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Rouen (pronounced “rue-wah”, and yes, with the French “Rrrrrr”) is the capital of the upper Normandy region of France. It is a compact but delightfully medieval town with all of the sights within walking distance of each other and the train station, and easily accessible by rail being situated just 135km northwest of Paris, making it an easy and enjoyable day trip from the nation’s capital.
Rouen is perhaps best known as the place where Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake in 1431. Indeed, the site of her pyre now marks the central marketplace, where a modern church in the shape of an upturned Viking ship or fish has been built in her honour. Naturally, this would be the first stop on the day of my visit.
From the train station, I headed south on Rue Jeanne d’Arc. Rue des Bons Enfants, lined by marvellously medieval shops and homes, caught my eye, so I turned right here, and then left again at Rue Sainte Croix des Pelletiers until I caught sight of the church at the Place du Vieux Marche.
After viewing the interior, you may like to wander through the next door food market before heading east along the Rue du Gros Horloge. This path takes you to the astronomical clock, which you can climb for a view of the city. As there were several sights still on my list, I decided to keep going east until I reached the Notre Dame Cathedral of Rouen, the subject of several of Monet’s paintings.
As I had pre-purchased some food while at Gare St Lazare in Paris, after admiring the interiors, I was able to sit at the pleasant square outside the cathedral and appreciate the Gothic facade while munching on my lunch.
When you’re ready, continue east to the right hand side of the cathedral on the Rue des Bonnetiers until you reach the T junction with Rue de la Republique. Turn left and then take the first right after that onto Place Barthélemy. You will see the Eglise Saint Maclou before you. I was unable to visit the church interior as there was a wedding ceremony in progress the day I was there.
Road train chugging along in front of the Eglise St Maclou. I did not ride the train, but encountered it several times throughout the day at various tourist attractions, so it seems to be a good option for those who do not wish to walk.
Now walk to the left hand side of the church on Rue Martainville. The Aitre St Maclou is at #184. This former graveyard for plague victims is now visited mainly for the macabre skull and bone carvings on the buildings surrounding the quadrangle, but I found it a surprisingly peaceful spot to rest my feet momentarily.
Head back the way you came, and hang right at Rue Damiette. Enjoy your stroll through this quieter part of town flanked by quaint old shops, in particular pausing at the Place du Lieutenant Aubert to admire this brilliant purple restaurant which immediately caught my attention.
Now continue straight ahead on Rue des Boucheries Saint Ouen until you come face-to-face with the Abbey of St Ouen. I’m not sure if the abbey is open to the public as it was quite late by the time I got there. Nevertheless, it would still be a worthwhile walk to the abbey as its exterior really is rather magnificent. Furthermore, it is surrounded by a slightly elevated lush parkland, making it a lovely tranquil spot to view the town.
Suitably rested, you can now turn back the way you came again, turning left at Rue Eau de Robec, a picture perfect street with central waterway.
You can now either head straight to the train station, or back to the town centre, pausing to visit some of the artisanal stores, bakeries, cafés or restaurants before making your return journey to Paris.
By train – From Gare St Lazare in Paris, it is a roughly 80-90 minute train ride to Rouen. You can easily purchase tickets on the day, but if you don’t mind sacrificing flexibility, it seems to be cheaper to pre-purchase them online. A simple search on the SNCF website indicates ticket prices ranging from €10-23.50 one way. I purchased same day tickets for €23.50 one way.
By car – If you’d like to drive, I would include Rouen as part of a longer trip taking in more of the sights of Normandy, for instance the Mont St Michel. Rouen is just over 90 minutes northwest of Paris on the A13.
Do consider a visit to this charming little town. I think you’ll find it a rather enjoyable day trip!
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