“Venice of the North” sounds like an elusive nickname. But Amiens does an excellent job with its floating gardens and beautiful canal area.
Take a barge tour of the Hortillonnages, historic farmland reclaimed from a former marsh in the Middle Ages, or stop at a canal-side café on the cobbled streets of Saint-Leu.
We haven’t even mentioned Amiens’ World Heritage Cathedral, which has the tallest nave in France and is packed with priceless Gothic and Renaissance art.
In Amiens, you can go back even further, as humans have been living here since the mid-Pleistocene, some 350,000 years ago. You can get anthropology at the Parc de Samara, which recreates prehistoric dwellings, or at the Musée de Picardie, which showcases local artifacts.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Amiens:
1. Amiens Cathedral
The various ingredients come together to make this one of the greatest cathedrals in the world, and it’s no wonder that this monument is a UNESCO site.
First, dimensions: Amiens Cathedral was built to fill the nave with light, and for this, the structure needed to be as high as possible.
At over 42 meters, Amiens’ nave is second only to Beauvais Cathedral in France, and it cannot support its own weight.
You must see the Renaissance oak choir booth inside, and the sublime polychrome sculptures of the 15th and 16th centuries.
But even before you enter, you might be in awe of the Gothic carvings on the west facade and south gate.
On summer evenings, the pieces are presented in a riot of colour at the show “Son et Lumière” in Amiens.
2. Les Hortillonnages
On the west side of Amiens, within walking distance of the cathedral, the city gives way to a 65-kilometer network of canals that pass through cultivated farmland and small houses.
These floating gardens are vegetable fields for the “hortillons” that market gardeners have cultivated since the Middle Ages.
The real way to see this idyllic man-made landscape is the flat-bottomed “barge” tour, which takes about 45 minutes and gives you an idea of how the gardens came to be.
You can then hike on your own and spend more time photographing the pretty little bridge that crosses the canal.
3. St. Le
A few steps from the cathedral, the streets are lined with waterways that branch off the Somme.
You can spend a mild afternoon strolling along the canals with old painted houses where watermills were installed in the Middle Ages.
Rue d’Engoulevent, Rue du Don and Rue du Pont À Moinet are beautiful, but the whole area is worth exploring.
For a long time, this area of Amiens has been left behind, but now there are cafés, restaurants and trendy bars, and a lively, youthful atmosphere thanks to the many students.
On the third Sunday in June, the hortillons sail along the Somme with their “barques à cornet”, selling flowers and vegetables from the marina in Saint-Leu.
4. Jules Verne House
The red brick Maison à la Tour at 2 Rue Charles Dubois was Jules Verne’s home for 18 years until his death in 1905. The building is named after a quirky tower topped by a domed skylight that illuminates the spiral staircase you’ll use to get around this fascinating attraction.
Verne fans will shudder knowing he wrote 30 novels at this very address, and the house is filled with his personal belongings, memorabilia and archives of his writings.
The third floor of the house was designed to look like a bridge for the Nautilus submarine in the 20,000 Undersea Alliance.
5. Picardy Museum
Since its opening in 1867, the Picardy Museum has been held as a provincial museum unrivaled.
In addition to the often gorgeous paintings from the 1400s to the 1900s, there are exhibits that will tell you more about Picardy’s ancient and prehistoric past.
You’ll see Paleolithic hand axes, Neolithic pottery and Bronze Age weapons, all excavated nearby.
The most recent are everyday glassware and legionary backpacks from the Roman era, and a stunning 13th-century enamel dove made in Limoges.
As for the art collection, it’s as good as you’d hope, with works by El Greco, Courbet, Jacob Jordaens, Anthony van Dyck and Camille Corot, just for introduction.
Albert Roze is a sculptor born in Amiens, where he has worked his entire career.
In 1897 he created his most famous work, Marie-sans-Chemise (Marie, shirtless), which caused a sensation at the time: the statue, an allegory of spring, is now located on the corner of Rue des Sergents and Rue des gram rignon.
Roze also created sculptures for Jules Verne’s tomb, which you can visit in Amiens.
The beautiful rococo clock that accompanies Marie-sans-Chemise was made by architect Émile Ricquier and was once lit by gas lamps on three sides.
7. Amiens Zoo
Amiens’ zoo is right next to the city center, so you don’t have to look far for kids-related activities.
The 6.5 hectares of woodland has many trees over 100 years old and the environment is as green as possible.
Fences follow nature trails and feature anything from African elephants to dwarf goats.
There are 300 animals in total, from about 70 different species.
Where possible, paddocks are surrounded by natural obstacles such as moats, and by 2019, the park expects to build more paddocks.
Currently, it takes you about two or three hours to see everything.
8. Samara Park
Take the anthropological outing of a lifetime at this educational attraction west of Amiens.
Starting with the Cro-Magnons and continuing through Roman times, you’ll learn how our distant ancestors lived and track the development of human technology.
It’s also a completely hands-on attraction, as each small settlement features a hut with a workshop, where enthusiastic staff showcase prehistoric or ancient crafts such as pottery, blacksmithing, basket weaving, woodcarving, and even the basics of making a fire Skill.
The 100-hectare park also includes a hedge maze inspired by Amiens Cathedral and a botanical garden with reindeer from Scandinavia.
9. Cimetière de la Madeleine
The resting place of Jules Verne is a highlight of this 19th-century cemetery on the northwestern outskirts of the city.
But that’s not the only reason, as the cemetery is located in 18 hectares of hilly woodland and is presented to the public as a quiet and tree-lined place to learn about the wealth Amiens enjoyed in the 1800s.
There are many ornate tombs and funerary statues belonging to industrialists and other wealthy families, some of which have been made worse by 150 years of erosion.
The monument to Verne, as well as the sculpture of Albert Rhodes, has been restored to look new, a physical manifestation of his eternal memory.
10. Pere Tour
This 110-meter-tall residential skyscraper looks unusual in Amiens and was built after the war as part of a plan to rebuild the area around the city’s train station.
Auguste Perret, a pioneer of modern architecture, was also asked to rebuild the entire center of Le Havre.
His work there has earned Unesco status, and Amiens’ tower deserves a closer look, even though it has been closed to the public for many years.
If the concrete tower looks a little shabby during the day, at night it’s full of color thanks to the addition of an LCD lighting system in 2005
11. Cité Souterraine de Naours
About 20 minutes north of Amiens is the town of Naours, where for more than a thousand years its inhabitants have sought underground refuge in a complex network of limestone tunnels.
They started in the 800’s and will be needed for a long time as a catalogue of invasions and wars haunts this war-torn part of the country.
You’ll be guided 33 meters down the mountain and into over 2 kilometers of galleries to learn about the salt smugglers who used the system to evade Louis XVI’s salt tax and how German and British troops used the tunnels in both wars.
12. Lombard Museum
After a few minutes past Naours, stop at Doullens to visit this fascinating museum created by 19th-century chocolatier Jules François Lombart.
The attraction has a purpose-built venue that opened with great fanfare in 1908: the Minister of Agriculture and other dignitaries from Paris traveled to the event.
There are paintings by great French School artists such as Camille Corot, Jean-Simon Chardin and Charles-François Dubiny.
But another intriguing aspect of the museum is the eccentricity of its collection, from samurai armor and ancient weapons to Egyptian mummies from the 18th Dynasty from 3,500 years ago.
13. Cycling in Noe Valley
If you brought a bike with you or want to rent one, Amiens’ tourist office has some smart ideas for you to get out and about.
One is a 31-kilometer signposted trail in idyllic scenery along the Noye River, southeast of Amiens.
You will pass through beautiful villages such as La Faloirse, Chirmont and Sourdon, all of which have traditional houses and rich local folklore.
In Folleville, there is a UNESCO-listed church and the ruins of a haunting medieval castle, while the lake of Berny-sur-Noye has pedal boats and crazy golf in summer.
14. Somme Tour
In summer, the Somme offers guided canoe excursions, and a favorite trip is rafting down the river for two hours, from Ailly-sur-Somme to Picquigny, both just a few minutes’ drive from Amiens.
Along the way, you will be struck by the tranquility of the countryside, and if you are quiet, the wildlife of the river will appear.
Herons, little grebes, kingfishers, deer, dragonflies and a variety of amphibians perch on the shore.
As you explore the medieval village on the dry land of Piquini, you can explore: stroll to the ruins of the castle, which dominates the village and the green valley in which it sits.
Thanks in part to the lush, fertile countryside surrounding the city, Amiens has a serious culinary pedigree.
Among the many local delicacies, you can try the duck sauce made with brandy, truffles, apples and pork belly, or on the sweet side, Macarons d’Amiens made with almond butter, eggs and honey.
Vegetable gardens in the local wetlands gave rise to Soupe des Hortillons, a spring vegetable soup with broccoli, carrots and cabbage.
For a piping hot entree, see if you can find Ficelle Picarde, a regional crepe stuffed with ham, onions, mushrooms, topped with grated cheese and baked in the oven .
Where to stay: The best hotels in Amiens, France
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