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The 11 Best Things To Do In La Rochelle – The French Gateway To The Atlantic


Modified: December 27, 2023

by Wendy Booker



Welcome to La Rochelle, a picturesque coastal city located on the Bay of Biscay in western France. Known as the “French Gateway to the Atlantic,” La Rochelle offers a unique blend of history, culture, and natural beauty. With its charming old port, vibrant city center, and proximity to stunning beaches, La Rochelle has something to offer everyone.


Steeped in history, La Rochelle boasts a rich maritime heritage. The city’s strategic location made it a flourishing trading port during the Middle Ages, and remnants of its past can still be seen today. Its well-preserved historic center is a delight to explore, with its narrow cobblestone streets, half-timbered houses, and beautiful medieval architecture.


But La Rochelle is not just a city frozen in time. It is a vibrant and lively destination, with a thriving cultural scene, bustling markets, and a wide array of activities to enjoy. From exploring the iconic towers that guard the old port to basking in the sun on the sandy beaches, there is no shortage of things to do and see in La Rochelle.


In this article, we will guide you through the 11 best things to do in La Rochelle, ensuring that you make the most of your visit to this enchanting city. So grab a café au lait, sit back, and let’s dive into the wonders of La Rochelle!


Explore the Historic Centre

The historic centre of La Rochelle is a true gem, offering a glimpse into the city’s fascinating past. Begin your exploration at the iconic Porte de la Grosse-Horloge, a magnificent 14th-century gate that once served as the main entrance to the city. As you pass through the gate, you’ll be transported back in time as you wander the narrow, picturesque streets lined with charming cafes, boutiques, and centuries-old buildings.


Make your way to the Place de la Cathédrale, home to the majestic La Rochelle Cathedral. Marvel at its stunning Gothic architecture and step inside to admire the beautiful stained glass windows and ornate decorations. Just a short walk away is the Hôtel de Ville, the city hall, which boasts an impressive Renaissance-style facade.


Continue your exploration by strolling along the Rue du Palais, a vibrant street filled with artisan shops, art galleries, and restaurants. Don’t miss the opportunity to visit the Musée du Nouveau Monde, located in a former mansion, which showcases the city’s connection to the New World and the history of French colonization.


One of the highlights of the historic centre is the stunning Porte de la Rochelle, a grand entrance gate with imposing towers that provide a striking backdrop for memorable photos. From here, you can walk along the city walls and enjoy panoramic views of the old port and the surrounding area.


Take your time to soak up the atmosphere of the historic centre, exploring its hidden alleyways and discovering charming squares along the way. With its unique blend of architectural styles, vibrant street life, and historical significance, exploring the historic centre of La Rochelle is an absolute must.


Visit the Vieux Port (Old Port)

No visit to La Rochelle is complete without a visit to the Vieux Port, or Old Port. This bustling waterfront area is the heart of the city, and it has been a hub of maritime activity for centuries. As you approach the port, you’ll be greeted by a picturesque scene of colorful boats bobbing in the water, surrounded by charming cafes, restaurants, and shops.


Take a leisurely stroll along the quayside and soak in the vibrant atmosphere. Watch as fishermen unload their catches of the day, and perhaps even sample some of the freshest seafood La Rochelle has to offer. Enjoy a coffee or a glass of wine at one of the inviting terrace cafes while you admire the view of the boats and the historic buildings that line the port.


At the center of the Vieux Port stands the iconic Tour de la Chaîne, a medieval tower built to protect the entrance to the port. Climb up to the top for panoramic views of the harbor and the surrounding area. Just next to it, you’ll find the Tour Saint-Nicolas, another imposing tower that served as a defensive structure in the past. Together with the Tour de la Chaîne, they form a majestic entrance to the port.


For a truly unforgettable experience, hop on one of the many boat excursions that depart from the Vieux Port. Take a cruise around the bay for a different perspective of La Rochelle, or venture further to explore the nearby islands. A visit to the nearby Île de Ré is highly recommended, with its stunning beaches, picturesque villages, and idyllic landscapes.


Whether you’re strolling along the waterfront, enjoying a boat trip, or simply soaking in the atmosphere, a visit to the Vieux Port is a must-see in La Rochelle. It’s a place where the past and present seamlessly merge, creating a vibrant and captivating experience.


Discover the Towers of La Rochelle

La Rochelle is renowned for its impressive towers, which have stood as symbols of the city’s strength and resilience throughout history. The towers offer a glimpse into the medieval past of La Rochelle and provide stunning panoramic views of the city and its surroundings.


One of the most iconic landmarks in La Rochelle is the Tour de la Lanterne. This tower, built in the 15th century, served as a lighthouse and later as a prison. Today, visitors can climb to the top and enjoy breathtaking views of the city and the harbor. As you ascend the spiral staircase, marvel at the intricate stone carvings and admire the medieval architecture.


Adjacent to the Tour de la Lanterne is the Tour de la Chaîne. This imposing tower, built in the 14th century, guarded the entrance to the Old Port. Its name comes from the massive chain that was connected from this tower to the Tour Saint-Nicolas, effectively closing off access to the harbor. Explore the interior of the tower, which includes fascinating exhibitions on the history of La Rochelle and its maritime heritage.


The Tour Saint-Nicolas, located on the opposite side of the Vieux Port, is another must-visit tower. This defensive structure, built in the 14th century, is the largest of the three and played a vital role in protecting the city from invaders. Climb to the top for breathtaking views and imagine what it must have felt like to keep watch over the city from this vantage point.


Each tower has its own unique charm and history, and together they form a captivating trilogy that showcases the strength and character of La Rochelle. Exploring the towers is not only an opportunity to learn about the city’s past, but also a chance to appreciate its architectural beauty and enjoy panoramic views of La Rochelle.


Wander Through the St. Nicolas Quarter

The St. Nicolas Quarter is a charming neighborhood in La Rochelle that is full of character and picturesque streets. Located just a short stroll from the historic center, this area offers a more local and authentic experience of the city.


As you wander through the St. Nicolas Quarter, you’ll be captivated by its narrow cobblestone streets lined with colorful buildings adorned with flower boxes. The atmosphere is vibrant and lively, with trendy boutiques, art galleries, and unique shops to explore.


One of the highlights of the St. Nicolas Quarter is the bustling daily market at Place du Marché. Here, you’ll find a wide array of fresh produce, local delicacies, and handmade crafts. Take your time to browse through the stalls, savoring the aromas of fresh fruits, cheeses, and herbs. It’s the perfect place to pick up ingredients for a picnic or indulge in a tasty snack.


While exploring the St. Nicolas Quarter, be sure to visit the charming Église Saint-Nicolas. This 13th-century church is a masterpiece of Gothic architecture, and its impressive stained glass windows and ornate decorations are a sight to behold.


No visit to the St. Nicolas Quarter would be complete without a stop at one of the cozy cafes or traditional bistros. Sit outside and soak in the atmosphere while enjoying a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. This neighborhood is known for its lively and friendly atmosphere, and you’re likely to strike up a conversation with the locals.


The St. Nicolas Quarter is a hidden gem in La Rochelle, offering a chance to escape the crowds and immerse yourself in the authentic charm of the city. Whether you’re browsing the shops, sampling local delicacies, or simply strolling through the quaint streets, this neighborhood is sure to delight.


Enjoy the Beaches

With its favorable location on the Bay of Biscay, La Rochelle is home to some stunning beaches that are perfect for relaxation and recreation. When you’re ready to soak up the sun and feel the sand between your toes, head to one of the beautiful beaches that surround the city.


The most popular beach in La Rochelle is the Plage de la Concurrence, located just a short walk from the Vieux Port. This sandy beach offers a tranquil spot to unwind, with clear waters ideal for swimming. Lounge on the soft sand and enjoy views of the nearby islands as sailboats gently glide by.


If you prefer a more secluded and peaceful beach experience, make your way to the Plage de Chef de Baie. Located about 4 kilometers from the city center, this beach is nestled in a nature reserve and offers a serene setting surrounded by dunes and pine forests. It’s a great spot for long walks along the shore or simply basking in the beauty of nature.


For those seeking a bit more adventure, head to the Plage des Minimes. This beach is located near the marina and offers a great range of water sports activities, such as sailing, windsurfing, and kayaking. Rent equipment or take lessons from the local schools, and enjoy the thrill of gliding across the waves of the Atlantic.


When you need a break from the sun, the Plage de la Concurrence and the Plage des Minimes both have beachfront cafes and restaurants where you can enjoy a refreshing drink or a delicious meal with stunning views of the sea.


Whether you’re looking to relax, swim, soak up the sun, or indulge in water sports, La Rochelle’s beaches have something to offer for everyone. Spend a day at the beach and let the gentle breeze and the sound of the waves wash away your worries.


Tour the Aquarium La Rochelle

No visit to La Rochelle would be complete without a visit to the renowned Aquarium La Rochelle. This impressive marine center is one of the largest in Europe and offers a fascinating exploration of the underwater world.


The Aquarium La Rochelle is home to a vast array of marine species from all corners of the globe. From colorful tropical fish to majestic sharks, you’ll have the opportunity to observe and learn about the diverse ecosystems that exist beneath the waves.


Start your journey through the aquarium at the Tropical Gallery, where you’ll be surrounded by vibrant coral reefs and exotic fish. Admire the graceful movements of the rays and the elusive seahorses, and marvel at the vibrant hues of the tropical fish as they dart through the water.


The Atlantic Gallery offers a glimpse into the marine life found closer to home. Discover the fascinating creatures that inhabit the Atlantic Ocean, such as octopuses, lobsters, and even playful sea otters. The highlight of this gallery is the massive tank that showcases the biodiversity of the Bay of Biscay, complete with sharks and other impressive species.


The journey continues as you explore the Deep Sea Gallery, where you’ll be immersed in the mysterious world of the deep ocean. Learn about the incredible adaptations of deep-sea creatures and marvel at the mesmerizing bioluminescence that illuminates this dark and mysterious habitat.


For a truly unforgettable experience, don’t miss the opportunity to stroll through the underwater tunnel. As you walk through the glass tunnel, you’ll be surrounded by marine life swimming overhead, giving you a unique perspective of life beneath the sea.


The Aquarium La Rochelle also offers interactive exhibits and educational presentations that cater to visitors of all ages. From feeding sessions to touch pools, there are plenty of opportunities to get up close and personal with marine life and learn about their conservation.


A visit to the Aquarium La Rochelle is a captivating experience that will leave you with a deeper appreciation for the wonders of the ocean. Whether you’re a marine enthusiast or simply looking for a family-friendly activity, the Aquarium La Rochelle is a must-visit attraction.


Stroll along the Promenade du Mail

Escape the hustle and bustle of the city center and take a leisurely stroll along the Promenade du Mail, a tranquil and picturesque park in La Rochelle. Located just a short distance from the Vieux Port, this green oasis offers a peaceful retreat where you can relax and enjoy the natural beauty of the surroundings.


The Promenade du Mail is a beautifully landscaped park, with well-manicured lawns, colorful flowerbeds, and towering trees providing shade on sunny days. Take a leisurely walk along the winding paths, breathe in the fresh air, and enjoy the serene atmosphere.


As you explore the park, you’ll come across several noteworthy features. The Jardin des Plantes is a botanical garden within the Promenade du Mail, featuring a wide variety of plant species from around the world. Admire the diverse flora, listen to the birds chirping, and indulge in a peaceful moment surrounded by nature.


Another highlight of the promenade is the gazebo, an elegant structure that adds a touch of romance to the park. Sit on one of the benches nearby and take in the beauty of the surroundings. It’s the perfect spot for a quiet moment of reflection or a picnic with loved ones.


The Promenade du Mail also offers a playground for children, making it an ideal destination for families. Kids can run, climb, and play while parents unwind and soak in the tranquility of the park.


Whether you’re in need of a peaceful break from sightseeing or simply want to enjoy a leisurely walk surrounded by nature, the Promenade du Mail is the ideal spot. Take your time to wander, enjoy the beauty of the park, and recharge your batteries in this serene setting.


Discover the Museums of La Rochelle

Immerse yourself in the rich history and culture of La Rochelle by exploring its fascinating museums. The city is home to a variety of museums that cater to different interests, ranging from maritime heritage to fine arts. Discover the stories, artifacts, and artworks that define La Rochelle’s past and present.


One of the must-visit museums in La Rochelle is the Musée d’Histoire Naturelle de La Rochelle. This natural history museum offers an extensive collection of specimens, including fossils, minerals, and taxidermied animals. As you wander through the exhibits, you’ll learn about the biodiversity of the region and the importance of preserving the natural world.


For art enthusiasts, the Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Rochelle is a treasure trove of artistic masterpieces. This museum houses an impressive collection of paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts, showcasing works from the 15th to the 20th century. From French Impressionism to contemporary art, you’ll find a diverse range of styles and periods represented here.


Another significant museum in La Rochelle is the Musée du Nouveau Monde, which focuses on the city’s connection to the New World. Housed in a beautiful 18th-century mansion, this museum highlights the history of French colonization and explores the cultural exchange between Europe, Africa, and the Americas. Discover artifacts, documents, and artworks that tell the stories of exploration, trade, and colonization.


La Rochelle’s maritime heritage is also celebrated at the Musée Maritime de La Rochelle. This museum showcases a vast collection of models, maps, and artifacts related to seafaring, allowing visitors to delve into the maritime history of the city. From the age of exploration to modern-day sailing, you’ll gain insights into La Rochelle’s deep-rooted relationship with the sea.


These are just a few of the many museums that La Rochelle has to offer. Whether you’re interested in history, art, nature, or maritime heritage, there’s a museum in La Rochelle that will captivate and educate you. Take the time to explore these cultural institutions and deepen your understanding of the city’s fascinating past and present.


Experience the Maritime Museum

Immerse yourself in the rich maritime history of La Rochelle by visiting the Maritime Museum, a must-see attraction for those fascinated by all things nautical. Located near the Vieux Port, this museum offers a comprehensive and immersive experience that showcases La Rochelle’s deep connection to the sea.


The Maritime Museum takes visitors on a captivating journey through La Rochelle’s maritime past, from its origins as a bustling trading port to its role in the exploration of the New World. The museum’s extensive collection includes ship models, navigational instruments, maps, and artifacts that provide a profound understanding of La Rochelle’s maritime heritage.


One of the highlights of the Maritime Museum is the stunning display of boats and ships that trace the history of seafaring in La Rochelle. From ancient vessels to modern sailboats, each boat tells a story and offers a glimpse into the craftsmanship and technology of its time.


Visitors can also explore interactive exhibits that allow them to step into the shoes of sailors and experience life on board a ship. Learn about navigation techniques, discover the hardships of life at sea, and try your hand at tying knots and hoisting sails.


The museum is not just about history; it also sheds light on contemporary maritime issues and the importance of sustainable practices. Gain insights into the environmental challenges facing the oceans today and learn how La Rochelle is working towards a more responsible and eco-friendly future.


For those interested in the underwater world, the Maritime Museum boasts a fascinating Aquarium section that showcases marine life from the Bay of Biscay. Marvel at the colorful fish, observe the delicate seahorses, and learn about the fragile ecosystems that inhabit the nearby waters.


A visit to the Maritime Museum offers a captivating and educational experience, allowing you to delve into the maritime history and culture that has shaped La Rochelle. Discover the spirit of exploration, trade, and adventure that defines this coastal city and gain a deeper appreciation for its enduring connection to the sea.


Take a Boat Trip to Île de Ré

No visit to La Rochelle is complete without a boat trip to the stunning Île de Ré, a picturesque island located just off the coast. With its pristine sandy beaches, charming villages, and beautiful landscapes, Île de Ré is a true gem waiting to be explored.


A boat trip to Île de Ré is not only a means of transportation but also an unforgettable experience in itself. As you board the ferry or hop on a boat excursion, enjoy the breathtaking views of La Rochelle’s coastline and the sparkling waters of the Atlantic.


Once you arrive on Île de Ré, prepare to be enchanted by its natural beauty. The island is renowned for its long stretches of sandy beaches, perfect for sunbathing, swimming, and beachcombing. Relax under the sun, take a leisurely stroll along the shore, or cool off with a refreshing dip in the azure waters.


Île de Ré is also home to several charming villages that exude a timeless allure. Explore the narrow streets and alleys of Saint-Martin-de-Ré, a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its well-preserved fortifications. Admire the harbor lined with colorful boats and enjoy a meal at one of the waterfront restaurants.


Discover the quaint village of Ars-en-Ré with its charming white-washed houses and traditional market square. Explore the narrow streets filled with boutique shops and art galleries, and don’t forget to visit the striking black and white church tower that stands as a prominent landmark.


For nature enthusiasts, a visit to the salt marshes of Île de Ré is a must. Take a guided tour and learn about the traditional salt production methods that have been used for centuries. Observe the unique flora and fauna that inhabit this delicate ecosystem and enjoy the tranquility of the marshes.


Whether you spend a day or longer on Île de Ré, the island’s serene beauty and relaxed atmosphere will leave a lasting impression. From its stunning beaches to its charming villages, a boat trip to Île de Ré is a delightful excursion that allows you to discover a true paradise just a stone’s throw away from La Rochelle.


Indulge in Fresh Seafood at the Market

One of the true pleasures of visiting La Rochelle is the opportunity to indulge in the bounty of fresh seafood that the city has to offer. For an authentic and mouth-watering experience, head to the local market and immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere of seafood stalls brimming with the catch of the day.


The market in La Rochelle is a paradise for seafood lovers. Wander through the aisles and be captivated by the array of shrimps, mussels, oysters, clams, and an assortment of fish that glisten with freshness. The market vendors take pride in their offerings, showcasing the best of the region’s seafood.


Engage with the friendly fishermen and fishmongers, who will gladly provide recommendations and share their knowledge of the local seafood. They can guide you on the best ways to prepare and cook the various types of fish and shellfish, ensuring an unforgettable culinary experience.


Once you’ve made your selection, head to one of the nearby restaurants or bistros, which often have partnerships with the market vendors. Here, skilled chefs transform the fresh seafood into delectable creations that showcase the flavors of the sea. Indulge in a feast of seafood platters, Bouillabaisse (a traditional fish stew), or simply enjoy a plate of oysters accompanied by a glass of crisp white wine.


If you prefer a more hands-on approach, consider picking up some crustaceans, herbs, and local ingredients from the market and create your own seafood feast. La Rochelle’s kitchens and apartments are often well-equipped to cook up a delightful seafood dish.


Indulging in fresh seafood at the market allows you to savor the flavors of the Atlantic and appreciate the skill and expertise of the local fishermen and chefs. It’s an experience that connects you to the rich maritime heritage of La Rochelle while immersing you in the gastronomic delights that the city has to offer.



La Rochelle truly is a hidden gem on the western coast of France, offering a perfect blend of history, culture, natural beauty, and gastronomy. From exploring the charming historic centre to basking in the sun on the pristine beaches, there are countless activities to enjoy in this captivating city.


As you wander through the narrow streets of the historic centre, you’ll be transported back in time, marveling at the medieval architecture and soaking in the rich maritime heritage. The Vieux Port, with its colorful boats and iconic towers, is a hub of activity and a testament to La Rochelle’s historic importance as a trading port.


But La Rochelle is not just about its past; it is a vibrant and dynamic city with a flourishing cultural scene. The museums offer captivating insights into the city’s history, art, and maritime heritage. The Aquarium La Rochelle immerses you in the wonders of the underwater world, while the Promenade du Mail provides a tranquil retreat in the heart of the city.


Venture beyond the city’s boundaries, and you’ll discover the enchanting Île de Ré, with its stunning beaches, charming villages, and nature reserves. A boat trip to this idyllic island is an unforgettable experience and a chance to escape the hustle and bustle of city life.


Lastly, indulge in the abundance of fresh seafood at the local market, where the catch of the day is transformed into culinary delights by talented chefs. Let the flavors of the sea tantalize your taste buds and leave you craving more.


La Rochelle is a city that captivates and enchants visitors with its rich history, breathtaking vistas, and warm hospitality. Whether you’re a history enthusiast, a beach lover, a foodie, or an adventurer, this French gateway to the Atlantic has something to offer for everyone. Plan your trip to La Rochelle and be prepared to be enchanted by its timeless allure.