During the Second World War, the port city of Le Havre became a Nazi military base and was 85% razed to the ground during Allied bombing raids.
At the end of the conflict, the city had to completely reinvent itself, reworking a new urban and architectural plan based on concrete, the absence of ornaments, simplicity and essentiality: it became an austere and grey city, into which the new round and asymmetrical Oscar-Niemeyer cultural centre was inserted.
The new urban style has met with much criticism, despite the fact that some buildings have been declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites: in any case, it remains a city that is difficult to love and in stark contrast to the medieval and picturesque character of Normandy.
In recent years, it has been able to renew its identity, promoting contemporary art and focusing on the modernisation of its urban structures.
Beneath its appearance as an industrial port, Le Havre hides a unique architecture in which modern and stylised forms characterise its visual identity. It has become a meeting point for all lovers of art and history.
In addition, Le Havre is divided between the lower part and the hill area, joined and connected by a funicular railway, which leads to a vantage point from which one can embrace the entire city.
During World War II, the Germans occupied Le Havre with almost 40,000 soldiers, turning it into a strategic military base. To regain control of the port, the Allies had to bomb Le Havre several times and weaken the Nazi occupation, but the city was almost completely razed to the ground.
In 1945, the reconstruction project for Le Havre was entrusted to Auguste Perret, an architect specialising in concrete. The urban design guidelines were to rebuild economically, robustly and quickly. Thanks to a design based on standardisation and prefabrication, the city was rebuilt very quickly, through a unique concrete architecture derived from the modern movement of the 1950s/60s.
To understand the geometry of the new urban layout, we recommend you climb to the 17th floor of the town hall tower: at a height of 60 metres, you will have a 360° panoramic view of the city below. You will be able to spot the rationalised urban space in new square, schematic, standardised forms organised in concrete bars. Each building is composed of beams, spaced exactly 6.24 metres apart.
To immerse yourself in the post-war atmosphere and understand the guidelines of reconstruction, you can visit the Apartment Témoin, in the Perret district, completely furnished and decorated in the style of the 1950s: used as a model for the construction of new dwellings, it allows you to discover the services designed for the inhabitants of the time.
The flats in the Perret district are equipped with all the comforts, modern and advanced for the period: heating, running water, toilets and first bathrooms. The guided tour will let you discover a functional, bright, rational flat in which no space is wasted.
In the centre of the Perret district, you will spot a strange building: the Vulcan, nicknamed the Yogurt, by the inhabitants of Le Havre. It is the work of Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer.
Born as a cultural centre, in 1991 it became a theatre that can seat up to 800 people, with a varied and eclectic programme of events: concerts, theatre, dance, readings, debates, circus, workshops, meetings. The structure is unique and full of artistic details to discover, such as Niemeyer’s Hand.
Next to the Volcano is a second, more recent crater, built in a stylistic continuity by the same architect Oscar Niemeyer. This original building houses a wonderful media library: over the years it has become an important meeting and sharing place for the inhabitants of Le Havre. The structure was designed to create an immersive and welcoming environment in which one can eat, study, work, listen to music or watch videos on large screens with free access.
What makes the library truly unique is certainly its structure and design. Between futuristic and retro architecture, this striking and innovative 5,000 m2 space is formed by an impressive glass roof, which naturally illuminates the library atrium.
We recommend a visit to this building, full of hidden treasures and all kinds of different rooms, to be enchanted by the power of modern architecture.
This important museum houses one of the largest collections of Impressionist works in France, second only to the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
With its futurist architecture focusing on glazed spaces and an abundance of light, the museum permanently houses works by great painters such as Degas, Renoir, Monet, Pissarro, Sisley and Boudin.
A lighthouse can be seen in the middle of the city skyline: it is actually nothing more than a modern church. It was built in memory of the victims of World War II, designed by Auguste Perret.
Its interior is absolutely unique and original: the altar is in the centre of a tower, which turns into a real skylight, thanks to the 12,768 coloured glass panes that make it up. The sun and the clouds create incredible plays of light and colour. For this reason, we recommend that you visit the church on a day that is neither too sunny nor too cloudy, in order to better appreciate the light show.
90% of the city of Le Havre was razed to the ground during the bombings of 5 and 6 September 1944. The cathedral of Notre Dame is one of the few buildings still standing, despite extensive structural damage: its restoration lasted until 1974.
Today, it is possible to admire the classical façade, which presents an overlapping of different decorations and orders: the limestone bas-relief of the side portal, showing ‘angels blowing a trumpet’, flanked by Ionic ribbed columns, stands out.
Contrary to its name, the hanging gardens of the Sainte Adresse quarter are actually a botanical garden, built in a former military fort on the heights of the city: it houses and collects plants from all five continents.
From these ramparts you have a wonderful view of the sea, the port and the lower town. In the garden you will find greenhouses, aromatic gardens, collections of scented plants creating four thematic gardens.
Designed by architect Jean Nouvel, this impressive complex has been called one of the most beautiful urban swimming pools in the world. With its architecture inspired by ancient Roman baths, made of gleaming white stone, it consists of a series of 10 balneotherapy pools, including an Olympic-size pool.
If you are looking for a relaxing break, you should not miss an afternoon at this bathing centre equipped with fountains, whirlpools, diving boards, cold pools, hot pools and even a ‘spa’ area with sauna and hammam.
Built in 1524, the seaport of Le Havre is the second largest in France. In the 1600s, it was the hub of trade in wood, cloth, cotton and precious metals with the French colonies. In the 17th century, it found new life in the transatlantic liner routes to the New World, thanks also to the new railway line connecting Le Havre to Paris.
This new modern charm attracted many Impressionist painters, including Claude Monet, who drew inspiration from the warm lights of the Seine estuary and the maritime traffic.
It is possible to visit the port of Le Havre by boat, with a 1-hour 15-minute sea excursion. Two circuits are available: the inner harbour or Port 2000. The first circuit will take you on a discovery of the diversity of port activities and the different types of ships that are used: oil tankers, oil tankers, ore carriers, container ships, pilot boats, tugs, supply ships. In particular, one can see the huge oil tankers that spill crude oil. The explanations of the visit provide a better understanding of how the port works, the different movements and transports.
The Porto 2000 circuit, on the other hand, is dedicated to large container ships. You pass through the Normandy, Porte Océane and France terminals, where containers are loaded and unloaded. You will be able to observe in detail the handling of containers by the dock workers, from the ships to the quay, as well as the service boats that dock these giants of the seas. At the end of the visit you will admire the cruise ships at rest and Le Havre seen from the sea.
Le Havre is one of the few major French cities to have a beach in the heart of the city centre. Over 2 km long, this immense beach is composed of pebble and sandy parts, accessible only at low tide.
With its long waterfront full of bars and restaurants, it is a great place for a leisurely stroll, enjoying a summer dinner or a warm sunset. The beach has many cabins, repainted in bright colours to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Le Havre: they are the ideal place to take original photographs in colour and geometry.
On Le Havre beach, at the end of rue de Paris, on the Southampton pier, you will see two large coloured arches.
Constructed by the artist Vincent Ganivet, these two installations made out of containers form a whole more than 30 metres high, weighing almost 500 tonnes: the work was created for the Un Été au Havre event.
The installation, originally only temporary, has become an integral part of the city’s street furniture and one of its most photographed sites.
Don’t miss Fabien Mérelle ‘s candid sculpture of a pachyderm on a man’s shoulders. The work symbolises man’s struggle against himself, crushed by the weight of tradition, society and religion.
Lovers of bizarre and curious places should not miss this 18th-century building , classified as a historical monument and now one of Le Havre’s most emblematic museums.
With its Louis XVI-style façade and orderly interior architecture, the Maison de l’Armateur traces the life of a great merchant, Martin-Pierre Foäche, who bought the house to make it his family’s winter residence and established his business offices there.
The uniqueness of the building lies in its original layout: the house has five levels, a ground floor, a mezzanine and three floors. The rooms follow one another in a radiating layout around a striking octagonal skylight, creating an original internal movement.
Built between 1854 and 1860, the Fort de Tourneville belonged to the group of forts that were to protect the city after the dismantling of the ramparts.
Over the years, this building has fulfilled multiple functions: barracks, municipal archive, scientific library and home to numerous cultural associations. Today, the Forte’s mission is to promote and disseminate contemporary music and art. The Fort offers a very rich programme of exhibitions, concerts and shows that are often free of charge.
It is home to one of the most popular constructions among young people in Le Havre: Tetris, a building made up of many multicoloured containers that fit together like the pieces in the famous video game Tetris . The rooms host musical events of all musical styles such as jazz, rap, hip-hop, electro and every year hosts one of the biggest festivals in Normandy, the Ouest Park.
During the event, a futuristic, imaginary world is recreated with giant marquees, luminous garlands, video games projected on screens of over 20 metres and a selection of international musical guests.
The best view of the city can be admired from the top of the Upper Town. To reach it, you have to take Le Havre funicular, called Funi by the locals, one of the oldest in France.
Inaugurated in 1890, it connects the lower station with the upper station every day: an original and fun way to visit the city.
The alternative to go up to the upper city is to use the grand Montmorency staircase. In 2018, artist Miguel Do Amaral repainted the 532 steps with the help of the local community and citizens, turning the staircase into an outdoor street art project.
In the following map you can see the location of the main places of interest mentioned in this article
Le Havre is a city of 170,000 inhabitants: it is the most populous municipality in Normandy. Hovering between tradition and modernity, this fascinating city does not deny its industrial and port character, but increasingly focuses on its strong artistic vocation, which over the years has made it a reference point for new trends.
If you are looking for a hotel in Le Havre, you can choose from several areas of the city. The Saint Vincent district, close to the seafront, is certainly the most charming: in rue d’Étretat you will find some splendid 19th century houses, perfectly preserved and the Alhambra, the largest cinema in the city.
The new city centre, in the Perret district, is the area with the most housing offers: here you will find a wide variety of accommodation, hotels and shops. It is a quiet place ideal for families.
Those who want to stay close to the main tourist attractions can choose to sleep in the historical centre, the part of the city that suffered the least damage during the war.
Lovers of lively and dynamic nightlife can choose the Saint-François quarter: nicknamed the Breton quarter because it is home to a large community from this region, it is organised around the Saint-François church. It is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Le Havre and boasts a high concentration of bars, discos and nightclubs, perfect for those who like to live the night.
Located in the Seine-Maritime department, Le Havre is about 2 hours and 30 minutes from Paris-Orly Airport and Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport. It is an excellent starting point for visiting the main resorts of Normandy.
If you have rented a car at the airport, you can reach Le Havre from Paris via the A13 motorway, then the A131.
Those arriving from Rouen or Rennes will have to take the A29 motorway.
Le Havre is the terminus of the Paris Saint-Lazare station.
You can reach Le Havre by bus from Honfleur, Caen or even from Paris with the company Flixbus.
To get around the city, you can use the public transport service established by the municipality of Le Havre. The LiA network offers fifteen bus lines, as well as two tram lines and a funicular that connects the upper and lower city.
What's the weather at Le Havre? Below are the temperatures and the weather forecast at Le Havre for the next few days.
Le Havre is a large port city on the English Channel, located on the right bank of the Seine estuary.