Travel Inspiration

Best Cities in Northern France (Other than Paris)


Article written by Elisa - Travel Writer & Local in France
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Lovely Northern France Cities to Visit

When you travel to France, your first destination will probably be Paris. This amazing city has everything, and it would be easy to spend all your time exploring its streets. But it would be a shame to miss out on other beautiful cities in Northern France as well.

There are other cities perfect for weeked breaks in Northern France from UK or Paris. These Northern France cities are full of culture, history, and great food, and you’ll get the chance to explore them without hordes of tourists everywhere you go.

So, if you’re ready to explore more of what France has to offer, here’s our list of best cities in Northern France to visit.

Caen - Normandy

1. Rouen (Normandy)

Rouen - Normandy

Rouen is a must-see entry on any cities in Northern France list. Famous for its medieval center, the best preserved in all of France, Rouen is thoroughly modern and yet allows you to feel as if you’ve stepped back in time. Just 83 miles from Paris, you can see Rouen on a day trip from Paris by train, but you’ll need more time than that to really take in its historic streets.

With links to Joan of Arc, who was burned at stake in Rouen’s center, this city is one of the capitals of the Normandy region and was a historic river port back in the heyday of the English Kings. It also has quaint cobbled lanes to explore and one of the most amazing Gothic cathedrals in the whole country.

The list of fun things to do in Rouen includes:

  • Visit the Rouen Cathedral
  • Admire the Gros Horloge (the giant clock)
  • Visit the Musée des Beaux-Arts
  • A stroll around Vieux Rouen
  • Visit the Historial Jeanne d’Arc

From Rouen, you can visit magnificent abbeys and castles, lovely Normandy villages, and Monet’s house and studio in Giverny.

2. Lille (Hauts-de-France)

Lille - Hauts-de-France

Located close to the Belgium border, in the Hauts-de-France region, this lovely city in Northern France offers an intoxicating mix of French and Belgian architecture. Lille is filled with cobblestone streets lined with Flemish Baroque buildings that make it one of the most beautiful cities in France.

This mix of influences has also created a unique cuisine, so you can enjoy sweet waffles on one street and warming beef stew on the next. It’s home to The Palace of Fine Arts, second only to the Louvre, and other cultural treasures.

You can visit Lille on a day trip from Paris or Brussels, but you’ll probably want to spend more than a day exploring its streets.

The list of best things to do in Lille includes:

  • A stroll around Old Lille
  • Visit the Palais des Beaux-Arts
  • Admire the Grand Place and Vieille Bourse
  • Explore Lille’s Citadel
  • Visit the Maison Natale of Charles de Gaulle

From Lille, don’t miss the Museum of Art and Industry, with its famous pool in Art Déco style, in Roubaix.

3. Laon (Hauts-de-France)

Laon Cathedral - France

The history of Laon is everywhere. Located northeast of Paris, this city in Northern France fairly groans with the weights of its past.

This medieval city with a small town feeling has been of strategic importance since ancient times. Laon was first fortified by the Romans, it was later the capital of the Carolingian Empire, and it became a religious and intellectual hub until the Renaissance.

Laon has a picturesque Old Town, uphill behind miles of walls and heavy gates, while the new town spreads out on the flat ground below. It contains more than 80 historical monuments, including the gothic Laon Cathedral, one of the first Grandes Cathédrales and visible for miles around.

The list of best things to do in Laon includes:

  • Visit the Laon Cathedral
  • Admire the Chapelle des Templiers (under restoration)
  • A stroll around the Old Town
  • Explore Laon’s ramparts
  • Explore Underground Laon

4. Dunkerque (Hauts-de-France)

Dunkirk - France

Dunkerque (Dunkirk) is the most northern city of France, the third-largest port in the country, and is just 10km from the Belgium border.

This city has strong military connections. It was the site where an incredible 330,000 British and French soldiers were evacuated during WWII, making this a great destination if you’re interested in Europe’s military history.

But there’s more to see in Dunkerque than the past. This is an incredibly scenic city, with miles of coastline and beautiful sandy beaches, perfect for kitesurfing, sailing, and other watersports. It also has some interesting museums and great food, making this one of the Northern France cities that has a little of everything.

The list of best things to do in Dunkerque includes:

  • Visit the Musée Portuaire
  • Admire the Dunkerque Belfry
  • Beach day at Plage de Malo-les-Bains
  • Dunkerque 1940 Museum
  • Dunkerque Carnival (from the end of January to mid-March)

5. Caen (Normandy)

Caen is one of the most interesting cities in Northern France, but its streets pack in a lot of ancient and modern history. It was the hometown of William the Conqueror, who led the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. Caen was also of vital importance during World War II as it’s close to the Normandy Landing Beaches and Arromanches. This makes it a great base if you want to explore the D-day landing beaches and other WWII sites.

Today, Caen is a charming town full of gardens, Norman buildings built by William the Conqueror, and a beautiful gothic church. It’s located about 238km from Paris, so you can visit on a day trip or take longer to really explore this part of France.

The list of fun things to do in Caen includes:

  • Caen’s Castle and Citadel
  • Pegasus Bridge
  • Mémorial de Caen
  • Abbaye aux Hommes
  • A stroll around Vaugueux District

From Caen, you can organize day trips to some of the best places to visit in Northern France: the sites related to the D-day landings in Normandy, Bayeux and its famous tapestry, and Mont St Michel.

6. Amiens (Normandy)

Amiens Cathedral

Located just 120km from Paris, this beautiful city is the perfect destination for short breaks in Northern France. It’s famous for the Hortillonages, the floating gardens arranged around the river Somme in the center of town. Taking a boat ride or a stroll along the canals is a truly magical nature experience in the middle of the city.

Amiens is also home to one of the Grandes Cathédrales, one of the ten most famous and beautiful cathedrals in Europe. The gothic and enormous Amiens Cathedral is the biggest in France, so large that it can fit Notre Dame of Paris inside of it! It has amazing sculptures and beautiful stained-glass windows that illuminate the gracious, elegant spaces.

The list of fun things to do in Amiens includes:

  • Visit Amiens Cathedral
  • Explore the Hortillonages by boat
  • Apéritif or dinner at the Saint-Leu neighborhood
  • Visit Jules Verne’s house
  • Explore the banks of the Somme River and canals by bike