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Under English Occupation for more than 200 years, Calais has always looked across the Channel. The Dover-Calais route was the first Continental service to be operated by a steamship, the Rob Roy, in 1821. One of the most famous sights is Rodin’s great statue of the Burghers of Calais, who pleaded with Edward III of England to spare the town after its surrender in 1347. There is a confidently ornate town hall, a fine arts museum displaying lacework for which Calais is famous, and a little parkland museum of the town’s travails in World War II.
For a town that was so devastated during the Second World War, with little standing to predate 1940, it is surprising to find that there is still such a wealth of sights to visit including castles, monuments, museums and churches, probably the most significant of which is the Eglise Notre Dame. Many however, stand as a record of fortifications that were needed to protect this prime port from invasions throughout the years such as the Citadel, Fort Risban and Nieulay Fort. Climb the steps to the top of the lighthouse and you will understand how the strategic viewpoints of the watchtowers were imperative to guard this surprisingly fascinating location.
Read more on this destination in the AA Key Guide to France.
Must-see attractions in Calais
City Hall and Belfry - The buildings, UNESCO World Heritage classified, were constructed in the 15th century. The spectacular Belfry, is 240ft high and renowned for the most beautiful bell sound in northern France. In front is the famous statue of the Six Burghers.
Eglise Notre Dame - Architecturally, this church is a mismatch. Started in the 13th-century with Flemish masons, but not completed until the 14th-century in English occupation and is the only English Gothic-style church. It is where Charles de Gualle married.
Fine Art Museum - This museum is dedicated to fine arts, exhibiting modern and contemporary pieces alongside prestigious sculptures, and recently introduced a collection about the history of lace-making that Calais is famous.
Musee de la Guerre - Originally a German Communications Bunker, now houses a museum focusing on the occupation and liberation of Western France. Newspaper cuttings, photos, uniforms and models bring the events to life. Located in Parc St Pierre.
Watchtower - The Watchtower, in the market place of ‘Place d’Armes’ is 35meter high. Thought to be one of the oldest monuments in the city, it was the centre of a medieval castle. Built to defend Calais, its survived earthquakes, fire and two World Wars.
Le Phare Lighthouse - Found in the Old Harbour, the Lighthouse dates back from 1848, being constructed to replace the old Watchtower. This 58 meter high structure boasts 271 spiral steps and if you make the ascent you will be awarded with picturesque views.
Monument of the Six Burghers - Les Six Bourgeois was sculpted by Rodin in 1895 and is the most famous monument in Calais. It is in memory of 6 men who gave themselves up to be hanged in the hope that King Edward III of England would grant Calais its freedom.
The Citadel - The original fortification was built by Philippe le Hurperel, who was the Lord of Boulogne in the Middle Ages, to protect the city from attacks and after Calais was granted its freedom on 1558 it was converted into a Military fortress by the renowned architect Vauban.
Nieulay Fort - Initially Calais was only accessible by one road via the River Hames. The connecting Nieulay Bridge was protected by a small fort that was designed to flood and cut of the town if attacked. Today you can visit the ruins within a beautiful park.
Fort Risban - This is the final of the three main fortifications that were built to protect the town from attack (the other two being the Citadel and the Nieulay Fort). Work initially began in the 13th Century but many alterations have taken place throughout the years.