5 alternative things to do in Northern France

From iconic literary destinations to fire-breathing dragons, the charming coastline in Northern France certainly has some surprises beyond Mont-Saint-Michel. Here’s just five highlights…

Team Wanderlust
02 June 2022

1. Go on a seal safari in Somme

Relaxing on the sandbanks (Shutterstock)

Hundreds of harbour and grey seals have taken up residence in the Somme Bay, making for the largest seal colony in France. They like to snooze on the sandbanks, but they also come here to give birth here. The best spot to see them at low tide is from the Pointe du Hourdel and Authie Bay, but we recommend joining a guided tour with naturalist Maxim Marzi, for a close look without causing any disturbance to the protected species.

2. Visit Nausicaa Aquarium

Nausicaa is the largest aquarium in Europe (Shutterstock)

Nausicaa Aquarium in Boulogne-sur-Mer is the biggest aquarium in Europe, but it’s more than just that. The centre’s main goal is to raise awareness on the impact human’s are having on the ocean, with conservation at the heart of everything they do. The Big Tank is an enormous 20m wide and 5m deep, and is home 40 species of fish including sandbar sharks, manta rays and huge shoals of fish.

3. Explore Montreuil-sur-Mer

Montreuil-sur-Mer inspired Les Misérables (Shutterstock)

The medieval town of Montreuil-sur-Mer with its historic infrastructure, impressive ramparts and cobbled streets is well worth a wander. Literature lovers will recognise the location as beginning setting in Les Misérables, inspired by the author Victor Hugo’s visit to the village in 1837. Every year at the end of July and beginning of August, the story is performed in an outdoor sound and light show. There’s some beautiful places to stay, from boutique hotels to châteaux.

4. Take a tour in a vintage vehicle

You can hire an classic Citroën 2CV (Shutterstock)

Romantic French road trip, anyone? Les Belles Echappées in Clairmarais rents out vintage vehicles including old Citroën 2CVs and VW camper vans so you can drive Northern France’s small winding roads and breathtaking country landscape. For those who prefer a slower, more educational way to explore, guided tours of Saint-Omer on vintage-looking Ruffian eBikes are also available.

5. Ride the Calais Dragon

The mighty Calais Dragon (Shutterstock)

Yes, you read that right. An enormous fire-breathing dragon can be found walking back and forth along Calais’ seafront. Constructed from steel and wood, the 12-metre-high, 20-metre-long structure is a mechanical masterpiece which can carry up to 50 people on its back while it makes its journey. There’s also a Sentinel Iguana, where you can become the machinist and bring the creature to life. These unusual yet intriguing additions to Calais were designed by the same company that makes the mechanical animals in Nantes.

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