When you stay in Northern France for a few days, it is very nice to alternate the countryside and the coast with a visit to a big city. For example, you can go to Arras, where you can go to a beautiful museum such as Cité Nature, the medieval town of Montreuil-sur-Mer with its gourmet restaurants, to Lille where the largest flea market in Europe is organized every year, or to Amiens with its picturesque neighborhoods, old buildings and long canals.
Amiens, also called as the ‘Venice of the North‘, is a city with a long and eventful history. Unfortunately, due to the great devastation in the First and Second World War, much history has been lost. But when you wander through the streets of the city, you discover a lot of relics and indications of a long history. Like the famous cathedral of Amiens, the oldest standing building of the city and belonging to the Unesco World Heritage List.
This Gothic building was built in the 13th century and is the largest Gothic cathedral in France. When you walk through the city, this imposing building is almost always visible. But because of the narrow streets and the even more densely built center back in the days, that view wasn’t always there. In both wars, large parts of the center went up in flames, and in the nineteenth century attempts were also made to make the cathedral more visible by removing a few blocks of houses to wider the streets.
Amiens is also the city where writer Jules Verne lived. Known from ‘Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea‘ and ‘Around the World in Eighty Days‘. His stories and the vision of the future which he mentions in it are remarkable. A number of these stories were read as fantasy at the time, but have recently taken place. Because of this he is also regarded as a future predictor. La Maison de Jules Verne, the house in which he and his wife Honorine settled around 1882, is now open to the public as a museum.
Another impressive museum worth a visit is the Musée de Picardie. The art museum of Amiens, which is located in a beautiful old building. The museum, which opened in 1867, has exhibited various art from different centuries. The archeology department is located in the basement of the museum. Here you will find parts of Roman murals found at Pompeii, jewelery from the fifth century and even a mummy.
If you want to escape the bustle of the city, then you have to visit the Hortillonnages. A floating garden, where people in Amiens could get their fruit and vegetables back in the days. The goods were traded via boats. Every year in June a big event is organized where poeple are wearing traditional clothes and the market is transformed as it looked centuries ago. If you want to see more of this beautiful piece of nature full of flora and fauna, you can explore the canals by taking a boat trip.
During your walk through the city you certainly can’t escape the old Saint-Leu district. A working class district on the banks of the Somme which dates back to the thirteenth century and looks very picturesque with its canals and colorful old houses. Especially the quay, Quai Belu, is a very popular place for tourists and locals. You’ll find a whole series of restaurants and bars where you can eat traditional dishes such as the Ficelle picarde and the Flamiche, overlooking the river of the Somme. A perfect place for a delicious lunch or dinner.
Besides the historic buildings, picturesque streets and good restaurants you can also have a good shopping in Amiens. In the center of the city you will find a wide range of small boutiques and large chains. If you’re a real vintage and antiques lover, then you definitely have to plan you’re visit in April or October, when the big antique market is taken place. A popular event, that attract people from all over the region and far beyond.
Eventually we could only spend a day in Amiens, maybe a bit too short to get everything out of it. Because this lively city has a lot to offer and is certainly worthwhile to experience both during the day and at night. There are also regular big events, such as La Nuit des Musées and ‘Nuit Blanche‘, where theater, music and dance performances are performed at various locations in the city. This cultural event is very popular in the region and certainly with the inhabitants of Amiens.
We ended our visit at the Zoo d’Amiens, located at the Promenade de la Hotoie, just a bit outside the city center. The six-hectare park has about sixty different animal species. The park was established in 1952 and slowly the animal species have been expanded. You will find, among other things, sea lions, cranes, penguins, wolves, zebras, iguanas and monkeys. The park is not that big and therefore excellent to combine with a visit to the city.
Amiens is absolutely versatile, whether you are a history, nature, food or art lover, you’ll find it all there. Amiens is a typical example of a city where you always drive past, but you didn’t really know how beautiful it would be and what it all has to offer. Beautiful and not too big, ideal for walking around comfortably and where you can experience the combination of city and nature. A perfect destination in Northern France for a day out or a weekend away.