City Breaks

A city guide to Arras

One of the prettiest towns in northern France, Arras has a wealth of heritage, architecture and history that will stay with you long after your visit.

A city guide to Arras

Just an hour and ten minutes by car from our terminal in Calais, Arras is the ideal place for a day trip, or as your first stop on a road trip through France. With two historic squares, wonderful markets and some fascinating and moving military sites, there’s plenty of things to do in Arras. 

One of the prettiest towns in northern France

Famous for its Baroque-style squares, the Town Hall and the Belfry, Arras has a wealth of heritage, architecture and history that will stay with you long after your visit. 

Devastated by the First World War, Arras was rebuilt and its historic buildings reconstructed to their former glory. The city has a Flemish feel, a legacy of a time when Arras was part of the Spanish Netherlands. 

Driving to Arras from Calais

Arras is a drive of just an hour and ten minutes on the A26 (with tolls) from the Eurotunnel Le Shuttle terminal at Calais. 

Things to see and do in Arras

From the elegant gables and arcades of the city squares to its ghostly network of subterranean caves and the role it has played in military history, Arras is a unique place. The Canadian National Vimy Memorial is just outside Arras, and guided tours of the Somme battlefields also start from the city. 

The Museum of Fine Arts

The Beaux-Arts Museum of Arras is housed in the former Benedictine Abbey of Saint-Vaast, next to the city’s cathedral. The museum has an impressive collection of paintings from the 17th-century French and Old Dutch schools (Champaigne, Vignon, Lebrun and Rubens among the artists) and one of the widest collections in France of large 17th-century religious paintings. 

Among these are twelve examples of the “Mays”, a 77-year long tradition of religious paintings commissioned by the goldsmiths’ guild of Paris and gifted to its cathedral of Notre Dame.

The Wellington Quarry, Battle of Arras Memorial

Red arrow, letters and numbers drawn on an underground cave wall, with a walkway and electric lights
Credit: Carrière Wellington, by Dsch67, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Arras was just a few miles from the Western Front during World War 1. In preparation for an Allied offensive in April 1917, a workforce of New Zealand servicemen dug 12 miles of tunnels to link up ‘Les Boves’, the old chalk quarries beneath the city. The tunnels went deep beyond the German lines and were key to the initial success of the Allies in the Battle of Arras. 

One of the quarries, the Carrière Wellington, was restored and opened as a museum and memorial in 2008. A visitor centre displays historic artefacts and tells the story of the tunnellers and the ensuing offensive. A shaft takes visitors 22 metres below ground for an atmospheric insight into what life was like for those brave men. 

Guided Tour of "Les Boves"

The underground passages of Arras can be explored more deeply (in every sense) on a guided tour from the heart of the city. The passages were first dug out in the 10th century and have been used by the townsfolk of Arras for many things down the ages – to quarry stone, store goods, deposit rubbish and shelter from air raids. The entrance is within the basement of the Town Hall on Place des Héros. Tours last around 45 minutes. Make sure you follow your guide at all times, or you could be lost down there forever! The temperature is maintained at around 11°C so bring some warm clothing. 

The Belfry

A tall tower and Renaissance style civic building with attractively gabled buildings either side of it on a large cobbled square

The Belfry seems to encapsulate the spirit of Arras through the ages. Originally completed in 1554, when the city was still under Spanish rule, it was completely destroyed during German bombardments in 1917. Meticulously reconstructed between the wars, it survived further damage in World War II and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005.  

Standing 75 metres tall, the Belfry provides stunning views over the rooftops of Arras and the surrounding area. A lift takes visitors part way up the Belfry, and 43 steps lead to the viewing platform at the top of the tower. 

Cité Nature

Installed in a former miners’ lamp factory, Cité Nature is a family-friendly attraction aimed at children. It is dedicated to the questions they ask about food, agriculture, nature and health. The permanent exhibitions include displays of insects, fruits, vegetables, seeds and the history of how we farm and harvest food. 

There are also temporary exhibitions, “discovery” spaces, scientific games areas and extensive gardens full of a huge range of plants. So it is perfect for education as well as picnicking. Cité Nature is just outside the old town of Arras on the Boulevard Robert Schuman. 

Arras Cathedral

A stone neo-classical church with trees to the left of it and a clear blue sky behind it

A visit to Arras Cathedral, located on the Rue des Teinturiers, gives you just a taste of the city’s 2,000-year-old history. Built in the 18th century, it is an incredibly important religious structure and beautiful both inside and out. With a nave over 30 metres high, you’ll be straining your neck to appreciate the intricate details found inside. The cathedral has been rebuilt a number of times, with the original constructed between 1030 and 1396 but subsequently destroyed in the French Revolution. 

We recommend taking a guided tour to appreciate this building in all its glory.

Grand Place

A row of attractive Dutch-style buildings with gables and arcades, on a large cobbled square

It is hard to believe that the Grand Place was in ruins in 1917. It was rebuilt with magnificent attention to detail, and now the wide expanse of cobblestones plays host to all manner of eateries and shops, and, it has to be said, cars! There are plenty of parking spaces to be had here, both overground and underground. In December the square holds a Christmas market that is one of the best in France.

Place des Héros

Heroes Square is the smaller of the two main squares in Arras but is possibly the more beautiful, crowned by the Town Hall and Belfry on one side. Restaurants, cafés and shops line the Flemish arcades, making it the ideal spot for lunch or dinner. The square is the scene for a twice-weekly food and vegetable market which is not to be missed. At night the square is lit up, and if you’re lucky enough to be in Arras during a festival the Belfry could be illuminated in all the colours of the rainbow! 

Eating and drinking in Arras

Arras is packed with fantastic restaurants, cafés  and bars. Remember that if you have your dog with you, they might be welcome where you are dining, so it’s a good idea to call ahead and check. These are just a couple of the eateries we like: 

Le Petit Rat Porteur

Offering traditional local cuisine in a cosy setting, La Petit Rat Porteur is loved by locals. The menu is made up of French classics such as Maroilles cheese cooked in pastry, and there’s a brilliant set menu for a reasonable price, which features mains such as chicken aiguillettes and beef tartare, followed by delicious French desserts like crème brulée.

La Cave des Saveurs 

Handily situated on the Grand Place in a vaulted brick and stone cellar, La Cave des Saveurs (the Cave of Flavours) is an atmospheric place to dine. La Cave serves traditional French and Flemish dishes, from carbonade (braised beef stewed with onions and beer) to potjevleesch (cold meat in aspic) and andouillette d’Arras (finely ground chitterling sausage).  

A large cobbled city square illuminated at night

Places to stay in Arras

Arras has accommodation options for every budget, from backpacking hostels to luxury hotels. Here are some of our favourites:

Entre Cour et Jardin 

Entre Cour et Jardin offers bed and breakfast accommodation in an elegant 18th-century house in the centre of Arras. The rooms are modern with antique furnishings and spacious bathrooms, and breakfast is enjoyed in a tastefully decorated dining room ornamented with Louis XV woodwork and original star parquet flooring. 

Grand Place Hotel 

This boutique hotel has everything you need right in the heart of Arras. The light rooms feature enormous sash windows, pale wooden floors and indulgent modern bathrooms. The restaurant serves lovingly crafted dishes using seasonal produce. 

Plumes et Coton 

Perched in the hills just above Arras, Plumes et Coton is a charming guesthouse with modern rooms stylishly decorated. Plumes et Coton is an idyllic rural escape, ideal as a base for exploring the local area. 

Visit Arras with Eurotunnel Le Shuttle

Your journey to Arras starts with Eurotunnel Le Shuttle and a crossing from Folkestone to Calais in only 35 minutes. Arras is just one of the highlights of visiting the Hauts-de-France region.  

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Visit Arras with Eurotunnel Le Shuttle

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