Planning a trip to Normandy? Let's have a look at one of the highlights. Below is my guide with all the best things to do in Honfleur: the old town, the best views, the beach, the museums and more! Have fun planning your visit.
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Why visit Honfleur in Normandy?
Honfleur is often listed as one of the most beautiful towns in France. It is famed for attracting artists thanks to its rich colors and beautiful cloudy skies (not like when I took the pictures LOL).
- Historical houses throughout the town - some date back to medieval times
- The old harbor where trade happened - it is especially intriguing because of its tall buildings with site-covered frontages.
- Its artistic history - Honfleur has been painted by many famous artists: Courbet, Boudin, Monet...
- The views of the Seine estuary
- The fascinating wooden old church of Sainte-Catherine
It is a popular tourist spot, so, very busy - but well worth a visit in my opinion. It feels like traveling back in time.
In case the photo above is not enough to convince you, here is a short video of what a visit to Honfleur could look like:
Top 3 things to do in Honfleur
Now, let's start with my absolute top 3 things to do in Honfleur, what I think you should not miss if you only have a few hours.
1. Walk around the old port
Walking around the old harbor, starting from the building La Lieutenance.
You can't miss it, this is the heart of the town.
Originally it was only built as a trading place, a safe harbour on the estuary of one of the principal French river : the Seine.
Yet, it has inspired many generations.
This is quite a unique place. The surrounding buildings are surprising: they are narrow and tall with site-covered frontages of different colors. They look squeezed between each others. This is fun to admire. If you are lucky and there is no wind, you may even see reflections in the water. And if there are clouds, the scene becomes magnificent.
2. Visit Sainte-Catherine Church
The church of St Catherine, built entirely in wood.
From the La Lieutenance building, take the road uphill to the right, you can already spot the church.
This church should not be missed. This is a gem.
The church is entirely built of wood, which is rare in France.
Take the time to look at the outside with the roof and the sides partially covered in chestnuts shingles. Notice also the shape of the bell tower, separated from the church (to protect the parishioners in case of fire).
Then walk inside. What do you notice?
It looks like an up-side down boat. This is because the first nave was built using naval techniques during the second half of the 15th century.
This is a phenomenal building to admire.
3. Admire the view from the Mont-Joli Panorama
The panoramic viewpoint of Mont Joli
Uphill from the town, in Equemauville - you can reach it by car on D62, or climb the small walking path called "côte de Grace" after Rue du Puits.
This is still partially a secret for tourists. I hesitate to share it here but I love it so much I want you to know it exists. I love seeing towns from above.
This viewpoint offers the best view in the area: you can see all the roofs of the old center and you can see the Normandy bridge!
If you drive up by car, know that the roads are narrow and there is not much space to park.
If you are walking, the path is not paved and a little steep.
I am sharing more amazing buildings and places to see in Honfleur (with a lot of pictures) after the practical tips.
Planning Tips - Honfleur, France
- Honfleur is in Normandy, France
- Quite close to the Normandy bridge, by the Seine River
- Paris to Honfleur by car = 2h20
- Rouen to Honfleur by car = 1h
- Caen to Honfleur by car = 1h
How to get to Honfleur
- You cannot reach Honfleur by train. However there is a bus service from all major towns in Normandy
- The easiest option is by car
- Otherwise you can book day trips from Paris - Check out this option
- Or you can take a bus tour from Le Havre, if you are on a cruise
- Or maybe your cruise stops directly in Honfleur and you can just enjoy it!
- Walking in Honfleur is not very easy - it is an old town and they have kept the old pavements. DO NOT WEAR HEELS!
- Plan enough time to walk slowly and explore
- You can see the old town center in a couple of hours, but if you want to see more and visit the museums plan at least 2 days. This is a great weekend destination
- There are public toilets throughout the old center, especially at the carparks.
- All the main sights are well indicated (although mostly in French)
- Honfleur has many famous and delicious restaurants
- If shopping for something local, make sure to get cider or calvados cheese!
Carparks in Honfleur
- As I wrote, Honfleur is very touristic.
- There are 4 main carparks
- There is only one road to go through the town and it is jammed with tourists on foot and by car.
- If you are driving from the Normandy bridge, I recommend you enter one of the 2 first carparks. One is a little bit further and cheaper, but it is not that far to walk to the old town. This way you don't waste time sitting in the car.
- The free carpark is on the other side of town, near the Naturospace attraction. It is a 15min walk away from the old center. But that mean wasting time trying to cross the town if there is traffic.
Where to stay in Honfleur - accommodations
I recommend spending at least one night in Honfleur to enjoy the delicious restaurants and the the unique artsy ambiance.
You will find plenty of accommodations.
You can stay directly inside the old town - there are hotels in modern buildings, others in historical buildings and lots of rental in old houses.
Your options include:
- THE VIEW - La Lucarne enchantée is an apartment with view over the harbour facing the best buildings! - check out photos and book
- GOOD PRICE / LOCATION - Apartment in the old town - Studio et appartements Sainte Catherine have a wonderful location next to the iconic church for a good price - check out photos and book
- B&B - enjoy a stay in a traditional house at Reglisse et Pain d'Epices - check out photos and book
- HOTEL BY THE HARBOR - stay in a 16th century building right in the action at L'Absinthe Hotel - check out photos and book
- or see all the best rated accommodations in Honfleur - there are many many great rentals!
Or you can choose accommodations a little outside of town. There are stunning options in traditional farm houses. Some have exceptional views of the estuary.
Your options include:
- LUXURY GUESTHOUSE - Enjoy relaxing luxury at the New Cottage & Spa Guesthouse inside a stunning farm house - see more photos and book
- RELAIS & CHATEAUX - Stay at the famous 5 star Ferme Saint Simeon - check out photos and book
- UNIQUE - looking for something different? why not spend the night on Yacht Sequana - check out photos and book
- Campsite - Honfleur also has a campsite within a close walking distance to the center, past the tower: Camping du Phare
- Motorhome area - there is also a motorhome area on the other side of the estuary
- or see all the best rated accommodations around Honfleur
What to see in Honfleur - the beautiful buildings in the old center
The absolute best thing to do in Honfleur is just to walk around the old town and appreciate all the streets and their unique buildings.
Below are a few at which I recommend you have a closer look.
We saw the church above in my top 3 places to see in Honfleur. This is a must-do, in my opinion.
La lieutenance - the entrance building to the port
Right next to the old port bridge - you cannot miss it, it is the most prominent building around.
The Lieutenance building mark the entrance to the port. It is a building from the 18th century. It was the home of the Governor of the region. You can walk the tunnel in one of the façade which was the entrance to the medieval village.
Make sure to pay attention to the variety of elements around this building.
Rue des petites boucheries + Rue de la prison
Rue des petites boucheries, which translates to "Street of the small butcher's shops", continuing into Rue de la prison
Between the the Salt barns and the Naval Museum, on one side of the old port
This is a street not to be missed where you will find the incredible old house of the Ethnography museum (explanation in the museum section). Walking that street is like traveling back in time.
The name comes from the 17th century when the butchers' stalls lined up the street.
Saint-Leonard Church & neighborhood
The Saint Leonard neighborhood and its church
Inland from the old port, behind the Tourism center.
Enjoy the streets of this less visited area with old houses and a flamboyant Gothic church façade.The building was rebuilt in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Notice the octagonal bell tower from 1760 and the paintings inside the church from the 19th century.
Next to this church is rue Bourdet where Eugène Boudin was born.
Greniers à sel (Salt Barns)
The Salt Barns buildings of Honfleur
Rue de la ville, main street, parallel to the port on the left side when facing inland.
There were 3 barns, but only 2 remain today. They used to contain 11,000 tons of salt to preserve the fish. They were built in the 17th century.
Today they have been turned into an exhibition hall.
47 Rue de l'homme de bois
47 Rue de l'homme de bois (which translates to Street of the wooden man)
As people explore Honfleur, they often go to the Eugene Boudin museum but stop here to walk back down to town. Don't! just continue for 1 minute to reach this strange place
This is my favorite building in Honfleur... which has been painted by Alexandre Dubourg
And the building of the maritime museum... see next section
Want to know more about the local history and the local artists? Visit some of Honfleur's museums.
Naval Museum (Musée de la Marine)
Naval Museum (Musée de la Marine in French)
On one side of the old harbor in the Saint-Etienne Church
The museum displays model sailing ships, engravings, watercolours, and information avbout the slave trade in the 17th- and 18th-century.
It is located inside Saint-Etienne church (St Stephen), the oldest in Honfleur. It is in Gothic style, dating in part to the 14th and 15th centuries. The bell tower is covered with chestnut wood.
- Closed on Mondays
Ethnography Museum (Musée de l'Ethnographie et des arts populaires)
Just behind the Naval Museum
12 rooms which show how people use to live in Normandy (with old objects) as well as the old jail.
Even if you don't enter, the façade of the house is worth a stop.
Eugene Boudin Museum
Musée Eugène Boudin
5min walk from the old port - Rue de l'Homme de Bois
Art museum with several paintings of Honfleur and the Seine estuary by 19th and 20th century artists (Monet, Courbet, Dufy, Cals, Dubourg...) - Plus, a collection of drawings and paintings bequeathed by Eugène Boudin to his birthplace in 1898.
Boulevard Charles V, not far from the tower - less than 15min walk from the old port.
The musician and composer Erik Satie was born here. A scenic and musical walkthrough allows you to learn more about his life and his creations.
Architectural attractions around Honfleur
And a few other locations a bit further from the city center, but worth checking out:
Old Hospital lighthouse / Tower of Honfleur
The lighthouse of the old hospital is often referred to as the Tower of Honfleur. It was finished and lit for the first time in 1857. It was not meant to indicate entrance to the port, but to guide ships around the Ratier sandbank in the estuary.
It was decommissioned in 1908 when the Butin Lighthouse was set up. It has inspired many painters.
15 min walk from the old center.
Old Hospital chapel
Right next to the tower, turn around and notice the charming little chapel.
Chapel Notre Dame de Grace
Built during the 17th century, this chapel is richly adorned with paintings and models of ships offered ex voto by sailors.
It is dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
Notice the bells located just outside without a bell tower.
The viewpoint next to it offers beautiful views of the estuary.
Located on "Plateau de Grâce" above the town of Honfleur.
Plage du Butin - Honfleur's beach
Want a break? Head out to Honfleur's beach.
The beach of Honfleur is called Plage du butin
Boulevard Charles V (Road D513) - 20/25 min walk from the city center
Free carpark across the road but not very big
Snackbar in Summer
Sandy beach along the estuary - you can walk for a long time
Don't miss the Butin Lighthouse at the carpark.
Nature attractions and Gardens
If you are tired of historical buildings, Honfleur also offers some nice gardens and nature attractions.
La jetée - Walking path along the estuary
You can enjoy a nice walk by the water along the estuary. This is well set up for you to enjoy as you see the large boats make their way to the sea or inland along the Seine River.
This is such a fun attraction! I don't have my pictures of inside any more but I recommend it, especially if you have children.
Its main attraction is the butterfly house - birds, butterflies and exotic plants for you to admire.
Several companies in Honfleur are offering boat excursions.
They will take you in the estuary and around the Normandy bridge.
Public Garden (Jardin Public)
Close to the old center you can find the Public Garden (also named le Jardin Retrouvé which means the Retrieved garden).
Beautiful trees, and when in season, you can see beautiful arches covered in roses.
Jardin des personnalités
At the end of the estuary, you can find the Personalities Garden. It is a fun set up with sculptures of famous people. You can make it a game to guess who it is before entering to read the explanation.
Kids will also enjoy the maze-like features.
Jardin du Tripot
Urban garden with sculptures and viewpoints over an arm of the Claire river.
Art in Honfleur
Honfleur is also famous for the art it has inspired.
Many painters have reproduced the colors of the town, especially the impressionists.
You can see some paintings at the Eugene Boudin Museum
You will also see many copy of paintings on explanation boards throughout the town.
And you can find modern pieces. Many (many) artists have their studios in the streets of Honfleur. You can enjoy an art walk, going from one to the next and the next.
Honfleur with kids
What to do in Honfleur with kids?
- Visit the Naturospace - the butterflies should be a pleasure for both children and parents
- Show them the boat shape of Saint-Catherine church
- Enjoy ice cream at one of the many ice cream shops
- Play mini-golf
- Have them run around in Jardin de personnalités - fun structures have been created with the plants around the sculptures
- The Jardin Public has games for kids
What to do if staying longer than a weekend
And if you are planning for a whole vacation, there is more you can enjoy in the region:
- Check out the Normandy bridge
- Head to Deauville and Trouville to explore the towns, enjoy the sandy beaches or play at the casinos (25min drive)
- Head to Le Havre to discover a Unesco site, established for its post-war architecture - see my article (40min drive)
- Explore Pont-Audemer built around waterways (30min drive)
- Admire the cliffs at Etretat (45min drive away) - see my article
- Visit the town of Lisieux and the surrounding castles (40min drive)
- Visit the town of Caen (with the history of WWII) (1h drive)
Want to see more of NORMANDY?
Charming old town, isn't it?