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Picturesque harbor quays, charming cobbled streets and facades in all colors of the rainbow. You’ll find it all in Honfleur, an enchanting town in Normandy, on the south bank of the Seine. Honfleur is known for its rich history and is unique for its charm. It is a place that I definitely want to visit during our road trip through Normandy. And after a day in Honfleur I’m sure: this city deserves a place on my list of 10 beautiful places and cities in Normandy.
History of Honfleur
Honfleur is a place where history and art seem to come together. In the books, the time in Honfleur goes back to the 11th century, but a lot happened in this area even before that time. Julius Caesar wrote in his Commentarii de bello Gallico about the conquest of a settlement on this site during the Gallic war (ca. 50 years before the beginning of the era). Honfleur has built up a rich heritage over the centuries. It was once an important port city with a lively center for trade and fishing. Also an important city strategically, as the Seine provided the shortest way across the water to Paris.
Honfleur was loved by artists
Numerous artists moved to Honfleur in the 19th century, including the famous impressionists Claude Monet and Eugène Boudin. They were fascinated by the special light, the picturesque harbor and the surrounding landscape. Many works of art have been made in the narrow streets of Honfleur, on the quays in the harbor and along the banks of the Seine. It is not surprising that Honfleur is known as the cradle of Impressionism.
Stroll through Honfleur past sights
Discovering Honfleur is best done on foot. You really have the feeling of taking a step back in time. In the old town you will find narrow, cobbled streets and many historic buildings. In the harbor there are colorful fishing boats, you will find nice restaurants with sunny terraces and there is a lot to see. Below are the most famous sights in Honfleur.
The L’église Sainte-Catherine is an absolute highlight of Honfleur. The church is the largest wooden church in France and a beautiful example of craftsmanship. It was built in the 15th century by sailors and bears many similarities to Norwegian stave churches. The interior is beautifully decorated with carvings and there are special objects. So take the time to look at everything carefully.
Tour de l’Horloge
Honfleur’s clock tower, Tour de l’Horloge, is another iconic symbol of the city. The tower was built in the 16th century a few meters away from the L’église Sainte-Catherine, partly to prevent the spread of fire. The Tour de l’Horloge towers majestically above everything; you will find many beautiful vistas in the surrounding streets with a view of the bell tower. What stands out is the astronomical clock, which was installed on the tower in the 19th century. A fine piece of technology and proof of ingenuity at that time. From the top of the bell tower you have a beautiful view of the city, the harbor and the surrounding landscapes. It is not surprising that climbing the tower is a popular activity among visitors to Honfleur.
The beating heart of Honfleur is the old harbour, Vieux Bassin. It is a picturesque, lively and above all charming place. Honfleur’s old harbor is surrounded by colourful, characteristic half-timbered houses, most of which have six or seven floors. You really have a beautiful picture from anywhere on the quay! Especially during sunrise or sunset it is a nice place to photograph, but I have to say that I don’t mind the light in the middle of the day either.
Along the quay of the old port Vieux Bassin you will find many cafes, restaurants and terraces. If you settle down here for lunch, drinks or dinner, you have a beautiful view of the boats in the harbor from almost every terrace. The menu includes many local dishes with seafood such as oysters, shrimps and mussels, which are served almost directly on your plate from the sea.
The historic Lieutenance dates back to the 18th century and is located at the entrance to the old harbour. It was built in elegant neoclassical style, on the foundations of a castle. The facade is decorated with decorative elements and the stately appearance bears witness to Honfleur’s former power and prosperity. The building served as city hall and governor’s house. One of the city’s two gateways is still part of this structure. On the side you will find a commemorative plaque for the French explorer Samuel de Champlain.
Greniers à Sel
In Honfleur you will find two former salt halls dating back to the 17th century. The halls, now designated a historic monument, once stored more than 10,000 tons of salt for brining fish. The spaces have now been converted into exhibition spaces. Regular art exhibitions and cultural events are held here, making it a good place to see modern art and design.
Lavoir rue de la Foulerie
The harbor of Honfleur and the surrounding streets are always busy. Take some side streets and you will soon find yourself in a quieter area. And you can just run into nice things there. Such as Lavoir rue de la Foulerie, a former wash house. In the past, a wash house not only had a practical purpose; it also served as a social meeting place. Women gathered here to chat, exchange news and discuss their daily tasks. Today it is a wonderfully quiet place to cool off in the shade with your wrists in the cold water.
Museums in Honfleur
Are you, like me, always so curious about the history of villages and towns? How things used to be, to stories and to the daily life of people centuries ago? Then you can visit various museums in Honfleur.
Musée d’Ethnographie gives an insight into the daily life of people a few centuries back. The museum is located in a beautiful 16th century building where the prison of the Vicomté de Roncheville once was. Inside you can view different interiors. See here how people lived, ate and worked; almost all stays pass by.
Musée Eugène Boudin
The Musée Eugène Boudin is dedicated to the famous Impressionist painter Eugène Boudin, who was born in Honfleur. The museum houses an extensive collection of his works, as well as works by other artists who were inspired by Honfleur and the surrounding region. It’s a great place to learn more about the city’s artistic history.
For a unique experience, you can visit Maisons Satie. This museum is dedicated to the composer Erik Satie, a French composer who was born in Honfleur. It is a multimedia experience where you will be immersed in the surreal world of Satie. From interactive exhibitions to music installations; a surprising and fascinating place to explore.
Musée de la Marine
The Musée de la Marine takes you on a journey through Honfleur’s maritime history. Here you can admire models of historic ships, learn about the town’s fishing traditions and learn about Honfleur’s role in the explorations of the 17th and 18th centuries. You will find this museum in the oldest church in Honfleur: L’église Saint-Étienne.
Culinary enjoyment in Honfleur
Honfleur is not only known for its artistic heritage, but also for its culinary delights. If you’re a lover of fresh seafood, you’re in the right place. The city is known for its oysters, shrimps, mussels and other local delicacies. A visit to one of the many cozy restaurants on the quay is a must for gourmets. In addition, Honfleur also has a number of artisan shops where you can find local specialties such as Calvados, the famous Normandy apple brandy.
Wander through the old streets of Honfleur
As you can read above, wandering through the old streets is the best way to discover Honfleur. Every street seems different and you will encounter many surprises. Very crooked buildings, narrow passages in places where you would not expect them, but also nice shops and cafes. So don’t linger too much in the harbor, go for a stroll in the surrounding streets and alleys!
Boat trips on the Seine
You can view Honfleur from the water when you take a boat trip on the Seine. Several shipping companies offer tours ranging from short trips around the harbor to longer excursions upriver on the river. A way to see the city, the harbor and the surrounding area from a different perspective.
Pont de Normandie
During a boat trip on the Seine upstream you have a view of the impressive Pont de Normandie, the cable-stayed bridge that connects Honfleur to Le Havre. Isn’t it possible, from a trip by boat? Then you could consider driving over it by car, if you have Le Havre on the schedule. The 2143 meter long bridge offers a great view of the mouth of the Seine, the surrounding landscapes and Le Havre and Honfleur. Keep in mind that you have to pay toll when you drive over the bridge.
Jardin des Personnalités
The beautiful park Jardin des Personnalités is located on the south bank of the Seine and offers an oasis of peace and greenery. In the park there are statues of famous personalities who have a connection with Honfleur, such as Claude Monet and Erik Satie. If you like to combine a visit to a city with some rest in a beautiful park, then this is the place to be after a day in Honfleur.
If you visit Jardin des Personnalités, be sure to take a look at Notre-Dame-de-Grâce. This chapel is located about 2.5 kilometers from the city center on top of a hill called Mont-Joli. There has been a chapel on this site since the 11th century. Over the centuries, the chapel has undergone several transformations. Most of the current building dates from the 17th century and has a Gothic style with some Renaissance elements.
Close to Jardin des Personnalités is Naturospace, where you step into the world of tropical butterflies. You can observe the life cycle of butterflies up close at Naturospace Honfleur. From egg to caterpillar and from pupa to adult butterfly; you can experience the whole process of metamorphosis. In addition to butterflies, you can also see other animals such as birds, reptiles and small mammals.
Discover Honfleur in a special way
Do you feel like discovering a city and the surrounding area in a completely different way? That is possible in Honfleur with a vintage sidecar. During a private tour you will see all the famous sights in (and around) Honfleur. In addition, the guide will tell you a lot about the history of the city. I myself once did such a private tour in a vintage sidecar, not in Honfleur but in Aix-en-Provence. I think it’s one of the most original ways to be shown around by a guide!