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Travel / Tours / France / Boulogne
Visit Boulogne-sur-Mer in France
  Fishing harbour
  Lower town
  Upper town: ramparts
  Place de la Resistance
  Rue de Lille
  Notre Dame of Boulogne
  Castle museum
  Further information


A brief introduction to Boulogne in northern France.

Calais, Boulogne and the North of France
(hotel/restaurant guide)
Author: Patricia Fenn
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Date: January 2002

Calais/Boulogne Shoppers Map
(street map)
Publisher: Estate Publications
Date: December 2002

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Boulogne is a popular destination for people from the UK who want to make a day-trip to do some shopping in France. Auchan hypermarket is located about 10 minutes' drive from Boulogne. There is a very large supermarket inside. Wine, beer and washing powder are popular items to buy because these are much cheaper than in the UK. There are also many smaller shops inside the hypermarket, including several restaurants.

There is a frequent bus service (line 8) between here and the town's bus station (which is located in the port area, a short walk from the fishing harbour).

Stocking up on wine and washing powder

Bienvenue (welcome): entrance to the supermarket

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Boulevard Gambetta, opposite the fish market, is the area where the fishermen unload their catches. Boulogne is France's largest fishing port and is a centre for the fish processing industry.

Statue of a
typical local fisherman

Fishing trawlers
in the harbour

Statue of a woman wearing
the traditional local dress

If you walk towards the bridge (Pont Marguet) and continue straight ahead along Boulevard de la Poste (past the bus station), you will find a main road on your left called Rue de la Lampe Grande. This road leads to the centre of the Lower Town.

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Saint Nicholas's Church is the oldest church in Boulogne: the original building dates originally from the 13th century. Note that the church is usually closed between midday and 3pm. Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors and children. The festival of Saint Nicholas is celebrated here on the first Saturday of December.

You can find several stalls along the road selling fish. Fresh seafood is a particular speciality in the restaurants.
There are many shops to explore in the Lower Town (many of these are closed between midday and 2pm).

St Nicholas' Church

Fresh fish is sold by local fishmongers

If you walk uphill along Rue de la Lampe Grande (which becomes Rue Grande after the church), you will see the walls of the Haute Ville (Upper Town) in front of you.

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There is an attractive walk which starts opposite the Prefecture building and leads to the Porte des Degres (one of the entrance gates to the Upper Town). Once you have entered the gate, walk up to the top of the wall to enjoy fine views of the town. If you walk clockwise you will come to the top of a tower called Tour Gaiette. It was from this tower, in 1785, that two French men attempted to become the first people to cross the English Channel by balloon. Unfortunately they were unsuccessful - their balloon crashed to the ground before reaching the sea ...

There is a war memorial
in front of the Porte des Degres

The tower from which a balloon crossing
of the English Channel was attempted

Walk down towards the Porte des Dunes (the next entrance gate) and follow the road into the Upper Town's main squares.

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In front of the Porte des Dunes is the square known as the Place de la Resistance. The law courts (Palais de Justice) were built in 1852. There are two statues on the front of the building: these are of Charlemagne and Napoleon Bonaparte. Nearby is the Beffroi (a belfry), created in Gothic style - it is possible to climb the 183 steps to the top to enjoy the views.

Once you have walked past the belfry you enter another square called the Place Godefroi de Bouillon. This is named after one of the old counts of Boulogne. The pink-bricked building with flags in front is the Hotel de Ville (town hall).

The Palais de Justice, with statues of Charlemagne and Napoleon

The Gothic belfry, next to the town hall

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Turn left and follow the road called Rue de Lille. This road has a lively atmosphere, and is lined with small shops and restaurants. Towards the end of the road on the left you will see the entrance to the cathedral. Shops in Rue de Lille were originally established to serve the pilgrims who were going to visit the cathedral (see below).

A typical French restaurant

Cakes (gâteaux) on sale in a local bakery

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According to legend, in the year 633 or 636, a boat was found sailing into the port area of Boulogne which had no sails, oars or sailors. On board was a statue of the Virgin Mary (sometimes referred to as "Our Lady", or "Notre Dame" in French). A mysterious light glowed around the statue, which was of a woman wearing a crown holding a child in her left arm. The people in the town took the statue and carried it to a chapel in the Upper Town, which became a church and now the cathedral you can see today. Many pilgrims came to Boulogne, especially during the 13th and 14th centuries. The original statue no longer exists. At one time it was taken to England by the soldiers of the English king Henry the Eighth, but it was later returned. A Huguenot later stole the statue and tried to destroy it, but it was saved secretly. The church and statue were destroyed at the time of the French Revolution. The new cathedral that you can see today was started in 1827 and completed in 1866. Since 1854 a procession (based on the legend of Notre Dame de Boulogne) takes place through the streets of the city on the last Sunday of August. Similar processions have been held across France.

The dome of the cathedral

Legend of Notre Dame

Hand from the ancient "miraculous statue"

The cathedral was built in an unusual style, without detailed architectural plans. The main building is supported by a series of Corinthian pillars.
The altar was a gift from Princess Torlonia in the 19th century. It contains Italian mosaics and makes use of many different types of marble.

Corinthian columns support the building

The high altar

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From the entrance to the cathedral, walk down the Rue du Chateau, turn left into Rue de Bernet, and cross a bridge into the Chateau Museum (castle museum). There are exhibitions inside, and you can see the oldest and best preserved section of the city walls. The ramparts were created in the 13th century on top of an old Roman wall. Stone from old Roman buildings has been used in parts of the wall's foundations.

Entance bridge to the castle: the dome of the
cathedral is reflected in the moat's water

The Romans re-used stone from other buildings
when making the foundations of the city wall

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Useful websites:
Boulogne tourist information: (select the region Boulonnais) (information is available in English)

Independent travel to Boulogne:
For details about travelling to Dover, see: Travel/Tours/England/Dover. To book a ferry crossing from Dover to Calais, click: here. There are train services from Calais Ville (the main train station in Calais) to Boulogne's Gare Centrale.
Alternatively you can take a Eurostar train from London to Lille (see: Shop/Company/Eurostar), and take a train from there to Boulogne

Weather forecast for Boulogne:

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Tours to France: Travel/Tours/France
Ferry services to and from the UK: Travel/Transport/Ferry
Eurostar services to France from London: Shop/Company/Eurostar

Home page: Home

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