The city of La Rochelle is one of France’s oldest and due to its importance to the nation from as early as the 12th century, it bears a lot of the landmarks from those early days. Any historian will appreciate the classic architecture. Any voyager will love the coastal location and the street markets. Anyone at all will enjoy the sense that, when holidaying in La Rochelle, you’ll never feel rushed and never crowded out. It’s certainly one of the first places to consider when planning a French holiday and one of the most relaxing breaks you can have. Read on to learn about the best things to do in La Rochelle!
1. Leave for l'Ile de Ré
Okay, so it might not be normal to arrive in a tourist destination and then immediately leave for another, but bear with us. The small island, connected to La Rochelle by a bridge, can easily be explored in half a day by car, but you may want to hire bikes and linger a little longer so as to appreciate the tranquility. It would be easy to think you’d been transported back in time, especially with the historic monuments such as the Phare des Baleines and Fort de la Pree. Countless Rochelais regularly travel here for a weekend or longer, which may offer some explanation for why La Rochelle itself is so relaxed and cheerful.
L'Ile de Ré
Address: Ile de Ré, France
Website: Ile de Ré
2. See what's up at the Aquarium de La Rochelle
The first thing to note about La Rochelle’s aquarium is its staggering size. It’s large enough to fit its own private ocean, more or less. This makes it one of the largest private aquariums anywhere in the world. Twelve thousand aquatic animals across more than 600 species make this the ideal stop-off for any budding Jacques Cousteau in your party.
Aquarium de La Rochelle
Address: Quai Louis Prunier, 17000 La Rochelle
Website: Aquarium de La Rochelle
3. Take a leisurely stroll around the Vieux Port
A port since the 13th century, La Rochelle became a city of huge importance to France in the early part of the last millennium. One result of this was that it was very heavily fortified, and among those fortifications were the two towers: La Tour de la Chaine and La Tour Saint-Nicolas - which stand above the harbor to this day. In those days, they were home to military prisoners as well as providing a resistance point against enemy ships coming into La Rochelle. Today they are besieged by sightseers and shoppers enjoying the local market. A more picturesque walk would be hard to imagine.
Vieux Port de la Rochelle
Address: Vieux port, 17000 La Rochelle
You might be interested in these Airbnbs!
4. Exercise your mind at the Muséum d'Histoire naturelle
A fine monument to learning it is with regular thought-provoking exhibitions on subjects from A to Z. Literally; there are sections for archaeology and zoology among many others. The tagline for the La Rochelle museum is “une experience inattendue” (literally “an unexpected experience”), which any visitor will agree is more than accurate. At an entry fee of 7 USD for adults and free for under-18s, it’s unexpectedly affordable, too.
Muséum d'Histoire naturelle
Address: Muséum d'Histoire naturelle, 28 rue Albert 1er, 17000 La Rochelle
Website: Muséum d'Histoire naturelle
5. Gaze in wonder on the Cathédrale Saint-Louis
No French city break would feel quite complete without a sight-seeing visit to a magnificent cathedral. La Rochelle is no exception. The Cathédrale Saint-Louis was built in the 18th century and has been a national monument since the early 20th.
It was conceived by the master architect Jacques Gabriel, who regrettably died before the first stone could be laid. The project was taken over by his son Ange-Jacques, who did justice to his father’s vision. It’s easy to find in the town center, and you’ll be glad you did.
Address: Rue Pernelle, 17000 La Rochelle
Website: Cathédrale Saint-Louis (in French)
6. Take a little downtime at Parc Charruyer
In La Rochelle, you will never run out of monuments and sights to see, nor will you ever run short of stunning views. An ancient French city on the Atlantic Coast is filled with those things. Nonetheless, you might want to take a moment to yourself and sit somewhere open, green and quiet. The best spot for this in La Rochelle is Parc Charruyer, a beautifully landscaped park with plenty of picnic areas (as well as a zoo for the kids). If you’ve never taken lunch while watching a peacock strutting peacefully and majestically, now’s the time and this is the place.
Address: 4 Place de la Chaîne, 17000 La Rochelle
Website: Parc Charruyer (in French)
7. Immerse yourself in La Vieille Ville
Not only has La Rochelle been a port for almost an entire millennium, it has spent many centuries as a city of some importance. Back when the only way to travel the world was by sea, ports were the most important cities anywhere. What this means for the tourist is that the main town of La Rochelle bears all the hallmarks of a strongly historic city. Full of walled arcades, the 13th-century architecture of old La Rochelle has been maintained, making for a sometimes hauntingly beautiful afternoon of walking.
La Vieille Ville de La Rochelle
Address: Mairie de La Rochelle, Place de l'Hôtel de ville, 17000 La Rochelle
8. Take to the waves at la Musée Maritime
La Rochelle would not be what it is today without its maritime importance, of course, and it pays tribute to the industry that gave it its prestige with this fascinating museum. Among other attractions, there is a set of three retired working boats, a meteorological research craft, a tug and a fishing boat, upon which you can learn about the seagoing people of La Rochelle through the ages. One word of warning before you part with the 10 USD entry fee; although it is well worth it, make sure someone in your party understands French, as tours and signage are in that language only.
Address: Place Bernard Moitessier, 17000 La Rochelle
Website: Musée Maritime (in French)
Ooh-la-la La Rochelle! A city you'll want to come back to
While certain changes have made La Rochelle less strategically important to France, it has certainly retained its importance from a tourist point of view. If you enjoy coastal holidays, there are few that compare anywhere in the world.
Get Trip101 in your inbox