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Dunkirk: A City of Sea, History, and Culture

The world’s northernmost Francophone city is located just minutes away from the Belgian border. Life in Dunkirk has always revolved around the sea, with a rich history of whaling, fishing, and trade. The port, which played a crucial role in coordinating the Allied armies’ withdrawal from France in 1940, remains active today, serving both trade purposes and transporting passengers across the channel to Dover.

Beyond its historical significance, Dunkirk offers recreational opportunities by the sea, inviting people to enjoy the beach and take exhilarating walks in the dune landscapes. The city is also home to a top-notch museum dedicated to the events of 1940.

While in Dunkirk, be sure not to miss the UNESCO-listed belfry and the museum of the port, which showcases historic ships. These attractions provide a glimpse into Dunkirk’s rich maritime heritage, making it a destination worth exploring for both its historical significance and its scenic beauty.1

Learn about the history at the Dunkirk 1940 Museum

This museum is located in Bastion 32, a former fortification that was built in 1874 to protect France from invaders.

It was from this place that Operation Dynamo was launched in 1940, a daring mission that saved more than 330,000 soldiers from the Nazi onslaught.

Visitors can see how the operation was carried out, and what challenges and dangers the soldiers faced, through the museum’s exhibits and displays.

You can also watch a 15-minute film that shows the actual footage of the evacuation, and admire the military such as weapons and uniforms that belonged to the soldiers. The Dunkirk 1940 Museum is a must-see for anyone interested in the Second World War and the spirit of Dunkirk.

Musée Portuaire

Visit the Musée Portuaire and discover the fascinating history of Dunkirk and its port. This museum is housed in a former tobacco warehouse that dates back to the 19th century and survived the war.

Visitors can see how the port was involved in various maritime activities, such as whaling and cod fishing, that took the sailors to faraway lands like Iceland. They can also have the chance to explore three historic ships that are docked next to the museum, including the Duchesse Anne, a majestic three-mast ship that was built in Germany in 1901 and is the only one of its kind in France that you can visit.

Enjoy the sun and sand at Plage de Malo-les-Bains

One of the largest and most beautiful beaches in northern France. Visitors can stroll along the promenade, savor the local delicacies of mussels and fries, and marvel at the endless horizon.

Explore the LAAC

A stunning white-tiled building that houses a collection of modern art from the 1940s to the 1980s. You will find works by pop art icons like Andy Warhol, as well as colorful sculptures by Karel Appel, a member of the CoBrA movement. Don’t miss the Cabinet d’Arts, where you can browse through hundreds of prints and drawings.

Admire the Incredible Architecture of Dunkirk

A city that blends different styles and periods. Visitors will be amazed by the Saint-Éloi Church, a gothic gem that dates back to the 15th century. You will also be impressed by the FRAC Grand Large – Hauts-de-France, a modernist masterpiece that showcases contemporary art. And you will not want to miss the Port Museum and the Risban Lighthouse, two landmarks that tell the story of Dunkirk’s maritime heritage.

Experience the La Dune Marchand :

A natural reserve that borders Belgium and protects a diverse ecosystem of dunes. You will discover more than 400 plant species, such as marram grass, buckthorn and dunegrass. You will also hear the song of the nightingales in spring, and see the migratory birds in autumn. And you will be awestruck by the Plage à Bray-Dunes, a beach that stretches for miles at low tide.

Visit the Platier d’Oye

This is a wetland area that is a haven for birds on their way to warmer climates. You will observe the ponds and lagoons that are fed by the River Aa and sometimes by the sea. You can also explore and appreciate the variety of plants that thrive in different levels of salinity. And people visiting Dunkirk can also spot waterfowl and shorebirds all year round, as well as choughs, snow buntings and skylarks in winter.

Travel to Saint-Omer

A city that exudes elegance and wealth. Visitors can walk among Flemish-style mansions and neo-classical townhouses. You can also visit the museum inside the Hôtel Sandelin, where you will see paintings and ceramics that reflect the city’s prosperous past. And travelers will be dazzled by the Gothic cathedral, one of the most ornate in France.

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