Rouen was one of the stops on our U by Uniworld river cruise, The Seine Experience (for 2019 the trip is now called Northern France at a Glance). Our ship was moored very close to the city centre, making it easy to freely explore during the time we had there. Initially one of our guides took us for a short orientation walk, before letting us loose on the city. I thought I’d relive that day through the photos I took as we walked around Rouen on that hot, glorious day in June.
Hunt out half-timbered houses
The Normandy capital is a city brimming with art and history. The home of impressionism in the 2nd half of the 19th century, you can see why Monet, Renoir and Sisley were inspired to leave Paris and discover the beauty of Rouen and its surrounds. Much restoration took place after the Second World War but the city wows with its churches, town houses and, of course, the picturesque half-timbered houses in the cobbled streets of the old town.
You can’t go wrong on a city sightseeing trip if you make a bee-line for the cathedral. The construction of Rouen’s Gothic masterpiece began in the 12th century on the foundations of a 4th century basilica. With its spire of 151m, the Notre Dame cathedral is the tallest in France, so it would be hard to miss it. It’s no wonder Monet found himself an apartment just across the square so he could paint the cathedral at different times of the day.
It’s equally stunning on the inside and worth a look, particularly if you’re keen to see the recumbent statue of Richard the Lionheart: King of England but also Duke of Normandy.
In the summer months (mid-June to mid-September) crowds gather in the square to see the Cathedral of Light, a spectacular sound and light show projected onto the exterior of the building. We found this an excellent way to brush up on our Normandy history. I can also recommend the Delirium bar nearby for its cider and craft beers.
The Great Clock: Gros Horloge
This clock is an absolute stunner. A Gothic belfry, Renaissance archway and two beautiful clock faces showing 24 golden rays of sun on a starry blue background. Fully restored in 2006 it’s one of the oldest clock mechanisms in Europe. It worked continuously from the 14th century up to 1928 without stopping. That’s more than five million hours. Pretty impressive! There are tours to gain access to the dials room or you can just admire the clock from the ground as you weave your way through the medieval streets.
Saint Joan of Arc Church
This striking church and the adjacent market halls were designed in 1979 by the architect Louis Arretche on the site where Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake for heresy in 1431. It’s an eye-catching shape incorporating an upturned longship (a traditional Christian symbol) and curves like sweeping flames.
It’s located in the busy Place du Vieux-Marché (old market) but when you go inside the atmosphere is very peaceful and respectful. Within the church you can fully appreciate the exquisite stained- glass windows which previously belonged to the Church of Saint-Vincent and date from the Renaissance period.
Find the street full of flowers
Rue Eau de Robec is one of the prettiest streets in Rouen. The summer sun highlights the gorgeous colours of the huge hanging baskets and it shimmers in the little stream that runs down the side.
Make time for pastries
Rouen is renowned for its gastronomy. It’s still an important sea port, despite being 126km inland, so has access to fresh seafood such as excellent scallops. You can find cheese from Neufchâtel, jams from Jumièges and of course, plenty of cider from the local apple orchards. We discovered Chez Catherine, a tiny little patisserie on the Rue de Martainville. Dougie opted for a delicious apple tart and I picked this strawberry concoction. We took them back to the ship and ate them on the deck, watching the world go by from the banks of the Seine.
During our day in Rouen we tried to soak up the atmosphere of the city rather than tackle a route march, ticking off a list of must-sees. If we were staying for longer then we would have visited some of the city’s many museums and galleries. Instead, we let the city charm us and, in the warm sunshine, we walked, explored, sat in gardens and admired the views.