Because of its status as one of the most important ports in northern France, Cherbourg probably has as many annual visitors as any other French coastal town - upwards of 1.6 million cross-Channel ferry passengers alone. But in Cherbourg the overwhelming majority merely pass through... on their way from the ferry to more popular holiday areas of France.

If those visitors stopped to look around, rather than just pop into the wine warehouses on the way to and from the ferry port, most would be enchanted by the town’s historical depth, its gastronomy, its culture, its architecture, its shopping opportunities, and its genuine joie de vivre.

History of the port

Although lying just sixty miles south of the UK mainland, and catering for thousands of arrivals and departures of British tourists each week, Cherbourg has proudly retained its character and “Frenchness” since it first developed as a commercial port centuries ago. In the early years of the twentieth century, Cherbourg capitalised on the fashion to visit America by ship and was a regular departure point for some of the most famous transatlantic liners - the Queen Mary, the Queen Elizabeth and the SS France being amongst them. In 1912, even the Titanic popped in on her fateful maiden voyage.

Being just a handful of miles from the World War Two D-Day beaches, in 1944 the port of Cherbourg took on the role as one of the world’s most strategic harbours, much fought-over by the Allies and the Germans. Today, however, Cherbourg continues to thrive as a commercial port, with its passenger terminal welcoming not only regular services from the south coast of England and from Rosslare in Ireland, but also some of the world’s most modern cruise ships.

Eating and shopping

Far from being stuck in the past, the authorities of Cherbourg have successfully ensured that the town has stayed both cosmopolitan and attractive to the visitor who does not immediately rush south on the N13 autoroute. Nowadays there are most nationalities of restaurant in the characterful old quarter of the town - Chinese, Japanese, Italian, Irish and Indian eating houses sit alongside the usual McDonald's and its French fast-food equivalents, and even a tradition fish ‘n’ chip shop, opened by an enterprising Brit! Oh yes, and visitors have no trouble finding a typical French menu either where seafood is an obvious speciality.

The pedestrianised streets of the old quarter also boast some of France’s most up-market boutiques, selling everything from haute couture fashions and famous-name perfumes, to the very latest in home, decor, furnishing and electrical products. Cherbourg enjoys style without pretence and chic without the Parisian price tag. Five minutes drive to the outskirts of town and the visitor will find a less characterful but expertly planned retail complex of stores and shopping malls.


For those visitors who crave culture, the town has more than enough to offer - in the form of museums, galleries, cinemas, a celebrated theatre, botanical gardens and libraries. But the proudest and one of the most recent additions to Cherbourg’s list of attractions is La Cité de la Mer - a marine and sealife centre built into the port’s historic art deco transatlantic liner terminal. Opened in the spring of 2002, La Cité de la Mer offers visitors a fascinating three hour journey through the many facets of underwater exploration. That journey includes a guided tour of “Le Redoutable” - the biggest visitable submarine in the world - together with a tour of an impressive ocean section which boasts the largest aquarium anywhere in Europe.

For the visitor who prefers terra firma, in the very centre of Cherbourg are the Emmanuel Liais Gardens. In 1886, eminent astronomer and son of a wealthy family of Cherbourg shipbuilders, Emmanuel Liais decided to design an exotic garden at his home between Rue de l'Abbaye and Rue de la Bucaille. As founder of Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro Observatory, Liais took full advantage of his regular travels to South America to bring back tropical plants and trees and so began his love of botany and the creation of his exotic gardens - which, because of Cherbourg’s unusual temperate climate, thrived and matured. On his death in 1900, when he was celebrating his tenth year as Mayor of Cherbourg, Liais bequeathed his property to the town.

Covering more than two and a half acres, the gardens contain greenhouses which are home to more than 500 varieties of rare plants and trees, including a jubea palm from Brazil which is the only one of its type acclimatised to a French botanical garden.

Gateway to the rest of France

Within half an hour’s drive of Cherbourg are the east coast D-Day landing beaches of Omaha and Utah which themselves cater for visitors with museums and battlefield tours. A similar distance but on the west coast of the Manche peninsula are some of the most glorious sandy beaches and coves, overlooking the island of Jersey. A little further through the lush Normandy countryside is Ste Mare Eglise - the first town to be liberated after the D-Day invasion - and less than an hour further on is Bayeux renowned for its famous tapestry. Mont Saint Michel is approximately two hours’ drive, whereas Paris is comfortably reached by either road or regular rail services in around three hours.


For those few visitors not arriving by sea, Cherbourg-Maupertus Airport is located about 11 kilometres to the east of the town. Although only a handful of scheduled flights currently operate on a regular basis - mainly to and from Jersey and Paris, and more recently Southampton - the miniature airport is both user-friendly and modern, offering business passengers and tourists all the necessary facilities. Major works are currently being carried out to the road network leading to the airport, signalling an expectation of growth.

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