A city in Normandy, France
, of strategic importance, which was hence one of the prime targets of the Allies in WWII
following the D-Day
invasions of Nazi
-occupied France in 1944. It remains a significant naval base for the French navy, and is also the place where their nuclear submarines are built, including the very first one of its ballistic-nuclear-missile-carrying subs, “Le Redoutable
”. The latter is now a museum ship and the prime exhibit of the Cité de la Mer
maritime museum complex in Cherbourg.
More background info:
Cherbourg, or more precisely now Cherbourg-Octeville, following an administrative merger of the two places in the year 2000, is not especially big (with under 40,000 inhabitants in the city itself, not counting the suburbs), but of great historical, especially military significance. That’s mainly thanks to its location at the northern end of the Cotentin peninsula of Normandy, which pokes far into the English Channel, the second closest the European continent gets to the British Isles (after Calais
). In fact it was from here that William the Conqueror started his Norman Conquest, culminating in the Battle of Hastings in 1066. And during the Hundred Years War Cherbourg changed hands between the French
and the English
several times, and it remained a bone of contention between the two empires for centuries.
But it wasn’t just naval military importance that put the port of Cherbourg on the map, its location was also significant for commercial ships, especially as an embarkation point for liners crossing the Atlantic
to the USA
and the rest of the Americas, and many an emigrant boarded their ship in Cherbourg. This also included the ill-fated “Titanic
”, which on 10 April 2012 made its first stop after departing from Southampton to pick up more passengers from Cherbourg before its maiden journey that ended so tragically.
During World War One
, the port of Cherbourg became the principal point of arrival for troops from Great Britain
and later the USA
sent to the battlefields
further east, as well as an embarkation point for returnees … and the injured.
The harbour, now featuring a several-miles-long fortified sea wall/breakwater as well as deep-water docks, continued to be of both commercial and military importance in the inter-war years too. In WWII
it was thus naturally a major target for the invading forces from Germany
, and in June 1940 the city was taken by the Nazis
After the D-Day
landings of the Allies in 1944, securing Cherbourg, with its port the only deep-sea harbour in the region, became the US troops’ principal objective. After fierce defence by the Germans, especially from the Fort du Roule (see Liberation Museum
), and much deliberate destruction in order to render the harbour useless, the German command in Cherbourg finally surrendered on 26 June 1944. Frantic repair efforts restored the harbour to working order within a month and it subsequently became the busiest port in the world until the end of the war.
After WWII Cherbourg remained an important navy base, while its role as an embarkation point for transatlantic liners declined from the 1950s and eventually stopped altogether. But the harbour remained a ferry terminal for crossings of the English Channel, as well as for connections to the Channel Islands
and to Ireland
It was also here, at Cherbourg’s naval shipyards, that France
’s nuclear submarines were built. This includes the first of its nuclear-missile-carrying subs, “Le Redoutable
”, launched here in 1967 and commissioned in 1971 after outfitting. Following its decommissioning in 1991, it was returned to Cherbourg in the mid-1990s for conversion into a museum ship, and from 2002 this has been the star exhibit of the Cité de la Mer
From the 2000s, though, the naval base was downsized and mostly transferred to Brest, and some of the ferry connections were ended too. However, the tourism sector was boosted, especially though the Cité de la Mer
, but also through the growing cruise ship boom.
What there is to see: The main points of interest for the dark tourist in Cherbourg are given their separate chapters here:
In addition there are a few war memorials, e.g. the one at the bottom of the hill atop which the Liberation Museum
sits. In the Old Town centre you can also spot various war-related plaques. And then there is the Napoleon statue to the north of the Old Town en route to the Arsenal and naval base. The latter, however, is largely still a military complex and hence out of bounds.
damage can still be seen at parts of the forts guarding the harbour entrances in the sea wall, but you obviously need a boat to see them closer up. Boat tours
of the harbour that allow good views of the forts and other fortifications are available (e.g. by the outfit “Hague à Part”), but I did not go on one of those when I was in the city out of season, so I cannot report first hand on what they may be like.
in the centre of the northern coast of the Cotentin peninsula in Normandy, France
, ca. 65 miles (100 km) north-west of Caen
and 190 miles (300 km) from Paris
– and just 75 miles (120 km) across the English Channel south of Poole in Britain
Google Maps locators:
Access and costs: Fairly easy to reach; not necessarily too expensive.
Cherbourg can be reached by France
’s very good train network, either from Caen
to the east or even all the way from Paris
. Except for the Old Town centre, the city is also quite car friendly. Ferry connections even link it directly to Great Britain
. People with their own boat can make use of Cherbourg’s large marina.
is perfectly possible on foot in this compact place so few visitors will need public transport. Accommodation
options are fairly plentiful and include some good value-for-money choices. Food and drink
are naturally never far away, and as you would expect for a major fishing port, there is often a focus on seafood (but also cheese! … Normandy is home to the world-famous Camembert as well as other good choices). The region’s main drink of choice is locally produced apple cider called ‘cidre’ here.
Time required: Two days should be sufficient to see the dark sites mentioned above and to get a decent enough impression of the rest of the city too.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
Most obviously, there are the many places and sights associated with WWII
and in particular D-Day
to the east of Cherbourg, mostly along the coast up to and including Caen
To the west of Cherbourg is the world’s largest nuclear reprocessing plant, La Hague, but that is naturally not a tourist attraction and can only be viewed by ordinary mortals from the outside (unless you have a good reason to apply for participation in one the site’s occasionally offered “technical tours”).
See also under France
Combinations with non-dark destinations: Cherbourg’s small Old Town may not be the pinnacle of tourism in Normandy and doesn’t feature any really major sights, but it’s pleasant enough for a stroll, and also good for shopping, including tinned seafood specialities and Normandy products such as Camembert, cidre and Calvados (although the “booze-run” wine outlets previously so popular with British visitors will probably suffer a bit post-Brexit). Cherbourg has a few museums other than the ones mentioned above, as well as art galleries, and, as a major fishing port, also one about that particular industry – aboard a converted fishing boat!
See also under France
in general, and nearby Caen
- Cherbourg 01 - the city and its harbour
- Cherbourg 02 - inner harbour and marina
- Cherbourg 03 - fishing boat museum
- Cherbourg 04 - tall ships
- Cherbourg 05 - lock
- Cherbourg 06 - outer fort of the artificial harbour system
- Cherbourg 07 - in town on a Sunday
- Cherbourg 08 - typical house
- Cherbourg 09 - church
- Cherbourg 10 - theatre
- Cherbourg 11 - old-new reflection
- Cherbourg 12 - memorial plaque
- Cherbourg 13 - war memorial
- Cherbourg 14 - British phone booth
- Cherbourg 15 - sailing ship coming home
- Cherbourg 16 - monument to fishermen who did not come home
- Cherbourg 17 - local seafood
- Cherbourg 18 - by night