Things to do

Things to do in Calais

Thinking of stopping off in Calais as part of a trip or for a longer visit? See our guide for the highlights and places to visit.

A city full of surprises, Calais is the perfect mix of history and culture. Shop, visit a museum or simply take a wander along the coastline to visit the lighthouse or take in the view. This is a place you can take your time and all ages are catered for. Enjoy your next trip to Calais using our guide of the best attractions and sights.

Museum of Lace and Fashion in Calais

This landmark museum recounts the history of the famous and celebrated mechanical lace-making industry of Calais and it’s only a 15-minute drive from Eurotunnel's Calais terminal.

Housed in what was once a 19th century lace factory, with a modern extension of glass and steel designed by the architects Alain Moatti and Henri Rivière, the building alone is worth a visit. A long façade of screen-printed glass, with motifs from Jacquard punch cards of the Leavers lace machines, has been carefully grafted onto the original building.

The museum reveals the techniques and uses of lace throughout Calais' economic and social history, a particular highlight is discovering five Leavers looms in operation. The museum also presents contemporary aspects of lace production and attracts fashion designers and artists from all corners of the world. Kate Middleton chose the in-depth knowledge of the Tullists of Caudry (Nord "département"), who, for the last 150 years, have made a type of high-end Calais lace that is exported around the world, for her own wedding dress. Prepare to be dazzled by the lacy haute couture garments on display, and some very sexy examples of lingerie.

Lace clothing on display under soft lighting

Visit Calais Town Hall and Burghers of Calais

The statue of the Burghers of Calais is the city’s most photographed monument and stands directly in front of the town hall, which was built in the early 20th century in 15th century Flemish style. The town hall itself has an impressive 75-metre-high belfry, which has a lift or staircase option to reach panoramic view from the top over the town and harbour. The town hall's main staircase is lit by a stunning stained-glass window commemorating the departure of the English from France. A fun historical fact is that Charles de Gaulle, who led France’s troops in WWII, got married in Calais town hall.

The Burghers of Calais statue, by the French sculptor Auguste Rodin, tells the story of the siege of Calais in 1347, during the Hundred Years War. It’s a beautiful symbol of freedom and is one of four statues Rodin made from the same cast – one of which is in London. 

Courgain Maritime

This area of Calais was where many sailors came to live after the war. The quayside was rebuilt after extensive damage and is now a lovely place to wander and see traditional French life unfold. On the quayside of the Colonne Louis XVIII, booths are set up each morning for fishermen to sell their wares, each booth is named after the boat that went out to catch the fish. Guided walking tours are available for a reasonable price here, or you can explore at your leisure. The lighthouse is a point of interest and makes for some memorable photos too. 

Lighthouse against a pink and orange sky at the end of a dark wood pier

Visit Calais Lighthouse

The Calais Lighthouse was erected in 1848 to replace the lantern in the lookout tower. It offers a magnificent panoramic view from the top over the quay after a climb of 271 steps. On a clear day you may even see as far as the White Cliffs of Dover. Rumour has it that the lighthouse may be haunted as it is built on the site of the old city walls and two skeletons were uncovered at the time it was built.

Musée des Beaux Arts de Calais

For a spot of culture, head to the museum of fine art. It’s in the city’s historic centre and right next to Richelieu Park so you can enjoy some green space before or after your visit. The museum holds two temporary exhibitions each year, so be sure to check the website to see which artists are being celebrated.

Permanent exhibits include Rodin (sculpture of the Burghers of Calais statue) and an incredible 1-in-10 scale model of Chapel of Light, the public commission entrusted to the internationally renowned English sculptor Anthony Caro, for the Church of Saint-Jean Baptiste in Bourbourg.

Musée de la Guerre de Calais

In the middle of the Park Saint Pierre opposite the town hall of Calais, the German navy built a command bunker that they used throughout World War ll. After the war it was turned into a museum that explores the occupation and liberation of Western Europe, with an emphasis on how it unfolded in France.

The museum's collection includes newspaper-cuttings, photos, uniforms, and some great scale models of historical sites and military structures. Audio-guides are available to visitors, which provides interesting information on the exhibits in French, Dutch, English, or German.

Cap Blanc-Nez and Escalles

For some amazing views, walking trails, and space to relax amongst nature, take a trip to the coastal dunes and white cliffs of Cap Blanc-Nez. Views of the Bay of Wissant Calais Port are a highlight, plus it’s a good spot for history lovers, as the surrounding Flemish countryside still has craters from Allied bombs and some World War II bunkers. The free parking here also makes it a good place to begin a day hike into the cliffs as you won’t have to worry about time.

A large mechanical and colourful dragon, in front of Calais Town Hall.

The Dragon of Calais

At the beginning of November 2019, in a world exclusive, the town of Calais celebrated the arrival of The Dragon with a unique and exciting show.

Created by La Machine, The Dragon was designed especially for Calais and is the largest and most advanced machine ever built by the urban project company.

La Machine is a non-profit organisation dedicated to developing projects in the field of urban development. The company, led by François Delarozière, comprises of artists, technicians and theatre designers who work together to construct unusual theatre objects. Their work has appeared in many cities around the world, including Nantes, Ottowa and Liverpool.

The Dragon, made of steel and carved wood, was paraded during three days of celebration for all the visitors and residents of Calais and the region. Each day, a spectacular inaugural show took place through the streets of Calais and featured actors, musicians, and lights in a sensational display for all to see. This spectacle culminated with a breath-taking display and performance on the seafront.

The Dragon of Calais now resides at La Cité provisoire, on the newly renovated seafront. You can enjoy rides in a carriage on the back of The Dragon through the city. Each ride will take about 30 minutes and can have up to 50 passengers at a time.

La Cité provisoire will have a food court and souvenir shop and will also offer a fascinating, ‘behind the scenes’ guided tour of The Dragon’s mechanics and technology.

Shopping in Calais

Many people travel to Calais to shop, and it isn’t hard to see why. As well as an excellent range of modern supermarkets that sell locally produced French cheeses, wine, and treats, there are also some wonderful markets to explore. From fresh produce to antiques, with almost everything in-between, we have a comprehensive guide to each market. Spend a morning, afternoon or a whole day browsing and finding some real surprises to take home with you. 

The two main hypermarkets are Auchan and Cité Europe, both offering great prices on food and drink. For fashion worshippers, Channel Outlet Store in Coquelles has 80 brands available from Adidas and Calvin Klein to Hugo Boss and Nike.

Christmas in Calais

The town centre and districts of Calais are lit up each year to celebrate Christmas and New Year. Make the most of your trip to Calais to discover what the town has planned for your enjoyment. Each weekend is packed with festivities that will delight all the family. The Christmas lights switch on and opening parade is always a fan-favourite, and often art exhibitions and musical entertainment pops up all over the city to prepare for the festive season.

Explore the coast around Calais

The coastline around Calais in northern France is home to some charming villages and towns. Take a closer look at Calais by the coast.

Audresselles

Once known as Oderzelle, the commune of Audresselles is a historic part of the Pas-de-Calais department, boasting two beaches surrounded by picturesque cliffs. With a history dating back to the Middle Ages, exploring Audresselles’ past through its fascinating town centre and sea front is a wonderful way to spend a trip. It is home to traditional flobarts (small boats) that are still in use today, plus a thriving fishing culture. 

It’s only natural that the local cuisine centres around seafood. Delicious fresh fish and crustaceans take pride of place on local restaurant menus, such as La Marie Galante, where you can order a whole crab (if you know how to dismantle it!) Local activities make the most of Audresselles’ natural beauty and wildlife, such as searching on foot for mussels, shrimp and crabs. If you’re the artistic type, you might want to bring your painting equipment as painters often sit with their easels on the beach. When the weather is fine, try taking a stroll along one of the marked hiking trails which line the coast – you won’t be disappointed.

Two women walking on green hills with sheep and sandy beaches around them

Wissant

Wissant, which translates to ‘white sand’ in English, is a thriving village most famous for its vast beach. During low tide, the beach is a vast stretch of flat sand, and is perfect for sports such as windsurfing and kite flying. It’s also a great beach for kids, spend an afternoon watching your little ones running around and building sandcastles.

Much of this landscape is part of a protected area, and when driving into Wissant village you get the distinct feeling that the countryside has stayed the same for many years. While there are plenty of great restaurants and cafés, a particular treat is the gastro pub just outside of town, Le Colombier. It’s a very attractive building surrounded by picturesque countryside, and the food is delicious.

Ambleteuse

Found between Boulogne and Calais, Ambleteuse is a small town nestled right on the coast. The surrounding Caps et Marais d'Opale natural park is full of natural beauty to explore, so if you’re a fan of walking then this is the place. A popular restaurant to try in town is A L'Opale des Caps. All the food here is locally sourced, and seafood fans must try the seafood platter.

When it comes to exploring the town of Ambleteuse, there are some great historical spots found in and around town. You’ll see a 17th century fort, Fort Mahon, alongside the Slack river, while the river itself boasts many different types of flora, which is great if you want to teach little ones about nature - see how many different types of plants they can spot – but it’s important that they don’t pick any as some are quite rare! Don’t forget to visit the World War II Museum to see uniforms, weapons, and video footage from the war, a great activity for a rainy day.

Wimereux

The seaside town of Wimereux is charming. It’s still a hidden gem when compared with much of the coast around Calais and arguably has the most to offer. It’s got a stunning beach, with a scenic promenade lined with beach huts, a fantastic culinary scene and there’s even an impressive 18-hole golf course. 19th century Victorian buildings dominate much of the town centre, and on an especially clear day, you can see the white cliffs of Dover from the coast.

For activities for the whole family to enjoy try horse riding along the beach or the mini golf course just outside of town. If you’re into sports, the winds at the beach are ideal for windsurfing, sailing and sand yachting. There’s a lovely restaurant at the Hotel du Centre, but if you’re looking for something more casual, try Au Comptoir. They serve pizza (great for kids) and traditional Breton buckwheat crepes.

Modern building on waterfront reflecting the water

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