The Perfect 5-Day Northern France Itinerary (2024)

Northern France is a charming, picturesque part of an already diverse country. It’s often overshadowed by destinations in the south, but, let me assure you, there’s a lot to see here.

I moved to France over six years ago, but my first visit was in 2012. Since then, I’ve traveled all around the country, including the north of France.

From the World War II memorial in Dunkirk to the Grand Place in Lille, there isn’t a place I haven’t been to.

In this post, I’ve put together the ultimate five-day northern France itinerary. It covers the best places to visit, as well as tips to help you make the most of your trip.

Here is your ultimate northern France itinerary. It has everything you need to plan a perfect trip.
Northern France Travel Itinerary

Northern France Itinerary Overview

Northern France is made up of several regions, including Normandy, Brittany, and Hauts-de-France.

Of these three, Hauts-de-France is considered the true north and it’s what this itinerary will focus on.

Here’s a quick overview of what you can expect:

  • Day 1: Paris
  • Day 2: Amiens
  • Day 3: Lille
  • Day 4: Dunkirk
  • Day 5: Paris

Helpful Tip: This itinerary can be done by car or train. I’ve detailed how to do both below.

North France Itinerary – Day 1

Discover Paris

This is a photo of me, Jen Ciesielski, hold holding a Histopad from the Conciergerie in Paris. It's a small tablet that shows what the Conciergerie looked like at different moments in history. This picture shows the Hall of Men at Arms.
Me holding a Histopad from the Conciergerie

The first day of your trip starts in the historic district of the City of Light. I lived in Paris for three years and spent hours exploring this area.

There’s a ton to see and do, but I’ve listed my top recommendations below.

✓ Explore Île de la Cité

It’s home to well-known landmarks like the Notre-Dame Cathedral and Sainte-Chapelle. But my favorite thing to do here was tour the Conciergerie.

This former palace and prison once served as a Revolutionary court and famously held Marie-Antoinette as a prisoner. Today, it’s a museum full of interesting exhibits.

✓ Tour Île Saint-Louis

Here, you’ll find quaint cafés, boutique shops, and, of course, the Église Saint-Louis-en-l’Île.

I’ve visited this island and church several times and it was always less crowded than Île de la Cité.

✓ Visit the Louvre

There’s no denying the Louvre is a popular museum. But you can’t come to Paris and not stop by.

When I’ve gone, I’ve always picked out a few must-see pieces, and then spent the rest of my time wandering around.

✓ Relax in Jardin du Luxembourg

These gardens were created for Queen Marie de’ Medici in the early 17th century.

Today, you can stroll through the manicured lawns and flower beds, enjoy a picnic, or visit the infamous Medici Fountain.

I, personally, loved visiting in summer when the gardens were in full bloom.

North France Itinerary – Day 2

Travel from Paris to Amiens

On the morning of day two, you’ll travel from Paris to Amiens.

By Train: Trains run regularly from Paris’ Gare du Nord station to Amiens and take about 80 minutes.

By Car: Driving time is about two hours, depending on traffic. The most direct route follows the A16. (Distance: 163 kilometers or 101 miles)

Explore Amiens

This is the interior of the Cathédrale Notre-Dame d’Amiens. There is a single aisle that leads to the altar then two rows of wooden chairs.
Cathédrale Notre-Dame d’Amiens

The second day of your trip will be spent exploring one of my favorite cities in the Haut-de-France region, Amiens.

I’ve spent a lot of time in this little town and it’s truly a hidden gem. There’s a lot to do here so I’ve narrowed down the absolute must-visit activities below.

✓ Visit the Cathédrale Notre-Dame d’Amiens

This Gothic cathedral is the largest in France and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

It’s easily one of the most spectacular churches I’ve seen. I’d say it rivals Strasbourg’s Notre Dame Cathedral.

✓ Discover Les Hortillonnages

Outside the center, you’ll find Les Hortillonnages – a series of floating gardens.

Take a boat tour to explore this unique area and learn about its fascinating history.

I booked the earliest departure and I saw tons of wildlife.

Helpful Tip: Boat tours are only available from April to October, otherwise you can follow one of the two walking paths that circle the gardens.

✓ Explore Saint-Leu

This charming district is full of cobbled streets, colorful houses, and quayside restaurants.

I found the houses along Rue des Granges to be the prettiest while Quai Bélu gave the most unique view of the Cathédrale Notre-Dame d’Amiens.

✓ Tour the Musée de Picardie

This museum houses an impressive collection of art and artifacts that date to ancient civilizations.

Not only that but I found the building itself to be beautiful, particularly the Rotonde Sol LeWitt.

✓ Discover Jules Verne’s House

If you’re like me and are a fan of Jules Verne’s literary works, then visiting his house is a must.

This museum offers an insight into the life and work of this famous writer and features replica rooms from his home.

North France Itinerary – Day 3

Travel from Amiens to Lille

On the morning of day three, you’ll travel from Amiens to Lille.

By Train: Trains run regularly from Gare d’Amiens to Lille-Flandres or Lille-Europe and take about 75 minutes.

By Car: Driving time is about 90 minutes, depending on traffic. The most direct route follows the A1. (Distance: 140 kilometers or 86 miles)

Discover Lille

This is La Vieille Bourse in Lille's Grand Place. There are several buildings and La Vieille Bourse is the one on the far right. It's has lots of windows and is painted in red and gold. Then, there are people walking around the square.
La Vieille Bourse in Lille’s Grand Place

Lille is one of the most underrated places I’ve been to in France. It’s a charming city with a unique blend of Flemish and French architecture. It’s also known for its delicious food and lively atmosphere.

Usually, I recommend spending two days in Lille, but you can still see a lot in a day.

Below are some activities worth checking out.

✓ Explore Vieux-Lille

This historic district is where you’ll find the most beautiful architecture in town.

One of my favorite buildings in this part of Lille is La Vieille Bourse.

It was built in the 17th century and hosts a second-hand book market every afternoon.

✓ Discover the Musée de l’Hospice Comtesse

This former hospital was founded in 1236 by the Countess of Flanders.

It’s now a museum showcasing a vast collection of artworks, furniture, and tapestries.

I learned so much about the history of Lille here and saw what life was like before the French Revolution.

✓ Visit the Palais des Beaux-Arts

This museum is the second-largest fine arts museum in France, with an impressive collection of paintings, sculptures, and artifacts.

It’s also home to works by famous artists like Monet. But my favorite was Donatello’s Feast of Herod.

✓ Climb the Beffroi de Lille

One of the coolest things I did in Lille was climb to the top of the Beffroi de Lille.

This UNESCO World Heritage Site offers an incredible panorama of the city and its surroundings.

After the first 100 steps, there was an option to take an elevator to the top, which I did because my vertigo was kicking in.

✓ Try Local Cuisine

Lille is famous for its food. And there are lots of things to try. My favorite restaurant was Estaminet Au Vieux De La Vieille.

I ordered the Assiette Régionale so I could try the most famous local dishes like potjevleesch and carbonnade flamande.

✓ Tour La Maison Natale de Charles de Gaulle

This is the birthplace of Charles de Gaulle, one of France’s most influential political figures.

Now a museum, the house offers a unique insight into de Gaulle’s life and legacy.

I loved how the rooms were kept in their original state and seeing his personal belongings helped me connect with the history.

✓ Check Out Jardin des Géants

This is one of the most unique gardens I’ve been to in France.

It’s home to tons of giant statues that are carved from plants.

There’s also a small café where you can take a break from the hustle and bustle.

North France Itinerary – Day 4

Travel from Lille to Dunkirk

On the morning of day four, you’ll travel from Lille to Dunkirk.

By Train: Trains run regularly from Lille-Europe and Lille-Flandres to Dunkirk’s main train station. Times range from 30 to 75 minutes.

By Car: Driving time is about 60 minutes, depending on traffic. The most direct route follows the A25. (Distance: 75 kilometers or 46 miles)

Visit Dunkirk

This the view of Dunkirk from Le FRAC Grand Large. There is a long walkway that goes over the canal. Then in the distance you can see downtown Dunkirk and the beach.
Dunkirk from Le FRAC Grand Large

While I knew about Dunkirk’s role in World War II, I hadn’t realized how much more there was to see in this coastal city. I loved it so much that I extended my stay during my first visit.

There’s a lot to do here, but, for this itinerary, you’ll want to focus on the attractions below.

✓ Tour the Musée Maritime et Portuaire

This museum showcases the city’s complete history, including its important role as a port.

There are model ships, paintings, and interactive exhibits.

I especially loved touring the Duchesse Anne and the Risban Lighthouse.

✓ Climb the Beffroi de Saint-Éloi

Of the belfries I visited in northern France, the views from the Beffroi de Saint-Éloi were the most spectacular.

From the top, I had a 360-degree panorama and an incredible bird’s eye view of the Saint-Éloi Church.

✓ Relax on the Beach

The beaches in Dunkirk are some of the most pristine I’ve seen in France.

They stretch for kilometers (miles), and I’ve always found a spot with very few people.

It’s the perfect place to relax and unwind. Plus, there’s also plenty of restaurants to grab a bite to eat.

✓ Visit the Musée Dunkerque 1940 – Opération Dynamo

This museum is dedicated to the events of Operation Dynamo when thousands of Allied soldiers were rescued from Dunkirk’s beaches during World War II.

I loved the life-like displays and introductory video that gave an overview of the rescue operation.

It was a moving tribute to the bravery and resilience of those involved.

✓ Discover Le FRAC Grand Large

This contemporary art museum is known for its cutting-edge exhibitions and stunning modern architecture.

While the permanent collection was impressive, I loved the temporary exhibits.

They change every few months and always showcase thought-provoking artwork. When I went, Chaleur Humaine was on display.

✓ Rent a Bike

While there are a lot of things to see in Dunkirk, there are a few sites nearby that are also worth visiting.

I rented a bike from Location Vélo Dunkerque and cycled to Bray-Dunes, Fort des Dunes, and Batterie de Leffrinckoucke.

It took me a few hours, so I recommend doing this activity either on the morning of day four or moving it to day five.

North France Itinerary – Day 5

Travel from Dunkirk to Paris

On the morning of day five, you’ll travel from Dunkirk to Paris.

By Train: Trains run regularly from Dunkirk’s main train station to Paris’ Gare du Nord and take about two hours.

By Car: Driving time is about 3 hours and 45 minutes, depending on traffic. The most direct route follows the A25 and A1. (Distance: 314 kilometers or 195 miles)

Visit Paris

This is the Eiffel Tower in Paris. You can see the top of the iron structure and the first floor. It's then framed by a tree.
The Eiffel Tower

Depending on your schedule and how you’re traveling (either by train or car), you can finish the list of activities above or the attractions I recommend below.

✓ Ascend the Eiffel Tower

No trip to Paris is complete without a visit to the Eiffel Tower.

Whether you climb the stairs or take the elevator, the views from the top are breathtaking.

The times I’ve gone I’ve booked the earliest or latest ticket. It’s the best way to avoid the crowds.

✓ Explore Montmartre

This charming area is known for its bohemian atmosphere and stunning Sacré-Cœur Basilica.

I loved strolling down the cobblestone streets and admiring the architecture.

I’ve been hundreds of times and it’s always busy, but well worth it.

✓ Discover the Champs-Élysées

Over the years, I’ve spent hours on the here, people-watching and window-shopping.

It’s also the best place to marvel at the Arc de Triomphe.

My favorite spot is at the corner of Avenue d’Iéna and Place Charles de Gaulle.

Get In and Around

This itinerary for northern France starts and ends in Paris.

The capital of France has two well-served international airports, Orly and Charles de Gaulle.

From there, the two best ways to travel are by train and car.

Traveling by train is the easiest and most popular way to get around France. You’ll find plenty of departure times for each journey listed above.

Helpful Tip: I recommend buying your train tickets as early as possible.

If you prefer more freedom and flexibility, renting a car is another option. All major car rental companies have offices at both airports.

When to Visit Northern France

While northern France is a year-round destination, you’ll find some months of the year are better than others for crowds, prices, and weather.

Summer (June to August) – These months are peak tourist season, which means crowds and higher prices. But you’ll also get the best weather, perfect for outdoor activities and relaxing on the beach.

Fall (September to November) – As summer ends and temperatures cool, you’ll find fewer tourists and cheaper prices in Dunkirk. The only downside is the number of rainy days per month increases in October and November.

Winter (December to February) – While it may be cold, winter is the best time to visit for bargain hunters. Prices are at their lowest, and the Christmas markets are a magical experience. Make sure to pack lots of layers.

Spring (March to May) – This is the shoulder season, which means you’ll still get decent weather without the high prices and crowds of summer.

Conclusion: North of France Itinerary

There is so much to explore and discover in the north of France. From historic sites to beautiful landscapes to bustling cities, this region has it all.

Some of my favorite sites are the Cathédrale Notre-Dame d’Amiens, Vieux-Lille, and the Musée Dunkerque 1940 – Opération Dynamo.

They each offer a unique perspective on the history and culture of northern France.

Now that you have your itinerary planned why not consider adding another city to your trip? I recommend Lyon. It’s an easy day trip from Paris.


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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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