Pont de Normandie
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Le Havre Overview
Le Havre, which lies along the English Channel on France's western coast, is the common port-of-entry for big ships calling at Paris and most typically a place to go through on your way to the City of Lights. By no means would we dissuade cruise travelers from making the long slog to "tres magnifique" Paris on a first visit, but on a return trip Le Havre itself, both on its own merits and because of its proximity to Normandy (which is also quite magical), is worth a look-see.
While Le Havre is an ancient and textured city, dating back to the 16th century, it was very badly bombed during World War II, losing much of its historic appeal. Even still, it's been added to UNESCO's list of world heritage sites because of the way it was rebuilt, noting that Le Havre is "exceptional among many reconstructed cities for its unity and integrity. It combines a reflection of the earlier pattern of the town and its extant historic structures with the new ideas of town planning and construction technology. It is an outstanding post-war example of urban planning and architecture based on the unity of methodology and the use of prefabrication, the systematic utilization of a modular grid, and the innovative exploitation of the potential of concrete."
Of course, it's also a good place to visit for its art galleries and cafes, and proffers a relaxing alternative to the half-a-day commute into Paris.
Le Havre's prime location between Honfleur and Normandy, offers a huge range of options. Whichever option you choose, you'll find more information below.
Paris is a world center of fashion, food, museums, and culture and, as we've said, if you haven't yet been -- and have a lot of energy -- go for it. Otherwise, focus on sites to see in the Normandy region that surrounds Le Havre or spend a relaxing day touring a few art galleries and have a long cafe lunch in town.
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A video -- or just the experience -- of the Lowering of the Colors ceremony at Omaha Beach in Normandy, which takes place daily at 4:30 p.m. To the sound of a military hymn, the American flag is lowered and folded, within view of the sea and 9,387 gravestones that mark the ultimate sacrifice young American and Allied troops made June 6, 1944.
French. You might hear some English but don't count on it.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
Euro. There are plenty of ATM machines and exchange bureaus in town. Bureau de change at 41 Chaussee Kennedy, 76 600 Le Havre. (02 35 41 29 13)
Where You're Docked
Le Havre may often be billed by cruise lines as the port for Paris, but please note: The commute between port and Paris is a solid 2.5 hours each way. Just be prepared.
Le Havre Cruise Terminal is at Florida Tip and ships dock at Roger Meunier or Pierre Callet piers. Town center is 1.5 miles away.
Le Havre has a new cruise terminal that offers a variety of services, including car hire agencies, taxi station, shops, Internet-accessible computers, and even bicycle rentals.
Travelers who have already visited Paris may want to consider touring Normandy -- fascinating in its own right, not to mention beautiful. Otherwise, see below for commuting info between Paris and the port of Le Havre.
From the ship's dock to the city of Le Havre it's about a 20-minute walk (and often passengers aren't permitted to stroll through the port facility). Shuttles are typically provided to transport passengers from ship to center of town; some cruise lines levy a surcharge for the service.
Taxis line up at the pier. Fares are listed on Web site. (33 (0)2 35 25 81 81)
Rent A Car will meet you at the pier on arrival. (33 (0) 235 417 676)
Getting To Paris : Le Havre's train station is about a mile from the port. In most cases, passengers will take the shuttle from the ship to the center of Le Havre and then a taxi to the station (or take a taxi directly from the port to the station). Trains run to Gare St-Lazare (Paris) roughly every hour, more often before 8 a.m. It's more than a two-hour train ride home, so leave plenty of time to return to the pier. For more information contact RailEurope.com (800-942-4866).
Getting Around in Paris : It's easy. Travel either on foot, via taxi, by metro or bus.
Watch Out For
"Whirlwind Syndrome": With just one day in Paris, strategize and select two or three (at most) sightseeing destinations. Don't forget to allow time for a leisurely lunch. Also beware of pick-pocketing and bag-snatching.
As well, if you opt for visiting places in Normandy, note that they're fairly spread out and also involve some commuting time; best bet is to hire a car (and possible a tour guide/driver) and plan your itinerary carefully.
Le Havre itself has some charms. Key attractions here include Musee Andre-Malraux, built in the 1960s; it showcases two native artists: Fauvist Raoul Dufy, known for his joyful Impressionist-like watercolors, and Eugene Boudin, a forerunner of Impressionism. Open weekdays (closed Tuesday) 11 a.m. – 6 p.m., weekends 11 a.m. – 7 p.m. (2 Blvd. Clemenceau; 02 35 19 62 62)
Also check out the Eglise St-Joseph. It's considered one of the 20th century's most outstanding churches. Open daily 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. (Bd. Francois-1; 02 32 74 04 05)
Explore Normandy. Le Havre basically lies in the center of the Normandy region, which has a number of well-known sights to see. Among them: a World War II-related trip to the D-Day beaches where American, Australian, British, Canadian and French troops landed on June 6, 1944. Among the key points of interest include Sainte Mere Eglise, Utah Beach, the Pointe du Hoc and Omaha Beach.
Take a trip to Honfleur by driving across the Pont de Normandie, a sweeping bridge that spans the Seine river and connects Le Havre to Honfleur. This picturesque port town was made famous by Impressionists like Claude Monet. This is a terrific destination if your goal is a low-key day to shop -- lots of antiques stores and boutiques, eat a great French lunch, and basically just mosey-about.
Another option: Le Mont Saint-Michel, the abbey perched on a 264-ft. rock. The water starts to rise and surround the abbey about two hours before high tide. Check the Web site for a high tide timetable.
Been There, Done That
Hire a taxi for the day -- they line up at the pier -- for a customized look at Normandy. You can even book a taxi for a simple 2-hour driving tour of the region. Note, however, that you should negotiate the rate before you get into the taxi, and drivers may not speak much English.
Want a little more assistance? Book a full- or half-day guided tour of any of the region's myriad of attractions. Normandy Web Guide offers tours, ranging from sedans to buses, and all guides speak English. You can design your own -- or go with their published versions, such as an along-the-sea day spent on the coast of Alabaster with Fecamp and Etretat, combined with Rouen in the afternoon. Arrangements must be made in advance.
In La Havre :
La Taverne Paillette in the heart of the downtown shopping area, is a Parisian-style brewery. Open daily. (22 rue Georges Braque; 02 35 41 31 50)
Le Grignot, a bistro also in the heart of Le Havre, has indoor and outdoor dining, and a menu that changes with the seasons. (53 rue Racine; 02 35 43 62 07)
La Grenouille Bistro (The Frog) is “two jumps from L'Absinthe,” near the fishing port. Local produce, seafood and frogs legs, of course, on the menu of this cozy bistro. (10, quai de la Quarantine; 02 31 89 04 24)
Au Bouillon Normand offers traditional French gourmet cuisine. Closed Wednesday and Sunday evenings and in January. (7, rue de la Ville; 00 33 (0) 2 31 89 02 41)
In Le Mont Saint-Michel:
La Cloche is a traditional creperie, serving crepes, salads and ice cream year round. (02 33 60 15 65)
Le Relais du Roy is at the entrance to the causeway, about 2 km before Mont Saint-Michel. Serves salt meadow lamb, fish and shellfish. Closed end of February to beginning of March. (02 33 60 14 02)
Staying in Touch
The cruise terminal has Internet stations and pay phones.
In Le Havre, Le Cyber Metro has five computers. (19-21, Cours de la Republique; 02 35 25 40 34).
Most lines offer numerous ways to see Paris, ranging from "Paris on Your Own" (you purchase roundtrip motorcoach transportation) to guided tours.
Beaches of Normandy tours typically visit places like the Caen Memorial Museum, the American Cemetery of Colleville-sur-Mer and Omaha Beach.
For More Information
On the Web: Le Havre, Normandy and
Cruise Critic Message Boards: Europe
The Independent Traveler: France Exchange
--Updated by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor in Chief, and Jodi Thompson, Cruise Critic contributor.