Calais, the most populous city in Northern France, boasts France’s largest passenger port and the Channel Tunnel, the main link with England. Situated in the centre of the Paris-London-Brussels triangle, this seaside resort renowned for its lace attracts tourists from neighbouring countries every year, thanks in particular to its beaches, activities and history.
Calais is the first port of entry into France for many people from Great Britain. Unfortunately, most people are just passing through, en route to Paris or other destinations in France.
The centre of Calais is quite compact, surrounded by docks and canals and if you have time to visit, you will discover its many surprising attractions.
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005, the town hall is a flamboyant and exceptional example of Flemish architecture and is the backdrop to Rodin’s bourgeois of Calais. The town hall was designed by architect Louis Debrouwer, a pioneer in the use of reinforced concrete. It boasts magnificent stained glass windows and a grand staircase leading to the wedding hall on the first floor, where Charles de Gaulle married Yvonne Vendroux in 1921. The City Hall is open to all, it is free of charge and a free visit takes about half an hour.
Those who don’t suffer from vertigo can climb to the top of the bell tower, from where there is a magnificent panorama of the entire city. The architecture of the bell tower combines the Flemish and Renaissance styles. It is a 75-metre high square tower made of red brick and white Kortrijk stone. The interior of the building is almost completely empty, with a concrete shell (designed to withstand storms and adapt to the nature of the terrain) anchored to the interior walls. The top of the tower has a multitude of pinnacles and is covered with slates. You can admire its four yellow clocks, each indicating a cardinal point, surmounted by four golden knights and a dragon-shaped weathervane.
A few steps away from the Hôtel de Ville and the bell tower is this sculpture by Auguste Rodin, which has become the emblem of the city. The famous sculpture represents the six burghers who, in 1347, at the beginning of the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453), offered to give their lives to save the inhabitants of the city, besieged by King Edward III of England.
When, after more than a year of siege, King Philip VI of France withdrew his troops, the mayor of Calais proposed to the King of England that the city capitulate on condition that he respect the lives of its inhabitants. After some negotiations, King Edward only agreed on one condition: six of his most important men would surrender, along with the keys to the city. He demanded that they wear only nightshirts and have a lace around their necks.
The noble volunteers were Eustache de Saint Pierre, Jacques and Pierre de Wissant, Jean de Fiennes, Andrieu d’Andres and Jean d’Aire. After handing over the keys to the city, their lives were spared thanks to the intervention of the Queen of England. After these events, Calais remained under English rule until 1558.
Commissioned in 1885 by the municipality, this human-sized sculpture was inaugurated ten years later. Rodin created the figures separately, using energetic men as models, to represent the different attitudes of the sacrificed nobles.
A curiosity. There are as many as 12 replicas of the statues: in Calais, Copenhagen, Mariemont (in Belgium ), London, Philadelphia, Paris, Basel, Washington, Tokyo, Pasadena, New York and Seoul.
The International City of Lace and Fashion in Calais is one of the city’s main museums.
Inaugurated in 2009, it is installed in a former lacemaker and traces the history of this ancient craft. The museum is divided into five spaces and illustrates the history of lace, techniques and fashion design with works by well-known designers such as Givenchy and Chanel to show the use of lace in haute couture.
In addition, the museum has a library for research, lectures and workshops and a 3D booth that takes the visitor’s measurements and allows them to create their own personal avatar. In addition, an incredible collection of materials can be found here: 15,000 sample books, 10,000 pieces of lace, 1,500 samples of artificial lace, 10,000 fashion magazines, thousands of industrial tools and equipment, 3,200 costumes and objects related to the world of fashion, 9 looms, five of which are in working order and used for demonstrations.
Inaugurated in 1863 under the Second Empire, the Saint Pierre Park takes its name from an old village, annexed to Calais in 1885.
Located opposite the town hall, this green spot with ancient trees offers a wooded area to disconnect and recharge your batteries in the city centre. It is an ideal place for family outings and has a boules court and a shaded playground.
The Parc Saint-Pierre is also home to some beautiful works of art, such as the ornate Three Graces fountain (a popular place in summer to cool off), the monument honouring the dead and a beautiful sculpture by Bernard Mougin.
The park is also home to the Museum of Remembrance, dedicated to World War II. It is installed in an authentic abandoned bunker, which once served as the naval headquarters of the Port of Calais and as a broadcasting centre for the entire North West region of France.
The church of Notre-Dame de Calais dates back to the 14th and 15th centuries. The original building, erected on the site of the present transept, was built at the beginning of the 13th century. This church had a rectangular ground plan with two front towers. Severely damaged during the siege of 1346-1347, the building was rebuilt and enlarged under English occupation.
In addition to other tribulations throughout history, it was bombed by the Allies on 23 September 1944: the bell tower collapsed in the north transept. Initially threatened with total destruction after the Liberation, it has been the subject of an extensive restoration campaign since the 1960s.
The Calais beach is undoubtedly the most touristy in the region.
With a gentle slope and fine sand, it is ideal for children, who can often safely enjoy the shallow pools that form at low tide. The incessant ferry traffic ensures the spectacle in front of the beach and along the quays, which are always busy with fishermen. On a clear day, the cliffs of the English coast can easily be seen.
In addition to the various sporting activities such as kitesurfing, beach volleyball or sailing, the facilities on the seafront offer bars, ice-cream parlours and restaurants, a children’s playground, miniature golf, a merry-go-round and a huge skate park. Along the beach there are numerous huts, called chalets: these cabins are used by their owners in summer to enjoy the large sandy beach.
If you want to go for a nice walk, we recommend following the 3 km loop trail that runs from the Fort Risban car park along the Risban dam to Calais beach, with a breathtaking view of the harbour entrance and the coming and going of the ferries. You can continue the walk to the nearby Blériot beach.
If you think dragons don’t exist, you have never been to Calais. Here, a huge fire-breathing beast roams the streets of the city, especially along the beach.
The Calais Dragon was created by La Machine, the famous Nantes-based association of artists, technicians and theatre set designers, who work together to build these incredible mechanical creations.
The dragon, made of steel and wood, is the largest work created to date. 12 metres high, 25 metres long and weighing 72 tonnes, it requires many people to handle it. It moves like a reptile, breathing fire, smoke and water. Steam comes out everywhere. It can lie down, stand up and walk at a speed of 4 km/h.
The dragon can carry up to 50 people and the journey takes about 45 minutes. Depending on the time, the embarkation place changes (the dragon’s lair or the beach).
Built in 1848 to complement the Tour du Guet, a 13th century watchtower, the lighthouse was electrified in 1883 and automated in 1992. Surprisingly, the structure survived bombing during the Second World War.
Today, the 58-metre-high Calais Lighthouse is open to visitors who can climb the 271 steps to admire the city and the English Channel.
The lighthouse is located in Courgain Maritime, the historic fishing district of Calais.
It is a fortress built on the ruins of an ancient 13th century medieval castle.
It was Henry I d’Orléans, Duke of Longueville and Governor of Picardy, who laid the foundation stone in 1564. The Italian Giacomo Castriotto and Jean Errard de Bar-le-Duc, two brilliant engineers of the time, took part in the work. The castle, of which four towers remain, complements the other three bastions. Part of the medieval walls are still standing today.
The citadel was an active player in the conflict between France and Spain. In fact, on 24 April 1596, when Fort Risban and Fort Nieulay had already fallen, the inhabitants of Calais took refuge there to escape from the troops of Archduke Albert of Austria, Governor of Flanders. But the hollow walls, full of sand, fell under cannon fire. The stronghold to the north-east, attacked by the enemy, fell in turn despite fierce resistance led by Michel Patras de Campaigno, nicknamed the Black Knight. After this defeat, Calais remained under Spanish rule until May 1598.
In the following map you can see the location of the main places of interest mentioned in this article
Ferries connecting Dover, England, with France depart from Calais. Today there are only 3 ferry companies operating this route.
P&O Ferries provides 24 crossings a day, Irish Fer ries 11 crossings and DFDS Seaways provides 15 ferries a day.
For all of them, the crossing and sailing takes 1 hour and 30 minutes.
Right near Calais, precisely at Coquelles, the Channel Tunnel, better known as the Eurotunnel, comes and goes. It is a 50 km long railway tunnel linking France to England, arriving at Folkestone in Kent, passing through the bottom of the English Channel.
The convoy is equipped to transport vehicles and the journey is very short: the crossing takes only 35 minutes. As it is an international border crossing, passport and check-in checks are carried out. Passengers then drive their cars into the shuttle train, switch off their engines and remain seated in their vehicles until arrival in France.
The service operates 365 days a year, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day with an average of 1 departure every hour.
Facing the cliffs of Dover, from which it is separated only by the English Channel, Calais is the main crossing point for ferries connecting France and England and is also the French exit point from the Channel Tunnel.
The city is characterised by its historic centre located on an artificial island surrounded by canals, its impressive historical heritage and the beauty of the typical Manchellois landscapes.
The historic centre of the city of Calais is unique in that it is built entirely on an artificial peninsula and is the ideal place to enjoy the city’s charm. It has many historic buildings, including the Tour du Guet, the splendid Calais Lighthouse and numerous museums, including the famous Museum of Fine Arts, which houses Rodin’s collections.
In addition, there are many hotels and B&Bs in the centre that are available all year round, with preferential rates especially in the low season.
Not far from the historical centre is the modern part of the city, a bourgeois and lively area that offers visitors numerous shops and, for the party-goers, nightclubs, bars and discos, a full range of hotels and rental accommodation.
Don’t miss an evening at the Channel, a popular cultural venue: this theatre located at the end of boulevard Gambetta offers a calendar of shows in any season. Or take time out for an aperitif in the alleyways of Saint-Pierre Park.
If you prefer to fill your lungs with fresh sea breezes and indulge in water sports, the municipality of Sangatte is for you.
To the west of the city, Sangatte is home to an immense 8 km beach of fine sand and dunes that runs along the coast to the cliffs of Cap Blanc-Nez where you can try your hand at sand yachting, kitesurfing or hiking on the marked trails that wind through the dunes.
In addition, the area offers a plurality of hotels, flats, B&Bs and budget hostels to explore the Calais region.
35 kilometres from the English coast and 60 kilometres from Belgium, Calais enjoys an exceptional geographical location: it is a privileged crossing point between mainland Europe and Great Britain, at the heart of the Paris-London-Brussels triangle. Consequently, Calais is served by a dense communications network.
Calais is connected to the Benelux network and the north-east of France by the A26 motorway. On the other hand, the A16 connects Calais to the network of western France and the Paris region.
The main connections are:
There are 2 train stations in Calais. Calais Ville is in the centre, opposite the town hall. It is one of the main stations in the Nord Pas de Calais regional network and has regular connections with Lille, Dunkirk, Boulogne sur mer.
Conversely, Calais Frethun International is an international TGV station in the village of Fréthun, 7 km south-west of Calais and serves high-speed trains (TGV and Eurostar) to or from Lille (30 minutes), Brussels (1 hour ), London (1 hour) and Paris (1 hour 30 minutes).
The connection between Calais Ville and Calais Frethun International is by bus or regional train (Frethun is on the line between Calais Ville and Boulogne sur mer).
What's the weather at Calais? Below are the temperatures and the weather forecast at Calais for the next few days.
Located in northern France, Calais overlooks the Strait of Dover at the narrowest point of the English Channel and is the closest French city to England.