Rouen (Photo:S-F/Shutterstock)
5.0 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating

By Jodi Thompson
Cruise Critic Contributor

Port of Rouen

The capital of Normandy, Rouen is just a bit over an hour's train ride from Paris. If you've only got a day and you're intent on doing the "if it's Tuesday it must be Paris" shtick by heading off to the big city on your own, we won't dissuade you -- particularly if you've not been there before.

About Rouen


Pro

Rouen is one of the world's ancient cities and has lots of historic buildings, points of interest and ruins

Con

Sales tax is nearly 20 percent here and is automatically tacked on to most purchases

Bottom Line

Though you might be tempted to head straight to Paris from Rouen, it's a cool city in and of itself


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But Rouen's worth a look, too. With 2,000 years of history, it is one of the country's most ancient cities, laid out by the Duke of Normandy in 911. Victor Hugo called Rouen "the city of a hundred spires." Like Paris, the city is divided by the Seine, and like Paris, Rouennais refer to the sides as Rive Gauche (Left Bank) and Rive Droite (Right Bank). The Old City is on the Right Bank. Chock-a-block with cobbled streets dotted with French Norman architecture dating back to the Middle Ages, it is where you'll see the gothic Notre-Dame Cathedral and swear you've spied Monet painting a cityscape across the way, as he did. Visit the thyme-covered mound in the square where Joan of Arc burned at the stake (place du Vieux-Marche) in 1431 while the English had control of Rouen from 1431 - 1449.

Over the centuries, great devastation came to Rouen -- including 45 major fires in the first half of the 13th century. WWII destroyed all its bridges, many of its spires, and much of the area between the cathedral and the quais -- resulting in the city being almost entirely rebuilt in the years since the end of the war.

Rouen is also a terrific jumping-off point for other great haunts in Normandy -- marvelous places like Giverny (31 miles/50km), Honfleur (44 miles/72km) and Dieppe (36 miles/58km). And we can't say enough about the entire region being a spread-out bonanza of creamy Camembert, velvety omelets, oysters so fresh you'll think they jumped from the sea unto your plate and Bon Bere (cider) in provincial cafes anywhere you go.

Where You're Docked

Port Rouen. There's plenty to see and do if you want to spend the day in the area and everything you need is close at hand. The terminal offers telephones, a small coffee shop and currency exchange. Taxis are readily available outside the entrance to take you to the city's center (a ten-minute ride or 25-minute walk).

Good to Know

Cars here mostly use diesel, not unleaded gas. We're sorry to say rental agencies don't point this out, so check. A mistake will cost you lost time and almost $300 in repairs.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

The national currency in France is the Euro. Currency exchange can be made in most banks, post offices and train stations. For the best exchange rate, use ATMs found almost everywhere. For up-to-date information on currency exchange, go to www.oanda.com).

In France, a 19.6 percent sales tax (VAT) is tacked on to many purchases -- however, if you spend $175 (145 euros) or more at any one participating store, you can get the VAT refunded (with some exceptions). .

Language

French, though English is understood here and there. It's not uncommon to find that more than most waiters, shopkeepers and taxi drivers don't speak English. And to complicate things for those already fluency-challenged -- there's a dialect in Normandy that can be difficult to decipher, even when you consider yourself moderately fluent in French.

It's considered impolite by the French to assume everyone speaks English -- so it's best to begin by first asking if English is understood. The gesture is appreciated. Monsieur, madame or mademoiselle (for young girls) should follow bonjour. Merci should always precede a departure from any shop, whether you were helped or not. Besides, it's so much fun to say.

Shopping

A piece of ceramics from one of Rouen's 22 factories, continuing the Rouen tradition of being the largest and oldest center of ceramics in France. Try Faiences Saint Romain tiles painted with fleur-de-lis, hot-air balloons, sheet music, cats, sailboats and more. (56, rue Saint Romain; +33 (0)2 35 07 12 30)