5 Things to See in Dunkirk and Northern France

Dunkirk holds a memorable place in the hearts and minds of Brits and military historians. Innumerable books, films, and TV shows have told the town’s tale, one where around 400,000 troops were stranded on the beach and eventually made their way across the English Channel. But there’s more to this region than World War II history.

Let me take you through some of the great things to see in Dunkirk and Northern France.

1. Visit the Dunkirk Carnival

Dunkirk is home to one of France’s most exciting carnivals, which kicks off at the beginning of the year and runs until March. Thousands of revellers flock to the city’s streets to enjoy live music, dancing, and singing. It’s a little bit odd, incredibly unique, and immensely fun.

Popular with locals and international tourists alike, with many visitors taking the ferry to Dunkirk from the UK, this carnival dates back to 1676 and will give you some unforgettable vacation memories, not to mention a few eye-catching Instagram snaps.

2. Churches, lace, and shopping in Calais

Calais is about 45 minutes away from Dunkirk by bus. It’s the closest French city to the UK and was actually owned by the English for a couple hundred years during the Middle Ages. You can explore some of the region’s medieval history with monuments like Le Tour de Guet, built in the 13th century, as well as the church of Notre-Dame, which was built during English occupation.

There’s also a rich history of lace making in Calais, and you can learn about this at the City of Lace and Fashion Museum, a massive building that houses thousands of samples and some beautiful exhibits.

After sampling local history, head to Rue Royale, where you’ll find a variety of shops and restaurants, giving you a chance to explore some of that world-famous French cuisine.

3. An escape in Amiens

The Somme River runs through the city of Amiens and gives its name to the famous World War I battlefield, which makes for somber viewing during a trip to northern France. Known as the ‘Venice of the North’, Amiens has a beautiful canal district complete with floating gardens. You can stroll along its cobblestone streets and take in the amazing architecture or hop on a barge and sail the waterways.

Be sure to visit Amiens cathedral. At 42 metres, it’s one of the tallest in France and is also a UNESCO heritage site.

4. Go on a food tour of Lille

Lille is a gorgeous medieval city, but we’ve already had our fill of history and medieval architecture, so it’s time to explore a different side of this metropolis. It’s a cultural hub and a university city, so there is no shortage of great restaurants, not to mention a blend of French and Belgian influences that makes for some delicious dishes.

Here are a few must-try foods in Lille:

  • Welsh aux Maroilles: A local specialty made with Maroilles cheese, ham, mustard, and beer. It’s a warming, salty, more-ish dish. It’s usually served with a salad and French fries.
  • Carbonnade Flamande: A Flemish meat stew made with braised beef, dark ale, and vegetables like leeks and carrots.
  • Chocolate and sweets: Lille is definitely not short on chocolate and confectionery. You’ll find sweet shops everywhere in the city, so make sure you grab some goodies when you’re there.
  • Craft beer: Not only do they love to cook with beer in Lille, but they drink plenty of the stuff as well, earning it the nickname the ‘Beer Capital of France.’ You’ll find a glut of locally brewed craft beers here.
  • Waterzooi: A massively popular local dish made with vegetables, cream, and either fish or chicken. It’s iconic, and you’ll find it in restaurants and cafes throughout the city.
  • Frikadelle: A flat, pan-friend meatball often eaten as a snack with sauces and French fries.

5. Explore Dunkirk’s beaches and the Musée Dunkerque

Although there’s a lot more happening here than WWII history, you’d be remiss to visit Dunkirk and not get a taste of that history. Plan a trip to Musée Dunkerque, which is open every day until 6pm and uses beautiful exhibits to tell the story of the Dunkirk evacuation.

Once that story is fresh in your mind, head to the beaches and get a feel for the magnitude of what happened there, with around 400,000 troops snaked along the beaches waiting desperately to be rescued.

Exploring Dunkirk and Northern France

France is a vast country with a wealth of destinations and attractions, from weekend trips in Paris to road trips through the French countryside. But the northern part of the country offers a unique glimpse into its history, cuisine, and culture, one that’s often overlooked by tourists.

So, the next time you book a vacation in France, consider exploring Dunkirk and the surrounding regions.

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