Things to See in Rouen, France
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What to See in Rouen, France

After staying in super expensive Paris for a few days, I needed to get somewhere more affordable. I figured somewhere outside of the main metro area would be cheaper, and after searching on AirBNB I found a little grouping of apartments for short-term rental in a nearby city called Rouen.

While I was familiar with the name “Rouen” due to one particular scene in A Knight’s Tale (2001), I didn’t know much about the actual city itself. Turns out it’s famous for being the deathplace of Joan of Arc, as well as some old gothic churches and wonderful street art.

Rouen was founded by the Gauls, then taken over by the Romans, became one of the capitals of the Anglo-Norman and Angevin dynasties in the medieval era and continued onward in history as a major city in France. (Read more about Rouen’s history here.) That means is there’s a ton of old stuff to look at!

I ended up staying in Rouen for about 3 weeks, and I really enjoyed it! Here’s a compilation of some things I did while in Rouen, plus an overview of where I stayed and how I got there.

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From Paris to Rouen by train

Traveling around France by train is super easy, and it’s generally very affordable. Because Rouen is so close to Paris, I just booked a regular local TER train through the SCNF website for $13.52 USD. Rouen is actually only 1.5 hours away from Paris, and it’s common for people to commute in for work so there’s tons of trains going back and forth all day. If you’re staying in Paris, you could totally go to Rouen on a daytrip.

We left from Saint-Lazare station, which actually was a pretty nice station near Montmartre neighborhood. The train was clean, but super busy, and I struggled a bit to get my suitcase loaded into the luggage rack before we took off.

Rouen Station is really nice as well! It has lots of seats, dedicated power-charging seating areas and huge ceilings. You do have to pay to use the toilets, though.

🛌 Looking for a place to stay in Rouen?

What to See in Rouen

It’s easy to get around town, as Rouen has a small tramway system plus some buses, which works great for getting to the outskirts. But really, the main part of town is super walkable and you can see basically everything in a day if you really put effort into it. I spent most of my sightseeing just wandering around looking at stuff.

A tramway in Rouen, France, moving along the tracks with buildings in the background.
Rouen Tramway

This is roughly in clockwise order from the train station.

Donjon de Rouen

Joan of Arc was imprisoned in the castle that used to be here! Now it’s only a tower.

Free, and only open weekends from 10:00am-3:00pm with a break from 12:30-1:30pm. More info here.

Address: Rue du Donjon

Museum of Natural History & Museum of Antiquities

I really liked this museum– or at least I liked half of it! The rooms featuring artifacts from the Roman era and onwards were great, with some amazing statues, tapestries, pots, etc.! But the natural history part was so weird: tons of taxidermy animals inside of glass cabinets.

Free entry, open Tuesday-Sunday afternoons, closed Mondays. More info here.

Address: 198 Rue Beauvoisine

👉 Check out my review of the museum(s) here!

Churches, Cathedrals, etc.

Do you like gothic cathedrals? Do you love visiting ones with barely any tourists and tons of room for taking as many photos as you’d like? And all of them free entry? Come to Rouen! It was literally only me and three old French tourists looking at these amazing old churches.

Abbaye Saint-Ouen de Rouen & l’Hôtel-de-Ville Garden

This church has 80 stained glass windows and a huge organ. It was founded in 750, with the current building begun in 1318 and finished in 1537. It’s a mix of several Gothic styles, mostly Late Gothic and Flamboyant with some Neo-Gothic added via the west facade which was built in the late 19th centuries. More about the abbey’s history here.

The garden is behind the abbey and has some nice places to sit and watch the birds.

Free entry, open Tuesday-Sunday from 10am-6pm, closed Mondays and Fridays. More info here.

Address: 27 rue Victor-Hugo

Église Saint-Vivien de Rouen

The historic Église Saint-Vivien de Rouen, featuring its tower and gothic architecture.

This is the only church in Normandy to be devoted to St. Vivian, whose relics were brought here in 1459. Rebuilt after a fire in the 14th century and extensively remodeled afterwards, including a tower addition in the 16th century. More history info here (French).

Address: Place Saint-Viven

Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Rouen

Almost every big city in France has a Notre-Dame cathedral with similar architecture, so if you’re upset about missing out on the Notre-Dame de Paris because it wasn’t finished being fixed up, then get your tourism fix here in Rouen.

This is one of those churches with tons of history, as some form of church has been here since 395. Rebuilding from Viking raids, damage, fires, etc. and then expanding and adding on elements through the years led to the final look here. Lots of interesting things to see here, including King Richard I’s embalmed heart.

You can take a virtual tour of the church here (French).

Free entry, open Monday 2-7pm, Tuesday-Sunday 8am-6pm. More info here.

Address: Esplanade Marcel Duchamp

Temple Saint-Éloi

Rebuilt in 1358, enlarged in the 15th century and then renovated in the 16th century to look as it does now. I only stopped for a moment to take photos of its intriguing exterior, with those gables.

Turns out it’s only open on Sundays for service, anyway, so the exterior is really all you can see.

Address: 20 Place Martin Luther King

Aitre Saint Maclou

The Aitre Saint Maclou, historically used as a cemetery, now an arts school.

Used as a cemetery location since Roman times, but expanded during the Black Death of 1348 which killed 3/4 of the local inhabitants. Not as gory or macabre a place to visit as you might expect, as it’s used as a fine arts school nowadays. More info on its history here.

Free to visit, open to the public but I don’t think you can go into the buildings unless you’re a student.

Address: 188 rue de Martainville

Le Gros-Horloge

An astronomical clock dating back to the 14th century! I love old science stuff like this, and the street it’s found on is super cute, too.

Free! It’s in a public space so it’s available all day for viewing.

Address: 27 rue Victor-Hugo

Seine River

Lovely walkways all along the river, and it mostly doesn’t smell unless it’s been raining a lot. Lots of nice places to sit and look at the water, with small gardens and parks all along it.

Place du Vieux-Marché & St Joan of Arc’s Church

If you really love Joan of Arc, Rouen is the place to be! This is the public square was Joan was executed in 1431, and a modern church dedicated to her. It was super difficult to get good photos of this area so I didn’t really bother; it’s more of a spot for locals to sit and have lunch than a fascinating tourist destination anyway. The church is modern, and fairly ugly (no offense to those who love it).

Nearby you can find small streets full of art!

Street Art

The area all around this particular part of town has very good street art! And in fact, the town government has a street art initiative to put some amazing murals and other works up. They have a map of major works here (French).

Cimetière Monumental

This is far from anything else on this list, but it’s a really good cemetery if you’re into that sort of thing. It opened in 1828 and is on top of a hill with a great view of the town below. You can find graves for famous French people I personally haven’t heard of, and a few I’m familiar with like Marcel Duchamp and Gustave Flaubert (who has a museum elsewhere in Rouen, in his former residence).

Free to enter, opening times vary through the year but basically 8:30am-12:00pm, then 2:00pm to sunset. More info here.

Address: Rue du Mesnil Grémichon

Stuff I didn’t get to doing but seems fun

  • Musée Flaubert d’Histoire de la Médecine
  • Rouen Museum of Fine Arts
  • Musée Le Secq des Tournelles

Is Rouen worth visiting?

If you really have a hankering to see Gothic architecture, medieval buildings, ancient Roman artifacts and Joan of Arc stuff, then going to Rouen as a daytrip from Paris is worth the effort. There’s fewer crowds and a lot of cool stuff to look at.

For digital nomad folks, Rouen could actually be a great place to make as a base, especially since you can get back into Paris so easily.


Europe 2022 Travel Diaries

Journal date: September 2-23, 2022

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Anastasia is a former librarian turned digital nomad. She's been traveling the world full time for two years and has visited 18 countries so far! Just Gone Wandering is a travel resource for solo female travelers on a backpacker's budget-- or slightly more-- and highlights amazing places to visit as well as providing tips and tricks for traveling smart and frugal. Read more...

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