Michael Turtle is a journalist who runs the award-winning travel blog, Time Travel Turtle. He has been exploring the world permanently for more than five years and enjoys learning about the culture and history of destinations.
Rouen was always been a critical part of French history, entwined with the story of Joan of Arc, the patron saint of France. In the years that followed, the city also became important for economic reasons. As a trading port and centre for cloth production, Rouen grew in size and wealth.
With the wealth and influence from merchants from across the world, Rouen also flourished in an artistic and cultural sense. Although today it is still an important economic and political port, it is the cultural legacy and historical journeys that are the most interesting for visitors.
From the Yelloh campsite, Le Ridin at Baie de Somme, it’s just a short one hour drive to Rouen, the capital of Normandy. It’s a perfect day trip to see one of the most significant cities in France.
Cathedral of Notre-Dame
Once there, the best place to start exploring is at the Cathedral of Notre-Dame. It’s an enormous Gothic church rebuilt in the 15th and 16th centuries. The front of the building is stunning in itself, with the detailed carvings spread across the façade. Inside, the columns seem to take your eye so much higher than expected. Look carefully and you’ll find the chapel dedicated to Joan of Arc.
Joan of Arc Historical Exhibition
Behind the cathedral in the Archbishop’s Palace is a relatively new attraction called the Joan of Arc Historical Exhibition. It’s a multimedia experience where you’re taken through various rooms and, in each of them, videos of different characters tell the story of the young heroine. It’s a really interesting way to learn the history and it’s perfect for families.
It’s now time to explore the old town of Rouen. The narrow streets are full of half-timbered houses from the Renaissance period – be sure to look up to appreciate the painted colours on the upper levels. There’s lots of shopping here – particularly antique shops – and also a good selection of cafes, if you’re ready for a break.
Big Clock Tower
In the middle of the old town, you’re bound to come across the Big Clock Tower (known as Gros-Horloge). It’s one of the emblematic symbols of Rouen. The clock was built in the Middle Age and had an important practical purpose during a period when most people didn’t have watches. The single hand tells the hours, the central section shows the movement of the moon, and the weeks are shown in the bottom bit.
A special attraction in Rouen is the Panorama XXL, an enormous 360 degree image that you stand in the middle of. It is 100 metres long and 35 metre tall – a tower in the middle of the middle lets you climb up to three different levels to get different perspectives. The picture is changed every year or so but at the moment it shows Rouen in the year 1431, just as Joan of Arc is about to be burnt at the stake.
Joan of Arc Church
A few blocks further west is the new church dedicated to Joan of Arc. Although it looks like a modern design, it’s been built on the site where the young woman was burnt at the stake. The shape of the roof is supposed to represent the flames and inside there is an incredible display of stained-glass windows.
Museums of Fine Arts, and of Ceramics
Rouen has some excellent museums and one of the best is the Museum of Fine Arts. It has one of the most comprehensive collections of Impressionist paintings in the world with works from artists like Ingres, Degas and Renoir. There are also a lot of paintings of scenes from the city.
Another popular museum is the Ceramics Museum. There are about 6000 pieces in the collection and a third are from the local region. A few hundred years ago, Rouen was one of Europe’s most famous centres for earthenware.
Church of St Ouen and of St Maclou
If you have time, there are two more churches in the city centre that are worth visiting. The first is the Church of St Ouen. Its construction was finished in the 15th century in what is described as the Flamboyant style. It’s extremely large and is almost the same size as the main cathedral.
The other important church is just a short walk away and is called the Church of St Maclou. Its spire is 83 metres high and you can see it from across much of Rouen. It is also designed in the Flamboyant style of Gothic architecture and is considered to be one of the best examples in France.
If it seems like there’s a lot to do in Rouen, that’s because there is. But a day exploring the city will be enough to see why it’s such a special place. The charming streets, the impressive buildings and the historical stories make for a wonderful time.