La Rochelle, Charente-Maritime: tourism & sightseeing

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La Rochelle is on the western coast of France, in the Charente-Maritime department.

La Rochelle is certainly among the most attractive port towns of France, and is a very pleasant place to visit and to pass a few days. Because there is a great deal to see and do in La Rochelle we have several sections about the highlights of the town (see below).

Things to see in La Rochelle

The focus of the town is the old harbour, a lovely part of the town and very picturesque with its two monumental towers (St Nicolas Tower and the Tower of the Chain) either side of the port entrance, through which you can watch the boats enter. A third tower, the 'Tower of the Lantern' is connected to the Chain Tower by a section of the ramparts that originally defended the town.

panorama photo of La Rochelle
panoramic photo of La Rochelle - part of the view from the Saint Nicolas Tower

The old town, just behind the harbour, is extensive and also very well preserved and restored and dates mostly from the 17th and 18th centuries. The main shopping streets especially have many fine buildings, but you will also need to explore the side streets in this part of the town.

The whole of the historic centre of La Rochelle has an impressive unified appearance, with arcaded streets, houses constructed in the local light stone, and light grey shutters. Boutiques now occupy the ground floor of many of the buildings.

Exploring La Rochelle centre

colourful market in La Rochelle

La Rochelle falls into several 'regions' including:

- the harbour, with the old town and historical centre, is the centre of activity and interest within the town and contains many of the most important monuments. See La Rochelle old town.

- the three towers and the ramparts - see La Rochelle Towers

- the section around the old market - see La Rochelle market

- the large, modern port section a couple of kilometres south at Port des Minimes

The harbour region is well supplied with fish restaurants, and before dinner the walls of the old town are a popular and pleasant place for an evening promenade, as is the harbour front. The harbour is very active, with boats, numerous buskers, market stalls selling a wide range of products (mostly 'arty') and a general lively atmosphere.

Notable highlights

cloisters with gardens

As well as the harbour and old town there are several individual highlights in La Rochelle that are interesting to visitors, such as:

- Across the harbour from La Rochelle old town is a very popular aquarium - see La Rochelle Aquarium

- La Rochelle has several museums, including the Natural History Museum - see La Rochelle Natural History Museum

- There is a small beach in the town - just along the harbour from the Lantern Tower. The beach is attractive at high tide although not very impressive at low tide when large stretches of slippery rock must be crossed to reach the sea. Most people head to Ile-de-Ré for better beaches.

- The town also has some attractive gardens to explore

Other activities nearby

harbour at sunset

The tourist office can give you a very good guide for walking around La Rochelle - both within the city and surrounding region. The same brochure also includes many bike rides and bike paths in the city.

Boat trips from the harbour to nearby islands are popular - including trips to Ile de Ré, Ile d'Oleron and Fort Boyard (well known among French people because of a television 'action quiz' that is filmed there).

While Ile de Ré has lovely beaches it is also necessary to use a toll bridge to get to the island. If you want to avoid paying these charges too often you might like to try the small resort at Chatelaillon Plage, a short distance south of La Rochelle along the Charente-Maritime coast.

You will better understand the town if you know a little of the history of La Rochelle

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

See also:

Map of La Rochelle and places nearby

Visit near La Rochelle with France This Way reviews

... or see ALL recommended places to visit in Charente-Maritime

Tourist classifications for La Rochelle

La Rochelle is classified as a historical protected town centre' (secteur sauvegardé)

Address: Rochelle, Poitou-Charentes, 17000, France || GPS: latitude 46.158, longitude -1.153

Plan your visit to La Rochelle, Charente-Maritime

Sightseeing & tourist attractions to visit nearby

  • Aquarium de La Rochelle: aquarium
  • La Flotte-en-Re: most beautiful village (14 km)
  • Saint-Martin-de-Ré citadelle (Vauban fortifications): heritage site (17 km)
  • Marans: ville fleurie 4* (21 km)
  • Jardins du phare de Chassiron: remarkable garden (22 km)
  • Jardins de la Boirie: remarkable garden (27 km)
  • Rochefort: town of art and history (28 km)
  • Ars-en-Re: most beautiful village (28 km)
  • Forêt de Benon: site of natural beauty (29 km)
  • Baie de l'Aiguillon: site of natural beauty (29 km)
  • Eglise de Notre-Dame de l'Assomption (Maille): religious monument (35 km)

Market days in La Rochelle, France

Regular market(s) are held in La Rochelle each every day. (Markets are held in the morning unless stated.)

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