Calais is a small city in the Nord-Pas de Calais region of north France, overlooking the Strait of Dover which is the narrowest point in the English Channel. As such, Calais is the closest French town to England and on a clear day the white cliffs of Dover are clearly visible from there. A major ferry port and with the Channel Tunnel nearby, Calais a popular destination with British day-trippers, particularly since France has lower alcohol and tobacco taxes than its neighbour across the strait.
The town itself has two distinct parts. The old town, Calais proper is situated on an artificial island surrounded by water. The new part of town, known as St Pierre, which sits to the south and southeast of Calais proper. Calais was settled by the Romans, however over time its sovereignty passed through various authorities. It has served as a major port throughout its history as well as the principal ferry crossing point between England and France.
Beside the port, Calais economy is driven by its lace-making, chemical and paper manufacturing industries. The town also has two major railway stations, one of which is the first stop on mainland Europe of the Eurostar line. Local pus services are also plentiful, however most people commute around the town by car.
A shoppers paradise, Calais boasts three large shopping malls with cheap alcohol, tobacco and other items – Cité Europe, Les Quatre Boulevards and the Marques Avenue outlet centre. The Place Crevecoeur markets operate on Thursdays and Saturdays, while the Place d’Armes markets are also open on Saturdays.
While shopping is the town’s main attraction, there are several other significant sights to be enjoyed. Within the distinctive Town Hall at the city’s centre is a majestic staircase, ballroom and “parlement” room, while the outside features artwork by Rodin. Visitors can explore the town hall at their own pace using the helpful descriptions throughout, and the top of the Belfry is accessible by elevator.
The Tour de Guet is a medieval watchtower adjacent to the Place d ‘Armes which survived the aerial bombardment of WWII which destroyed much of Calais. The adjoining Place d ‘Armes is the largest square in town and once served as the marketplace and town’s centre.
There are three major museums of interest – the Modern Art museum, War museum and the “living” Museum of Fine Arts and Lace which displays the lace-making process.
During your visit, don’t forget to also take in the beautiful scenery by visiting the beach and jetty, or the stunning cliffs west of Calais, the Côte d’Opale, which parallel the white cliffs of Dover.