France needs no introduction when it comes to travel. Despite being one of the world’s most famous holiday destinations, 95% of France remains largely off the tourist map, more so in the case of Indians. Traveling to France usually means a visit to Paris and French Riviera. However, just one hour away from the home of Eiffel Tower lies “France’s best-kept secret”.
Northern France, an under-the-radar region has always remained in the shadow of the glamorous capital. However, once you visit the region, it’s impossible to not become its diehard fan. Northern France has an astoundingly rich and diverse historic heritage and its range of natural environments in unrivaled by any other region in France or even Europe.
Here are the 10 reasons to visit Northern France:
1. Because it is well connected with major cities
There are a very few places that can boast of the connectivity as Northern France has. 1 hour from Paris, 30 minutes from Brussels and 1.5 hours from London. You can use Eurail Global Pass to get from anywhere in high-speed trains like TGV. The best part is you don’t have to travel a lot from the airport to get to a train station. Within 4 minutes of coming out of the Paris Airport, I could board a high-speed TGV train to Lille. Yes, it’s that easy. The other option is self-drive. Personally, that’s my favourite as you can pull over anywhere to admire the French dreamscapes.
2. Because it wrote the history of Europe since the middle ages
Whether it was the French revolution or the two world wars, Northern France has always been in the thick of the action. The famous battles of Normandy and Dunkirk were fought in the region. And, one can still see the relics of the glory as well as horrid past juxtaposed next to the modern world. And, it’s not just war relics that are preserved. French are very passionate about their past and culture. And, that’s the reason why you can still hear classical songs on the radio or in restaurants. And, traditional cuisine is not limited to annual events.
3. Because it’s difficult to encapsulate region’s sheer variety
Northern France has an astoundingly rich and diverse historic heritage, and its range of natural environments is unrivaled by any other region in France or even Europe. Lille impressed me with its Flemish-Spanish influence, cool brasseries, and swanky shopping streets while Le Touquet simply swept me off my feet with its coastal glamour. Amiens bewitched with its heritage-nature charm and Chantilly doled out a royal carpet. It’s difficult to encapsulate the sheer variety in the region.
4. Because it has the friendliest and kindest people in France
French people are misjudged to be unfriendly and cold. But, I experienced the opposite. Not only are they friendly and funny but they go out of their way to make you feel comfortable and welcomed. Here’s an example.
I was on a self-drive trip through Northern France when on one fateful day I forgot my laptop charger in the hotel. I was 115-km away and was running on a tight schedule. To make the matters worse, I had a flight next day and my charger was of an old make that wasn’t available in stores. It was a catch-22 situation with no feasible solution in sight. At that time, a local friend, Pierre, came to my rescue. Without batting an eye, he spent a day on the road correcting my mistake.
5. Because it has the largest and the tallest Cathedral in France
Paris’ Notre Dame might be the most popular cathedral in France, but Notre Dame Amiens gargantuan cathedral is about twice the size. It is impossible to not get impressed by this twice conferred UNESCO World Heritage site, which is one of the largest medieval cathedrals in the world, filled with jaw-dropping sculptures and soaring gothic spires.
6. Because it has France’s Horse Capital – Chantilly
Just an hour’s drive from Paris or 30 minutes by train— I found a Renaissance gem and the Horse Capital of France, Chantilly. A city that has been built around racehorse and no wonder Chantilly Racecourse is home to two of France’s most important races – the Prix du Jockey Club and, the Prix de Diane. Not only does it have the largest racehorse-training community in France but is also a home to the Living Museum of the Horse at Great Stables.
7. Because here you can find the Venice of the North
The charming town of Amiens in the Hauts-de-France region combines the watery beauty of Venice with French small town elegance. The Saint-Leu district with its canals and the 2000 years old floating gardens (hortillonnages) are a must-see attraction. Rustic cottages, colourful flower beds, and activity areas dot islands along the canals, with ducks and swans playing along peacefully.
8. Because it is where the rich come to relax
Le Touquet, an affluent coastal town, has long been a playground of the rich, not just from France but from all over the world, where famous figures like French President, Emmanuel Macron, owns a home. In the past, frequent visitors included Winston Churchill, Prince Edward, and even James Bond’s creator Ian Fleming, who lived here and drew inspiration for Casino Royale from the town’s casino. There’s no dearth of action here – endless sandy beach, horse riding, tennis, golfing, racing, gambling, and sand-yachting.
9. Because you can follow in the footsteps of Joan of Arc
Saint-Valery-sur-Somme’s name was written in history books because of Joan of Arc, one of the greatest Lady General in the world and the National Heroine of France, who led the country to many victories in the 15th century. In 1431, she has held a prisoner in the local prison before being dispatched to Rouen for her execution.
10. Because here eating and drinking is a serious business
Eating in Northern France is a voyage for your taste buds. Whether you love sweet or savoury, fine dining or quick bite; your food will always delight you. It would be a crime to not try local signature dishes like the Carbonnade Flamande (Beef stew), Méert waffle (a favourite of General Charles de Gaulle), Welsh (Ham, bread, beer and cheese), pot’je vleesch (rabbit, veal, chicken meat, served cold in a pot of savoury jelly with French fries) and Mussels. Northern France is not a wine-growing country and locals prefer beer. Do try Célestin’s beers. And, like other parts of the country, cheese is very good here. You can find over one thousand variety of cheeses here.
Last but not
So, when are you booking a trip to #Northern France? And, don’t forget to visit three Villages along the Saone River as well.
An edited version of this story was published in Sakal Times
Have you ever visited Northern France? If yes, I would love to hear from you.
PS: I am sure many of you are following my ongoing #OffbeatEuropeWithTSW journey on my social media channels. In case you want to know more, do read how I am managing 4 months Solo Budget Travel in Europe and stay tuned for upcoming posts.
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I was in Northern France at the invitation of the region Hauts-de-France. Everything expressed above is based on my personal experience and conversations I had in the region. All images used were shot by me. Please don’t use any image or text without written permission.
That was great, well written & yes I’m going there for sure 😊
This makes me what to travel somewhere like right now. Northern France sounds like a great place to explore.
This is what I would expect from the travel blog: nice short and simple but informative points. Well done!
That was great, simply great. Your pictures give reasons to look beyond to those places.
Of all the reasons that you have given it is following the footsteps of Joan of Arc that motivated me the most! It would be an interesting travel if I would be able to do that!
A great travelogue. I must say that you take great photos and share a very informative post. Makes me want to travel to northern France too.
Well well well these places are on my travel bucket list. One day, someday i will be there 🙂
Oh my gosh, you’re so lucky you travel a lot. Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful article. 🙂
I agree with your shared insights. My boyfriend is from France and he always told me to not prioritize Paris, and explore the outside city. He rave that it is much better than Paris. And I think I will do that.
Thanks for this post, I’ve bookmarked it, as I’d really like to visit Amiens. I’ve been to Brittany so often, but never visited it and the cathedral is a must see. I love all the medieval and gothic architecture in your photos.
I have been considering a trip to Paris next year because I haven’t been there is a while and it is one of my favorite cities. Now however I’m thinking about including a road trip in Northern France too 🙂
So great! It’s so important to explore other areas other than the ones people think of first. The area seems so great to visit!!
There are so many places in France that I would like to see. I have been to Paris. I loved it, but I’d like to expand my visit further.
Great blog post, I visit France next year with all the extended family and I can’t wait to explore.
Lovely! I hope to visit Paris for a conference in March so I will would love to branch out and visit Northern France. Thanks for the idea!
France is such a lovely country. My favourite thing is the food – wine, cheese and bread! Always nicer outside of the large cities
Such a well researched post.
I agree France has so much to offer beyond Paris and is a country with diverse culture, heritage and environment.
The food and wines are great too!
I heard already so many great things about that region of France and your post just confirms all the beautiful impressions that I already have about it. All these lovely places like Chantilly Amiens or many others must be so charming. But what would fascinate me and be the most interesting is the rich and old culture and history that waits to be discovered in these places. To see the Notre Dame Amiens gargantuan cathedral with the own eyes must be a truly unique experience. Truly beautiful and inspiring impressions that you share here!
How are places like this not talked about more? I mean, I’m kind of glad because they don’t become overly touristy, but I want to go! I never thought about trying to explore Northern France instead of just the main sights, until now. I had no clue that there was an even larger Notre Dame which looks incredible in your photo! Also, I agree that the French population always gets a bad reputation of bad attitudes so hearing that you found otherwise is amazing. Thanks for all the insider tips!
France is the home of my Mon Amour, and he lives outside the city. I wish to visit the country and explore the provinces to understand more the French way. And maybe Paris would be the last stop 😀
I love Paris but you’re absolutely right, there are so many more places to visit in Northern France. I recently wrote an article about the hidden gems of France many tourists don’t know about and mentioned some of the places from your list. I’m glad you decided to explore more of France, away from the crowded touristy places!
I have been to Paris last March 2017 but I haven’t been to the northern part of France. I’m very fascinated with the Citadel towers. I’ll definitely add it to my list. How about food? Have you tried any dish from Northern France?
What a great post and one which tell us that there is so much more to France than just Paris and the Eiffel Tower. I have travelled south but not the northern part and would love to do for many reasons . The friendly and welcoming people and the green vineyards. I was not aware that the Amiens gargantuan cathedral is about twice the size of Notre Dame. Thanks for sharing a great post and some great details I must say
I have never ever been to France. But oh, how it is on my bucket list. You have convinced me that there is so much more beyond just the Eiffel Tower to appreciate!
I wish I could go back in time and planned my trip differently. This is super useful info, and I kinda hated France. Next time…
I couldn’t agree with you more, I would visit other parts of France other than Paris. I’ve seen some pictures of the country side of France and it is beautiful.
My son and daughter will be studying abroad next year and we were just having a conversation similar to this. They want to explore beyond the destinations you hear most about for traveling.
You’ve convinced me!! I’ve been to Paris before, but I can’t wait to make it back to France one day and explore the north as well.
I’ve never been to Northern France but I saw lots of pictures around it from my friend. Your post came on the right time to give me details all about it. Of course, a visit to Normandy and Dunkirk is a must while in the area. I don’t think you can skip the cathedral, and it looks like the Venice of the North is a wonderful place for visitors to rest and take in the beauty of the area. I would like to follow in the footsteps of Joan of Arc, too. Like you said, there’s so much to do in Northern France.
Truly amazing!! I have never been to France, but I am DYING to go, this is a fabulous guide, I pinned it for later as well!
Surprised to read the stats that 95% of France is largely off the tourist map. That means a great opportunity to venture on the road less traveled. Happy to note you found friendly people as that makes a big difference when visiting a new place. Looks like Northern France has a lot to offer from history to largest cathedral to Venice of North to great food and a relaxed time! And its well connected too. I think I am convinced to look beyond Paris and explore Northern France whenever we plan a trip here!
I live in France but haven’t explored much of Northern France (just some of the war graves). I’m interested by the difference in food in the north, so would be keen to try these dishes with some beer of course! I’ve put Le Touquet on my list to visit – I love a bit of Bond-style!
That is so true. In fact, we added Brussels to our itinerary and took the train to go there from Paris. Too bad we didn’t have more time to do Amiens, too. Looks and sounds great.
It’s funny to come across this article today, as we were just out to dinner last night with some other travelers from France and we were talking about the country as a whole and where we’ve been. Despite having visited 3 times to over 10 different cities we still haven’t done northern France properly.
We love to venture out of cities when we visit. It is good to learn that there are so many places connected by train from Paris. We have only had a taste test of Northern France but we really need to go back. I did not know that Notre Dame Amiens was so big. It would take us days to explore! But I think I would really love the canals of Amiens. But the food would definitely draw us north!
I prefer the countryside, or other cities and places, not capitals. They are usually too crowdy and too large! Northern France looks my kind of place, though.
Great inspiration indeed to go beyond Paris. I’ve been to Amiens and fallen in love with the sheer beauty and scope of the cathedral. I had no idea that it survived WWII due to the agreement between the Pope and the German general. Good to know! I’ll be in France next year and now putting Saint-Valery-sur-Somme on the list. I’m fascinated by Joan D’Arc. Great article!
Aah, I just love how helpful Pierre was! Lovely of him to do that for you! Amiens Notre Dame Cathedral sounds incredibly awesome to visit and Amiens looks beautiful! 😍 I need to book a trip to Northern France 😉
Thanks for a comprehensive article on Northern France. V has been to Lille but not to any of the other places. He says apart from anything else , it is also a university town and quite lively at certain places and where they had the driverless elevated transport system .
You certainly don’t have to convince me to visit northern France! I’ve been to France twice but haven’t yet made it farther north than Paris. Northern Paris is already on my bucket list for many of the reasons you mention here, but also because I would really love exploring all the medieval towns there.
As much as I love Paris, there really is so much more to see of France. It does make a great point to set off to see other parts of the country too.
I love the fact that Northern France has the friendliest people in France. They do get a bad wrap the French. Plus they are serious about their food and drink. Now if Parisians are, that is food and drink lovers on steroids!
Absolutely loved your article. A lot of people focus either on Paris or south of France and the north just doesn’t get that much attention. Loved your writing and the pictures are just amazing
If you’re visiting Paris for a little while, do check out the Paris Pass. It’s a great way to save money on attractions and transport during your stay.