Sadly, Northern France is often overlooked when planning a French getaway, while Southern France never fails to be a popular choice for family holidays and romantic retreats. However, here at Oliver’s Travels we know the wonders of Northern France and everything it has to offer! From exquisite beaches and beautiful vineyards to towns dripping in culture and the birthplace of Camembert, there’s something for everyone. We’ve chosen our favourite places to visit in Northern France and shared the best things to do in each destination so you can soak up the splendour of this lovely region.
Best for culture: Lille
No longer just a Eurostar stop between London and Brussels, Lille has emerged as a destination in its own right. Head southeast from Calais to Lille, where you’ll discover the jewel in Nord-Pas-de-Calais’s crown has a surprising cultural scene, fine restaurants and a quaint old town.
Top 3 things to do in Lille:
- Gawp at the elaborately ornate Vieille Bourse, housed in the Grand Place, formerly the 17th-century stock exchange.
- Wander the winding streets of Vieux Lille, lined with red-brick Flemish buildings, a neo-gothic cathedral and lovely little eateries.
- Take a day trip to Arras, with its glorious mix of Art Deco, Baroque and Flemish architecture and network of underground war tunnels.
Best for history: Dunkirk
Dunkirk became famous for the epic 1940 evacuation of Allied troops, when 338,226 soldiers were improbably rescued, and today has a number of museums and war memorials.
Top 3 things to do in Dunkirk:
- Stand on the Eastern Jetty, which still juts out over the sea as it did in May 1940, and the beaches of Dunkirk, where queues of thousands of young men snaked down to the shore. It may be near-impossible to summon up the desperation felt by the troops, but it doesn’t make the effort any less important.
- Spend an afternoon at Musée Dunkerque 1940 to gain a proper understanding of the evacuation.
- Visit the British memorial on the Route de Furnes, which commemorates the 4,528 men who didn’t make it and have no known graves, and the attendant cemetery, home to 793 marked graves from the episode.
Best for foodies: Calais
The bustling port town of Calais is filled with great dining and drinking spots, many with menus that draw upon the bounty of the sea and land.
Top 3 things to do in Calais:
- Swim in the gently sloping Blériot Plage, or explore the necklace of beaches strung along the Côte d’Opale, from the cliff-edged Cap Blanc-Nez to Cap Gris-Nez, with a lighthouse on its craggy headland.
- While the town itself is peppered with creative restaurants (Le Grand Bleu, Restaurant Aquar’Aile, Histoire Ancienne), the surroundings farms of Nord-Pas-de-Calais channel the field-to-fork movement. Sign up for a local gastronomy tour of Sept Vallées to loop around local food producers cradled among valleys, such as La Halte d’Autrefois and La Chocolaterie de Beussent.
- Ascend the 78m-high, Unesco-listed belfry of Calais’ Hôtel de Ville for sweeping views over the city.
Best for scenic strolls: Boulogne-sur-Mer
Boulogne-sur-Mer has a pretty cobblestoned quarter – the ville haute, or upper town – with medieval walls wrapping around a grand, domed basilica and web of narrow streets.
Top 3 things to do in Boulogne-sur-Mer:
- Within the walled upper town is the twelfth-century belfry – Boulogne-sur-Mer’s oldest monument; visit only by guided tour of the Hôtel de Ville.
- Wander around the domed Basilique Notre-Dame, built in the nineteenth century by the daring Father Haffreingue, who didn’t have any architectural knowledge or seek any advice – yet somehow it works.
- One of the best things to do in Boulogne-sur-Mer is to ramble the ramparts, a 45-minute route dotted with rose beds and wooden benches, overlooking the city below.
Best for romantics: Picardy
Picardy is a pretty region where grand chateaux are tucked into the folds of wooded hills, Gothic cathedrals tower above picturesque towns, and moving memorials commemorate the First World War.
Top 3 things to do in Picardy:
- Head to Amiens to see its 138.8ft-high cathedral – the tallest in France, with gothic flourishes and stained glass. Afterwards, call by one of the local pâtisseries to try the delicious macarons d’Amiens.
- Visit the fields and villages of the Somme, where the main battle lines of the First World War were drawn. Vimy Ridge, north of Arras, is ridged with lines of preserved trenches, while the Circuit de Souvenir follows poignant sites in the countryside around Albert.
- Château de Chantilly opens up on the shores of a glassy lake like a pop-up book; inside, Musée Condé holds a collection of sublime paintings. Stroll the manicured parkland or venture into the Forêt de Chantilly.
Now that you’ve seen our favourite places to visit in Northern France, why not check out our villas in Northern France and plan your next trip? Need a hand? Contact our lovely concierge team for more information or help with your booking!