Visit Boulogne-sur-Mer (Nord-Pas-de-Calais, France)
Boulogne is a town on the Opal Coast in the Calais region of northern France, at the mouth of the River Liane. The 'proper' name for the town is Boulogne-sur-Mer. It is the sea-facing side of Boulogne-sur-Mer that lies behind the long history and development of the town.
2000 years ago Boulogne was the main port for Roman trading activity with England, and today it is still the most important fishing port in France. Despite the opening of the channel tunnel and reduced ferry passenger volumes Boulogne is also still an important cross-channel ferry port, bringing visitors and holidaymakers from the UK.
Often bypassed by visitors heading further south in France, Boulogne is an attractive resort with nice sandy beaches close to hand, and a visit is recommended. It is the old town around the ramparts, castle and cathedral that a visit will focus.
You can enter the old town through one of the four original gateways through the defences. A good way to start to explore the town is then to follow the walk around the 13th century ramparts of the old town, whic have good views both into the old town and out to the sea and across the 'new' town.
The old town is quite small and interesting to explore, and many of the properties have been extensively restored in recent years.
Within the old town it is the Cathedral of Notre-Dame that will first catch your attention - or at least the cathedral dome which dominates the skyline and is one of the largest in Europe. The cathedral was built in the middle of the 19th century to replace the previous cathedral that had been destroyed during the revolution.
Inside the cathedral it is also the view into the 101 metre high dome from below that is the highlight. The substantial crypt below the cathedral holds the treasury, with many decorative items in gold and silver.
The Rue de Lille, just outside the cathedral, is a pleasant pedestrian street with shops and cafes.
Another substantial monument is the castle that forms part of the fortifications. The drawbridge and moats are still intact (or rather, have been reinstated), and inside you can see such grand rooms as the salons and the chapel.
A museum, featuring many interesting exhibits and an impressive collection of Egyptian artefacts, is housed within the castle (and has been for almost 200 years).
The belfry in Boulogne is also of interest. It is one of a series of belfries across northern France and Belgium that are now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built as part of an earlier castle in the 12th century it is also the oldest building in Boulogne-sur-Mer.
Below the belfry you can see the imposing 18th century Town Hall. The facade of the neo-classical style Palace of Justice is another important monument here, with statues of Napoleon and Charlemagne inset either side of the building.
Napoleon and the Imperial Town
Having explored the old town the other aspect to Boulogne is the Imperial Town, with impressive buildings dating from the time when Napoleon was based here in Boulogne ('his grand army' were based here in readiness for the conquest of England). These buildings include the Imperial Palace and, on the coast, the Grand Colonne stands on the site where Napoleon once looked across the channel as he planned his attack on England.
Nausicaa Marine Centre
Boulogne-sur-Mer is now home to the French National Marine Centre - the impressive Nausicaa sea-life centre - and is very worth visiting to see a wide range of marine wildlife and also to learn about the impacts of over-fishing and pollution on the sea - Nausicaa has an impressive focus on the environment, sustainable development and the impact of tourism. Note: although Nausicaa has a serious goal it doesn't reduce the pleasure of a visit!
Photos taken within 10 km
Tourist classifications for Boulogne-sur-Mer
Boulogne-sur-Mer has received the following tourist classifications: listed town of Art and History ; village in bloom (ville fleurie) 4*;
Address: Boulogne-sur-Mer, Pas-de-Calais, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, 62200 || GPS: latitude 50.7264, longitude 1.61472
Map of Boulogne-sur-Mer & places nearby
Highlights close by
Le Touquet 23km
Suggested tourist attractions to visit near Boulogne-sur-Mer, France
- Beffroi de Boulogne-sur-Mer (Belfries of Belgium and France) - heritage site
- Nausicaa - Centre national de la mer - aquarium
- Column of the Grand Army - national monument
- Cap Gris-Nez - site of natural beauty (15km)
- Caps et Marais d'Opale - regional natural parc (21km)
- Cap Blanc-Nez / Cap Gris-Nez - grand site of france (23km)
- Mareis - aquarium (23km)
- Le Touquet - ville fleurie 4* (23km)
- Saint-Josse - ville fleurie 4* (29km)
- Beffroi de Calais (Belfries of Belgium and France) - heritage site (30km)
Market days in Boulogne-sur-Mer: Regular market(s) are held in Boulogne-sur-Mer each Wednesday. (Markets are held in the morning unless stated.)
The French version of this page is at Boulogne-sur-Mer (Francais)