France for the Anti-Tourist: Rouen
Welcome to Rouen, a beautiful little city situated along the Seine just one hour and fifteen minutes from both Paris and the Normandy coast, and my home for the past year and a half. Rouen and I have certainly had our love affair — disagreements and all. I love the sun, Rouen loves a rainy day cozy at home. I love a good Sunday brunch, Rouen loves closing down almost entirely leaving you just the Sunday morning market to fill that inevitably empty fridge of yours. I love a good Mexican-style taco, Rouen loves tacos consisting of tortillas filled with french fries, a cheese sauce, and up to three different meats (yes, I know).
But quoting from one of my idols, Sara Blakely, when her husband does something completely different from what she would’ve done, I’ll say “#justlovehim” because none of these little things keep me from being in love with this city and it’s little European alleyways, its medieval architecture, hidden churches, boutiques, and bakeries.
I think Rouen deserves a lot more tourists than just the aged 50+ crowd taking a cruise up the river Seine (though I do love seeing crowds of older couples wandering through the streets). If you hop on a train in downtown Paris you’re just one hour and ten minutes from a city where you can escape the crowds eat just as good (or better) pain au chocolat, see a ton of history like where Joan of Arc was jailed in a Dungeon and then burned at the stake in the Vieux-Marché, tons of incredible churches most notably the Notre Dame de Rouen which is home to Richard the Lionheart’s grave, and Rue du Gros Horloge which is an adorable pedestrian street home to a huge clock tower and a bunch of shops. You’ve also got the Musée des Beaux-Arts which is home to a lot of famous paintings including pieces done by Renoir, Monet, Sisley, and Fourié.
While all of these things are a must-see, here is a list of things you might not stumble upon if you’re just walking around the Vieux-Marché or the Notre Dame. These are some of my favorite places to visit in Rouen:
1. Les Artisanes de La Calende
This is my favorite boulangerie in Rouen and maybe in all of France. Not only do they have some great bread, including a fruit and nut loaf that is killer, but their pastries and sandwiches cannot be beat. The crust on their tarts is to-die-for. Try it with their pistachio apricot tart (my favorite) or a tarte au citron or the tarte au chocolat. Also their sandwiches are much more creative than the typical Camembert, butter, and lettuce or ham and cheese you’ll find elsewhere. I’m not hating on the basic French sandwich (which you’ll find here as well), but at Les Artisanes you’ll also get a chicken curry sandwich as well as a goat cheese and walnut sandwich and sometimes this feta and pepper sandwich that is bomb.
1 Place de la Calende, 76000 Rouen, France
France is on this new trend of starting “concept stores” which are boutiques surrounded around a specific idea like "bohemian" or "sports" or "home decoration." Recently a concept store just opened for Christmas in one of the shopping centers and it just is filled with a bunch of different products for any age/gender to be given as gifts. The good thing about concept stores is that they’re usually small and the products are hand-picked to match a general theme so if you like one thing you’ll probably like it all.
One of my favorite shops in Rouen is this concept store called Amai. They call themselves bohème with unconventional gift ideas. Think dried flowers, cool candles, tea, notebooks, and really nice jewelry. It’s all in a pretty-good price range and my go-to for gifts. This is a really good shop to head to if you’re looking for souvenirs because a lot of the products they have are made in France and are good quality and a good price. They also have a little cafe that serves coffee and colored lattes (like a golden latte with turmeric) that can be made with three non-dairy milks and regular milk. They also have a partnership with the best cupcake place in Rouen (see the next stop on my list).
15 Rue Beauvoisine, 76000 Rouen, France
3. Cam’s Cakes
The French are not known for their cupcakes. When you head to France you’re thinking croissants and macarons, not the American-cupcake, but just take a second and think of what would happen if you combined the perfect bite-sized cupcake with the patisserie chef skills of the French and you’ve got some seriously good cakes. They’ve got flavors like Ferrero Rocher, red velvet, Speculoos, and raspberry, but they’re seriously all good. They’re also beautiful and some even sparkle and are the perfect sized dessert after a dinner in town. Definitely worth a try.
28 Place des Carmes, 76000 Rouen, France
4. Saint-Maclou Church
While the Notre-Dame may be THE church in Rouen, I love the little Saint-Maclou Church. It is stunning, tucked away on one of my favorite pedestrian streets and right next to one of my favorite little cafes (shout out Caffe Antico - stop in for fresh crepes, Italian hot chocolate, good coffee). Saint-Maclou is considered one of the most flamboyant Gothic-style architecture in France. It’s really beautiful with its set of heavy wooden doors and sculptured exterior. Definitely worth walking by or even taking your afternoon coffee (and crêpe!) right outside its doors.
7 Place Barthélémy, 76000 Rouen, France
5. Citizen Cafe
This place has been one of my go-to’s since arriving in Rouen. I might be attracted to its more Americanized menu with fresh-pressed juices and avocado toast, but once again the French twist on something American can sometimes make it just a little better. They have a range of good teas, a good brunch option, and some pretty good lunch options as well. Honestly if you’re looking for breakfast, brunch, or lunch come here and you won’t be disappointed with their salads, soups, and desserts.
4 Rue de l'Écureuil, 76000 Rouen, France
6. Dame Cakes
Okay, I’m now realizing almost everything on this list revolves around food, but a little food tour of a city never did anybody harm. Dame Cakes is a really cute little tea shop with lunch and amazing desserts. I’ve never had a bad experience at Dame Cakes starting from the first time I tried one of their financiers. This is right by the cathedral and on one of my favorite streets in Rouen so it’s a good place to tuck into if, especially you’re looking to avoid the cold for a little, I would definitely suggest getting warm in this cozy little place with a nice cup of tea or coffee and something from their dessert bar.
70 Rue Saint-Romain, 76000 Rouen, France
7. Rue Saint-Romain/Rue Damiette/Rue de l’Hopital
These are some of my favorite streets in Rouen. They all have typical colombage architecture and are filled with tons of little shops. Rue de l’Hôpital is home to some of my favorite little boutiques in France so this street is worth a walk down if you’re looking to do some shopping, but definitely check out some of the other streets that run parallel to Rue de l’Hôpital like Rue de des Carmes which is also where you’ll find Cam’s Cakes. There is also Rue Saint-Romain which is very cute and home to Dame Cake’s as well as a shop I always love passing by called Cabinet of Curiosities which just as its name suggests is filled with curious artifacts like works of art, natural history, vintage and collectibles. Finally there is Rue Damiette which is right next to the church Saint-Maclou and home to a lot of good restaurants along with Rue Martainville.