Northern France Tourism : official website

The three-masted boat, the Artemis passing by a lighthouse

Dunkirk - a grand maritime heritage

The Dunkirk port museum - both on the quay and on the water - is the unbeatable starting point for a journey to the core of the maritime heritage. The seaside city organises many festivals which start in spring. Wander along the Commerce dock, be stirred by sailors singing at the “La Citadelle en bordées” in June, the one evening event organised in the citadel neighbourhood. In August, watch the blessing of the sea and the famous Our Lady of the Dunes procession, carried by the “bazennes”, the fishermen’s wives, in traditional costume. The day ends with boats heading to sea where they place a wreath: a spectacular and moving moment.

The Duchess Anne and the Dunkirk quays
  • The Duchess Anne and the Dunkirk quays
  • © Francis Bertout

Gravelines celebrates the Icelanders

Every year the town of Gravelines commemorates the time of year when the fisherman return to Iceland. From the 25th to 28th September, there are boat trips on the channel, a parade of giants and models, a historic market, and exhibitions. You can also visit the Maison de l’Islandais ecomuseum - a typical 19th century fisherman’s home untouched by time, which shows the daily life of seafarers in the past. There is more if this theme interests you? Close by you can visit the sea museum at Grand-Fort Philippe. Why not go there while you are there for the sea blessing on the 15th of August). It traces the evolution of fishing techniques, and maritime heritage and traditions.

Gravelines: a white yacht in front of the lighthouse
  • Gravelines: a white yacht in front of the lighthouse
  • © Pascal Morès

Calais - a living, human maritime heritage

Calais is the travellers’ port. A city with a long maritime history which has an operating shipyard where specialists build and restore all types of boats traditionally (03 21 82 58 65). The symbol of Calais’ maritime heritage is the fishermen’s neighbourhood, closest to the port, known as the maritime Courgain. In summer it re-lives the past with a mass at the church of Our Lady, followed by a procession to the port. Feel the unique atmosphere, taste seafood, watch nautical jousting matches in the Paradis dock, and maritime folk concerts! And don’t miss the Place du Minck, the exhibitions at the Fine Arts museum, and the herring festival in November.

Boats lined up in the Calais marina
  • Boats lined up in the Calais marina
  • © Anne-Sophie Flament

Terre des Deux Caps - heritage with charm

Wissant, Audresselles, Audinghen... between the two capes are scattered small fishing villages which continue to host popular traditional festivals. In summer Wissant celebrates the famous typical Côte d’Opale boat, the flobart. You can taste seafood, listen to sailors’ songs, and admire old flobarts being launched and decorated. At Gris-Nez cape, there is an artistic walk in August, with the “Gris-Nez Terre d'artistes” event. Early in the year, Audresselles holds a festival in honour of the crab in May. A unique colourful and gourmet weekend surrounded by superb landscapes.

Wissant’s the flobart festival
  • Wissant’s the flobart festival
  • © Anne-Sophie Flament
Aerial vue of La Crèche point and the fort
  • La Crèche point
  • © Philippe Frutier

Visit the forts

The fort de la Crèche in Wimereux, and further south the three forts de l’Heurt in Portel are definitely worth a visit.

Boulogne-sur-Mer: an essential stop

It is THE town to visit if you want to be submerged in maritime heritage. Wander through the La Beurière historical neighbourhood opposite the Nausicaa aquarium during the autumn festival.  La Maison de la Beurière provides an authentic representation of the seafarers’ legend. Visit the “Côte d’Opale Fête de la Mer” seaside festival in July, along the Gambetta quay and around the Napoleon dock. A gathering of traditional boats, visits of large yachts, a nautical parade, etc. Come back in August to visit large yachts, watch the nautical parade, etc. Come back in August for the procession of Our Lady of Boulogne. This historical pilgrimage celebrates the arrival of a statue of the Virgin Mary by sea - a lovely legend. Another tip? Visit the seafarer’s wayside cross, the Calvaire des Marins (06.07.65.33.79). This town breathes in the sea.

A boat entering the Boulogne-sur-mer port
  • Boulogne-sur-mer: the grand procession
  • © Eric Desaunois

Etaples - homeland to the herring king

Finish your maritime heritage visit with a monument,  Etaples-sur-Mer, the fishermen’s museum, and a picturesque marina. Trawlers can no longer moor in Etaples due to silt blocking the Canche bay. But fishing continues here in an exceptional heritage site. Which you will understand after visiting Maréis, the sea fishing museum. When the main fishing ports - Dunkirk, Boulogne, and Calais  emerged, the town chose to specialise in herring. In November there is a two-day festival of music and activities and entertainment permeated by the scent of herrings. And all year round there are musical events, blessings, shows, and in October, boat races “joutes à canotes”.

Fresh fish, Boulogne-sur-mer
  • Fresh fish, Boulogne-sur-mer
  • © Eric Desaunois