Dieppe is a busy port city of about 35,000 in Normandy, nestled among dramatic limestone cliffs on the English Channel (or La Manche as the French say). It has one of the busiest port cities in Normandy, and a salty, authentic old harbor where fishermen unload their loads of fresh fish and famous scallops. Located just a quick ferry ride from Newhaven in the UK and the closest beach town to Paris, today Dieppe is part travel destination, part authentic fishing town.
History of Dieppe
While Dieppe’s most important industry today remains fishing, for centuries no one dared to brave the choppy waves in Dieppe, whose skies are often covered over by clouds. Nobody thought to bathe here for fun until the eccentric Duchesse de Berry tried it in 1806. She persuaded her aristocratic friends to follow her example, and Dieppe suddenly became a popular seaside resort. The craze for bathing spread, and when the railway from Paris arrived in 1848 Dieppe was on the map as a favorite destination for nobles, writers, musicians and painters. The twice-daily ferry crossing to Newhaven in the UK continue to make Dieppe especially popular among British tourists.
Dieppe’s important port was fought over during the Hundred Years War, was the take-off point for thousands of colonists heading for Quebec in the 17th century and was the site of a failed Allied raid during WWII, an especially bloody battle during which many Allied soldiers (most of them from the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division) were killed and captured. Dieppe was also later liberated by the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division, which explains the many Canadian flags you’ll see hanging in Dieppe.
What to See and Do in Dieppe
Stroll along the Harbor
There is a lovely promenade that stretches along the salty harbor at Dieppe from which to view the boats at anchor in the port. At the waterside restaurants, your waiter can probably point out the very fisherman who brought your lunch in from the sea just that morning.
Enjoy the local seafood
Dieppe is a great place to try some local Norman seafood. Local specialties include marmite diepoise (a fish and seafood stewed in cream, cider and onions, lightly flavoured with spices) and moules marinière (mussels in a wine, shallot and cream sauce). Heavenly.
Shop at the market
Every Saturday, local farmers set up their stalls in the narrow, cobblestoned streets of Dieppe, arranging their cheeses in haphazard piles and spreading arrangements of soil-covered carrots and potatoes among glistening Normandy apples on tables.
>>Read more about Shopping in France’s Markets
Check out the Café des Triunaux
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At the heart of the Saturday market in Dieppe you will find the Café de Triunaux, which has long been a favorite haunt of writers and painters. Renoir, Monet, Sickert, Whistler and Pissarro all came here, as did Oscar Wilde after his release from prison in 1897. While in exile in Dieppe – perhaps sitting at your very table – Wilde wrote what became his final work, The Ballad of Reading Gaol. Flaubert and Maupassant, local literary heroes, were regular customers as well (Maupassant was actually born in Dieppe).
Go to the beach
The pebbly beach at Dieppe may not be as warm or as good for swimming and sunbathing as the beaches along the sunnier French Riviera, the beach here is nonetheless beautiful and worth visiting. Flanked by dramatic limestone cliffs, the beach has been painted by Delcroix, Monet and Gaugin, who liked the ethereal light here.
>>Read more about the Best Beaches in France
Visit the Château-musée
Dieppe’s most impressive landmarks, high above the city, is also a fantastic museum dedicated to the maritime and trade history of Dieppe and contains a wonderfully imaginative collection of exhibits reflecting Dieppe’s maritime history, including hundreds of intricate ivory sculptures carved by local sailors. The museum also features paintings by Renoir, Sisley, Boudin and other famous artists.
Check out the Église Saint-Jacques
The Saint Jacques church is a good example of Norman Gothic architecture as well as a place to enjoy the summer sunshine in Dieppe away from the wind-blown beach. Inside this small church you will find the walls lined with plaques honoring the many Dieppe fisherman lost at sea – a moving tribute.
Attend the Herring Festival
In November, Dieppe pays homage to its fishermen and hosts the annual Herring Festival. More than 100,000 visitors gather for this unique and authentic event. Grills line the streets, cooking up fresh, succulent herrings and spewing smoke into the cold winter air. Men in goggles and chef’s hats dutifully flip away at these giant grills, braving the cold to serve up the fresh little fish, which are served in paper cones and eaten on the street with a squeeze of lemon. Yum.
>>Read more about the Herring Festival in Dieppe
Getting to Dieppe
There is a train station in Dieppe and there are three daily trains to/from the Paris Saint-Lazare station (€23, 2.25 hours) and Le Havre (€14, 2.5 hours), which both go through nearby Rouen. If coming to Dieppe from Rouen, there are 12-14 daily trains, which take less than one hour and costs about €10. So if the few daily trains to not fit your schedule, take the more frequent line to Rouen and transfer there.
I will almost always tell you that train travel in the France is the way to go; there are local buses to Dieppe, and there is a bus station located in the same building as the train station. Th daily buses to Fecamp and Roue do not run on Saturdays and Sundays, and the bus takes twice as long as the train between Dieppe and Rouen. Just sayin’.
Part of Dieppe’s popularity as a resort is that it is located just a quick ferry ride from the UK across the channel. There are twice-daily ferries leaving to/from Dieppe to Newhaven run by Transmanche Ferries.
>>To get more information about ticketing and schedules, visit the Transmanche Ferries website.
From Paris, take the A14 toward Rouen. Exit towards Les Essarts and Rouen on the A13. Travel through Rouen to then take the A150 toward Fecamp/Le Havre/Malaunay/Dieppe. Take N27 toward Dieppe. The drive is about 200 km and should take you about 2-2.5 hours.