Le Havre Leaves Good Impressions
Le Havre bills itself as the “Gateway to Paris,” and indeed, on the day that I arrived on Oceania’s Regatta, many passengers disembarked for bus transfers to explore the City of Light. (More than half of all excursions sold on ships calling in Le Havre are for Paris). Problem is that Paris is three hours away by bus or train. Within a couple of years, TGV rail service will cut the time between the two destinations to only one hour, but for now, the excursion to Paris makes for a long day.
Those passengers might have spared themselves six hours in the bus and stayed put in Le Havre. From my perspective, they missed out on a thoroughly charming experience in the Haute-Normandie region of France.
Cruise ships now offer turnarounds in Le Havre so that cruise passengers can combine visits to Le Havre with Normandy or even Paris a few days before or after their cruises.
At first glance, Le Havre may not dazzle cruise passengers — the city was destroyed and rebuilt after World War II — but those who venture into the heart of the city will quickly begin to appreciate Le Havre’s charm.
Le Havre’s town center, which was rebuilt by architect Auguste Perret, is Europe’s first mid-20th-century urban settlement to be included in the World Heritage List. Known as the “poet of concrete,” Perret rebuilt Le Havre in a style of postwar architecture that ranks as a tour de force of modernism.
To fully appreciate Perret’s innovative approach and art form, cruise passengers need only request a map at the cruise terminal to stroll the city at their own pace.
Getting Into, And Around, Le Havre
Le Havre’s cruise terminal is excellently equipped to help cruise passengers get their bearings. The terminal features staffed information kiosks with maps, brochures and advice on sightseeing. There’s car and bike rental, as well as internet access at a cost of 4 euros for one hour.
Available at the terminal whenever cruise ships arrive, taxis offer a variety of tours, and prices are fixed and posted and also quite reasonable. Four people sharing a taxi to the city center, for example, will spend only 2 euros per person. Check with the website, http:/www.taxis-le-havre.com, or email for a reservation, [email protected].
For car and driver:
- Select Travel (email [email protected])
- D-Day Landings Tour (email [email protected])
- Driver Guide France (email [email protected])
Individuals and groups might also check with local tour operators.
The city also provides complimentary shuttles into the center, although some cruise companies contract their own shuttle services.
The city’s terminal-to-city-center shuttle runs every 45 minutes and makes four stops (two on Rue de Paris, one at Place de Hôtel de Ville and another near the seafront). Passengers can hop on and off near the attractions they want to see.
Le Havre Tour Recommendations
Valerie Dubuc, Cruise Director for the Port of Le Havre, recommends that for those who arrive by ship on weekdays to hop off at the Town Hall, because it is central to the pedestrian shopping streets and attractions, including Le Halles, the covered market.
“The best thing to do is to ask at the cruise terminal where you should begin your tour,” Dubuc says. “Some of the museums are closed on certain days. For example, the Malraux Museum is closed on Tuesdays. However, there’s always a museum open on any day that cruise passengers are here.”
For an overview of the city, cruise passengers also can hop on the tourist train for 5.5 euros. The 60-minute tour is conducted only in French, however, but with English-language pamphlets.
If you do hop off at Place de Hôtel de Ville, be sure to visit the Historic Show Flat, which is typical of a French apartment during the postwar reconstruction period. Tours of the furnished apartment, in French only, are conducted on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays, and on the hour from 2 p.m. unitil 5 p.m. English tours may be offered upon reservation only.
The tour is not easy for tourists to find, as it’s not well-marked, so show up a few minutes early at Place de Hôtel de Ville, at the corner of Rue de Paris. Other tourists will be waiting, so feel free to join them.
Cruise passengers will also want to visit the Shipowner’s House, or maison de l’amateur. The interior of the late 18th-century mansion (one of the last traces remaining of 18th-century Le Havre) is architecturally stunning. The house features an octagonal light shaft that dominates the center of the multi-story home. Rooms flanking the central well are furnished in period style and feature maritime artifacts. The Shipowner’s House is closed on Thursdays).
Le Havre’s Malraux Museum tellingly evokes the Normandy sea and skyline, not only through its large collection but also through the innovative 1960’s glass-and-metal structure itself. A work of art inside and out, the museum features large windows that allow museum visitors to view the works of the great impressionists in the light that inspired them. As the “Birthplace of Impressionism,” Le Havre claims an Impressionistic art collection that is second only to the collection at Paris’ Musee d’Orsay. The Malraux Museum is closed on Tuesdays.
Other worthwhile attractions include the Hanging Gardens, situated in an old fort overlooking Le Havre and Baie de Seine; the Elise St. Joseph, one of France’s most impressive 20th-century churches; and the picturesque Seafront (La Plage), where you’ll find an abundance of small restaurants serving such French specialties as mussels and other seafood. If you’re having lunch away from the ship, this is the place.
For those pressed for time, Dubuc recommends seeing the Historic Show Flat first, then the Ship Owner’s House and ending it off with the Malreux Museum — or do it in the opposite direction.
With proper planning, it is possible not only to experience the best that Le Havre has to offer but also to make a short excursion to the picturesque village Honfleur, about 30 minutes away, with its half-timbered houses and cobbled streets.
Shopping In Le Havre
- Coty is a shopping mall with 80 shops on three levels, featuring franchise brands and national makes, and also offering restaurants, cafés and bakeries, a chemist, a post office and a supermarket. Nearby you will find retail shops a department store and “brasseries,” a traditional street market on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
- Rue de Paris & Les Halles is a pedestrian area, a lively district with food shops, restaurants, terrace cafés and shops where you can buy clothes and items for home decoration. This central shopping area connects to the port district via the famous rue de Paris, where the arcades are home to varied and original businesses. The indoor market known as “Halles Centrales” was renovated in 2002 and offers high quality foods.
- St Vincent district is “a village in the town” with charming shops, groceries and fine products, clothing, jewellery, decorative objects, household linen and art galleries, antiques, renowned florists and more.
- Docks Vauban is a brand new roofed shopping avenue at the heart of Le Havre’s newest district. The shopping venue features a 12-screen movie theatre, 50 shops and restaurants — open seven days a week.
Situated on the English Channel at the mouth of the Seine River, Le Havre is ideally positioned to welcome both cruise ships and river cruise vessels. No matter which mode of transport they use, Dubuc encourages cruise passengers arriving to Le Havre to “sleep in and not rush off for the long day in Paris.” Stay put in Le Havre, a place sure to leave a good, and lasting, impression. — Ralph Grizzle
Avid Cruiser Posts, Photographs and Videos Featuring Le Havre.
- Avid Cruiser Podcast: Valérie Conan On Le Havre, France
- This Week, Reporting From France: Cruise Europe Meets In Le Havre
- Le Havre, France: Avid Cruiser Feature Video
- European Medley: See This Gorgeous Trailer For The New Avid Cruiser Show
- Shore Excursions From Le Havre, In Photos
- In My Viewfinder: Normandy’s Alabaster Coast
- Port Profile: Le Havre, France