History & Culture

Day trips to France

Travelling to France couldn't be easier with Eurotunnel. Visit some idyllic towns for shopping, dining and sightseeing, all within a short drive from Calais.

From Calais you can explore some of the best French towns for shopping, eating out and seeing historical landmarks. What are you waiting for?

France is the ideal location for a day trip from the UK

It couldn’t be easier to get to France from the UK for a day trip or short break. After all, it only takes 35 minutes to get from Folkestone to Calais. Read our guide to a few of the places you can visit on your next trip.

aerial view of a port with blue water sandy beach and lots of buildings under a blue sky

Shopping day trips to Calais

Driving distance from Calais terminal: 0km – you can't get more convenient than that!

This historic Roman port is often overlooked by day trippers who stop off purely to stock up on cheap booze and cigarettes. However, if you venture beyond the supermarkets you quickly find that Calais has plenty to offer sightseers.

Much of the town was destroyed during World War ll, but of the surviving buildings a must see is the stunning Flemish Renaissance-style town hall, with a clock tower which can be spotted from miles out to sea. Open to visitors daily (8am-noon and 1.30-5.30pm), the building features elaborate interiors and houses several paintings of historic events in the area.

Immediately in front of the town hall is a cast of one of Auguste Rodin's most famous works, The Six Burghers, which depicts the surrender of the town keys to the English in 1357.

A 15-minute walk away lies one of Calais' best kept secrets – a beautiful sandy beach dotted with white wooden beach huts and offering the opportunity for a spot of sunbathing, or even a quick dip into the Channel.

Other sites to take in include the stylish 19th Century lighthouse, the medieval Place D'Armes and the Fine Art Museum, which features works by Rodin, Picasso and Dubuffet. So next time you think of Calais, don't just write it off as a destination for booze cruisers. Get to know the real Calais and you'll find a new day trip destination that's closer than you think.

Pretty, flowered garden with an impressive large 1920s style house in the background

Day trip to the seaside at Le Touquet-Paris-Plage

Driving distance from Calais terminal: 70km, 1hr.

Relive the high society chic of the 1920s with a visit to the seaside resort of Le Touquet-Paris-Plage.

Popular with England's rich and famous, Le Touquet's hotels have played host to film stars and even royalty over the years, and now the town's faded seaside glamour is attracting a whole new generation of socialites and sightseers.

The long sandy beach is large enough for visitors to find their own quiet space plus a promenade and dunes provide excellent walking or cycling opportunities. For the kids there’s a water park and a magnificent period carousel.

Sports fans will not be disappointed either as Le Touquet boasts three golf courses as well as sand yachting, sailing and riding opportunities. And if all that sounds a bit tiring relax in the 1930s covered market at the junction of Rue De Metz and Rue St Louis, which is held every Thursday and Saturday and where you can buy a wide range of fresh fish, meat, bread and delicacies.

If you're looking for an active day trip in France Le Touquet is the day trip for you.

Market square in town centre with stalls and monument

A day in the city in Lille

Driving distance from Calais terminal: 110km, 1hour 15mins.

As capital of the Hauts-de-France region and the country's fourth-largest city, Lille has a rich history to uncover. If you’re into culture, this town’s museums, architecture and monuments will keep you busy for a day trip or weekend away. Stop by quaint Vieux Lille (old town) to see the restored buildings that now house cafes, boutique shops and art galleries, or marvel at The Goddess Column that commemorates the town’s resistance to the Austrian’s in 1792.

Lille’s food and craft markets are some of the best in France, especially at Christmas time, when the main square becomes a winter wonderland. But shopping here is great all year round thanks to the city’s numerous outdoor markets. For an authentic taste of Lille’s markets, head to family-friendly quartier populaire of Wazemmes, 1.3km southwest of place du Général de Gaulle. Here, Marche de Wazemmes market sells everything from flowers to textiles. Be sure to check ahead on dates and times and get ready to stock up on plenty of gifts to take home with you.

For more of the highlights of this glorious city, see our guide on things to see and do in Lille.

harbour full of boats with historic red brick building in distance and reflected in water

Spend a day at the historic port of Dunkerque

Driving distance from Calais terminal: 50km, 40mins

The port of Dunkirk, or Dunkerque in French, will forever be emblazoned in history as the scene of the mass evacuation of French and British troops from the advancing German forces in World War ll.

Since then, the town has been totally rebuilt and is now a working port. Its museums grant fascinating insight into a past which played a pivotal role in the history of mankind — a must for anyone interested in the subject.

The Operation Dynamo War Museum is open daily from April to September from 10am to 12 noon and from 2pm to 5pm and is housed in a 1939 French army headquarters. Featuring a plethora of equipment used during the evacuations and the testimonies of soldiers involved, the museum helps you get closer to what Churchill described as "The miracle of Dunkirk."

For a different era, try the Port Museum which displays the rich fishing heritage of the town. And after exploring the famous beaches take time to stroll around the ramparts for impressive views of the area.

For history buffs of all levels a day trip to Dunkerque is the ideal way to get a little closer to the past.

Town square surrounded by French architecture and garden in the foreground

Saint Quentin

Driving distance from Calais terminal: 177km, 1hr 49mins

Another lesser-visited city which is perfect for a day trip is Saint Quentin. And if you are interested in military history, you should definitely pay it a visit. Saint Quentin is the site of many significant WWI battles, but is less well known than Ypres and the Somme. The central square is the location of one of the most famous retreats in British military history, when the British Expeditionary Forces were forced back from Mons by the Germans. They later redeemed themselves, however, in September 1918 with the Battle of St Quentin Canal, which was one of the most pivotal battles of WWI.

Because of its significant involvement throughout the Great War, there’s an impressive war memorial in the town near the railway, and plenty of historical sites to visit nearby. Just to the north, you can visit the canal where the Battle of St Quentin Canal took place, and to the south you can see some of the original Hindenburg Line bunkers, where the allied forces broke the German defensive line.

Saint Quentin is also well situated for exploring other important WWI battlefields, such as the Somme, Arras, and the Aisne, but it’s so full of its own interesting history, you may prefer to just stay put. If you do, be sure to visit the impressive Basilica Saint-Quentin, which was originally built between the 12th and 15th centuries. It was very badly damaged during WWI and almost actually blown up – you can still see the holes made in preparation for explosives. Thankfully it was saved in the nick of time, has since been restored and is open to the public.

ruins of an abbey at sunset

Saint Omer

Driving distance from Calais terminal: 46km, 39mins

This little "town of yellow bricks" (so named for its golden bricked buildings) is bursting with art and has a rich textiles and ceramics history. Featuring colourful town houses and elegant architecture, there are also public gardens to explore and ruins of the Saint-Bertin’s Abbey to marvel at. This is a place to wander at your own pace for a day trip or weekend break.

History lovers and those who appreciate architecture will be in their element here. Built from the 13th to the 16th century, St-Omer’s cathedral is the final great example of Gothic architecture in the northern provinces of France. The end of the nave is dressed by the pipes of an enormous organ flanked by Rubens’ and Lebrun’s paintings. The 16th century astrological clock housed in the cathedral is said to be one of the oldest in the entire country.

For a unique and fun expedition, a lovingly renovated 1950s train travels through the region from Arques to Lumbres, stopping at many of the best tourist sites along the way. Book a ticket and enjoy the (incredibly photogenic) ride.

Learn more about the Saint Omer region here.

Book your day trip from the UK with Eurotunnel Le Shuttle

Eurotunnel Le Shuttle is the best way to take a break in France. It’s only a 35-minute journey from Folkestone to Calais, and from there you can visit or stay in some wonderful towns and cities, relax and unwind. Ready to explore France? Book your day trip with Eurotunnel, today!

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More to do on your French day trip