Rouen is a lovely town with great architecture and history, just one hour away from Paris. Although it has the potential of a major tourist attraction, you won’t find too many visitors in Rouen. Maybe it’s because it’s impossible to pronounce its name if you’re not French.
Whether you spend a few days in Paris and want to explore somewhere different or you live in Paris and you’re looking for a short break, Rouen is a great option.
I lived there intermittently for about three years when I was a student. The first time I wandered around the unique town centre, I was charmed in a few minutes. Family and friends sometimes came for short visits and I loved showing them the place.
Rouen was built in the twists of the Seine River and was a prominent place during the Roman and Medieval times. You can feel History wandering in the old cobbled pedestrian roads in the heart of the city. You pass old medieval Norman-style houses and many imposing buildings from different times.
How to plan your trip to Rouen
It’s great to visit Rouen by foot so it’s very convenient to catch a train from Paris directly to the centre of Rouen (Rouen Rive Droite). You don’t need to book in advance and it has always been under 25 euros for me.
If you come by car, I recommend finding a spot to park your car for the day and walk!
Most of the visits are free, or cheap.
One-day itinerary in Rouen
If you arrived by train, take a few minutes to have a look at the station and its belfry when you get out.
The Beaux-Arts Museum is free and is France’s second-biggest impressionist art gallery! It opens at 10am so it can be hard to fit in a short day itinerary. If you don’t have time to go in, it’s still a nice building to see from the outside.
The Palais de Justice is a fascinating building. I’ve walked passed this Middle Age masterpiece hundreds of times and I could always spot a new detail on the Gargoyles.
The Gros Horloge is a unique clock from the 16th century that goes over the paved pedestrian street. You can visit it for the single experience of being inside a clock, and the fantastic views of the roofs and the Cathedral.
As you go down the Gros Horloge Street, you cannot miss the majestic Cathedral of Notre-Dame. During summer (June to September), there’s a light show on the Cathedral at night (check timetables here) that you don’t want to miss if you chose to spend one night in the town. There was already a church there in the 4th century. It says a lot about the great past of Rouen. This Cathedral has been destroyed and rebuilt many times so there is an interesting mix of styles in there. I first saw the Cathedral in Monet’s famous series of paintings. It is also famous for having the highest spire in France (151 m).
If you finish your lunch before 2pm, take a walk in the Gardens of the Hotel de Ville (Town Hall) and admire the Abbatiale St Ouen, one of Rouen’s most famous buildings. It will open again at 2pm for visits, and it’s worth a look inside.
Rouen is surrounded by small mounts. It is not ideal for the climate, but it provides great birds eye’s views of the city when the weather is clear. The most accessible one is Colline Sainte Catherine. You’ll have to walk up there (about 3km) so allow one hour. It can be a great spot for the sunset. From the Hotel de Ville bus stop, you can catch the Bus 20 and stop at Cimetière du Mont Gargan. In 10 to 15 minutes, you’ll be near the start of the walk. You can check bus trips and timetables on this website.
Have you ever been to Rouen? Share your experience in the comments below!
Interactive map of my one-day itinerary in Rouen
Where is Rouen?
Rouen is the Capital of Normandy, located 130 km north of Paris. It takes less than 2 hours to drive there from Paris centre, and only a little bit more by train.
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