Top Attractions in North France and Where to Stay

North France is full of great attractions, from walled cities to great museums, the Louvre-Lens to the Calais Lace Museum. Read on to learn more about these attractions plus great places to stay during your visit.

  • 01 of 10
    Louvre-Lens

    Luc Coekaerts/Flickr/CC0 1.0

    The Louvre-Lens, opened in December 2012, is one of France's impressively grand schemes. It was designed both to send great art from Paris to this region of France and also to revive the fortunes of Lens. The former mining town fell on hard times after the mines closed and the area has had a fairly bleak few decades. But being so close to Lille, to Belgium, to the Netherlands, and to the U.K., the idea is to revitalize the area much as the Pompidou Center did in ​Metz in Lorraine.

    The Louvre-Lens is housed in a striking low building with different galleries fanning out from the center. Inside, you're offered works of art from 3,500 BC to the mid-19th century, which is an ambitious scheme. The main exhibition shows you masterpieces from each era; there's a second exhibition hall and an annually changing major temporary exhibition.

    Allow at least half a day if you can to see both exhibitions. Lens itself is a town with some surprisingly good Art Deco buildings, and worth a stroll through. Otherwise, there's plenty in the area to see.

    Louvre-Lens
    Lens
    Nord–Pas-de-Calais

    Where to Stay

    One possibility is to stay in either nearby Lille or Arras.

    If you want a more local option, try the Hotel Lensotel at Vendin Le Vieil just to the north of Lens. Good-sized rooms are decorated with bright modern colors; bathrooms are well equipped. There’s a swimming pool and free WiFi. Rooms start at 90 euros per night. There’s a good restaurant with views over the delightful and extensive garden. Menus start at 20 euros per person.

    Hotel Lensotel
    Rue des Canadiens
    Vendin Le Vieil
    Tel.: 00 33 (0)3 21 79 36 36

  • 02 of 10
    calais lace fashion
    © F. Kleinefenn

    The past comes to life in this museum which is as much about fashion as it is about lace making. You start with the delicate hand-made lace worn only by the aristocracy, then move onto the 18th-century Industrial Revolution when looms had to be smuggled into France from neighboring England to escape the punishing laws on industrial espionage.

    The story goes on to the present day with designers like Christian Dior and the ‘New Look’. Lace-making machines, videos showing you the long and complex process, and a series of beautiful dresses and accessories fill the former collective lace factory in Calais.​

    Where to Stay

    The Meurice is a delightfully old-fashioned hotel with good-sized rooms from 92 euros, a well-regarded restaurant and a friendly, late-night bar. It’s in a quiet side street just off Rue Royale which is full of restaurants.

    Le Meurice
    5 E-Roche
    Tel.: 00 33 (0)3 21 34 57 03

  • 03 of 10
    Museum of Flanders, Cassel
    Philippe Houze

    Charming little Cassel stands high on the flat plain that stretches up to Belgium. The pretty village has a large, imposing square, a great hotel and a charming windmill and local estaminet, and is well worth an overnight stop. But the blockbuster here is the Museum of Flanders. The museum highlights the depth, richness and variety of Flanders’ cultural and artistic identity. It’s housed in the splendid Hôtel de la Noble-Cour and apart from the interesting permanent collection, puts on a series of excellent temporary exhibitions.

    Where to Stay

    Originally an 18th-century small chateau, the Chatellerie de Schoebeque offers a delightful mix of just 15 rooms, from the Edith Piaf-inspired room to a gypsy caravan in the garden. Rooms are from around 180 euros per night and the restaurant looks out over the countryside.

    Chatellerie de Schoebeque
    32 rue Foch
    Tel.: 00 33 (0)3 28 42 42 67

  • 04 of 10
    The Matisse Museum
    Matisse Museum, Le Cateau-Cambrésis, Coll, Conseil général du Nord P.Houzé

    Henri Matisse was born in Le Cateau-Cambrésis in the north of France and it was the influence of textile design that he saw in his daily life that was to prove such an influence on his work.

    The museum, in the former archbishop's Fénelon Palace, shows how Matisse developed and changed as an artist. It holds a wide variety of his work and includes room settings asThe works of Auguste Herbin, born in 1882 in a village near Le Cateau, and the magazines and books published by the editor-poet, Tériade, add two more collections.

    Where to Stay

    Le Clos St-Jacques is a quiet chambre d'hote in the middle of Cambrai which is a short drive north-west. All the rooms are different so you can sleep in a rustic-style room or one that is for the romantic. The 4 rooms are from around 100 euros per night including breakfast. No restaurant but there are plenty nearby.

    Le Clos St-Jacques
    9, rue St Jacques
    59400 Cambrai
    Tel.: 00 33 (0)3 27 74 37 61

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  • 05 of 10
    La Coupole, St-Omer

    openroads.com//Flickr/CC BY 2.0 

    Built in World War II as a launch pad for Hitler’s V2 rockets that were designed to annihilate London and Antwerp, La Coupole is a monster, a huge concrete dome near St-Omer and the French coast. But inside is one of the best museums in the country. It tells the story of the occupation of France, the Holocaust and concentration camps like Auschwitz, and the buildup of the German war machine. With films, interactive exhibits and artifacts, it takes you through World War II and into the Cold War and the Space Race with its triumphs and disasters.

    Where to Stay

    Stay near Saint-Omer at Chateau Tilques. The 19th-century red-brick chateau, now very extended, is set in a delightful park with swans and peacocks. Comfortable, well-decorated rooms with chintz to the fore in the main building and a more modern decor in the annex. There’s also a good restaurant.

    Chateau Tilques
    Tilques
    Tel.: 00 33 (0)9.70.38.40.69

  • 06 of 10
    The Nausicaa Penguins

    stuart001uk/Flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0 

    The Nausicaa Sealife Center in Boulogne has everything – a shark tunnel, lagoon, and an open-air sea lion reserve where the lithe creatures perform. And don’t miss the beautiful Perspex column full of graceful jellyfish.

    There's a serious purpose behind all the attractive exhibits, which is to teach all of us and particularly the young, why we should respect and protect the seas around our coastlines. But it’s all so well done that you’re entertained as much as educated.

    Where to Stay

    The delightful Chambres ​d’hote (bed and breakfast), L'Enclos de L’Evêché is within the medieval walls of the old town. The five large rooms are each differently decorated and all have great bathrooms. You either look over their courtyard or onto the ramparts in the distance. Excellent, quite pricey restaurant and great breakfast.

    L'Enclos de L’Evêché
    6 rue de Pressy
    Tel.:03 91 90 05 90

  • 07 of 10
    wowen canal

    Mary Anne Evans

    Interest in World War I is huge with the commemorations of the war which started in 2014. Particularly moving is the stark, impressive and moving Memorial to the soldier-poet, Wilfred Owen. It's in a forest clearing and has been constructed around the old forester's house where Owen and his soldier companions spent their last night.

    Where to Stay

    Try nearby Cambrai and Le Clos St-Jacques, recommended earlier.

  • 08 of 10
    The Ballroom at Compiegne Palace
    © Palais impérial de Compiègne/Marc Poirier

    In the 17th century, Louis XIV decided that Compiègne was the perfect distance from Paris to become the playground of the Kings of France. The royal family and their friends flocked here to hunt, feast and dance the night away. It was the place where Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette of Austria met. After the Revolution Napoleon decided to follow the royal example and the Palace was restored in flamboyant style.

    It’s a lovely place, rather domesticated and now a bit dusty and faded but very enjoyable to visit. Apart from the extensive historic apartments, there’s a museum of historic vehicles which is pretty comprehensive, taking in Napoleon III’s train carriage and a De Dion-Bouton of 1898.

    Where to Stay

    The Hotel des Beaux-Arts is right by the river and near the town center. It has comfortable rooms, some looking out onto the river, and a good Bistro restaurant,

    Hotel Les Beaux-Arts
    33 cours Guynemer
    Tel.: 00 33 (0)3 44 92 26 26​

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  • 09 of 10
    Alsace-Lorraine Monument
    © Ossi Laurila

    The forest stretches out west from Compiègne, a huge swathe of tall trees and paths. It’s a beautiful place for walking. It’s also the setting for the impressive Armistice Memorial at the Clairiere de l’Armistice right in the middle.

    Park in a small car park and walk along a wooded path and you're in an extraordinary clearing. In front of you, railway tracks lead to the center of the memorial, tracks that were used to bring two railway carriages here in 1918. The Museum is housed in a small white building. Inside is a replica of the railway carriage where Marshal Foch and his officers, met with the Germans to sign the Armistice to end World War I. It was signed on November 11th at 5.10am.

    The museum covers both World War I and World War II, with objects, old films and newspapers from Raleigh, Virginia, where many US soldiers came from.

  • 10 of 10
    La Piscine, Roubaix

    Camster2/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

    The Museum of Art and Industry is housed in a former swimming bath complex, hence its name of La Piscine (swimming pool). The museum covers fine and applied art, with pa from 1927-1932 in flamboyant Art Deco style. It was modeled around the Abbey of Cluny with a cloister and garden in the center and a chapel and restaurant, reflecting the old refectory idea.​

    Where to Stay

    Roubaix is effectively a suburb of Lille, one of northern France’s liveliest cities. If you’re pushing the boat out, go for L’Hermitage Gantois. It’s in a former hospice, founded in 1460. It’s very beautiful with inner courtyards and superb rooms. There’s a gastronomic restaurant as well and a good more casual estaminet.

    L.Hermitage Gantois
    224 rue de Paris
    Tel.: 00 33 (0)3 20 85 30 30