15 things to do in Le Havre (France)

If you want to get the most out of Le Havre, you must be prepared to experience a place different from your average, picturesque French city.

Le Havre looked to the future and hired Le Corbusier’s mentor, the modernist Auguste Perret, to rebuild the center after it was destroyed in World War II.

His efforts are now recognized by UNESCO, and you don’t have to go into modern architecture to fall in love with the clean lines and boldness of the city’s public spaces and monuments.

The port is the busiest in France and will excite those interested in trade and commerce from the 16th to the 21st centuries.

Let’s explore the best things to do in Le Havre:

1. St. Joseph’s Church

St. Joseph's Church

The incredible church of Auguste Perret is the most powerful modern building.

With a neo-Gothic temple, he showed what reinforced concrete can achieve by designing a 107-meter-tall self-supporting tower.

So when you’re standing in the choir, there’s just a hollow tube above you, with exposed concrete inside, illuminated by sunlight filtered through the stained glass.

Such is the presence of the church, which you can see from almost anywhere in Le Havre, a beacon of sea traffic at night.

There is much more going on here than you see at first sight, because the church is understood through abstraction and the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

Everything you see makes sense, but you may need some hints to decode it.

2. Andre Malraux Museum of Modern Art

Andre Malraux Museum of Modern Art

With five centuries of art, MuMa is a modern fiberglass building adjacent to the marina.

Since the late 19th century, Le Havre has been either the birthplace or hometown of many outstanding artists such as Braque, Dubuffet, Frith, Dufy and Monet.

Therefore, the city’s art museums should only be beaten by the Impressionist works of the Musée d’Orsay.

Manet, Renoir, Degas, Sisley, Gauguin and Monet are all household names.

Then you have people like Delacroix, Gustave Courbet and Eugène Boudin who inspired the movement.

In fact, MuMa has the largest single collection of Boudin art in the world.

3. Place de l’Hôtel-de-Ville

Town Hall Square

Inaugurated in 1958, Le Havre’s town hall and square is another cornerstone of Perret’s vision for the city.

The clean and bright mixed-use buildings around the plaza are well maintained, with high ceilings and tall windows reminiscent of neoclassical townhouses.

They abide by Perret’s rule that residents should be able to assert their “right to peace, fresh air, sunshine and space”. The square is a welcoming public space with flower beds, lawns and fountains at the foot of the Town Hall’s 72-meter tower.

4. Port


It may not appeal to everyone, but if you’re interested in industrial infrastructure, you’ll likely spend your time negotiating terminals and service roads in one of the world’s largest shipping ports.

Le Havre, which can serve the largest cargo ships in the world, has implemented some big projects for this: take a map and try to get close to the huge François I locks that connect the canal system to the high seas.

If you need cultural reasons to visit, Claude Monet’s 1872 painting of the harbor sparked the Impressionist movement.

5. Maison de l’Armateur

Maison de l'Armateur

The quai de l’île in Quartier Saint-François showcases the highlights of life in Le Havre at the beginning of the 19th century.

The townhouse, which was planned by Paul-Michel Thibault, who also planned the city’s fortifications, was untouched by the destruction in 1944 and has served as a historic monument since 1950. Monuments are preserved. The Maison de l’Armateur (The Owner’s House) has five atriums around the floors illuminated from the roof by octagonal skylights.

All the furniture and artwork date back to the 1700s and 1800s, and the rooms give you an idea of ​​the people who lived here, such as the treasure chest, the luxury library and the rich merchant’s study.

6. Termont Perret Apartments

Termont Perret

Everyone knows Auguste Perret’s iconic building for Le Havre these days, but what about the architect’s proposal for the city’s citizens who lost their homes to the war? Little is known about apartment interior design.

In this airy model apartment, you’ll see some of Perret’s innovations, such as sliding partitions that give the apartment a modular layout.

Walking from room to room, you might wonder if Perret and his co-designer René Gabriel predicted IKEA’s Scandinavian design and affordable, assembleable furniture.

7. Le Havre Beach

Le Havre Beach

Up from the port, Le Havre’s huge pebble beach has perennial Blue Flag status: the waters are clean, if a little cooler, and on the promenade in summer you’ll have restaurant after restaurant vying for your business.

As for the views, sailing ships out to sea float like seagulls, to the north are the wooded hills that protect the city, to the south are the masts of the sports port, and inland you can see the tower of St. Joseph.

Behind the beach, on the edge of the promenade, is a small town with beach huts, where older locals play petanque in summer.

8. Les Jardins Suspendus

Pause Garden

It’s just a fabulous garden because of its location on top of a hill, a harbour beneath the city, and the way it fits into a 19th century fort.

The site was acquired by the municipality in 2000, and in 2008 this charming botanical garden opened to the public.

You pass through the fort and enter a world of outdoor plots and greenhouses, organized according to the geographic origins of the plants they sustain.

This could be Oceania, North America or East Asia, and there are special themed gardens dedicated to today’s botanical explorers, and one for the Cayeux brothers (two early 20th century botanists in Le Havre).

This attraction is free, except for the greenhouse, which costs two euros to enter.

9. Parc de Rouelles

Parc de Rouelles

Technically a park, but with 160 hectares of rolling fields, ponds and woodlands, Parc de Rouelles is less of an open countryside.

You will have 20 km of paths to navigate and think about the colombier (dovecote), a cylindrical building with a conical roof placed here in 1631. Well worth a stroll is the Deciduous Botanical Garden, with 259 species of trees from 36 families and always being updated with new species.

There are trees from this part of the world, such as beech, chestnut and hornbeam, and some that are definitely not, such as ginkgo, a fake beech native to China and Chile.

The park was painted by teenage Claude Monet in 1858.

10. Natural History Museum

Natural History Museum

In 1944, the Le Havre Museum of Natural History, housed in the city’s former courthouse, lost part of its collection in the devastation of the city, but thankfully only one of its wings was badly damaged.

The head of the institution is Charles Alexandre Lesueur, who collected more than 100,000 taxidermy specimens during an expedition to Australia in the early 19th century.

Some of the things you’ll see were collected by this man about 200 years ago.

You have halls of paleontology, archaeology, ethnology, mineralogy and exhibitions about the esteemed Lesueur.

11. Espace-Oscar-Niemeyer-Le Volcan

Espace-Oscar-Niemeyer-Le Volcan

End your exploration at Le Volcan, a modern UNESCO site in Le Havre, a striking cultural center conceived by Brazilian Oscar Niemeyer, who also designed Brasilia and helped the United Nations in New York building.

Completed in 1982, Le Volcan is famous for its huge white concrete cone and the saucer-shaped library next to it.

The cone contains two theaters, the larger of which seats 800 people, and both buildings are accessible via a space-age spiral walkway.

Meanwhile, the center is nationally known for its theatre, music and dance, so while you’re around, see what’s going on.

12. Le Havre Cathedral

Le Havre Cathedral

Take a whistle blowing tour around the oldest buildings in Le Havre to survive the bombing.

Le Havre Cathedral was built in the late 1500s and features ornate Gothic and Baroque architecture.

It’s not actually a cathedral either, as the Diocese of Le Havre was only established in 1974. During the war, the nave was bombed, but the most impressive features inside were preserved: the grand organ was donated to the cathedral of Cardinal Richelieu, if you check the wooden wrapping pipes Buffet and you will find his badge.

13. District of St. Vincent

In Lower Town, between the rebuilt center and the beach, is a town that survived the disaster in 1944. St. Vincent is based on the Church of St. Vincent de Paul, with a large square decorated with plane trees and connected to streets with 19th century houses and mansions.

Built in the mid-1800s to mimic the historic Norman Romanesque cathedral, the church features a lighthouse at the intersection of the nave and transept.

In the hot summer days, when walking in the shade of trees, painters often set up easels in the square.

14. Dubboc de Breville

Duboca Chi de Breville

One of the largest and most beautiful mansions in the Saint-François district, built in the – beginning of the 17th century.

It was later bought by 18th century navigator and merchant Michel Joseph Dubocage de Bélville with the wealth he gained from his nine-year expedition across the Pacific Ocean from Cape Horn.

The mansion is charming, with gabled, timber and black slate cladding on the exterior, and inside is an illuminating museum about Le Havre’s history and maritime trade.

Maps, Chinese porcelain and a collection of glassware dating from the 16th to 19th centuries are in the permanent exhibition.

15. Food and drink

Monkfish Stew

On the coast, you can warm your cockles with old-fashioned fish dishes like Pot-au Feu de Lotte: a monkfish stewed with leeks and carrots, slow-cooked in white wine for two hours.

This is followed by Pommes Caramélisées aux Fruits Secs, which is self-explanatory, often served with English cream and a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Normandy is truly the land of apples, and the fruit appears in desserts as well as in beverages such as cider and Calvados.

The only cheeses in the region that carry the AOC label are Camembert, Pont l’Evêque, Neufchâtel, so this is a cheese lover’s paradise.

Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Le Havre, France
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