Le Havre is a port city located in the northwest region of France. After the heavy bombing of World War II, Le Havre was rebuilt with the help of the famous French architect Auguste Perret, who designed many of the city’s buildings. Today, the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We chose Le Havre as our base for our 3-day road trip along the Coast of Normandy, as it’s closely located to a lot of beautiful places. In this blog post, we will be exploring the best things to do and see in Le Havre, so you can make the most of your visit to this unique French city.
The architect Auguste Perret played a major role in the rebuilding of the city of Le Havre after it was heavily damaged during World War II. One of the key features of Perret’s architecture in Le Havre is his use of reinforced concrete. He was one of the first architects to use this material, and he used it to create structures that were both strong and lightweight. Perret’s architecture in Le Havre is also characterized by its functionalism, which emphasizes functionality and efficiency. He designed buildings that were easy to navigate and made optimal use of natural light, with large windows and open spaces.
While wandering through the city, you’re almost constantly surrounded by Perret’s homogenous concrete buildings. The Église Saint-Joseph is considered one of his masterpieces and is a great example of his use of reinforced concrete. The uniquely-looking Roman Catholic church was built between 1951 and 1958. The church’s concrete structure is visible on the exterior, with simple geometric shapes and clean lines. Inside, the building is flooded with light from the many large windows, creating a bright and airy atmosphere. When walking through the city, it’s hard to miss this church. However, you might mistake its tall concrete tower for a residential tower. During the day, the church is open to visitors so you can watch the light spectacle coming through its many windows.
In 2005, Le Havre was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in recognition of its exceptional architectural and urban ensemble, which illustrates the innovative spirit of the late 19th and 20th centuries. The work of Perret was one of the key reasons that Le Havre got this designation. Le Havre is a great example of the urban planning and architectural ideas of reconstruction and renewal that emerged in the aftermath of World War II.
Walking through Le Havre
One of our favorite things to do in the cities we visit is simply walking around and exploring the surroundings on foot. Luckily, Le Havre is a very walkable city with interesting surroundings. Since almost the entire city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Le Havre could easily be considered an open-air museum. Besides the amazing architecture, you’ll also stumble upon works of art while wandering through the city.
One of the most interesting sculptures in Le Havre is the Catène de Containers by Vincent Ganivet. The sculpture, two archways of colorful containers, was made to commemorate the 500th birthday of Le Havre. The 30m high sculpture looks very interesting and because of the bright colors, it’s easily distinguishable from its surroundings.
Because of the heavy bombings during WWII, there aren’t many buildings left from before 1940. One that has survived the devastation of WWII is the Cathédrale Notre-Dame du Havre (Le Havre Cathedral). The cathedral dates back to the 16th and 17th centuries. Because of difficulties with an unstable ground, the height of the cathedral was kept low. It’s so unique seeing this old cathedral among the relatively new buildings in Le Havre.
Le Havre is home to a few very interesting museums. Musée Hôtel Dubocage de Bléville used to be the home of merchant Michel Joseph Dubocage de Bléville. Nowadays, the mansion is a museum with temporary exhibitions about Le Havre’s history and maritime trade.
Opening hours of Hôtel Dubocage de Bléville
April - October: daily from 10:00 - 12:30 & 13:45 - 18:00
November - March: daily from 10:30 - 12:30 & 13:45 - 17:30
Closed on Tuesdays, January 1st, May 1st, May 8th, July 14th, November 11th and December 25th.
There’s no entrance fee.
Check this website for current opening hours.
Just like Musée Hôtel Dubocage de Bléville, Maison-Musée de l’Armateur is another house museum in Le Havre. The wealthy merchant Martin Pierre Foache bought this house in 1800 and hired the former designer for King Louis XVI to decorate his interior. This house museum shows a glimpse to the life of a wealthy merchant in the beginning of the 19th century.
The opening hours of Maison-Musée de l’Armateur are the same as the opening hours of Musée Hôtel Dubocage de Bléville.
The entrance fee is €7.
The Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle (Natural History Museum) is home to an impressive collection of fossils and other natural specimens, and is a great place to learn about natural history.
Opening hours of Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle
Daily from 10:00 - 12:00 & 14:00 - 18:00
Closed on Tuesdays, Friday mornings, January 1st, May 1st, May 8th, July 14th, November 11th and December 25th.
The entrance fee is €5.
Check this website for the current opening hours.
Le Havre is also home to an art museum: Musée d’Art Moderne André Malraux (or MuMa in short). This museum houses an impressive collection of modern art, including works by Impressionist painter Monet. The museum also features temporary exhibitions, so there is always something new to see.
Opening hours of the Musée d’Art Moderne André Malraux
Tuesday until Friday: from 11:00 - 18:00
Saturday & Sunday: from 11:00 - 19:00
Closed on Mondays, January 1st, May 1st, November 11th and December 25th.
Check this website for current opening hours.
The entrance fee is €7. Additional fees can apply to specific temporary exhibitions.
Besides being a Port city, Le Havre also is a beach city. At the west end of the city, there’s a nice stretch of pebble beach with a promenade along the beach that’s perfect for a leisurely walk. We’d recommend a beach walk during any season of the year but if you’re in Le Havre during summer, you might want to plan a day swimming and sunbathing at the beach as well.
There are also plenty of restaurants at the promenade for a lovely lunch or dinner at the beach. For us, having dinner at the beach is the perfect holiday feeling. We had dinner at Restaurant L’indigo and Mika had to try the typical Normandy dish camembert rôti (roasted camembert) and it was delicious. Joop opted for a nice French steak. We can’t think of anything better than having dinner at the beach while watching the sun set into the ocean.
How long to stay in Le Havre
We chose Le Havre as a base for our 3-day road trip along the coast of Normandy. This was a great choice because accommodation prices in Le Havre are very reasonable and it’s centrally located between other places on the coast. Both Étretat and Honfleur are only a 30-minute drive away. If you just want to explore the city of Le Havre, one day is more than enough. During this day, you can easily enjoy the highlights of Le Havre, such as wandering through the city, admiring the Église Saint-Joseph, visiting one or two museums and ending the day with a beach walk and/or dinner at the beach.
Where to stay in Le Havre
We stayed in Ibis Le Havre Centre, which is closely located to the city center and the train station. The hotel has an on-site covered parking garage, which was perfect for us as we were traveling by car. The rooms are basic, but clean and provided with everything we need. We always opt for Ibis hotels when traveling by car in Europe. If you’re looking for a comfortable but reasonably priced hotel, we can absolutely recommend Ibis Le Havre Centre!
Since Le Havre is a beach city, staying near the beach might also be a great option. Hilton Garden Inn Le Havre is located next to the port and offers rooms with sea view. It’s very centrally located and less than a 10-minute walk away from the shopping center and the Église Saint-Joseph.
How to get to Le Havre
Le Havre is well-connected to public transport. There’s an hourly train between Paris, Rouen and Le Havre. The train journey from Paris to Le Havre is around 2 hours and 15 minutes. However, if you want to explore more (coastal) places in the area of Le Havre, we would recommend going to Le Havre by car or renting a car in Le Havre. Nearby places such as Étretat and Honfleur are (almost) impossible to get to by public transport, even though they’re only a 30-minute drive from away. From Paris it’s a 2,5 hour drive to get to Le Havre. Other places we’ve visited near Le Havre are Beuvron-en-Auge and Veules-les-Rose, which are respectively a 1 hour and a 1 hour and 15 minute drive from Le Havre.
We hope that this blog post has provided you with some inspiration for your visit to Le Havre and that you will enjoy all the city has to offer. Don’t forget to take a stroll through the city and along the beach, our favorite things to do in this city. Bon voyage!
Have you been to Le Havre or is it still on your travel bucket list? Let us know in the comments below!
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