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Rouen Travel and the Impressionism Trail

If you are a lover of impressionism, then Rouen MUST be on your itinerary when visiting Normandy. This town inspired so many of the impressionism painters including Claude Monet, Paul Gauguin, Camille Pissarro and Alfred Sisley.

There is plenty to see and do in Rouen. This city offers a magnificent Gothic cathedral, a beautiful restored medieval town, old historical churches, excellent museums, plenty of shops, restaurants, cafes and an exciting nightlife. And of course, you have the lovely Seine river crossing through the city, offering a peaceful and beautiful place to sit and relax or take a cruise!

Rouen Travel - The street of the old town
Rouen Travel – the charming streets

Rouen Landmarks Painted by the Impressionists

Camille Pissarro lived in Pontoise. However he first visited Rouen in 1883 at the suggestion of Claude Monet. Though Monet was chiefly occupied with Rouen’s medieval architecture, Pissarro focused his attention on the bridges and lively industrial scenes around the port.

It seems that Rouen’s beauty captivated Pissarro so much so, that he compared the beauty of Rouen to Venice!! Pissarro again visited Rouen in the spring and autumn of 1896. During this period, he painted a series of sixteen paintings of the bridges and quaysides of Rouen.

Half timbered architecture of Rouen
Normandy’s Half-timbered Houses

The Notre-Dame Cathedral

When Claude Monet came to Rouen, it was the massive gothic Notre-Dame cathedral that provided him with intense creative inspiration.

Monet rented a nearby hotel and from its balcony he painted the cathedral. Monet painted it again and again and each time under different lights (at dawn, in the morning hours, during the summer day, the sunset, in the evening and at night when barely visible). The results were around 30 beautiful paintings of the Rouen Cathedral through the eyes of the creative genius.

When visiting Rouen, the Cathedral is a MUST site to visit! In fact, you can’t really miss it! Construction of this massive cathedral began around 1200 and it was expanded over the following hundreds of years. It seems that architects and leaders of the Middle Ages thought in the long term.

Unlike the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, this one is far less crowded. Take your time wandering both inside & outside the cathedral. Take a moment to consider how people could have built this huge monumental building 800 years ago without machinery, cranes or hi-tech equipment. It is unbelievable!

Notre-Dame Cathedral - Rouen travel
Rouen Cathedral – a subject of many Claude Monet famous paintings

In the summer months (June through to September), Rouen offers free sound & light shows illuminated onto the facade of the cathedral at night. It is spectacular and shouldn’t be missed!!

Notra-Dame Cathedral of Rouen lit up in the nightly summer sound & light shows
Sound & Light Show on the Rouen Notre-Dame Cathedral
Photo by mout1234 (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Rouen Travel Tips – Saint-Catherine Hill for Panoramic Views

Monet also painted panoramic scenes of Rouen, by going up the the Côte Sainte Catherine, the hill overlooking Rouen.

To get the most beautiful views of Rouen, make your way up to the Saint Catherine Hill of Rouen (in French: Cote Sainte-Catherine). Here you will get the same viewpoint that Monet had when he painted in 1892 “Vue générale de Rouen”.

Art of Monet - Overlooking Rouen
Impressionist Art Monet – Rouen from Côte Sainte Catherine

It is a 15-minute uphill climb to the top of the hill. To reach the trail, walk along rue Henri Rivière and look out for the concrete steps to your right directly after the long brown building. These steps lead to over 500 wooden steps that will take you up to the top of the hill.

Of course, any time of day is wonderful for those sweeping views of Rouen, but sunrise or sunset provide the most picture-perfect views!! Tip: Make sure you wear good walking shoes as the walk up can be slippery. Also note that the hill is accessible by car. Press here for details.

Rouen travel - Sainte Catherine Hill
Panorama view of Rouen from Sainte Catherine Hill [Public Domain]

Boieldieu Bridge Immortalized by Pissarro

The Seine river divides Rouen in half. There are six road bridges that allow access across the river. The Boieldieu Bridge was painted and immortalized by Camille Pissarro.

One of Camille Pissarro Paintings of The Boieldieu Bridge, Rouen
Camille Pissarro Painting of The Boieldieu Bridge, Rouen [Public Domain]

The quays on the right bank offer an abundance of restaurants, cafes, bars, sports halls and shops. This area is popular not only with the tourists but also by the locals of Rouen…. it is always buzzing with activity.

The Seine River

François Depeaux, Rouen’s famous art patron, commissions Alfred Sisley to paint landscapes of the Seine river and the surroundings. Sisley, in need of work, agreed to this commission and moves to Sahurs, near Rouen. Here in paints and immortalizes the view of the Seine river and the neighbouring meadows.

Alfred Sisley painting
The path at the water’s edge at Sahurs in the evening, Alfred Sisley painting 1894 [Public Domain}

The Impressionism Trail of Rouen

The Impressionism trail suggested by the Seine-Maritime Official site, takes you to four information panels. However along the way, you will see many other gems and famous sites of Rouen. Don’t rush and enjoy the architecture, grand cathedral and churches, the pretty narrow streets and squares lined with half-timbered houses. For more information, press here.

Rouen Travel – Art Museums

If you are a fan of Impressionism art, then you MUST visit Rouen’s Musée des Beaux-Arts ( The Museum of Fine Arts) . This museum showcases an impressive collection of paintings of the impressionists Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Alfred Sisley and others. For more information about opening hours, ticket prices and current exhibitions, press here.

Other Rouen Travel Gems to Visit

The Medieval Town of Rouen

Rouen travel must include a walk around the old town. Here you will see gorgeous, centuries-old half-timbered houses, quaint cobblestone streets dotted with lots of shops, cafes and restaurants. In the summer months, there are often events and activities happening around this area making it a fun and interesting place to visit for all ages. Press here for updated information about Rouen.

Norman architecture - half timbered houses - rouen travel
The old town of Rouen
Photo by Riccardo Maria Mantero (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Make sure that when you stroll around the old town you find your way to the iconic Gros Horloge (Great Clock) of Rouen. This beautiful clock dates back to the 1300s.  Inside the building is a small museum showcasing the clockmaker’s workshop and also providing interesting information about the history of the the Great Clock Tower and the city of Rouen. After the museum, you MUST climb up great clock tower to the upper terrace to get the fantastic birds-eye view of Rouen and the Notre-Dame Cathedral in the distance.

Gros Horloge (Great Clock) of Rouen
Gros Horloge (Great Clock) of Rouen

Eglise Jeanne d’Arc – Joan of Arc Church

The Joan of Arc Church is dedicated to Joan of Arc. It is also a museum providing information about her story. This church is located in Rouen’s city center. It is said that the location of this church was the exact place where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in 1431. The church provides guide audio-headphones to explain to the visitor the various displays in the church.

Rouen Notre-Dame Cathedral / Rouen travel
Rouen Notre-Dame Cathedral

Going on a Road Trip to Normandy? Check Out My Tips & Trips of Where to Go & What to See!