15 things to do in Bethune (France)

In the mining country of northern France, Bethune is a cultural town that has weathered the turmoil of the 20th century and remained calm.

Whether you are a leisure visitor or in town for a Christmas market, music festival or spring fair, the Grand Central Plaza will be your first stop.

It’s a postcard scene with quaint old houses surrounding a medieval bell tower, mixed in style, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in its own right.

By the 1990s, the coal mines had all closed, but traces remained at more than a hundred sites in the area.

If you like old heavy industry, you can do a field trip to the nearby old mines.

Let’s explore the best activities in Bethune:

1. Grand Place

Grand Place

This wonderful central square is everything that happened to Bethune.

The Christmas market and various celebrations of the town’s spring and summer are located here.

There is a grand town hall, a medieval clock tower and rows of lovely baroque houses.

Many of them are incredibly narrow, and each has its own personality. There are gables in a variety of styles and materials.

Some houses are carved in stone, some have brick, and many more are a combination of the two.

But what will surprise you most is that in May 1918 almost everything you see was razed to the ground. The square was rebuilt in the Neo-Regionalist style in 1923-27.

2. Beverroy

Beverroy

The Bell Tower of Bethune, located in the center of the Grand Place, is one of the 23 bell towers in the area listed as a World Heritage Site.

At first glance, it is a very old monument: the first bell tower was made of wood in 1346, but it was replaced by this sandstone tower 40 years later.

Amazingly, the same building survived the devastation in 1918, only needing to restore its clock, charred stone and bell tower.

The Tourist Office of Béthune regularly organizes guided tours to see the interior and climb to the top for the best views of the Grand’Place, admiring the 35 carillon.

3. Vail Hotel

Vail Hotel

If there’s one building that combines history and 20th century architecture, it’s the Town Hall.

Like the rest of the square, it was razed in the First World War, and the replacement built in the late 1920s is as refined and imposing.

The town hall has the highest gable of all the buildings on the square, made of stone with decorative reliefs, a fusion of Art Deco and regionalism.

Get an up-close look at the ironwork on the doors and balconies, and if you get a chance to go in, see some beautiful Art Deco stained glass.

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4. Église Saint-Vaast de Bethune

Église Saint-Vaast de Béthune

This trend of alternating old and new continues in the town’s churches, with the massive brick bell tower looming behind the houses on the Grand Place.

The tower is 67 meters high in Gothic Revival style, but at the base of the tower, the church has an oriental Byzantine appearance.

The entire building was built from scratch in the mid-1920s to replace the Renaissance church ordered by Charles V. Sandstone was actually recovered from the building after World War I to help restore the bell tower and houses on the square.

If you need an excuse to go in there, visit the extraordinary stained glass made by glass master Charles Champigneulle, which tells the history of Bethune and the story of Saint-Vast.

5. Lab Labanque

Labanque

The old French Bank branch in the town is a magnificent building on the Place Georges Clemenceau.

After permanently closing a few years ago, the grand mansion has been transformed into a stylish contemporary art venue.

It is a multidisciplinary space with studios and galleries hosting exhibitions of photography, illustration, graphic design, painting, video art, sculpture and applied art.

The galleries are open in the afternoon, so if you like local culture, you can stop by the tourist office in Béthune or get the latest news.

6. Bethune Theatre

Bethune Theater

The fate of the Bethune Theater mirrors that of the rest of the town.

The first building was completed in 1912, but did not survive the First World War.

It was rebuilt in the 1920s, but was destroyed again in World War II.

But in the end, the current version has been in place since 1961 and can accommodate nearly 1,000 spectators.

It is a fine Neo-Baroque building, in the style of Bethune.

If you want to hang out for a night, there’s live music (classical or new), dance, humor, as well as serious drama and nasty “Avenue Theater” (think slapstick and sex comedy).

7. Musée de la Mine de Noeux-les-Mines

King Lai Mine Museum

Bethune sits on the edge of a huge coal field that spans much of the eastern side of the Nord Calais region.

There are no coal mines in the town, but the nearest is a few kilometers away, and several mining companies are headquartered in Bethune.

There is an interesting legacy at the former apprenticeship centre.

14-year-olds will take their first steps underground, learning the mining trade in these tunnels.

About 200 meters of galleries have been preserved, along with an exhibition room showing tools, models and minerals, as well as a 20-minute video about mining at the site and in the Nord area.

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8. More mining heritage

Pas de Calais mining basin

The Nord-Pas de Calais mining basin, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, consists of more than 100 separate sites.

If you’re fascinated by industrial heritage, you’re sure to feast your eyes on Bethune, as there are mine shafts, slag piles (some of them ridiculously large), and many more mines, corporate headquarters, entire villages, and well-preserved houses, all These are easy to get to.

This could be the huge mine at Lewarde, now reopened as the outstanding Centre Historique Minier.

Or it could be a more intimate but equally moving attraction, like the humble Maison du Minier, located next door to Annezin.

Here, an early 20th-century miners’ hut is frozen in time.

There are three other mining museums nearby, in Auchel, Bruay-la-Buissière and Marles-les-Mines.

9. Musée Régional d’Ethnologie de Béthune

Bethune Regional Ethnology Museum

If you have time to spend in Bethune, you can do so at the town’s Ethnology Museum.

This is in red brick Chapelle de Saint-Pry.

The museum clearly depicts the regional identity, traditional trade and daily life of the Nord Calais over the centuries.

After decades of donations, it now houses 30,000 objects, most from the 1700s to the present.

There are also local handicrafts found in excavations dating back to Greco-Roman, Merovinga and Medieval times.

10. Parc d’Olhain

Parc d'Olhain

Parents with children in the summer can take them to this 450-hectare activity park to relax for a few hours.

Entry to the park is free, then you pay for individual activities such as mini golf, sledding, swimming and cool adventure lessons hung with nets above the forest floor.

If you like sports, you can rent a tennis court or play nine holes on the golf course.

There are also hiking and biking trails in the forest, with bicycles, segways and other equipment available for rent.

11. Louvre Shots

Louvre footage

The city of Lens is less than 20 km from the road and is worth a visit because of its brand new tourist attractions.

A former mining center, it found a new identity following the industry’s demise in the 20th century.

In 2012, the Louvre opened its first satellite museum on an old mine.

Loucre Lens in a surreal glass building and on a temporary loan from the Louvre in Paris.

In the past few years, there have been performances by Leonardo da Vinci and Rubens.

There’s also a fantastic permanent gallery that showcases thousands of years of art, from Babylonian busts to 19th-century French sculpture.

12. Shots 14-18 – The Great War Museum

Shots 14-18 - The Great War Museum

Opened in 2015, this amazing war museum displays maps of the First World War in Artois and Flanders.

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It’s the perfect complement to the various war memorials and cemeteries in the area.

The museum tackles historical themes in a modern way, with innovative museology and a minimalist design.

You’ll scrutinize 3D maps, archive footage, photography, and artifacts such as guns, personal items, and fragments of lost civil buildings.

The building deserves a mention because the gallery is housed in a murky black concrete cube known as the “Church”. Admission is also completely free, and you can rent audio guides in English, French, Dutch and German.

13. Arras

Arras

If you can’t get enough of the Grand’Place in Béthune, the central square in Arras is not to be missed.

But Béthune’s Grand’Place style is pleasing, while Arras seeks unity.

In Grand-Place d’Arras there are 155 17th century Flemish Baroque houses with graceful curved gables.

These all have a continuous arcade on the ground floor, with bars and restaurants adding extra living and socializing.

Grand-Place’s little sister, the Place des Héros, is also pretty, and you can visit the Gothic town hall and bell tower, before heading down to Les Boves underground, a medieval chalk cave that became a refuge during World War I.

14. Ayr-up-Rice

ayr-up-rice

In the opposite direction, to the northwest, Lales-sur-Ayre is a very lovely town with its own clock tower and delightful Flemish architecture.

Visit Le Baillage, built at the end of the 16th century, facing the Grand Place.

It is a mixture of masonry, with intricate carvings and arcades on the first floor.

The bell tower is in Baroque style and is listed as 23 bell towers by UNESCO and was rebuilt in the 1920s.

Be sure to check out the magnificent Church of Saint-Pierre, with its ornate Gothic design, like a cathedral in miniature.

15. Local Food

Fort Bethune

The town’s specialty is Fort de Béthune: a savory sauce made with strong Marroi cheese, seasoned and blended with spices like brandy and cumin.

It’s rocket fuel miners who spread it on bread in the morning and chase it down with strong black coffee! In Arras, the local delicacy is andouillette (there is even a festival here), a thick tripe sausage served with french fries and mustard.

Also try flamiche au maroilles, a pie made with bread dough, whipped cream, and tangy mairolles chees.

Always popular are Flemish specialties such as carbonade flamade (beef and beer stew) and moules-frites (mussels served with French fries).

Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Bethune, France
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