Things to see and do in Boulogne-sur-Mer

  • City Breaks
  • France
  • 5 min read
Things to see and do in Boulogne-sur-Mer

You’ll love Boulogne-sur-Mer for everything it has to offer: a vast architectural and historical heritage, which has earned it the title of City of Art and History. With its leading fishing port, it is a coastal town where you can sample the French northern coast’s finest fish and seafood.

One of the most beautiful towns in the region

Just half an hour from Calais/Coquelles, Boulogne-sur-Mer lies at the heart of the Côte d'Opale and the Boulonnais. You'll love the town for everything it has to offer: a vast architectural and historical heritage, which has earned it the title of City of Art and History, a coastal town, with its leading fishing port, where you can sample the finest fish and seafood dishes. Boulogne-sur-Mer as a whole is an invitation to discover the festivals, events and traditions that have grown from this natural heritage.  

City of Art and History

The town of Boulogne-sur-Mer has earned the title of 'City of Art and History' for a number of reasons:

  • The old town – (Vieille Ville) is built on the site of a Roman camp, and kept its original size and road layout.
  • The fortifications and the castle – (now a museum) surrounding the old town, are some of the best preserved examples of medieval architecture in France.
  • The belfry – located just next to the town hall, has been on UNESCO's prestigious list of world heritage sites since 2005.
  • Going up rue de Lille, you come to the Basilica of Notre Dame – the most prominent building in the old town with its 101-metre high dome. It was built in the 19th century by Abbot Benoît-Agathon Haffreingue and has a stunning altar (produced in the workshops of the Vatican) made from 147 different types of marble and ornamental stone.
  • The medieval crypt – the largest in Northern Europe , sits beneath the Basilica and is impressive for its size, the number of rooms it contains (the lower crypt, dome crypt and Chapel of the Virgin), the walls decorated with medieval frescoes, and its sculptures.

The stunning dome of the Basilica of Notre-Dame, Boulogne 

Town centre

The town centre is perfectly located midway between the old town and the port. Mostly pedestrianised, it's a lovely place for a stroll or for a bit of shopping. There are numerous shops, bars and restaurants available. After wandering along the main streets, you come to place Dalton and the Church of Saint Nicolas; where a colourful market is held every Wednesday and Saturday morning, giving you the chance to sample local French produce.

A city by the sea

You can't visit Boulogne without experiencing the wonders of Nausicaá, the National Sea Centre. Opened in 1991, the centre is currently France's second most popular tourist attraction north of Paris. Discover giant aquariums, undersea explorations, face-to-face encounters with sharks, a touch tank where you can stroke the rays, the chance to go on board the life-size deck of a fishing boat and loads more! Everything at Nausicaá is designed so that visitors can find out more about the sea and its inhabitants; even the atmosphere takes you on a trip to the heart of the ocean! An unforgettable deep-sea adventure for the whole family!

After visiting Nausicaá, you can take a stroll along the port. Boulogne-sur-Mer has the busiest fishing port in France and is also Europe's leading fish processing centre. It is a bustling, diverse port in a prime position: located within the town, it is also a combined port that serves fishing vessels, merchant shipping and pleasure boats alike.

If you are looking for the beach, head along to the little red lighthouse (next to Nausicaá). From there you can watch the incessant ballet of fishing and pleasure boats going about their business.

Go on a deep sea adventure at Nausicaá

Things to do

Boulogne-sur-Mer has several museums adding culture to your visit:

  • Follow in the footsteps of Auguste Mariette, Boulogne's own Egyptologist, at the castle museum. See oceanic and African art brought back from various expeditions. Marvel at works by major sculptors such as Rodin in the Fine Art section. As well as housing permanent collections, the Castle Museum also holds events and temporary exhibitions throughout the year.
  • Just a short distance away, another museum (containing the stained glass window of Godefroy de Bouillon, stone and cast iron cannonballs and a well) has been created within the belfry, offering stunning views over the town.
  • Going down Grande Rue, you come to the Casa San Martin. General José de San Martín, who liberated his country, Argentina (1816), Chile (1817) and Peru (1812) from Spanish rule, lived in this house from 1848 until his death. Find out more about the private life of this 'libertador', the history of the South American independence.
  • Finally, why not visit an authentic fisherman's house, la Maison de la Beurrière, built in 1870, where you can find out how a seafaring family lived in the 1900s. The furniture, objects and clothing show the harsh lives of seafarers and take you right back into the history of fishing in Boulogne.

Various traditional and cultural events are held throughout the year:

  • The Côte d'Opale festival takes place every July.
  • For history lovers, a reconstruction of the Camp de Boulogne is organized every year, where you can relive the Napoleonic era with reconstructions of battles, bivouacs and fanfares on the site of the Légion d'Honneur.
  • Finally, if you want to experience Boulogne's traditions, the herring king festival is held at the end of September each year. Try fresh herring grilled on giant barbecues with a glass of Beaujolais straight from the wine cellar!

Top 5 attractions in Boulogne

  • The old town which houses the castle and the fortifications as well as the Basilica of Notre Dame.
  • The town centre with its pedestrian streets and its numerous shops.
  • Nausicaá, the National Sea Centre, where you will discover the sea and its inhabitants!
  • The Castle Museum, where you will follow in the footsteps of great explorers!
  • La Maison de la Beurrière, a typical house from the beginning of the 20th century, where you can find out how a seafaring family lived in the 1900s.  

The port, Boulogne-sur-Mer

Drive from Calais to Boulogne-sur-Mer

From our Calais terminal, take the A16 motorway towards Boulogne-sur-Mer. You'll be at this coastal resort in barely 30 minutes!