11 Top Tourist Attractions in Rouen & Easy Day Trips

Written by Lisa Alexander
Nov 17, 2020

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A stroll through the quaint old streets of Rouen, in Upper Normandy, feels like a walk back in time. History awaits at every turn, from the Middle Ages to the modern era. For believers, the journey leads a few steps closer to heaven. Rouen has more than 50 religious buildings, and many of the churches are gems of Gothic architecture.

Most of the top tourist attractions in Rouen lie within the city's pedestrian zone, a charming area of winding medieval lanes and picturesque half-timbered houses. Highlights include the magnificent cathedral, the renowned Fine Arts Museum, and the remarkable Gros-Horloge clock tower. In Rouen, visitors can retrace the steps of Joan of Arc to see where she went to trial and where she was martyred.

Tourists can also witness the destruction suffered during the Second World War. The exquisite facade of the Palais de Justice still has evidence of shell holes from Allied bombings. Soak up more history and culture in this charming town with our list of the top attractions in Rouen.

See also: Where to Stay in Rouen

1. Cathédrale Notre-Dame

Cathédrale Notre-Dame
Cathédrale Notre-Dame

In the heart of the old town, the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Rouen is one of the best places to visit in France to admire Gothic architecture. The cathedral's main structure was built in the 13th century, but the building was not completed until the 16th century.

Viewers are dazzled by the elaborate facade, which inspired Impressionist painter Claude Monet. The cathedral's central doorway was the subject of Monet's famous painting series. He painted the scene at different times of day to capture the effects of various lighting.

Above the facade, two towers loom over the town. The tower on the right is called the Tour du Beurre (Butter Tower) because it was paid for by offerings from the faithful, who in return were permitted to eat butter during Lent.

The cathedral also boasts France's highest spire at 151 meters. Despite damage during the Second World War, the cathedral still has some original stained glass windows.

Address: 3 rue Saint-Romain, Rouen

Rouen Cathedral - Floor plan map
Rouen Cathedral Map (Historical)

2. Musée des Beaux-Arts

Musée des Beaux-Arts
Musée des Beaux-Arts | Frdric BISSON / photo modified

The Musée des Beaux-Arts ranks among the most important art museums in France. This exceptional fine arts museum is renowned for its variety and breadth of artistic movements. The collection presents a wide range of paintings, sculptures, drawings, and objets d'art from the 15th century to the 21st century.

The most notable works include the 17th-century masterpieces by Caravaggio, Diego Velázquez, Anton van Dyck, Nicolas Poussin, and Philippe de Champaigne, as well as the 19th-century works of Eugène Delacroix; Théodore Géricault; Paul Delaroche; and Impressionists Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley, Camille Pissarro, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

Address: Esplanade Marcel-Duchamp, Rouen

Official site: http://mbarouen.fr/en

3. Abbatiale Saint-Ouen

Abbatiale Saint-Ouen
Abbatiale Saint-Ouen

This majestic 14th-century building was created as a church for the powerful Benedictine monastery of Saint-Ouen. A masterpiece of Late Gothic (Rayonnant) architecture, the abbey church is classified as a Historic Monument.

Immense in its proportions (137 meters long by 33 meters high), the harmonious vaulted interior offers a peaceful space for spiritual worship. Exquisite 14th-century stained-glass windows allow light to filter into the sanctuary. In the south transept of the abbey is the Portail des Marmousets that depicts events of the Virgin Mary.

Visitors should also be sure to see the famous Cavaillé-Coll organ, which is often used for musical concerts. Considered one of the most beautiful organs in the world, this particular Cavaillé-Coll organ has 5,000 pipes and four keyboards that produce perfect pitch.

On the same square as the abbey stands the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall), once used as the dormitory for the monastery's monks. Behind the Hôtel de Ville are the former abbey gardens, now a public park.

Address: Place du Général de Gaulle, Rouen

4. Aître Saint-Maclou

Aître Saint-Maclou
Aître Saint-Maclou

An unusual tourist attraction, the Aître Saint-Maclou is a medieval building that is listed as a Historic Monument. The history of the site dates back to the "Black Death" plague of 1348 that killed a third of the town's inhabitants. The space that is now a pleasant courtyard was once used for burials, and the buildings surrounding the cemetery served as the ossuary.

The building's galleries feature macabre decor depicting skulls, bones, gravedigger tools, and objects of funeral rites. The skeleton of a cat was discovered in the masonry. During the Middle Ages, cats (especially black cats) were considered to be evil spirits, and the cat would have been enclosed here (while still alive) to protect against bad luck.

Address: 188 Rue Martainville, Rouen

5. Palais de Justice and Monument Juif

Palais de Justice
Palais de Justice

A splendid example of medieval civilian architecture, the Palais de Justice houses the Rouen Law Courts and was the meeting place of the Parliament of Normandy. This Gothic masterpiece was built in the early 16th century, damaged during World War II, and subsequently restored.

The building is not open for tours, but visitors will be awed by the ornate detailing of the facade and especially the incredible gargoyles. The central wing features a resplendent balustrade, soaring pinnacles, and perforated buttresses. The Palais de Justice was damaged during an Allied bombing in 1944, and the shell holes are still visible in the building's exterior walls.

In 1976, during a renovation of the Palais de Justice, the remains of a beautiful stone building were uncovered beneath the courtyard. The building was determined to be the lower room of an old Yeshiva (rabbinical school) that dates from 1100. Once uncovered, this Monument Juif (Jewish Monument) was immediately protected by an archaeological crypt.

The location, as revealed by the street name ("rue aux Juif" translates to "Street of the Jews"), was at the center of the old Jewish quarter that flourished during the time of William the Conqueror until the expulsion of the Jews in 1306. Rouen's Monument Juif is the oldest Jewish monument discovered in France. The Monument Juif is currently closed for restoration.

Address: 36 Rue aux Juifs, Rouen

6. Tour du Gros-Horloge (Big Clock Tower)

Tour du Gros-Horloge (Big Clock Tower)
Tour du Gros-Horloge (Big Clock Tower)

One of the most emblematic sites in the historic center of Rouen, the Gros-Horloge lies just south of the Palais de Justice. From the southeast corner of the Place du Vieux Marché (where the Eglise Jeanne d'Arc is located) the Rue de Gros-Horloge leads to the cathedral. Halfway along this charming route of cobblestone streets and half-timbered houses, the Tour du Gros-Horloge adjoins a Renaissance pavilion.

The Gothic belfry tower was built in 1389 for defensive purposes and the decorative clock dates from 1889. The belfry clock still serves its timekeeping functions for the city. Visitors should take a moment to admire the clock's incredible details.

The deity symbolizing the day of the week appears on a triumphal chariot at noon. A globe above the dial shows the phases of the moon, and sheep represent the wool industry. Depicted in the middle of the clock, a Passover lamb represents the arms of the city.

Address: Rue du Gros-Horloge, Rouen

7. Eglise Saint-Maclou

Eglise Saint-Maclou
Eglise Saint-Maclou

The Eglise Saint-Maclou is just a short walk east of the cathedral. This jewel of Flamboyant Gothic architecture was built in 1437 and dedicated to Saint Malo. A blend of different architectural styles is found throughout the church, from the Gothic staircase to the Baroque confessionals.

The ornate facade features five arched porches, which provide a dramatic entrance to the church. The porches enclose Renaissance-era wooden doors embellished with intricately carved Biblical scenes.

Saint-Maclou Church was severely damaged during WWII and has been well restored. In particular, the belfry was repaired and its five church bells now resound with daily chiming.

Address: Place Barthélémy, Rouen

8. Eglise Jeanne d'Arc

Eglise Jeanne d'Arc
Eglise Jeanne d'Arc | Glenn Forrest / photo modified

This surprisingly modern church allows visitors to appreciate the invincible spirit of Joan of Arc, who spent the last days of her life in Rouen. The church was built at the Place du Vieux Marché, the very site where Joan of Arc was martyred (she was burned at the stake in the center of the square).

Designed to commemorate the famous saint, the Eglise Jeanne d'Arc was given a radical design. The shape of the church's roof represent the flames of the stake. Inside the church are spectacular Renaissance stained-glass windows that were taken from the former Church of Saint-Vincent.

This contemporary church provides an inspiring place for spiritual contemplation. The church is open to the public, free of charge, every day year-round (except on December 25th and January 1st).

Address: Place du Vieux Marché, Rouen

9. Musée Le Secq des Tournelles

Musée Le Secq des Tournelles
Musée Le Secq des Tournelles | Frdric BISSON / photo modified

Housed in the former Gothic church of Saint Laurent, this unique museum boasts an exceptional collection of antique wrought-ironwork. The 15th-century church building still has its stunning stained-glass windows, including the remarkable "Tree of Jesus" window.

The largest museum of its kind in the world, it contains 14,000 items that date from the Gallo-Roman era to the 19th century. The collection covers a wide range and variety of ironwork, such as railings, door knockers, locks, scientific instruments, and jewelry.

Address: Rue Jacques-Villon, Rouen

Official site: http://museelesecqdestournelles.fr/en

10. Musée de la Céramique

Musée de la Céramique
Musée de la Céramique | Frdric BISSON / photo modified

In the elegant Hôtel d'Hocqueville, the Museum of Ceramics displays a wonderful collection of faience and porcelain. The collection includes earthenware from Rouen, as well as from other cities, such as Delft in Holland.

Exhibits are devoted to delicate 19th- and 20th-century Sèvres porcelain objects, created by the ateliers of France's renowned Manufacture de Sèvres. There are also examples of Rococo chinoiserie, ceremonial dinnerware sets, and lovely faience sculptures.

Address: 1 Rue Faucon, Rouen

Official site: http://museedelaceramique.fr/en

11. Tour Jeanne d'Arc

Tour Jeanne d'Arc
Tour Jeanne d'Arc | Frdric BISSON / photo modified

When Joan of Arc was brought to trial in 1431, she was taken to the dungeon of this tower to stand before her judges. Here she endured threats of torture by those who accused her of heresy. The Tour Jeanne d'Arc is the only remaining part of the château built by Philippe Auguste in 1207. The large and imposing cylindrical tower features three superimposed rooms and an attic.

Address: Rue Bouvreuil, Rouen

Where to Stay in Rouen for Sightseeing

The best place to stay in Rouen is the historic city center, with medieval buildings, winding cobblestone streets, and plenty of restaurants and shops. This is also a pedestrian-only zone and home to many of the main attractions. Below are some highly-rated hotels in convenient locations:

  • Luxury Hotels: The Hotel de Bourgtheroulde, Autograph Collection is housed in a modernized 15th-century building just steps from the pedestrian-only historic city center. The hotel has a fine-dining restaurant open for special events, a casual brasserie, and an upscale spa with an indoor swimming pool and sauna.

    In a half-timbered historical structure is the recently renovated Mercure Rouen Centre Cathedrale, across the street from the cathedral. Amenities include a fitness center, snack bar, and complimentary newspapers.

    In a prime location near the Place du Vieux Marché is the contemporary-style Best Western Hotel Litteraire Gustave Flaubert. This convenient hotel offers 24-hour front desk reception.
  • Mid-Range Hotels: The charming Hotel de la Cathedrale is right in the historical center of the city. It features old-fashioned decor and a lovely garden patio.

    Offering good value and a convenient city center location is the modern Ibis Rouen Centre Rive Droite.
  • Budget Hotels: Featuring rooms with high ceilings and half-timbered walls, the Hotel Morand is a good budget option near the train station (a short walk from the city center).

    Another historic half-timbered building, Le Vieux Carré hotel has a beautiful courtyard where breakfast is served on warm days.

    A 10-minute tram ride from the city center is the Ibis Budget Rouen Petit Quevilly, featuring basic guest rooms and easy access to the motorway.

Day Trips from Rouen

Route des Abbayes

Abbey of Jumièges
Abbey of Jumièges

One of the most enjoyable things to do on a clear, sunny day is to take a scenic drive along the picturesque "Route des Abbayes," which leads between Rouen and Le Havre, running parallel to the Seine River for much of the way. The well-signposted route offers a delightful scenic drive. The ever-changing landscape and many historic buildings, such as the abbeys of Jumièges and Saint-Wandrille, make this journey worthwhile.

Saint Martin de Boscherville

Abbey of Saint-Georges de Boscherville
Abbey of Saint-Georges de Boscherville

About 12 kilometers from Rouen, the small village of Saint Martin de Boscherville lies in a Regional Natural Park along the Seine River. The 12th-century Abbey of Saint-Georges de Boscherville and the surrounding scenery are the main tourist attractions.

The village is part of the Parc Naturel Régional des Boucles de la Seine Normande, a gorgeous area of Normandy bounded by pristine marshlands of the Seine and the lush Roumare Forest.

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imageNearby Attractions in Normandy: After visiting Rouen, most travelers will want to explore the Normandy region. This picturesque region features unspoiled natural scenery, charming old port towns, and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Mont Saint-Michel (a three-hour drive away). For those interested in World War II history, the D-Day Landing Beaches (about a two-hour drive away) are not to be missed.

imagePlaces to Visit in the Brittany Region: Many tourists visit Rouen as a day trip from Paris, which is a two-hour train ride away. However, Rouen is also an excellent base for sightseeing in Brittany. Along the Atlantic coast southwest of Normandy, the distinctive region of Brittany boasts picture-perfect medieval towns with half-timbered houses, alluring fairy-tale castles, ancient megalithic monuments, and quaint fishing villages.

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