Get the best out of your Calais day trip

From Calais, you can visit some of France’s most popular destinations for shopping, dining, and sightseeing.

A day vacation to France from the United Kingdom is an excellent idea.

For a day trip or weekend getaway, France is the ideal destination from the United Kingdom. After all, Folkestone to Calais is just a 35-minute drive away. Discover some of the best locations to go on your next vacation with our guide.

Calais sightseeing

Day trippers generally come to stock up on cheap alcohol and smokes, so the ancient Roman harbor in Calais frequently goes unnoticed. Beyond the shops, though, Calais has a great deal to offer tourists.

Much of the town was destroyed in World War II, but the Flemish Renaissance-style town hall with a clock tower that can be seen from miles away is a must-see among the remaining structures. Visit the building every day from 8 a.m. to noon and 1.30 to 5.30 p.m. for the ornate interiors and many paintings depicting local historical events.

The Six Burghers, an Auguste Rodin sculpture depicting the surrender of the town keys to the English in 1357, stands directly in front of the town hall.

Unknown to most visitors, a lovely sandy beach with white wooden cabanas is just 15 minutes away, perfect for sunbathing or perhaps taking a short swim in the English Channel.

Visit the elegant 19th-century lighthouse, the historic Place D’Armes, and the Fine Art Museum to see the masterpieces of Rodin, Pablo Picasso, and Jean-Auguste Dubuffet, among others. 

So the next time you’re considering a vacation to Calais, think again before writing it off as a party hotspot. You’ll be surprised at how close Calais really is after you get to know it better.

Visit to Le Touquet-Paris-Plage for a day at the beach

Visit the coastal town of Le Touquet-Paris-Plage to relive the glitz and glamor of the Roaring Twenties.

Historically popular with monarchy and the English aristocracy, Le Touquet’s hotels have hosted film stars and royalty alike. Today, the town’s fading coastal elegance is luring a whole new generation of socialites and tourists.

Visitors may choose their own peaceful spot on the long, sandy beach, and the promenade and dunes nearby provide great walking and cycling routes. A water park and a beautiful antique carousel await the little ones.

Le Touquet has three golf courses, as well as possibilities for sand yachting, sailing, and horseback riding, so sports lovers will not be disappointed. If all that seems exhausting, you may also unwind at the 1930s covered market on Thursdays and Saturdays, where you can purchase fresh seafood, meat, bread, and a variety of delicacies.

In France, Le Touquet is a great day excursion if you’re searching for something a little more athletic.

Visit to Lille

Lille, France’s fourth-largest city and the headquarters of the Hauts-de-France department, has a fascinating past worth exploring. A day vacation or weekend getaway to this culturally rich city will keep you occupied at museums, architectural wonders, and monuments. The renovated houses that now house cafés, boutique stores, and art galleries in charming Vieux Lille (the old town) are a must-see, as is The Goddess Column, which commemorates the town’s 1792 revolt against the Austrians.

At Christmas, Lille’s main square transforms into a winter paradise with food and artisan stalls that are among the finest in France. Outdoor markets, though, keep things interesting all year round. Visit the family-friendly quartier populaire of Wazemmes, 1.3 km southwest of place du Général de Gaulle, for a sample of Lille’s markets. From flowers to textiles, Marche de Wazemmes market has it all. Make a note of the dates and hours so you can plan accordingly and bring lots of souvenirs home with you.

Visit the ancient harbor of Dunkerque

There will be an indelible mark on the port of Dunkirk as the location of the enormous exodus of French and British soldiers from the advancing German armies during World War II.

The town was completely restored and is again a functioning port. Its museums provide intriguing glimpses into a past that has played a critical part in human history, and making a visit to one of them a must for history buffs.

In a former French army HQ from 1939, the Operation Dynamo War Museum is open daily from April to September, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. The museum gives you a better understanding of what Winston Churchill called “The miracle of Dunkirk” by showcasing various pieces of equipment used during the evacuations as well as testimonials from troops who were there.

The Port Museum, which showcases the town’s rich fishing history, will transport you to another period. After visiting the area’s world-renowned beaches, spend some time strolling around the ramparts for spectacular views.

A day excursion to Dunkerque is perfect for history enthusiasts of all skill levels who want to have a closer look at the past.

Saint Quentin

Saint Quentin is another lesser-known city that’s great for a day trip. A visit to the museum is highly recommended for anybody interested in military history. There were several important WW I engagements at Saint Quentin, although it is less well-known than Ypres and the Somme. A historic British military withdrawal took place in the city’s center square when German forces drove the British Expeditionary Forces from Mons. However, the Battle of St Quentin Canal in September 1918, one of the most important engagements of WW I, allowed them to redeem themselves.

Given its important role during World War I, the town along the railway has both an outstanding war monument and many historical attractions to explore. To the north, you’ll find the canal where the Battle of St. Quentin Canal took place, and to the south, you’ll see remnants of the old Hindenburg Line bunkers, where the allied troops breached the German defense line.

In addition to the Somme, Arras, and the Aisne, Saint Quentin is well located for visiting other significant WW I battlefields. However, the town itself is so rich in history that you may want to remain there. Be sure to pay a visit to Basilica Saint-Quentin, a magnificent Gothic structure that was constructed somewhere between the 12th and 15th centuries. It was severely damaged during World War I, and it was on the verge of being blown to pieces — explosives preparation holes can still be seen. Fortunately, it was discovered in time, repaired, and made available to the public.

Saint Omer

With its golden bricked structures, this “town of yellow bricks” is known as the “art capital of the world.” It also has a long history of textile and pottery production. There are public gardens to visit, as well as the remains of Saint-Abbey, Bertin’s which include colorful townhouses and beautiful architecture. Day trips and weekend getaways may be had here at your own leisure.

Anyone with an interest in history or architecture would like this place. St-cathedral, Omer’s which was constructed between the 13th and 16th centuries, is one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture left in France’s northern regions. A huge organ, surrounded by paintings by Rubens and Lebrun, decorates the nave’s far end. The cathedral’s 16th-century astrological clock is said to be the country’s oldest.

Travel from Arques to Lumbres on a vintage train that has been carefully restored to its original 1950s splendor, stopping at several of the region’s most popular tourist attractions along the route. The ride (which is very picturesque) is available for purchase.

Nick Garnett
Latest posts by Nick Garnett (see all)

I've been travelling since the 70's and have visited over 30 countries, but, and it's a big but, my heart has always been in the French countryside. So much so that 15 years ago, my wife Charlotte and I bought a little hamlet house in central France and haven't been anywhere since, except for the odd trip to the Polish steppes (don't ask why, it's complicated). FiftyFrance is an expression of our deep and abiding love for France and her people.

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