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Charming Small Towns of France

8 Best Things to Do & See in La Rochelle

Ophorus Blog - 8 Best Things to Do & See in La Rochelle
Located on the Atlantic coast, the town of La Rochelle is directly linked to the ocean. Its dense history, passing from English to French domination, offers an astounding heritage thanks to its monuments of rare architectural richness.


La Rochelle, a charming small town of France, is particularly known for its Old Port and its three emblematic monuments: the Tour Saint-Nicolas, the Tour de la Chaîne and the Porte de la Grosse-Horloge. In addition, from the Old Port, you can see the Tour de la Lanterne, also called the Tour des Quatre Sergeants.

1. The Old Port

Facing the ocean, the city of La Rochelle has known both wealth and desolation. The 'Vieux Port' is both the emblem of La Rochelle's glory and of its current vitality. For centuries, goods arrived here from all over the world. The Port is guarded by two medieval towers and the view has inspired many famous artists such as Corot and Signac.

Today, the Old Port has been transformed into a Marina and the surrounding area has become a pedestrian zone. This allows visitors to stroll the streets and feel the laid back atmosphere « à la mode Rochelaise ».

Port activity is now at La Pallice to receive Cruise & Cargo ships and at Les Minimes, to accommodate yachts in transit during a short or long stay. It is the largest marina in Europe.

2. The Tour Saint-Nicolas

Saint-Nicolas is the patron saint of the seafarers, hence the name of one of the towers at the entrance to the Vieux Port. The construction of the tower dates back to 1376. It was used for obvious defensive purposes but also as a royal residence, an arms depot and as a prison. The tower is 42 meters high and is the setting of a diving competition that takes place in the month of May.

Tour Saint Nicolas - Wikicommons


Built in the 14th century, the origin of its name comes from the chain that linked it to Saint Nicolas tower and that made it possible to close the passage to the Port at night and during times of war. The Tour de la Chaîne was damaged in the 17th century by an explosion destroying part of its roof and the arch connecting it to the Tour Saint Nicolas. The arch was never rebuilt. For those of you who are motivated, reach the top of the tower for a great view on the bay, the Old Port and the Islands.

La Tour de la Chaine - wikicommons

4. La Grosse-Horloge

Built in the 12th century, La Grosse-Horloge was the main entrance to the city center when coming from the Port. There are still signs of the passage of carriages that have used this gateway for centuries. In the 15th century, this old gate became a belfry to which was added a clock. 

At the corner of rue de la Grosse-Horloge, we can see the wealth of well-preserved sculptures of the head of a Huron Indian, highlighting the strong trade relations between La Rochelle and Canada, known as Nouvelle France.

5. The Tour de la Lanterne

The Tour de la Lanterne is considered to be the most beautiful of all the towers that are present in La Rochelle. It was linked to the Tour de la Chaîne from the 15th century by a curtain wall (fortress). The tower was a prison between the 17th to 19th centuries hence the number of graffitis that can be seen as you walk up the 158 stone steps to the top.

Since the 19th century, residents of La Rochelle have baptized it the Tour des Quatre Sergents so as to not forget the death of 4 young sergeants, hostile to the monarchy of Louis XVIII. They organized a clandestine sale, during their stay in La Rochelle, for the benefit of associations (prohibited at the time). They were denounced and imprisoned in the Tour de la Lanterne, before being transferred to Paris to be guillotined.

6. The Arcades

The 7 kilometers of Arcades in La Rochelle, located in the center of the town, are without a doubt one of the most interesting features that the city has to offer. Dating back to the Middle-Ages, they were designed to protect all the stalls from the ever changin weather conditions. Today, shops, bars & restaurants still make up the majority of tenders.

7. The City Hall

The City Hall of La Rochelle is undoubtedly the most prestigious building of the city, dating from the 15th century. It remains one of the most beautiful examples of Renaissance architecture and one of the testimonies of the prosperity of the City during its privileges. In tribute to Henri IV, a statue that represents him was erected at the top of the highest tower, as a protector for its Reformist inhabitants.

Following a fire in 2013, leaving residents of La Rochelle in mourning, reconstruction work was undertaken in 2016, to rebuild the City Hall in an identical way. It has been reopened for visits since 2019. A must-see during your stay in La Rochelle.

8. The aquarium

The La Rochelle Aquarium located in front of the Vieux Port is a large vessel made of Glass and Wood. It exhibits 12,000 marine creatures from the Atlantic, the Carribean, the Pacific and the Mediterranean Sea. One of the most popular attraction is of course the Shark Tank. The Aquarium also features the possibility to dive deep down in the Ocean thanks to a submarine. Each year, it welcomes more than 800,000 visitors.

Photos from Adobe Stock - Ophorus account

Photos of La Rochelle from Philippe Berthé© CMN, Paris

Photos from Wikicommons

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