Calais: More than just a booze cruise destination

Situated on France’s northern coast on the English Channel, Calais is often considered simply as the UK’s gateway into France and Europe but not as an obvious tourist destination, except on a booze cruise for Brits to load up with cheap French alcohol.  Many speed through the town after making the Dover to Calais ferry crossing on their way to or from the continent not realising that Calais, like Boulonge, is actually a very attractive and pleasant French town and that it’s well worth taking some time, or even an overnight stay, to visit some Calais attractions.

Things to do Calais

Calais views, by @JL62

Most people are surprised that despite its ancient heritage Calais is in fact a very modern city. This is because 70% of the medieval walled city was destroyed during the Second World War as both sides tried to keep control of its essential port. This means that large parts of the town are only a generation old but some parts of its ancient town are still well preserved.

One of the surviving buildings is the Beffroi (Bell Tower),  a watch tower originally built as part of  a 13th century castle.  It operated as a lighthouse in the early 19th century. Although the Hotel de Ville (town hall) was constructed in 15th century Flemish Renaissance architectural style, it was actually built between 1911 – 1925.  In front of the Hotel de Ville is the “Monument to Six Bourgeois” sculpture by Rodin.

Things to do Calais

Hotel de Ville by skuds

It’s hard to escape the World War II influences in Calais, especially as the town was home to the regional German military headquarters, which have since been converted into a Second World War Museum which charts the history of the town through the conflict.  There’s also the Museum of Fine Arts and Lace.

The Phare de Calais (lighthouse) was built in 1848, to replace the Watch Tower lighthouse.  If you can make it up the 270 step spiral staircase there are great views over Calais and towards Dover.

things to do Calais

Le Phare de Calais by @JL62

On the western side of the town are the cliffs located on the Cote d’Opale, which is France’s equivalent of the White Cliffs of Dover on the opposite side of the English Channel.

things to do Calais

View from Cap Blanc-Nez on the Cote d’Opale by webzooloo

So when planning your trip, be aware of things to do in Calais, in addition to stocking up with cheap wine and beer and allow some extra time to explore the town when entering or leaving France.

Click here for the lowest prices on Calais hotels

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About Karen Bryan

Hello, I'm Karen Bryan, I created Europe a la Carte in 2002 to highlight the best places to visit in Europe with travel tips, photos and no fluff reviews. I’m also an artist; my artworks are often inspired by my travels