18 must-see things to do in Hauts-de-France

Visiter les Hauts-de-France : Cabines de mer dans la baie de Somme

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Fancy a trip to the Nord? Let yourself be seduced by its contemporary landscape and visit the Hauts-de-France region and its must-sees!

Visiting Hauts-de-France also means going back to your roots. The region owes its origins to the Franks, Romans and Germans. This fusion of cultures is what makes its heritage so rich. But the area was also an industrial heartland for France in the 20th century. As a result, its landscape bears witness to the evolution of French history.

Today, the region draws from its glorious heritage a selection of monuments and sites at the crossroads of the Middle Ages and the Industrial Revolution. From cathedrals and belfries to mining sites and verdant landscapes, here are 18 must-sees in Hauts-de-France.

What to do in December in Hauts-de-France?

Marché RoyanPhoto credit: CRT Hauts-de-France/Stéphane Bouilland

A more eco-responsible and joyful Christmas!

Lille, Amiens, Arras, Chantilly, Saint-Quentin… The Christmas market season is underway in Hauts-de-France, at the foot of our cathedrals and belfries, in our town squares, castles and abbeys. You’ll be intoxicated by the scents of mulled wine and cinnamon, enjoying the illuminations and entertainment, and filling your sack with local and eco-friendly gifts.

Creations by exceptional artisans celebrating regional know-how, gourmet delights heralding « the European Region of Gastronomy in 2023 », unusual and memorable experiences to be enjoyed all year round at home… Be original, offer something local, long live made in Hauts-de-France!

And to make the most of the experience, choose from 30 original stays in the spirit of Christmas, on the Week-end Hauts-de-France website. In the countryside by the fireside, by the sea for an iodine-filled jaunt, in the heart of our lively cities, take advantage of the festive season to indulge in a moment of pure relaxation for two or the whole family.

Visitthe dedicated page on the Tourism in Hauts-de-France website.

1. Notre-Dame d’Amiens cathedral

Visiter les Hauts-de-France : Notre-Dame d'Amiens

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Let’s start our tour with a monument to Gothic architecture. Notre-Dame d’Amiens is a must-see if you’re visiting the Hauts-de-France region. Built 800 years ago, it has been aUNESCO World Heritage Site since 1981.

This elegant edifice is the work of thousands of men and craftsmen, working hand in hand. Its structure defies gravity, a disproportion it shares with the 80 other cathedrals in the Hauts-de-France region. Once capable of housing the entire population of Amiens, the building now welcomes 55 million tourists a year.

2. The Calais belfry

Visiter les Hauts-de-France : Beffroi de Calais

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Calais town hall is an eye-catcher, with its colorful neo-Flemish architecture. In 1911, architect Louis Debrouwer began construction on plans by the late Ernest Decroix. In the process, he decided to add a belfry to the structure. Today, this addition stands as the building’s landmark symbol.

Standing 75 meters high, the Calais belfry plays several roles within the town. It acts as a sentinel, as a watchtower. It is also used as a metronome, with its four-dial clock and mechanical chimes setting the pace for life in the city. You can visit the monument or take a stroll through the town hall’s leafy courtyard.

3. Compiègne

Visiter les Hauts-de-France : Château de Compiègne

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Next stop, Compiègne! A city rich in monuments, museums and tourist sites, Compiègne is a must-see when visiting the Hauts-de-France region. The town has played host to a number of royal dynasties, from the Merovingians to the Bourbons. As a result, its heritage preserves the memory of the monarchies that make up a large part of French history.

Take a tour of the Château de Compiègne, residence of Clovis and Napoleon III. Discover the history of the town and region at the Antoine Vivenel Museum. Or witness the industrialization of the region at the Francières sugar refinery.

4. Lille

Visiter les Hauts-de-France : Grand'Place de Lille

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It’s inconceivable to visit the Hauts-de-France region without taking a trip to the capital of Flanders. Lille is the epitome of the region’s temporal diversity. It’s a city marked by the meandering Middle Ages, the Hundred Years’ War and the Industrial Revolution.

The Grand’Place, the Vieille Bourse, the Hospice Comtesse, the Palais des Beaux Arts or its local specialties; Lille deserves its own list of must-sees. And speaking of specialities…

5. Gastronomy in Hauts-de-France

Visiter les Hauts-de-France : Carbonade flamande

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Take a break and get to know the local delicacies! Hauts-de-France offers a wide range of sweet and savory dishes to tantalize your taste buds:

  • Moules-frites: an emblematic dish of the Braderie de Lille, this specialty originated in the 17th century in Namur, Belgium.
  • La ficelle picarde: a crêpe topped with ham, button mushrooms, shallots, cream and white wine and baked au gratin, straight from Picardy.
  • Carbonade flamande: originally from French and Belgian Flanders, this variant of boeuf bourguignon is cooked with beer and braised beef, and eaten with French fries and gingerbread.
  • Champagne: originally non-sparkling, Champagne wine has been consumed since Antiquity and is the symbol of festivities and friendship, according to Honoré de Balzac.
  • Les bêtises de Cambrai: a product by Despinoy, these refreshing mints are the result of a mistake by an apprentice confectioner, hence the name  » bêtises ».

6. The Opal Coast

Visiter les Hauts-de-France : Côte d'Opale, Cap Griz-Nez

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Caps Blanc-Nez and Gris-Nez, sandy beaches, tourist towns (Boulogne-sur-Mer, Le Portel, Samer…), the Opal Coast offers incredible landscapes to visit in the Hauts-de-France region. Between hiking, coastal escapades, fishing and water sports, there’s a multitude of activities on offer.

7. Water sports

Visiter les Hauts-de-France : Kitesurf à Wimereux

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The Hauts-de-France region and its coastline are ideal for sporting activities in the air or at sea. Try your hand at kite-surfing in Wimereux. Try waterskiing and jet-skiing in Amiens. Or go kayaking or canoeing at the Saint-Laurent-Blangy nautical base.

8. Nausicaá

Visiter les Hauts-de-France : Méduses à l'Aquarium Nausicaá

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In the heart of Boulogne-sur-Mer lies the Centre national de la mer. Prior to its opening in 1991, the site was the town’s former casino. With its rehabilitation, organized by Guy Lengagne, Nausicaá has become Europe’s largest aquarium.

Featuring almost 1,600 different species, the center aims to raise visitors’ awareness of international maritime life and its preservation. Its educational and entertaining approach makes it a must-see in the Hauts-de-France region.

9. Somme Bay

Visiter les Hauts-de-France : Falaises d'Ault, dans la baie de Somme

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From its past scars, the Somme now stands alongside San Francisco and Halong as the world’s most beautiful bays. Here, sky and sea meet. The city has also been a source of inspiration for many artists: Jules Verne, Alfred Manessier, Edgar Degas and Victor Hugo.

The site also owes its longevity to man’s respect for the ecosystem of its environment. But the Baie de Somme is also a land of commemoration. Cemeteries and necropolises, the Circuit du Souvenir, the Diggers… numerous monuments keep alive the memory of soldiers lost in the World Wars.

10. The Ring of Memory

Visiter les Hauts-de-France : Anneau de la Mémoire

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The Hauts-de-Terre, which was the scene of the Middle Ages and the Industrial Revolution, also suffered the violence of the two World Wars. The Somme, Arras, Dunkirk: the Hauts-de-France region is a benchmark for the duty of remembrance. One of these memorials is located near the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Lorette.

The Anneau de la Mémoire, built in 2014, brings together the names of 580,000 soldiers who fell in the Nord-Pas-De-Calais region. It was designed by architect Philippe Prost. The distinctive feature of the structure is its suspension in space, cantilevered over a hill. This choice recalls the fragility of peace and the ring of brotherhood between soldiers during the war.

11. Louvre-Lens Museum

Visiter les Hauts-de-France : Musée Louvre-Lens

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Inaugurated in December 2012, the Musée du Louvre-Lens symbolizes the Hauts-de-France region’s commitment to post-industrial conversion. The site is located on pit 9, a former coal mine. Plagued by war and mining, the region has risen from the ashes to honor its past.

The Louvre-Lens, with the same name as its Parisian twin, is the second most visited museum in the region, after the Confluences in Lyon and the MUCEM in Marseille. The Galerie du Temps, the heart of the museum, traces the history of art. From Mesopotamia to the Industrial Revolution, periods intertwine in a unique dance. An ideal cultural expedition if you’re visiting Hauts-de-France.

12. Chantilly

Visiter les Hauts-de-France : Château de Chantilly

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The town of Chantilly is famous for its famous whipped cream and its equestrian activities. The Chantilly racecourse welcomes 40,000 visitors every year. They all come to watch the Prix du Jockey Club and the Prix de Diane, 42 days of successive flat races. But the Oise town also shines thanks to its noble past.

The Château de Chantilly, rebuilt by Henri d’Orléans to designs by Honoré Daumet, is a must-see in the Hauts-de-France region. The estate of the Montmorency and Condé families, this magnificent building is also home to the Condé Museum and the Grandes Écuries. From horse shows to cultural visits, Chantilly offers a wealth of tourist attractions for your vacation.

13. Scarpe-Escaut Regional Nature Park

Visiter les Hauts-de-France : Parc naturel régional Scarpe-Escaut

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Scarpe-Escaut is France’s first regional nature park. Created in 1968, this reserve is renowned for its bocage and local produce (maroilles, beehive honey and beef). The park also boasts a number of former slag heaps, part of the region’s industrial heritage, which contribute to the preservation of its ecosystem.

14. Le familistère de Guise

Familistère de Guise

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At the behest of Jean-Baptiste André Godin, this building was constructed to provide better housing conditions for workers. A veritable industrial complex, the familistère also includes a social palace, a commissary building, a school and theater, a laundry, baths and a swimming pool. Today, the site remains a happy reminder of Hauts-de-France’s industrial past.

15. The Matisse Museum in Le Cateau-Cambrésis

Visiter les Hauts-de-France : musée Matisse

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Among the many artists who have lived in the Hauts-de-France region, Henri Matisse tops the list. In 1952, the Fauvist painter created a museum at the Palais Fénelon in Le Cateau-Cambrésis. He donated 82 of his works to his native town. His collection has been enriched over the years by his heirs. This discreet, lesser-known museum is a must-see in the Hauts-de-France region.

16. The village of Gerberoy

Visiter les Hauts-de-France : Village de Gerberoy

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Flower Power in Hauts-de-France. Frozen in time, Gerberoy is consideredone of France’s most beautiful villages. With fewer than 100 inhabitants, it’s known as the village of a thousand rosebushes.

As you may have guessed, the rose is the symbol of this corner of paradise. This small Oise town also owes its popularity to the painter Le Sidaner, with his 25 varieties of flower gardens.

17. Pit no. 9-9 bis

Visiter les Hauts-de-France : Fosse n°9-9bis

Photo credit: Wikipedia – Jérémy-Günther-Heinz Jähnick

A look back at the industrial heritage of the Hauts-de-France region. Fosse n°9-9 bis, located in Oignies, is one of the region’s five major sites. It includes the pit, the De Clercq garden city and the 110 slag heap. In December 1990, when its destruction was being considered, the pit floor was finally saved by the Accusto Seci association, made up of former miners and enthusiasts.

This vestige of the industrial revolution plays an important role in mining history and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

18. Carnivals

Visiter les Hauts-de-France : Carnaval de Dunkerque

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To conclude, why not end our tour with some festivities? Hauts-de-France is renowned for its celebrations, in harmony with the region’s customs and traditions.

In Dunkirk, around Mardi Gras, people gather in the streets during the day behind the drum major’s band. Then, at night, the carnival-goers gather in large town halls to party to traditional music and contemporary songs.

In Bailleul, the whole celebration is the creation of the Philanthropic Society. It’s based on the tale of the epicurean giant Gargantua. It’s this figure who signals the start of the festival and marks its distinctive feature: the Bailleul carnival is renowned for its giants on floats!

How do I get to Hauts-de-France?

  • Plane: The Hauts-de-France region is at the center of three European countries: France, Belgium and the UK. It is also within easy reach of 5 European capitals. Its most important airports are Lille and Amiens. Use a flight comparator like Skyscanner to find the right flight for your stay;
  • Train: By TGV, the Hauts-de-France region can be reached via Lille, Valenciennes, Arras, London and Brussels stations;
  • Bus: Bus routes have been set up throughout the region, covering Nord, Pas-de-Calais, Oise, Aisne and Somme;
  • Car: The region is also accessible via the A1 and A29 freeways. For sustainable travel, don’t hesitate to carpool!

Where to stay in Hauts-de-France?

Of course, basing yourself on an entire region offers a wealth of accommodation options. If you’re looking for a hotel, tryHôtel Beaudon orHôtel Le Régent.

Self-catering cottages, campsites or Airbnb are also available, such as Gîte du Vieux Noyer in Villers-Faucon or Camp des Roses in Aubers. There’s absolutely no shortage of choice in Hauts-de-France for spending your vacations in picturesque accommodation. And if in doubt, use a hotel comparator.

You’re all set to visit Hauts-de-France! Pack your bags and take your best shots!

Map of hotels and accommodation – Hauts de France