Cherbourg-en-Cotentin

Normandie Tourisme
Cherbourg, one of France’s great Channel ports, is closely linked to French naval history, and to transatlantic adventures – the Titanic even made its final stop here on its fateful journey, as recalled at the Cité de la Mer, one of the port’s main tourist attractions.

Cherbourg

One of France's great Channel ports

Known to the British above all as a ferry port, Cherbourg has a gritty history as a naval harbour. It also has glamorous connections with cruise ships and major yacht races. Located at the top of Normandy’s substantial, western Cotentin Peninsula, the deep natural harbour here is backed by steep wooded hillsides. It was an obvious place for a fortified port.

In the Ancien Régime, it was decided to add massive man-made defences to protect Cherbourg from English invasion. A vast system of seawalls was begun. These were extended after the Revolution, under Napoleon, whose ashes arrived back here from St Helena – which explains an evident attachment to the controversial emperor in the town, in the form of a prominent equestrian statue. Eventually, Cherbourg boasted the largest manmade harbour in the world, lined by sea forts completed by the 1850s. Although by this time Britain had become an ally, the seawalls protected the harbour from high seas and storms.

Before the outbreak of World War I, cruise liners would stop in Cherbourg before crossing the Atlantic. In fact, this would be the tragic Titanic’s last stop before it went down. However, liners continued to make a halt here. In 1929 alone, 300,000 passengers passed through. In the 1950s, the likes of Rita Hayworth and Elizabeth Taylor set foot on Cherbourg’s quay.

All Cherbourg’s naval defences could not protect the place from being taken by the Nazis in June 1940. Much of the harbour was destroyed in World War II. After D-Day, though, American troops rapidly took back the port. In a monumental effort, they restored the harbour so that it briefly became the busiest port in the world.

Reconstruction was in modern style. Post-war, French nuclear submarines have been built here. Alongside the ferry port, a yachting marina has been created. In recent times, cruise liners have returned from time to time. As well as many seafood restaurants, there are now a good number of museums and exhibition centres to enjoy in Cherbourg.

 

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Practical information

The tourist office

La cité de la Mer