Day Trip Guide To Boulogne Sur Mer, France

Boulogne Sur Mer - Well Worth A Day Trip

(As of September 2010 LD Lines have stopped their service to Boulogne - but I'll leave this information here for reference)

A day trip to Boulogne Sur Mer, France, is well worth while. At least, that's what I've thought for some time, after choosing to stay in Boulogne before catching the ferry home after a French holiday, or just visiting for a few hours. Boulogne is so much more than just a ferry port for travelling to and from Dover in the UK. It's at the heart of the beautiful Cote d'Opale (Opal Coast) and I don't know if it's a fact but to me it certainly seems to have less English voices than Calais, just up the coast. It just "feels more French" and that's what I would expect because Calais with its big ferry terminal with many berths, has many, many more ferries coming and going each day, compared with Boulogne.

Boulogne Sur Mer had been without any ferry service for some time until LD lines started a new service in early 2009. There had been a high speed catamaran ferry service for a few years operated by Speedferries until they ceased trading in late 2008, so following their collapse, both French and British alike were pleased to see a ferry service restarted - the French, in Boulogne, because it meant that the day trip and other visitors would bring money into the town, and the British because it meant more choice of channel crossings, and the chance to arrive in the centre of Boulogne by car, or even as a foot passenger, and drive or walk the few yards to the local brasserie or bar.

Such has been the success of the LD lines crossing, they changed to a new high speed catamaran service to Boulogne operating from the new RoRo terminal from late summer (2009) if things go to plan. But the conventional ferry will still use the original berth which means that after a short sea crossing you can have a great day trip to Boulogne, visit the aquarium, spend time on the beach, visit museums, shop and eat - all on foot! This may change if the conventional ferry moves to the new terminal - shame! Update: the catamaran has now been replaced with a conventional ferry (Jan 2010) - check the LD Lines website for the latest vessel details and crossing times.

(As of September 2010 LD Lines have stopped their service to Boulogne - but I'll leave this information here for reference)

Boulogne Sur Mer From The Ferry - The Basilica Of Notre Dame In The Background
Boulogne Sur Mer From The Ferry - The Basilica Of Notre Dame In The Background

But this town is so much more than just a ferry port. For those making a day trip to Boulogne Sur Mer, it has:

  • A fishing fleet that ties up on the quayside and sell the freshest fish available,
  • A walled old town with an excellent selection of brasseries,
  • Nausicaa - the National Sea Centre
  • A selection of hotels to suit all budgets
  • A beautiful beach with room for everybody
  • And much more


Not The Prettiest Ferry Terminal
Not The Prettiest Ferry Terminal
Boulogne Sur Mer - The Quayside
Boulogne Sur Mer - The Quayside
Quayside Fish Stalls - Boulogne Sur Mer
Quayside Fish Stalls - Boulogne Sur Mer

Boulogne Sur Mer - Watching The Fishermen

The quayside in Boulogne sur Mer is the natural place to start this short day trip guide. There is plenty of parking (free on Sundays and Public Holidays), and it is walking distance to Nausicaa - the National Sea Centre, the town centre and the beach. And there is always some activity on the quayside as the smaller fishing boats come and go. Quite often you can seen the fisherman sorting their catch, and unloading it in boxes. The boxes are either loaded straight into vans to be delivered elsewhere, or simply carried across the quayside to be sold from any one of several stalls on the edge of the car park. It doesn't get fresher than that! You can't help be impressed by the fish filleting skills of the stallholders, almost exclusively women, as they gut and fillet the different fish varieties. Take a cool box with you, ask for some ice to pack the fish, and you can take some home from your day trip for a special supper.

Boulogne Sur Mer - The Old Walled Town

After watching the boats and the fishermen for a while, take a walk from the quayside car park, through the centre of Boulogne Sur Mer and up the hill to the Old Town, contained within it's magnificent walls. I will try to remember to add some street names to guide you on your day trip but it's really not difficult. Just head away from the port area and keep walking up the hill towards the the Basilica (cathedral) which stands on the hilltop in the middle of the Old Town. You will most likely arrive at the principle gate to the walled area, the Portes des Dunes.

While walking up to the Old Town, you will may well pass through the town centre with its bustling selection of shops, brasseries and cafés. The Church of St Nicolas, protector of sailors dominates the cobbled square in the town centre where the market is held on Saturday mornings. Like all local markets in France it is full of fresh, local produce.

Just Walk Uphill To The Old Town
Just Walk Uphill To The Old Town
Rue de Lille and Basilica at Night
Rue de Lille and Basilica at Night

The Old Town has four gates : Portes des Dunes (West), Portes Neuve (North), Porte Gayole (East) and Porte des Degres (South). The main entrance, which you will probably arrive at if you have walked up from the town centre, is Portes des Dunes, next to the little Tourist Information Cabin. Once through the gate, within the walls there is a network of little streets, with their very well preserved stone buildings.

The thirteenth century castle houses the Château-Musée de Boulogne-sur-Mer - an important art museum with a collection of Greek ceramics, European fine arts and Egyptian antiques.Other important buildings are the Hotel de Ville (town hall), the Palais de Justice, Napoleon's Palace and of course the Basilica, with it's magnificent dome which is the second largest in Europe. The dome of St Peter's in Rome is the only one that is bigger. But I confess to not being into old buildings that much, although I do respect the skill that was needed to erect such magnificent building centuries ago. I'm more interested in French food so the little road from the square up to the Basilica (Rue de Lille) is very enticing with all it's little restaurants with their tables and chairs spilling out onto the pavement. In April 2009, it was easy to find a typically French three course meal for between 15-20 euros.

Nausicaa - The National Sea Centre For France

The biggest attraction in Boulogne Sur Mer is NAUSICAA - a science centre completely dedicated to the relationship between Mankind and the Sea. With its estimated 35,000 animals drawn from 1,000 species it is one of the largest sea centres in Europe and could probably justify a day trip to Boulogne on its own. Penguins, sea lions, sharks, and tuna are all kept in a multitude of aquaria. I can't do it justice in just a few lines so click through to their website for all the information you could want. To find Nausicaa just walk along the quayside, towards the beach, and you will find it in the big, fairly modern building, between the quay and the beach. All signs, videos and descriptions are in both French and English so it makes the understanding a lot easier for those of us who are still challenged by the French language!

The Beach at Boulogne Sur Mer

I don't have that much to say about the beach - other than it is very big and very sandy - so typical of all the beaches along this coast between Calais and Le Touquet and beyond. This is the Cote d'Opale (Opal Coast) with beaches that stretch for miles and miles - if you want to get away from every body and just walk by the sea, this is the coastline for you!

Boulogne Sur Mer Beach - Nausicaa Is Just Out Of Shot To The Right
Boulogne Sur Mer Beach - Nausicaa Is Just Out Of Shot To The Right

But on a day trip to Boulogne Sur Mer, you will rarely have the beach to yourself. On a half-decent day weather-wise, there will be people flying kites - and struggling to hang onto them in some cases, people just walking by the sea, children playing and their parents soaking up the sun in the fresh air. The beach is backed by a busy road with cafes, bars, shops and hotels so there is always somewhere near at hand to find something to eat or drink, be it a slow lunchtime meal so typical of French culture, or just an ice cream, for the children.

Hotels in Boulogne Sur Mer

Although this quick guide is intended simply to help you on your day trip to Boulogne sur Mer, it may be that you want to stay a couple of days. You could probably spend a whole day simply visiting Nausicaa and the Old Town, so if you want some time on the beach, or just to wander the town centre and enjoy French cafe life for a few hours, you will need to stay the night.

I'm a little reluctant to recommend anywhere to stay because what is a good hotel for me may not be right for you. So much of it is down to personal taste. I'm not a fan of 5-star luxury, and will happily trade room service and an expensive mini-bar, to experience a hotel with character serving local food. You will find plenty of Boulogne sur Mer hotels listed on the various hotel websites such as Active Hotels and Late Rooms so I suggest you read the reviews and make up your own mind whether the hotel is for you or not.

I will make an exception to suggest just two places you may wish to consider - La Matelote, a luxury hotel on the seafront, and La Grange Dimiere, a charming bed and breakfast (chambre d'hote) in St Martin Boulogne which is about a mile or so from the Old Town. You will need a car or taxi to get to La Grange Dimiere.

La Matelote - A Hotel Worth Considering
La Matelote - A Hotel Worth Considering

La Matelote receives consistently positive reviews and with its sea front location is undoubtedly one of the best hotels in town. Everywhere you could want to visit in Boulogne Sur Mer is within walking distance for the reasonably active, and the hotel itself appears to be very comfortable with an excellent restaurant. I haven't stayed myself - it's at the top end of my budget! But I have spent a night at La GrangeDimiere.

La Grange Dimiere - A Peaceful B&B
La Grange Dimiere - A Peaceful B&B

As mentioned above, it's a very short ride from the Old Town finishing with a careful drive down a very narrow country lane. But it's worth it. The converted farm buildings are neatly arranged around the quadrangle and a warm welcome is assured from your hostess - who speaks English to make life easier. The rooms are lovely, there is a guest lounge with a massive fireplace and, something I've never seen before in a French bed and breakfast, or hotel, a full size snooker table! Breakfast is served around a big table in a dining room with panoramic windows overlooking the garden. Visit the website for more details- La Grange Dimiere

So there you have it - my quick guide for a day trip to Boulogne sur Mer. We know it's a town that's not very special in many ways, but my wife and I like it and have visited many times when "channel-hopping" for a day or two to sample French life. Only twenty-two miles separates the UK from the rest of Europe but the difference in culture is so noticeable that we feel as if we are thousands of miles from home when we visit northern France. We think Boulogne sur Mer is worth a day trip and we hope you do to! It may be part of a longer trip to Europe if you're coming from thousands of miles away, or it may just be a day trip from Dover if you live in the UK. But either way don't miss this interesting little French town.

(As of September 2010 LD Lines have stopped their service to Boulogne - but I'll leave this information here for reference)

On Our Way Home!
On Our Way Home!

Boulogne Sur Mer - Area Map

A markerboulogne sur mer france -
Boulogne, France
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Comments 10 comments

stepheny profile image

stepheny 7 years ago from united kingdom

that's really interesting


bigmikeh profile image

bigmikeh 7 years ago from UK Author

Thanks stepheny.


paul 7 years ago

Congratulations on this excellent lens!


Christine Merlin 7 years ago

Thanks a lot... It's been twelve years now that I live in Boulogne sur Mer and your post is really interesting and true - if I can say that!


bigmikeh profile image

bigmikeh 7 years ago from UK Author

Thanks Paul.

And thanks Christine - approval from a Boulogne resident is very welcome!


kraji profile image

kraji 6 years ago from Slovenia

Looks nice!


LizzyBoo profile image

LizzyBoo 6 years ago from Czech Republic

After reading this I feel like I wish to visit!


bigmikeh profile image

bigmikeh 6 years ago from UK Author

kraji, Lizzyboo - thanks for your comments.


James Mark profile image

James Mark 6 years ago from York, England

I agree, Boulogne is worth the visit. We used to use Speedferries before the company went bust and have stayed in a some really nice BnBs or chambre d'hotes. Let me give them a plug:

La Volière

Par Hasard

and there is another excellent one whose name I forget!

Best wishes,

JM.


bigmikeh profile image

bigmikeh 6 years ago from UK Author

Thanks for the recommendations, James

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