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8 things to do in Northern France like a local

PUBLISHED: 17:25 14 August 2019 | UPDATED: 09:15 22 August 2019

Northern France is full of beautiful places to visit, like Lille. Pic: Leonid Andronov/iStock/Getty

Northern France is full of beautiful places to visit, like Lille. Pic: Leonid Andronov/iStock/Getty

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Northern France is a region with strong ties with Britain, both historically and geographically - find out how to experience it like a local

Northern France is a region with strong ties with Britain, both historically and geographically - at less than two hours away by ferry or Eurostar, it's a convenient and characterful location for a French holiday. Visitors are welcomed with open arms by residents, who are keen to share their impressive culture and heritage. From seafood festivals to colourful carnivals, find out how to experience Northern France like a local.

1) Cycle along the seafront at Le Touquet and have dinner at Chez Perard

The genteel seaside resort on the Côte Opale is an all-year-round draw for tourists tempted by its elegant architecture and classy boutiques. Its seafront is ideal for exploring by bike, which you can hire from La Baleine Royale on Rue de Metz. There are over 12 miles of cycle paths to navigate, but the most popular stretch with locals leads down the Pointe du Touquet headland where you can go seal-spotting. You can also head inland through the peaceful pine forest La Pinède.

Back in the town, feast on all things seafood at the famous fish restaurant Chez Perard. Try the amazing fish soup or if you're in the mood, go to the Bar à Huitres for a glass of wine and some oysters.

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The colourful resort of Le Touquet. Pic: Pack-Shot/iStock/GettyThe colourful resort of Le Touquet. Pic: Pack-Shot/iStock/Getty

2) Sample 'Le Calais' at one of the famous port's fabulous pâtisseries

For many, Calais is the first or last stop on a fun-filled French holiday, but few people take time to savour it as a destination in its own right. For a true taste of the city, head to one of the divine pâtisseries such as the Artisan Boulanger on Rue Royale or Aux Délices de Calais on Boulevard Jacquard. The must-try cake is Le Calais: a delicate almond cake topped with a tasty coffee icing.

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Calais from the air. Pic: Altitude Drone/iStock/GettyCalais from the air. Pic: Altitude Drone/iStock/Getty

3) Climb the art-deco belfry at Quartier Saint-Sauveur and explore Vieux-Lille by 2CV

For a Continental city break within easy reach of London, you can't do much better than Lille, which is served by direct Eurostar trains from the British capital. Locals know that the best place to get a view of the city is the Beffroi de Lille, the highest in Europe. Built in the 1930s, it is 104m tall and is consequently nicknamed 'the skyscraper of Lille'.

Vieux-Lille is another district worth a visit, and the best way of exploring it is by 2CV, the epitome of classic French cars. Admire the area's distinctive Flemish townhouses and café culture on a gentle drive.

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Lille's stunning architecture. Pic: Pascale Gueret/iStock/GettyLille's stunning architecture. Pic: Pascale Gueret/iStock/Getty

4) Take a ride on a barque among Amiens' floating gardens: les Hortillonnages

Amiens is renowned for its enormous Notre-Dame cathedral, twice the size of its Paris sibling, but did you know it's also known as the 'Venice of the North'? It's thanks to its 300 hectares of water gardens that are within easy reach on foot of the town centre. Hire a bike from one of the Vélam pick-up points or take a ride on one of the barques, the distinctive flat-bottomed boats, to see the city from a different perspective.

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The stunning Aminois Hortillonnages. Pic: Philippe Paternolli/iStock/GettyThe stunning Aminois Hortillonnages. Pic: Philippe Paternolli/iStock/Getty

5) Party at the Carnaval de Dunkerque

Every January to March, carnival spirit sweeps up the normally tranquil town of Dunkerque (or Dunkirk) as the locals don fantastic fancy dress for a festival like no other. The highlight for many people is the tradition herring-throwing that the mayor carries out from the balcony of the town hall.

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The town hall of Dunkirk. Pic: thehague/iStock/GettyThe town hall of Dunkirk. Pic: thehague/iStock/Getty

6) Explore the artists' workshops in the Quartier des Arts in Arras

Tourists flock to Arras to experience its stunning Christmas market, to see its beautiful squares like Grand'Place and to sample the local speciality, the love-it-or-loathe-it andouillette sausage. But many miss the wonderful arts district, home to cute boutiques and artists' workshops - there's everything from ceramicists to guitar-makers!

A more sombre experience is the Carrière Wellington, an underground city that hid 20,000 Commonwealth soldiers as they prepared for battle. It opened as a museum in 2008 and you can take a guided tour through the haunting tunnels.

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The beautiful Place des Heros in Arras. Pic: hstiver/iStock/GettyThe beautiful Place des Heros in Arras. Pic: hstiver/iStock/Getty

7) Be awestruck by an enormous aquarium and dig into a seafood sensation at the Fete de la Gainée in Boulogne

Home to Europe's largest aquarium, Boulogne is a key way marker on the Northern France tourist trail. Nausicaa is a favourite destination of Northern France families and its aquatic displays, with more than 58,000 animals, entrance all ages.

But its markets and festivals are also worth visiting - particularly the Fête de la Gainée. The focal point of this weekend-long spring event is la Gainée, a fishy delicacy consisting of cod, mackerel, mussels, gurnard and vegetables. Teams of volunteers get together to cook a huge portion of the popular dish and there is even a vegetable-peeling competition to take part in, before everyone gets a chance to taste the spoils of their hard work.

The Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Boulogne-sur-Mer. Pic: VvoeVale/iStock/GettyThe Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Boulogne-sur-Mer. Pic: VvoeVale/iStock/Getty

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8) Stroll along the ramparts of Montreuil-sur-Mer and take in the Les Misérables son-et-lumière show

Although its name may suggest otherwise, this charming walled town is now landlocked thanks to tidal changes. The best views of the town are from its ramparts, which offer views across the River Canche. The panoramic walk takes around 35 minutes and is perfect when coupled with a drink at one of the lovely local bars like Le Caveau.

If you're a fan of Victor Hugo, you can't miss the fantastic open-air performance of Les Misérables, performed inside the Citadel by 500 volunteers accompanied by horses, cannons and fireworks. It's a spectacle like no other!

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Click here to discover more amazing local secrets that you can't miss on your next Northern France holiday.

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