Far from the image of an industrial river port town, the historic city centre of Rouen is definitely a “must-see”. From Gothic churches to civil buildings, here is below our selection of 10 things to see in the old town of the capital of Normandy which was once described as the “city of 100 bell towers” by Victor Hugo.
A jewel of Gothic architecture, the Notre-Dame cathedral of Rouen boosts in having France’s tallest church spire at a height of 151 m. The breathtaking western façade was intensively painted by Claude Monet.
Find out more about Rouen Cathedral.
The old town of Rouen includes about 2,000 half-timbered houses, of which half have been restored. Our favourite streets and squares are: rue Saint-Romain, rue de Martainville, rue Damiette, rue Eau-de-Robec, rue Saint-Amand, rue Ganterie and rue des Bons Enfants, place Saint-Amand, Place Saint-Barthélémy, Place du Lieutenant Aubert and Place du Vieux-Marché.
Find out more about Rouen’s half-timbered houses.
Museum of Fine Arts
The museum established by Napoleon I displays an extensive and varied collection of painting, sculpture, drawing and decorative art collections in 63 rooms dedicated to permanent exhibitions. The rich painting collection gathers every European school, from the 15th to the 21st centuries, including artists such as Perugino, Rubens, Nicolas Poussin, Eustache Le Sueur, Fragonard, Géricault, Delacroix, Corot, Sisley, Renoir, Pissaro, Degas, Monet and Modigliani. It has one of the richest impressionism collections in France outside Paris.
Find out more about Rouen Fine Arts Museum.
The Gros Horloge is the astronomical clock of Rouen, one of the city’s most famous monuments. The clock lays on a Renaissance arch that has spanned the street since 1527. The Gros Horloge is flanked by a gothic belfry built between the 14th and the 15th centuries, which houses the bells linked to the clock’s movement.
Find out more about the Gros-Horloge.
Saint Ouen Abbey Church
The impressive church of Saint Ouen is one of the largest of the rare large churches to be built in the Rayonnant Gothic style. The sanctuary is recognisable with its two spire-towers soaring above the western façade and a majestic 84-metre central tower above the crossing of the transept nicknamed the “Crown of Normandy”.
Find out more about Saint Ouen Abbey Church.
Place de la Pucelle
The square bordered by restaurants and half-timbered houses is also famous for the magnificent Bourgtheroulde Mansion. The 16th-century mansion was built in order to reflect Lord Bourgtheroulde’s respectable rank. Although dominantly Gothic, there are some Renaissance influences visible from the courtyard.
The church of Saint-Maclou is arguably one of the most striking churches in Rouen and is rightly considered one of the best examples of Flamboyant Gothic architecture in Rouen. Saint Maclou, built from around 1435, is often cited as a church of monumental design in miniature. The design of the western facade is quite unique with five gabled porches arranged in a semi-circle under a rose window and a pyramid-like succession of triangular lines.
Find out more about the church of Saint-Maclou.
Parliament of Normandy
The Palais de Justice of Rouen was once the seat of the Parliament of Normandy and is one of the rare civil constructions in Gothic style in the late Middle Ages in France. The central part of the building, erected during the 16th century, is a mix of Gothic and Renaissance styles.
Place du Vieux-Marché
The Place du Vieux Marché is the main square of Rouen and a historic site. Bordered with half-timbered houses and restaurants, it is dominated by the modern church of Saint Joan of Arc.
A small commemorative plaque and a 20-metre high cross mark the spot on which Joan of Arc was burnt alive on the 30th May 1431. On the adjacent walls, the marks of a former church destroyed in the past are visible.
To the East of the city rises the Côte Sainte-Catherine, a hillside covered by chalk meadows. At a bend of the D95 road (Route de la Corniche) is a splendid panoramic view overlooking Rouen, the Seine, and the neighbouring suburbs.
Find out more about the Côte Sainte-Catherine.