the old harbour at Honfleur

Historic Honfleur

Jewel of the Normandy coast - the thematic guide to France

 Honfleur - a small town with plenty to see

On this page Location and access Sites and attractions
In the area Where to stay 

Map of Honfleur Honfleur, the old town. Parking. Most parking in central Honfleur is paying. The big parking lot top right marked P is for long-stay parking. 2018 tarif 4 € a day. For free parking follow the arrow marked "to the beaches". Parking 300 metres off the map.
It was the painter, Eugène Boudin, who in the mid nineteenth century, began to make the small Norman town of his birth, Honfleur, into a household name in artistic circles in Paris.
  A landscape and seascape painter, Boudin was actually the person who persuaded the young Monet to take up a style of landscape painting which, under the brush of Monet, became known as Impressionism. Encouraged by Boudin, many landscape artists of the age came to look for inspiration in Honfleur, and today, the Boudin museum in Honfleur is one of the best small art galleries in Normandy, and one of the major attractions in the small town of Honfleur, on the Normandy coast, just to the west of the mouth of the Seine.
  While its neighbour Le Havre, to the east of the seine, has developed into France's second busiest  international port, Honfleur has remained a small town, population just over 8,000, with a very attractive historic harbour, a unique 15th century St. Catherine's church, a maritime museum, and an extensive historic quarter with many old buildings. A kilometre from the old town, la Plage du Butin is a fine sandy beach.

A short History of Honfleur

 The name Honfleur comes from the Old Norse, possibly from Honna flóð, which may mean Honna's river, or maybe mean on the corner by the river... denoting its position at the mouth of the Seine.
  The site was first occupied by the Vikings, when they invaded the north of Gaul in the 9th century, and established a colony which became known as the land of the North Men, or Normandy.
  The original settlement  was strategically located beside some higher ground with a good view over the mouth of the Seine. Later, it became an important port for trade between France and England. During the Hundred Years War (1337 - 1453), Honfleur was a strategic site, and the English (who were actually the French Angevins who ruled England) twice captured the town, holding it for over 30 years up to 1450.
   In the following centuries the town was a prosperous trading and fishing port, and was also one of the ports from which French navigators set out to explore the New World - notably Champlain, who in 1608 set out on an expedition to North America, during which he founded the French settlement at Quebec.
Houses in old Honfleur
Houses in Rue Haute, in the medieval quarter of old Honfleur. 
  The town's fortunes declined in the 19th century first on account of the Napoleonic wars, and secondly because it was unable to compete with its neighbour on the north shore of the estuary, le Havre.  Le Havre's development as a major port was assured by the arrival of a railway line from Paris in 1847. Honfleur did not get a railway line until 1867, and then it was only a branch line (which is no longer in service), connecting to the Paris-Caen route. So although shipping activities continued in Honfleur on a small scale, as they still do today, the town never grew in size like its neighbour across the river, and consequently was bypassed as a quiet backwater, leaving much of its historic heritage intact.

Principal attractions and monuments in Honfleur

St Catherine's church Honfleur
Saint Catherine's church, built of wood like an upturned boatl
  • The old harbour. (Le vieux port)  Honfleur's old harbour - a "floating harbour" with a constant water-level, is one of the most picturesque in France, with its unique quayside of slate-fronted houses. . 
  • Saint Catherine's church. Honfleur's artisans were historically skilled as boatbuilders, and when it came to rebuilding the town's main church back in the 15th century, local builders did so using the material they knew best, wood, and creating what is basically the upturned hull of a boat, supported on wooden pillars. The original church is the left-hand of the two naves. The right-hand nave dates from the 16th century. St Catherines is the largest historic wooden church in France.
  • Beach scene by BoudinThe Eugène Boudin Museum. A small high-quality museum notable for its collection of works by Boudin and by other artists who painted in and around Honfleur in the 19th and 20th centuries. Besides many original works by Boudin, the museum contains original works by Monet, Courbet, Jongkind, Marquet, Friesz, Hambourg and many others.  Picture: the Beach at Trouville, by Boudin
  • The Maritime museum. Housed in a sixteenth-century former church, the Maritime Museum tells the story of Honfleur as a seaport, particularly in its golden age of the 17th and 18th centuries
  • The old town. The old town of Honfleur ocuppies the land that rises up to the northwest of the Old Harbour, notably between the Rue Brulée and the Rue Haute. The narrow streets are bordered by many half-timbered or old stone houses. Ones that can be visited are the Maisons Satie, the birthplace of the French 20th musician who was a friend of the great artists of his time, notably Picasso.  
  • The tourist train.  The tourist train takes visitors on a commented circuit through old Honfleur. Departure from near the old harbour.

► For more on Honfleur and its area, visit the Honfleur tourist information office

In the area of  Honfleur

1. Less than 50 km

  • Deauville  17 km. Very fashionable upscale French seaside resort. Beaches, with a famous 650 metre long boardwalk dating from 1923; casino, centre for horse-racing. American cinema festival.
  • Le Havre 25 km. great port city, largely rebuilt after the Second World War. The 1950s "soviet style" city centre is classed as a UNESCO world heritage site. 
  • Musée Malraux, Le Havre, 25 km One of the best collections of Impressionist, 19th century and early 20th century art in France outside Paris
  • Etretat 47 km. The famous "white cliffs of Etretat" are the highest in France

Further afield (up to 120 km ... )

  • Bayeux  87 km to the west. Discover another very interesting small town in Normandy: as well as the world-famous tapestry, Bayeux has a fine Norman/gothic cathedral, a suèbstantial museum, and a very attractive old town . See Bayeux
  • The Normandy Beaches.  (80 - 120 km) Further west along the Normandy coast, stretching from Ouistreham, near Caen, in the east, to the bottom of the Cotentin peninsula in the west. For more details see Bayeux.
  • Rouen - 90 km. the capital of Normandy. Old city with many half-timbered houses, an ancient city clock, and one of the finest medieval gothic cathedrals in France

How to reach Honfleur

  • By air   The nearest airport is Deauville, which has flights by Ryanair from London-Stansted
  • By train  Honfleur has no train station. However Honfleur can be reached by train from Paris Saint-Lazare station, in just over 3 hours, via Deauville. Through tickets include the connecting bus service from Deauville to Honfleur.  Tickets can be bought online at  .
  • By car  Honfleurcan be reached in under 2½ hours from Paris., in 25 minutes from the Channel ferry port at Le Havre, and in 1 hour from the ferry port at Caen / Ouistreham (services from Portsmouth - see Brittany Ferries)
  • By Seine river cruise.  Some Seine River cruises from Paris (departure from Le Pecq) come as far as Honfleur   Home page -  Site search  -  Regions  -  Maps of France  -  Contact

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Photo top of page : the Old Harbour in Honfleur

Key tourist information for Honfleur:

Normandy - northwest France.
Nearby cities: Caen, Rouen, Le Havre
Nearest airports: Deauville, Caen, Paris CDG.
Distance from Paris: 200 km (125 miles)
Population:  8,200
Main sites:  the Old Harbour, the Eugène Boudin museum, Saint Catherine's church, the Maritime museum .
Nearby attractions and sites: Le Havre, the Normandy coast, the lower Seine valley..
Location of Honfleur

Where to stay

The selection
Hotels for all budgets and all needs

Historic centre

   ★★★ Hôtel Absinthe  
Small three-star hotel, just 11 rooms,  located in a 16th-century building beside the harbour. Quality restaurant. Private parking nearby

 ★★ Hotel Monet  is located five minutes walk from the centre and  harbour . At the top end of the two-star bracket, it is good value and gets plenty of good reviews as a clean, calm and welcoming hotel. Rooms with private terraces, bar, free parking.

★★ Hotel Ibis budget Honfleur
 A low-cost budget hotel located 400 metres from the old harbour, and within easy walking distance of the old city. No specific parking.

Gites and holiday cottages in Normandy
see Gitelink - Normandy

Water-wheel in old Honfleur, near the Tapestry museum

Old narrow slate-fronted houses
on the Quai Ste Catherine

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Stunning white cliffs at Etretat

The white cliffs of Etretat

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Except for
Photo of Etretat by Desalb,
Creative Commons photos of...
St Catherine's church by Ibex73  
Houses in rue Haute by Jbdeparis.
Slate-fronted houses by Pymouss

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