If you have ever wanted to step back in time to the Middle Ages, immerse yourself in Old World charm, wander down narrow streets several centuries old and live out your medieval fantasies, Rouen is just the place. Less than two hours away from Paris in the north of France
and situated on the Seine River, Rouen has been an important cultural center for many years and is the capital of the region of Normandy. Many half-timbered homes and businesses look the same as they did four hundred years ago with overhanging second stories, heavy wooden beams and sherbet-colored walls. History is tangible in Rouen.
This intriguing city is easily accessible by rail or car travel from Paris, and like many European capitals, Rouen has a historic core surrounded by a modern city with a thriving université. Most visitors stay in hotels in this older part of town; from here all you need are your feet to explore the treasures of Rouen. Walking around the winding medieval streets, buying fresh produce at the old market and enjoying a traditional dinner of sheep's knuckles or pressed duck in blood sauce might just leave you with the impression that indeed, not much has changed in the last several centuries.
Rouen is a great weekend excursion from Paris for those needing a break from the giant metropolis, or you can easily include Rouen in a tour of Normandy's attractions like Mont Saint-Michel, Giverny and Honfleur.
Things to do in
Rouen has an outstanding cathedral made famous by Claude Monet in a series of paintings that captured the gothic structure during several different times of day. Although Rouen's cathedral was heavily damaged by Allied bombers during World War II, the beauty and grace of its design is still very much appreciated today and the cathedral is Rouen's top attraction.
If you like your afterlife with a slice of the macabre, don't miss Rouen's medieval ossuary, otherwise known as Saint-Maclou's Aître. Built to house the bones of victims of the plague of 1348, this building's half-timbered glory is punctuated by wooden carvings of skulls, coffins, skeletons and shovels as well as a mummified cat,all enclosing a leafy courtyard perfect for contemplating eternity.
Rouen is also famous for its markets, and right in the middle of the town you will find the Vieux Marché, or Old Marketplace. For centuries shoppers have selected the choicest cheeses and handmade porcelain crafts from local artisans and boutiques, and you can too. Surrounding the marketplace are a number offine-dining restaurants that specialize in regional delicacies such as La Couronne; this restaurant was founded in 1354 and is the place where Julia Child first discovered French cuisine. In the middle of the marché rests the modern church of Saint Joan of Arc, the patron saint of France who was burned at the stake in Rouen; in fact you can see the remains of the stone fire wall that protected the market's merchandise from the climbing flames of the pyre.
Further down the narrow cobblestone streets is the famous Gros Horloge, or Big Clock, an astronomical clock whose parts have been moving since 1389. Emblematic of the town of Rouen, the medieval timepiece features divine representations of the planets, no minute hand, and has long been a symbol of freedom and autonomy for the proud people of the city.
Hotel Cardinal: excellentlocation, some rooms have balconies and overlook the cathedral
Mercure Hotel Rouen: one block from cathedral, very clean, comfortable and modern
Morand Hotel:classic Norman style, close to the train station and historical downtown
Hotel Rouen Vieux Marché:renovated Best Western right in the middle of the Old Town
Hotelde Cathédrale: nice courtyard and cozy rooms with character in a historicbuilding
Hotel Ermitage Bouquet: small boutique hotel with cute rooms and spacious suites
Suitehotel Rouen Normandie: comfortable beds, safe parking, great for families