10 reasons to look beyond Paris and visit Northern France

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 Sunset in Le Touquet, Northern France

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.

 Saint-Valery-sur-Somme Citadel Walls, Northern France,

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.

 Saint-Valery-sur-Somme Bay, Northern France,

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.

 People of Northern France

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.

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After traveling for 3-months in Europe, I was getting a bit fatigued by the cathedrals and castles. However, one building that bowled me over was the 800-year-old gargantuan gothic cathedral of Amiens in #NorthernFrance.⠀ ⠀ My beautiful guide, Cindy, said Amiens Notre Dame Cathedral is one of the largest (twice the size of Paris’ Notre Dame) medieval churches in the world and has been twice conferred the title of #UNESCOWorldHeritageSite, which is very rare. First for #architecture and then for pilgrimage. ⠀ ⠀ During the WWII when the entire city was burnt, Notre Dame Amiens remained unscathed because there was a treaty signed between the Pope and the German General to not harm the cathedral. That’s how revered this building has been. ⠀ ⠀ The Cathedral stands out from all other cathedrals for its sheer scale and gothic craftsmanship. While the church is marvelous from all sides, the best view is reserved from the top when you climb 307 stairs. And, once you are done marvelling at the beauty of this beast of a cathedral, you must head out to the charming Saint-Leu quarter on the north side of the cathedral. It’s where much of the city’s nightlife can be found, in a neighbourhood of little brick and timber houses next to canals.⠀ ⠀ I called Amiens a wonder city since it has got so many wonders to offer. Whether you’re a nature lover (like me), history buff, culturephile or a simple fun lover, this charming French city would win your heart. ⠀ ⠀ And, the best part is its location – situated just under two hours from Paris.⠀ ⠀ So, when are you visiting #NorthernFrance?⠀ ⠀ ————————————————– ⠀ ⠀ PS: I am in Europe for three and a half months and I’ll be sharing untold stories from #offbeat places. #NorthernFrance is the fourth part of my ongoing #OffbeatEuropeWithTSW series. ⠀ ⠀ —————————————————- ⠀ ⠀ #colorfullife #VisitEurope #DiscoverEurope #travelphotography #GirlsWhoTravel #DameTraveller #traveler #travel_captures #europe_vacations #landscape #wanderlust #adventureseeker #doyoutravel #travelsolo #travellingtheworld #letsgoeverywhere #travelcommunity #travelphotos #travelforlife

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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.

 Chantilly Horse Riding, Northern France

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.

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Out of all the cities I visited in #NorthernFrance, I found Amiens the most enchanting and lively. The Saint-Leu district with its canals and floating market reminded me of some of the most beautiful cities in Europe: think Venice meets Amsterdam albeit with less crowds and friendlier people. I wasn’t surprised at all when my friend “who can’t be seen or mentioned” said, “Amiens is known as the Venice of the North.”⠀ ⠀ Besides the Saint-Leu district with its canals, Amiens boast of treasures like the cathedral and Belfry (both listed as #UNESCOWorldHeritage sites), the hortillonnages (floating) gardens and Jules Verne’s house, all set in surroundings that can be easily explored on foot or by bike.⠀ ⠀ The floating gardens (hortillonnages) are around 300 hectares reclaimed must-see marshland, which can be accessed by boat. Rustic cottages and colourful flower beds dot islands along the canals, with ducks and swans playing along peacefully. The transition from wilderness to today’s gardens began as early as over 2,000 years ago. ⠀ ⠀ I called Amiens a wonder city since it has got so many wonders to offer. Whether you’re a nature lover (like me), history buff, culturephile or a simple fun lover, this charming French city would win your heart. ⠀ ⠀ And, the best part is its location – situated just under two hours from Paris.⠀ ⠀ So, what are you waiting for? Plan your Northern France trip now and, like me, say @Ilovenorthernfrance.⠀ ⠀ ————————————————– ⠀ ⠀ PS: I am in Europe for three and a half months and I’ll be sharing untold stories from #offbeat places. #NorthernFrance is the fourth part of my ongoing #OffbeatEuropeWithTSW series. ⠀ ⠀ —————————————————- ⠀ ⠀ #colorfullife #VisitEurope #DiscoverEurope #travelphotography #GirlsWhoTravel #DameTraveller #traveler #travel_captures #europe_vacations #naturelovers #nature #outdoors #landscape #wanderlust #adventureseeker #doyoutravel #travelsolo #canal #travellingtheworld #water #letsgoeverywhere #travelcommunity #travelphotos #travelforlife

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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.

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"Would you be interested in trying sand yachting", asked my friend who can't be named. ⠀ ⠀ Without wasting any time I said yes. Frankly, I had never even heard about it forget ever doing it. But I am always game for an adventure. ⠀ ⠀ Well, sand yachting is an activity in which you recline inside a yacht on three wheels and with the help of sails, you maneuver it on the beach. Two important things that determine your action are high wind and low tide. Unfortunately, the wind was not blowing in my direction that day. ⠀ ⠀ So, where can you enjoy this activity? ⠀ ⠀ Of course at Le Touquet, a posh seaside town in #NorthernFrance. Many wealthy Parisians own summer homes here, including the current French President Emmanuel Macron. The town centre is a colourful pastiche of different building styles that veer from interesting to plain kitsch.⠀ ⠀ Besides sand yachting and strolling, you can enjoy other activities like horse riding, beach volleyball, tennis, racing, and gambling. Or you can simply watch the romance of the waves and the coast. ⠀ ⠀ Food is great and you can choose from over one thousand types of wine🍷 ⠀ You'll never run out of options in this boutique town. ⠀ ⠀ So, what are you waiting for? Plan your vacation in #NorthernFrance that is known as "France's best-kept secret".⠀ ⠀ ⠀ Le Touquet has a magic combination of spectacular beach and rich elegance. And, guess what? It’s super easy to reach here – just 1 hour from Paris, 1.5 hrs from London and 30 minutes from Belgium.⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ Have you been to #NorthernFrance? What did you love the most?⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ————————————————–⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ PS: I am in Europe for the next three months and I’ll be sharing untold stories from offbeat places. #NorthernFrance is the fourth part of my ongoing #OffbeatEuropeWithTSW series.⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ —————————————————-⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ #colorfullife #offbeat #VisitEurope #DiscoverEurope #travel #travelling #travelphotography #GirlsWhoTravel #DameTraveller #traveler #travel_captures #europe_vacations #naturelovers #water #ocean #sunset #sea #nature #sky #coast #outdoors #evening #landscape #clouds

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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.

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I have to admit I am not great at history, so when “the man who shouldn’t be named or seen” asked me if I had heard about ‘Joan of Arc’, I hesitatingly said yes. Although, her name did ring a bell in my head but I had completely forgotten the context. ⠀ ⠀ Apparently, she is the National Heroine of France, who led France to many victories in the 15th century. In 1431, she was held prisoner in the local prison of this quaint medieval village of Saint-Valery-sur-Somme before being dispatched to Rouen for her execution. The cell in which she stayed can still be found near part of the old village walls. Saint-Valery was host to many such historic events because of its strategic position, on a promontory next to the Estuary.⠀ ⠀ Today it’s hard to imagine that beneath the dreamy slumber of blue skies, lush greenery, medieval architecture, opaque light, chirping birds, and colourful fishing boats stranded by the low tide; this tiny village was at the cusp of such turbulent history. ⠀ ⠀ Leaving the past behind, I strolled through the village looking at its medieval character and remparts, Harold towers, little cobblestone streets decked with flowers, Saint Martin's Gothic church and long waterside boardwalk bustling with weekend visitors.⠀ ⠀ #NorthernFrance, also known as Haute-de-France, is filled with such historic places. No wonder it’s called “France’s best kept secret”.⠀ So, when are you visiting this region? ⠀ ————————————————–⠀ ⠀ PS: I am in Europe for three and a half months and I am sharing untold stories from #offbeat places. #NorthernFrance is the fourth part of my ongoing #OffbeatEuropeWithTSW series.⠀ ⠀ —————————————————- ⠀ ⠀ #colorfullife #VisitEurope #DiscoverEurope #travelphotography #GirlsWhoTravel #DameTraveller #traveler #travel_captures #europe_vacations #naturelovers #nature #sky #coast #outdoors #evening #landscape #clouds #wanderlust #adventureseeker #doyoutravel #building

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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.

 Gastama, Lille, Northern France

So, when are you booking a trip to #Northern France? And, don’t forget to visit three Villages along the Saone River as well.

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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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Disclaimer

I was in Northern France on the invitation of 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.

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43 Comments

  • Andy Nelson says:

    That was great, well written & yes I’m going there for sure 😊

  • fashionandstylepolice says:

    This makes me what to travel somewhere like right now. Northern France sounds like a great place to explore.

  • Kate says:

    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.

  • Nina Nichols says:

    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!

  • Karen Monica says:

    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.

  • Aiai Damigo says:

    Well well well these places are on my travel bucket list. One day, someday i will be there 🙂

  • Bushra says:

    Oh my gosh, you’re so lucky you travel a lot. Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful article. 🙂

  • blair villanueva says:

    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.

  • Azlin Bloor says:

    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.

  • Razena says:

    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 🙂

  • Jennifer Prince says:

    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!!

  • Rosey says:

    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.

  • Chinedu says:

    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!

  • Cristina says:

    France is such a lovely country. My favourite thing is the food – wine, cheese and bread! Always nicer outside of the large cities

  • Helen says:

    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!

  • Hendrik says:

    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!

  • Amanda says:

    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!

  • blair villanueva says:

    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 😀

  • Daniel says:

    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!

  • emman damian says:

    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?

  • amar singh says:

    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

  • Reese Woods says:

    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!

  • Robin says:

    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…

  • Luci says:

    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.

  • jill conyers says:

    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.

  • Alyssa | Plantiful Eating says:

    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.

  • Umiko says:

    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.

  • Madi Rowan says:

    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!

    -Madi

    http://www.everydaywithmadirae.com

  • Navita says:

    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!

  • Hannah says:

    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!

  • Carol Colborn says:

    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.

  • Jim Whittemore says:

    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.

  • Linda says:

    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!

  • Július says:

    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.

  • Rosemary says:

    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!

  • Lisa says:

    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 😉

  • Nisha says:

    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 .

  • Tami says:

    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.

  • Sara says:

    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!

  • john says:

    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

  • Mihika Iyer says:

    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.

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