Rouen, the capital of Normandy region in Northern France, used to be one of the wealthiest cities in medieval times. The richness from those heydays have been diligently preserved and restored in this beautiful city. Joan of Arc, Victor Hugo, Richard the Lionheart, King of England and Duke of Normandy, the Hundred Years War all have significant linkage to this magnificent city.
Travel 200 km which takes 2hr 15m from Calais for this grand tour and find yourself transported back in time. It is a great place for a weekend break from London to indulge in some French gastronomy and cultural finesse.
Itinerary & Travel Tips:
Start at the Church of Joan of Arc
Find your way to Place du Vieux Marche (map) and you will be greeted with an out-of-place, modern boat-like arc-shaped building. This is allegedly the square where the martyr, Joan of Arc, was burned for her sins against the English. I don’t think many will find much to admire about the exterior, but inside, you will be awe-struck with the 13 large Renaissance stained-glasses. There were salvaged from the nearby Church of St Vincent which was destroyed in the World War II. Rouen celebrates the Joan of Arc Festival on the Sunday closest to 30th May every year….. wonder what that will be like…
From the church, walk down the shops-lined Rue du Gros Horloge to find the famous 14th century astronomical clock. The mechanism for this single-hand clock was apparently made back in 1389, making it one of the oldest clock in Europe. One revolution of the single hand signifies 24 hours. You will notice a sheep at the end of the hand. Look closer and you will spot a few more on the ornate borders. There is another on the coat of arm above the arch. Follow it through to the underbelly of the arch and you will find a whole herd with a sculpture of a shepard. This is a tribute to wool, which was an important trading commodity for the city in medieval times.
Marvel at Rouen’s Notre-Dame Cathedral
Continue on Rue du Gros Horloge and you will find Rouen’s Notre-Dame Cathedral. This is a Gothic architecture masterpiece. It is big and imposing with countless life-like statues and painfully intricate carvings. With an iron spire peaking at 151m, it is the tallest cathedral in France. Why not follow in the footsteps of great artists like Monet, Pissaro and JMW Turner who were inspired by it to produce some of their many paintings, bring your own sketchbook and produce your very own work of art?
Indulge in French pastries
After you have completed your masterpiece, walk down Rue Saint Romain and make your way to beautiful Dame Cakes (damecakes.fr). You can’t go to France and stick to your low carb diet! There are plenty of temptations and they are worth breaking the routine for. We kept shuttling between Dame Cakes and more rustic Bertin Philippe while we were there.
Wonder in the medieval quarter
Walk to the end of Rue Saint Romain, cross the road and you will find another gothic masterpiece in the form of the Church of Saint Maclou. Wonder on to Rue Damiette and admire the endless rows of shophouses with zig zaging wooden exterior beams. Enjoy the pedestrianised cobbled streets.
Stop for a galette or pancake
Just off Rue Saint Romain, you will find Crêperie Rouennaise (@creperierouennaise). A lovely place to take a “le dejeuner” break. There have a wide selection of salad, savoury galettes and sweet crepe pancakes. There are cheese, ham, mushroom chorizo, chocolate, banana and even flambé.
Practical Travel Tips:
Although the medieval town centre is pedestrianised, there are many car parks and ample on-street parking. Click here for a handy page from the Rouen Tourism office on car park locations in town as well as free parking on the outskirts. Parking is free on Sunday and public holiday. 24hrs rate is at €15.
Low Emissions Zones
At the time of writing this article there are no driving restrictions or low emission zones in Rouen.
If you would like to do a bit more reading about Rouen, you may want to check out the Lonely Planet Guide on Normandy & D-Day Beaches Road Trips with the Amazon link below. I struggled to find another travel guide on Rouen, but came across the interesting and funny book by Ben Hatch on travelling in France.
What did you got up to while you were in Rouen? I would love to hear about them.