Points of interest

Must-See Places in Northern France

UNESCO World Heritage sites, awe-inspiring art and the largest aquarium in Europe – where to go and what to see when touring northern France by car.

The sun-drenched glamour of the south gets a lot of attention, but there are so many things to do in northern France. You may be surprised to find there are some spectacular and beautiful places near Calais, with many top spots within an hour’s drive of the city. And with Eurotunnel Le Shuttle taking you to Calais in just 35 minutes, touring northern France by car is an easy and fun way to explore.

The north offers such a mix of history, culture, architecture and stunning scenery. Follow the historic path of Joan of Arc and photograph your own Monet along the beautiful coastline. To help you plan your holiday in northern France, here is our pick of what to do and see on your next road trip.

Nausicaá National Sea Centre

Where: Boulogne-sur-Mer
Distance from Calais: 35km / 35m

A large aquarium tank looking in to fish, hammerhead sharks and other sea life. Located within Nausicaá aquarium in Northern France

Europe’s largest aquarium, Nausicaá is around a 30-minute drive from Calais, in the busy port of Boulogne-sur-Mer, and is one of the best things to do in northern France for families. The impressive Boulogne-sur-Mer aquarium is home to 1,600 species, and kids will love watching the sharks, giant manta rays and sea lions.

Outside, the old town of Boulogne has pretty cobbled streets, wooden shopfronts and 13th-century buildings that look like the backdrop to ‘Beauty and the Beast’. Be sure to call in at Fromagerie Philippe Olivier to pick out some delicious cheeses to take home.

Lille Zoo

Where: Lille
Distance from Calais: 109km / 1h 8m

Three-quarters of the 400 animals at Lille Zoo are endangered species, making it a fascinating place to spend the afternoon. Set within the parkland that surrounds the city’s famous citadel, the zoo is free to enter – perfect for anyone visiting France on a budget. A walk around the lush green grounds is a great way to stretch your legs and take a refreshing break from city life.

A popular Lille delicacy to try is the merveilleux: mini meringues sandwiched together with whipped cream and topped with chocolate shavings.

Louvre-Lens

Where: Lens
Distance from Calais: 99km / 1h

The modern Louvre-Lens museum displays prestigious collections on loan from the Louvre in Paris, as well as major temporary exhibitions that make it a must-see museum in its own right. Ideal if you are looking for beautiful places near Calais, the gallery is only a 35-minute journey with Eurotunnel Le Shuttle, then just an hour’s drive from there.

Beer lovers may be surprised to find the city of Lens is packed with independent breweries; just outside the city, the Saint-Germain Brewery offers a tour and tasting on selected days.

Musée La Piscine

Where: Roubaix
Distance from Calais: 121.4km / 1h 20m

Art deco-esque stained glass window overlooking the swimming pool, with statues on both sides, in the Musée d’Art et d’Industrie, Roubaix, France

A former swimming pool, La Piscine is now home to the André Diligent Museum of Art and Industry. The building, which was constructed between 1927 and 1932, is a work of art itself, but also houses paintings by Picasso, Giacometti and Hervé Di Rosa. Equally impressive is the botanic garden.

La Coupole war museum

Where: Saint-Omer
Distance from Calais: 45.1km / 37m

France is littered with historic World War II sites, but this one is possibly the most impressive. The abandoned bunker, hidden in the hills, has 5.5m-thick walls made from more than 55,000 tonnes of concrete. Built by the Nazis as a key site to launch rocket missiles, the bunker now houses a fascinating exhibition that tells the story of its dark past. For the kids, there is an immersive 360-degree planetarium that they’ll enjoy as much as exploring the underground tunnels.

Le Mont Saint-Michel

Where: Near Avranches, Normandy
Distance from Calais: 472.9km / 4h 33m

View of Le Mont Saint-Michel island illuminated at dusk

Le Mont Saint-Michel, an island set off the north-western coast, is one of the most visited places in France and a must-stop if you are touring northern France by car. Towering over the island is a stunning medieval monastery, which looks even more impressive when the ornate walls are lit up at night.

You can stay in neighbouring villages and walk to the island via a pedestrian walkway over the water, but the advantage of lodging on the island is the chance to explore before the crowds arrive in the morning. The rugged coastline offers dramatic views across the channel along the way.

Reims Champagne houses

Where: Reims, Champagne-Ardenne
Distance from Calais: 273.9km / 2h 28m

Landscape of vines and villages in the Champagne region

There’s no better way to toast to your holiday in northern France than with some of the best Champagne in the world, freshly poured in the region it was created. One of the most beautiful places near Calais, Reims is a curious city with a mismatch of architecture, set in the picturesque verdant landscape of vineyards.

Tour the historic houses and discover the fascinating history and process of growing, making and storing Champagne. Choose from famous brands such as Laurent-Perrier and Veuve Clicquot, or explore some of the family-run companies that have been in Reims for hundreds of years. Pommery is probably the most impressive; guided tours will take you through the incredible Gallo-Roman cave, said to store almost 25 million bottles. But be cautious not to overindulge if you are driving. In France, the alcohol limit is 0.05mg/ml (as opposed to 0.08mg/ml in England, Wales and Northern Ireland) and penalties are severe. Check out our post on this and other road rules when touring northern France by car.

Amiens Cathedral

Where: Amiens
Distance from Calais: 157.3km / 1h 36m

Ornate Gothic façade of Amiens Cathedral

Amiens is a surprisingly quaint and colourful town, often overlooked when planning things to do in northern France. Canals wind through the picturesque streets and visitors can shop for fruit, souvenirs and art from the floating markets that line the water’s edge.

The absolutely-can’t-possibly-miss attraction in Amiens is the Cathédrale Notre-Dame d'Amiens. The stunning Gothic cathedral is the largest in France. Beautiful stained-glass windows light the interior with a rainbow glow when the sun shines and if you happen to be visiting in summer or at Christmas, the incredible sound and light show that illuminates the building will be the highlight of your trip.

Book a ticket with Eurotunnel Le Shuttle early to secure the best fare.