Things to Do in Rouen
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When planning to visit the WWII battle sites in Normandy, many travelers will make a beeline to Bayeux, which is a solid choice for a base from which to explore the region's many monuments, museums and cemeteries dedicated to the war's D-Day heroes. But by rushing out to the coast, they're missing one of the jewels in France's crown: the city of Rouen.
While Normandy is referred to as one region, it's actually two – Upper and Lower Normandy. Rouen is the capital of Upper Normandy, practically at its geographic center. It's about an hour and a half from Paris, which in itself makes it a fun and doable day trip. But for those on their way to Lower Normandy, a great recommendation is to spend a day in Rouen before heading out to Bayeux.
While the city is half a million strong, the city center is extremely pedestrian-friendly; bikes are also available for rental if outdoor activities are also on the agenda. The main draw for visitors is the Rouen Cathedral of Notre Dame, a Gothic masterpiece that was the subject of a series of paintings by none other than Claude Monet. (You can see the series at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris.) Those who stay overnight in Rouen during the summer are treated to a light show on the church's façade.
The other big site is the Renaissance-era Gros Horloge, which literally translates to the Big Clock – and that's exactly what it is. At eight feet in diameter, it's hard to miss. In the attached museum, you can climb to the top of the neighboring tower and get a bird's eye view of the city. And finally, there is the Joan of Ark Tower, where she was brought and tortured. The museum there isn't necessarily worth it – it can be a bit claustrophobic in the cramped tower – but it is still worth a visit, and is conveniently near the train station.