Rouen is a lovely town with great architecture and history, just 1.5 hours away from Paris. Although it has the potential to be a major tourist destination, you won’t find too many visitors in Rouen. Maybe it’s because it’s impossible to pronounce its name if you’re not French. A Paris to Rouen day trip is easy to organise and a great way to experience a picturesque Normandy town.
Is Rouen worth visiting?
Whenever I am asked the question “Is Rouen worth visiting?”, I say a bit YES! It’s one of the best and easiest day trips you can find from Paris. Whether you spend a few days in Paris and want to explore somewhere different, or you live in Paris and you’re looking for a short break, a day trip to Rouen is a great option. Rouen was built in the twists of the Seine River and was a prominent place during Roman and Medieval times. You can feel History wandering in the old cobbled pedestrian roads in the heart of the city. You pass old medieval Norman-style houses and many imposing buildings from different eras.
I lived there intermittently for about three years when I was a student. The first time I wandered around the unique town centre, I was charmed in a few minutes. Family and friends sometimes came for short visits, and I loved showing them the place.
How to plan your Paris to Rouen day trip
I only have great news about planning a Paris to Rouen day trip: you actually don’t need much planning. The tips and itinerary below may even be enough.
Rouen is the capital of Normandy, located 130 km north of Paris. It takes less than two hours to drive there from Paris and 1.5hrs on average by train.
Don’t want to drive or catch the train? You can also join a tour from Paris (click here for more information*).
Paris to Rouen by train
Rouen is one of the best day trips from Paris by train. It’s great to visit Rouen on foot, so it’s very convenient to catch a train from Paris Saint Lazare directly to the centre of Rouen (Rouen Rive Droite). You won’t get tired from driving and won’t have to worry about parking your car.
You don’t need to book in advance, and it has always been under 25€ return for me (and more often around 20€). However, you may find better deals when you book online, and you’ll have access to express trains (Train Nomad) that will take you to Rouen in only 1h15. It’s also often quicker to purchase tickets online rather than at the train station.
The first train usually leaves Paris Saint Lazare at 5h46, and the last train from Rouen to Paris Saint Lazare is usually at 21h01. So you’ll be able to spend a full long day in Rouen. You can view the train timetables on the SNCF website.
Saint Lazare station is the second busiest train station in Paris. Trains to go to Rouen leave from Level 1 (Niveau 1). There are 27 platforms, so make sure you’re there in advance to have time to find yours.
Paris to Rouen by car
If you come by car, I recommend finding a spot to park your car for the day and walk. Driving in Rouen isn’t easy. There are many narrow and one-way streets. It’s often much quicker to walk from one point to another. And it’s also the best way to see all the stunning buildings in the old town.
Responsible travel tip: Travelling by train has a lower impact on the environment than driving.
How do you spend a day in Rouen?
Here’s a one-day itinerary with my favourite things to do in Rouen for a day trip. The number refers to the order of the visit as you walk in Rouen and find these places rather than an order of preference. There’s a map at the end of the article with a suggested itinerary for your day in Rouen.
1. Start at the beautiful Rouen train station
If you took a train from Paris to Rouen, take a few minutes to have a look at the station and its belfry when you get out.
2. Check out the Joan of Arc Tower (Tour Jeanne d’Arc)
The Tour Jeanne d’Arc is the only part left of the Castle of Rouen, built in the early 13th century. If you have time, speak French and want to experience history, they organise escape games in the tower late in the afternoon. I haven’t tried it, but I like the idea!
3. Visit the Beaux-Arts Museum
The Beaux-Arts Museum is free and is France’s second-biggest impressionist art gallery! It opens at 10 am, so it can be hard to fit in a short-day itinerary. If you don’t have time to go in, it’s still a nice building to see from the outside.
4. Palais de Justice
The Palais de Justice is a fascinating building. I’ve walked past this masterpiece hundreds of times, and I could always spot a new detail on the Gargoyles.
5. Go to where Joan of Arc was executed: Place du Vieux Marché
Place du Vieux Marché is full of history. It’s the place where the French heroine Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in 1431 when Rouen was under the English rule. The new church has interesting modern architecture that contrasts a lot with the old monuments in Rouen. There are many squares in this area to enjoy drinks on a terrace. Place de la Pucelle was my favourite at the time.
6. Admire the fascinating clock (Gros Horloge)
The Gros Horloge is an iconic monument that goes over a busy, paved pedestrian street with half-timbered houses between Place du Vieux Marché and the Cathedral. You can visit it for the single experience of being inside a clock, and the fantastic views of the roofs and the Cathedral. It is one of the oldest working clocks in Europe: the Renaissance arch is from the 16th century, but the mechanism is from the 14th century.
7. Notre Dame Cathedral
As you go down Gros Horloge Street, you cannot miss the majestic Cathedral of Notre Dame. During summer (June to September), there’s a light show on the Cathedral at night (check timetables here) that you don’t want to miss if you chose to spend one night in the town. There was already a church there in the 4th century. It says a lot about the great past of Rouen. This Cathedral has been destroyed and rebuilt many times, so there is an interesting mix of styles there. I first saw the cathedral in Monet’s famous series of paintings. It is also famous for having the highest spire in France (151 m).
8. Saint Maclou church and Rue Eau de Robec
Then, you can wander towards St Maclou church and get lost in the small streets around. There are many restaurants for lunch. I recommend stopping at the lovely Rue Eau de Robec.
9. Gardens and Abbatiale St Ouen
If you finish your lunch before 2 pm, take a walk in the Jardins de l’Hotel de Ville (Town Hall Gardens) and admire the Abbatiale St Ouen, one of Rouen’s most famous buildings. It will open again at 2 pm for visits, and it’s worth a look inside.
10. Climb Saint Catherine Hill for the best views of the city
Rouen is surrounded by small mounts. It is not ideal for the climate, but it provides a great bird’s eye view of the city when the weather is clear. The most accessible one is Colline Sainte Catherine (Saint Catherine Hill). You’ll have to walk up there (about 3km) so allow one hour. It can be a great spot for sunset. From the Hotel de Ville bus stop, you can catch Bus 20 and stop at Cimetière du Mont Gargan. In 10 to 15 minutes, you’ll be near the start of the walk. You can check bus trips and timetables on this website.
11. Cruise the Seine River to the Port of Rouen
It might be hard to fit in a cruise on just a day trip to Rouen. But if you’re interested in visiting an inland port with economic importance (it’s not a seducing idea for everyone), it’s worth checking out if the crew from La Lutece are running tours on the day of your visit. The Port of Rouen used to be the main port in France for centuries and remains an important port today. If you don’t speak French, ask in advance if commentaries will be available in English. Hopefully, it has changed since I lived in Rouen.
Where to stay in Rouen
If you’re planning to stay longer in Rouen than just a day trip, I recommend staying in the town centre. There are many accommodation options, and you can easily walk from one place to another.
If you’re looking for something special, the Hotel de Bourgtheroulde*, with its beautiful courtyard views, is one of the most charming options in Rouen. The Hotel de la Cathedrale* is perfectly located and also has a lot of character. Otherwise, one of the cheapest options to stay in Rouen City Centre at a walking distance from the best parts of the old town is the Hôtel du Palais*.
Have you ever done a Paris to Rouen day trip? Share your experience in the comments below!
Interactive map of my one-day itinerary in Rouen
If you manage to catch an early train, you should be able to experience all these activities on a Paris to Rouen day trip.
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