attractions in La Rochelle

10 top tourist attractions in La Rochelle and easy day trips

With its weathered towers and salty sea air, La Rochelle has the distinctive character of an ancient port town. La Rochelle is located between Nantes and Bordeaux on a picturesque bay of the Atlantic Ocean. Imposing fortified towers guard the entrance to the city, while the fishing district enjoys a protected position. La Rochelle has a beautiful old town that is full of impressive historical monuments. A walk through the cobbled streets is a journey back in time, from the Middle Ages to the 18th century. Walk past the medieval fortifications, visit the Renaissance town hall, admire Baroque churches and see evidence of 17th-century Protestant temples. La Rochelle is a cultured city with an amazing array of museums. Outdoor activities include sailing, cycling, nature walks and seaside relaxation.

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1 Old Town (oude stad)

Old Town (oude stad)

In the center of La Rochelle’s historic district is the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall), built between 1595 and 1606 in a richly decorated Renaissance style and surrounded by an older defensive wall. The town hall is open to the public; the building has a beautiful courtyard with galleries and is beautifully decorated. In the northeast corner of the Hôtel de Ville, is the Grand Rue des Merciers, a must-see sight. This attractive old street is lined with medieval half-timbered houses and handsome Renaissance buildings. Numbers 3, 5, 8, 17 and 23 are particularly beautiful. True to its name (Rue des Merciers means “Street of Haberdashers”), the arcades rez-de-chaussée is filled with many shops selling everything from clothes and shoes to fine chocolates.

One of the city’s focal points, the 15th century Tour de la Lanterne was built as a lighthouse and previously used as a prison. Another top attraction is the Maison de Henri II , an opulent 16th-century mansion located on a quiet side street (11 Bis Rue des Augustins). This beautiful Renaissance mansion reveals the work of the great sculptors of La Rochelle. The colonnaded windows are decorated with Etruscan and Ionic style. On the Rue du Palais there are two impressive 18th-century buildings with beautiful facades: the Palais de Justice (Law Courts) and the Bourse (Beurs). At the end of the Rue du Palais is the 14th-15th century Porte de la Grosse-Horloge, which is a remnant of the old city gate.

2 Vieux Port (old port)

Vieux Port (old port)
Vieux Port (old port)

The busy seaport of La Rochelle is dotted with quaint old fishing boats and lined with trendy terraces. The entrance to the Vieux Port is guarded by two medieval towers, the massive Tour Saint-Nicolas on the east side and the imposing Tour de la Chaînein the West. At an important location on the harbour, the Tour Saint-Nicolas was designed as a fortress to protect the city from invaders. This tower has an irregular shape and the interior is a maze of ancient stairs, corridors and rooms. The Tour de la Chaîne is located on Rue sur les Murs, as it was connected to the defensive walls of the medieval city. This tower takes its name from the chain that was pulled over the mouth of the harbor at night in the Middle Ages. From the south side of the harbor there is a beautiful view of the harbor and the city. South of the Vieux Port, the Bassin à Flot is the charming fishing district.

3 Aquarium of La Rochelle

La Rochelle Aquarium Guilhem Vellut / photo modified
La Rochelle Aquarium Guilhem Vellut / photo modified

Embark on an exciting journey on the distant sea and experience the vibrant colors and fascinating variety of marine life. The La Rochelle Aquarium presents more than 12,000 species from the Atlantic, Mediterranean and tropical seas in tanks containing three million liters of seawater, making it one of the largest aquariums in Europe. Visitors discover all kinds of beautiful marine life, from transparent jellyfish to scary sharks. The aquarium offers an audio guide tour that details interesting facts about marine life and children get their own special audio guide with a route designed to their height level. It is common that this popular tourist attraction is located opposite the old port near the sea Port des Minimesdistrict where there is a small beach that is a favorite of the locals. The aquarium also has a souvenir shop and cafe with a tropical theme and scenic views of the marina.

Address: Quai Louis Prunier, La Rochelle

Official site:

4 Natural History Museum

Museum of Natural History Clayton Parker / modified photo
Museum of Natural History Clayton Parker / modified photo

Discover the world of natural history at this fantastic museum, which is one of the oldest in France. With more than 2,500 square meters of exhibition space, the museum displays an astonishing collection. The exhibits feature fascinating objects found by naturalists and ethnographers from all over the world. The collection allows visitors to understand the richness and diversity in the natural world while learning about its science and history. A tour of the museum ends with the Jardin des Plantes (Plant Garden), a blooming garden filled with plants from all over the world.

Address: Rue Albert 1er 28, La Rochelle

5 Musée du Nouveau Monde (Museum of the New World)

Housed in a beautiful 18th-century mansion, the Museum of the New World documents the history of France’s relationship with the New World (North and South America) since the 16th century. The collections are presented in stunning neoclassical spaces and the exhibits range from old nautical charts to historical information about trade routes in Brazil and the Caribbean. There is an interesting set of furnishings and art from the ship’s owner, and several rooms describe the indigenous people of Canada (New France). A spectacular piece by José Conrado Roza called La Mascarade Nuptiale depicts a Brazilian dwarf in the court of the King of Portugal. Another work by this artist shows scenes of the “savages” (inhabitants) of Guyana.

Address: 10 Rue Fleuriau, La Rochelle

6 Musée des Beaux-Arts (Museum of Fine Arts)

This excellent museum of fine arts is housed in the Hôtel de Crussol d’Uzés, a beautiful neoclassical building that was formerly an episcopal palace. The museum has an extensive range of 900 European paintings and drawings from the 15th to the 20th century. The 20th century collection includes notable works by Alberto Magnelli, Maurice Denis and Gaston Chaissac. Special attention is paid to works from the 19th century, with masterpieces by Camille Corot, Paul Huet and Gustave Doré. Also interesting is the exhibition of realistic artists from the region (William Bouguereau, Eugene Fromentin and Theodore Chassériau). Because the museum has limited space to display its collection, the presentation changes regularly. The museum also offers temporary exhibitions throughout the year.

Address: Rue Gargoulleau 28, La Rochelle

7 Protestant Heritage: Museum & Temples

Protestant Legacy: Museum & Temples elPadawan / photo modified
Protestant Legacy: Museum & Temples elPadawan / photo modified

To understand La Rochelle’s religious heritage, start with an exploration of the Huguenot Protestant movement. The Protestant Museum (Musée Protestant) is dedicated to sharing the history of Protestantism in La Rochelle and in the surrounding areas of Aunis and Saintonge. In the center of La Rochelle’s old town (Rue Saint-Michel 2), the museum presents a rich collection of historical information in chronological order. Starting with the Wars of Religion between Catholics and Protestants (1561-1598), continuing through the Great Siege of 1627-1628, until the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, the museum tells the story of the Protestant struggle.

The Protestants of La Rochelle had several places of worship, which they called temples. The Great Temple, on the old square of the castle (Place de Verdun), was founded in 1577 by the Prince of Condé but was transformed into a cathedral after the Great Siege of 1628. Other Protestant temples at the Salle Saint-Michel (location of the Protestant Musée) and the Salle Gargoulleau were also returned to the Crown after the Great Siege. Because the Protestants had no place of worship in 1628, King Louis XIII granted a piece of land for their temple at the Prée Maubec, now the site of the temple. Chapelle de l’Hôpital Saint-Louis (Rue du Prêche). Sadly the new temple was destroyed in 1685 and all that remains is the plaque above the door of the Chapel of Saint Louis.

8 Musee Maritime (Museum of Navigators)

Musée Maritime (Museum of Seafarers) stef niKo / fotomod
Musée Maritime (Museum of Seafarers) stef niKo / fotomod

This museum welcomes visitors on the ships of the seafarers of La Rochelle. Moored at the docks of La Rochelle is a fleet of eight different ships that visitors are allowed to tour. Highlights include the France 1 weather observation vessel, the Saint-Gilles tugboat and the Angoumois fishing trawler. There are also several classic yachts on display that are still used by their owners to sail in regattas. Boat preservation (the restoration of traditional boats) is another aspect of the museum, along with a project aimed at preserving the memory of seafarers. Through its presentation of beautifully renovated historic ships, the museum brings the city’s rich sailing heritage to life.

Address: Ancien Bassin des Tralutiers, La Rochelle

9 Parc Charruyer

This peaceful park is located in the heart of La Rochelle. The Charruyer Park begins at the intersection of Rue Saint Jean du Pérot and Chemin du Rempart, stretching along the old fortifications. Unlike most French parks, Parc Charuyer is not heavily landscaped and in many areas feels more like an unspoilt nature reserve. The park is filled with a remarkable variety of trees and flowers, including a hibiscus garden. There is an idyllic river (home to local ducks) with scenic pedestrian walkways. At the south end of the Parc Charruyer, there is another green space along the coast called the Allée du Mail, a meadow where fairs and festivals took place in the 15th century. This extensive lawn has been used to play Mail, the French equivalent of croquet, since the 17th century.

10 Saint-Louis Cathedral

Cathédrale Saint-Louis akial / photo modified
Cathédrale Saint-Louis akial / photo modified

Although La Rochelle Cathedral cannot be compared to medieval Gothic cathedrals in other French cities, it is still a special place of worship. The cathedral is located in a neoclassical building designed by Jacques Gabriel and built between 1742 and 1762. The beautiful interior is beautifully decorated in the Baroque style with rich decoration. The ceiling paintings are particularly beautiful.

Address: Rue Chaudrier 17, La Rochelle

Where to stay in La Rochelle for sightseeing

We recommend these great hotels and guesthouses in La Rochelle, close to attractions such as the old town and museums:

  • Eden Ouest: luxury bed-and-breakfast, central location, 18th-century mansion, charming hosts, individually decorated rooms, private steam rooms.
  • Central Park Hotel & Spa: 4-star hotel, chic decor, spa and wellness center, concierge service.
  • Un Hotel en Vie: mid-range price, quiet and convenient location, hospitable hosts, bright decor, delicious breakfast.
  • Premiere Classe La Rochelle Center – Les Minimes: budget hotel, clean rooms, secure underground parking.

Day trips from La Rochelle

Island of Re

Enjoy a relaxing getaway on an idyllic island in the Atlantic Ocean. At the northern end of the wide bay of Pertuis d’Antioche lies the Ile de Ré , a picturesque island with extensive salt pans and oyster beds. This is the perfect place to enjoy an authentic fish meal in a small restaurant. The main city is Saint-Martin-de-Ré , a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With its small fishing boats, charming villages and beautiful beaches, the Ile de Ré is a wonderful destination for a seaside holiday or a short day trip from La Rochelle. The Ile de Ré is connected to La Rochelle by a three kilometer bridge, just a short drive away.


About 12 kilometers north of La Rochelle is the village of Esnandes , known for its Romanesque church. The church was altered in the 14th and 15th centuries, but still retains the original facade, which was incorporated into a defensive wall. There are also fine sandy beaches near the town.

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