After serious devastation during the WW2 bombings, Le Havre has risen phoenix-like from the ashes to become a recognised UNESCO World Heritage Site for its post-war architecture.
Used as a war port during the 17th century, Le Havre became a trade port in the 18th century and was a popular choice for those emigrating to America in the 19th century. The city became known for its trade in coffee and cotton, and semi-traditionally roasted coffee with the label 'Made in Le Havre' can still be bought in the city's shops today. However, in recent history, Le Havre is most known for the devastation wreaked by the events of WW2. With just 2% of the city left standing and the port completely destroyed, Le Havre underwent a huge renovation process designed by architect August Perret, known as the 'concrete poet'. Perret's unusual designs, using concrete to rebuild the city quickly, have made the city centre a World Heritage site recognised by UNESCO.
The most striking example of Perret's architecture is the concrete Eglise St Joseph, shaped like a lighthouse, with 12,768 pieces of coloured glass inside the 107m high octagonal lantern tower where the colours reflected differ throughout the day due to the placement of the sun. Built to commemorate the victims of the Allied bombings in 1944, it is an architectural masterpiece of the 20th century and is well worth visiting. The 16th century cathedral is one of the few buildings left of that era that survived the bombing although it did suffer damage. At the Appartement Témoin, a show apartment from the 1950s, you can discover what life was like in the 50s at the birth of consumerism and mass-production.
Le Havre also has some great museums with a Natural History Museum and the arts museum, MuMa, the Musée d'Art Moderne André Malraux, which contains some of the greatest French Impressionist paintings by artists such as Monet, Renoir, Sisley, Degas and many more. Why not enjoy the beauty that inspired the Impressionists by visiting the 2km beach of sand and pebbles where you can do lots of water sports from the beach including surfing, windsurfing, sea-fishing and swimming? Volleyball courts, a skatepark and other amenities are all near the beach. English languages are also available from the Tourist Office so you can take your own sightseeing tour of the city.
Food and shopping
Le Havre offers some great shopping opportunities including the Docks Vauban shopping complex (approximately 400m from the port, with parking), which includes a supermarket, shops and restaurants. Other shopping areas include the Coty shopping centre, the pedestrian Halles filled with delicatessens, restaurants and cafés, and clothes shops, and the village style shopping of the St Vincent district. There is also a thriving nightlife with lively bars, and the Le Volcan cultural centre with its cinema and theatre housed inside a remarkable volcano-shaped building that seems to emerge from the ground, which is currently being renovated. Try some traditional Norman seafood or sample some of Le Havre's multicultural restaurants that have been set up by emigrants who have come through the port over the centuries. With a huge variety of cuisines in one city - North African, Central American, Asian, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean amongst others - you are certain to find some new and interesting dishes to try!
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