A guide to the best things to do in Medieval Rouen, Normandy – France

Last Updated on 22/12/2021 by secretmoona

Panoramic view of Rouen, Normandy France

Rouen, the capital of the region of Normandy, is a charming city that combines history and modernity. The one nicknamed the “city of a hundred spires” is full of history. Rouen is not only the city where Joan of Arc met her death at the age of 19 in 1431 but also a city that offers lots of things to do. The small and compact old quarter is where you want to spend your time to take in the history, architecture, historic sites and buildings, boutiques, and restaurants.

Why visit Rouen, Normandy?

Rouen is a fantastic city to visit for anyone who loves exploring historic sites, wandering along medieval cobbled streets and admiring half-timbered buildings. The town is also vibrant and offers pleasant walks, especially in the city centre, entirely pedestrianised.

To help with your discovery of Rouen during your city break, here are some of the best things to do in Rouen, Normandy. For extra inspiration on this beautiful region, check out the 30 Interesting Facts about Normandy.

Disclosure: This post contains a few affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase through my link!

Wandering the medieval Streets of Rouen

Wandering around the old medieval part of Rouen is perhaps the best thing to do. The city managed to retain the medieval style while modernising it. Stepping down the cobblestone streets, you get a glimpse of town back in medieval times. There are about 2,000 colourful half-timbered houses which gives a charming feel. Most of these houses were constructed in the 12th and 13th centuries.

For me, the best part of the town to explore is the “Quartier des Antiquaires”, the most picturesque area. There, you have dozens of antique and second-hand shops, restaurants with facades more charming than the others. Spend a few hours there with your camera fully charged up as the following streets are the most Instagrammable corners of Rouen: Rue Damiette, Rue Eau-de-Robec and Place Barthélémy.

The historical centre is not only the pastel-coloured half-timbered houses. It also houses unique architectural buildings both in Gothic or Renaissance styles, which we will come to discover in detail.

Tip: Rouen is pretty flat with mostly cobblestone streets in the old quarter, so wear sensible footwear.

Admire Gros Horloge of Rouen

Rouen's Gros-Horloge

Walking through the old town and the busy Rue du Gros-Horloge, you will discover the Gros-Horloge (grand horloge). Built in 1389, it is one of the top sights of Rouen. The monument is made of an astronomical clock from the Renaissance period, a belfry housing the city’s bells and an arch spanning the street beneath it. The timepiece shows phases of the moon and details of sheep, signifying the importance the wool production made to the city’s wealth and prosperity. The clock has now been operating with electricity since the 1920s. You can pop into the building to discover a small museum and the belfry to see the clock’s machinery up close or experience a panoramic view over Rouen.
Not far from the clock is another symbol of Rouen, the Gothic cathedral of Notre Dame.

  • Address: Rue du Gros-Horloge 
  • Cost: 7,10€ and 3,60€ for under 18 year olds, students

In the footsteps of Joan of Arc

Rouen is marked by the memory of the Maid of Orléans! The presence of Joan of Arc is felt everywhere. During your trip to Rouen, you will see various antique shops selling objects after her and even her face painted on the walls of an alley in the old town. For French people, “Jeanne d’Arc” is not only a beloved historical figure but a Saint. Rouen, the city where she took her last breath, makes it possible for people to remember the heroine.  

Be sure to stroll around Place du Vieux-Marché and then head to the Joan Of Arc History Museum. The building itself, located in the Archbishops’ Palace, has lots of history as it is on the same site as the room where Joan of Arc was tried and sentenced. The exhibition is done in stages where visitors can follow the heroine in her battles during the Hundred Years War and the re-conquest of the throne of France. This exceptional experience will allow visitors to know all the myths and legends of this heroine as they move from room to room while watching videos and re-enactment of the events.

If you want to see more places that tell the story of the Maid, head to Saint Ouen Abbey, Cathedral of Notre Dame, Joan of Arc Tower or the Boieldieu bridge. Located between the train station and the Museum of Fine Arts is the dungeon, also known as “Joan of Arc Tower”. The only remains of Rouen Castle where the Maid of Orléans was jailed (although she was kept in a different tower of the same building)

Joan of Arc painted on the wall of a street in Rouen Normandy

Who was Joan of Arc?

Born in 1412, during the Hundred Years War, into a peasant family in the Vosges. She lived an accomplished life, although short. Joan became convinced that she was given a mission to save France from the English, after hearing voices. At the age of seventeen, Joan set off to help Charles VII get back his throne. At eighteen, she led the victory of the French troops against the English in Orléans. After the victory, with her troops, she set out to free Paris. However, she was later captured, tried for heresy, charged for cross-dressing and imprisoned in Rouen before being burned at the stake on 30 May 1431. She was beatified and then canonised a saint in 1920.

Be impressed by Cathedral of Notre-Dame of Rouen from all angle

The stunning Cathedral of Notre-Dame of Rouen

Famous all around France, Notre-Dame Cathedral is THE symbol of Rouen. Therefore, a visit to Rouen would be incomplete without visiting this architectural masterpiece. Built in the 11th century, the Gothic style cathedral is the tallest church in France with its 151-meter spire.

The cathedral experienced fire and other damages over the centuries, including WWII. Yet, it still stands tall and magnificent.

The cathedral is as beautiful on the outside as it is on the inside. Lots of artists were fascinated by the cathedral and painted it from different angles. Since it’s free to enter, you don’t have any excuse for not exploring. It’s still a place of worship, so be mindful of not taking flash photography or talking too loud.

When inside the cathedral, look out for the casket of Richard the Lionheart, English King and Duke of Normandy. During the summer months (June to September), the cathedral’s facade is illuminated at night.

  • Address: Place de la Cathédrale
  • Access fee: Free

Have a drink

Sitting on a terrace to sip a drink is one of the ultimate summer pleasures. Did you know that Rouen, a city with many half-timbered buildings, has the most extensive number of bars by inhabitants? Rouen is a vibrant, young and fun city with countless restaurants and bars, often in picturesque settings where you can sit, enjoy a drink or two and watch people go by.

Some places to look out for a while in Rouen for drink or food:

  • Social Perk – a friendly nudge to Central Perk 
  • Le Perchoir Robec – the modern building and decoration contrasts beautifully with the half-timbered buildings around it
  • BraZil Casa das batidas – a hot spot in Rouen 
  • La Fabrik – nice bar located by the Seine river 
  • Couleur Café – for a coffee break 

Visit the Church of Saint-Maclou

Saint-Maclou church, Rouen
Saint-Maclou church

Saint-Maclou church is one of the many churches in Rouen and one of the city’s gems. Dedicated to the Breton saint, one of the founders of Brittany, Saint-Malo, it was built at the end of the 15th century in a flamboyant Gothic style. It has a gate with five porches adorned with magnificent carved wooden doors dating from the Renaissance.

The building with influences from Normandy and Paris has been the victim of bombings during the Second World War but is now fully restored. The now clean and slightly rounded facades make the locals and tourists happy. Situated Place Barthélémy, buzzing with cafes, the church stands out surrounded by the half-timbered houses. Sit in one of the cafes to take in the sheer beauty of the religious building.

  • Address: 7 place Barthélémy
  • Access fee: Free

Explore Aître St-Maclou

Looking for unusual things to do while in Rouen? Then head to Aître Saint Maclou, a monument worth visiting. Located moment’s away from the Saint-Maclou church, Aître St-Maclou is a cluster of buildings decorated with bones and skulls, often overlooked by tourists. It’s a spooky yet hidden gem in Rouen. 

The history of this unusual and exceptional place dates back to the Great Plague (Black Death) of 1348, which killed three-quarters of the inhabitants of the district. As the epidemic claimed lots of life, a new cemetery had to be opened: the great aître Saint Maclou. Eventually, they built three galleries, which now surround the cemetery, to serve as an ossuary. The decor is a little macabre as you will see carvings of skulls, gravediggers’ tolls, bones and other objects. 

In the exact location, you will find the Galeries des Arts du Feu, an exhibition and demonstration centre dedicated to work made with glass, metal and earth. You can see the artisans at work by visiting their workshops. 

  • Address: 186 Rue Martainville.
  • Access fee: Free

Walk along the banks of the River Seine

Banks of Seine River, Rouen Normandy

The banks of the Seine allow you to take beautiful walks. The Seine River, famous for dividing Paris, also divides Rouen into the left bank and right bank. While the right bank offers the older part of the city, the left bank is the most modern part of the town. It’s also an ideal place for cycling. 

By walking on the right bank, you will see the Panorama XXL, a big blue tube looking building housing contemporary art installations in 360. There is also the Maritime Museum. The left bank is perfect for picnics thanks to the Parc de la Presqu’île Rollet or Prairie Saint Sever. 

Unwind at Jardin des Plantes 

After exploring the banks of the Seine, put on your adventurous hat and venture into the south of Rouen. That part of the river is the more modern side of the town, therefore less picturesque. However, it’s where you see the local life. The local botanical garden is located there and is worth a visit, if you have time.
The garden was established in the 17th century by Louis de Carel and has had several owners before becoming a public park. It has over 5000 plantations, including the most extensive collection of fuchsias in France, a rock garden, rose garden and medicinal plants.

It appeals to all, and you’ll actually find lots of locals there: families enjoying quality time (there’s a children’s playground), walkers, joggers or people quietly sitting and enjoying the peaceful garden.

  • Address: 114, avenue des Martyrs de la Résistance
  • Access; Bus lines F1, t57, stop Dufay or Jardin des plantes
  • Cost: Free

Street art in Rouen

Things to see in Rouen Normandy - see street art

Who would have thought that this medieval city, packed with religious buildings and historical monuments, would have a place for street art? Rouen contains a good amount of murals, tags, graffiti, frescoes and collages from great artists from all around the world, including Norman artists. 

Discovering these works is easy; wander along the streets of Rouen, paying attention to the facades of the half-timbered houses. Be sure to snap any that you see, as since the art is temporary; you might not see them again the next time you visit Rouen. 

I was happy to see the below piece from one of my favourite artists – Mahe. 

Saint-Ouen Abbey

View of Abbey Saint-Ouen from the garden, Rouen
Saint Ouen

The Abbey of Saint-Ouen was one of the most powerful Benedictine monasteries in Normandy. Some tourists take the abbey for the cathedral since its dimensions are imposing. The same attention to detail given to the construction of the facade was given to the interior. The monastery has 80 stained glass windows, which provide it with exceptional bright light.
Since the French Revolution, the abbey is no longer being used as a place of worship.

The nicely maintained garden that surrounds the abbey is a pleasure to visit.

Address: Place du Général de Gaulle

Study Art at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen

Rouen’s Museum of Fine Arts is one of the most important in the country. By visiting the museum, you will see some of the best collections of paintings, drawings, sculptures and other artworks. The many rooms (60 in total) host work by big names like Renoir, Monet or Rubens. As well as the permanent collections, there are often temporary exhibitions. If you love visiting museums, this is a place to go. 

  • Address: Esplanade Marcel Duchamp
  • Fee: Free

Place du Vieux Marché 

Place du Vieux Marché (Old Market Place) is best known as the spot where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in 1431. At the time, there was the Church of Saint-Sauveur, which has been replaced by Joan Of Arc Church, a modern church with stained-glass windows. Besides, it is a bronze cross that marks the position of Joan’s stake. Despite his bloody past, Place du Vieux Marché is today a lovely spot full of restaurants and shops. The place is excellent for people watching and hosts a daily market.

Address: Place du Vieux Marché

Taste the culinary specialties

Wouldn’t you want to visit Rouen and try some of the region’s specialities? Normandy is one of France’s best regions for local food, including its Camembert, cider and Calvados. They produce tons of fruits and vegetables like apples and, of course, have a good amount of fish and seafood thanks to its connection with the Channel Sea.

Like any other city, Rouen has many charming restaurants where you will taste some of the local dishes. Like Britany, Normandy does great crepes, too, and it would be a shame not to try some.

Panorama de la Cote Sainte Catherine

You can get an excellent panoramic view of Rouen by climbing some of the monuments like the Big Clock. However, for a unique view of the city, you have to go to Sainte-Catherine hill.
From the tops of the 140 meters hill, you will observe one of the most breathtaking views of Rouen, the Seine, the many bridges crossing the river and a glimpse of both the left and right banks.
Claude Monet immortalized the place by producing “Vue générale de Rouen” in 1892 which you can see at the Musée des Beaux-Arts.

As well as being a great spot to see the city in its entirety, Sainte-Catherine hill is also a great spot for a picnic, admire the sunset or simply relaxing. There are several ways to get there. Do note that if you walk or take the bus, you will need to climb the 525 steps to reach the top of the hill.

  • On foot: it’s roughly 1.5 to 2 kilometres from the city centre 
  • By bus: you can take bus 13 towards Belbeuf & Boos and stop at La Corniche or bus 20 towards Saint-Léger-du-Bourg-Denis and stop at Cimetière du Mont Gargan
  • By car: Join the right bank and head towards Bonsecours.

Practical information about Rouen

Getting to Rouen

Getting from Paris to Rouen is simple and easy. You can reach the city just over an hour from Paris Gare Saint Lazare. Trains depart frequently and can be as cheap as 9€ one way, a total bargain! I recommend you book your ticket via oui.sncf rather than at the station as it will save you time and money. 

You can also reach the city via coach buses: Flexibus and Blablacar deserve Rouen for less than 5€ one way. The journey takes less than 2 hours.

How long should I stay in Rouen?

Rouen is a small and compact city so I would recommend staying 2 or 3 nights. You can explore the city in two days and spend the extra day exploring a surrounding town. Normandy is a beautiful region with lots of charming places waiting to be explored. 

When is the best time to visit Rouen?

You can visit Rouen on a city break any time of the year. Whenever you are scheduling a trip to Paris, allow some time in your itinerary to visit this beautiful town. 

Like most destinations, summer is a good time but tends to be the busiest period. Christmas is a great choice, too, thanks to the Christmas markets. 

Day trip form Paris to Rouen Normandy

Where to stay in Rouen, Normandy?

Ideally, you would want to spend at least one night in Rouen to see as many sights as possible. Just a day wouldn’t do the city justice; after all, Rouen is the capital of Normandy! 

Here are some hotel options to explore. More choices are available on Booking.com.

  • Hotel de Bourgtheroulde, Autograph Collection: A stunning boutique hotel located in the heart of the historic centre. This luxurious hotel with a spa facility is perfect for those who want top-notch accommodation for their base in Rouen.
  • Les Initiés: Located in the heart of the historical centre, close to Palais de Justice, this property is ideal for all travellers, including solo travellers. It offers comfortable rooms at a reasonable price, including breakfast.
  • Mercure Rouen Centre Cathedrale: Located two steps away from the cathedral, this hotel offers beautifully decorated rooms and delicious French food. 
  • Best Western Hôtel Littéraire Gustave Flaubert: Also located in a good location featuring beautiful rooms inspired by the novels of Flaubert and small balconies with city views.
  • Le Vieux Carré: Located in the historic centre, Le Vieux Carré embodies the charm of Rouen. Timber-framed building complete with a cute tea garden. All rooms have a bathtub which is sometimes ideal after a long day of sightseeing!
  • Holiday Inn Express – Rouen Centre, Rive Gauche: The only property on the list not located in the historic centre. This hotel makes a great choice because it is clean, has comfortable beds, and has a great breakfast included in the rate. 

For more information about Rouen, be sure to visit the Tourist Office. The lovely team will be able to assist with any queries.  

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Have you been to Rouen? Normandy? What are the other things to do in Rouen that I have not listed? Let me know in the comments below.

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Hi there! I'm Mayi. Welcome to my blog SecretMoona! I hope to share with you the hidden secret of places I visit.

21 thoughts on “A guide to the best things to do in Medieval Rouen, Normandy – France

  1. Rouen looks really wonderful to see! I haven’t explored many places in France unfortunately so it’s another one I need to add to my list. Great post 🙂

  2. Rouen looks like such a beautiful place! I’d love to wander the streets and admire the incredible medieval buildings! The cathedral looks stunning too! Thanks for the great guide!

  3. So envious! We were supposed to come here in 2020. What a beautiful place! The architecture is so captivating. Can’t wait to visit!

  4. France is absolutely stunning. I would love to go back one day! Hopefully I can visit Normandy for all the WWII history.

  5. Rouen sounds like a fascinating city. I haven’t heard anything about it before. I love architecture and history so it would be a place I would love. I also like the odd cocktail and would enjoy sitting on a patio at one of the bars people watching 🙂

  6. My family made a short stop in Roeun on our way from the beaches of Normandy back to Paris. We visited the cathedral and learned more about Joan of Arc, but now I see that I need to plan a trip back because there is so much more to see and do.

    1. Thanks. Hope you had a good time discovering the city albeit for a short time. You should definitely explore going back!

  7. Rouen is definitely on my France bucket list, but I haven’t done much research on it. I’m loving how many medieval points of interest there are here. Thanks for the tips!

  8. There is something about those half timber medieval buildings that is just so enchanting. I love places like Rouen that have so much history, but that still feel real and lived in with vibrant street art.

    I had never heard of Aître St-Maclou, but wowza, that is such an interesting spot to visit…and you know the food in this part of France is always going to be gorgeous. I have a feeling I’d love Rouen. 🙂

    Fabulous post (as always) Mayi!

    1. Thanks so much Josy! You’ve summarised perfectly Rouen: a modern city with history! Yes, Aître St-Maclou is a fascinating place!

  9. Rouen sounds like it’s a wonderful weekend destination! I would love to spend some time there exploring, and visiting that amazing Cathedral! I need to book a trip to Normandy!

  10. Wow. This city looks absolutely incredible, definitely adding it to my bucket list. I also love your table of contents at the beginning of your post. Super helpful!

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