Last Updated on 29/07/2023 by secretmoona
Honfleur, a picturesque town located in Normandy, France, is a great destination for anyone who loves medieval architecture, half-timbered houses, cobbled alleys and a charming small harbour. This historic town is a must-see for anyone visiting Normandy or France. If you’re planning your first trip to Honfleur or looking for a new place to explore, this guide to the best things to do and see in Honfleur will help you prepare for your trip.
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A brief history of Honfleur
The town of Honfleur has a long and rich history spanning over 1000 years, with its first occupation by the Vikings. Since the twelfth century, Honfleur has been a significant port for trade between France and England, as well as a starting point for expeditions to Quebec due to its strategic location at the mouth of the Seine River. To protect itself from English invasions in the 14th and 15th centuries, the town was fortified. However, Honfleur’s trade with the Antilles, Canada, the Acores Islands, and Africa gradually declined, unable to compete with neighbouring towns such as Le Havre.
Honfleur is an enchanting town in Normandy, inspiring artists such as Claude Monet and Eugène Boudin for many years. The town is considered the birthplace of impressionism, and artists, writers, and musicians have made Honfleur a little cultural hub. Even now, artists come to paint. Honfleur boasts four museums to explore, including ones dedicated to E. Boudin, who was born there. Additionally, the town is home to many museums, such as a maritime museum, a museum of culture and folk art, and a town museum that discuss the area’s rich past.
=> Discover the rich history of Honfleur by signing up for a guided tour via the Honfleur Tourist Office.
What is Honfleur known for, and why it is worth a visit?
Honfleur, a Norman town with a rich artistic and maritime history, is renowned for its well-preserved heritage. Once a major trading port during the Middle Ages, Honfleur played a significant role in the voyages that led to the establishment of Quebec by Samuel de Champlain.
Honfleur’s picturesque harbour is also famous for being depicted in numerous impressionist paintings, with artists (such as Turner, Dubourg, Dufy, and Friesz) from Paris capturing its ever-changing light against the backdrop of the magnificent wood and slate houses surrounding the ancient harbour. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Honfleur is one of France’s most beautiful medieval towns.
Things to do in Honfleur, Normandy
Le Vieux Bassin (Honfleur’s old harbour)
Honfleur’s picturesque port, known as the Vieux Bassin, was originally constructed in 1681 and has since undergone modifications to expand its size. Today, it is one of the top attractions in Honfleur.
This charming old harbour exudes a similar atmosphere to Amsterdam, with its narrow four-storey buildings featuring slate roofs and medieval timber-framed houses of distinctive colours overlooking the dock. The houses along Quai Sainte-Catherine are historical monuments dating back to the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. Honfleur was already famous among impressionist painters in the 19th century before becoming a popular destination for tourists visiting small towns.
The port is now home to a variety of restaurants with terraces overlooking the water, serving up delectable dishes, including seafood and crepes. The Vieux Bassin is, without a doubt, the most photographed part of the town.
Wander the streets and alleys of Honfleur
Exploring Honfleur by foot is the best way to experience the town. The old town boasts numerous narrow streets, half-timbered and old stone houses, many of which have been impressively preserved for hundreds of years.
One of my favourite areas to visit is near the Ste Catherine Church, where you can find charming traditional boutiques and art galleries. It’s worth wandering the side streets to discover hidden gems. Don’t forget to visit the Maison Satie, which is the birthplace of a famous French musician.
La Lieutenance (Lieutenancy building)
The Lieutenancy building, situated at the entrance of the Vieux Bassin, holds great significance as a piece of architecture. This 18th-century structure served as the residence of the king’s lieutenant from the 16th century. It is the last remaining structure of medieval Honfleur, serving as a bastion just like those in St Malo.
The building is composed of two distinctive structures made of brick and stone. There is a stone basement built surrounding a corridor and the apartments of the Lieutenant of the King.
Passing through the archway, one can imagine the past when it was necessary to show identification to enter, to ensure that you were not a pirate.
Visit the many churches of Honfleur
Explore two of the most exquisite and distinctive churches located in Honfleur.
Sainte Catherine’s Church
When you take a stroll through Honfleur, you cannot miss the Église Ste Catherine, also known as the Church of Sainte-Catherine in English. This unique church was built in the 15th century and is entirely made of wood, making it the largest wooden church in France. It’s worth taking the time to explore both the interior and exterior of the church, as both are full of surprises. When you look up at the ceiling, you’ll notice that it resembles the upturned hull of a boat. This is because the church was built by skilled boatbuilders who incorporated nautical decorative details throughout the structure.
The Saint-Leonard church suffered destruction during the Hundred Year’s War, similar to the Ste Catherine Church. However, it was reconstructed in the 16th century and boasts magnificent Gothic architecture. The church is situated in Honfleur, surrounded by medieval architecture that adds to its beauty. In the vicinity of the church, visitors can discover fountains and a lavoir, previously used as a public washhouse. The area is picturesque and adorned with flower beds and benches, providing a peaceful and relaxing spot for people to take in the stunning surroundings.
Visit the Musée de la Marine (Maritime Museum)
Honfleur boasts several unique museums, including the Maritime Museum situated in the 16th-century Church of Saint-Étienne. As its name suggests, the museum is dedicated to all things maritime and showcases Honfleur’s history as a port through exhibits, artefacts, and stories of explorers. The museum primarily focuses on the golden age of the 17th and 18th centuries and is conveniently located near the Norman Museum of Ethnography and Popular Arts, just by the Vieux Bassin.
Discover Musée Eugène Boudin (Eugène Boudin Museum)
Unsurprisingly, the small town gained fame in the 19th century due to its charming port, which many impressionist painters immortalised. Among these artists was Eugène Boudin, who hailed from the same tiny town.
The Eugene Bouding Museum, which is dedicated to him, showcases his work and other artists who Honfleur and the surrounding areas have inspired. You can view around 2500 paintings, including original works by Claude Monet, Othon Friesz, and many others.
Various exhibition rooms are available, each with a different theme. Apart from the impressive impressionist paintings, you can explore traditional Norman costumes, headdresses, and furniture.
The museum is closed on Tuesdays, and if you want to enjoy an audioguide, the entry fee is €10.
Maisons Satie (Satie House and Museum)
Erik Satie, a talented composer and musician, was born in Honfleur in 1866. He collaborated with notable figures such as Picasso and Braque and also inspired artists like Debussy. Today, his former residence, a charming red-timbered house, has been transformed into a museum dedicated to showcasing his life’s work.
A visit to Maisons Satie offers an opportunity to explore various rooms that trace Erik Satie’s artistic journey. The museum consists of three renovated houses that provide an immersive experience. The first house is a recreation of Satie’s childhood home, where visitors can learn about his early life and the influences that shaped his musical style. The second house features multimedia exhibits, including interactive displays, soundscapes, and video projectors that showcase Satie’s most famous works, such as Gymnopedies and Parade. Finally, the third house is a modern art exhibit exploring Satie’s influence on contemporary art and music.
The museum is open every day except Tuesday and costs €6.30, which includes a free audio guide.
Discover cool exhibitions at Greniers à Sel
When visiting Honfleur, one unique activity is exploring the “greniers à sel”. These historic buildings were constructed in 1670 and served as storage for over 10,000 tons of salt, a crucial ingredient for preserving fish like cod. In fact, salt was once the only way to keep fish fresh for extended periods of time.
Today, two of the three buildings still stand and have been repurposed as exhibition and conference halls. The ceilings inside are designed to resemble the hulls of ships, similar to the roof of St. Catherine’s church.
Situated on Rue de la Ville, the salt storage buildings are definitely worth checking out if you’re looking to discover something out of the ordinary during your visit. Additionally, the street is lined with charming shops that sell locally-made products.
Visit the port to see the fishing boats
Be sure not to miss the sight of fishing boats returning to the port, loaded with their catch every morning and evening. Throughout the day, you’ll see fishing nets stacked up on the quays and boats of different sizes and shapes anchored. From Thursdays to Sundays, you can visit the Fish Market located on the quay. It’s the perfect place to find local delicacies like shrimp, which is celebrated with a Shrimp Festival in October, as well as scallops, sole, cod, and turbot.
Admire the Pont de Normandie (Normandy Bridge)
The Normandy Bridge, also known as Pont de Normandie, is a remarkable structure that can be admired from the waterfront. It was constructed in 1995 and connects Honfleur and Le Havre, spanning the Seine Estuary. At a height of over 215 metres and a length of 2141 metres, the Normandy Bridge is a stunning feat of engineering.
Upon its opening, the bridge held the title of the longest cable-stayed bridge in the world and the longest span in France. Although it no longer holds the former record, it still retains the latter.
The impressive bridge boasts four lanes for cars, two for pedestrians and two for cyclists. While there is a toll for cars, the breathtaking views of the Seine Estuary, Honfleur and Le Havre make the price worthwhile.
Enjoy a boat trip
To experience a different perspective of Honfleur, consider booking a boat tour while on the quay. There are several options available, ranging from a 45-minute history tour to a 90-minute boat trip from Honfleur harbour up the Seine estuary, passing under the Pont de Normandie and along the coast to the bridge.
Visit the Naturospace Butterfly House
If you’re a fan of nature, you’ll surely enjoy discovering the wonders of Naturospace. This butterfly garden is home to over a thousand butterflies from different parts of the world, making it a truly unique destination. You’ll find exotic plants and flowers in this tropical habitat, along with approximately sixty butterfly species. It’s an ideal indoor activity to do when visiting Honfleur, especially on a rainy day or if you have children in tow. Plus, it’s just a few minutes walk from Maisons Satie and the Vieux Phare de Honfleur.
Relax at the Jardin des Personnalités
If you’re seeking a hidden gem in Honfleur, look no further than the Jardin des Personnalités (Garden of Personalities). This breathtaking garden spans 10 hectares and sits between Naturospace and the beach.
The garden offers a peaceful and relaxing atmosphere, making it the perfect spot for a picnic in the park. Take a leisurely stroll along the walkways, through grassy areas, and past serene ponds. Spring and summer are particularly lovely, as the flowers are in full bloom.
As you explore the garden, you’ll come across bust sculptures of various personalities who were either born in Normandy or made it their second home. Notable figures include composer Eric Satie, painters Eugéne Boudin and Claude Monet, poet Charles Baudelaire, and explorer Samuel de Champlain (who founded Quebec).
Go to Plage du Butin, Honfleur’s Beach
Honfleur is a charming seaside port town that boasts a beach called “Plage du Butin“. The beach is situated about 15 minutes away from the old town and provides a delightful stretch of sand to stroll along. However, if you are searching for a place to sunbathe or swim, I would suggest heading to Deaville or Trouville instead, as the beach in Honfleur is not the best for these activities.
Vieux Phare de Honfleur
The Vieux Phare de Honfleur is an iconic lighthouse that has stood in the town since the early 17th century. It served as a guide for boats and ships entering the harbour, making sure they arrived safely. Today, the lighthouse has been transformed into a museum that showcases Honfleur’s rich maritime history through artefacts, equipment, and maps. Visitors have the opportunity to climb up 146 steps to reach the top of the lighthouse, where they can admire breathtaking panoramic views of the town and the sea. Although it may be a challenging climb, the stunning view from the top makes it all worth it.
Taste the local dishes
When it comes to lunch, there’s nothing quite like the renowned crepe – a local delicacy hailing from Normandy and Brittany. The savoury version, made from buckwheat, is called a “galette” and can be filled with a variety of ingredients, including cheese and bacon.
As Honfleur is situated on the coast, it’s no surprise that seafood dishes and platters are abundant in the area. You’ll find plenty of options at the restaurants lining the port, including the famous dish “moules-frites.”
Get some souvenir
Exploring the local market is a fantastic way to immerse yourself in the community and find a unique souvenir to take back home. The town is renowned for producing various local cheeses, including Camembert, Pont l’Eveque, and Boursin. Although cheese may not be everyone’s cup of tea, you can find the famous Calvados brandy and Crème de Calvados, which is a cream liqueur similar to Baileys, made from apple brandy in many charming shops. I suggest you pay a visit to Compagnie des Calvados de la Cave Honfleuraise or La Cave Normande.
On the other hand, you can explore the narrow streets of the old centre and discover small boutiques and antique shops, such as Rue de la République. They are bound to offer something distinctive, such as caramels and canned fish, all locally produced in Normandie.
Where to stay in Honfleur?
If you’re visiting Honfleur, I suggest staying overnight to fully appreciate the beauty of the harbour. Here are some great accommodation options to choose from:
Ibis Style Honfleur City Centre Historique
For a budget-friendly option, consider Ibis Styles Honfleur City Centre. This hotel is conveniently located next to the Vieux Bassin and offers modern and clean rooms with breakfast included. Book your stay here.
La Maison de Léa
For a more luxurious option, La Maison de Léa a four-star hotel with three charming buildings in the heart of the old town. After a day of sightseeing, unwind in the hotel’s spa. Book your stay here.
L’Absinthe Hôtel is another great option for comfortable rooms in the town centre. This hotel is housed in a 16th-century presbytery and features two restaurants serving gourmet French seafood and regional dishes in a relaxed atmosphere. Book your stay here.
La Maison de Lucie
For a romantic stay, La Maison de Lucie offers cosy rooms set around a beautiful courtyard and terrace. This 18th-century hotel is located near great restaurants and sights. Book your stay here.
Where is Honfleur located?
Honfleur is situated on the Cote Fleurie (Flowery Coast), where the Seine River meets the English Channel. It lies between the towns of Deauville, which hosts the Deauville American Film Festival, and Le Havre, the country’s second-largest port after Marseille. Don’t miss out on exploring these cities, including Trouville-sur-Mer and Etretat.
How to get to Honfleur
If you’re travelling to Honfleur, a few transportation options are available. If you prefer to fly, the nearest airport is Deauville Saint-Gatien, which offers flights from London Stansted via Ryanair. Renting a car is a great option for visitors who want to explore other towns and villages in Normandy. Honfleur is about 2.5 hours away from Paris by car, 30 minutes from Le Havre, 25 minutes from Deauville, and 45 minutes from Étretat. To find the best car rental prices, you can use DiscoverCars, a price comparison website that offers a variety of cars with no hidden fees. When choosing a car, opt for a comfortable and well-performing compact car, as the streets in many Normandy towns and villages can be narrow and difficult to navigate.
If you prefer to take public transportation, note that Honfleur does not have a train station. However, you can take a train from Paris Saint-Lazare station to Deauville-Trouville, Le Havre, or Lisieux, and then take the Bus Verts du Calvados bus lines 20 (Deauville), 50 (Lisieux), or 900 (Le Havre) to Honfleur. Train tickets can be purchased through Trainline.com. Additionally, several bus services link Honfleur to other towns in Normandy, including OuiBus, a service run by SNCF, or Flixbus to Le Havre.
Final Thoughts on the Things to Do in Honfleur, Normandy
Honfleur is a perfect destination for those who appreciate architecture, art and history without stress. Among the things to do in Honfleur, sitting by the old harbour, strolling around the old town centre, admiring medieval architecture and exploring the charming boutiques were the highlights. Additionally, Honfleur is a great starting point for exploring other Norman cities, which will help you discover a unique side of France.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Honfleur a walkable city?
Honfleur is a small town with most activities centred near the harbour, so it is easily walkable. That being said, the town has kept its medieval-style cobblestones, so forget being pretty. Leave the high-heeled shoes for another destination! Most things can be seen within 3 to 4 hours. Two days would be ideal if you want to visit a few museums and a neighbouring town.
Where can I park in Honfleur?
Honfleur is a popular tourist destination, but there is no train station, so the only way to reach the town is by car. Fortunately, the town has many parking spaces available. However, it’s important to note that parking is not free, and the closer you park to the Vieux-Bassin, the more expensive it becomes. Additionally, you should be aware that parking fees apply every day, including Sundays. We parked near the Ferris wheel for €6 per day during our visit.
Can I park for free in Honfleur?
During the summer in Honfleur, finding a parking spot can be difficult, especially if you are looking for a free one. Most of the parking spaces in the town are paid. However, there are some free spots available, but they may be further away from the city centre. One such option is to park for free between the Jardin des Personnalités and Naturospace.
How long should you spend in Honfleur?
While Honfleur can be visited in a day, it is recommended to allocate at least two days to thoroughly explore all the sights at a leisurely pace. Honfleur is an ideal stop on a Normandy road trip.
When is market day in Honfleur?
The Honfleur Market is held on Saturday mornings at Place Sainte Catherine. Additionally, a bio market is held here on Wednesday mornings.
When is the best time to visit Honfleur?
For optimal weather conditions, it is advisable to travel to Honfleur during the spring or summer months when temperatures can reach a high of 22°C in July and August. However, it should be noted that this is the busiest time of the year. If you prefer a more peaceful trip, September is an excellent option. Regardless of when you visit, it is recommended to pack an umbrella or raincoat due to frequent rainfall in Honfleur.
Travel Tips and Resources 🧳
Here are some of my favourite travel tips and resources.
- 🛫Flights: I’m all about snapping the best deals when booking flights. Therefore, I use Google Flights and Skyscanner to get the best deals each time. I also use AirHelp to receive compensation for delayed and cancelled flights.
- 🚆Trains: I love using Trainline to book trains within Europe.
- 🛏 Accommodations: Booking.com and Agoda are my favourite sites for great hotels and private home deals. They offer many hotels, including luxury accommodations and private homes.
- 🚙 Car Rentals: Renting a car is ideal when travelling to remote destinations. For these, I love renting cars through Discover Cars. They offer some great options for affordable rentals, and their customer service is one the best.
- 🎟 Tours and Experiences: Visiting a new place also means getting to experience and do many things. I usually book tours via GetYourGuide or TripAdvisor. If you like doing things solo, WeGoTrip offers audio tours and excursions.
- 💳 Travel Insurance: Travelling without proper travel insurance is not recommended. I always travel with one. Use VisitorsCoverage to compare and get the best travel insurance policy for you.