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Best Things to Do in Rouen, France05/18/2022
Visit Rouen, Normandy
Rouen is one of the capitals of the Normandy region and of the most beautiful cities in northern France. It is located between Paris in Ile-de-France and Le Havre in Normandy, and it is bisected by the Seine River on its way to the Atlantic Ocean.
In medieval times, Rouen was a busy port and grew rapidly. Hundreds of buildings remain from that time, hovering above cobblestone streets and next to breath-taking cathedrals. These landmarks are what makes Rouen one of the best-preserved medieval cities in all of France.
Rouen also has a less attractive side to it. Jeanne d’Arc was burned alive in Rouen and around the city, you’ll find a number of landmarks dedicated to her memory.
Rouen is an easy day trip from Paris by train but there’s so much to see, do, and try that we recommend spending at least one night on site.
Are you planning a trip to Rouen last minute?
Below, are some of the best Rouen tours, hotels, and more!
Top Experiences and Tours in Rouen
Top Rouen Accommodation and Lodging
Hotel Litteraire Gustave Flaubert (top suggestion), Hôtel de Bourgtheroulde (luxury), Hotel de la Cathédrale (mid-range), Les Initiés (budget), La Souche (apartment).
What to Do in Rouen, France
If you have decided that you want to visit Rouen, then here’s a list of the best things to do in Rouen, France.
1. Notre Dame Cathedral
The Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Rouen is located in the center of town, so you really can’t miss it. It’s also one of the top things to do in Rouen if you like Gothic architecture.
Construction on the cathedral began in the 13th century, but it wasn’t finished until the 16th. This mix of times has created a beautiful, graceful building that still retains some of its original stained-glass windows despite damage during the Second World War.
The building’s façade is a showstopper and inspired some of the works of impressionist painter Claude Monet (you still can see the spot from where he captured its beauty under different lights). The cathedral also boasts the highest spire in France at 151 meters.
2. Musée des Beaux-Arts
You may not have heard of this art museum, and yet it’s one of the most important in France. Its collection is truly comprehensive and includes a wide range of paintings, objects, and sculptures from the 15th century to the 21st.
While you’re at the museum, you’ll get the chance to see works by some of the greatest artists the world has ever known including Picasso, Renoir, Monet, and Caravaggio, so don’t miss out!
3. Historial Jeanne d’Arc
When you’re looking at what to do in Rouen, you can’t miss out on some of the Jeanne d’Arc landmarks. Jeanne d’Arc was tried and convicted in Rouen’s Episcopal Palace in 1431, a historical building where you can now find this museum to her life.
The Historial Jeanne d’Arc is a multimedia experience that covers her life. One of the top Rouen attractions, it lasts over an hour and is a display of light and sound through different rooms and halls in the Palace that’s both enthralling and informative. If you’ve ever been interested in the famous saint and want to learn more about not only her grisly death but her life and her impact on French culture, then this is where to do it.
4. The Gros Horloge (Clock Tower)
You can’t miss the stunning Gros Horloge, which is one of the main Rouen tourist attractions. The Gros Horlodge is a medieval astronomical clock located a little south of the Palais de Justice. The clock’s bell tower was built in 1389 for defensive purposes but the addition of the clock changed its purpose entirely.
The clock still works to this day and is used by the locals to tell time but it’s amazingly decorative as well. The image on the clock face represents the sun with the sun’s rays representing the 24-hour day, all of it set against a blue background.
The clock is located halfway along the Rue du Gros Horloge, one of the best places to visit in Rouen for shopping.
5. Abbatiale Saint Ouen
The Abbatiale Saint Ouen is at the top of any good list of things to see in Rouen, Normandy. One of Rouen’s landmarks, the Abbatiale is a masterpiece of Rayonnant Gothic architecture and it always impresses visitors with its huge dimensions.
The Abbatiale Saint Ouen was built in the 14th century as a church for the Benedictine monastery. Today it is totally empty so it’s the perfect place to rest and reflect, with its 14th century-stained glass windows sending color into the enormous interior space.
On the upper floor, the Abbatiale houses the famous Cavaillé-Coll Organ, widely considered one of the most beautiful in the world, with 5,000 pipes and 4 keyboards. You should also make sure you see the Portail des Marmousets at the south transept of the abbey, with its stunning carvings of Saint Ouen’s life.
6. Place du Vieux Marché (Old Market Square)
Also known as Old Market Square, this is at the west end of the Rue du Cros-Horloge and was once the execution ground for prisoners during the Middle Ages. This includes Joan of Arc, who was burned alive in Old Market Square in 1431.
Today, it’s a bustling area and one of the must places to visit in Rouen. It’s filled with beautiful half-timbered houses including La Couronne, the oldest auberge or inn in France. You’ll also find plenty of little restaurants offering traditional food and cafés, where you can sit, and people watch to your heart’s content.
7. Musée Le Secq des Tournelles
Musée Le Secq des Tournelles is one of the most unique places to visit in Rouen, France. Located in former Saint Laurent Church, built in Gothic style, it hosts a collection of antique wrought ironwork. This may sound a little dry, but the reality is a collection of railings, jewelry, scientific instruments, and door knockers turned from everyday items into the fantastic.
The church itself dates back to the 15th century and has beautiful stained-glass windows that are worth taking a moment to enjoy.
8. Palais de Justice
You can’t explore inside the Palais de Justice, but even from the outside, it’s one of the most impressive Rouen attractions. Home to the Rouen Law Courts, the building is a marvel of medieval architecture, built in the 16th century and restored after being damaged during the Second World War.
You’ll want to take lots of photos outside of this stunning building and if you look closely, you’ll see shell holes in some of the exterior walls and some truly astonishing gargoyles on the roof.
A renovation of the Palais de Justice in the ‘70s also uncovered the remains of another stone building in the courtyard. Known as the Monument Juif, it’s the lower room of a rabbinical school dating back to 1100. Unfortunately, at this time it’s still being restored and is closed to the public.
9. Day trip to Monet’s Gardens in Giverny
While you’re in Rouen, you should also take a day trip out to this stunning attraction. Located in the village of Giverny, about an hour’s drive from Rouen, these gardens were once the home of famous painter Claude Monet, and he lived there from 1883 until his death in 1926.
There are two separate parts to this attraction, the Flower Gardens or the Clos Normand and the Water Garden, which was started after Monet arrived in Giverny. They’re both beautiful, ethereal places and once you’re there you’ll understand why they inspired the famous painter so deeply and led to the creation of his most famous works.