On vacation in Normandy? Discover the must-sees in Rouen
The capital of Normandy, Rouen is a port city not to be missed. The city of a hundred steeples has been shaped by history since Roman times. Its architecture bears witness to its past, with numerous Gothic churches, cobbled streets and medieval half-timbered houses. Both modern and traditional, the capital of Normandy is packed with exceptional sites to discover.
To make your stay as easy as possible, we’ve put together a list of Rouen’s must-sees.
1. Notre-Dame de Rouen Cathedral
Right in the heart of the city, Notre-Dame Cathedral reflects the evolution of Gothic art. Built in the 12th century, the monument was bombed by the Allies during the Second World War. Since its creation, the building has undergone constant transformation.
The cathedral’s impressive spire rises to over 150 meters. As well as boasting the tallest cast-iron spire in France, it is one of the few cathedrals to retain an archiepiscopal palace and ancillary buildings dating back to the Middle Ages.
Today, Notre-Dame de Rouen is the seat of the city’s archdiocese. Come and visit Rouen and its cathedral, and you’ll discover the tombs of the Dukes of Normandy, including Rollon and Richard the Lionheart.
You can also admire a series of 28 paintings by Claude Monet, who made Rouen’s Notre-Dame cathedral famous the world over.
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2. Fine Arts Museum
It’s impossible to visit Rouen without discovering the city’s Musée des Beaux-Arts. Founded in 1801 under Napoleon Bonaparte, the Musée des Beaux-Arts has continued to evolve over the years. Today, it is one of the most complete museums in France.
Inside, over 8,000 works of art are displayed in 60 rooms. They are as varied in terms of the periods covered (from the 16th to the 20th century), as in terms of media (paintings, sculptures, decorative objects, drawings, etc.). The Musée des Beaux Arts brings together some of Europe’s greatest artists, including Caravaggio, Velasquez, Rubens, Puget, Delacroix, Modigliani, Monet, Renoir and many others.
In addition to its permanent collections, the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen regularly organizes temporary exhibitions, some of which are internationally renowned.
3. Historial Joan of Arc
Rouen is infamous for having been the scene of Joan of Arc’s death. As such, a Joan of Arc Historial has been erected in her honor. But this is no ordinary museum. The Joan of Arc historial takes the form of a show trail. The aim is to present the life of the Maid of Orleans, using innovative technologies.
Start your visit in the dark, where the stone walls begin to come to life. Projections and 3D mapping transport you back to the Middle Ages for an unforgettable experience.
As well as giving you a new perspective on Joan of Arc’s epic story, the historial highlights the myth of Joan of Arc as constructed and interpreted by mankind.
4. Cruise on the Seine
What else can you do in Rouen apart from visiting the historic monuments? Why not take a cruise on the Seine, sharing the two banks of the Normandy capital. You’ll discover the valley’s natural, cultural and traditional landscapes.
During your cruise, discover Rouen and the surrounding towns in a whole new light. These cruises along the rivers of Normandy inspired talented Impressionists such as Lebourg and Sisley.
In addition to discovering the environment around you, you’ll have a great time thanks to the staff on board. They’ll take care of you every step of the way, making sure you’re comfortable and providing you with gourmet delights.
5. Rue du gros Horloge
One of Rouen’s most emblematic monuments, the Gros Horloge is a must-see. This Renaissance building spans the Rue du Gros Horloge via an archway. A Gothic-style belfry adjoins it, housing the belfries and the Rouen clock.
The 14th-century astronomical clock tells the time to the city’s inhabitants by means of a double dial with a single hand. Several representations are also on display. Below the number IV, a divinity symbolizes the day of the week.
At noon, a triumphal chariot is displayed. And above the dial, the phases of the moon are indicated.
6. Saint-Maclou Catholic Church
Listed as a Monument Historique, the Catholic church of Saint-Maclou is one of the must-see sights in Rouen. Considered one of the jewels of Gothic art, the building features a portal with five carved wooden doors.
Inside, admire Renaissance furnishings, a Gothic staircase, an organ case, an arch of glory and Baroque confessionals.
Above, the lantern tower and spire have been renovated after suffering damage during the Second World War. Finally, the church’s five bells – Marie, Adrienne, Adèle, Joséphine and Léontine – are now safely housed in the lantern tower.
7. Abbatiale Saint-Ouen
During the 14th and 16th centuries, the Abbey of Saint-Ouen was one of the most powerful Benedictine monasteries in Normandy. The abbey church boasts 80 stained-glass windows, giving it an exceptional luminosity. The building is best known for its great organ, the last by Cavaillé-coll, and one of the most recorded instruments in the world.
You’ll be impressed by the abbey’s dimensions: 137 metres high and 33 metres under the vaults. Because of its size, some visitors confuse it with the cathedral.
Since the French Revolution, the abbey church is no longer a place of worship. It is now a tourist attraction. Adjacent to this building is the present-day town hall, once used by the monks as a dormitory.
8. Place du Vieux Marché
Visit Rouen and its history via the Place du Vieux Marché. It was on this mythical square that Joan of Arc was burned alive on May 30, 1431. At the time, the square was occupied by the Saint-Sauveur church, the remains of which have now disappeared.
It was in this church that Pierre Corneille was baptized. A few yards away, his birthplace has been converted into a museum.
Today, the old market square is marked by a large cross symbolizing the pyre of the time. All around, bars and restaurants make the square a lively and convivial place.
9. Jardin des plantes
Covering an area of 85,000 m², the Jardin des Plantes is the ideal place for a family outing. A place to relax during a visit to Rouen, this park is also used for the conservation of plant species. If you’re a botany enthusiast, you’ll be able to observe plants from all five continents.
At the center of the Jardin des Plantes, a 170-year-old greenhouse dominates the space. Within it, a variety of plants from arid environments, utility plants from the Mediterranean, and even carnivorous plants.
Birds are also present at the Jardin des Plantes.
The aviaries are illuminated in a thousand colors, with parakeets, parrots, Chinese quail, golden pheasants and many other species.
10. Roumare Forest
What can you do in Rouen to discover nature in Normandy? The Roumare forest is the ideal place for a Sunday hike in Normandy.
With more than 4,000 hectares, this area offers a wide range of trails. A number of facilities are available if you’d like to do a bit of exercise, or enjoy the calm of the forest for a family picnic. The vegetation is lush, with conifers, ancient coppices, oaks and beeches.
The Roumare forest also boasts an animal park for the enjoyment of the little ones. Your little ones can admire deer, roe deer, fallow deer and wild boar.
11. Sainte Catherine Hill
If you’d like to discover Rouen from a different angle, you’ll need to visit the Sainte-Catherine hill. From Rouen, take the N14 towards Bonsecours to reach the hill.
Once you’ve climbed the 525 steps, you’ll enjoy one of the finest panoramas of Normandy and its capital. It was here that Claude Monet painted his Vue générale de Rouen in 1892. On his canvas, you can see Notre-Dame Cathedral and the church of Sainte-Maclou.
To capture this magical moment, don’t forget your camera. And if you’re artistically inclined, now’s the time to imitate the master of Impressionism.
12. Taste the culinary specialties
Visiting Rouen also means sampling the region’s culinary specialties. Normandy is famous for its cider, calvados and camembert. In addition to these must-try meals, Rouen offers other less famous but equally delicious specialties.
On the savoury side, duck à la rouennaise is intoxicating thanks to its exquisite pinkish cooking. On the sweet side, Elbeuf’s douillon features Normandy’s flagship ingredient, the apple.
When visiting Rouen, don’t hesitate to take the fruit route, where small producers offer cherries and plums. In the same spirit, the cheese, apple and cider routes will delight your taste buds.
How to get there
There are several ways to get to Rouen:
- Train : Rouen station serves Le Havre, Marseille, Paris, Amiens and Lille.
- By car : Rouen is two hours from Paris, seven hours from Lyon and four hours from Nantes.
Where to sleep in Rouen?
Not sure where to stay in Rouen? Don’t panic, the city offers hundreds of accommodations to suit all budgets; Airbnb, hotel, youth hostel. Use our hotel comparator to find the best places to stay in Rouen.
To the west of the city, the peaceful Canteleu district will satisfy lovers of green spaces and long walks. Culture lovers should head for the Vieux-Marché/Cathédrale district, where culture takes center stage. You’re sure to find what you’re looking for in Rouen.