I’ve been living in France for over half a decade, with three years spent living in Paris. Since then, I’ve been on a mission to uncover this country’s hidden gems.
From the small towns in Alsace to the beautiful beaches in Marseille, I’ve traveled to a lot of places. And one of the most memorable trips I’ve had was to Dunkirk.
Located in the Hauts-de-France region, this port city is full of history. It’s known for its role in World War II and was the site of the infamous Operation Dynamo.
But beyond its historical significance, Dunkirk also has charming streets, delicious seafood, and stunning beaches.
Plus, it’s only two hours from Paris by train.
So, if you’re looking for the perfect Paris to Dunkirk day trip itinerary, this guide has you covered. I’ll help you make the most of your time and share with you the best things to do in one day.
Paris to Dunkirk Day Trip Overview
If you’re short on time, here is an overview of my helpful guide.
- Morning: Travel to Dunkirk, Musée Dunkerque 1940, Musée Portuaire, Beffroi de Saint-Éloi, Jardin des Sculptures, FRAC Grand Large – Hauts-de-France
- Afternoon: Lunch at a Seaside Restaurant, Relax on the Beach, Cycle a Section of the LaVélomaritime – EuroVelo 4, Batterie de Leffrinckoucke, Fort des Dunes, World War II Memorials, Rue Belle Rade, Église Saint-Éloi
- Evening: Return to Paris
Getting to Dunkirk from Paris
There are tons of ways to travel to Dunkirk from Paris, but, for this day trip, the best way is to take a high-speed TGV train.
Trains leave from Paris’ Gare du Nord station and take about two hours. You’ll arrive at Dunkirk’s train station, and, from there, you can start your visit.
Helpful Tip: Unlike Paris, Dunkirk’s public transport is limited. So, it’s best to explore the city on foot or by renting a bike.
I also recommend leaving early in the morning, so you’ll have enough time to do everything in this itinerary.
Helpful Tip: I’ve also driven from Paris to Dunkirk, and it takes about three hours. If you leave early enough, renting a car is an alternative to taking the train.
One Day in Dunkirk – 13 Things to Do
Now that you know how to get from Paris to Dunkirk, here’s a look at 13 amazing things you can do in one day.
1. Visit Musée Dunkerque 1940
You’ll start at one of my favorite museums in town, the Musée Dunkerque 1940 – Opération Dynamo. It’s dedicated to the events that took place in Dunkirk during World War II, specifically the evacuation of Allied soldiers.
It offers an impressive collection, including original military uniforms, weaponry, and vehicles.
But what I liked the most about this museum was the introductory film of the evacuation process. It helped me visualize the event and gave me a nice overview before touring the museum.
Then, as a bonus, the museum is housed in the former defense headquarters, which added to the authenticity of my visit.
Address: Courtines du Bastion, 32 Rue des Chantiers de France
2. Explore the Musée Portuaire
Located near the Musée Dunkerque 1940, the Musée Portuaire is another must-visit museum. It showcases Dunkirk’s maritime history and importance as a port city.
From ship models to paintings, there are tons of exhibits to explore. I loved learning about how Dunkirk changed over the years. Of course, the Second World War played an important role, but there is a lot to this little town.
From stories about transportation and fishing to the city’s economy, this museum helped bring it all to life for me.
Additionally, I toured the Risban Lighthouse and the Duchesse Anne. Both were an added fee, but worth it.
The views from the Risban Lighthouse stretched across the North Sea and the inside of the Duchesse Anne was remarkably well-preserved.
Helpful Tip: The Risban Lighthouse and the Duchesse Anne do NOT have the same hours as the museum. Make sure to check the opening times if you want to add them to your visit.
Address: 9 Quai de la Citadelle
3. Climb the Beffroi de Saint-Éloi
Not only is the Beffroi de Saint-Éloi a beautiful piece of architecture, but it also offers stunning views. It stands at 58 meters (190 feet) and has been an iconic symbol of Dunkirk since the 15th century.
In fact, it was one of 23 belfries, including the Beffroi d’Amiens, in northern France to be dubbed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005.
I will admit that I was nervous to go to the top. The last set of stairs to the highest platform was very narrow, but the panoramic views were worth the few seconds of vertigo.
I could see as far as the port on one side. On the other, I had an incredible view over the Saint-Éloi Church.
Address: Rue de l’Amiral Ronarc’h
4. Check Out the Jardin des Sculptures
If you’re a fan of art, don’t miss the Jardin des Sculptures in Dunkirk. Located near the city center, this open-air sculpture park showcases works from a variety of artists.
Not only is it a great opportunity to see unique art pieces, but the park is also a beautiful spot for a walk or picnic.
This hidden gem is often overlooked, and when I visited, I had the entire park to myself.
Address: Avenue des Bains
5. Visit the FRAC Grand Large – Hauts-de-France
I was expecting to spend most of my time learning about Dunkirk’s role in the Second World War, but I was pleasantly surprised by its art scene.
My favorite museum was the FRAC Grand Large – Hauts-de-France. It features temporary exhibitions and permanent collections from some of the best modern artists.
When I was there, there was a temporary exhibit called Chaleur Humaine.
It was a thought-provoking look at the impact our actions have on the environment and what our future could look like if we don’t change.
Address: 503 Avenue des Bancs de Flandres
6. Lunch at a Seaside Restaurant
After a morning of exploring, there’s no better place to stop for lunch than a seaside restaurant.
There are tons of places along Digue de Mer, but my favorite was Comme Vous Voulez. They have incredible seafood, and their moules-frites are to die for.
I was starving so I also ordered a small goat cheese salad, which was just as tasty.
If the weather is nice, I recommend sitting outside for a gorgeous view of the sea, otherwise, they have indoor seating.
Address: 58 Digue de Mer
7. Relax on the Beach
No trip to Dunkirk would be complete without some time on the beach.
The most popular is Malo-les-Bains, which stretches for several kilometers (miles) along the coast.
It’s a perfect spot for sunbathing, swimming, or taking a leisurely walk.
You can also go surfing or try sand yachting.
The only thing I didn’t like about this beach was the jellyfish. Several had washed ashore, and I was afraid to go in the water in certain areas.
But other than that, it’s a beautiful, clean beach where you can relax and enjoy the fresh air.
Helpful Tip: If you’re looking for a more secluded beach experience, head over to Plage de Zuydcoote. This hidden gem is a bit further out from town but well worth the trip.
8. Cycle a Section of the LaVélomaritime – EuroVelo 4
If you’re an active traveler like me, I recommend biking a section of the LaVélomaritime – EuroVelo 4.
It follows the coast from Dunkirk to the Bray Dunes and finishes at the northernmost point in France by road.
Along the way, I stopped at Batterie de Leffrinckoucke and the Fort des Dunes, which are the next activities on this itinerary.
There are plenty of bike rental shops in Dunkirk, but I rented mine from Location Vélo Dunkerque.
They were very accommodating, and their bikes were excellent. They even had electric ones.
Helpful Tip: I rented a regular bike, but the wind can get very strong along the coast. So, if the weather predicts strong winds, I recommend renting an electric bike.
9. Explore the Batterie de Leffrinckoucke
The Batterie de Leffrinckoucke is a World War II military battery that has since been abandoned.
The site is free to enter, and you can follow guided paths for views over the dunes.
I visited a few bunkers and then explored the Reserve Naturelle Dune Dewulf.
I walked along Chemin de la Batterie, but there are tons to choose from.
Helpful Tip: It’s located along the LaVélomaritime – EuroVelo 4 route, making it an easy stop on your bike ride.
10. Tour Fort des Dunes
Fort des Dunes is another military site not far from the Batterie de Leffrinckoucke.
It was originally built after the Franco-Prussian War to fortify this part of France.
Later, it was used in World War II to help French and British soldiers who had been stranded.
On the 4th of June 1940, German forces overtook the fort and held on to it until the end of the war.
Today, you can tour the renovated site, including the underground tunnels and barracks.
I’ve visited tons of forts around France, including the ones in Verdun, and this one was fascinating. The exhibits were engaging, and the history was well-explained.
It was so well done that I was able to imagine what life must have been like for the soldiers during that time.
11. Pay Your Respects at a Memorial
Besides the museums and forts I mentioned above, Dunkirk is also home to several World War II memorials.
One of my favorites was Mémorial de la 12ème Division d’Infanterie Motorisée, which honors the soldiers who fought and died in Dunkirk.
It was a sobering experience to pay my respects here and reflect on the sacrifices made during the war.
Below is a list of other memorials around Dunkirk that are worth visiting:
- French War Cemetery Fort des Dunes Leffrinckoucke
- Mémorial des Alliés
- Square Marine Dunkerque 39/40
12. Admire the Rue Belle Rade
After the Second World War, much of Dunkirk was destroyed. And it took more than ten years for the city to be rebuilt.
Today, there are tons of streets full of beautiful architecture and my favorite was Rue Belle Rade.
This picturesque street is lined with colorful, quaint buildings, like those you’d find in Nancy. Most are residential, but it’s still worth stopping by.
Go for a stroll and take some photos. It’s a great place to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city center.
Helpful Tip: This area is mostly residential, so I tried to be very discrete while taking photos.
13. Discover the Église Saint-Éloi
The Église Saint-Éloi dates to the 15th century, but, unlike the Reims Cathedral, much of it was destroyed during the World War II bombing raids.
So, the church you see today is from the late 20th century.
Its architectural style is Gothic and is made of stone. Then, the interior features a beautiful rose window, stunning stained-glass windows, and a modern organ.
You can tour the church, but for the best views I recommend heading up to the Beffroi de Saint-Éloi.
As shown in the photo I took above, you’ll have a bird’s-eye view of the roof and the front of the church.
Address: 2 Rue Clemenceau
Conclusion: Day Trip from Paris to Dunkirk
Dunkirk may not be a top tourist destination in France, but I can guarantee you won’t regret visiting.
From its rich history and culture to its beautiful beaches and landmarks, there are plenty of things to do and see here.
If you’re planning a trip to Paris, I can’t recommend including Dunkirk as a day trip enough.
For me, it was the perfect getaway, and the fresh air was a welcomed relief.
Now that you have your itinerary, it’s time to book your train tickets. I recommend reserving them with Trainline. And the earlier the better!
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.
- What to Do in Amiens on a Sunday: 15 Incredible Activities
- The Perfect Paris to Lyon Day Trip Itinerary (by a Local)