Rouen | A Medieval city of history, food and art

The capital of Normandy has been an important city throughout history. This port town on the River Siene was a stronghold for the vikings as well as the English. Today tourists get lost in her history while enjoying her gastronomic delights.

Rouen, France
Rouen, France

Rouen, stretching beside the Seine, is Normandy’s cultured, historic, gastronomic, vibrant capital. Victor Hugo described Rouen as the “city of 100 bell towers”. With a variety of medieval churches and the half timbered houses that line the streets, this city is has survived two world wars whilst keeping some of history’s most beautiful buildings from the Middle Ages still in tact. The subject of a series of 28 painting by Monet prove that if ever there was an Instagram-able city, Rouen is it.

Rouen’s Notre-Dame Cathedral is her most prestigious monument
Rouen’s Notre-Dame Cathedral is her most prestigious monument

Best for sightseeing

Rouen’s history is as rich as it’s dairy products. The old town consists of 2,000 half-timbered houses, 227 of which are listed as historical monuments. Rouen is reputed for the picturesque cobbled street of its historic centre. Charming half-timbered houses used to be built on waterproof stone bases, some of them with richly decorated corbellings made of oak. Some experts date a few of the houses along the Rue du Gros Horloge to before the time of Joan of Arc’s death at the stake in 1431. The older they get the more crooked they become, adding a sense of charm to the winding streets. Le Gros Horloge is the pride of the Rouennais. The astronomic clock hangs from a Renaissance arch, which has spanned the street since 1527, roughly equidistant between the Place du Vieux Marché and the cathedral. The Gros Horloge itself dates back to the 16th century and its movement from 1389. The two facades of the clock display 24 rays of sun against a blue starred sky.

Rouen’s most prestigious monument has got to be Notre-Dame Cathedral. The tallest cathedral in France at 151 metres, Rouen Cathedral was the tallest building in the world for just four years after it was built, conceding the title to the Cathedral of Cologne in 1880. But her height is not the only thing that is impressive.  The cathedral has been captured on canvas by Monet in a series of 28 paintings, all depicting the façade of the cathedral at different times of day, at different times of year, in different weather conditions. Though the painting as scattered around the world you can still see them online at the Rouen Parish website.

While you are in Rouen, don’t miss the opportunity to learn the story of the historical figure Joan of Arc. An interactive museum opened in 2015 entirely devoted to the woman known as “the maid of Orleans” who was burned at the stake in the Market Square in 1431. The museum is housed in a historical building that found Joan of Arc innocent in a posthumous trial in 1456.

Normandy is home to camembert and some of France’s best known soft cheeses
Normandy is home to camembert and some of France’s best known soft cheeses

Best local thing

Rouen is a gastronomic dream with Michelin starred restaurants as well as more budget friendly options. Their traditions run deep and culinary traditions are treated with respect. Some of Normandy’s best produce includes diary and apples, making them superior producers of butter, cream and soft cheeses and well as calvados. Younger drinkers will appreciate locally made apple juice that is offered in almost every restaurant and café. Some of their best local dishes include duck, roasted on a spit and dubillion d’Elbeuf, which is an apple dessert wrapped in puff pastry.

Michelin starred L’Ordas is tucked away in a 16th century Gothic mansion
Michelin starred L’Ordas is tucked away in a 16th century Gothic mansion

Best places to eat

Gastronomy is an important part of life in Normandy’s capital and Rouen is not lacking in Michelin-starred restaurants. At the two-starred Restaurant Gill Chef Gilles Tournadre creates four menus each year, showcasing the freshest, high-quality ingredients available. L’Odas, tucked inside a 16th century mansion, has a single star and offers some French classic created by chef Olivier Da Silva.

For those diners seeking out a more wallet-friendly option, Un Grain De is a great place to add to your list of culinary destinations in Rouen. Located near the Vieux-Marché (old market), this restaurant offers a small menu inspired by local flavours.

: Just south of the Old City is Jardin des Plantes, a rich botanical garden
: Just south of the Old City is Jardin des Plantes, a rich botanical garden

Best place to wind down and enjoy nature

After wandering around what feels like the set to a movie set in the Middle Ages, it’s nice to get out into the fresh air. Jardin des Plantes, Rouen’s municipal, botanical garden dates back 1691 when Louis de Carel acquired some forest land which he turned into a walled garden and pavilion. In spring the wisteria irises, camellia and rhododendrons produce a riot of colour. In summer the rose gardens are in bloom, and autumn brings those famous reds and oranges. If you happen to be in Rouen in the winter, then life continues inside the garden’s greenhouses where tropical species thrive all year round.

Travel from tree to tree like a monkey at one of the treetop adventure parks outside the city
Travel from tree to tree like a monkey at one of the treetop adventure parks outside the city

Best adventure activity

If you’re travelling with kids and looking for something fun to do, just outside of Rouen you will find a number of treetop adventure parks. With trails adjusted for every level and for adults and children alike, you can swing from tree to tree like a monkey, making use of acrobatic trails, monkey bars, zip lines, rock climbs and other obstacles. To ensure safety at all times a team of professionals will supervise the entire experience.

How to get there

Thought there are no direct flights to Rouen, Air Malta, Air France and Ryan Air offer direct flights to Paris. Rouen is a two-and-half-hour train ride away from Paris.

Best time to visit

The busiest month for tourism in Rouen, France is June, followed by May and July. Prices for hotels and flights will be most expensive during these months, though you can save if you purchase well in advance. Tourists are unlikely to visit Rouen in December. Those willing to visit at these times will likely find it the least expensive month.

Currency

France is part of the European monetary union and uses the euro.

Visas

As part of the European Union, Europeans do not need a travel visa to get to Rouen.

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