Gruff French sailors and frilly lace. An unlikely mix to be sure, but those are apparently the two main exports of Calais, France — a major port in the north overlooking the Straight of Dover. There’s much more to this shipping hub though if you look closely, and here are some ideas to get you started.
It may be small in size (only around 80,000 people) but Calais is blessed with an abundance of museums. It’s easy to spend the whole day holed up in two or three of the world-class museums on offer here.
Whether it’s the oft overlooked gem that is the Fine Arts Museum — displaying the amazing works of Rodin, Dubuffet and Picasso — or the more sombre Historical Museum of the Second World War located in the picturesque village of Ambleteuse, Calais had plenty to please any museum snob. For some fascinating history, head over to Le Blockhaus d’Eperlecques, a museum located in the bunker where Hitler plotted the invasion of England.
2. Calais Beach
The beach at Calais is probably its best kept secret with a pristinely maintained seafront filled with fantastic eateries and cafes. There are fun fairs as well as a miniature golf course for the kids (or the kid in you) in addition to beautiful soft sand – perfect for a relaxing picnic. You can even try your hand at sand yachting or other water sports.
From the beach there is a path that leads to the 16th century Fort Risban and to Quai de la Colonne-Louise-XVIII where the Monument des Sauveteurs was erected to commemorate the heroic action of the rescue teams of Calais when King Louis landed in 1814.
3. Royal Kids Parc du Jeux
If you’ve got kids in tow, lug them over to this huge, 1000 m² indoor play arena. With a giant castle maze, football and basketball tournaments arranged on the sports field, and a fully heated and secure indoor soft play area complete with face painting and balloon sculptures, it’s sure to be a hit with all age groups. Located smack-dab in the centre of Calais, it’s got all the earmarks of a perfect family day out.
4. Place D’Armes
Place D’Armes was once the metropolitan centre of medieval Calais, unfortunately, the ravages of war devastated most of the original square leaving only the 13th century watchtower – Tour de Guet – still standing. Every Wednesday and Saturday throughout the year it turns into a colourful and eclectic open air market.
A short walk from the gorgeous harbour, an inner square surrounded by cafés and shops is the locale of some of the finest restaurants in Calais – offering spectacular local cuisine to suit even the pickiest gourmand.
If you’ve taken one of the Dover to Calais ferries, you’ve probably noticed the price difference here. Whether you want wine or Champagne at up to half the price of the UK, or want to save an average of 20% on a multitude of products from groceries to DIY equipment, Calais has got your back. Rue Royale is the main shopping street, filled with specialty shops selling chocolate, Lalique glass and specialty tea to name just a few.