When Marco and I were doing our impromptu road trip from Brittany through Normandy to Paris, we decided on a quick stop in Rouen to at least get a glance at its famous cathedral, Notre-Dame de Rouen. We really only had time for a superbrief visit in Rouen, because we could neither pass up fresh mussels in Trouville-sur-Mer nor the cute port and wooden cathedral in Honfleur… and I don’t regret that choice one bit. However, there are many things in Rouen we didn’t see or do, so I’d definitely like to go back and explore more of the city one day.

Visiting Rouen France

Rouen is a good hour and a half northwest of Paris. We came from the other side though as we had just visited Honfleur. We looked for hotels online at the very last minute and found a good deal for the Hotel de la Cathedrale. It is located right behind the cathedral (however, not with a view of it in that sense) and it’s therefore a great place to start visiting that part of the city. It was clean, the people were nice, and it was a pleasant stay overall. However, there is no parking close-by and you can’t even drop off your bags in front of the hotel since it is a restricted street, so be prepared to walk 10-15 minutes even from the paid hotel parking. Also, the walls are superthin, so you do get to hear what your neighbors are up to… less than ideal I’d say. I also didn’t like that there really weren’t any bars or restaurants in the immediate vicinity. In the end we found some good crepes at Chez Roland which was in walking distance, but if I were to return to Rouen again I would look for a hotel closer to the square (Place du Vieux-Marche). It seems like that’s where the life is in the evening.

Things I didn’t know about Rouen

  1. There are many big cathedrals. To my shame I have to admit that I didn’t really know much about Rouen before we went there. I had read about its amazing cathedral, but that was about it. When we arrived and drove through the city in our search of the hotel I was surprised by the number of big cathedrals in Rouen. You only ever hear about the main one, but there are at least two other pretty big ones. The funny thing is that they aren’t even lit up at night. We drove by one and saw a huge cathedral all hidden in the dark because we had to stop at a traffic light nearby. Apparently, in Rouen a cathedral has to be bigger than in other towns to get recognition :) I guess it’s hard to compete with the famous Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Rouen.
  2. It’s all about Jeanne D’Arc. There is a church in her name, there is a tower in her name, and many stores, hotels, and restaurants somehow incorporate her name. Rouen is where this young freedom fighter was tried, found guilty, and ultimately burned to death.
  3. Monet’s cathedral series is based on a cathedral in Rouen. So… this is really embarrassing. I had no idea about this at all. Monet lived in Rouen and painted the Notre-Dame de Rouen in various lights and from various angles. It’s crazy famous and the drawings are beautiful. How did I not know? No idea!
  4. Rouen was built around the Seine. Not only am I apparently bad at art, I also am pretty bad at geography. When we left Honfleur via the Pont Du Normandy, we crossed a a big river, the Seine. Did I know this? No. Well, we saw it again in Rouen…
  5. Sunday morning are not for breakfast in Rouen. We decided to skip a fairly pricey hotel breakfast in favor of a coffee and a croissant at a bar… or so we thought. Everything was still closed when we left the hotel around 9am. Luckily we found a stand that was selling croissants and other sweet goodies on our way through the Rue Du Gros-Horloge. I’m really not a morning person to start out with, so when we saw a, wait for it, McDonald’s with a McCafe in it, I had no problems storming in there for my coffee fix :) And it was nice! My theory is that McDonald’s has a lot more competition in Europe in the dessert department, so they sell much nicer stuff in European locations to keep up.

What we did in Rouen

  • Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Rouen: It’s a beautiful cathedral and well worth a visit. What struck me from the outside is that the towers are different from each other. They must have been built at different periods in time. What struck me from the inside is just how large it really is. It’s tall and long and wide and you can basically get lost in there. When we went, they had closed off the back part of the cathedral for an event of some sort, so we could just get a glimpse of the pretty glass windows. They looked nice though!
  • Rue du Gros-Horloge: Literally this translates to “street of the big clock”. The clock is over a walkway about half-way between the cathedral and the square. It is big alright and its features are really interesting. It does not only show the time, but also how far the sun had moved. Very intricate! 
  • Place du Vieux-Marche: That’s where I would try to book a hotel if we went to Rouen again. There are a lot of cute little restaurants and bars and it must get pretty lively there in the evenings. I don’t know if they have a market every day or if it was just there because it was Sunday, but if it’s there when you go, you should check it out. They have all sorts of cheeses and meats and fruits and vegetables and whatever kind of seafood you could want. The square also features some houses built in the traditional Normandy-style that are fun to check out. The square also houses the Eglise Jeanne d’Arc which looks completetly different from most other churches I have ever seen (at least from the outside). Quite a bit to see there!

What I’d like to go back for in Rouen 

  •  We went to the Place du Vieux-Marche only during the morning. I bet during the evening it’s a lot of fun and great for people watching. So, dinner & drinks at the square go on the list for next time.
  • I would also want to check out some of the other cathedrals/ churches, e.g. the Eglise Jeanne d’Arc. It’s very intriguing because it’s so different from the outside. I want to see how it looks from the inside.
  • The Tour Jeanne d’Arc is a tower in which Jeanne D’Arc spent her final days. I’d like to visit it. I think it might not be central enough to provide great views of the city, but the area is pretty flat, so who knows. Great views from the top are always a bonus.

Here are some of the pics we took that morning. There are a few more in an album on my Facebook page. This post is also part of Travel Photo Thursday. Head on over there for more fun travel pics from around the world.

Things to do in Rouen France

Things to do in Rouen France

Things to do in Rouen France

 Things to do in Rouen France

Things to do in Rouen France

Things to do in Rouen France

Things to do in Rouen France

Things to do in Rouen France

Things to do in Rouen France

Things to do in Rouen France

Things to do in Rouen France

40 Comments

  • miranda says:

    Oh I wish I could have been there to show you aroung. There are some great places for breakfast on a sunday in Rouen. You’ve inspired me to do a post about it.
    Sadly, the Tour de Jean d’Arc is a misnomer since she was actually held in one of the other towers which has long since disappeared. The really unfortunate thing is that there is absolutely no view! I’ve been in a few times and although there are window slits all the way to the top of the tower, they have been frustratingly filled with opaque glass, hence no view.
    One of the most wonderful things to do on a midsummer evening in Rouen is to wait till all the streetlights are turned off at about 10pm, when the Cathedral is used as a backdrop for the projection of all of Monet’s paintings of the cathedral. It is a wonderful display of his work and totally worth watching. To get an idea – read my blog on ‘a trip about Rouen’ on http://www.frenchimmersion.wordpress.com.
    I love your photos by the way – lovely to see the Gros Horloge at dusk with no people about.

    • Sabrina says:

      Thanks! I’m glad you liked the pictures. That would have been great! I’ll be sure to check your blog for more tipps on Rouen if (and when) we make it back there – especially for breakfast tipps since that’s one of my favorite meals of the day. And projecting Monet’s paintings with the cathedral as a backdrop? That sounds amazing! Heading over your blog now to check it out… Oh, and thanks for clarifying about the tower! I really was under the impression that that’s where she was held.

  • Andrea says:

    And here I’d forgotten about Joan of Arc (sorry, have never seen her name spelled the correct way before and have to just leave that typed how it was =) Would love to see this place as I read a lot about her in high school.

    • Sabrina says:

      I’ve never heard it the other way instead :) How funny that it never even occured to me to mention her English name in a post written in English.

  • Thank You for excursion. Very interesting.

  • Bob R says:

    That Cathedral is absolutely astounding!

  • Muza-chan says:

    Interesting article, thank you :)

  • Sophie says:

    Great little guide here, Sabrina. And a very imposing (and slightly spooky-looking) cathedral. I’ve been meaning to visit Rouen, but haven’t manged it yet. Would love to visit the Jeanne d’Arc tower as well.

    • Sabrina says:

      Thanks! You’re right, it is kind of spooky-looking. Did you see Miranda’s comment about the tower? It’s not actually where she was held.

  • I feel as if I were right there with you, Sabrina. Thanks for introducing me to Rouen.
    Your photos make the cathedral come alive. Beautiful!

  • R. Sherman says:

    My wife and I did the “dinner and drinks on square” thing when we were last there. Very fun.

    Cheers.

  • Leigh says:

    I loved this post – and your honesty. Trust me your not alone. Much of what you mentioned I didn’t know either.
    Great job on the cathedral shots!

  • Lisa says:

    Love the photos! We didn’t make it to Rouen last week as we ran out of time on our day in Normandy, however, we did see Monet’s Rouen Cathedral paintings at the Musée d’Orsay. I have had to promise Emma that we will return to Normandy to visit Rouen as well as Giverny. And I couldn’t be happier that I have a child who loves Monet as much as I do. :)

    • Sabrina says:

      You are in fact lucky! And your daughter is much smarter than me in the Arts department :) I have been to the Musee D’Orsay, but it’s been, um, probably 15 years, and I remember some amazing paintings, but no specifics. Maybe I even saw it back then?!

  • Dick Jordan says:

    I spent a week in Normandy but, alas, didn’t make it to that town.

  • The cathedral is absolutely beautiful. The photo of yours that really stands out to me is the one of the Restaurant Les Maraichers…the lighting is phenomenal! Thanks for all the great info about this town.

    • Sabrina says:

      Glad you enjoyed it. That was one of my favorite shops. Their displays really made the produce look so good!

  • I’d love all the Jeanne D’Arc stuff! But sounds like there’s a lot of enjoy in Rouen. I agree – that first cup of coffee is very important to me. If it has to McDonald’s, so be it.

    • Sabrina says:

      Isn’t it? And guess what… that coffee from McDonald’s was delicious. I ordered a nice big cappuccino and it tasted so good.

  • Nancie says:

    Your shots are lovely. I visited a few cathedrals when i was in Spain this winter, and not always easy to get good photographs. I could see myself enjoying a few days in Rouen. Thanks for the tour.

    • Sabrina says:

      Thanks, Nancie! I like visiting cathedrals. It always makes me think of the effect of seeing such a huge, intricate building from far away when the cities weren’t as big as they are now. Must have been awe-inspiring! They still are, but must have been even more so back then.

  • Thanks for sharing Rouen, Sabrina in this wonderful guide and gorgeous pictures. Love the cathedral! This looks like a great day trip from Paris. We always hear about Versailles for day trips so I would love to do this also as an alternative when we go back. What great history of Jeanne D’Arc – sorry have always seen it as Joan of Arc too =)

    • Sabrina says:

      Thanks, Mary! I’m glad you enjoyed reading it :) It’s true, if you’ve already seen Versailles, this would be a great alternative. And very different! Versailles is gorgeous and I loved wandering around in the gardens especially, but Rouen is a whole different city.

  • What wonderful pictures you have! I hope to travel to France one day!

    ~Becca

  • Despite having lived in Paris for five months, I never made it to Rouen. And what a shame – it looks beautiful!

    • Sabrina says:

      It really is beautiful! With more time there, I think you could have fun exploring different corners of the city. I lived in Paris too for six months :) But that’s almost 10 years ago now. Times flies! What did you do there?

  • Katzina says:

    Hello there!
    I discovered your blog thanks to one of Muza-chan’s tweets. Rouen is my hometown, and I am very happy to read that you enjoyed your visit!
    The two big churches you saw must be Saint Ouen (next to the city hall, where there used to be a monastery) and Saint Maclou. There are sooo many churches to visit! One of Rouen’s nickname is “the 100 bell tower city” :) .
    If you want to have a nice view on the city I would recommend to visit the Gros Horloge’s tower. It’s interesting to see the clock’s mechanism inside, and when you are on the top of the tower the view on the cathedral and the whole city center is awsome. You won’t be able to see the city from Jeanne d’Arc’s tower as there aren’t any big windows, but it’s still an interesting visit!
    I hope you’ll be able to go back to Rouen soon (though there are so many other places to see!) and that you’ll enjoy your next visit!
    I have photos of the city and other places in Normandy on my blog (but it’s in French ^^). If there’s someone planning to visit Rouen and Normandy, I’ll be happy to help if they have some questions :) .

    • Sabrina says:

      Thanks for checking out my post on Rouen. And thanks for all that extra information on Rouen! I checked out your blog and you have some really nice pics of the Seine. Beautiful city you live in :) I had no idea you can get on the Gros Horloge’s tower. That definitly goes on my want-to-do list!!

  • Izy Berry says:

    Wow it looks beautiful. I really want to explore France more – I’ve only been to Paris and Honfleur (cool to see you’ve been there too!)

    Awesome pictures btw :)

    • Sabrina says:

      Thanks! I do too. France is so vastly different depending on the area you’re in and I’m sure one could spend so much time just getting to know more and more places. Honfleur was one of my absolute favorite stops. Did you like it too?

      • Izy Berry says:

        I really liked it – preferred it over Paris, the people were so much friendlier and it’s really gorgeous.

        I just realised “Miles under my belt” could be inferred really badly if you had a friend called Miles ;) xx

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