Honfleur is a picturesque town located in the Calvados area of Normandy in Northwestern France, situated at the mouth of the Seine River. This charming town is renowned for its historic tall, narrow townhouses sitting several stories high, which have been beautifully restored after suffering extensive damage during the Second World War, and a stunning harbour, both of which have inspired many artists over the years, including the likes of Claude Monet and Eugene Boudin.
Rich in history, Honfleur dates back to the Vikings in the 11th century and played a significant role in the maritime trade between Rouen and England during the 16th and 17th centuries. It was also a crucial departure point for many explorers, including Samuel de Champlain, who founded Quebec City in Canada. By the 19th century, Napoleon Bonaparte had all but been destroyed and was all but forgotten about when the modern port of Le Havre was built.
Today, with more than 1000 years of history, Honfleur remains a popular tourist destination and is often described as a fairytale location because of the charming buildings and monuments scattered around the town. As it is within close proximity to the Normandy D-Day beaches, Le Havre, Caen, and Etretat, Honfleur is the perfect place to stop off for a couple of days when doing a more extensive tour of the area.
The best time to visit
May through to September are the warmest months of the year to visit but bear in mind that due to the location of Honfleur, many will travel on the roads, and therefore if you are planning a day trip, it is best to arrive early to secure parking. Likewise, for those looking to stay longer, accommodation will be booked up fast, so it is best to plan ahead of time.
It is also wise to remember that the D-Day celebrations take place at the beginning of June, and therefore there are likely to be more people touring the area at this time.
However, it is a location that can be visited at any time of year, so if you would prefer to avoid the crowds, consider visiting in the autumn when the weather is still very mild.
How to get to Honfleur
The easiest way to reach Honfleur is by road, and if you are travelling from the UK, the ports of both Caen and Le Havre are nearby. If you are driving from Le Havre, you will also need to cross the magnificent Pont du Normandie that spans the River Seine and will set you back around 6-7 euros. Alternatively, there is no direct train line but, should you visit from Paris, for example, you can reach Trouville-Deauville and then there is a direct bus from the train station.
Where to stay in Honfleur
Accommodation in Honfleur is not cheap, unfortunately, but it is memorable.
If you want to stay in the heart of the town, Hotel Le Maison De Lucie, is a charming 18th-century building with a delightful courtyard overlooking the River Seine. What makes this hotel special is the spa area in the vaulted cellar, where the stained-glass windows reflect light as you enjoy a relaxing jacuzzi.
If unique views from your bedroom window are a must, perhaps the Les Maisons De Lea hotel, with its views out over Saint Catherine’s Church, is for you. From the outside, you could be forgiven for thinking that you have stumbled upon a traditional British village pub complete with climbing ivy, but this was once an old salt storehouse dating back to the 16th century.
Motorhome Campsite Parking
If you are travelling with your campervan or motorhome, there is also an excellent aire on the other side of the river within short walking distance to the town. This aire, located opposite the Carnot Quai Nord basin, near the Bassin de l’Est (where the Ferris wheel is located), if you are not already aware, is one of the biggest you will find in France, and in high season expect to see between 150-200 campers parked up. It costs around 14 euros for 24 hours, with some pitches coming with 5amp electric hook-up (the aire website does ask that nothing above 800 watts is plugged in).
We advise getting there by mid-afternoon if possible. We arrived just after 4 pm and were lucky to get a spot. Make sure you also take some change with you for the little bakery van that comes around in the morning, delivering fresh bread and croissants.
48 hours in Honfleur Itinerary
Honfleur is a town that is easy to navigate on foot, with most of the tourist attractions located within minutes of each other. Below is a suggested itinerary, allowing you to explore everything the town has to offer during a two-day stay in this area of Normandy.
Day 1 in Honfleur
Breakfast at a traditional French tea room
There are several bakeries around Honfleur where you can pick up a croissant and a takeaway coffee should you wish to eat on the go, but if you prefer a slower, more relaxed start to the day, Cakes et Gourmandises, Maison Blondel is an excellent choice offering a selection of breakfast dishes including eggs and omelets, fruits and pastries.
After breakfast, head first to the Old Port, Vieux Bassin, built in 1681 and led to the destruction of part of the city wall. Today, it has become one of Honfleur’s most spectacular and photogenic areas, rich in history and home to a vibrant atmosphere. Here you will find the houses are particularly narrow and reflect in the water surrounded by numerous boats that have moored up.
The Vieux Bassin offers a perfect example of what many of the buildings in Normandy are like, with their wooden facades and slate roofs, which were portrayed by painters Gustave Couber, Eugene Boudin, and Claude Monet, the artists responsible for forming the so-called Ecole de Honfleur, which led to the appearance of impressionism in painting.
Today, the colourful, elegant buildings are home to many art galleries, museums, cafes, restaurants, and boutiques and remain one of the region’s most iconic and visited attractions.
The port also boasts a lively daily fish market, where visitors can purchase fresh seafood caught by local fishermen. This is the same seafood you will likely see in the restaurants that line the Vieux Bassin, helping showcase Normandy’s local flavours.
The Lieutenance is one of the most prominent historical landmarks in Honfleur. The building, located near the harbour, has been around since the 18th century and played an important role in the town’s history.
The Lieutenance was initially built as a residence for the town’s lieutenant, who was responsible for maintaining law and order in Honfleur. The building served as the lieutenant’s home and office and was strategically located near the harbour to ensure quick access to ships and sailors. Over time, the Lieutenance became a symbol of the town’s authority and played a crucial role in its governance.
The Lieutenance was used as a prison during the French Revolution, and many political prisoners were held here. However, after the Revolution ended, the building was converted into a customs office and remained so until the early 20th century. The building underwent several renovations and additions during this time, but its original structure and character were preserved.
Today, the Lieutenance is open to the public and serves as a museum dedicated to the town’s maritime history. Visitors can explore the various rooms and galleries of the building, which are filled with artifacts and exhibits that showcase Honfleur’s rich seafaring past. The museum also features a collection of model ships, navigational instruments, and paintings that provide insight into the town’s importance as a center for trade and commerce.
One of the highlights of a visit to the Lieutenance is the panoramic view of the harbor and the town that can be enjoyed from the top of the building’s tower. Visitors can climb the narrow spiral staircase to reach the top of the tower and take in the breathtaking views of Honfleur and the surrounding countryside. It is truly a memorable experience that shouldn’t be missed.
Saint Catherine’s Church
The old port is home to several historic landmarks, including Saint Catherine’s Church (Church of Sainte-Catherine), one of France’s oldest and largest wooden churches, built in the 15th century. The church you now see replaces a stone one destroyed during the Hundred Years’ War. Its wooden framework is reminiscent of an upturned ship’s hull, with its wooden planks and ribs forming the structure of the building. The church’s interior is equally impressive, with a soaring vaulted ceiling and an ornate wooden altar.
Saint Catherine’s church, with its striking dark wood exterior, now dominates the town square, and even though it was meant only to be temporary, it remains standing after five centuries and was designated as a historical monument back in 1879. Make sure you take in the detailed carvings, especially the impressive door frame that is a testament to the workmanship that took place all those years ago.
You can learn more about the church’s history through the on-site museum, which contains a collection of artefacts and exhibits relating to the church’s construction, history, and significance.
Saint Catherine’s Bell Tower
Unlike other churches, Saint Catherine’s Bell Tower stands detached from the church itself but is built in a similar style. Resting on a stone base, the tower has a facade much like many other buildings in the town and features a weather vane in the shape of a ship. It remains one of the most photographed monuments in Honfleur.
Enjoy a traditional crepe for lunch
No trip to Honfleur would be complete without stopping at the Creperie des Arts, which has an extensive menu of savoury galettes and sweet crepes, with seasonal specialities frequently added to reflect the produce of Normandy. For those that enjoy sampling local tipples, this creperie also has a great selection of local ciders to try and calvados coffee.
Outside, the restaurant is quaint looking, with a bright red front complete with window boxes full of flowers to reflect the season. Inside, the decor is also traditional to the region and comes complete with a piano. Plus, if you visit during winter, you will be welcomed inside by a roaring open fire to keep you warm.
Eugène Boudin Museum
After lunch, head to the Eugène Boudin Museum to discover more about the French landscape painter born in Honfleur in 1824. Founded in 1868, the museum opened just before Boudin’s death and showcases some of his most iconic works.
The museum has a collection of over 800 works by Boudin, ranging from oil paintings and watercolours to pastels and drawings. The collection is divided into several sections, each focusing on a different aspect of Boudin’s art. Wandering through the separate rooms, you will see a selection of seascapes, beach scenes, cityscapes, and his observations of daily life in France.
Many of Boudin’s beach scenes depict the Normandy coastline, with its wide, sandy beaches and dramatic cliffs. In contrast, another room focuses on his travels to other parts of France and Europe, including Venice and Amsterdam. The museum also houses a collection of paintings and sculptures by other artists, including Claude Monet and Edgar Degas.
Vieux Phare de Honfleur
After educating yourself on Impressionist artists and their iconic Honfleur paintings, head further out of town to the Vieux Phare de Honfleur.
The Vieux Phare de Honfleur is a lighthouse that has been a landmark of the town since the early 17th century. It stands at the entrance of the harbour, guiding boats and ships safely into port. The lighthouse is now a museum, which offers a fascinating insight into the history of Honfleur’s maritime heritage.
Visitors to the Vieux Phare de Honfleur can climb to the top of the lighthouse and enjoy panoramic views over the town and out to sea. This climb can be a bit challenging as there are 146 steps, but the view from the top is well worth the effort.
Apart from the breathtaking views, the museum is also home to a collection of maritime artifacts, including navigation tools, lighthouse equipment, and maps. In this museum, you can learn more about the lives of the sailors and fishermen who lived in Honfleur and the importance of the town’s port to the local economy.
Early Evening Drinks
You may be tempted to sit by the port and enjoy the atmosphere in the early evening ahead of the dinner rush, but should you be looking for somewhere less expensive where the locals socialise, head to L’Union. Doubling up as both a bar and a tabac, L’Union offers a great selection of local drinks to try, and should you be lucky enough to get a table outside, it is a fantastic place to relax and people-watch for an hour or so.
Try some tapas at Bar La Taberna
While small, this quaint little restaurant, with its large oak barrels out front and timbered facade, is welcoming both summer and winter. For around 25 euros, you can enjoy a sharing platter for two and a bottle of wine, or if you prefer, you can choose a selection of smaller dishes to enjoy while sipping cocktails or sangria.
While it is not particularly French, the food and service at Bar La Taberna make it a standout location at a reasonable price while visiting what is a very touristy town, complete with inflated tourism costs.
Day 2 in Honfleur
Breakfast at a French Patisserie
Start the 2nd day of your 48 hours in Honfleur slowly at La Petite Chine, a luxury tea room with french pastries on display in the heart of the old town. If the selection of macarons, cream cakes, and deep-filled fruit pies on display doesn’t entice you through the door, perhaps the wide selection of teas, coffees, and luxury hot chocolates will. It takes a strong will to wander past this double-fronted glass cafe and not enter.
Starting with a different type of attraction today, head back towards the Vieux Phare de Honfleur to the Naturospace, a butterfly garden.
This unique and magical place is a paradise for nature lovers and those who enjoy spending time in serene surroundings. Home to more than a thousand butterflies from various locations around the world, a morning at Naturospace Honfleur will see you getting up close to these beautiful creatures.
The great thing about Naturospace is that it is indoors, so even if the weather is terrible, you can visit this indoor tropical habitat that is also home to a wide variety of exotic plants and flowers, helping to create the right environment for the butterflies to survive.
Naturospace is both educational and entertaining. It provides a unique opportunity to learn more about the cycle of butterflies and their importance in our ecosystem from the interactive exhibits as they fly freely around the garden.
Maisons Satie Museum
Not only is Honfleur renowned for impressionist painters, it was also once the home of French composer Erik Satie and the Maisons Satie museum offers a unique glimpse into the life and creative genius of one of the most influential composers of the 20th century.
The museum comprises three houses renovated to create an immersive experience. The first house is a recreation of Satie’s childhood home, where visitors will learn about his early life and the influences that shaped his musical style. The second house is a multimedia exhibit of interactive displays, soundscapes, and video projectors that showcases Satie’s most famous works, including Gymnopedies and Parade. Finally, the third house is a contemporary art exhibit that explores the influence Satie had on modern art and music.
The Jardin des Personnalités
While in this area, if the weather is nice, wander through the Garden of Personalities, a vast park full of well-tended flower beds and busts of famous individuals that have had an impact on the town. Look out for the figures of not only Claude Monet, Eugene Boudin, and Erik Satie but also explorer Samuel de Champlain, author Francoise Sagan and actor Michel Serrault.
Another day, another Creperie
While crepes are historically eaten more in Brittany, you will find several creperies in Normandy. Therefore, why not take this opportunity while visiting Honfleur to indulge in this light bite at lunchtime?
La Cidrerie, tucked away and so easy to miss, has a traditional feel, with stoned walls inside and dark, heavy wooden furniture. Outside there are plenty of small tables and bright blue metal chairs, making it a great summer lunchtime spot. Not only does the menu include the traditional galette and crepe options, but they also offer something called a galichot, which is a mixture of a pancake and a blini, offering a combined sweet and salty filling. As the name of this restaurant may suggest, these can all be washed down with a cider local to the area.
Chapel of Notre Dame de Grace
After lunch, it’s time for a short walk up a hill to the 17th-century Notre Dame de Grace chapel. Built to replace a previous chapel that dated back to 1023, this small building was constructed by the local gentry and fishermen and offers stunning views out over Honfleur.
The chapel itself is quaint and wouldn’t look out of place in a British village. Inside, the brightly coloured, stain-glass windows draw the eye towards the altar at one end and the organ at another. While next to it stands a carillon of several bells that still toll every hour, on the hour. There is also another smaller chapel and a viewing area that provides clear views of the Seine Estuary, the Pont du Normandie and the Jardin des Personnalités.
Panorama du Mont-Joli
From the little chapel, continue up to the Mont-Joli for what is the best view of Honfleur. From here, you can see the entire town, including the Ferris wheel on the other side of the estuary, and then over towards Le Havre.
Early evening drinks at Chez D.D.
After the hike up the hill and the 20-minute wander back down, it’s time to head to Chez D.D. for a well-deserved aperitif. This little bar and restaurant is extremely misleading from the outside, and many walk past, thinking that it is an expensive wine shop. However, inside, you will find a selection of well-priced wines, both local and from further afield, to try, as well as a charcuterie board to share.
Dinner at L’escale
Honfleur is renowned for its seafood, and many restaurants in town serve fresh fish, oysters, and mussels caught each day locally. The Port area is by far the busiest place to visit as the sunsets, and while the food is pretty much guaranteed to be good, it can come at a price.
Tucked away down a side street just off the main waterfront, you will find L’escale. This fantastic restaurant tailors its menus to the seasons and offers several different set menus at a reasonable price and a good selection of wines and calvados.
Final thoughts on Honfleur
Aside from sightseeing, there are plenty of other activities to fill your time in Honfleur. You could take a stroll around the town’s quaint streets, admiring the architecture and browsing the local boutiques, or you could, if you would like to stay for longer, take a day trip to one of the nearby towns, including La Havre, Trouville-sur-Mer, Deauville, Etretat, Houlgate and Caen.
What is special about Honfleur is the variety of different things to do. You could incorporate a day or two at Honfleur beach in the summer. At the same time, for history buffs and art lovers, there are other museums to visit, including the Navy museum and the Ethnography museum, as well as art galleries and a Second World War Bunker.
Recommended Tours in Honfleur
- Guided tour of Honfleur
- Honfleur Outdoor Escape Game
- Take a trip on a retro motorbike along the Cote Fleurie
- A half day sidecar tour of the area
- Foodie Tour around the area of Honfleur
- Self-Guided Tour of Etretat
- From La Havre to Paris for the day
- A guided tour of Deauville
Have you been to Honfleur? What would you recommend others do during their time there?
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