10 Best Things to Do in La Rochelle

What is La Rochelle Most Famous For?

    La Rochelle is a seaside city on the Bay of Biscay, in the central part of France’s west coast which is essentially built around its harbor. Founded during the Middle Ages, the harbor remains the beating heart of the city. It’s home to a great choice of dining, shopping and nightlife entertainment options, as well as iconic historical landmarks such as the 3 Towers of La Rochelle.

    Often called “the white city” for its pale limestone buildings, La Rochelle is a very popular destination, especially in July and August. If you’re looking for a place that can provide you with delicious seafood, historical buildings and a genuine laid-back seaside atmosphere, then La Rochelle should be toward the top of your list.

    What are the best things to do in La Rochelle?


    Start the day at La Rochelle Old Harbour

    Begin where everything started for La Rochelle

    Founded during the 10th century, La Rochelle Old Harbour is the heart of the city. Bars and restaurants line the historical haven, offering great views over the boats from their terraces, Quai Duperré is the perfect place to start your stay in La Rochelle. The iconic Towers of La Rochelle are just 300 meters away, and La Porte de la Grosse Horloge (the Door of the Big Clock) is to your right, leading to the Old Quarter. La Rochelle being a harbor city, this area has a unique buzz to it.

    Location: In the center of La Rochelle

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    Must-Visit: Aquarium La Rochelle

    Explore the underwater world while staying dry

    Located 600 meters south of the Old Harbour, Aquarium La Rochelle offers you a 2-hour trip into the underwater world. Here, you’ll see over 600 marine species on display in clean and modern facilities that include a cool rooftop restaurant from which you can take in great views of the pier. From the large shark tank to the jellyfish tunnel, Aquarium La Rochelle offers adults and children alike a pleasant and informative attraction. Audio guides in English are available at the entrance desk.

    Location: On Quai Louis Prunier near the Old Harbour and the train station in the center of La Rochelle

    Open: October - March from 10am to 8pm, April - June and September from 9am to 8pm, July - August from 9am to 11pm

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    photo by Pascalou petit (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified


    Stroll around La Rochelle Old Quarter

    See the House of Henry II

    The main entranceway to La Rochelle Old Quarter is through the Door of the Big Clock on Quai Duperré. Featuring worn paving stones, narrow lanes, half-timber houses and secret passageways, you’ll feel like you’ve traveled back in time in this quaint neighborhood. La Rochelle Old Quarter hosts a few must-see historical monuments that include the Town Hall, the House of Henry II and the Church of Saint-Sauveur, to name a few. It’s also a lively area that features many bars, restaurants and boutiques.

    Location: Just north of the Old Harbour in the city center

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    photo by Jeremy Ainsworth (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified


    Climb the Towers of La Rochelle

    Visit the most iconic landmarks of the city

    The 3 Towers of La Rochelle are the symbols of the city. The Tour Saint-Nicolas and the Tour de la Chaîne frame the entrance of the Old Harbour, while the Tour de la Lanterne juts out 200 meters away. Part of the city’s fortification from the 12th and 14th century, the 3 Towers offer great views of the pier and the city. They also feature exhibitions about the history of the city. A single ticket will get you into all 3 towers.

    Location: At the entrance of the Old Harbour

    Open: April - September from 10am to 6.30pm, October - March from 10am to 1pm and from 2.15pm to 5.30pm

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    Feast on seafood

    Enjoy local oysters and mussels

    It’s no big surprise that seafood is the meal of choice when you come to the harbor town of La Rochelle. Seafood platters are on offer in the majority of the restaurants in the city, and most traditional local dishes include products from the sea. Must-try options include the Oyster Marenne d’Oléron, mussels, scallops, bass and sea bream. A delicious local dish that you should sample in La Rochelle is the mouclade: mussels cooked with white wine, cream and saffron.

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    Hop to Île de Ré

    Discover a charming island a few minutes' drive from La Rochelle

    Getting to l’Île de Ré (Ré Island) is simple and easy, thanks to the 3-km-long bridge that links the island to the continent, just north of La Rochelle. You can get a glimpse of the traditional insular way of life while you cycle around the crisscrossing bike tracks of the island. Besides local daily life, beach and seafood are the 2 main points of interest. The island being pretty busy in July and August, it’s best to visit it in late spring or early autumn.

    Location: 10 km east of La Rochelle city center

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    photo by Yves Jalabert (CC BY-SA 2.0) modified


    Sunbathe at Minimes Beach

    Take a break on the seaside

    Located just south of the port of the same name, the Plage des Minimes (Minimes Beach) is a 200-meter strip of sand that offers a pleasant place for sunbathing and swimming a short distance from the city center. Mussels served with French-fries is the dish of choice at the restaurants nearby, and you can enjoy a pleasant stroll to the historic lighthouse that sticks out from the sea off the tip of the Minimes Cape, just south of the beach.

    Location: 4 km southwest from La Rochelle city center

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    photo by Dosto (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified


    Must-Visit: La Rochelle Natural History Museum

    See 10,000 stuffed animals in a vintage building

    During the 18th century, La Rochelle sent many explorers, naturalists and ethnographers around the world. They brought back large collections of stuffed animals, birds, insects and historical artifacts. La Rochelle Natural History Museum puts these historical collections on display in a splendid 18th-century mansion just 800 meters north of the Door of the Big Clock, on the northern outskirt of the Old Quarter. Next to the museum, a beautiful botanical garden also offers a very pleasant place to wander around on a sunny afternoon.

    Location: On Rue Albert 1er, just north of La Rochelle Old Quarter

    Open: Tuesday - Friday from 9am to 6pm, Saturday - Sunday from 2pm to 6pm, closed on Mondays

    Phone: +33 (0)5 46 41 18 25

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    Dine in La Rochelle Old Harbour

    Enjoy delicious food in historical surroundings

    The Old Harbour is the right area to find a good choice of dining options, especially in its southern part, next to the Towers of La Rochelle. You can enjoy fine dining with sea views at Restaurant Christopher Coutanceau, a 2-star Michelin restaurant in Plage de la Concurrence. If you’re in a mood for French-Asian fusion dishes, Iséo – nicknamed ‘the sea bistrot’ – on Place de la Chaîne should be your place of choice. Last but not least among La Rochelle’s recommendable restaurants, Les Perot-Quais on Rue St Jean du Pérot serves creative dishes in a pleasant, unpretentious atmosphere.

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    End the day bar hopping in the Old Quarter

    Enjoy a few drinks after dark in La Rochelle

    La Rochelle Old Quarter and Old Harbour may be old by name, but they have kept a young spirit in their festive ambience. Do you like Rock ‘n’ Roll? Then, head to Les Enfants du Rock, a popular live music bar on Quai Duperré. Looking for a genuine French bistro? Then move toward La Cave de la Guignette on Rue Saint-Nicolas. Here, you’ll find yourself in an iconic vintage bar at which you can sample the Guignette – an original beverage created here. Finally, if you want to enjoy a warm and friendly Irish atmosphere in La Rochelle, you should go to McNulty’s on Rue Verdière for live music, international sports, pub quizzes, and Irish beers and ciders.

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    Stephan Audiger | Compulsive Traveler

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