Welcome to my hometown: Le Havre, Normandy! I call it the City of Thousands skies. If you are heading to Normandy, make sure to plan a few days to explore it. Below is my guide to help you plan your visit with some of the best things to do in Le Havre, France: architecture, art, nature, food...
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Why visit Le Havre Normandy? The city of Thousands Skies
Is Le Havre worth visiting?
Yes. Because it is my hometown 🙂
After 10 years living in various French regions and around the World, I have decided to move back to the City of Thousands Skies (my own expression).
Not a good reason enough? LOL
OK. Seriously, it is because:
- It is a Unesco World Heritage site
- It is not your typical French town, it has post-war architecture - The city was mostly destroyed during WWII, so you won't see many old churches and buildings. It is not what you have in mind when dreaming about France. It was rebuilt by Auguste Perret in a modern style of architecture, which was a great step forward at the time.
- It is a place that has inspired many generations of artists from the impressionists to modern and street artists today - the sunset skies (especially in Spring and autumn) can be spectacular! And even during the day we can have clouds and lights that are breathtaking. This is why I have called my hometown Le Havre, the "City of Thousands Skies"
- It is where the Alabaster coast, with its giant chalk cliff, starts
It is something different but still one of the best things to do in Normandy.
How to pronounce Le Havre
You just have to forget that there is an H.
You can listen to people pronouncing it on forvo.
The City of a Thousands Skies - Le Havre in photos
My family has had a shop in Le Havre here since 1870. Yes, with an 8. My grandfather lived until 104 years old, so he was able to share a lot of stories about the war and the rebuilding. We just wished we had written them down.
Let me show you what I mean by the nickname I have given to my hometown, one of the reasons I love it so much! But I don't take enough pictures, I should walk around more with my camera... I love it when it is moody.
Center of culture
And in recent years, Le Havre as been developing as a cultural center with pieces of modern art installed throughout the city contrasting with the Perret architecture. This is why is is one of the best towns in Normandy.
Note, if you are stopping for one day in Le Havre while on a cruise, my article on Le Havre Shore Excursions might be more practical for you than this one.
Planning Tips - Le Havre France
How to get to Le Havre
- You can easily arrive by train from Paris - at the moment it is not a high speed train but it only takes 2h (when it is on time) - Purchase your ticket
- Or you can drive - from Paris it is a 2h drive on a motorway (A13)
- Or if you are visiting from the UK, your ferry might arrive in Le Havre, which makes for a great stop before continuing South - book your ferry
- As a stop on your cruise (check out my LH cruise port article)
Visiting Le Havre - main things to know
- A lot of shops and restaurants are closed on Mondays and public holidays
- On Sundays all the restaurants will be opened but most shops will be closed
- Thanks to a few landmarks, it is quite easy to get oriented in town
- Weather in Le Havre: this is a coastal town in Northern France. Therefore it can be windy and rainy. Plan to have layers to face any kind of weather.
- Tourism center - you can get more information at the tourism center near the marina - GPS - 49°29'34.1"N 0°05'47.3"E
How to get around Le Havre
- Le Havre is a very walkable city, the whole city center is flat with large pedestrian sidewalks
- Parking in the city center requires to pay and display. However it is free along the beach.
- For the city center, I recommend parking somewhere and exploring on foot. If it is not raining, it is a great city to walk around.
- Then you can park at the beach and walk there
- It is also getting better and better to get around by bike.
- And the seafront is also a great long path if you enjoy roller skating.
- And if you want explanations, there is a bus that does a loop around the city giving you an overview: the Bee bus
- To explore further around town, you should hire a car
Where to stay in Le Havre
Sadly we don't have many hotels with sea views - but they have just started building one (just next to my place) so in a couple of years it will be great!
But we still have some great options:
- Hotel Spa Vent d'Ouest next to our famous church and less than 5min walk from the waterfront - check out photos and availability
- Hotel Spa Pasino inside one of our most impressive buildings with tall ceilings, a swimming pool and a casino - check out photos and availability
- Oscar Hotel next to the Volcano theater by Oscar Niemeyer - check out photos and availability
- and for some great rentals, check out the best rated accommodations in Le Havre
- Or have a look on Airbnb
- More information at the end of the article
My Top 7 things to do in Le Havre
Let's start with my absolute Top 7 things to do in Le Havre that you should consider if you have only a short amount of time.
#1 - Walk the city center to discover the Perret architecture
Well, this is why Le Havre is famous for.
True, this is not what you imagine when you think about France. The buildings are square and pinkish grey without embellishments.
But at the time it was built it was an incredible improvement.
My grandfather was one of the first people to get the keys to our family shop and the new apartments where his house used to be. And he was always keen on telling us how much better it was after the rebuilt. The living conditions improved drastically.
The architecture is not the most beautiful in the world, but it was very innovative and efficient at the time of the reconstruction, which is why it as been classified by the Unesco as a World Heritage site.
#2 - Enter Saint Joseph church
Of all the buildings by Perret, the St Joseph church is my favorite. Even a friend of mine who never enters churches was so fascinated that he came inside.
It was built between 1951 and 1957, and the inside was finished in 1964. So Auguste Perret never saw it built.
The base is square and the tower is 107m tall and hollow in the middle. It stands on the angles.
If there is no service, you can enter to admire the structure and the architectural wonder of the tower.
On a sunny day, the colors of the stain glass reflect everywhere inside, it is really enjoyable.
This is one of my favorite churches in Normandy.
GPS - 49°29'28.4"N 0°06'02.5"E
#3 - Admire the volcano
If you are tired of the grey buildings, Check out the pure white of the Volcano theater. This was built by the famous Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer. You can walk around and admire it from various angles.
The soft curvatures contrast with the sharp angles of the Perret architecture.
It was inaugurated in 1982.
Between us we sometimes also call it the yoghurt pot. LOL. But this nickname seems to be disappearing.
Recently they have established the library in the bottom part. Check it out, it is also a great interior design!
GPS - 49°29'27.7"N 0°06'27.2"E - one of the best Urban landscapes in Normandy.
#4 - Walk along the beach
When people hear about Le Havre, they think about a harbour. But we also have a nice beach that ends with cliffs.
See my next section of this article for more details on the beach.
#5 - Go up to the viewpoint 'la table d'orientation'
If you are not too tired, you can climb up at the end of the beach in Saint-Adresse (the neighbouring town).
There is a lookout with fantastic views of Le Havre. I love stopping there. But I never have my big camera with me, so I don't have a great picture of it. Sorry.
GPS - 49°30'26.2"N 0°04'26.3"E
#6 - Enjoy art
Because Le Havre is the "city of thousand skies", it has inspired many artists : Monet, Pissaro, Eugène Boudin, Gustave Courbet, Raoul Dufy...
The impressionists used to come here and paint by the sea the clouds, lights and colors.
If you walk on the seafront, you will see some reproductions of famous paintings where they were painted.
If you enjoy art, you can visit the MuMa (the Museum of Art André Malraux). It is at one end of the waterfront, not far from the container arches.
In permanent displays 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.
And there is also modern art. In recent year, the Havre has been investing in outside modern art. Some impressive pieces complement the architecture.
My favorite are the modern arches by Vincent Ganivet created by assembling colorful containers. It is located at the end of the Rue de Paris with the port in the background.
I love the perspectives, the colors and the link the the port.
And 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!
Container arches GPS - 49°29'05.8"N 0°06'26.2"E
Le MuMa GPS - 49°29'04.3"N 0°06'11.4"E
#7 - Fort and botanic garden ("les jardins suspendus")
I love this place!!! We often come here with my parents to walk.
It combines history, nature and great views of Le Havre.
Located inside the Saint-Adresse fort, the botanical garden includes a free outside walk and the possibility to see the greenhouse for a small fee.
It used to the a military base until 1979.
This can be access on foot from the city center (steep slope) or by public transportation (Line 5 stop 'Jardins suspendus').
If you visit by car, there are several carparks around.
GPS - 49°30'11.1"N 0°05'40.4"E
Le Havre is included in my eBook that facilites the planning of your road trip in Normandy:
Be overwhelmed by the beauty, not the planning!
Plan your perfect trip around Normandy with:
- 8 easy-to-plan Maps
- 160+ pre-selected scenic locations
- Planning tips to make the most of your time
- 315+ large photos to decide where to go
- GPS coordinates direct to the carparks
And of course... Le Havre Beach
Le Havre is not like the dreamy sandy beaches of Corsica. Noted.
But it has a lot charm.
First of all it has a walking path all the way along the beach, which makes for a great walk to what we call 'the tip of the world' ("Le bout du monde"), under the cliffs.
On Sundays, many locals come here for a long walk and some fresh air.
And from one end you can see the Perret architecture behind the beach, especially the tower of Saint-Joseph.
The beach in Le Havre has 5 different sections:
- By the water you have sand at low tide
- Then you have the big grey pebbles where colorful beach houses are set up during Summer times
- Then you have a walking path called 'the promenade' with some restaurants (part of the year)
- And below you have a small river with vegetation and another walking / biking area
- And then you have the street and the wide sidewalk
There is space for everyone!
If you walk South towards the Marina, you can also walk on the seawalls. And when there is high tide and strong wind, you can admire the water splashing on them!
Or you can continue North. At one point you cross into the town of Sainte-Adresse where you will find the Estacade (a pontoon)
And if you keep walking you will be under the cliffs and reach 'the tip of the world'.
At this end, you can find another art display. A giant statue looking towards the sea. It is 6,24m high which is the golden ratio of the Perret architecture.
Around the beach of Le Havre
Le Havre is a great stop if you enjoy:
- windsurfing, kite-surfing
- paddle boarding (certain days and only for advanced)
- paragliding, starting at the top of the cliffs
- roller along the beach
And the beach is perfect to watch the sun setting 🙂
What to see in Le Havre - other suggestions in the city center
Below are a few more places you can see on foot. It is of course a selection because many places can be listed, but I have curated my favorites for you.
Le Havre Cathedral
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 belltower dates back the 16th century. The main façade is Baroque
Inside, the church organs were gifts from Cardinal de Richelieu in the 17th century.
This is one of the 7 Normandy cathedrals.
GPS - 49°29'13.4"N 0°06'27.4"E
City center Garden - Square Saint Roch
The Perret architecture is very square and grey.
It will fascinate those who love history and architecture, but others might find it boring after a couple of buildings.
If you need a Nature break (apart from the beach), you can tour the Saint-Roch garden. It is located Avenue Foch. It is the only parc that was planned by Perret in the city center.
In spring this English garden is really beautiful with water, flowers and beautiful old trees.
My grand-parents used to love coming here, sitting and enjoying it for a while.
GPS - 49°29'38.3"N 0°06'07.6"E
Visit a Perret apartment
The tourism board has purchased one of the apartments in the Perret buildings to recreate the inside as it would have been in the 1950s.
I must admit that I have not visited yet because I have lived in a Perret apartment for 7 years after my grandmother passed away and we moved in with my grandfather.
It is called the 'appartement témoin'. It is recommended to book before via [email protected] Learn more
Museum of natural history
The building used to be a government building. It was built in 1760 with a neo-classicism style.
It was heavily damaged during WWII and Auguste Perret wanted to destroy it, but it was classified and restored.
Today it houses the museum of natural history
GPS - 49°29'15.9"N 0°06'32.0"E
Maison de l'armateur
In another neighbourhood, close to the fishing boat harbour, one of the few buildings that was not totally destroyed during WWII. It was built in 1790 and heavily restored after WWII. You can visit it with its neo-classical decor.
GPS - 49°29'12.5"N 0°06'45.7"E
Le Havre at night
If you are staying overnight, you should go out in the evening to enjoy the lights from city.
I really should take better pictures, I am sorry.
The St Joseph church is especially beautiful with all the lights between the reinforced concrete.
Boat tour in the harbour
Le Havre is the 1st port for wine and alcohol in the world, and the 1st or 2nd port in France for different categories of sea movements.
It welcomes some of the largest container ships in the world.
From the marina, you can enjoy a boat tour inside the port.
Sadly I don't think they have a page in English. Here is the website
Funicular and Le Havre Staircases
This is not what I prefer in my town but I know that some may be interested so here it is (I still need to go get pictures).
The wider Le Havre has a lower town and an upper town (because Le Havre was built on the marshes of the estuary at the foot of the cliffs). The transition between both is quite steep.
- Therefore, in many places in Le Havre you can find very long staircases. There are more than 200 around the city. The Tourism center offers visit that lead your to over 80 of them I think
- We also have a funicular. It is located not far from the Coty shopping Mall.
Lower station GPS - 49°29'52.7"N 0°06'41.5"E
The first one was opened in 1890 and worked with coal. In 1911 it started using electricy. It was damaged during WWII but restarted in 1950.
The version you see today is from 1972 with tires and cabins.
It goes up 78m in height over 343m.
- We also had an old outside escalator from 1928 but not anymore. But it was quite a unique at the time (there were only 2 at the time in the World). Today, the old stations still stand and the staircase around it (Montmorency) has been painted with many colors. GPS coordinates - 49°30'10.7"N 0°08'39.5"E (not close to the city center)
What to do in Le Havre - other suggestions close to the city
Below are a few other suggestions of places I enjoy around the town of Le Havre.
If you have a weekend in Le Havre or more, I think they are worth visiting.
But I recommend having a car to be able to get there.
Le Havre Forest
In Le Havre, we are lucky to have a forest very close to the city center: la forêt de Montgeon.
It has been inhabited since the Neolithic. During the Middle-Age, it was used by the nobility to hunt.
Today it is a great place to walk under the shade of the trees on hot days.
GPS - 49°30'43.5"N 0°08'35.5"E
Nature park - Parc de Rouelles
Want even more Nature, we have another great park just a 15min drive from downtown: the Parc de Rouelles.
It is 150ha with ponds and many walking paths.
In the center, there is a circular dovecot from 1631. And recently they have introduced Scottish Cattle. They are so beautiful!
GPS carpark - 49°31'15.2"N 0°10'08.7"E
History - If you are from Belgium or the United States
This building in Sainte-Adresse, right next to Le Havre was were the Belge government established itself during the first WW (1914-1918).
And it was occupied from 1944 to 1946 by the United States army. You can see the red postbox.
It can be reached on foot from the beach (uphill).
GPS - 49°30'16.8"N 0°04'50.6"E
And if you enjoy war history, we are not as famous as the Normandy beaches more South but you can still see Blockhaus on the cliffs in Sainte-Adresse. There is a walking path to enjoy the sea views and it goes near several of them.
GPS start - 49°30'40.6"N 0°04'10.3"E
If you are looking for older history, in the wide Le Havre area, neighbouring small towns are home to old abbeys:
- Abbaye de Graville - it has buildings dating back to the 12th and 18th centuries - GPS - 49°30'11.9"N 0°09'51.7"E
- Abbaye de Montivilliers - its current buildings date back to the 11th century with a Roman style - 49°32'43.2"N 0°11'30.5"E
A weekend in Le Havre - itinerary
Suggested itinerary of Le Havre in 2 days - my favorites
- Morning Day 1 - Walk around the city center - enjoy the architecture, enter Saint-Joseph church
- Afternoon Day 1 - Walk along the beach all the way to the cliffs, you can also climb to the lookout and further to see the Blockaus from the war
- Evening Day 1 - Watch sunset at the beach and go out to see Le Havre by night 🙂
- Morning Day 2 - Stroll in the MuMa and admire the Container arches
- Afternoon Day 2 - Go up to the Jardins suspendus - walk around and admire the view of Le Havre / or take a boat tour
Le Havre with kids
If you are traveling with kids, they will enjoy some of the sights listed above such as:
- The beach
- The forest
- The arches of containers
- The fort
But you can also find playgrounds:
- at the beginning of the beach (all ages)
- in the forest (all ages)
- in Square Saint-Roch (I need to go check)
- near the town hall (for younger kids)
- near the container arches (for older kids - big climbing web)
Things to do in Le Havre if it is raining
If it is only raining and there is no strong wind, then I think you should still walk around the city 🙂 As my mother always say, "you are not made of sugar".
But if the wind is blowing, it can be very uncomfortable. In that case you can:
- visit the MuMa (museum of art)
- visit the Museum of natural history
- go see how French people shop for food in Les Halles
- walk along Rue de Paris as the sidewalks are covered
- go to the shopping malls: Coty (not far from the town hall) or Les Docks (not far from the river cruise dock)
Eating in Le Havre
My favorite place to go grocery shopping is 'Le Halles Centrales' just behind the Volcano.
It is a covered market where you can find lots of cheese, meet, french delicacies...
But many of the shops are closed on Mondays.
This one is very easy for me because our family has been very faithful to the same bakery for decades.
It is called Maison Portier. It is near the Halles Centrales (but outside of the covered market).
My brothers and I have lived and travelled in other cities, but we always say that this is the best bread 🙂 We all love a different bread at this bakery (very different) but we can't go anywhere else.
And we really enjoy our little Sunday cake (and sometimes not only on Sundays...).
Closed on Sunday afternoon and Mondays.
That's a difficult one. I don't often go out.
But I still have some suggestions:
- for high end restauration, the most famous is Tartarin on avenue Foch, 2 stars in the Michelin 2019
- for some delicious french cuisine with a lot of thought, I recommend either Le Bouche à Oreille (19 rue Paul Doumer) or La Tablée (69 rue Guillemard) - Booking is essential
- for French crepes, there are many excellent Crêperies in the St François neighborhood such as Maryvonne(13 rue Jean de la Fontaine) , Au Petit Breton (11 rue Dauphine)...
- For mussels, I do like La Voile Bleue (58 rue des sauveteurs). It does not look fancy but their mussels are delicious with Normand sauce with Camembert or with Roquefort!!!
- For simple eating, in Summer we have restaurants along the cabans on the beach. You will find a variety of cooking: French, Asian...
That's even more difficult. for me. I don't drink alcohol.
One of the busiest areas in the evening is around the Volcano, les halles and in the pedestrian street nearby. You can find a large choice of bars.
If you enjoy wine, there is the W Wine bar where you can taste many of them with a card system (101 rue Victor Hugo)
Plus their cheese and charcuterie plates are to die for!
Hotels in Le Havre
At the moment, there is no one hotel that stands out in terms of reviews on Booking.com.
And sadly we don't have many hotels with sea views - but they have just started building one (just next to my place) so in a couple of years it will be great!
But we still have some great options:
- Hotel Spa Vent d'Ouest - it is located next to the famous church Saint Josef with balconies, charming decor and less than 5min walk from the waterfront - check out photos and availability
- Hotel Spa Pasino inside one of our most impressive buildings. They did a great job reimagining the volumes. The rooms have tall ceilings, a swimming pool and a casino - check out photos and availability
- Oscar Hotel next to the Volcano theater by Oscar Niemeyer so in a very central location with a retro style - check out photos and availability
- Le Nomad Hotel - a simple but practicla hotel near the train station - check out photos and availability
- 1872 Stadium Hotel - for sport fans. You are not in the city center, but if you are looking for something different, this is a small hotel in the stadium - check out photos and availability
- and for some great rentals, check out the best rated accommodations in Le Havre
- or have a look at the options on Airbnb
Excursions from Le Havre, Seine-Maritime
If you have more than a weekend and can have a complete week or holiday visiting the Normandy region, below are some extra suggestions.
Love, love, love Etretat... the charming old village, the impressive cliffs and the stories of Arsène Lupin...
40min drive from Le Havre
Rouen has been less destroyed by WWII, so the center is still full of old houses and narrow street. It deserves a full day.
1h drive from Le Havre (or 1h by train)
Normandy Landing beaches
You can of course do a day trip to visit the Normandy Landing Beaches a bit more South: Omaha, Juno, Utah...
2h drive from le Havre
Honfleur is one of the most famous villages in France. If you are looking for a place that looks like the France in people's imagination, this is it.
45min drive from le Havre
See my article
But the Seine-Maritime (region around Le Havre and Rouen) is full of charming little villages such as: La Bouille, Caudebec-en-caux, Veules les Roses, Yport...
And if architecture and constructing is really you thing, don't miss the Normandy bridge. You can drive on it, or stop at its foot and walk over (avoid windy days).
And much more...
Fécamp, Caen, Pont-Audemer, Foreêt de Brotonne, Deauville...
Want to see more of NORMANDY?
Intrigued by my hometown?