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Rouen in Normandy | highlights and travel tips

Rouen in Normandy | highlights and travel tips

Home » France » Rouen in Normandy | highlights and travel tips

Rouen, situated on the Seine, is the cultural capital of Normandy. The historic city centre is cosy and lively. Half-timbered houses from the Middle Ages, with their brightly coloured facades, characterize the streetscape. Rouen is also renowned for its 100 bell towers. Wherever you look, a church tower is always in view. The Rouen Cathedral even boasts the tallest tower in the whole of France.

Rouen is in the running to be elected as the “European Capital of Culture” in 2028. In our opinion, this is a well-deserved choice. With so much atmosphere and unique sights, the city deserves this honorary title. Therefore, we wholeheartedly recommend a city trip to Rouen. It’s an ideal start or end to a relaxing holiday in Normandy!


The many sights of Rouen

One of the great things about Rouen is that the historic city centre is not too large. All the sights are within walking distance. These Rouen highlights are definitely not to be missed during your visit:


The Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Rouen, as the church is officially called, is one of the largest Gothic cathedrals in the country. With a height of over 150 meters, its pointed tower is even the tallest church tower in France. Construction of the building took centuries from the 12th century.

The French impressionist painter Monet immortalized the cathedral many times on canvas. In all seasons, at sunrise and sunset, he couldn’t get enough of the interplay of colours at the building. While painting, he was distracted by female beauty. He had his workspace in a lingerie shop opposite the cathedral. The room where he painted was the fitting room. He had secretly made a hole in the partitions so that he could see other beautiful images next to the church.

Regular light shows take place at the cathedral. Beautiful visual projections are played on the imposing facade of the church. It’s a splendid sight, definitely worth seeing. The performance lasts about half an hour. Arrive at the square fifteen minutes before the start to secure a good spot. You can inquire about the timing of the light show at the Rouen Tourist Office.


Half-timbered houses

The great charm of Rouen lies in the numerous half-timbered houses in the city. There are about 2,000 of these houses in the city centre. The colourful panels create a magnificent sight. Wherever you walk in the historic heart, you’ll see these beautiful buildings. Especially around the Saint-Maclou church, there are several streets you should definitely stroll through, such as Saint-Romain, Martainville, and Damiette.

The oldest half-timbered houses date back to the 13th century. The houses built before 1520 can be identified by their jutting upper floors. Each floor extended slightly further out to gain space. Because the upper floors of the houses almost touched each other, there was a high risk that a fire in one house could quickly spread to the opposite house. Therefore, this style of construction was prohibited in 1520.

Half-timbered houses

Historial Jeanne d’Arc

The name of Jeanne d’Arc is strongly linked to Rouen. Reminders of this French heroine can be found throughout the city. The young farm girl fought against the English ruler and managed to liberate the city of Orléans. Burgundian fighters captured Jeanne d’Arc and sold her to the English. Following two trials, she was condemned to death for witchcraft. In 1431, Jeanne d’Arc died at the stake on the Place du Vieux Marché in Rouen.

The Historial Jeanne d’Arc is a multimedia museum where you can learn all about the short life of this farm girl. Extensive attention is given to the trial that led to her conviction. The museum is housed in the former palace of the archbishop, which is also where the trial took place.

Historical Jeanne d'Arc

Église Sainte-Jeanne d’Arc

Near the place where Jeanne d’Arc ended up at the stake, a church bearing her name was erected in 1979. The design initially received a lot of criticism. However, the residents of Rouen have become accustomed to this building made of concrete. Some see it as an upside-down ship, while others recognize the flames of the stake in the design.

The interior of the church is also modern, featuring many wooden beams, concrete, and brick walls. In stark contrast to the modern design, the church boasts beautiful stained-glass windows from the 16th century that were previously housed in another church.

Eglise Jeanne d'Arc

Place du Vieux Marché

This is the central square of Rouen. On the square, you’ll find the church of Jeanne d’Arc, a modest memorial on the site of the stake, and a statue of her. However, it is now the meeting place for residents to have a drink or a meal. On a sunny day, the terraces are packed at any time of the day.

Adjacent to the church, there is a small covered market on the square. Here, you can purchase the finest Norman cheeses, as well as vegetables, fruit, and fish. It’s a delightful experience to visit and taste the Camembert de Normandie, Livarot, Pont-l’Évêque, and Neufchâtel. These four local cheeses have the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée label.

Place Vieux Marche

Gros Horloge and the Belfry

The focal point on Rue de l’Horloge is the large clock Gros Horloge. This astronomical clock from the 14th century is one of the oldest in France. The ingenious mechanism displays the time, weekdays, and the positions of the sun and moon. The clock face has a diameter of over two meters. The clock hangs in an archway above the delightful Rue de l’Horloge. In the first few centuries, the clock was in the belfry, the tower next to the archway. In the 16th century, the clock was relocated to its current position, making it much more visible to the residents.

For a splendid view over the centre of Rouen, you can climb the Belfry. Fortunately, you can take a break on the various floors to catch your breath, such as in the clockmaker’s workshop. Once at the top, you’ll have a beautiful view of the city centre.

Church of Saint-Maclou

Construction of this beautiful church began in 1435, and by 1521, the building was complete. The church is notable for its arched frontage, a feature not commonly seen in churches. The striking wooden doors in the portal also immediately catch the eye. Inside the sanctuary, the spiral staircase to the organ is a focal point, as is the exquisite woodwork.

Aître Saint-Maclou

Not far from the church of Saint-Maclou is a remarkable courtyard with half-timbered houses. It is a peaceful and intimate spot where you can also enjoy a meal or drink on the terrace. In the 14th century, this courtyard was a cemetery. The plague caused a large part of Rouen’s population to perish. As there was no more space in the city, the dead were buried in Aître Saint-Maclou.

Looking at the facades of the half-timbered houses, you’ll see depictions of skulls and bones. Thousands of bones were stacked on the attic floors of the houses. The function of the cemetery and charnel house existed until the 18th century. The buildings on the other sides of the courtyard housed a girls’ and a boys’ school. It’s hard to imagine what it must have been like in the past. Children playing in the schoolyard, while gravediggers unearth and move bones to the charnel house, quite macabre! Another curiosity is the mummified cat. You’ll find it immediately to the right upon entering the courtyard.

Aitre Saint Maclou

Musée Des Beaux Arts

Art enthusiasts can indulge in the museum of fine arts. In over 60 rooms, you’ll find exquisite works from the 15th century by famous European artists. For the residents of Rouen, Monet’s painting of the Rouen Cathedral is, of course, the masterpiece. But numerous other paintings and sculptures are equally beautiful.

Musée des Beaux Arts

Abbey Church of Saint-Ouen

Adjacent to the town hall is this impressive abbey church. Many visitors to Rouen expect this church to be the cathedral, and it’s not surprising, as the abbey church is larger than the cathedral. The church is characterized by its numerous pointed towers. Inside the church, the many stained-glass windows stand out. Some date back to the 14th century, while you’ll also discover examples from the 20th century. The organ is one of the most important church organs in France. The sound remains as it was at its construction in 1890. After your visit, take a stroll in the adjacent Parc de l’Hôtel de Ville. It’s a lovely respite during your visit to Rouen. Additionally, you’ll have a splendid view of the abbey church from the park.


Walking in Rouen

The centre of Rouen is not very large, making it ideal for exploring the city on foot. In the meantime, be sure to look up and enjoy the colourful half-timbered houses you’ll encounter everywhere.

Even better is to explore Rouen with a guide. The anecdotes about the city, its residents, and the key buildings enrich your perspective on Rouen. You can book a guide at the Rouen Tourist Office. We personally took a culinary tour through the city with our guide Yannick. Since 2023, Rouen has been designated a culinary experience city. During our walk, we sampled the four official AOC cheeses of the region, the tears of Jeanne d’Arc (grilled almonds in chocolate), and the cakes of Dame Cakes, among other delights. We also visited the markets, of course.

AOC cheese

Armada of Rouen

We were fortunate to be in Rouen during the world’s largest maritime festival: the Armada Liberté de Rouen. This event takes place once every four years and lasts for about ten days. You can visit all those ships, but be prepared for long queues at the popular boats.

In the evening, there are various festivities. Concerts, fireworks displays, and a light show at the Rouen Cathedral are just a few examples. The city is bustling with crowded terraces and many tourists. The last Armada de Rouen attracted six million visitors! If you want to experience this unique maritime festival in 2027, be sure to book your hotel accommodation well in advance.


Frequently Asked Questions about visiting Rouen

Where is Rouen located?

Rouen is located on the River Seine in Normandy, serving as the capital of the region. The city is situated approximately 150 km northwest of Paris.

Is Rouen a nice city?

Rouen is a charming city with a beautiful historic city centre filled with colourful half-timbered houses. The numerous attractions are all within walking distance of each other. You can certainly have an excellent time in Rouen for a weekend. Meanwhile, you can indulge in delightful local specialties at the various terraces or restaurants, especially at the Place du Vieux Marché, which is an ideal spot for a bite to eat or a drink.

What are the highlights of Rouen?

Rouen boasts an impressive cathedral with a lavish interior. Additionally, there are other stunning churches in the city, such as the Saint Ouen Abbey Church and the Saint-Maclou Church. Furthermore, the city has various monuments dedicated to the French heroine Jeanne d’Arc, who met her fate at the stake in Rouen. The Memorial Jeanne d’Arc is a wonderful museum about her life and death. The Musée des Beaux Arts is another cultural highlight. However, it's the atmosphere of this city filled with colourful half-timbered houses that makes Rouen so unique.

Where can I eat out well in Rouen?

A few years ago, Rouen was named "UNESCO Creative City for Gastronomy," making it the very first city in France to receive this accolade. The award is not for an individual dish or a culinary style, but for the way everything is prepared. Therefore, you need not worry about enjoying delicious food and drinks in Rouen. Especially around the large square Place du Vieux Marché, there are many restaurants with inviting terraces.
Some recommendations include:

  • Café Hamlet: Beautiful view of Aitre Saint-Maclou and delicious food. When the weather is nice, you can relax in the tranquil courtyard.
  • Café Euro: Located at Place du Vieux Marché. Good food at a friendly price and attentive service.
  • Rotomagus: A genuine steak restaurant popular with the residents of Rouen. Beautifully situated near the Saint Maclou church.
Where is a good place to stay in Rouen?

These accommodations in Rouen consistently receive excellent reviews:

  • Hotel Litteraire Gustave Flaubert: Modern and comfortable hotel in the heart of the city, just a few meters from Place du Vieux Marché. The writer's theme is evident in the rooms and other areas. Incredibly friendly staff who are always ready to assist. The hotel also offers a delightful breakfast buffet. Parking is available in the garage under the hotel, although getting there requires navigating through a pedestrian zone with many terraces, which is allowed but takes some time.
  • Hôtel De La Cathédrale: It's simply impossible to stay closer to the cathedral. This hotel is located in the heart of the historic city centre. The exterior and interior feature beautiful half-timbered walls. Secure parking is available (for a fee) in the vicinity.
  • Hôtel de Bourgtheroulde: A stylish hotel in a historic building on a quiet square. It offers excellent rooms and a delightful breakfast buffet.
  • Centre historique l'authentique Saint Nicolas: Stylishly furnished apartment with an excellent location in the city centre. Every detail has been carefully considered.

View the wide range of accommodation in Rouen here.

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