As a country in general, France has a lot to offer for people of all ages. With an estimated 17 million British visitors a year alone, it is fair to say it is an extremely popular tourist destination. Given this fact, we thought you might like to take a look at the following list to explore a variety of places to check out when you visit northern France; with a range of activities including historical commemorations and live performances in stadiums, there is something for all types of holiday-makers!
A visit to northern France should include: St Brevin les Pins.
On the north-west border of France, along the south side of the Loire Estuary is the seaside resort of Saint Brevin les Pins. With a good mix of sandy beaches, shallow water and sea front town shops/markets, the area is renowned for its water sports, with great facilities for yachting, speed-sailing, kite-surfing and beach surfing. The town centre boasts various markets on Saturdays, Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays selling a range of foods, handcrafted objects and touristic souvenirs.
Visit Lille for fashion and food.
Lille is a great place to visit in northern France, as well as being notorious for its historical features and extensive shopping opportunities, it’s also great for a family visit. Firstly, sites like the Place du Général de Gaulle and the Vieille Bourse are great places to check out if you are looking to explore buildings and monuments around the area with interesting historic backgrounds.
Secondly, the city is a great place for culinary tourism; restaurants such as the Estaminet Chez La Vieille, L’Orange Bleue and Aux Moules are all great examples of establishments that provide typical French cuisine. Finally the pedestrian streets of Grand Place are lined with fashion outlets for all of your retail needs! It’s not hard to see why we feel it’s one of the best places to visit in northern France.
Paris isn’t the only northen France city to visit!
As we continue our tour of northern France cities, it would be rude to ignore the country’s capital, Paris. The city is renowned for its excellent offerings for people of all tastes, visiting or not. If you like the performing arts, the Parc des Princes and Stade de France are certainly worth visiting; as well as showing a range of musical and theatrical performances, they also host many sporting events. The city has a great selection of museums, historical sites and monuments within too; simply pick up a Paris museum pass from any tourist office – it allows unlimited access to 60 sites across Paris.
If this piques your interest, we would certainly suggest either taking a Bateaux Parisiens River Cruise, visiting the Palace of Versailles (a great place to visit 18th century French architecture and art) or spending an afternoon at Ô Château for Wine Tasting. For those visiting as a young family, the obvious main attraction is Disneyland Paris; a great mix of exciting entertainment and Theme-park thrills.
Visit northern France for: Rouen.
The city of Rouen, a short, easy day trip if you’re staying in nearby Paris, is one of the best places to visit in northern France if you love beautiful, gothic architecture. Wander the streets and you’ll be met with the Rouen Catherdrial, the Church of Saint-Maclou, Musée Le Secq des Tournelles and the Palais de Justice, a mere selection of the awe-inspiring buildings that the city is famed for.
Keep the tour of the city going with a stop at the Gros-Horloge, a 14th century astronomical clock embedded in a Renaissance arch that never fails to attract visitors, or take a short, immersive tour of the Historial Jeanne d’Arc to learn about Joan of Arc’s life. Round off your day by taking a load off and enjoying authentic culinary delights in one of the many cafes and eateries the city has to offer.
If you’re looking for a break from the city life, head to the Parc Naturel régional des Boucles de la Seine Normande if you want to experience some of the French countryside. From livestock spotting and walks along the River Seine, to exhibitions and discovery trails, there’s something to keep the whole family entertained.
Calais: More than just a port city in northern France.
When you think of Calais, you’d be forgiven for just thinking of ferries! Whilst yes, Calais is famed for its ports, it has so much more to offer; did you know you can visit a lighthouse, a former Nazi bunker, art museums, the beach and plenty of parks in just the one city? It certainly makes for a varied family friendly holiday destination in northern France.
Take a trip to the Parc Saint-Pierre for a stroll along the canal, maybe a spot of lunch and people watching, or perhaps stumble across the Musée de la Guerre de Calais (second World War Museum). The once hidden building is now a shrine to the war, including galleries, artefacts, uniforms and more, documenting how Calais coped with the occupation. Thy also offer a 90 minute audio tour for a more immrsive experience.
Lighten the mood with a trip to Calais Beach for some sun-worshipping in the good weather or shore walks in the down season. Or why not take the family to visit Courgain Maritime where you’ll find the Museum of Fine Arts, home to a stunning array of 16th to the 21st century photos, sculptures paintings and more. Once you’ve finished your multi-century sensory tour, why not visit the Tour du Guet; it was used as the the city’s light house until the new, more-modern-than-the-13th-century-one was built.
Visit Lens for the Canadian National Vimy Memorial
There are many sights to be seen in the northern France city of Lens, but let’s start with the Canadian National Vimy Memorial. The two towers were erected in memoriam of Canadian soldiers that lost their lives during the First World War and have no known grave. It’s now home to a centre dedicated to learning with guided tours often held by Canadian students. If you can’t make it there in person, they offer video tours, too.
If you’re interested in UNESCO World Heritage sites, there a 12 within a 50km radius of Lens, so perhaps you might like a trip to visit the Beffroi de Béthune, named one of just 23 belfries in northern France.
Most famously, you have the Louvre-Lens to discover which houses a collection of art from its Paris counterpart. Expect ever changing exhibitions (the most current looks at Black Suns and runs until January 2021), a chronological display of art, kindly loaned from the Louvre; walk through 5,000 years of history dating from the 4th millennium BC to the mid 19th century, as well as a beautifully landscaped park which is a complimentary extension of the museum itself.
Have you thought about visiting Caen?
The final stop on our “tour of northern France cities” to visit is Caen, a mere 20km from the nearest coastline. The city is very historic with many great places to visit. The first site is the Caen Memorial Museum, a place to pay respect and publicise the accounts of D-Day. Known by locals as a must-see museum, this memorial is a very prestigious historical landmark in Caen.
Secondly the Caen Castle, a highly recognised medieval fortress of western Europe built in 1060. Its modern day use is now to house the Musée des Beaux-Arts, showcasing some of the finest European art. The city also has other features such as the Fossées Saint Julien Market, a place to purchase some traditional native specialities such as regional wine and cheese and also hand crafted artwork.
We hope you’ve enjoyed your whistle-stop tour of northern France cities worth visiting. We know there is so much more to the region and this is just a snapshot, so if you think we’ve missed a place that deserves a spot on this list, let us know!
Grabbing a hire car and driving around France is probably the best way to discover all the country has to offer. If this is an option for you, check out this handy guide to Driving in France – what better reason to brush up on your French?!