17 Incredible Things to Do in Dunkirk, France (2024)

I’ve been living in France for more than six years, but my first trip to this beautiful country was back in 2012. Since then, I’ve traveled to popular places like Paris, hiked in the Alps, and even biked the Alsace Wine Route.

But, of the cities I’ve visited, Dunkirk stands out as one of my favorites, so much so that I’ve been several times.

It’s located in the Hauts-de-France region and has a rich and fascinating history. It’s also full of charming cafés, incredible museums, and stunning beaches.

In this post, I’ll share with you the most amazing things to do in Dunkirk, including some hidden gems you won’t find anywhere else.

Here are the most amazing things to do in Dunkirk, France.
Dunkirk Things to Do

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17 Best Things to Do in Dunkirk

While Dunkirk is most known for its role in World War II, there is so much more to this city.

Here are the top sites and attractions that I recommend you visit while you’re here.

1. Visit Musée Dunkerque 1940 – Opération Dynamo

This is an exhibit at at Musée Dunkerque 1940 - Opération Dynamo. There are manikins dressed in uniforms and hold equipment. They are standing in front of a British flag and a French street sign.
Musée Dunkerque 1940 – Opération Dynamo

Between the 26th of May and the 4th of June 1940, more than 338,000 soldiers were evacuated from the beaches of Dunkirk.

This incredible rescue mission, otherwise known as Operation Dynamo, was one of the most pivotal moments in World War II.

At the Musée Dunkerque 1940 – Opération Dynamo you’ll learn all about this historic event.

There are countless artifacts, including photographs, uniforms, weapons, and other military equipment. There is even a video of the battle and evacuation.

But my favorite part about this museum was the building itself. This is where Allied officers coordinated the evacuation.

It was an incredibly moving experience to step inside and see the very rooms where history was made.

Address: Courtines du Bastion, 32 Rue des Chantiers de France

2. Relax at Plage de Malo-les-Bains

These are the famous colorful wooden cabins at Plage de Malo-les-Bains. They are all painted in a different color and have stripes. They are surrounded by sand and a wooden walkway. In the distance there is the sea.
Plage de Malo-les-Bains

After exploring the city, take a break and relax at Plage de Malo-les-Bains. This beautiful beach is perfect for swimming, sunbathing, or even a game of beach volleyball.

Then, along the promenade, you’ll find plenty of cafés and restaurants where you can grab a bite to eat and enjoy the stunning views.

When I visited, I followed the beach as far north as I could. There were fewer people, and I had the whole area to myself.

Afterward, I stopped by Comme Vous Voulez for a refreshing beer and a light salad. It couldn’t have been a more perfect day.

3. Take in the Views from the Beffroi de Saint-Éloi

This is the view from the Beffroi de Saint-Éloi. You can see the rooftops and there are two skyscrapers in the middle. In the distance you can see the edge of the sea.
View from the Beffroi de Saint-Éloi

Like many cities in northern France, Dunkirk has a beautiful belfry, Beffroi de Saint-Éloi. It was even recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005.

The Beffroi de Saint-Éloi dates to the 15th century and stands at an impressive 58 meters (190 feet) tall.

It was originally part of the Saint-Éloi church until a fire separated the two structures.

Today, you can climb to the top for stunning views of Dunkirk and its surroundings.

Unlike the belfry in Lille, there’s an elevator from the ground floor to the top. You’ll have to walk up the last few stairs, but it’s worth it for the panoramas.

I went on a clear day and could see as far as the North Sea. It was easily one of the highlights of my trip to Dunkirk.

Helpful Tip: The last few steps to the top are entirely enclosed. So, if you have vertigo like me, it won’t be a problem.

Address: Rue de l’Amiral Ronarc’h

4. Tour the FRAC Grand Large – Hauts-de-France

This is the Chaleur Humaine Exhibit at the FRAC Grand Large - Hauts-de-France. There is a big semi-truck and smaller trucks around it.It shows a world void of living things.
Chaleur Humaine Exhibit

The FRAC Grand Large – Hauts-de-France is one of the best art museums I’ve been to in France.

The museum is in a former shipyard and has an impressive collection of modern and contemporary work.

It features French and international artists, making for a diverse and thought-provoking experience.

I, personally, enjoyed the temporary exhibition, Chaleur Humaine, during my visit. It was focused on the relationship between humans and the environment.

The most eye-opening part was the section about the impact of fossil fuels. It showed an over-polluted world void of life.

By the end of my visit, I had a newfound appreciation for the importance of conservation.

Helpful Tip: The overarching theme changes every few months.

In addition to the exhibitions, the building itself is worth exploring. It’s a beautiful blend of old and modern architecture, with large windows that offer views of the surrounding port area.

Address: 503 Avenue des Bancs de Flandres

5. Visit the Musée Maritime et Portuaire

This is a Model Ship at Musée Maritime et Portuaire in Dunkirk. It's made of wood and it has several sails made of cloth.
Model Ship at Musée Maritime et Portuaire

The Musée Maritime et Portuaire was one of my favorite museums in Dunkirk.

It complemented those that were dedicated to Operation Dynamo and gave me a complete overview of the city’s history.

It’s located in the former tobacco warehouses that were once used to store imported goods.

The museum is filled with models, artifacts, and equipment that tell the story of Dunkirk’s maritime past.

You can even tour the Risban Lighthouse and the Duchesse Anne as part of your visit.

The lighthouse offers never-ending panoramic views, while the Duchesse Anne is a three-masted ship you can explore and learn about.

But make sure to check the opening times carefully. The Risban Lighthouse and the Duchesse Anne don’t have the same hours as the museum.

Address: 9 Quai de la Citadelle

6. Stroll Around the Port du Bassin du Commerce

This a series of boats at the  Port du Bassin du Commerce. They are all lined up and docked in the harbor. There are several rows and between them is wooden walking path.
Port du Bassin du Commerce

After visiting the Musée Maritime et Portuaire, take a stroll around the nearby Port du Bassin du Commerce.

This area is full of colorful boats and charming restaurants, making it the perfect spot for a leisurely walk.

I enjoyed touring Quai du Risban. It was a quiet and picturesque area, away from the hustle and bustle of the city center.

I also had a beautiful view of the boats in the harbor (photo above).

7. Hang Out in Parc Fénelon

This is Parc Fénelon in Dunkirk. There is a lush green lawn with benches then in the distance there are buildings that are stacked to create different rectangular shapes.
Parc Fénelon

If you’re looking for a peaceful escape from the city, head to Parc Fénelon.

It’s near the Plage de Malo-les-Bains and offers beautiful green spaces. There are walking paths, comfortable benches, and a mini-golf course.

Then, if you’re visiting when the weather is warm, you’ll find locals playing pétanque on the Terrain de Pétanque.

I, personally, loved the modern architecture surrounding the park. There was a series of red and white buildings that were haphazardly stacked together.

They created a contrasting artistic backdrop to the already beautiful park.

Address: Allée Fénelon

8. Discover Église Catholique Saint-Éloi

This is the interior of Église Catholique Saint-Éloi. There is an aisle leading to the altar with wooden rows on either side. In the distance, above the altar, there are stained glass windows.
Inside Église Catholique Saint-Éloi

The original Église Catholique Saint-Éloi was built in the 15th century but was burned to the ground in the mid-16th century. The only remaining piece is the tower, which is the Beffroi de Saint-Éloi.

The church was rebuilt two more times, and, like the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Verdun, it was destroyed in World War I.

Then, after a series of bombing raids during World War II, only the walls remained.

It reopened in 1977, but restoration efforts continued through the late 20th century.

This is a bird's eye view of Église Catholique Saint-Éloi from Beffroi de Saint-Éloi. You can see the rooftop which looks like triangles stacked together.
Église Catholique Saint-Éloi from Above

Today, it’s an important historic monument and stands as a symbol of hope and resilience.

While it doesn’t have the awe-inspiring grandeur of other cathedrals in France, it’s worth a visit.

I found the stained-glass windows to be stunning, particularly the rose window. And the bird’s eye view of the church from Beffroi de Saint-Éloi was incredible.

Address: 2 Rue Clemenceau

9. Explore the Jardin de Sculptures

This is Jardin de Sculptures. There is a walking path and on either side there are mushroom-like sculptures. The stems are made from iron and the tops are made from stone.
Jardin de Sculptures

The Jardin de Sculptures is a peaceful garden filled with contemporary sculptures.

I loved wandering around and admiring the different pieces. Some were abstract while others were more realistic, and most were made from iron or stone.

Afterward, I stopped by the Lieu d’Art et Action Contemporaine, a modern art museum dedicated to French artists.

It nicely complimented the work I saw at FRAC Grand Large – Hauts-de-France.

But, if you’re here on a day trip from Paris, I recommend visiting one or the other.

Address: Avenue des Bains

10. Check Out Batterie de Leffrinckoucke

This is a World War II Bunker at Batterie de Zuydcoote. It's made of stone and there is a section where the soldiers hid. It's on the beach so there is sand. In the foreground there is a demolished bunker.
World War II Bunker

The Batterie de Leffrinckoucke is a historical site about five kilometers (three miles) from downtown Dunkirk.

Here you can explore abandoned World War II-era artillery bunkers, which have been, for the most part, preserved.

Most of them are spread across the length of the shore, but you’ll also find a few in the Reserve Naturelle Dune Dewulf.

After I visited the bunkers on the beach, I followed the Chemin de la Batterie through the reserve. There are several paths, but this one led to the best viewpoints.

Helpful Tip: The Batterie de Leffrinckoucke is also known as the Batterie de Zuydcoote.

11. Visit the Fort des Dunes

This a bunker/tunnel at Fort des Dunes. It's a stone structure hidden in the dunes. It's covered in grass and there are stairs on either side, leading to the top.
Bunker at Fort des Dunes

The Fort des Dunes is yet another military stronghold in the area. It was built to bolster the border after most of Alsace and Lorraine were annexed to Germany in 1871.

Then, during the Second World War, it was a refuge for French and British troops.

It fell to Germany in June 1940 and remained under their control until the end.

While much of the fort has been restored, you can still tour the original tunnels, bunker, and barracks.

This is a set of mannequins dressed as soldiers at Fort des Dunes. There are two. One is standing and the other is sitting at a desk looking a paperwork. There is also a chair next to the desk.
Soldiers at Fort des Dunes

I’ve been to tons of military sites in France, including the battlefields of Verdun, and the Fort des Dunes was one of the most immersive.

There was a movie that showed clips from the war as well as personal artifacts and photographs.

There were even life-size mannequins depicting different scenes. And, best of all, every exhibit had a written and audio explanation.

Address: Chemin du Fort, 59495 Leffrinckoucke

12. Rent a Bike

This is the bike I rented in Dunkirk. It's on one of the biking paths I explored. The path is made of gravel and there is tall grass on either side.
The Bike I Rented

If you’re like me and love adventure, I recommend renting a bike and exploring the surrounding area.

The flat, well-maintained paths make it easy to pedal around and enjoy the scenery.

You can ride along the coast, through quaint villages, or follow one of the long-distance routes like the LaVélomaritime – EuroVélo 4.

When I visited Dunkirk, I rented my bike from Location Vélo Dunkerque and rode to the border of Belgium.

It was mostly flat so I could explore the area without feeling tired.

I stopped along the way to admire the scenery, take photos, and even have a picnic on the beach.

13. Appreciate the Architecture

This is a brick building on Rue Belle Rade in Dunkirk. It has windows decorated with colorful bricks and flowery iron balconies.
Rue Belle Rade

There’s no denying that Dunkirk suffered tremendously during both world wars. The bombing raids from World War II alone left the city in shambles, so much so that it took more than a decade to recover.

Today, Dunkirk is full of beautiful modern buildings, like those on Rue Belle Rade.

I loved the charming, vibrantly colored façades. They reminded me of the Art Nouveau buildings I saw on Rue Félix Faure in Nancy.

Everywhere I looked there was something to see, from the unique window designs to the intricate balconies.

14. Visit Bray-Dunes

These are the dunes next to Bray Dunes near Dunkirk. There are mounds of sand with tall grass on top.
Bray-Dunes

Bray-Dunes is a charming town about 12 kilometers (7 miles) north of Dunkirk.

Here you’ll find an exceptional blend of history, nature, and culture.

The most significant historical event is, undoubtedly, the Dunkirk evacuation.

There are memorials, like the Mémorial de la 12ème Division d’Infanterie Motorisée, shipwrecks buried in the sand, and abandoned bunkers.

But that’s not all there is to see here.

The area is home to some of the most spectacular dunes I’ve ever seen. And, when I climbed to the top, the views of the ocean and the surrounding landscape were amazing.

15. Stand at the Most Northern Point by Road in France

This is the most Northern Point by Road in France. It's the end of the rode, which finishes in the sand. There is a the bike I rented and the dunes in the background.
Most Northern Point by Road in France

I’ve traveled all over the world, and I never get tired of doing cheesy tourist activities. I love visiting “the most” or “the best” of something. It’s a fun way to collect experiences and memories.

So, if you’re like me, then make sure to visit the most northern point of France by road.

It’s located a few kilometers (miles) north of Dunkirk, near Bray-Dunes.

The site itself is unassuming, as you can see in the photo I took above.

But there’s just something cool about being able to say you’ve been to the most northern point of a country.

16. Visit Bastion 28

This the view of the Risban Lighthouse from Bastion 28. There is the sea and a sail boat going by in the foreground and in the distance there is the lighthouse.
View from Bastion 28

Bastion 28 was built in the 19th century and served to fortify Dunkirk’s eastern seafront. By 1933, it was dismantled, decommissioned, and turned over to the city.

Today, you can climb to the top for a beautiful view over the Port du Grand Large and the Risban Lighthouse.

It’s also a great spot for a picnic or to watch the sunset. And, if you’re interested in history, there are information boards detailing its role in various wars and conflicts.

Since it’s so off-the-beaten-path, I had the entire place to myself, and I’m sure you will too.

Helpful Tip: I struggled to find the stairs to the top. They are at the end of Rue Militaire.

Address: Rue Militaire

17. Take a Day Trip

This is Vieille Bourse in Lille's Grand Place. There are tons of uniquely styled buildings lined in the distance and there are people walking around the square.
Lille’s Grand Place

Even though Dunkirk is at the northern tip of France, it’s still an excellent base for day trips.

My two favorites were Lille and Amiens.

Lille is a charming city with a modern flair. I loved wandering around Vieux Lille and admiring the beautiful architecture, like the Vieille Bourse in Grand Place. The museums and food were also out of this world.

There are a lot of things to see here, so I recommend staying for a weekend if you can.

Amiens, on the other hand, is best known for its stunning Gothic cathedral.

But there are a ton of things to do in this little town, from wandering around Saint-Leu to visiting the floating gardens. It’s also a great destination to visit on Sunday because so many sites are open.

Where to Stay

There are tons of great places to stay in Dunkirk, but I recommend booking your accommodation near the center. Below is a list of hotels that I recommend.

✓ Best Western Plus Hotel Cargo – This is where I stayed and it was incredible. The room was so comfy, and the breakfast was beyond amazing.

✓ Radisson Blu Grand Hotel & Spa, Malo-Les-Bains – Located on the beach, it’s the perfect place for a relaxing vacation. The rooms are comfortable and the staff are helpful.

✓ Hôtel Merveilleux Côté Mer – If you’re looking for a room with a view, this is the hotel for you. The rooms are clean, the staff are welcoming, and the location is perfect.

Where to Eat

France is known for its delicious cuisine, and Dunkirk is no exception. Here are the restaurants that I recommend you try while you’re here.

✓ Le Malouin – Located on the boardwalk, here you’ll have a beautiful view of the beach while you eat. The food is fresh, local, and delicious.

✓ L’Escargot – A cozy restaurant with a welcoming staff. The food is fresh and sourced locally.

✓ Galo – As one of the best places to eat in Dunkirk, you can’t go wrong here. The interior is warm and the food is mouth-watering. It’s a small brasserie so be sure to get there early.

Conclusion: What to Do in Dunkirk

Dunkirk is a city that offers history and natural beauty, all while being off the typical tourist path.

Whether it’s standing at the northernmost point or exploring a museum, there’s something for everyone.

My two favorite things were visiting Fort des Dunes and taking in the views from the Beffroi de Saint-Éloi.

So, now that you know all the incredible things to see and do, it’s time to start planning your trip. I recommend booking your flight first!


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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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