As the capital of the Normandy region, Rouen is rich in history. If you know a thing or two about history, you probably know Normandy from World War II. This region played a significant part during the war, and its capital is no exception. But, the city’s character dates back to the Roman Era and is closely linked to the Medieval Times. Indeed, Rouen has been one of the most important port cities on the River Seine for many years. That fact alone promises more than enough things to do in Rouen.
Rouen’s skyline is characterized by gothic architectural gems, including old churches and houses. Walking around the cobblestoned pedestrian center will take you back in time. Rouen is only less than 2 hours of driving from Paris. It is the perfect destination for a one-day trip from the capital of France. This city is relatively small, so you can explore most of its main attractions in one fun-filled day.
Whether you are a fan of history or looking for something less touristy than Paris, Rouen will not disappoint. So, take a look at these top 10 things to do in Rouen and start planning your next memorable trip!
Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Rouen
Like Paris, Rouen has its own, unique Notre-Dame. In fact, many cities in France do. “Notre Dame” means “Our Lady”, which refers to the Virgin Mary. What makes the Notre-Dame of Rouen unique is its gothic style of architectural design. This church was the tallest in the world back in the 1900s. And it has been defining Rouen’s skyline ever since it was built.
Besides its beautiful architectural design, Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Rouen is also known as the place where Joan of Arc was trialed. Visiting Rouen Cathedral will not just give you the chance to witness the structure’s beauty, but also a glimpse of the French heroin’s life.
Historial Jeanne d’Arc
History fanatics who visited Rouen before 2015 should revisit this unique city for this attraction. Historial Jeanne d’Arc, or Joan of Arc Museum, is not an ordinary museum. Opened in 2015, it offers its visitors a journey through Joan of Arc’s life, including her trial. One section of this museum is designated to recreate this part of her life.
With just 12 USD for an admission ticket, you get to explore all five stories of the museum. Each is filled with great displays and all the information you need to know about Joan of Arc. Go anytime between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. any day except Monday when the museum is closed.
With such significance towards Joan of Arc’s life, Rouen offers more than one attraction where you can relive and celebrate her role in history. Besides the museum, check out the Joan of Arc Tower where she was held. Today, the tower houses a unique escape room. It’s an exciting game you can join to have fun and learn about history at the same time. If you have more time to spare, do visit The Church of Saint Joan of Arc where she was burnt to death.
Standing tall in the middle of Rouen’s gothic structures is one of the oldest clock mechanisms in Europe, Gros Horloge. The name means “Great Clock” and you can’t miss it. Even from the outside, this renaissance monument offers a great view for all pedestrians. But with a little extra admission fee (7 EUR for adults and 3.5 EUR for children and students), you get the chance to view the amazing panorama from the top.
Palais de Justice
Also known as Gothic Law Courts, Palais de Justice is not an ordinary courthouse. The structure was damaged due to bombings during World War II. But restoration efforts brought it back to its 16th-century glory.
Sit around the courtyard to enjoy the gothic architectural designs and gargoyle decorations. Or, you can attend any court session that is open to the public to witness the French justice system.
One of the latest additions to Rouen’s popular attraction, Panorama XXL takes sightseeing to a new level. It combines technology and art beautifully. Yadegar Asisi, a German artist, designed the 360° view of computer-generated paintings and photographs. The “canvass” is 100 feet high, giving you a stunning display as mesmerizing as in real life.
This is the ideal place to take your kids for a day of educative fun. And with only 9.5 EUR per adult and 6.5 EUR per child, you get to enjoy all the facilities Panorama XXL has to offer.
La Maison Sublime
This historic site plays an important role, not just in Rouen’s history. La Maison Sublime, or the Sublime House, is the oldest Jewish monument in Western Europe. It dates back to the year 1100, yet the ground floor is still well-preserved. Explore every inch of this rectangular structure made of special stones from Caumont. A tour around this architectural treasure requires a reservation before your visit. Please refer to the Rouen Tourism official website for admission fees and bookings.
A ten-day celebration of ships and submarines from all over the world, the Rouen Armada Festival is something you should not miss. Every year since 30 years ago, more than thirty magnificent ships parade along the Rouen’s riverbank of Seine.
Besides the armada, concerts and fireworks color the area during the festival. While in France, don’t forget to enjoy the culinary adventure of international cuisines as well. Just pick the best spot at any restaurant, bar, and cafe along the river!
Abbey Church of Saint-Ouen
Gothic churches define the city skyline of Rouen. It should come as no surprise that churches are some of the most important places when it comes to what to do in Rouen. Besides the Notre-Dame and all the churches surrounding it, this is another church worth a visit while in Rouen.
Abbey Church of Saint-Ouen played an important part before the Revolution. This was where the Benedictine abbey functioned for a thousand years. Soak in the beauty of its stained-glass windows, majestic interiors, and the crown of the crossing tower.
The word “Aître” is not commonly found in French. And this place is not a common destination among tourists in France either. Aître Saint-Maclou is an ossuary. Back in 1348, this place was built as a cemetery for people who died of the Great Plague.
Today, Aître Saint-Maclou stands as a courtyard surrounded by stone houses. It is indeed, one of Rouen’s landmarks you must visit, for a unique experience. The decorations consist of bones, skulls, and even gravediggers’ objects. In fact, in one of its walls, you will find a cat skeleton displayed in a glass case. Some say this was a black cat, plastered to shoo evil spirits away.
The Seine Riverbank
A visit to Rouen is not complete without a few hours relaxing by the riverbank. Being a port city gives Rouen its characteristics and colors throughout history. Back then, this part of the city came to live with a vast amount of boats docking at the piers. Today, you can find parks, bars, and restaurants lining up on the riverbanks.
Soak in the scenic view as the sun sets, creating a majestic reflection on the river while enjoying a plateful dinner or a glass of wine. It is the perfect way to wrap your adventurous day in Rouen.
Just So You Know:
- There is a train designated to take tourists around Rouen’s old districts. (Rouen Tourist Train)
- Joan of Arc or Jeanne d’Arc was trialed and executed in Rouen.
- Join a private and custom tour to most places in Rouen to not miss the most important attractions.
- Normandy was where World War II D-Day took place. Join one of many guided tours and non-guided tours that will take you to the D-Day beaches.
Where to Stay:
- ⭐⭐⭐ le 4B – A great apartment with a strategic location.
- ⭐⭐⭐⭐ Mercure Rouen Centre Cathédrale – Located near the Cathedral and offers great facilities such as in-room breakfast.
- ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Hotel de Bourgtheroulde, Autograph Collection – A boutique hotel located in Rouen’s historic center and offers the ultimate Parisian experience.
Get Some Culture:
- Brainscape – If you are planning to visit Rouen with colleagues or a big group of friends, check out this other exciting escape room in Rouen.
- Museum of Natural History – Displays more than 800.000 objects, making it one of the most important natural history museums in France.