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Honfleur France. Does the French feeling get any more authentic than a stroll through the streets of Honfleur, Normandy?
This medieval village, Honfleur France, with its colourful cobbled streets is a show stopper from the moment of arrival.
The classic image of Honfleur Normandy is right there, before your eyes, causing you to stop and gawk. Lanky fishermen’s houses reflected in the old harbour amidst an ancient steeple and sailboat masts is an unforgettable vista.
It’s the kind of scene that can be enjoyed and photographed over and over in various shades of light, weather and times of the day. It’s hard to tire of this spectacle. No wonder Honfleur France was home to impressionist painters and writers over the centuries. Take note. The light alone is enough to amaze you.
On my visit to Honfleur France, mid-September 2020, I am graced with glorious weather and the brute fact that aside from the French out exploring their own country, I am the only foreigner. And definitely the only solo female traveller. I find a town full of friendly faces and residents that are proud to share their magical and historic town found in the Calvados region of Normandy.
1. Le Vieux Bassin(The Old Harbour) In Honfleur France
Colourful umbrellas line the pier inviting you to rest awhile with a glass of wine, a coffee or a meal. Find a seat and soak up the ambience that is Honfleur France.
Ponder the fishermen that lived in these tall skinny houses, paying minimal taxes based on the width of the building and setting sail for the days’ catch.
2. Chapel Of Notre-Dame De Grâce
Situated on a hill overlooking Honfleur, Notre-Dame de Grâce was a highlight for me. I was walking down the country road from the lookout over Honfleur without another soul in sight when the carillon of Notre-Dame de Grâce started chiming.
It was the most beautiful melody of bells I have ever heard. It was noon and the melody played for four minutes. I actually waited until one pm to hear it again. The carillon does chime every quarter-hour but the most wonderful melody is played on the hour.
The Chapel of Notre-Dame de Grâce was built between 1600 and 1615 and is thought of as the protector of Honfleur. Inside the chapel are countless ships models and ex votos line the walls.
The Chapel of Notre-Dame de Grâce is the second church built in the woods of Équemauville just above Honfleur. The first church, hailing from 1023, was built on the cliff’s edge and lost during a landslide.
Every June, (except 2020) there is a Seafaring Festival in Honfleur honouring sailors and fishermen. It includes a pilgrimage from Honfleur to Notre-Dame de Grâce.
3. Église Sainte-Catherine In Honfleur France
You’ll notice right away that this church looks a little different. It is made not of stone but of wood and is the biggest timber-built church in France. Built by shipwrights in the shape of an upside-down hull, Église Sainte-Catherine has side by side naves. Imagine as you explore that you are walking in a sacred ship (flipped upsidedown).
The wooden church roof could not support a clock tower so it was built separately facing the church entrance. Its chiming bells add to the ambience of Honfleur Normandy, one of the most visited cities in France.
The Honfleur Market takes places Saturday mornings at La Place Sainte Catherine. There is also a bio market that takes place here on Wednesday mornings.
4. Samuel De Champlain Set Sail From Honfleur France
Although not born in Honfleur France, the explorer Samuel de Champlain set sail numerous times from the port of Honfleur. In 1603 he made his first voyage towards Canada. He founded Quebec in 1608 and was known as the “father” of Nouvelle France.
A bust and plaque on the ramparts honour this renowned navigator. As a Canadian, I was thrilled to discover this. Yet another French connection. Nearby there is a bistro named the Samuel de Champlain and his bust can also be found in the Jardin des Personalités.
5. The Gastronomy In Honfleur France
The sea is the palpable pulse of this city, thus it is simply a must to savour the seafood that is on every restaurant’s menu. Read the menus scratched out in chalk on blackboard easels and decide between mussels, scallops, oysters or the catch of the day.
Scallops (coquilles Saint-Jacques) are the superstar of Honfleur. They are in season from the beginning of October until May.
I opt one evening for mussels marinière which I have had many times before. I am feeling quite confident about how to tackle a steaming pot of these molluscs! However, my taste buds were clearly spoiled by mussels served in Norman cream while in Trouville-sur-Mer. It might be the only way I can truly enjoy them from here on in!
Galettes and crêpes are also easily found in Honfleur France. A simple and yet satisfying meal, I love a classic galette with ham, cheese and an egg. Now top that with Norman cream… D E L I C I O U S!
6. The Old Ramparts: The Lieutenance
The old ramparts are unmissable. Walk under the archway of this the oldest building in Honfleur. This is the only remaining piece of the ramparts that one encircled the city, like those in Saint-Malo.
It was necessary to show your papers as a resident of Honfleur upon entry through the guarded gates. This was a strategic effort to keep pirates out.
The building is called the Lieutenance as it was the housing for the King’s Lieutenant.
READ MORE: How to Visit the D-Day Beaches in Normandy France
7. Flâner In Honfleur Normandy
Just to flâner in Honfleur France is a delight. If you are not sure how to flâner there are a few tips here.
There are plenty of winding cobbled streets lined with crooked half-timbered houses. I love imagining life as it was hundreds of years ago. Who has bustled and strolled along these very cobblestones?
Wander and get a little lost. You won’t be disappointed.
8. Eugène Boudin Museum
Eugène Boudin known as the “King of Skies” and the major influence on Claude Monet, was born in Honfleur. I was very excited to see this museum with its 2500 paintings and familiarize myself with Boudin’s work, especially after marvelling at the changing skies in Normandy and having recently visited the Claude Monet’s House and Gardens at Giverny. Unfortunately, I planned to go on a Tuesday when it is closed. Check the Museum website here. The museum is top of my list for next time!
Boudin’s influence lives on in all the galleries in Honfleur displaying local landscapes with wide beaches and glorious skies.
9. The Beach At Honfleur France
Wander the expanse at low tide searching for sea glass. It’s always a delight to smell the salty air. You never know what will be happening at low tide. Kite sailing lessons are in full swing the day that I am there.
10. Jardin Des Personalités, Honfleur France
Walk along the jetty from the Old Port to the beach and you’ll discover this lovely park. Its soaring trees and ponds are a wonderful place to relax or have a picnic but the greatest pleasure is discovering the cleverly planned garden alcoves that honour famous people that were born in Honfleur or who lived and worked there. Be sure to look for Samuel de Champlain (especially if you are Canadian), the musician Erik Satie, Charles Baudelaire and Eugène Boudin.
11. Discover The Fishing Traditions In Honfleur
Fishing nets are piled on the quays and boats of various sizes and shapes are docked. Some of the fishing boats are specifically designed for scallops, which the area is known for, while others are for shrimp and fish such as sole, cod or turbot. The Fish Market is found on the quay from Thursdays to Sundays.
12. Points Of View And La Normandie
Walk up the winding footpath from Honfleur France to the lookout at Mont-Joli. Your climb will be rewarded with a glorious view over Honfleur and the Normandy Bridge. Tucked to the side is a statue of Our Lady of Grace, a thanks to her for watching over Honfleur France during the Normandy invasion of 1944.
La Normandie bridge, spanning the river Seine, connects Upper and Lower Normandy and is the longest cable-stayed bridge in the world. Take a drive over this toll bridge. It is impressive.
Continue walking along the road to the Chapel Notre-Dame de Grâce where there is another viewpoint over the estuary of the Seine. For it is here that the Seine flows into the sea.
13. Boutiques & Galleries In Honfleur France
Honfleur Normandy is filled with shops and galleries. There are many touristy things to buy that hail from Normandy. Quite frankly I wish had had an empty suitcase with me to fill with cider, tinned fish and caramels. There are also lovely jewellery shops, clothing stores, and countless art galleries with intriguing displays of landscapes and sculptures.
My favourite shop was full of purses, summer hats and jewellery from Madagascar.
Leave time to browse and don’t forget to buy some caramels, biscuits and Calvados from Normandy!
14. The Naval Museum in Honfleur France
This historic monument, a 14th-century church named Eglise St-Etienne, houses the Marine Museum. Its graceful steeple, on the south quay of the Vieux Bassin, is reflected in the irresistible views of the old harbour.
Explore the Museum and also the nearby narrow, ancient streets, such as rue de la Prison.
There is plenty to do in charming Honfleur France, much more than mentioned in this article. Start off by spending a few days. You might decide to stay much longer, with a paintbrush in hand.
More Travel Info…
If you are travelling in Normandy, here are all my posts to help you plan your trip. This article, 19 Wonderful Things To Do in Normandy is a great overview. You might also like detailed articles on Bayeux and its famous tapestry, visiting the D-Day Beaches, Mont-Saint-Michel, Giverny, Deauville and Trouville-sur-Mer, and Etretat. There is also a post on how to eat oysters as the French do when travelling in Normandy France.
Where is Honfleur France?
How To Get To Honfleur France:
Honfleur France is the perfect weekend getaway destination. It is a short two-hour drive from Paris and having a car gives you the opportunity to visit the small Norman towns and countryside in the area.
By Train and Bus:
But without a car… Honfleur France is totally accessible also.
Take the train from Paris to Le Havre. From Le Havre take the Bus Verts du Calvados. The train station and the bus station are side by side. This the way that I went to Honfleur. The buses to Honfleur are on Quai 4. Check the schedule for times.
Other options include taking the train to Deauville or Lisieux and then a Bus Verts du Calvados.
Note: the Bus station in Honfleur (La Gare Routière) has bicycle rentals. Half-day rentals are €6 and full-day €11.
Flixbus has direct routes from Paris to Honfleur on the weekends.
The Tourist Office:
Be sure to stop by the tourist office and pick up a map with walking tours and highlights of Honfleur, France.
Where To Stay:
There are plenty of hotels in Honfleur France. It is a very popular destination so if you are going in peak season (the summer) definitely book in advance.
Booking.com has these suggestions for Honfleur France.
This is where I stayed. It is very central, right in the neighbourhood of Sainte-Catherine.
Guided Tours in Normandy:
Let me know what you think about this treasure Honfleur. Have you been?
Until next time,
This is a great guide full of useful info. I really enjoyed the pictures too.
Alison Browne says
I am glad you found it useful! Honfleur is a photographer’s dream!
Oh you took me back to when we visited in 2017. Oh that sounds so long ago. I saw pictures on Instagram of Honfleur and thought what a magical place this is. Then to see it with my own eyes …wow it was everything and more. We were there just a short time but enough to soak up the atmosphere that is Honfleur and Normandy.
Nancy Hann says
Oh, this brings back such wonderful memories of our trip to Normandy. We weren’t able to get to Honfleur, but maybe next time. I love this area. Thanks for sharing so many helpful tips. The harbor and architecture are gorgeous.
Alison Browne says
Yes, Honfleur is just gorgeous. There are so many quaint corners in beautiful Normandy!