconies, rooms overlooking a farm, a restaurant with an old tiled floor, and brick walls.

Day 2: Houses, History, and an Estuary in the Somme

Franz-Marc Frei/Getty Images

Dieppe is on what is known as the "Alabaster coast" ( Côte d'Albâtre ), an 80-mile-long stretch of white cliffs and wonderful beaches along the seashore. Just southwest of Dieppe on the D75 highway, the road takes you to the charming little resort of Varengeville-sur-Mer, where half-timbered houses stand shyly behind thick hedges.

The gardens of the Le Bois des Moutiers estate were an extension of the house, designed by the architect's collaborator, Gertrude Jekyll. It’s a little piece of English architectural and cultural history, open to the curious from mid-March to mid-November. 

A piece of French history awaits at the Manoir d’Ango , built as a summer palace for the naval advisor to Francois I and privateer, Jehan Ango, between 1535 and 1545. Walk through the forbidding and huge wooden gate and you step into an Italian Renaissance jewel, built around a large internal courtyard with a pigeonnier in the middle. It’s open from April 1 to November 1.

Eat in Varengeville on the terrace at the charming Auberge du Relais .

Drive back through Dieppe and along the coast road, the D925. Go through the small seaside resort of Le Tréport and on to the golden beaches of Mers-les-Bains, a typical resort of Victorian villas that don’t seem to have changed since the 19th century. The coast road continues up through Picardy to Saint-Valery-sur-Somme, a charming seaside town where William, Duke of Normandy , embarked on his journey to conquer England in 1066.

Saint-Valery still has its medieval citadel in the upper town, while the lower town has quays running along the estuary lined with brightly colored houses, restaurants, and hotels.

You can imagine the past life at the Écomusée Picarvie  with its collection of tools, photographs, and artifacts. Or just spend the afternoon doing all those things people do in seaside resorts: dig for shellfish, take a boat trip, cycle through the surrounding countryside with a guide. But be careful; the Somme estuary has strong tides that ebb and flow, creating dangerous currents.

Opposite, Le Crotoy is a pretty former fishing hamlet that faces south, giving you wonderful views and a landscape that inspired the likes of Jules Verne, who wrote "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea" here; French author Colette; and the Impressionist painters, Sisley and Seurat.

Take the road north along the coast, through now silted-up fishing hamlets that seem left in a time warp. You’ll arrive at the Parc Ornithologique du Marquenterre , a magical place of sand dunes and pine forests where you can hire binoculars and walk through the paths stopping at the observation posts and looking at the remarkable collection of nesting birds here through powerful telescopes.

In Saint Valery, book at La Table des Corderies , where the chef Sebastien Porquet champions the freshest local products.

Or, drive to Le Crotoy for dinner overlooking the glorious bay and dining on more excellent local, seasonal dishes at Bellevue .

The Hotel Picardia is a chintz-filled gem of a place that's set in a 19th-century building. With only 18 rooms (seven are family rooms) and close to the waterfront, this is a traveler favorite, so book well in advance.

Day 3: Glorious Gardens, Saint-Valery-sur-Somme to Montreuil-sur-Mer

From St-Valery, head northeast into the countryside. Make for Crécy-en-Pontheiu which you’ll get to by driving on the D111 through the Crécy Forest. All that is left from the famous battle of 1346 is the Moulin Édouard III northeast of Crécy on the D111 towards Wadicourt. This was where Edward III watched the battle.

The gardens of the delightful Abbaye de Valloires  are your destination this morning. From Wadicourt, continue on the D111 to Dompierre-sur-Authie. You’ll enjoy the drive through the beautiful Authie valley before you reach this peaceful spot. The gardens stretch out from the ancient abbey, its warm stone walls forming the perfect backdrop for a series of five themed gardens. Have a typical and local lunch in the abbey restaurant.

If you’re a garden fan, cross over the river and take the D119 that runs along the opposite bank of the river Authie to Auxi-le-Chateau. From here take the D941 to Frévent, then the D82 to Séricourt. This is a wonderful, slightly eccentric private garden. The garden's 29 themes take you on a walk through war and peace, down a shaded alley of white cedars and under roses and clematis trained on a pergola. Séricourt is one of the top gardens in all of France .

From Séricourt, take the D340 to Hesdin and Montreuil-sur-Mer for tonight’s stop in the delightful small town abandoned by the sea.

If you're staying at the Château de Montreuil , eat at the Michelin-starred restaurant for a memorable meal or choose from various other options in the area . 

The Château de Montreuil sits behind a front gate in its own gardens. It’s a gracious, 3-story white-washed building looking more like an Edwardian stately home than a top château hotel . Inside the rooms are a mix of periods and styles; choose the Tudor age in the room with a four-poster bed, or choose to stay in this century with a more contemporary design. 

Day 4: Montreuil-sur-Mer to Le Touquet-Paris-Plage

Montreuil itself is a sizable town. Once one of the major medieval ports of France, it lost all purpose when the river Canche silted up in the 15th century, leaving the town to remain in a time warp, ignored by the rest of the country. Today it's a quiet, pretty place with historic ramparts, a citadel that played a part in World War I, good shops and restaurants, and a fabulous view over the river.

Spend the morning here then drive the short distance to Étaples, a working fishing port with an intriguing attraction about the local fishing industry, the Maréis La Corderie .

Aux Pêcheurs d’Étaples is the place for excellent fish and seafood. You’ll find it above the fish market on the quayside.

Le Touquet-Paris-Plage has always been a magnet for both Brits and vacationing Parisians. It’s a gracious, relaxed seaside town with a whole range of sporting activities from water sports to horse-riding. It is also a top golfing destination. Le Touquet has always been one of the top seaside resorts in France, once attracting the likes of Oscar Wilde and Noel Coward.

There are plenty of dining choices in Le Touquet for all budgets. If you stay at Le Westminster, you must eat in the Michelin-starred restaurant, Le Pavillon . Otherwise, try Le Café des Arts  where the French classics are first-rate, served in a casual, relaxed restaurant. 

Le Westminster is the top hotel in the area, a glorious embodiment of the elegant Edwardian age. It's kept its popularity; signed photos of all the stars and celebrities who stay here line the walls of the public corridors. 

If you want to be outside the main town in a delightful forest and next to a top golf course, choose Le Manoir with its very English-club-like feel. 

Day 5: Le Touquet to Wimereux

Drive along the Opal Coast ( Côte d'Opale ) then take the turn to Hardelot-Plage. Stop at the unusual attraction of Hardelot Château . Built on 13th-century foundations, it was the brainchild of Sir John Hare who used Windsor Castle as his inspiration to rebuild it in the 1830s. With its mix of French and English influences, it celebrates the  entente cordiale agreements between France and the U.K. Today, Hardelot Château has a delightful, domestic Edwardian interior that comes as a contrast to the very castle-like stone exterior. 

In 2016, a new 338-seater Elizabethan Theatre was opened on the grounds. The theatre is open all year round and is immensely adaptable for theatre and music. The main attraction is the Theatre Festival which runs from mid-June to mid-July each year.

The Brasserie L’Ocean  looks over the sea from the large picture windows of the restaurant and from the outside terrace.

Boulogne-sur-Mer is a very short drive along the coast. The seaside town is lively with a top attraction, the Nausicaá aquarium . This is a great place for families with tank after tank of hammerhead sharks, jellyfish, turbot, and rays. Don’t miss feeding time for the sea lions who always put on a great show and the delightful penguins.

Take time to walk away from the harbor and the seaside up to a surprisingly interesting medieval upper town. You can walk around the old medieval walls with their paths, rose beds, and garden benches to take time to look at the view.

If you're staying at La Matelote , you won't want to eat anywhere else. The restaurant is well known locally and is always full of locals as well as hotel guests. 

In Boulogne itself , there are two good possibilities. In the upper town of Boulogne, book at L’Enclos d eL’Evêché . This charming bed and breakfast has just three rooms which are chic and decorated with great flair. There’s an excellent breakfast as well.

The town’s best hotel is the long-established and very comfortable La Matelote . Opposite Nausicaá, it’s been beautifully renovated and now has a pool, Jacuzzi, hammam, and sauna. If you can, book a room with its own balcony onto the sea.

Outside Boulogne at Wimereux, book at one of the most popular and well-known hotels along this stretch of coast. The Hotel Atlantic has a lovely seaside feel, with rooms overlooking the ocean. It has a spa and the 1-Michelin star restaurant, La Liegoise. 

Day 6: Wimereux to Calais

After a good breakfast, drive up the coast past windy sand dunes to the headland: Cap Gris-Nez. All along this part until Cap Blanc Nez, numerous turn-offs from the road take you to walking paths with stunning views towards England. At Wissant, you get to the long sandy beaches where Julius Caesar launched his assault on England in 55 BC.

Your final drive takes you up to Calais , the port which most people just use as a starting point for their journey through France. But Calais is a surprising place with lots of history, and the town has worked hard to restore its historic buildings to their former charm.

Stop off at Le Côte d’Argent on the seafront for top seafood in a modern, spacious restaurant.

Calais has some delightful surprises. The major don’t-miss attraction is the Lace Museum , officially the Cité Internationale de la dentelle et de la mode de Calais . Calais was once a great lace-making center and this museum takes you through the story. There’s something for everyone: fashion from the past and the present, demonstrations of lace making on a huge industrial machine bought in England, and videos that fascinate with their detail on making the patterns.​

The Calais Town Hall and Belfry is a gloriously extravagant building and looks much older than it is. In the garden, one of Rodin’s Burghers of Calais statues is the pride of the place. It commemorates the incident in 1347 when Edward III of England captured Calais and threatened a mass execution of the citizens. He changed his mind, instead deciding that six of the main leaders should be executed. This was too much for Edward’s wife, Queen Philippa of Hainault, who successfully pleaded for their lives. 

There’s a lot more to see in Calais: the huge Notre-Dame church where a young Charles de Gaulle married Yvonne Vendroux in 1921 and the statue of the couple outside; the excellent Fine Arts Museum ; and the old-fashioned but evocative Musée de Mémoire , telling the story of occupied Calais during World War II.

And that’s all to do before you go shopping , which Calais is famous for.

The rue Royale in the medieval fortified part of town is full of restaurants and bars. Book at the Histoire Ancienne , a family-owned and run bistro-style restaurant that serves classic dishes in a friendly relaxed venue.

The old-fashioned but well renovated Hotel Meurice is near the beach and just a few minutes' walk into the center of town. A grand staircase at the entrance sets the scene, and the hotel is particularly popular with British visitors. It has a good bar that buzzes into the late evening.

We end here but if you want to go further, head up to Dunkirk  near the Belgian border where the remains of Operation Dynamo in World War II still lie along the beaches.

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Best places to visit in france.

France is home to some of the most lively cities, bucolic villages and renowned wine regions on the globe. U.S. News considered factors like variety of attractions, lodging, weather and culinary scenes to create this ranking of the best places to visit in France. Whether you're seeking an action-packed sightseeing adventure or a relaxing wine retreat, you'll find a fun French vacation here. To influence next year's ranking, vote below for your favorite destinations in France.

Mont Saint-Michel

Montpellier, french alps, chamonix-mont-blanc, aix-en-provence, loire valley.

northern france tourist destinations

As the world's best place to visit , it's no surprise that the electrifying City of Light tops this list. France's capital city is a year-round tourist destination with iconic attractions like the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower and incredible architecture (think: the dazzling Basilique du Sacré-Coeur). Not to mention, Paris offers unparalleled dining and shopping scenes and more museums than you could hope to visit in one trip. Keep in mind, Paris is often flooded with tourists and room rates can be pricey. If you're looking for a deal, travel in winter or early spring.

northern france tourist destinations

The capital of the Alsace region offers the perfect mix of French and German culture thanks to its location on the France-Germany border. While here, travelers should see Strasbourg's Gothic-style cathedral and stroll through the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Petite France quarter with its half-timbered houses and postcard-worthy waterways. Plus, those with an interest in politics can tour several important European institutions during their visit, including the European Parliament and the Council of Europe. For an extra dose of charm, arrive in December to see one of Europe's oldest Christmas markets.

northern france tourist destinations

Rising above the sea like a castle in a fairy tale, Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy is one of France's most-visited sights. Legend says the archangel Michael, the island's namesake, repeatedly appeared to Bishop Aubert of Avranches in dreams, telling him to build a church on top of the island in A.D. 708. Since its completion, it has become an important pilgrimage site for Christians and European intellectuals. Visitors can tour the picturesque abbey and admire its incredible medieval architecture or wander its surrounding streets, which are lined with tiny shops and quaint cafes.

northern france tourist destinations

Dubbed La Ville Rose due to the prominence of distinctive clay bricks in its architecture, Toulouse is a feast for the eyes. Throughout this city, which is located in the South of France, you'll find marvels like the neoclassical Le Capitole on the main square, the stately Basilica of Saint-Sernin (an 11th-century UNESCO site) and the Hôtel d’Assézat, which houses a noteworthy art gallery. What's more, several canals with shady footpaths pass through the city, including the idyllic Canal du Midi. For some of the best views of Toulouse, take a cruise on the River Garonne, or just sunbathe on its banks.

northern france tourist destinations

Sunny Montpellier glows with a combination of old world charm and a trendy university lifestyle. This city in the south of France evokes Parisian appeal with Haussmann architecture and stylish promenades. And like Paris, adornment is everywhere in Montpellier, from fashionable boutiques to street art to France's oldest botanical garden. Plus, since Montpellier is located 7 miles from the coast of the Mediterranean, a beach break is close at hand. Once the sun sets, take part in the city's youthful nightlife scene, which includes everything from music halls to dance clubs.

northern france tourist destinations

It's easy to see why Colmar, located in the heart of Alsace's wine region, is considered one of France's most beautiful cities. Colorful houses that look as if they belong in a fairy tale line the Little Venice district, where you can take a boat tour through Colmar's canals or reach boutiques and eateries on foot. The setting is picturesque regardless of when you vacation here, but for even more charm, visit Colmar at night when lights illuminate the city during annual events like the Colmar International Festival, Alsace's wine fair and Colmar's Christmas market.

northern france tourist destinations

To see some of France's most spectacular art and architecture, head to Avignon. This city in southeastern France is full of stunning structures, including the 14th-century Palais des Papes, the largest Gothic palace in the world, and the arched bridge, Pont d'Avignon. A number of can't-miss museums are spread throughout Avignon as well, such as the Musée Angladon, which houses works by highly regarded artists like Edgar Degas, Pablo Picasso and Vincent Van Gogh. Visit in July to attend the Festival d'Avignon, one of the world's largest performing arts festivals.

northern france tourist destinations

If your ideal French vacation involves a little more nature and a little less city, head to the French Alps . Here, you'll find some of the best ski slopes in Europe, as well as beautiful scenery that rivals any work of art or architecture. In summer, the typically snow-covered mountains thaw just enough to create perfect conditions for hiking and biking. Enchanting villages sit at the base of the range, offering several places to unwind when you've had enough fun on the slopes or trails.

northern france tourist destinations

Despite its war-filled past, this region in northern France is also a place of great beauty and culture. Étretat's white cliffs are a great place to take in the area's natural scenery. Then, visit the region's capital city, Rouen, to admire works of art at the Musée des Beaux-Arts and stroll past the quaint half-timbered houses. Be sure to sample some of the city's culinary specialties to see why it is now a UNESCO City of Gastronomy. Or, see some of the remnants of Normandy's heavy history at the D-Day Landing Beaches and The Bayeux Tapestry.

northern france tourist destinations

Glamorous Nice occupies a picturesque spot along the French Riviera. Beach bums and culture hounds alike will enjoy the city's pebbly shores, engaging museums, boutique shops and Baroque-style palaces. Be sure to stroll along the coastline's Promenade des Anglais and pick up some fresh flowers and produce at the vibrant Cours Saleya market, located in old town. You'll likely spend a pretty penny on lodging and beach access, but experiencing Nice is worth it. To save some coin, travel between mid-March and April or from September to October, the area's shoulder seasons.

northern france tourist destinations

Often called "France's Isle of Beauty," Corsica features diverse landscapes and a unique culture that make it seem like a miniature continent. The Mediterranean island's clear blue water and white sand beaches are ideal for sunbathing, snorkeling and kayaking, while its mountainous terrain and dense forests provide ample opportunities to hike trails like the highly regarded (albeit challenging) GR20. Those looking to take in some history can visit the Maison Bonaparte museum to see Napoleon's birthplace. What's more, Corsica offers a one-of-a-kind food scene that showcases various local delicacies, such as lonzu (dry-cured ham) and brocciu (cheese).

northern france tourist destinations

While it may not be as well known as big-name cities like Paris, Lyon competes with the best of them. Despite being the third-largest city in France, Lyon is much calmer and less touristy than other similarly sized destinations. The streets are filled with public art, including the city's famous trompe l'oeil murals, and there are museums that focus on everything from movies to history. Plus, it's surrounded by hundreds of wineries and home to 4,000-plus restaurants, several of which boast Michelin stars, making it especially appealing to oenophiles and foodies.

northern france tourist destinations

If you love to ski, chances are you'll enjoy shredding powder at Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Europe. In the bustling Chamonix (the main place to stay if you want to ski at Mont Blanc), you'll have easy access to the longest off-piste run in the world (Vallée Blanche) and rugged, challenging slopes. But this destination, which hosted the 1924 Winter Olympics, offers more than just top-notch skiing. Chamonix is also a great place to go hiking, mountain biking and whitewater rafting. For some family-friendly fun, visit the town's adventure park to zip down its Alpine coaster and various slides.

northern france tourist destinations

Quaint, charming Aix-en-Provence is a university city known for its tree-lined boulevards, cute cafes and lively markets. Life moves at a more leisurely pace here than in other French cities, meaning it's the perfect place for travelers to get lost in the scenic streets. Make sure to add Cathédrale Saint-Sauveur and Le Grand Marché – two of the city's top attractions – to your itinerary. You can also see where artist Paul Cézanne (an Aix-en-Provence native) painted some of his masterpieces at Atelier de Cezanne, or venture outside of the city to see the Provencal scenes that inspired him.

northern france tourist destinations

Vincent Van Gogh fans may recognize the streetscapes of Arles: This small city in Provence inspired some of the artist's best-known works with its bright colors and rustic feel. Art aficionados can walk in Van Gogh's footsteps and explore his favorite haunts on a walking tour through this romantic city or visit the Fondation Vincent Van Gogh Arles. Beyond this noteworthy connection, Arles is renowned for its Roman ruins, including a two-tiered amphitheater, the Alyscamps necropolis and the Constantine Baths. And as the gateway to the Camargue region, Arles is a great base for visitors looking to explore this marshy, flamingo-filled area.

northern france tourist destinations

Another popular wine region, Burgundy is home to rolling hills, superior cuisine and an array of vineyards. Those visiting Burgundy must spend time exploring the medieval villages, historical abbeys and museums that call this area home. Dijon, the region's history-rich capital, makes a great home base for touring the area. And, of course, you can't leave without trying the region's wine, which mainly uses the pinot noir and chardonnay grapes, and dining on some of its rich cuisine.

northern france tourist destinations

Northwestern France's Brittany region stands out from the rest of the country in more ways than one. Locals are proud and protective of their Celtic heritage, including their unique language, traditions and festivals. As a result, visitors will find many well-preserved historical sites throughout the area, including prehistoric megaliths and medieval towns like Saint-Malo, a popular port town with a 12th-century citadel. Brittany also features breathtaking coastlines with fantastic beaches that are known for their phenomenal waves for surfing, dive spots and dolphin-spotting opportunities. 

northern france tourist destinations

As the capital of France's Champagne region, Reims is a must-visit destination for both history buffs and those who love bubbly. The city offers many Champagne cellars where visitors can learn about how the popular wine is produced before tasting it. Additionally, Reims features breathtaking Gothic architecture at attractions like the Cathedral of Notre-Dame at Reims, where 25 French monarchs were crowned between 1223 and 1825, and the adjacent Palace of Tau, the former residence of France's archbishops. No visit would be complete without perusing the exhibits in one of Reims' museums, which cover a range of topics from war history to art and automobiles.

northern france tourist destinations

The gateway to the Loire Valley, Tours is perfectly situated for touring the region's wineries. But with Tours' historical elements and prime location along the Loire River, you may just want to stay in town. Place Plumereau, a medieval marketplace that remains one of the city's oldest squares, exudes irresistible charm with half-timbered houses, while churches like the Saint-Gatien Cathedral stun with their stately façades. Visitors will also have their pick of green spaces, from parks like Prébendes d’Oé Garden to riverside guinguettes (open-air cafes) at Tours sur Loire. What's more, several of the region's famed châteaux (including the Château de Villandry) sit just outside the city.

northern france tourist destinations

For a romantic escape, visit the Loire Valley in central France. Situated along the Loire River, the area is peppered with châteaux, bed-and-breakfast accommodations, farms and wineries renowned for their sauvignon blanc. The region itself is even a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its beauty and historical villages. Plan to spend some time in a few of the valley's laid-back cities and towns, such as Orléans and Saumur, and you can't miss the emblematic Château de Chambord.

northern france tourist destinations

This wine-producing hub woos travelers with its riverbank location and surrounding countryside. With nearly 300,000 acres of vineyards, Bordeaux offers ample choices for those looking to sip some of the best (typically bold red) wines in the world. In the city center, marvel at the Gothic-style Basilique Saint Michel, walk across the Pont de Pierre (a beautiful stone bridge), snap a photo of the iconic Place de la Bourse and enjoy the Jardin Public's pathways and flora.

northern france tourist destinations

Located on the French Riviera just 8 miles from Nice, the tiny hilltop village of Èze makes for an excellent daytrip. The best way to spend your time in this medieval town is meandering through its cobbled streets that look as though they've been pulled from a postcard. In doing so, you'll find picturesque views of the coast, as well as luxury hotels and shops from another era. Top sights include the Notre-Dame-de-l'Assomption and Jardin Exotique d'Èze, as well as the walking path of Nietzsche, who was inspired to write here. Before leaving town, stop by the Fragonard Parfumeur factory for a fragrant tour.

northern france tourist destinations

Located 35 miles northeast of Montpellier, Nîmes delights history buffs with some of the world's best-preserved Roman treasures like its emblematic arena and La Maison Carrée, a temple dating back to 10 B.C. Museums throughout Nîmes also cover its past. But lest you get the wrong impression, Nîmes is anything but stuffy. The city embraces the joie de vivre of the South of France with countless festivals, from structured events like the concert lineups of the Festival de Nîmes to lively Ferias de Nîmes – multi-day celebrations that occur twice a year at Pentecost and in September, and center around bullfighting, dancing and music.

northern france tourist destinations

France's oldest and second-largest city has become an exciting, up-and-coming tourist destination. Marseille has a number of sights to see, including the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde and Château d'If, the ominous prison made famous by Alexandre Dumas' "The Count of Monte Cristo." When the weather is nice, the rocky cliffs and secluded beaches of the Calanques are excellent for swimming, boating and hiking. No trip to Marseille would be complete without a stop by the Mucem, a museum dedicated to Mediterranean civilization. Plus, its rooftop terrace makes the perfect vantage point to admire the city.

northern france tourist destinations

Famous for its annual film festival in May, Cannes is just as impressive (and much less congested) other times of the year. Cannes is another French Riviera hot spot that welcomes travelers looking for a little relaxation (think: sun-soaked beaches and meandering walks through the steep streets of Le Suquet, one of the city's oldest neighborhoods). Visitors can sightsee as they stroll along La Croisette, a 2-mile-long promenade, or sit down for an exquisite meal at a Michelin-starred restaurant. Feeling lucky? Stop by one of Cannes' casinos.

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Cirque de Gavarnie

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10 Stunningly Beautiful Places You Must Visit In Northern France

February 19, 2019 //  by  followmeaway2 //   2 Comments

Vacationing in Europe and looking to travel to northern France? Heads up, because you are we have all the inspiration you need!  Northern France is not just a stunning vacation spot, but it is easily one of the most beautiful places you will ever go to. There is so much to see and experience, every landmark or town is almost like it came from a movie. Northern France is simply gorgeous and a perfect travel location. Most of the places on this list are accessible by car or boat so you do not have to worry about providing extra transportation!

Being in northern France is like a dream come true and the food is so amazing you will want to go back for more! From castles to manors, royal coronations to spectacular gardens, you will be amazed by the beauty that is northern France. Trust me when I say you will not want to leave! Many of the beautiful locations discussed are perfect for impromptu photo shoots and you will find that leaving northern France is going to be hard! Whether you are traveling alone or have a companion, do not leave northern France until you have visited all of these astonishing places.

Beautiful flowers in Northern France

Chantilly Is Extremely Close To Paris, You Will Want To Go Immediately

Chantilly is only 50km or about 31 miles from Paris, it’s practically in the cities backyard! It also tops our list of the Best Day Trips From Paris in case you are visiting the City Of Light. It is so amazing that this small northern France town is so close to Paris, it is a small drive or train ride away. If you are visiting Paris, make sure to rent a car or ride a train to this amazing little town, it will be so worth it!

Are you ready for the best walks of your life? Chantilly contains some of the most amazing trails and walks, it is awe-inspiring. The aesthetic of this old northern France town is hands-down, by far, gorgeous and it will blow your mind. It is also one of the more famous landmarks in France!

Northern France has some hidden gems and Chantilly is one of them. Although it is a popular tourist destination in northern France, going to Chantilly will make you feel like you’ve discovered it all on your own. The lightly tanned color of the houses and castles make this northern French town seem like they tried to color coordinate and it worked so well for them!

One place in this town in northern France that you must visit is the Château de Chantilly! This beautiful castle is a testament to how breathtaking the architecture in northern France is. There are three parts to this stunning castle, the Petite de Chantilly, the Château itself, and the grounds surrounding the property. Unfortunately, the Grande Château was destroyed during the French Revolution but in its place is a 19th century built castle. The Petite de Chantilly is the original 16th-century castle, however, restored. Oh, and absolutely do not forget the amazing grounds and parkland. The off-road trails will take you to little cottages built in the late 1700s, it is living history. Make sure to take pictures because it is hard to wrap your head around the wonderful greenery and old cottages.

Surrounding the castle itself is an artificial lake that is from a storybook. Make sure to head inside to admire how French royalty lived back in the 18th and 19th centuries! It is so mind-boggling to realize that even though the past isn’t that far, there are so many differences between then and now. Also, take a look at the collection of paintings while you’re there because they are astonishing and art is always a must-see!

Chantilly Is Extremely Close To Paris, You Will Want To Go Immediately

Honfleur Is The Perfect Northern France Art Town And The Color Is Out Of This World

If art is your passion, then Honfleur is  the  place you absolutely must go in northern France. We went with a group when we took a River Cruise in France and we didn’t know what to expect but it was fantastic when we arrived! The amazing colors of the town give it an artistic feel to it. You cannot help but stare at all of the amazing architecture and look at the beauty that inspired Claude Monet. This cute little northern France town has life to it that is hard to find anywhere else. You walk down its streets and eat the food and it feels like you have always been there. This gorgeous northern French town has everything you are looking for, all you have to do is go looking!

Exploring this town in northern France is one of the best parts of it because you never know what you’re going to find. Like the staggering wooden St. Catherine’s Church, built in the 15th century by sailors, this church is the largest wooden church in all of France. It is bewildering that it has weathered wars, the outside elements, and so much more, and it is wooden! Seeing something like that has a lasting impact and is a must-see when you go to Honfleur!

Going back to art, many art historians have said that this beautiful little northern France town is the birth of Impressionism. See the history in every building and take beautiful pictures along the way! You never know what you’re going to find in this incredible northern France town. Remember to look at the townhouses, as many of them are from the 16th to 18th century. Make sure to save time to wander the cute streets and go shopping like we did. Visiting history in the making is awe-inspiring and recommended when you go to Honfleur!

Honfelur is such a stunning small town in Northern France

Etretat Will Blow You Away With Its Thrilling Cliff-Sides

Northern France has some amazing views but we have to say that Etretat is the place to visit for those dramatic views.

The phenomenal white cliff that are carved out of the side is just beautiful to see and you will absolutely thank yourself once you go. Make sure to add it to your France itinerary!

It is kind of once-in-a-lifetime experiences, even if you go multiple times because Etretat is that special. There are two formations that is a must-see, the Porte d’Aval arch and L’Aiguille (the Needle), which is a staggering pillar that seems to come out of nowhere in the sea. Once you are in this northern France town, make sure you visit these unbelievable cliff sides, you will never forget them!

What is really charming about this small northern France town is the gardens. Les Jardins D’Etretat is a public garden area that houses so much art and life. Called an experimental garden or open-air museum of contemporary art, these gardens provide stunning views and eclectic scenes. We cannot stress at how gorgeous this place is and it is highly recommended you go once you visit Etretat, it is a staple for this small northern France town!

The real treat of Etretat is the Chapelle Notre Dame de la Garde; this beautiful church was built in 1603 to replace one that was built in the 1000’s. The area surrounding the northern France church is breath-taking and something you will have trouble taking your eyes away from. It is stunning and it seems almost as if you were in Iceland rather than a small town in northern France. When you go, make sure to watch for the open hours as there is a small window and you do not want to miss this amazing experience!

Sunset on Etretat in Northern France

Mont St. Micheal Comes Straight Out Of Game Of Thrones On This Northern French Island

Either you will be amazed by this little island in northern France or you will be blown away entirely. There are no other reactions; the staggering fortress is about 1km off the coast of northern France and serves as a monument to how strong it was built. What is truly amazing about this island is that around 50 people are living there today and it has around 3 million visitors every year. Although it is a popular tourist site, this fortress in northern France is something you will not want to miss and it is popular for a good reason.

A little history behind this hulking island, it has held fortifications since the 8th century and once served as a prison. From around the 15th century to 1789, the northern France island was home to prisoners and now serves a peaceful place for everyone to visit. But be careful, the island is only accessible during certain times of the day, as the tide goes up the bridge goes under water! Be sure to find the times where the stunning fortress will be available, it is something that will be top of your list.

This island in northern France is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it serves an important purpose to us today to share history and beauty and education. In the Hundred Years War, it remained unconquered and is absolutely gorgeous to visit today.

Mont St. Micheal Comes Straight Out Of Game Of Thrones On This Northern French Island

Nord-Pas de Calais Is A Perfect Hiking Location In Northern France

Not only does this region host beautiful, dramatic cliffs of Artois and Flanders, but it has over 3500km of paths, trails, and hiking opportunities. So if you like to walking and being outdoors, Nord-Pas de Calais is perfect for you! Bring your hiking boots or really comfortable shoes, because you will want to spend most of your time in this region outside.

Grande Site des Deux Caps is a protected natural site in northern France and it is absolutely stunning and completely perfect for pictures! Taking in this 23km long coast is almost overwhelming but so entirely worth it. Depending on the time and day, the landscape changes constantly and you have to see them all! Bright and sunny or dark and gloomy, the weather will show you parts of this coast in northern France you dream of seeing. Make sure to visit, the coast is waiting for you!

Some of these regions proudest parts are the Regional Natural Parks! As said earlier, these natural parks boast over 3500km of paths to walk, explore, and photograph. Walking along one of the many paths in parks like Avesnois Natural Park or Scarpe-Escaut Natural Regional Park, you feel as if you are in a fairy tale and it is incredible. Being in nature connects you to the astounding beauty that is Nord-Pas de Calais!

Nord-Pas de Calais Is A Perfect Hiking Location In Northern France

Cambrai Has Stood Against Time And You Wouldn’t Believe It Until You See It

This small town in northern France is amazing because despite being involved in many, many wars, it has remained mostly unscathed. The only exception was World War Two, where tanks and air bombs destroyed some parts of the city. However, the destruction did not let this lovely northern French town lose its liveliness. It is remarkable that this town has come back from a time of war and remains a rich monumental heritage to the future.

One place in this town in northern France you must visit is the Notre dame de Grace, which was originally built in 1064. All of the past histories has been remodeled and rebuilt many times throughout the years, but the current and beautiful cathedral was finished in 1703 and that is what we see today. Absolutely gorgeous and a spectacle for visitors, this cathedral in northern France is a sight to see.

As if you need another reason to see this extraordinary town, Cambrai hosts a communal festival in August! It celebrates local culture and life, the history that was and is to come. It is amazing to see the locals come together to celebrate themselves and their wonderful town. Also, there are two music festivals that happen during the summer months, Juventus which is a classical music festival and BetiZFest which is an alternative music festival. If you aren’t already convinced to visit this northern France town, then we don’t what else to tell you! Cambrai is place that is a must-see!

Cambrai Has Stood Against Time And You Wouldn't Believe It Until You See It in Northern France

Quimper Is A Gem Among Stones

This cute village in northern France is just what you need for a countryside vacation. Amongst the pretty green-land, Quimper stands out as an idyllic little town in northern France. There is so much to view here, especially the 17th-century townhouses that lay within the limits of the town. Exploring is your best bet here because you never know where you might end up, at a fully functioning farm or an amazing trail that leads straight into the brush.

Another wonderful opportunity to experience beauty in northern France, the bridges that cross the Odet river serve as a perfect place to watch the sunset and capture amazing photographs. We recommend having a picnic to end your day in Quimper, you will not be disappointed!

While you’re in Quimper, make sure the check out the trade people craft! Quimper is known for its hand-painted faience ceramics, local shops make their own so be sure to stop by and grab a souvenir. A very big part of why Quimper is so famous is the stunning Corentin Cathedral, a medieval church that is known for the incredible twin spires. Just looking at them makes you feel so small, not because it is so tall, but because it has a presence. Quimper offers the best views in northern France and not going would an incomplete trip!

Quimper Is A Gem Among Stones in Northern France

La Roche-Guyon Is A Sight To See In Northern France, You Will Not Be Disappointed

Lying in this small northern French town is a feat human engineering, something you will never want to leave. Cut into the side of the steep mountain comes a fortified castle that seems to come out of nowhere. This spectacular northern French castle was originally built in the 12th century and then a Château was added in the mid 13th century. Seeing this hulking manor will fill you with such awe, it is so bewildering that people actually dug into rock and created this absolutely stunning castle. If you do not visit La Roche-Guyon, extend your trip and stop by this wondrous small northern France town.

The Château was built to last and it really shows how much care was put into building this amazing structure. This site is perfect for pictures and you will be showing them off constantly. When you visit this northern France location, take care to go up to the tower. You can see everything from up top and it really makes you appreciate this northern France castle and the surveying land. The fortress is open to the public and you can even explore the tunnels below the manor that was carved out from rock! Sound good? Visit now!

Art is well known throughout northern France as just a few minutes away in Giverny, the Monet House is located there! His house is just as Monet left it so go see what inspired him to paint those stunning nature scenes. Walk along his gardens and picture him sitting out among the grass and imagine the beautiful day as he paints. When you visit this idyllic northern France village, do not skip over the Monet House! If you are visiting during the winter like we did, make sure that Monet’s House is open so you aren’t disappointed. It does close during the colder months.

La Roche-Guyon Is A Sight To See In Northern France, You Will Not Be Disappointed

Amiens Has Shopping Galore And Not To Mention Science Fiction

This incredible waterfront city in northern France probably has the best shopping you will find in the region! Here you can find shops and markets all around the city, with some amazing handcrafted items or clothes you cannot find anywhere else! Be careful when you go because spending your money will be an easy thing to do! What is also really surprising about this northern France city, is that they have floating gardens. Yes, you read that correctly, floating marsh market gardens that you can access by boat and actually buy from! Every Saturday, the floating market gardens sell produce such as cabbages, leeks, or leeks. When you go, time it so you’re able to see this amazing market!

Saint-Leu is a district within Amiens and somewhere you will be drawn to. During the day, shops and cafes line the streets, selling their products and making for stunning pictures. Riverside terraces are the best for summer time, very romantic and you get to watch remarkable sunsets. When it gets darker, the nightlife comes out. All along the canals, there is dancing and bars to choose from, it is amazing to see and experience. We recommend spending a day and a night in this gorgeous city, you will be stunned by how mesmerizing this northern France city is!

With all that being said, Amiens pride and joy is the Cathedrale Notre Dame d’Amiens. This staggering Gothic cathedral is known for its opulent decorations and carvings, something you will hardly see throughout northern France. Yes, many cathedrals have intricate carvings and decorations but none compare to Amiens Cathedral, guaranteed! Stunning all around, the cathedral was built in the 13th century and is the largest in France of its kind. If you can restrain yourself until then, in December Amiens hosts Christmas markets and is so beautiful it belongs in pictures. Make sure to visit and experience this marvelous city in northern France.

Amiens Has Shopping Galore And Not To Mention Science Fiction in Northern France

Lyons-la-Forêt Is The Northern France Countryside Paradise You Are Always Dreaming Of

Lyons-la-Forêt delivers gorgeous countryside that will make you say, “How come I haven’t moved here yet?”. You will be blind-sided by how old this town looks; the houses are straight from the past with its timber frames. You immediately think that this is such a classic village look because it really is! In the 1600’s there was a huge fire that destroyed many of the buildings in the town, so they rebuilt them and they look absolutely stunning! Picturesque and pleasing to the eye, this town has so much to offer you!

Every Thursday, this northern France town has outdoor markets you can browse and shop around. The shops are buzzing with customers and trade, it really feels like you have stepped back into history with modern clothes. A really great part of this countryside village is the farmland that is surrounding it. Cattle and orchards are just outside the main part of the town and you can totally go exploring!

The most well-known part of Lyons-la-Forêt is the Abbey. Said to be the most haunted Abbey in northern France, if not all of France, the Abbaye de Mortimer was built in 1134 and contains so much history. A former Cistercian Monastery, this staggering Abbey offers so much to see and hear! You can take a tour of the south wing or walk along the breath-taking ruins, learn about the spirits that inhabit the Abbey!

Lyons-la-Forêt Is The Northern France Countryside Paradise You Are Always Dreaming Of

We hope you loved this list of prettiest places to visit in Northern France! From beautiful nature to cute villages, Northern France has so much to offer. Next time you are in France, escape out of Paris and make sure to visit one of these suggestions. Let us know what your favorite place to visit was and tell us if we missed something big that should be on this list!

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10 Stunningly Beautiful Places You Must Visit In Northern France

Reader Interactions

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February 21, 2019 at 4:49 am

One word. WOW! I love your photos. They make me want to book a ticket, say goodbye to everybody and visit each of the places on your list. Thanks for this! I’m putting all of them on my bucket list.

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August 22, 2019 at 5:42 pm

Glad to see lovely Amiens get a mention, I think it is one of the most underrated cities in Northern France. You alluded to “Science Fiction” but your review didn’t follow up on that by talking about the Jules Verne historic house museum. Also the Musee de Picardie, which is the largest regional museum in France.

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