The city of Rouen is located along the Seine river and is the capital of Normandy. The historical city center is filled with timber-framed houses. Rouen is described by Victor Hugo as “the town of a hundred bell towers”. Unfortunately, Rouen was heavily bombed during World War II and only about a third of the bell towers remain. However, there are still lots of churches to be found throughout the city of which the Notre-Dame de Rouen is the tallest and most famous one. Besides the beautiful historical city center, Rouen is also an important port in Europe especially for the export of agricultural goods. In this blog post, we’re sharing the best things to do and see in Rouen, including Notre-Dame de Rouen, Gros-Horloge and Place du Vieux Marché.
Viewpoint in Rouen
Our favorite thing we did in Rouen was hiking up a viewpoint located on a hill just outside of the city center of Rouen. This offers an amazing view of Rouen and the Seine. There are large, not too steep, patches of grass along the hill that serve as a great picnic spot. Don’t forget to bring a picnic blanket, drinks and snacks and enjoy the beautiful view.
From the city center, it’s a 30-minute walk/hike to the top of the viewpoint. Click here for the location of the viewpoint or type “Rouen Panorama de la Côte Sainte-Catherine” in Google Maps. The Google Maps directions are accurate. If you can’t follow Google Maps directions or for whatever reason they aren’t accurate anymore, you can follow our directions described below.
How to get to the viewpoint in Rouen
From Notre-Dame de Rouen, take Rue Saint-Romain in the eastern direction until the end of the street. Once at Place Barthélémy head into Rue Martainville and follow the street all the way to the end at Boulevard Gambetta. From Boulevard Gambetta, take Rue du Faubourg Martainville. After the viaduct, there’s a staircase at your right taking you up to Rue Henri Rivière. Cross Rue Henri Rivière and follow the path up. There’s a small sign across the street showing the way to the viewpoint. Follow the path all the way up until you find yourself surrounded by large grass field areas and the beautiful view of Rouen and the Seine.
If you’re traveling by car, it’s also possible to drive to the viewpoint. Parking spots at the viewpoint are very limited though. As it’s a fun and easy hike, we’d recommend going there by foot.
Fun fact: this view was painted by Monet in his painting called “Vue générale de Rouen”. This colorful painting mostly shows indistinguishable shapes, except for the shapes of Notre-Dame de Rouen and Église de Saint-Maclou.
Notre-Dame de Rouen
Notre-Dame de Rouen, also known as the Cathedral of Rouen, is the tallest church in France and the fourth tallest church in the world. During the 1890s, Claude Monet painted a series of over 30 paintings representing the cathedral at different times of the day and year to reflect the changing light conditions.
The construction of the cathedral started in the 12th century and was completed a century later. However, it was remodeled over a period of more than 700 years. The cathedral has features from the early Gothic to late Gothic (Flamboyant) and Renaissance architecture. Notre-Dame de Rouen is referred to as the most human cathedral, due to the lack of symmetry. When you’re standing in front of the cathedral, you can tell that none of the towers look alike. That’s because all of the three towers are built in a different century and in a different architectural style. In 1944, during World War II, the cathedral was severely damaged by bombings. The restoration of the war damaged was concluded in 1956. The war damage restoration was immediately followed by more restorations, leaving the cathedral covered in scaffolding for over half a century. In 2016, all scaffolding was removed and the cathedral was finally visible to the public again.
Weekdays: from 7:30 until 19:00
Sundays and public holidays: from 8:00 until 18:00
Weekdays: from 7:30 until 12:00 and from 14:00 until 18:00
Sundays and public holidays: from 14:00 until 18:00
There’s no entrance fee.
Half-Timbered Houses in Rouen
Rouen is home to about 2000 half-timbered houses that date back to the late Middle Ages. Everywhere you go, you’ll spot these pretty houses. Don’t forget to admire these houses when strolling through the city center. The best streets to admire these buildings are Rue Saint-Romain, Rue de Martainville, Rue Damiette, Rue Eau-de-Robec, Rue Ganterie, Rue Saint-Amand, Place du Lieutenant Aubert and Rue des Bons Enfants.
Église de Saint-Maclou
Église de Saint-Maclou is a gothic church in Rouen. Construction of the church started in 1435 and was completed in 1521. As the Church of Saint-Maclou was built during the transition from the late Gothic (Flamboyant) period to the Renaissance, it has features from both periods. The church was severely damaged during World War II, but nowadays it’s completely repaired.
April-September: Saturday until Monday from 10:00-12:00 and from 14:00-18:00
October-March: Saturday until Monday from 10:00-12:00 and from 14:00-17:30
Closed on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, December 25th and January 1st.
There’s no entrance fee.
Aître Saint-Maclou is a former cemetery, dating back to the 14th century. The cemetery next to the church became too small because of the many deaths due to the Black Plague, war and famine. After new waves of plague deaths in the 15th and 16th century, the cemetery was expanded in 1526 by adding galleries. To create space for new burials, the bones of the dead were placed in the attics of the galleries. If you look closely, you’ll notice that the galleries are decorated with skulls and bones.
Closed on January 1st, May 1st and December 25th.
There’s no entrance fee.
It’s also possible to do a guided tour. Guided tours are only available in French and are €6 per person. The duration of the tour is one hour and tours take place every Saturday at 16:00 and Sunday at 11:00. You can book a guided tour online through this website.
Amidst the shopping street Rue du Gros Horloge, there’s an arch crossing the street featuring an 14th-century astronomical clock called Gros-Horloge, which translates to Great Clock in English. Gros-Horloge is one of the oldest astronomical clock mechanisms in France, dating back to 1389. If you’re done admiring the clock from the street and want to learn more, it’s possible to take a “behind the scenes” tour. The tour starts at the base of the belfry. During the tour you can access the pavilion, the dial room and the belfry while discovering the 14th century clock mechanism as well as a beautiful view of Rouen from the top of the belfry. Check out this website for more information.
Opening hours for the tour
April-September: from 10:00 until 13:00 and from 14:00 until 19:00
October-March: from 14:00 until 18:00.
Ticket price: €7,20
Place du Vieux Marché
Place du Vieux Marché translates to Old Market Square in English and is exactly that: the old market square. This square is mostly famous because Jeanne d’Arc, a successful French military leader who believed she was acting under divine guidance, was burned alive on this square on May 30th in 1431 at the age of 19. Nowadays, the square is surrounded by half-timbered houses that mostly house restaurants, a market hall and the Église Sainte-Jeanne-d’Arc. A sign indicates the spot where Jeanne d’Arc was burned.
Palais de Justice
Palais de Justice initially housed the Parliament of Normandy. Since the French Revolution the building has served as a courthouse. The oldest part of Palais de Justice dates back to 1499. Over the centuries, the building was extended a few times. During World War II, Palais de Justice was badly damaged and some parts of the building had to be rebuilt. The decision was made not to restore all of the World War II damage. Nowadays you can still witness a lot of shell holes in the building. The holes serve as a homage to the thousands of residents killed and wounded during World War II.
As part of the Rouen Impressionnée Festival, artist Jan Vormann filled some of the shell holes with Lego bricks. In April 2022, we were still able to witness the bright-colored bricks in the holes. As the initiative also received a lot of criticism, we don’t think the bricks will be in the holes forever.
How Long to Stay in Rouen
Rouen is a small city and you can easily see all of the highlights in one day. However, it is closely located to other beautiful places in the area. We used Rouen as the base for a road trip through the Seine Valley and stayed in Rouen for 3 nights. This was a great choice as we often started the day in Rouen with breakfast and ended it with dinner. Since Rouen is a city, there are a lot of food options at any time of the day. This might be a bit harder in the villages in the area. During our 3-day road trip we visited Vernon, Giverny, Les Andelys, Lyons-la-Forêt, Le Bec-Hellouin and Saint-Saëns. All of these places are small villages and less than a one-hour drive from Rouen and from each other. During this road trip, we explored Rouen for one afternoon which was enough to see all the highlights mentioned before.
Where to Stay in Rouen
We stayed in Ibis Rouen Centre Champs-de-Mars which is a hotel just outside of the city center. From Notre-Dame de Rouen, it’s a 15-minute walk. As we traveled by car, this hotel was a perfect choice for us because of the reasonably priced parking amenities and the close proximity to N and D-roads. The 15-minute walk to the city center was very pleasant as well. You’re quickly surrounded with half-timbered houses, especially if you take Rue Martainville to the city center. We always have great experiences staying in Ibis hotels. Rooms are basic but provided with everything you need. Our room was recently renovated which is always a plus. The receptionist at Ibis Rouen Centre Champs-de-Mars went out of her way to get a room ready for us when we wanted to check-in early. If you’re traveling by car, Ibis Rouen Centre Champs-de-Mars is a great option!
If you’re not traveling by car, you might want to opt for a hotel that is a bit more centrally located. Luckily, there are plenty of hotels right in the city center as well. If you want to stay right next to Notre-Dame de Rouen, Le Cardinal is a great option and even offers rooms with views of the cathedral!
We hope we’ve inspired you to visit Rouen, the capital of Normandy. Have you heard of Rouen before? Let us know in the comments below!
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