La Rochelle Natural History Museum visitor guide

Photo of La Rochelle Natural History Museum

Visit La Rochelle Natural History Museum, France

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The Natural History Museum in La Rochelle largely presents the colections of the great French explorers of the early 19th century, as they set out to discover the unexplored regions of the world. The museum is very effective at making you realise how extraordinary the world must have seemed to people at that time.

Explore La Rochelle Natural History Museum

The tour of the museum starts with exhibits of the flora and fauna native to the Poitou-Charentes region - lizards, fish, insects, small mammals etc - presented in numerous glass display cabinets. It also has an educational purpose, explaining the problems caused by some of the invasive species such as the ragondin and the muskrat.

The real adventure starts as you go to the first floor, passing a giraffe that was presented to Charles X in 1826, and was the first giraffe to be seen in France. A present from Egypt, the giraffe walked the 800 kilometres from Marseille to Paris to be presented to the King, attracting a great deal of attention on the way. The giraffe spent many years living in France and being admired, and was carefully preserved after its death.

The first floor contains numerous stuffed animals - bison, gnou, anteaters, tiger, zebra, gorilla etc - and is a slightly startling room to find yourself in, so lifelike are the animals: you really expect them to leap to life, although the choice of animals - a polar bear next to a tiger for example, makes you feel a little like being on a Walt Disney film set.

Be sure to search out Himantolophus rheinhardtii, a curious beast in a glass tank that has surely been the inspiration for many a horror film alien!


Moving past drawings and etchings prepared by the early explorers you reach the floor dedicated to primitive life and activities. Weapons, decorative tribal gear, figurines and so on...and a couple of shrunken heads.

The top floor is perhaps the most fascinating of all in the La Rochelle Natural History Museum. With a focus on primitive religions, sacred beliefs and shamanism, there are numerous very large exhibits of sculptures, statues and costumes. Among the highlights are the two-headed person near the entrance, the voodoo statue (replete with nails) and the startling red-cloth 'person' at the far end of the hall.

During the course of the visit you also see videos showing how the masks and implements were used in rituals, what kind of music was played, and the function of various of the exhibits.

Overall a visit to the museum was much more interesting than I had anticipated, is both entertaining and educational, and is highly recommended.

Attractions nearby

Adjacent to the museum, the Jardin des Plantes is a large and carefully planted garden with numerous interesting plants (free to enter even if you don't visit the museum).

For details of some of the many other attractions in the town, such as the La Rochelle aquarium, please see our detailed guide to La Rochelle, or see other museums in France">.

You can find more travel ideas in the Charente-Maritime guide and the Poitou-Charentes guide.

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The French version of this page is at La Rochelle Natural History Museum (Francais)