There’s plenty to do in Calais town in the department of Pas-de-Calais if you’re on a day trip or a visit – we’ve put together our top ten things to do in Calais for you.
Pick up a visitor’s day pass from the tourist office to take advantage of discounts and offers (see the website for details).
Rodin’s Bourgeois de Calais – Burghers of Calais
At the place du Soldat in front of Calais Town Hall you’ll find Rodin’s masterpiece and monument to the bravery of six men of Calais. Rodin’s ‘Burghers of Calais’ illustrates an ancient story of six distinguished citizens of Calais, who in 1347, during the Hundred-Years War with England, volunteered themselves into captivity of King Edward III to save their besieged town.
Rodin won the commission for the monument of the town Calais in January 1885. His proposals for the memorial were outstandingly different from those of his rival competitors when presented to a committee in 1884. Determined to win this public commission, the sculptor promised to deliver “six sculptures for the price of one” hence the work is often referred to as Rodin’s “Six Burghers”. It took ten years to get the project funded and completed but the stunning results draw visitors from around the world still.
Rodin fans can head to the Fine Arts Museum (Musée Des Beaux-Arts) in Calais to see more on Rodin and the Six Burghers of Calais.
Musée Des Beaux-Arts Calais
The Fine Arts Museum has an exhibition dedicated to the Bourgeois de Calais and Rodin’s work on the sculpture. On show are 24 works in plaster, bronze and terracotta; the exhibition aims to provide an insight into the thought process that Rodin put in place to create this fabulous masterpiece. Drawings, studies and sketches are testimonial to Rodin’s desire to highlight the misery and inner doubt of the six men instead of an idealised view that his competitors had chosen.
The museum also has a number of notable paintings and watercolours and puts on exhibitions year round.
Calais Hôtel de Ville and Belfroi
Calais Town Hall (Hôtel de Ville), is a flamboyant and outstanding example of Flemish architecture and the back drop for Rodin’s Burghers of Calais. The Town Hall was designed by architect Louis Debrouwer who pioneered the use of reinforced concrete. There are magnificent stained glass windows and a grand staircase leading to the first floor Wedding Room where Charles de Gaulle married Yvonne Vendroux from Calais in 1921. Joined to the Town Hall by an arch is the 75m Belfry with its fabulous gold statuary. Those with a head for heights and plenty of stamina can climb the stairs of the Belfry to get fabulous views over Calais.
Le Phare – The Lighthouse Calais
The 58m high lighthouse built in 1848 can be seen from miles around. Climb the 271 steps and take in the panoramic views from its platforms.
See the Phare de Calais website for opening times, exhibitions and ticket prices Web: www.pharedecalais.com
Le Musée de Mémoire 39-45 – The World War II Museum
Located in Calais’ Parc Saint-Pierre opposite the Town Hall, this little museum is housed in an authentic Bunker left behind in World War II which once served as headquarters of the Navy to the Port of Calais and transmission centre for the entire Northwest region of France. The entrance is not that well sign-posted although you can’t miss the huge brooding bunker – we had to walk all the way round before we could find the door. It’s not a huge collection but war buffs will enjoy the weapons, uniforms, photographs, press cuttings and objects from everyday life of a town under occupation.
La Cité Internationale de la Dentelle et de la Mode – International City of Lace and Fashion
Calais has a history of lace making going back more than 150 years. The lacemaking industry was originally set up by lacemakers from Nottingham who emigrated to Calais in the early 1800s and took with them the machines perfected by English engineers to manufacture lace. Lacemaking is still a speciality of Calais with fans such as Karl Lagerfeld and Christian Lacroix.
The museum is set in a 1870s factory building and has a collection spread over 2,500 m² covering the history of lacemaking, techniques and fashion design with work for illustration by well-known designers such as Givenchy and Chanel to demonstrate the use of lace in high fashion. There is a library for research, lectures and workshops and a 3D booth that takes measurements of the visitor and allows you to create your own personal avatar.
A fantastic fabric library and preservation centre with a huge collection which includes:
– 15,000 sample books
– 10,000 lace pieces
– 1,500 man made lace samples
– 10,000 fashion magazines
– 1,000′s of items of tooling and industrial equipment
– 3,200 costumes and objects relating to the world of fashion
– 2,000 books
– 9 looms – five of which are working and used for demonstrations
Fashion lovers will really enjoy the collections of dresses and lingerie through the ages such as a bodice of 1907 with applications of needle lace and a 1920’s cape encrusted with lace of the 17th century – all beautifully displayed. You can also buy lovely souvenirs and household items here.
Read our review of the Calais Lace Museum
You might be surprised to discover a lovely sandy beach at Calais beach. Clean, safe and ideal for a picnic or relaxing and watching the ferries going to and fro between the ports of Calais and Dover. There are plenty of restaurants, a funfair, activities for the family including mini-golf and the beach is a glorious sight with its white beach huts. On a sunny day – it’s hard to beat.
Place D’Armes was once the thriving centre of Medieval Calais and must have been full of wonderful buildings. Destroyed during World War II the only remaining building is the 13th Century Watch Tower – Le Tour de Guet.
These days it’s the location for the street market on a Wednesday and Saturday until 12.30. Recently given a makeover, it’s also the place do go for something to eat as it’s surrounded by cafes, shops, brasseries and just a very short walk from Calais Harbour with lots of restaurants and a fine place to wander.
Shopping in Calais
Well, certainly if you’re on a day trip to Calais, shopping is likely going to be on your list of to do’s. The main shopping streets in Calais are Rue Royale where there are also lots of restaurants, Boulevard Jacquard and Boulevard Lafayette and you’ll be able to buy French specialities from cheese and chocolate to crockery.
Read our Shopping in Calais guide
There’s plenty of choice in Calais from the shops in the town to the huge shopping centre of Cité Europe and the hypermarkets such as Carrefour and Auchan. Close by the Cité Europe mall is the Marques Avenue factory outlet – designer brands sold at factory prices. If alcohol and wine are on your shopping list there’s a Majestic Wine Store and Calais Wine Store as well as the great bargains to be found in the supermarkets. In France sales are held in January and June and last from 4 to six weeks – there are bargains galore at this time to tempt you.
Most shops are open from 9.00 – 19.00 hours – some shops close from 12.00 – 14.00. Almost all shops are closed on a Sunday with some exceptional opening times on Sunday morning with the larger supermarkets.
If you have more time in Calais – check out our feature on a weekend in Calais
If you want to go a little further afield than Calais check out our day trip to Calais by car