Is Dunkirk Worth Visiting? 17 Reasons Why You Should!

I moved to France more than six years ago and since then I’ve traveled all over the country. From the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris to Colmar’s Little Venice, I’ve been to some incredible places.

But one city that stood out to me was Dunkirk, so much so that I’ve visited more than once.

Located on the northern coast, off the typical tourist path, Dunkirk is not the first destination that comes to mind. So, you’re probably wondering, “Is Dunkirk worth visiting?”

In short, the answer is yes!

While it’s most known for its significance in the Second World War, there is so much more to this charming seaside town.

In this post, I’ll share with you 17 amazing reasons why you should add Dunkirk to your list of must-visit places in France.

Is Dunkirk Worth Visiting? Here are all the reasons why you should add it to your itinerary.
Is It Worth Visiting Dunkirk?

Is Dunkirk Worth Visiting?

Yes, Dunkirk is worth visiting!

This historic coastal city in Northern France offers a wealth of attractions that cater to a wide array of interests. But the main reason why Dunkirk was on my travel radar was its historical significance.

It was here that one of the most pivotal events in the Second World War took place – the evacuation of Allied soldiers from the beaches during Operation Dynamo.

And there are tons of places in Dunkirk where you can learn more about this harrowing feat.

This is one of the exhibits at the Musée Dunkerque 1940 - Opération Dynamo. There are manikins dressed in uniform standing next to an army truck.
Musée Dunkerque 1940 – Opération Dynamo

One of my favorite museums was the Musée Dunkerque 1940 – Opération Dynamo. It had a vast collection of artifacts, documents, and videos from the time of the evacuation so I could picture what it was like.

Then, there is the Fort des Dunes and the Batterie de Leffrinckoucke where you can visit the bunkers.

Aside from the historical sites, Dunkirk also has a fantastic art scene.

The Frac Grand Large – Hauts-de-France is one of the largest contemporary art centers in the country. And their temporary exhibits are some of the most engaging I’ve been to.

There are also tons of things to do for nature lovers and beachgoers. The Plage de Malo-les-Bains offers a beautiful environment to relax and soak up the sun.

If you want to explore the coastline, there are cycling paths that stretch for kilometers (miles).

I, actually, rented a bike and rode to the border of Belgium. Then, I stopped by a seaside restaurant for some deliciously fresh seafood.

So, if you’re looking to get off the beaten path in France, Dunkirk should be at the top of your list.

17 Reasons to Visit Dunkirk

There are tons of reasons why you should visit Dunkirk. From its historic museums to its warm sandy beaches, here are 17 reasons to add it to your itinerary.

1. Fascinating History

These are the bunkers at at Batterie de Leffrinckoucke. They are huge stone structures on the sand.
Batterie de Leffrinckoucke

The Battle of Dunkirk and the following evacuation, known as Operation Dynamo, were two key events in the Second World War. And they both happened right here in Dunkirk.

From the 26th of May to the 4th of June 1940, a massive evacuation effort was undertaken to rescue stranded Allied soldiers from the incoming Germans.

By the end of the operation, some 330,000 soldiers were ferried across the English Channel to safety. It was so extraordinary that it’s often called the ‘Miracle of Dunkirk.’

Today, you can learn about the event at one of the many museums or memorials in town.

My favorite site was the Batterie de Leffrinckoucke, which is where you’ll find the last remaining bunkers. Most are still intact despite the heavy bombing raids and seeing them up close was a unique experience.

2. Musée Dunkerque 1940 – Opération Dynamo

This is one of the Exhibits at Musée Dunkerque 1940 - Opération Dynamo in Dunkirk. There manikins dressed in uniforms and a British flag.
Musée Dunkerque 1940 – Opération Dynamo

The Musée Dunkerque 1940 – Opération Dynamo was one of my favorite museums.

It’s housed in Bastion 32, which is the very building where many of the events during the Battle of Dunkirk were orchestrated.

My visit started with a video that gave a great overview of the entire evacuation process. I watched the French version, but they also have it in English.

Then I walked through several rooms containing artifacts from the war. It helped bring the story to life and visualize what it was like during that time.

Despite its size, the Musée Dunkerque 1940 – Opération Dynamo is packed with information, artifacts, and exhibits.

3. Beautiful Beaches

These are the beaches at Plage de Malo-les-Bains. There is sand and then changing lockers.
Plage de Malo-les-Bains

Dunkirk may not be the first place that comes to mind when thinking of beaches, but it has some hidden gems worth exploring.

The city boasts a 15-kilometer (9-mile) stretch of sandy shore that goes to the border of Belgium.

My favorite was the Plage de Malo-les-Bains, where I spent an afternoon relaxing and taking in the gorgeous views. There are also plenty of seaside restaurants and cafés where you can enjoy a meal while overlooking the sea.

If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even try your hand at water sports like kitesurfing, paddleboarding, or sand yachting.

4. Port Museum of Dunkirk

This is an Exhibit at the Port Museum of Dunkirk. There is equipment such as a pulley and sandbags that were used at the port back in the day.
Port Museum of Dunkirk

Housed in a former 19th-century tobacco warehouse, the Port Museum of Dunkirk showcases the maritime history of the region.

I spent hours exploring the exhibits. I learned about the history of Dunkirk and its role as a port town in France. There were models, paintings, work tools, and photographs, some of which dated to the 17th century.

And compared to the other museums that I mentioned above, this one focused on everything but the Second World War.

I also toured the Risban Lighthouse and the Duchesse Anne as part of my visit. It was an added fee, but worth it.

This is the Duchesse Anne. It's a huge boat in the harbor. It has three giant sales.
Duchesse Anne

From the top of the Risban Lighthouse, I had a spectacular view across the North Sea. Then, the Duchesse Anne, which is the last fully rigged ship in France, was fascinating. I loved seeing the inner workings of a ship and learning about life aboard.

Helpful Tip: If you want to visit the Risban Lighthouse and the Duchesse Anne, make sure to check the opening times. They are NOT the same as the museum.

5. Views from the Beffroi de Saint-Éloi

View from the the Beffroi de Saint-Eloi. You can see the rooftops, the port, and the North Sea in the distance.
Beffroi de Saint-Éloi

The Beffroi de Saint-Éloi was built in 1440 as a watchtower over the town. It was also used as a landmark by the local fisherman. Then, in 2005, along with 23 other belfries in northern France, it was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

You can climb to the top of the tower where you’ll have the most spectacular 360-degree panoramic views. On one side, you’ll see the port and the North Sea in the distance. Then, on the other, you’ll look down on the Saint-Éloi Church.

I’ve visited several different belfries in northern France, including the one in Amiens, and I have to say that the views from Beffroi de Saint-Éloi were the most stunning. I did struggle with my vertigo, especially on the last set of stairs, but it was worth it.

6. Delicious Food

This is a goat cheese salad I had at a seaside restaurant in Dunkirk. It's a salad with toast and melted goat cheese on top.
My Delicious Salad

Dunkirk is a seaport, so it’s no surprise that the town has some amazing seafood restaurants. But it’s not only the seafood that’s delicious. There are also a variety of cuisines, from traditional French dishes to international flavors.

During my visit, I made sure to eat at several restaurants and was not disappointed.

My favorite was Comme Vous Voulez. I ordered a goat cheese salad, and the flavor was beyond anything I could have imagined. Plus, it was located right on the beach, so the view was a bonus.

7. Amazing Art Scene

This is an exhibit from the Chaleur Humaine at the FRAC Grand Large - Hauts-de-France. There is a huge semi-truck with dead leaves around.
Chaleur Humaine Exhibition

The main reason I went to Dunkirk was to learn more about its role in the Second World War, but I was pleasantly surprised by the art scene. There are several galleries and museums around town, so you’ll have your choice.

My favorite was FRAC Grand Large – Hauts-de-France.

Completed in 2013, this state-of-the-art facility houses an extensive collection of contemporary art. It’s also known for hosting thought-provoking exhibitions on topical themes like environmental upheaval.

When I visited the theme was Chaleur Humaine and it focused on the continuous negative impact humans have on the environment. There were paintings, sculptures, and multimedia art that showed the harsh reality of our actions.

Not far from the FRAC Grand Large – Hauts-de-France is the Jardin de Sculptures. It’s an outdoor garden where you can explore a variety of contemporary sculptures set in a beautiful landscape.

8. Incredible Architecture

These are buildings along Rue du Belle Rade in Dunkirk. They are stone with stunning balconies on almost every window.
Rue du Belle Rade

Aside from its beaches and art scene, Dunkirk is also home to a fascinating mix of architectural styles.

One of the city’s most striking structures is the Saint-Éloi Church, a 15th-century Gothic masterpiece. The modernist architecture of the FRAC Grand Large – Hauts-de-France is another standout.

Then, there’s The Port Museum and the Risban Lighthouse.

But my favorite structures were the charming Art Deco buildings along Rue du Belle Rade. They reminded me of the houses I saw in Nancy.

They were built after the Second World War, so the style is very different from the half-timbered houses you would find in Alsace, for example.

9. Tons of Outdoor Activities

This is a section of  the La Vélomaritime - EuroVelo 4 Cycle Route. It's a gravel road with tall grass on either side. In the middle is the bike I rented.
The La Vélomaritime – EuroVelo 4 Cycle Route

If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, Dunkirk won’t disappoint. The beach is a perfect spot for surfing, and there are plenty of places that offer lessons.

You can also rent bikes and explore the town’s beautiful coastline via its many cycling paths.

I rented my bike from Location Vélo Dunkerque and rode to the northernmost point in France by road.

I followed the LaVélomaritime – EuroVelo 4 and it took me about an hour and a half, which is longer than average.

I made several stops along the way to take in the stunning views and snap some photos.

10. Friendly Locals

One of the best reasons to visit Dunkirk is its people. The locals are friendly, helpful, and always happy to share their city’s history and culture.

As an example, I was looking for the Batterie de Leffrinckoucke and a local who was walking his dog stopped to show me where the bunkers were. He gave me a brief overview of the site and pointed out the best ones to visit.

I was surprised that he took the time to help me, an American, but that’s the kind of hospitality you can expect in Dunkirk.

Then, towards the end of my trip, I was short on time, and couldn’t return the bike I rented to the store. So, the staff offered to pick it up at my hotel. It made my stay that much more enjoyable and allowed me to visit a few extra sites.

11. Easy to Get To

This is a high-speed TGV train in France that you can take to Dunkirk.
TGV Train

Despite being so far north, getting to Dunkirk is very easy.

There are direct trains from Paris, and it only takes two hours, so you could even visit on a day trip.

When I went, I was traveling around northern France and took the train from Lille. It took about an hour and there were tons of departures throughout the day.

There are also several bus options available, but, if you can, I recommend taking the train. It’s faster and more convenient.

12. Very Affordable

This is my hotel room in Dunkirk. It's a photo of the bed. It has two pillows and a cover. Then there are bedside lights that are on.
My Hotel Room

Compared to other popular tourist destinations in France, Dunkirk is very affordable.

I was able to stay at a nice hotel, eat at delicious restaurants, and visit museums without breaking the bank.

To give you an idea of how much I spent, I stayed at the Best Western Plus Hotel Cargo for €120 a night with breakfast included. My bike rental cost me €19 a day and the most I paid to visit a museum was €8.50.

So, considering all that I did while I was there, I would say it was a budget-friendly trip.

13. It’s Safe

Since 2012, I’ve traveled all over the world and I know how important it is to feel safe when visiting a new place, especially as a solo female traveler. And Dunkirk is definitely a safe city to visit.

I walked around at night without ever feeling insecure. Locals were also very helpful when I needed directions and recommendations.

Best of all, there were no scams or pickpockets that I encountered, making it a stress-free and enjoyable trip.

So, if safety is a concern for you, rest assured that Dunkirk is a safe destination to visit.

14. Lots of Natural Reserves

These are the Bray Dunes as part of the Réserve Naturelle Nationale de la Dune Marchand. There are huge sand hills covered in tall grass.
The Bray Dunes

Dunkirk and its surrounding areas are a haven for nature lovers. In fact, there are tons of reserves to explore.

One of the closest is the Dune Dewulf Nature Reserve or Reserve Naturelle Dune Dewulf. It’s renowned for its dunes and unique flora and fauna. It’s also where you can find several World War II bunkers.

You can explore any one of the well-marked trails, hang out on the beach, or just enjoy the scenery.

Then, if you want to combine nature and leisure, the Plage de Malo-les-Bains offers wide beaches set against picturesque dunes.

My favorite was the Réserve Naturelle Nationale de la Dune Marchand. It was like the Dune Dewulf Nature Reserve, but it was far less crowded. I, actually, had the entire place to myself.

15. Fort des Dunes

This is one of the bunkers at Forts des Dunes. It's hidden in the ground ad you can only see the door. It's covered in grass and bushes.
Forts des Dunes

Fort des Dunes dates to the 1870s when it played an important role in defending Dunkirk and its port.

It was later used to coordinate the French and British soldiers who had been separated from their units during the Second World War.

When the Germans moved in, they overtook it and held on to it until the end of the war. During that time, it withstood extensive bombing, the remnants of which are still visible today.

After the war, the site was left abandoned, until it was bought by the city of Leffrinckoucke, a small town not far from Dunkirk.

It has since been restored and turned into one of the best museums I’ve been to in northern France.

You can explore the underground tunnels and learn about their strategic importance. The views from the fort are also stunning, with panoramas of the sea and surrounding area.

If you’ve been to the forts from World War I in Verdun, you’ll definitely love this museum.

16. The Dunkirk Carnival

The Dunkirk Carnival is one of the most unique events in northern France.

It dates to 1676 when fisherman would feast with their families before heading out to sea for six months. Today, the carnival celebration starts in January and ends on Mardi Gras.

And, during that time, the streets come alive with colorful parades, traditional costumes, music, and dancing. It’s a great way to experience the local culture and have some fun at the same time.

17. It’s Not Touristy

This is an empty bike path is Dunkirk. It's a bird's eye view so you can see the bike path and the rest of the town. It's completely empty and there are no other tourists in sight.
It’s Not Touristy

Over the years, I’ve traveled all over France, and I’m always in search of places that are not overrun with tourists. And Dunkirk is one of those places.

There are no big crowds or long lines, so you’ll be able to take in the sights and have a more authentic experience.

It’s also a great opportunity to practice your French with locals, who are always happy to chat and share their love for the city.

Conclusion: Is Dunkirk Worth Visiting?

Dunkirk has a lot to offer, especially if you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-path destination. It’s safe, not touristy, and there are a ton of things to see and do.

Whether you’re a history buff or vacation goer who wants to relax on the beach, Dunkirk is worth adding to your itinerary.

Now that you know it’s worth visiting, it’s time to book your trip. I recommend starting with your train tickets and hotel.

Read More Articles About France

I hope you enjoyed my post and found it helpful. Here are some other articles that I think you might find interesting.

Jen Ciesielski
Jen Ciesielski

Jen Ciesielski is the creator of Dabbling in Jet Lag. She has lived abroad for over ten years, traveled to more than 50 countries, and speaks French and English fluently. Her areas of expertise include moving abroad, learning languages, and travel planning. Originally from the United States, she now lives in France, where she has been for more than six years. She has also traveled extensively around the country. She shares her experiences as an expat living in France and helps thousands of people plan their trips every month.

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