Last Updated on 13th July 2020 by Sophie Nadeau
As one of the most visited cities in France, you’d be forgiven that there’s little left to discover when it comes to the fishing port of Honfleur. However, as with many other popular destinations, scratch beneath the surface and you’ll find plenty of unusual places to visit. Here’s your guide to the best of hidden gems and secret spots in Honfleur that you’ll want to explore on your next adventure to Normandy!
Lavoir Saint Leonard
Situated just below the iconic church of Saint Leonard, whose flamboyant Gothci façade presides over the rest of the timber-framed city, the Lavoir Leonard is a former washing station complete with a covered roof and sourced from a nearby spring.
Pretty and surrounded by a green park with plenty of flowers in the summer, the covered stream section of the lavoir dates all the way back to the 19th-century. These wash/ laundry houses were originally constructed so as to improve hygiene and try and stave off epidemics of disease.
Today, many villages across France still have a well-preserved wash house or two in their city centre. What is particularly unique when it comes to the Lavoir Saint Leonard is that it is set over several levels and can be found just below the church of Saint Leonard.
Lavoir rue de la Foulerie
Though it’s not hard to miss the Lavoir Saint Leonard, it’s worth noting that there are actually two historic wash stations within the city limits of Honfleur. The second of these is that of Lavoir rue de la Foulerie, which can be found a little off the beaten tourist track.
You see, while the main Vieux-Bassin portion of the city is ever-so-busy, head just a few streets back and away from the crowds and you’ll soon discover that there are plenty of quiet back streets filled with timber-framed houses and pretty windowsill boxes.
Though these streets offer fewer independent stores and restaurants, their charm and lack of people offer the perfect backdrop to snap photos in! The old fashioned covered outdoor wash area is a throwback to a bygone era and offers a glimpse into what life in the town must have been like many decades ago. The Lavoir rue de la Foulerie is typically open during daylight hours from Monday through to Saturday afternoons (with the exception of bank holidays).
Though not really a hidden gem at all, many marvel at the medieval building located at the historic port’s entrance without really pondering its purpose. La Lieutenance guards the entrance way to the Vieux-Bassin of Honfleur and has been listed as a historic monument since 1909. While it was in use, the building would have served as a residence for the King’s Lieutenant.
Today, the stone building features a bartizan turret and is the last remaining piece of the historic fortifications of the city. You see, during the Middle Ages, the entirety of the city would have been guarded with a wall. During the 17th-century, much of the walls were dismantled and the stone used for construction in the town, including for the Grenier à sel d’Honfleur.
Carrousel de Honfleur (Carousel of Honfleur)
Though not so much of a hidden gem as some of the other places to visit listed here, many visitors to the fishing port city are delighted to discover that there is a picturesque season carousel in the Vieux-Bassin district of the city.
Erected from May to October on an annual basis, the traditional merry-go-round has the usual horses but is unique in that it features scenes from all over the Normandy region, including the chalky cliffs of Étretat, as well as further afield locations such as the Château de Chenonceau of the Loire Valley.
Vieux Phare de Honfleur (Old Honfleur Lighthouse)
Situated a little way outside of the historic city centre, around halfway between the Jardin des Personnalités and the Vieux-Bassin, Honfleur’s old lighthouse can be spied from quite far away due to its towering nature.
The lighthouse is set a little way back from the water and is often referred to as the “tower of Honfleur” due to its resemblance with a medieval tower. This area of the city is a little less touristic than Honfleur’s heart but offers a number of restaurants specialising in seafood nonetheless.
Plage du Butin (Honfleur Beach)
It may not be at first apparent when visiting the city, due to its built up nature, but you can in fact frequent the beach when visiting the Normandy town. The most popular beach and the stretch closest to the historic city centre is that of the Plage du Butin. Equipped with everything from showers to changing rooms, the beach is sandy, which differs from the many rocky beaches of Le Havre.