Updated on 14 April 2021
Reading time: 3 minutes
Ports don’t come any prettier than Honfleur on the Seine estuary. Colourful half-timbered houses jostle for position on the quays, along with art galleries and restaurants. Packed with things to see and do, it’s not for nothing that Honfleur is one of the most popular places to visit in France.
DISCOVER THE PORT’S MARITIME HISTORY
Honfleur is so enchanting that people often forget it was originally built for trade. The harbour was chosen for its strategic location on the southern bank of the Seine estuary. During the Hundred Years’ War, the French king fortified the port, although that didn’t stop the English taking over for several decades.
Before the French Revolution, Honfleur’s shipowners made their fortune from trading, especially with North America. Samuel de Champlain, one of the most famous explorers associated with the port, headed off from Honfleur to found the Canadian city of Quebec. Lucrative trade for the Honfleur shipping magnates included cod-fishing off Newfoundland and the triangular slave trade.
STROLL AROUND THE VIEUX BASSIN
Wealthy Honfleur families built their multi-storey homes packed tight next to each other, especially around the Vieux Bassin, the heart of the port, where a front-row home overlooking the boats was a real sign of status. Although there are no longer any commercial ships or fishing boats in the Vieux Bassin (they are now moored to larger docks), it’s not uncommon to see yachts there. Shops fight for space along the quays in this extraordinarily picturesque setting, while restaurants set up their outdoor seating across the cobbles.
The neighbourhoods on each side of the Vieux Bassin all have their own character. The neighbourhood to the east is full of interesting buildings including the Church of Saint-Etienne, while that to the west extends uphill to the splendid wooden church of Sainte-Catherine and Honfleur’s main art museums. The neighbourhood to the south of the harbour is more low-key but boasts some lesser-known gems such as the Church of Saint-Léonard and the restored fountains.
FOLLOW IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF THE IMPRESSIONISTS
Honfleur’s beauty has long attracted artists, with works of art to be found in the town’s many museums and galleries. Honfleur takes particular pride in its Impressionist roots – Claude Monet’s mentor Eugène Boudin was born in the town, and Monet and his contemporaries would often set up their easels at the Ferme Saint-Siméon on the hill above Honfleur, to capture the beautiful light of the Seine estuary.
Visitors to Honfleur can easily explore the Seine Estuary for themselves by taking a stroll through Honfleur’s public gardens to its very own beach, or visiting the Chapel of Notre-Dame de Grâce to look out over Honfleur and beyond. Alternatively, take a boat trip out onto the estuary from Honfleur or even walk right up onto the Pont de Normandie bridge, which affords phenomenal panoramic views of the estuary from above.