Le Havre, is one of the largest ports in France, only second to Marseille and is normally used as a gateway to other destinations like Paris.
It is a major port in northern France’s Upper Normandy region, where the Seine River meets the English Channel.
If you don’t want to travel afar you will be surprised with just how much Le Havre has to offer.
Le Havre is dubbed the birthplace of Impressionist style of painting and is home to the Malraux Museum which boasts the largest collection of Impressionist painting in France, outside of Paris.
The city of Le Havre is approximately 25 minute walk from where the ships dock and most cruise lines usually offer a shuttle service into the centre of town. Taxis have a fixed rate of €8 for up to 4 people and €10 for up to 6 people one way to the centre of town.
Stores are generally open Monday through Saturday 9- 7, but many close for lunchtime usually between 12-3. During July and August shops stay open for longer and even on Sundays. Museums open 10-5, but most are closed on Monday or Tuesday.
In the cruise terminal there are a few tables where you purchase a shuttle ticket for €4, which is actually a local transport day ticket. There is also a tourist info kiosk centre for disembarking passengers which provides practical information with free travel guides, a small shop, plus taxi and tour services.
The shuttle buses have a circular route, starting from the ship they go to the city centre and then return via a large shopping centre in the port to drop off and pick up shoppers, then back to ship. One thing to mention is they are very sympathetic to wheelchair users, often pre-loading them.
La Havre itself is an easy walking city and tourist attractions such as museums, galleries and cultural buildings are well mapped.
Walking along past the marina there is a beach along with a children’s park, Skateboard Park and outdoor swimming pool. The beach area has a nice promenade with plenty of eateries, a small marina area and it is quite a sight when a large container ship leaves the harbour and passes only a few hundred metres from the beach.
If you happen to be visiting Le Havre in the summer you might want to visit the mile long beach where water sports enthusiasts can sail, windsurf or canoe. Ninety-six parks are spread throughout the city, including the Saint-Roch gardens, nearly five acres of British-style gardens in central Le Havre. The Le Havre tourism office provides itineraries for walking tours of Le Havre, which highlight attractions throughout the city.
If you like art then try “The Musee Malraux a great stop off! It is a shortish walk from the ship, and if it is the first Saturday in the month, entry is free. Lots of Impressionist work and many brilliant works by other artists that were an eye opener. Yes it’s small, but large enough to tour and not be overloaded with artworks.
There is the church designed by Perret (so-called Father of reinforced concrete!) the Church of St Joseph. It should be your number one stop; it looks drab from the outside, but once inside, WOW! The dark interior is lit by myriad stained glass windows – really amazing. The tower was designed to take the form of a lantern and the mosaic windows contain over 12,700 pieces of coloured glass.
Then try a walk to the garden in front of the Hotel de Ville – in spring and summer these are beautiful and the spectacular fountains are everywhere.
Want something different? Take the Funicular which is some 500 yards behind and to the right of the Mairie, at the top, turn right for a short walk to the panoramic view point. The Funicular is very cheap. Don’t worry about the ticket machines, you can pay in cash as you board.
There’s a lovely coastline North of Le Havre around Etretat, where the Impressionists painted and there’s also the beaches used in the Normandy landings which would involve a longer day. It is amazing to go there though and you will find yourself getting very emotional if you go.
If up for the trip then try a taxi to Honfleur. Cost was €125 (2015) for a round journey, so the more of you the better. The ships price was £47pp so going by taxi was a better deal. The journey takes 25 mins or so and the drive takes you over The Normandy Bridge.
One cruiser who took this option reported: Their driver drove through Honfleur and took us to a lovely church on the hillside called La Chapelle Notre Dame de grace which had these amazing bells outside which chime on the hour etc. He then drove further up the hillside stopped and gave us a fantastic panoramic view over Honfleur The Seine and The Normandy bridge. Well worth a look if you go that way. He then drove us back to the harbour where we arranged to meet him in two and half hours. It was market day so a little busy with locals but we spent our time drinking coffee strolling around this delightful little harbour and ended outside the Cafe de Paris eating and having a beer in the sunshine. He then returned us to Le Havre.
You can catch a bus from the Le Havre train station to Honfleur – the first bus leaves 9:19 am but it will be best to check the bus schedule carefully as they don’t run frequently. Buses don’t operate on Sunday’s, so you will need to take a taxi instead.
By Peter Dagnall
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