Honfleur is considered a place where time stood still. Wooden architecture, colorful sights, unforgettable atmosphere create a feeling of moving to the Middle Ages. The fairytale town has preserved its cobblestone sidewalks, its quaintly shaped half-timbered houses, its narrow streets, and its picturesque old port. Claude Monet claimed that the beauty of Honfleur was maddening. Charles Baudelaire called the cozy corner in northern France a work of art and the most vivid dream.
Useful information about Honfleur
Honfleur is the most visited French commune by tourists. Located on an area of 13.67 km2 in the Calvados department of the Normandy region.
A calling card: the city harbor with narrow houses, yachts, an old carousel, wooden churches. Paintings by artists, postcards, and photographs have replicated the view around the world. To look in Honfleur is to see “St. Bernadette.” The last ancient fishing sloop is moored in the old port.
Population – 7440 people (2014).
The name of the city has several interpretations:
- The ancient Scandinavian word translates as “turn or bend of a river;
- variant – “the refuge of Hon at the mouth of the river;
- In France, Honfleur is associated with the word “fleur”, i.e. “flower.”
The picturesque area is called the Floral Bank by the residents.
History of Honfleur
All the attractions of Honfleur are closely linked to its history. In the early 10th century, the Vikings conquered the mouth of the Seine. Exiled from Norway, Rolf (Rollon) became the owner of a land he called Normandy. After 100 years, his descendant, Duke Richard III, drew attention to the advantageous location of the safe harbor, which he purchased as a private property. In 1027 information about Honfleur appears in the Chronicle of the Duke. The river port becomes the main transshipment trading base. In the course of the century, the city passed to the British several times, was subjected to destruction, and was a pirate base.
The conclusion of the Hundred Years’ War gave impetus to the rapid development of maritime trade. From here the ships of famous navigators set out on dangerous voyages. With the advent of the port of Le Havre and the sinking of the harbor, the city of Normandy acquired the status of cultural and tourist center.
The seaside resort in the 19th century became a favorite destination for artists and musical bohemians. Renoir, Sisley, Cézanne, Pissarro worked here. Famous natives are Eugène Boudin, Eric Satie, Henri de Rainier. The 19th-century Impressionists’ love of the picturesque spots on the banks of the Seine brought the city great fame. Located on the hill, the Saint-Simeon Inn was the chosen meeting place for creative personalities. The old harbor, toy houses, yachts, magnificent landscapes are embodied in the works of artists.
World War II did not destroy the city, which has retained its ancient atmosphere and inimitable wooden architecture.
Where do I start on my route to Honfleur?
Experienced travelers advise, when visiting the abode of sailors and impressionists do not hurry to explore the many museums, churches, monuments. Getting to know the amazing place can take only a couple of hours, leaving time to see the main sights of Honfleur. To get a charge of romance, to understand the soul of the colorful city, you should just walk the streets, explore the embankment of St. Catherine, climb the Grasse Hill, which offers a beautiful view of the ocean.
Locals recommend paying special attention to the following:
- The old harbor is surrounded by tightly pressed houses resembling ships. They give Honfleur an unconventional but very unusual appearance.
- The narrow medieval streets are lined with stone. They were built for the passage of a rider with a spear on his back.
- Centuries-old sidewalks are covered with straw. You get the feeling that people ride here even nowadays.
- Every house is a work of art. The original diagonal-beam frame structure is filled with coniferous wood, and the roof is covered with wooden “scales. The facades are built of stained oak and painted turquoise, blue, blue, and green.
- History has left its mark on the architecture of buildings of different styles and centuries. In Honfleur you can find Norman half-timbered buildings, stone and modern houses. At the entrance to the tourist center, a small fountain with figurines of mussel collectors will remind you of the maritime traditions of its inhabitants.
- In the old harbor between the houses and the harbor are cozy cafes. Norman oysters, shrimp, scallops, and buckwheat crepes are worth tasting. When you notice a van with a drawn jolly cow, you can’t miss a farmer’s ice cream made of natural ingredients. 80 kinds of treats with caramel, mango, yogurt and other ingredients will satisfy the taste of any gourmet.
Top 8 attractions in Honfleur
The question of what to see in Honfleur is not difficult. There are 57 historical monuments: ancient castles, museums, churches, parks and gardens with unexpected exhibits.
The building is the only structure with the old city gate left from the military fortifications. Here lived the royal lieutenants who ran the port. The house combines buildings from different eras. The towers protruding from the facade in the old days were built only by members of the noble family. In the 18th century, the building belonged to the Governor of Honfleur.
Notre Dame de Grasse
Construction began in 1600 and lasted 15 years. The Christian structure was built on the site of the original chapel, which was placed by Duke Richard II of Normandy (1023). The raging elements destroyed the ship, leaving no hope of salvation. The Duke turned his prayers to Our Lady. After his miraculous rescue, he built the Chapel of Our Lady of Thanksgiving, where sailors began to come for a blessing before setting sail. The object is famous for its powerful positive energy.
The chapel stands on Thanksgiving Shore Street. You can get there on foot or by car.
Church of St. Catherine of Alexandria
Shipwrights of past centuries decorated Honfleur with ancient structures of churches. The sights of France have become the pride of national culture. No nails were used in the construction of the largest wooden church of St. Catherine. The roof is covered with old chestnut shingles.
Tourists associate the church with an inverted ship, the construction of which was commonplace for sea craftsmen. The temple servants think differently. The form of the ship is the oldest type of cult structure. He protects believers from the destructive waves of life’s voyages. Several times the huge bell tower on the hill reflected lightning strikes and saved the church itself from fire.
Today, the belfry houses the branch of the E. Budena. A working organ from Rouen is installed inside the temple. Sculptures of musicians decorate the Renaissance balcony. Unforgettable emotions of the visitors are explained by the accumulated energy of the parishioners, who for 6 centuries have been asking for protection from higher powers.
Church of St. Etienne (Maritime Museum)
One of the oldest buildings in Honfleur was built in the 15th century. Catholics for five centuries attended the Gothic-style church. Nowadays the building houses a maritime museum. Numerous exhibits are assembled into a unique collection. Honfleur’s historic landmark is unparalleled. Here you can get acquainted with the outstanding navigators, famous for their water voyages.
Special tours are organized for Russian-speaking tourists. The Normandy Museum building is located on the waterfront. The church, which stretches along the shore and has a Gothic dome, was built of cayenne stone.
Eric Satie’s House
The eccentric composer of the early 20th century was born in Honfleur. The interactive museum is filled with the fantastic music of the reformer who invented the “furnishing” genre. With the help of headphones tourists plunge into the world of musical images of the composer. A ghost at a white grand piano under a giant pear with wings performs compositions filled with mysticism. The museum features rare drawings of the famous pianist and his contemporaries.
Eugène Boudin Museum
On the street of the Forest Man in the premises of the chapel is a museum of the founder of Impressionism, a native of the city. The sights of Honfleur and France were the 92 paintings of the master and the works of Claude Monet on display in the museum. Several floors contain collections of costumes, hats, and buttons from different centuries. Huge metal gates, walls, and a road laced with plants complete the beautiful view of the river and bridge.
Naturospace Botanical Garden
The unique location is 600 meters from the Old Port and deserves special attention. The climate-controlled grounds include more than just a botanical garden and museum. Rare tropical butterflies, exotic birds have found their home in Normandy. An unforgettable journey into the world of equatorial flora, abundance of flowers surrounded by free-flying birds and butterflies is through direct contact and by special means. They create ideal conditions for observation that are not possible in the wild.
150 species of butterflies from Kenya, Costa Rica, Malaysia, the Philippines, Guyana, with different colors and shapes of wings are not afraid of people and drink orange juice directly from the finger. Tours are accompanied by rare birds with lace crests, small species of colorful parrots from tropical islands, and partridges with metallic plumage from the forests of Asia. The botanical collection of floral diversity is represented by 400 species of exotic plants, tropical fruits and fragrant spices.
The sight of Honfleur is located right behind the House of Butterflies. Small gardens are created in the shape of boats. A profusion of flowers and greenery surrounds the busts of artists who made Honfleur famous. Among the small ponds is a sculpture of Turgenev’s Mumu. The doggie survived, but acquired a mermaid’s tail. The initiator of the installation of the world’s only monument to love and loneliness is filmmaker Yuri Grymov.
At the annual Russian Film Festival in Honfleur, his film was sympathetically received by the French. The figure was placed on the very spot where Maupassant wanted to end his life several times. After a while, the beloved sculpture disappeared. The residents of Honfleur turned to the Russian embassy for help. Now a place in the reeds is occupied by Chekhov’s Kashtanka.
How to get to Honfleur?
The French love to come to a romantic city for the weekend in their own cars.
Options for tourists:
- Honfleur is easily accessible from Le Havre by a cable-stayed bridge spanning the Seine. The length of the structure is 2,350 m. The longest suspension bridge in the world is one of the attractions of Honfleur and France.
- From Paris for a couple of hours you can take a bus (Gare Saint-Lazare station) or train (gare Saint-Lazare) to Deauville, which is ten kilometers from Honfleur. There is no railroad in the city. Bus number 20 will take passengers to the central square.
- For motorists: road A13 – sortie Beuzeville – N13 – A28 – sortie Honfleur. The distance is 200 km.
- Deauville-Normandy Airport serves international and domestic flights. Located near Honfleur (10 km).
- It is convenient to rent a car for the trip. The cost of the service is much lower than what cab drivers offer.
Honfleur sights on the map
Video overview of the sights of Honfleur
The exclusivity of Honfleur, the main attraction of France, was explained by Monet. The artist claimed that new and more beautiful things were being discovered here every day. The cradle of Impressionism is compared to an antique relic that has survived in a single copy on the planet.