Rouen is the undisputed pearl of Normandy, a true architectural jewel: in the Ville Musée (museum city), as it is called, art, history and culture are masterfully blended together with a lively social life and a masterful gastronomic scene.
It is one of the key stops on a trip to Normandy and the starting point for exploring this wonderful and emotionally rich land. Nestled between the Seine and the sea, Rouen has remained magically unscathed by the ravages of war and preserves its artistic and architectural heritage intact.
Not only does it boast one of the most outstanding Gothic cathedrals in Europe, but also an incredible medieval old town: more than 200 authentic half-timbered houses survived not only World War II but also the Hundred Years’ War.
It was also here that Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake. In fact, part of Rouen’s charm also lies in a certain Gothic and spiritual atmosphere, rooted in the dark climate of the Inquisition, a charm that is less obvious but can be noticed by attentive eyes that know how to look beyond the pastel colours of the old town.
The capital of Normandy, Rouen is a port city rich in art, history and culture. The architecture of great historical and artistic value is a testament to its past, with its many Gothic churches, cobbled streets and medieval half-timbered houses.
Take your time to wander aimlessly around the old city streets: you will admire admirable examples of half-timbered houses and a network of cobbled alleys lined with small shops, craftsmen’s workshops and antique dealers. You will feel as if you have returned to medieval times. The most authentic streets are marked by the brochures you will find at the tourist office, although the best way to get around the old town is to wander around, letting beauty and intuition guide you.
The Notre-Dame cathedral is an incredible example of French Gothic architecture: finely carved like a lace of stone, the church soars towards the sky and is so beautiful, whatever the weather, that it inspired Claude Monet‘s famous canvases (about thirty of them), depicting it at different times of day.
The three meticulously carved portals, the tour de beurre, so called because it was built with the proceeds of the tax levied on those who wanted to eat butter during Lent, and the central tower, 151 metres high above the city, are worth a closer look. The interior of the church is also fascinating, with its purity of line and form: the heart of Richard the Lionheart is kept here.
Don’t miss the Sound and Light show that transforms the cathedral into a magical canvas every summer after sunset. The theme of the projection changes frequently: from the most significant works of Impressionism to the story of Joan of Arc, from Viking mythology to the epic of William the Conqueror.
It is a true masterpiece in flamboyant Gothic style with spires, gargoyles and statues.
Once the seat of the Normandy parliament, it is one of the most important civil architectural achievements of the late Middle Ages. The oldest part is the west wing, built in 1499 to house both the Parloir aux Bourgeois and the Exchequer of Normandy, i.e. the high judicial and financial court.
The building cannot be visited, but we recommend that you admire it from the outside to observe its extraordinary decorations, which make it rich in pinnacles, rosettes, gargoyles and connected buttresses.
The Gros-Horloge is one of the most photographed monuments in the city: set in a beautiful Renaissance building, an astronomical clock faces the street, showing the gods of the week and the phases of the moon.
The clock is finely decorated with symbolic elements such as the Easter lamb, representing the city’s coat of arms or the Louis XV fountain celebrating the love of the river god, Alphée with the nymph Aréthuse.
A tour inside the building reveals the background of this exceptional monument. In the pavilion, you will enter the hall of dials and in the bell tower you will discover the 14th-century mechanism, the first municipal bells and also a unique panorama of the city.
Another monument of exceptional artistic beauty is the Church of Saint-Maclou, a jewel of Gothic art, which boasts an imposing five-entrance portal in carved wood. Inside the building, you can admire the original Renaissance furniture and a grand Gothic staircase.
Above, the lantern tower and spire have been restored after suffering extensive damage during World War II.
If you walk around the Saint-Maclou church, you can visit the Aître Saint-Maclou, one of the last surviving gallery cemeteries in France. The building, with its beams decorated with macabre motifs, intrigues visitors who can take a little dip into the Middle Ages and its secrets.
It is a medieval charnel house, where plague victims were buried: around the courtyard is a network of ghostly-looking half-timbered houses, with sculptures depicting skulls, crossed shinbones, gravediggers’ tools and even the ancient carcass of a black cat, probably believed to be the incarnation of the devil and buried here to keep evil spirits away.
The area around the Saint Maclou church is the old antique dealers’ quarter, charming and picturesque with its wonderful half-timbered houses.
Don’t miss Rue Damiette, it is full of antique shops, typical shops and restaurants teeming with tourists.
Saint-Ouen Abbey has a glorious past: it was one of the most powerful Benedictine monasteries in Normandy. Famous for its 80 stained glass windows, which give it exceptional light, this Gothic building is also known for its grand organ, the last work of Cavaillé-coll, one of the most important organ builders of all time.
You will be impressed by the size of the abbey: 137 metres high and 33 metres under the vaults. For this reason, many tourists confuse it with the cathedral.
Surrounded by beautiful, colourful half-timbered houses, the Old Market Square was the scene of an important page in Rouen’s history. It was here that Joan of Arc was burnt alive on 30 May 1431. At the time, the square was occupied by the church of Saint-Sauveur, the remains of which have disappeared.
The Historial Jeanne d’Arc is currently the largest place dedicated to the memory of the French heroine. Unlike many museums of this kind, modern technology is used here to present the life of the Virgin of Orleans, creating a journey back in time.
Cloaked in darkness, the stone walls come to life with 3D projections and mapping, transporting you back to the Middle Ages for an unforgettable experience.
Commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte, the Musée de Beaux-Arts is one of the most comprehensive museums in France: it houses more than 8,000 works spread over 60 rooms.
The most important part of the museum is the one that brings together the great artists of Europe including Caravaggio, Vélasquez, Rubens, Puget, Delacroix, Modigliani, Monet, Renoir and many Impressionists.
Panorama XXL is a 35-metre high cylinder-shaped building, the equivalent of a 12-storey building, whose interior walls become an immense canvas on which to project artistic visions that blend painting, drawing, digital photography and scientific work.
Depending on the level, visitors can take a total immersion in different historical periods such as ancient Rome or Rouen in 1431, at the time of Joan of Arc, or find themselves at the centre of breathtaking landscapes such as the Amazon or the Great Barrier Reef.
Made even more complex by the use of lighting effects and an original soundtrack, the experience you will have is absolutely unique.
Awaiting you are 9 hectares of meadows, exotic greenhouses and gardens with even a pond where you can hire boats.
In the aviaries you will find parakeets, parrots, Chinese quails, golden pheasants and other incredible birds while in the wild you can admire peacocks, ducks and water turtles roaming along the edge of the small canal. A perfect place for families.
Rouen has a long and flourishing past as a port city on the Seine River. If you want to take a leisurely stroll, you can walk or rent a bicycle along the river from the Corneille Bridge to the Rollet Peninsula : it’s about a 3 km, one-hour walk.
Alternatively, you could consider taking a cruise on the Seine, where you can admire the rural landscape of the area around Rouen.
In the following map you can see the location of the main places of interest mentioned in this article
Claude Monet, the great French Impressionist painter, moved to the thriving city of Rouen in 1892. At the time, the capital of Normandy was an important crossroads of commerce and industry: its wealth shone through its elegant centre and its majestic cathedral.
Obsessed with the changes of light and colour in matter, Monet identified Rouen Cathedral as the ideal subject to study and portray the metamorphoses of stone at different times of the year and day: he took a room near the west façade of the cathedral, from which the entire façade, the portal, the Tour de Beurre and the Tour d’Albane could be seen.
Monet painted Rouen Cathedral more than 30 times: he tried to capture the micro changes in light and colour not only at different times of day, but also throughout the seasons, influenced by variations in humidity, brightness, shadows and mist. The numerous canvases, some of which he painted in Giverny, where he retired in later years, were designed to be admired as a group and he identified 20 of them to be exhibited in the gallery of his art dealer, Duran-Ruel, in Paris in 1895.
The surroundings of Rouen also have a unique charm and are well worth a stop.
If you have time for a little diversions then head to Clères, a delightful village with a bubbling brook and an 18th-century covered market: here, you can’t miss the Parc de Clères, built around a 15th-century castle and a half-timbered house, it’s a huge zoo where animals such as antelopes, kangaroos and flamingos roam freely.
To learn all about Norman traditions, visit the Château de Martainville, an imposing brick manor house that houses a museum dedicated to the arts of this wonderful region.
If you loved Fleubert’s novel Madame Bovary then you must go to Ry where the events of the Delamare family narrated by the famous writer really took place: the village offers many testimonies to its links with the novel such as the Galerie Bovary Musée d’Automates with its reconstruction of scenes from the book or the église Saint-Sulpice with its wonderful wooden portico and the tombs of the Delamare family.
Lastly, the Château de Robert-le-Diable was the residence of Robert the Devil, a mythical figure attributed with the ability to talk to demons and ghosts: arriving there, you’ll see beautiful landscapes on the Seine.
Rouen is known for having a lively nightlife and an excellent gastronomic scene, which you can discover by spending a night in the Norman capital. Sleeping in Rouen will also give you the chance to admire its illuminated cathedral with the Sound and Light show.
To get around comfortably on foot, without using a car, we recommend a hotel in the historic centre of Rouen. You’ll find plenty of solutions: family-run accommodations or boutique hotels, equipped with spas and swimming pools, built inside magnificent historical buildings in the centre.
If you are looking for peace and quiet, you can look for a hotel to the west of the city, in the quiet district of Canteleu, full of green spaces and perfect for long walks. If, on the other hand, you are a culture enthusiast, the right place is the old market district, where you are only a few metres away from the main museum attractions.
If you have rented a car on your arrival in Paris, you can easily reach Rouen in about two hours: in fact, the historical town is only 140 km from the French capital by following the A13 motorway.
What's the weather at Rouen? Below are the temperatures and the weather forecast at Rouen for the next few days.
The city of Rouen is the capital of Normandy: overlooking the Seine River, it is only 2 hours from Paris.