Visit La Rochelle: Top 15 things to do and see

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Things to Do in La Rochelle: All Highlights and Activities

You’re planning to visit La Rochelle during your next trip to France?

To help you discover the best places in the city, I have written a guide of La Rochelle, with all the points of interest. I will start with the top 15 things to do and see in La Rochelle and continue with itineraries to visit the city in 1, 2 or 3 days.

If you are wondering where to stay and where to eat, I have also selected for you the best accommodations and restaurants in the city. You will find them at the end of the article.

So, what are the best places to visit in La Rochelle?

1. Old port of La Rochelle

I will start this list of must-see attractions with the Old Port of La Rochelle, for me the most beautiful place in the city.

The old port has been playing an important role in the development of the city since the Middle Ages, thanks to the infamous triangular trade (slave trade). Today, it’s a marinan where you can enjoy strolling along the quays. The Quai du Carénage, Quai Duperré and the Cours des Dames are very lively and touristic in summer, with many street painters and street shows.

You can also just relax and have a drink, sitting at one of the numerous terraces on the quays

Voyage Tips Advice
Visit the Old Port in the evening to admire the lighting of La Rochelle. It’s a great time for strolling through the stalls of the craft market on the quays.
La Rochelle Old Port
La Rochelle Old Port in the evening

2. Towers of La Rochelle

If you started your visit of La Rochelle by the Old Port, you couldn’t miss the 3 emblematic towers that mark the entrance and exit of the harbor:

  • The Lantern tower, a former lighthouse which also served as a prison
  • The Chain Tower, before used as an entrance gate to the port. At night, a big chain was strung between it and Saint-Nicolas Tower to close the port
  • The Saint-Nicolas tower, the biggest one, which was linked to the Chain Tower to protect the city from dangers and invasions by the sea.

Built in the Middle Ages to protect the city, these towers are now classified as Historic Monuments. You can visit the 3 towers with a single ticket.

These 3 imposing ladies will allow you to learn more about the history of La Rochelle and above all, to discover a magnificent panorama of the city when climbing to the top. If you need to do only 1 paid visit, theses towers are the best places to visit in La Rochelle.

All the information can be found on the the 3 towers official website.

Voyage Tips Advice
Good to know: the visit is free for people under 18 years old and for EU citizens between 18-25 years old.

For the others, I highly suggest you to buy skip the line tickets in advance, you will save a lot of time! You can buy them by clicking here

La Rochelle Towers
La Rochelle Towers

3. Visit La Rochelle Old Town

After strolling along the water’s edge and getting your breath back after climbing the towers, I advise you to take a walk in the old town of La Rochelle.

It begins at the junction of the quai Duperré and the cour des Dames. The entrance is symbolized by the Big Clock Gate (“porte de la Grosse Horloge” in French), which serves as a passage between the port and the city center.

You will discover the famous arcaded streets, which give the city a typical charm. In the past, merchants were spreading their goods there in order to protect them from bad weather, but had to pay a fee for doing so.

Also worth seeing in the historic center of La Rochelle:

  • The numerous private mansions with wooden or carved stone facades
  • The town hall, with its Gothic walls and facade adorned with gargoyles and sculptures, looks like a fortified castle
  • The House of Henri II, a Renaissance style building. Free visit of the court.
  • The “hôtel de la bourse”
  • The courthouse (“palais de justice”)
The Big Clock Gate, in La Rochelle Old Town
The Big Clock Gate, in La Rochelle Old Town

4. St-Louis cathedral of La Rochelle

Close to the the Henri II house in the old town, you can visit the Saint-Louis cathedral of La Rochelle.

Don’t be fooled by its quite basic exterior aspect, the interior is worth a look for its paintings and magnificent stained-glass windows.

If you are in the historic centre, don’t hesitate to give it a go, it won’t take you a long time and you will learn a bit more about the city’s history thanks to the  explanatory panels in the cathedral.

St Louis de La Rochelle cathedral
The St Louis de La Rochelle cathedral

5. Les Halles de La Rochelle – City center market

For the foodies and awesome local products lovers, I recommend you go to “Les Halles de La Rochelle”.

Every morning, these 19th century market halls host a covered market. Ideal for filling up with fresh produce and tasting local flavours. With the proximity of the sea, fish and shellfish lovers will fore sure have a great time there!

On Wednesdays and Saturdays morning, the big market days, the stalls even overflow the entire square and the surrounding streets.

Halles de la Rochelle market
Halles de la Rochelle, the city market

6. Charruyer park

In the heart of La Rochelle, is the Charruyer park, a large public garden of 40 hectares and 2 kilometers long.

Crossed by a canal and lined with trees, it’s an ideal place for a nice stroll away from the stress of the city. You can walk or cycle along the bike path that crosses it.

It is also a good idea for a family trip because the Charruyer park has a children playground and a small animal park that will delight the youngest. Among other things, they will be able to observe goats, geese and donkeys.

Charruyer Park La Rochelle
The Charruyer Park

7. Aquarium La Rochelle

Another good idea if you’re traveling with your family is the Aquarium of La Rochelle, which is located in front of the Old Port, not far from the Saint-Nicolas tower.

It is one of the most visited tourist sites in Poitou-Charentes region and one of the largest aquariums in Europe. Since its opening in 1988, it quickly became one of La Rochelle top tourist attractions.

You will have the opportunity to admire nearly 12,000 different species coming from all over the world, as the Aquarium is split in various sections: the Atlantic Ocean, Mediterranean Sea, Caribbean and tropical rainforest. Don’t miss the jellyfish Ballet or the shark aquarium.

It’s a great learning place for kids and older people alike, with detailed and clear explanations. It’s also a good idea of thing to do, if unfortunately the weather is not that great during your stay in La Rochelle. The visit of the aquarium takes about 2 hours.

Official information, prices, timetables, can be found on the official website.

Voyage Tips Advice
You should book your ticket in advance on the Aquarium website. It’s the best way to avoid the queue, which can be a bit long in the summer months.

Aquarium La Rochelle

8. La Rochelle museums

If you enjoy visiting museums to discover the history of a city, you will not be disappointed in La Rochelle.

Here are some you might like:

  • The maritime museum: through models, engravings and numerous objects, you can discover the maritime history of La Rochelle from the year 1000 to the contemporary ports. You can also visit several ships in the water, including a sailboat, trawlers and a tugboat.
  • The Natural History Museum, which presents nearly 10,000 objects
  • The Museum of Fine Arts and its collection of European paintings from the 15th to the 20th century
  • The New World Museum, which is about France’s relations with the Americas and the Caribbean
  • The bunker of La Rochelle: a real bunker occupied by the German commanders during the Second World War, it will allow you to discover La Rochelle history from 1939 to 1945.
  • The Automatons and scale models Museum (“musée des automates et modèles réduits”), with more than 300 moving automatons and several reproductions of old boats.
A boat of La Rochelle Maritime Museum
A boat of La Rochelle Maritime Museum

9. La Rochelle Beaches

After all these walking tours during your trip to La Rochelle, you will probably want to relax a little and enjoy being at the beach.

Hopefully, there are 3 beaches in La Rochelle:

  • The “Plage de la Concurrence” is a 5-minute walk from the city center and is well equipped for a day with children. Please note that there is also an access ramp for disabled people.
  • The Chef-de-Baie beach, the furthest from the center but probably the most pleasant because it is protected from the wind by a sea wall. A large lawn area above the beach allows children to play in complete tranquillity.
  • The beach of Les Minimes, is the largest in La Rochelle with its shops and restaurants. Also equipped with disabled access ramps.

Voyage Tips Advice
If you have the ability to go a bit outside the city of La Rochelle, I recommend Châtelaillon beach, which is considered one of the most beautiful in Charente Maritime.

10. La Rochelle festivals

Throughout the year, La Rochelle hosts many festivals, including the Francofolies, which is the most famous. The festival, an essential part of the French music scene, takes place every year in July.

La Rochelle is also renowned for its festivals celebrating cinema with the:

  • Festival International du Film de la Rochelle (La Rochelle International Film Festival)
  • Festival de la Fiction TV (TV Fiction Festival)
  • Festival International du Film d’ Aventure (International adventure Movie Festival)

Finally, La Rochelle, a port city, also organizes one of the largest international boat shows, the Grand Pavois.

The Francofolies of La Rochelle
The Francofolies of La Rochelle

11. Take a cruise from La Rochelle

From La Rochelle, a must-do activity is to take one of the many mini cruises offered by local tour agencies.

It’s possible to take a full tour of the region’s maritime attractions:

  • Ile de Ré (Ré island): it’s also possible to go there by car via the Ile de Ré bridge.
  • Oléron island, which is also connected to the mainland by a bridge.
  • The small island of Aix (Île-d’Aix), accessible only by boat. You can then do a walking tour or rent a bike there.
  • The famous Fort Boyard, located between the island of Aix and the Oléron island.

You can also choose to visit an island only and stop by during the day or half day.

And if you don’t like group tours, some companies also offer private boats renting services. It’s for sure more expensive, but it’s often even more enjoyable in small groups!

Aix Island cove, with a little Mediterranean look!
Aix Island cove, with a little Mediterranean look!

Best things to do around La Rochelle

There are a lot of things to do around La Rochelle. If you are wondering were to go, here is a list of my favorites!

12. The Marais Poitevin

Less than an hour’s drive from La Rochelle is the must-see nature excursion in the area. The Marais Poitevin (Poitevin Marsh), a unique site in Europe, is the ideal place for many family activities such as hiking, fishing and cycling. But the best way to discover the Poitevin Marsh is undoubtedly a boat ride.

If  you choose a trip without guide, you will be given a map of the canals and you will be able to to row and find your way around freely.

Another option is to take a boat stroll with a guide who will row (much less tiring!) and tell you the history and legends associated with the Poitevin Marsh.

Voyage Tips Advice
If you do a boat ride on the Marais Poitevin, it’s a good thing to do it in the late afternoon. You will enjoy a better luminosity and avoid the crowds of the high season.
Poitevin Marsh
The Poitevin Marsh

13. Saint-Jean-d’Angle Castle

The Saint-Jean-d’Angle Castle is located at a 45 minutes drive from La Rochelle. As soon as you arrive, you will be able to dress up for free and discover the castle through puzzles games and quizzes, a great way to learn while having fun. It’s really a perfect place to visit if you have children.

Saint Jean d’Angle Castel official website

Saint Jean d Angle Castle
Saint Jean d Angle Castle

14. Puy du Fou

At 1h30 from La Rochelle, you will find the Puy du Fou, the famous historical theme park with shows.

The park is recognized worldwide for its originality and creativity and has received since 2012, numerous prizes and awards among the most prestigious in the world.

The Puy du Fou offers several shows based on historical themes such as circus games and Vikings. Don’t miss the great Cinescénie show, the biggest night show in the world: 1h40 of show, 2 000 actors and nearly 24 000 costumes, no doubt that it will blow your mind!

Inside the park you will also find historical reconstructions of villages from different eras, with of course restaurants and hotels.

The park is also easily accessible from the city of Nantes. It’s really one of the best tourist attractions in France.

Puy du Fou
The Puy du Fou historical theme park

15. The Futuroscope

The Futuroscope is another park located at 1h30 from La Rochelle, near the city of Poitiers this time. The park offers more than twenty attractions to immerse you in fantastic worlds and make you experience unique sensations.

Embark on a world tour, dance with robots, become a Minimoy, all thanks to the magic of technology and giant screens. You will love it!

Le conseil Voyage Tips
You want to visit the Futuroscope? I highy recommend you to book your ticket in advance in order to avoid the (very long) waiting line. Click here to book your tickets now!
Futuroscope
The Futuroscope

La Rochelle City Pass

During your stay in La Rochelle, I strongly recommend that you take the City Pass. From 24 to 72 hours, for a price ranging from 28 € to 48 €, it will allow you to save a lot of money.

With the City Pass La Rochelle, you will get:

  • Free and unlimited access to all public transports in the city: bus, TER, bicycle, “bateau passeur” and sea bus.
  • Free visit of the La Rochelle must-see attractions, they are all included in the free visit list!
  • And as a bonus, guided tours of the city are also included, such as the “parcours des saveurs” (“Flavour Trail”) or “La Rochelle à vélo” (“Bike tour La Rochelle”).

Visit the City Pass website (in french) to discover all it’s advantages! You can even simulate the savings you will make, and thus choose the pass that will fit your stay the best.

What to do in La Rochelle for a day

If you only have 1 day in La Rochelle, I suggest you the following itinerary to make the most of your day. You will focus on the main points of interest!

  • Start your day by the Old Port, maybe for a breakfast in one of the restaurants
  • Climb to the top of the 3 towers of La Rochelle
  • Continue your day with the discovery of the the historical center, its arcades and mansions.
  • Lunch break at “Les Halles de La Rochelle” (the city market) or in a restaurant
  • A bucolic walk in the Charruyer Park
  • And if possible, finish the day at one of the 3 beaches of La Rochelle

Must see La Rochelle

What to do in La Rochelle in 2 days

In 2 days in La Rochelle, in addition to the previous program, you can do:

  • In the morning, you can do a sea cruise to discover the famous Fort Boyard, the island of Oléron and Ile de Ré on a boat or catamaran.
  • Lunch break
  • Visit one of the many museums of the city
  • End your 2nd day in the city by discovering the Aquarium of La Rochelle

What to do in La Rochelle in 3 days

In 3 days in La Rochelle, in addition to the itineraries of the 2 previous days, you will have time to visit one of the attractions around the city! You can:

  • Spend the day in one of the 2 theme parks known all over the world and both located at 1h30 from La Rochelle: the Puy du Fou or the Futuroscope. If you have children this is the best option.
  • Or, if you are a nature lover, discover the Poitevin Marsh, through a magnificent boat ride.

Where to stay in La Rochelle ?

  • Résidence New Rochelle: Hotel located 5 minutes walk from the beach and 2 kilometers from the La Rochelle aquarium. Studio equipped with kitchenette from 50€ per night. Strong points: you can cook your own food, the swimming pool, the quiet location.
  • Hôtel de la Paix: In the heart of the old town, comfortable and well decorated room from 62€ per night, breakfast at 10€. Strong points: located in the city centre, very warm welcome, copious breakfast.
  • Hôtel Les Brises: Situated 10 minutes walk from the beach and 2 kilometers from the Old Port. Nice decorated room with sea view from 80€ per night, breakfast included. Strong points: the superb view, the geographical location and free parking. It’s my favourite hotel in La Rochelle, the value for money is excellent!
  • Novotel La Rochelle Centre: Located at 10 minutes walk from the beach and the old town. Large modern double room starting at 105€ per night, breakfast included. Strong points: The swimming pool, the calm, the location.

Where to eat in La Rochelle ?

  • Le bistrot de Mémé: Located in La Rochelle market district. Vintage ambiance, great dishes prepared with local products, very copious meals.
  • Les Pérot-Quais: Located in a street parallel to the Cour des Dames, very close to the Old Port. It is the trendy restaurant of La Rochelle with an original concept. No starters here, but you will have the choice between several plates (“océane, parisiennes, pérot-quai”) made up of various kinds of meat or fish and equally copious.
  • L’Atelier des cousins: Located in La Rochelle old town. This restaurant run by 2 cousins offers delicious dishes based on fresh and plancha cooked products. The value for money is excellent!

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