Is your cruise stopping in Le Havre, France? If you are lucky enough to stop in my hometown, here is my guide with my selection of things to do in Le Havre Cruise Port over one day - architecture, nature, history, art... ideas for everyone! Stay in town or explore Normandy with one of the Le Havre shore excursions.
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Introduction to Le Havre, Normandy
As a large commercial port in Normandy France, Le Havre also welcomes many cruise ships every year.
A resilient history
The city itself was mostly destroyed during WWII, so you won't see many old churches and buildings like in other French towns.
But it was rebuilt by Auguste Perret in a modern style of architecture that has been classified as Unesco World Heritage.
Light that inspired many artists
The light and clouds in Le Havre are always special. They have inspired many artists, especially impressionists. Claude Monet and Eugène Boudin for example, painted the colors of Le Havre.
In the beautiful Normandy region
The cruise port of Le Havre is also a great place from which to explore some of the most beautiful places in Normandy with shore excursions.
Le Havre is my hometown. This is where I was born and where I grew up. I left it for many years to study and work (even all the way to Sydney, Australia), but moved back in 2016.
My family has been established here for a long time. Our family shop has been established in Le Havre since 1870 (yes you read it right with an 8!).
My grandfather was one of the first persons to receive the keys to the new constructions after WWII and he really enjoyed the improvement it made to his quality of life 🙂
If you are planning a weekend on longer in Le Havre, check out my article on things to do in Le Havre Normandy.
Cruises arriving in Le Havre
This article is for people having a few hours off a cruise ship. You may arrive with:
- MSC cruises (by the way, I you need help choosing your packages for drinks on an MSC cruise, check out this guide)
- Royal Caribbean
- or with a river cruise via the Seine River
Main Options - Le Havre Shore Excursions
So, you are making port in Le Havre on your cruise? Great!
Below is my selection of the main shore excursions from le Havre to consider. They are in no particular order (it depends on what you are interested in):
OPTION 1 - Visit Le Havre
Le Havre is strange town, I'll admit it. For many visitors (as well as French people), it is not what France should look like.
But Le Havre is a unique and trendy town, that has a lot to offer and should not be overlooked.
You can spend a great day in Le Havre discovering the architecture and the sea views that inspired so many artists, such as Monet.
And this will be the cheapest option.
I am not going into details here - you can learn all about my hometown further in the article (after my list of options, find out the places not to be missed and my suggested itineraries).
OPTION 2 - Tour the American D-Day Beaches
People interested in War History may join a shore excursion from Le Havre to tour the D-Day Beaches and some WWII monuments.
Tours tailored to Americans include Omaha Beach, Pointe du Hoc, Overlord Museum and the American Cemetery
Check out program and book
Tours tailored to Canadians include Juno Beach, Canadian Cemetery and Abbey d'Ardenne
Check out program and Book
OPTION 3 - Mont St-Michel
It is a long drive to get to Mont St Michel (just over 2h30) but this is one of the most iconic French jewels, and a Unesco site.
Simply the view from mainland is breathtaking whatever the weather.
Then you can visit this rocky island with the 8th century Benedictine Abbey at the top.
One of the most famous sites to visit in France is accessible on a Le Havre Cruise excursion!
OPTION 4 - Living Painting - Giverny and Honfleur
If you are looking for charming villages and places that inspired famous artists, Normandy has many sites that can satisfy you. For example, you can head to Giverny to visit the house and gardens of Monet. And you can visit the fishing town of Honfleur, which is one of the most charming ports in France.
Check out program and book
OPTION 5 - Etretat
One of my favorite places to visit in Normandy is Etretat.
I just love the little cove and the impressive white cliffs surrounding it.
And as a French person I grew up with stories of Leblanc's fictional character Arsène Lupin who was hiding his treasure in the pinacle.
The heart of the town has charming old houses typical of the region and from the beach you can climb the cliffs on both side for amazing views.
The best way to go to Etretat is to
- rent a car
- or hire a cab - 30 to 40 euros each way I think
OPTION 6 - Paris
Of course you can also go to Paris for the day.
Your cruise ship will probably offer some day trips from Le Havre to Paris.
It is a 2h30min drive to get there. So you still have several hours to visit.
I know that Paris is the city that makes people dream, but my opinion is that it would be very frustrating to have only a few hours there. It is too difficult to choose what to see.
Visiting Le Havre Cruise Port - Tips
Now let me tell you a bit more about Le Havre as a Cruise port.
Arrival in Le Havre Cruise Port
As your cruise ship arrives in Le Havre, I recommend that you get out on the deck to see the beach and the Perret architecture as a whole.
And wave a little as I may see you from my window. LOL. (see the picture of the ship below - I took it from my flat's window)
The ships are docked at the Cruise Terminal.
It is 2.5 km (1.5mi) from the city center.
Walking will take you 30min.
Most cruise companies offer shuttles from the Terminal to the city center for those not joining the shore excursions. They take you close to what we call Le Volcan (a unique theatre I will show you later)
Or you can jump in a taxi. It should be around 8 euros to the city center and 10 euros to the train station.
At the visitor center you can get a map of the city to help you get around.
The best way to visit the city center is on foot.
Unless you visit Sainte-Adresse, the rest is all flat walking. This is how you can best enjoy the architecture.
Tourist Bus - in Summer
However if you want to get an overview of the whole city, consider jumping on the Tourism bus "Bee Le Havre" to learn more about this surprising city. It departs from the side of the Volcan opposite where the shuttle is dropping you off.
They also now have a Food Bus and a Honfleur bus tour.
At the cruise terminal, it is possible to rent bikes
Tuk Tuk - in Summer
Tuk-Tuk tours (electric vehicles) depart near the marina (their website is only in French at the moment - translation in progress - but they do run tours in English).
Other things to know
- Currency is Euro
- Tipping is not mandatory; At the restaurant you can leave a few euros if you are very happy with the service
- The European emergency number is 112
- Sunday is a resting day in France, shops are closed except for food shops until lunch time. The Muma museum is normally open.
- Lots of shops and museums may be closed on Mondays (Muma museum is closed)
- If you are looking for clothes, a few shops should be opened on Mondays and Sundays at The Docks (not the same direction as the city center)
- It is a big maritime port so English is common but some French people will speak no words of English at all
Main Things to do in Le Havre Cruise Port
Wondering if you should opt to stay in Le Havre and visit the city? Let me show you all the main points of interest in Le Havre you could be enjoying:
Architecture by Perret
Let's start by the reason why Le Havre is a Unesco Site. As it was destroyed during WWII, most of the city center was rebuilt with a uniform architecture. It was based on the engineering of Auguste Perret who was a pioneer in the use of reinforced concrete. These new buildings brought many facilities that people did not have before in their homes.
The most stunning pieces of the city center are the Town Hall with its tower on the side and the unique St Joseph Church. Don't hesitate to enter the church (10am to 6pm), especially on a sunny day to see the play with the stained-glass windows.
Architecture by Oscar Niemeyer
Right next to where the shuttle stops, you can't miss the iconic building that we refer to either as "Le Volcan" (the volcano) or "Le pot à yahourt" (the yoghurt tub). I know, funny.
It is a clear contrast with the Perret architecture and we love our theater.
It was built in 1982 on the design of Oscar Niemeyer, an architect famous for his modern buildings in Brasilia.
Nature & Art
As I said earlier, the light of Le Havre has been an inspiration for many artists, especially the impressionists.
The city has installed displays along the basins and the coastal promenade, to show you some paintings from where they were created.
I think it is a great idea, and despite seeing them frequently, I always stop to watch them again.
There is long promenade along the beach that also takes you to the neighboring town of Sainte Adresse where the Belgian government established its headquarters during WWI.
Note that at high tide, there is no sand, only pebbles. But at low tide you can walk on the sand. And in summer, historical little beach bungalows appear on the beach, where families to come spend the day.
The most famous museum is Le Havre is André Malraux, also known as MuMa.
Located at the end of the seaside promenade, by the port watch tower, it offers nice collections.
The museum is filled with light and has a great open structure.
In permanent display are paintings spanning from the 15th to the 20th centuries with pieces from Delacroix, Boudin, Monet, Renoir, Degas, Manet and many more...
It has one of the most prestigious collection of impressionist art outside of Paris.
Closed on Mondays.
In 2018, was the 500th birthday of Le Havre. For the event, modern art pieces were installed and luckily some are here to stay.
Vincent Ganivet set up 2 modern arches created by assembling colorful containers.
I love it!
It is located at the end of the Rue de Paris with the port in the background.
As I said earlier not much remains of the old Le Havre as it was destroyed during WWII. But on Rue de Paris, you can still see the Cathedral. It is a small one.
The bell tower dates back the 16th century.
The main façade is Baroque.
Inside, the church organs were gifts from Cardinal de Richelieu in the 17th century
If you feel like walking a little uphill. At the end of the main beach promenade you can head towards the top of the cliffs. Follow the road and you will reach a panoramic viewpoint.
On a clear day you can see Deauville and Trouville on the other side of the Estuary.
But in any weather, you have great views of the city of Le Havre with the beach and the St Joseph church tower peaking above it.
It is called 'Table d'orientation' or 'Balcon de l'Estuaire'
GPS - 49°30'26.3"N 0°04'25.7"E
Sorry for the quality of the photo, I really have to go and take a better one...
Culture and Gastronomy
You can also stroll the streets of Le Havre to discover many Boulangeries (bakeries) and other shops to understand a little bit of life in France.
Les Halles is a great place to do some people watching as a lot of the people living in the city center come to buy food at this indoor market (many shops are closed between 1pm and 3pm)
It is located behind Le Volcan.
1 day in Le Havre Walk
Map Data @2018 Google
- Get off the shuttle at Le Volcan
- Admire the Bassin du Commerce with its beautiful arched bridge. The statue next to it is in memory of the people who died protecting our country.
- Cross the road and admire the architecture from Oscar Niemeyer
- Cross the passageway behind and visit the indoor market for a snapshot of life in France (if you love bread, check out the Portier Boulangerie outside the market (across the street), they make the best bread in Le Havre in my opinion) - Note the covered market is closed at the beginning of the afternoon, it gets busy again at 3pm
- Walk towards the Town Hall and enjoy the gardens - appreciate the Perret architecture - square concrete blocks
- Walk towards the beach on Avenue Foch, one of the largest in Europe
- Before the door-like buildings, turn left and walk to St Joseph Church
- Walk to the sea
Option a - for art lovers
9. Walk left along the marina and get to the MuMa Museum
10. Visit the Museum
11. Walk towards the double container arch
12. Walk back to the Volcan via Rue de Paris with its protected arches to shop, and visit the cathedral along the way
Option b - for people who prefer the outdoor and can walk uphill
9b. walk right, get on the beach promenade
10b. At the Sainte Adresse sign, either go up or continue to the flat walk and then take stairs
11b. Admire the view from the panoramic viewpoint
12b. Walk Back
Options for a Rainy Day
Le Havre is not as wet as other parts of Normandy but it is located in the North of France by the sea, so it does get frequent showers.
If it is not raining heavy, I recommend you wear a good poncho and still enjoy the program of the sunny day. And you never know, the rain might stop.
The main areas you can still enjoy on a rainy day:
- The Volcan underground area and its library
- Rue de Paris as it has covered passages to do window shopping and the cathedral
- The MuMa Museum
- Les Halles, the indoor market
Shopping and Souvenirs
Looking for souvenirs?
- Right before taking the shuttle back to your cruise ship, by the volcano is the "Local Shop" where you can find a lot of items branded Le Havre or Normandy and other local produces (location B on the map)
- You can also find Le Havre-branded products at the visitor center (location A on the map)
Want to go shopping?
This is not my thing, but, for those who enjoy it, the main shopping areas in the city center are:
- Rue de Paris with its local and traditional shops
- Coty Mall where you can find chain stores (location C on the map)
- Les docks - outside of the Hyper-center, not far from the train station - more chain stores.
Hummmm that is a difficult question to answer from a tourist point of view...
It also depends on where you are in the itinerary...
I normally don't write much about food. But since this is where i live, here are some suggestions:
Baguette, Sandwiches and Cakes
If you want to try excellent French bread, delicate patisseries or want to opt for a sandwich as lunch, head to Maison Portier, Place des Halles (near location 4)
Address: 48 Rue Bernardin de Saint-Pierre - closed on Mondays
Even after living in many cities and all over the world, my brother, my parents and I still think it is the best bread we have ever tasted.
In the pedestrian streets North of Les Halles (North of point 3 - 101 rue Victor Hugo), you can find the Wine bar.
This is a place with wine fountains where you can taste the quantity you want of each wine.
This is great to be able to sample a wide variety without drinking full glasses.
And their food is also delicious 🙂
There are many restaurants in the city center. It depends on what you like.
In Summer we even have temporary restaurants which are set up on the beach. Typical food to enjoy is mussels in a Camembert cream.
But some of my favorites are actually not near the walking paths I gave you...
For Fine Gourmet French Food, you can head to Jean Luc Tartarin - Address: 73 avenue Foch (along road 6 on the map)
Or my favorite: Le Bouche à Oreille at 19 Rue Paul Doumer (booking required).
Nice break for those on option B Walk
If you have continued walking along the beach, on the Sainte-Adresse side, you will reach a nice restaurant-bar with a terrace by the sea. It is called LATERAS.
It is a great place for a break with delicious freshly squeezed juice mocktails and tasty crepes.
GPS - 49°30'14.7"N 0°04'40.1"E
Update 2020: The location has a new owner. The name changed. I have not yet tried to new one. I will update this when I do.
Street Art walk in Le Havre
If you are looking for something different and like Street Art, Jace has created pieces all around Le Havre, especially with a little orange character named Gouzou.
You can find a map of all his tags HERE. This way you can create your own itinerary around it!
Leaving Le Havre
During some periods of the year, ships leave right during sunset and you might enjoy some splendid colors!
So will you stay in Le Havre or head to another shore excursion?