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Boulogne-sur-Mer, Pas-de-Calais

Just twenty minutes from the port of Calais off the A16 auto route lays the town of Boulogne-sur-Mer, right at the heart of the Côte d’Opale (The Opal Coast) in the Pas de Calais.  A sizeable French coastal town with the title of “Ville d’art et d’histoire”, surrounded by green rolling hills and offering the visitor and holidaymaker plenty of activities, entertainment and culture.

Up until a short while ago, ferry services from the UK docked here but no longer (2012). Trade in the town relied heavily on ferry tourist patronage and many predicted the demise of the flourishing shopping area, bars and restaurants. Boulogne however has coped remarkably well and continues to receive plenty of tourist visits on its own merits (and being so close to Calais certainly helps). Thanks to a plethora of charming shops selling specialist food and wine, a picturesque old town, plenty of historic sites and a great market as well as a large and thriving fishing port, Boulogne has retained its reputation as bit of a jewel in the crown of the region.

The fishing port of Boulogne-sur-Mer is the largest in France and everywhere there is evidence of the importance of fishing to this town.  Fish stalls line the port selling fish direct to the public.  There is a huge industrial area where the fish is auctioned and factories freeze, smoke, salt, can and process the fish around the whole of Europe.  Restaurants in the town have fish dishes galore. The Chateau Musée de Boulogne has a fabulous collection of coastal paintings from the area. To seal the deal – there is Nausicaa, the huge aquarium which has around half a million visits each year.

There are two parts to Boulogne, the modern metropolis with its outlying suburbs and the historic old town – the part that Charles Dickens who lived there in the 19th Century would likely still recognise.  With over 1000 shops, hundreds of bars, cafés and restaurants, several markets a week – there’s something going on for visitors pretty much all of the time.

The wonderful old town centre, enclosed by a mile of castle ramparts is full of beautiful buildings and includes a church of miracles (read our fabulous true life story of a miracle that took place here sent to us by a reader of  The Good Life France), a chateau which is now a museum, public gardens and a host of wonderful restaurants in a beautiful setting. Dominated by the 12th Century belfry and the dome of the Basilica of Notre Dame, and set on a hill, the views from the ramparts are stunning.

There is plenty to do and see, the pristine beach is lined with pretty pastel coloured beach huts, there’s a bowling alley, casino, golf courses and sports facilities. It’s an idea weekend destination and for a longer visit add to the list of must see sites, the lovely coastal towns of Wimereux, Audraselles and more on the Opal Coast Route towards Calais and towards Picardie there is stunning St Valerie-sur-Somme, Le Crotoy and Rue.

Top Things to see and do in Boulogne

Click on the links below for more information.

Basilica de Notre Dame – the wonderful cathedral and centre of miracles.

Visit the Old Town with its wonderful shops and restaurants.

Nausicaa – Over half a million people a year visit the huge aquarium, thousands of fish and the big draw – shark, sea lion show and you can even stroke a sting ray – queues can be long at peak visiting times and tthe venue can be warm inside.

Chateau Musée de Boulogne – an eclectic collection, a lovely courtyard and you can wander through the cellars of this pretty little chateau.

Shopping – there are some lovely specialist shops from arts and crafts in the old town where you can buy violet scented, to the cheese shop of Philippe Olivier, Rue Thiers,  in the new town where you can buy the notorious Vieux Boulogne – officially designated the smelliest cheese in the world by Cranfield University scientists!

Market Days – fish market on Quai Gambetta every day from May to October; lively general market with lots of fresh produce and household goods on  Wednesday and Saturday mornings at Place Dalton; Sunday morning small market at Place Vignon. For more information on markets in the local area – see our Pas-de-Calais market guide.

Official Tourist website

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