The Normandy capital of Rouen is divided by the river Seine, just like Paris to the south. River vessels glide past the Rive Gauche (Left Bank) and Rive Droite (Right Bank) before docking a short walk from the city's sights. Get lost in the corkscrew-like cobblestone streets filled with locals called Rouennais and French Norman architecture dating back to the Middle Ages. It’s truly a trip back in time.
What We Love
The Stunning Sights: Chances are you’ve seen Rouen before your arrival, thanks to Claude Monet's paintings of the city, including many works dedicated to the Gothic-style Notre Dame Cathedral. It dates to the 13th century and its spire — at 490 feet it's the highest in France — was added 600 years later.
It’s Foot Friendly: Driving is possible, but Rouen is easily walkable. Winding, narrow cobblestone streets, especially in Rouen's old town, lead to over 50 medieval buildings and preserved half-timbered homes. Many churches and structures have been transformed into museums dedicated to everything from intricate ironware to ornate ceramics.
Best Known For
Joan of Arc: Rouen’s Place du Vieux-Marché is where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in 1431. In addition to a namesake church where the roof represents flames, there are now restaurants, cafés, and a bustling market in the square.
The Big Clock: The Gros-Horloge is a 16th-century astronomical clock near the Palais de Justice. It serves a dual function, both as town timekeeper and work of art. Sculpted symbols highlight days of the week, moon phases, and seasons.
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Who It's Best For
Francophiles: It’s easy to immerse yourself in the French way of life. Divine dining is at the ready, including pressed duck, a Rouen specialty that's prepared tableside at many bistros.
History Lovers: Those enamored with French history will have an exceptional archive of information at their fingertips. Think D-Day and Normandy to tales of Rouen’s famous figures — from Victor Hugo to Gustave Flaubert.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
Slow Down: During the summer when festivals and parades are in full swing, Rouen has posted pedestrian speed limit signs. Walkers are asked to maintain a speed of 3 km/h (1.86 mph), and offenders see a flash — but the chances of a speeding ticket actually being issued are pretty slim.
Chanize Thorpe is a New York-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has also written for Brides and Uptown.