Travel writer and family travel blogger, Clare Thomson, writes about the French city of Honfleur, and why it’s a perfect holiday for travelling with children. Read more about Clare from her IQPlanner profile here.
Honfleur sits on the Normandy Coast and is one of the prettiest places to visit in France. What’s more, it’s really great if you're looking for a city where you can travel with kids.
As well as the many activities to choose from, you can also easily spend several days just soaking in the atmosphere of this charming medieval town with its narrow cobbled streets, half-timbered houses and beautiful harbour.
There’s plenty of holiday ideas that the whole family can enjoy. From boat rides and butterfly houses, to eccentric museums and trying new foods, there's something to please all.
Because of its location on the estuary where the River Seine meets the English Channel, Honfleur is a great base for exploring the Normandy coast. It’s also close enough to the seaside towns of Trouville and Deauville, as well as the stunning alabaster cliffs at Étretat further north.
The best things to see and do
A boat trip down the estuary
There’s no better way to explore a city than by boat – something that’s a must in Honfleur.
Boat trips down the estuary take place several times a day. The family will also enjoy just watching the fishing boats coming in and unloading their catch along the quay.
When you enter a museum and are greeted by a giant pear bouncing up and down on a pair of wings, you know you’re in for a fun time!
The French composer, Erik Satie, was born in this red-timbered house in 1866. Now a museum paying homage to his life, it’s by far one of the craziest and most enjoyable museums we’ve ever visited.
The Maisons Satie is a musical and visual journey into his world. They give you headphones that guide you through the rooms, playing different pieces of music and conversation as you walk around.
Satie worked with the Surrealists, collaborated with artists like Picasso and Jean Cocteau and influenced composers like Debussy and Stravinsky. That said, expect a lot of surrealist humour here!
We particularly like the room where you climb onto a carousel — the seat’s a large ball where you have to pedal along to the music.
If that’s not eccentric enough, above is an accordion made out of a book and a violin in an old boot!
The Maisons Satie is open every day except Tuesday, from 10am until 7pm but do check the website for more up-to-date details.
The must-see harbour
If you want to see one of the prettiest harbours in the world, take a trip to Vieux-Bassin. There you’ll find tall and narrow townhouses dating back to the 16th and 18th centuries. Some are colourfully painted, while others have striking grey slate fronts.
The harbour’s also an ideal place to admire the yachts, or have a picnic on the stone steps. Alternatively, there’s many cafés and restaurants that line the cobblestoned streets where you can take a drink.
Treat the kids to a brightly-coloured sirop: fruit squash flavoured with mint, strawberry, lemon and grenadine. For adults, I recommend trying the Kir Normande for an aperitif. It’s a tasty concoction of blackcurrant liqueur topped up with sparkling cider instead of the usual white wine.
A seafood bonanza
The fresh seafood in Honfleur is superb and a great place to introduce your children to new French foodie experiences.
You can find the best seafood restaurants on the Quai de la Quarantaine overlooking the estuary. The few cafés around the old harbour are more touristy, but perfect for a spot of people watching.
The best value for money are the three-course menus, and there’s usually a couple of choices for each course. A selection of seafood is a fun way to get more adventurous kids to try new things.
My oldest thoroughly enjoyed his first oysters and cockles, but wasn’t so keen on the tough sea snails. The youngest stuck to mussels and chicken — with plenty of french fries on the side.
Art at the Musée Eugène Boudin
Honfleur has been the inspiration of many artists for hundreds of years. It’s thought to be one of the birthplaces of Impressionism after artists started coming to paint in the open air in the 19th century.
Painters were attracted by the beauty of the harbour as well as the amazing quality of the light on the Normandy coast.
The artists would stay in a timber-framed farmhouse called the Auberge Saint Siméon, where they drank cider and paid their bill with their paintings.
It was local artist, Eugène Boudin, who introduced the young Monet to Honfleur. You can clearly see this from the many paintings of Normandy in the Musée Eugène Boudin.
The museum’s open every day except Tuesday from 10am until 12pm, 2pm until 6pm. Check the website for more information.
Playtime for the kids
Honfleur has many places close to the city centre for the children to run around and play hide-and-seek.
The largest park is Le Jardin des Personnalités, where you can have fun finding the twelve statues of famous people who lived in Honfleur. Open-air concerts take place here over the summer.
If you walk the along the sea wall past the lighthouse to the beach, you’ll come across a playground for the kids in the public garden.
Head to the food market
There’s a wonderful market that takes place on the cobbled streets outside St Catherine’s Church every Saturday morning.
It’s a typically French market where you’ll find foodie treats like cheeses, saucisson, quiches and freshly-caught seafood. If you’re looking for Normandy specialities like Camembert and cider, this is the place to come.
See the butterflies at Naturospace
Watch butterflies as they emerge from their chrysalis at Naturospace, the largest tropical butterfly house in France.
The warm, rainforest atmosphere of the house is the right climate for butterflies and tropical birds to fly around freely. If you’re lucky, some will even come right up to you!
Naturospace is open every day from 9.30am until 1pm; from 2pm until 5.30pm (until 6.30pm from April until October). It’s closed in December and January. Check the website for more details.
Photos 1,2,4,5, 8 and cover picture courtesy of Clare Thomson at Suitcases and Sandcastles