Famous with its Cathedral and half-timbered houses, Rouen was the first town I lived since I moved to France. It was in December 2018, I instantly found the charm of this town and very heartwarming, no matter the season is. As someone who is really passionate about the maison de colombage (half-timbered houses), to be lived in Rouen was a dream come true. Just around 1.5 hours train from Paris, you will arrive in Rouen, the capital of Normandy and Seine-Maritime. Even I am living in Dieppe now, I still visit Rouen a couple of times and still feel the same about this town.
One or two days visit to Rouen is more than enough to explore all must-see places in the town. So, here I would like to share you my local’s guide to stroll through its historic centre in Rouen.
In Rouen, you have plenty of choices apartment rentals depending on your needs and budgets. Whether you want to stay in a studio located at the heart of the town or a family-apartment size. If you are lucky enough you can also find an apartment rental inside the half-timbered house with a full-renovated inside which located just in the centre of the town.
Admire the Palais de Justice building.
To explore Rouen, you can start from the Palais de Justice (Court of Justice). If you take the Metro, descend from the Metro stop which has the same name, Palais de Justice. The building has the Gothic architecture style from the end of the Middle Ages in France. Back then, it has functioned as the Parliament of Normandy during the reign of the first King of Francis before it serves as a courthouse starts from the French Revolution.
As you can see closely from outside, the wall of this building has a lot of gunshot marks and the remain marked by the impacts of the bomb from the Second World War. They chose to keep it that way to remind us of its dark history. Therefore, that is what makes this building has been listed as the historic monument.
We visited the inside of the building during Les Journées du Patrimoine (Heritage Day) in 2019. During these days, you will be able to enjoy all of the historical places in France free of charge!
Visit their famous Place Vieux-Marché.
From the Metro stop of Palais de Justice, walk across the street of Rue Jeanne d’Arc on the left side, walk around 300 meters you will arrive at the most famous square which called, Place Vieux-Marché. It is also one of historic square in Rouen, where you can find the old market, the church of Saint Joan of Arc (French heroine) along with the sign of her stake when Joan of Arc (Le Bûcher de Jeanne d’Arc) was burned alive long time ago. Today, this place is very famous for its cafes and restaurants. At the old market, obviously, you can find French and local products from flowers, cheese, fruits, vegetables to the butcher shop.
Here you will see a lot of beautiful half-timbered houses which is transformed into a cafe and restaurants. Few of my favourite cafe and coffee shop also located in this area, such as JM’s cafe, Etienne Coffee Shop, Cafe de Rouen, etc. Oh, for the Asian food lovers, they also have Traiteur Asiatique (Asian resto) just in front of the stake of Joan of Arc.
Walk along the Rue Gros-Horloge.
Just beside the JM’s cafe, you will find Rue Gros-Horloge pathways. Along this street, you will find a lot of commerces, boutique, luxury shops, fast-food restaurants, etc. Continue walking straight on this street, you will find one of the most impressive historical monument in Rouen with its Renaissance clocks (the 14th-century astronomical clock), the Gros Horloge. From here, you will be able to see the exceptional view of the town with the half-timbered houses all along the street. You can also visit and enter the building from under the big clock! But you will be charged for the ticket around 7 euros per person.
Visit the most impressive Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Rouen.
If you keep walking straight until the end of Rue Gros-Horloge, you will be able to see the great Gothic architecture of the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Rouen. It is very easy to find this cathedral as it is located just at the heart of this town. Take your time to admire the front facade of this cathedral which is very beautiful. After got damaged, was rebuilt and renovated several times, the last one the cathedral was bombed during the Second World War, today you can visit the inside of the cathedral and admire some of the historical traces which was happened in this building.
Every year during the summer season, between June and September, they always have Cathédrale de Lumière. It is a free Cathedral Light Show which takes place just in front of the Cathedral with dazzling illuminations projected on the building’s facade. Also, each year the Cathédrale de Lumière has different themes. We went there many times last year, when the theme was about the les Nouveaux mondes which dedicated to the festival Armada in Rouen 2019 and the Vikings.
When you go out of the cathedral by the left side of the building, you will be at the hidden street of Rouen, Rue Saint-Romain. It is a small alley, where you will find directly the cutest, the most aesthetic and the beautiful salon de thé (tea shop) which called Dame Cakes. It is a good place to hang out with your best friend or family over hot tea/coffee/chocolate and their signature cake before you continue to walk and visit another place and the neighbour’s quartier. You will be mesmerised by their cute decorations inside the tea shop.
Get-to-know more about Joan of Arc at the Historial Jeanne d’Arc Museum.
At this museum, you will be transported back to the immersive story of Joan of Arc in the 15th century, which will be last around 1 hour 15 minutes. This museum is quite different if we compare with the other classic museum with its collectables. Here, you will be guided by the projections, screens, 3D maps and the images from one room to the other rooms. You will be able to (re)discover the saga and incredible destiny of Joan of Arc, but also to highlight the myth constructed throughout the centuries.
Stroll around at the Church of Saint-Maclou .
If you walk-out from the museum, take the right street and just walk straight at the Rue Saint-Romain around 200 meters, you will arrive at the Church of Saint-Maclou. I love this area, the church and surrounding half-timbered houses at this place. As the Roman Catholic church, Saint-Maclou church is considered one of the best examples of the Flamboyant style of Gothic architecture in France, along with Rouen Cathedral, the Palais de Justice and the Church of St. Ouen. Even though it also has severely damaged during the French Revolution and Second World War, this church has been rebuilt and fortunately still looks beautiful inside out.
Just in front of the church, you will see the iconic half-timbered house building of Bertin Philippe, the pastry shop. If you look at the apartment building just above this pastry shop, the building looks slightly tilted to the right. On the left side of the church, you will also find the local cafe and restaurants.
Keep walking on the left street of the church around 100 meters you will find the Aître Saint-Maclou. It is the former mass grave cemetery from the 16th century. All three galleries at the cemetery were built between 1526 – 1533 to serve as an ossuary. It is one of the rare examples of such an ossuary surviving in Europe, which you have to visit. It has fully decor with skulls, bones, gravedigger’s tools, objects of worship in mortuary rites, even there is a cat skeleton which has been placed in the wall, near the front door. Which they believe it was a black cat (the devil) locked up alive in the masonry to ward off bad luck.
Soirée pique nique at the Church of Saint-Ouen Abbey park.
Around 500 meters from the Aître Saint-Maclou, you will find the Abbatiale Saint-Ouen (church of Saint-Ouen Abbey) just beside Hôtel de ville de Rouen (the Townhall). It is a large Gothic Roman Catholic church which was built at the beginning of 1318. Now the church serves as… At the backyard of this church, you will see a quite big park where you can do picnic with your friends or family. Fyi, this park is actually belong to the Townhall. We did picnic sometimes during the summer time~ or even when I just need to refresh my mind by walking around the park.
If you are planning to visit Rouen solo, the city centre is completely safe to walk on your own both during the day and night. Hence, it is safe to go, both by walk and public transportation, around the town. When is it the good times to visit Rouen? I could easily answer, at any time you want. No matter the season is. Rouen can be visited, as quick as, for a one-day trip from Paris.
Important notes: As we all know, during this pandemic, it is an obligation for you to respect the sanitary protocol. Using your mask everywhere in the public space. It is also important to do physical distancing and clean your hands as often as possible, both with soap or hand sanitizer.