As befitting such an important naval port, the latest tourist development in Cherbourg is the "Cite de la Mer", or Sea City. Built on the site of the old railway station, it gives Cherbourg a significant attraction for tourists, that is was most lacking on my first visit in 1995, and was opened in 2002. The two main sites of interest within the complex are the submarine and the aquarium. It's open all year and costs 13 euros for adults in high season. The tour takes about three and a half hours.
Towering above Cherbourg from the top of the “Montagne du Roule” there is a 19th century fort presenting a magnificent view on the harbour and city. The museum is housed in the military fort built between 1852 and 1857. It was completely renovated and enlarged for the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the D-Day Landings. It now covers 800 square metres and contains 17 rooms over two floors. Covering the invasion of Cherbourg to its reconstruction, a serie of lifelike scenes from the 1940 brings the museum to life.
Located 117 meters above sea level the museum is now showing a series of new exhibits relating to Germany and to the prisoners of war.
Passing an hour in the town square outside the theatre at lunch time you can sit and watch the world go by. A good place to relax and people watch, and also a good place to orientate yourself as most of the main roads meet here. Maybe see a crazy French dog running around too trying to steal people's sandwiches. Most of the main roads on this side of the harbour meet here as it acts as the hub of a wheel for them.
Cherbourg is probably the most important town in France's submarine construction industry. Direction des Constructions Navales impressive facilities produce France's new-generation nuclear ballistic submarines, nuclear attack submarines and diesel-electric submarines. It's no surprise to find, then, that the largest visitable submarine in the world, the decommissioned "Le Redoutable", should be in Cherbourg. The visit to the submarine forms part of the tour of La Cite de la Mer.
Containing 500,000 litres of seawater, the aquarium at La Cite de la Mer is the largest in Europe. The visit includes wreckage from the CSS Alabama, an armed merchant cruiser from America that was sunk of the coast of Cherbourg during their civil war.
Perched on a cliff high up on the Point de Vue above the town, the Fort du Roule is an imposing building that offers great views of the town, the sea and the surrounding countryside. The fort itself is rather ugly, but has an impressive history, much of it documented in the Liberation Museum inside. The fort is a classic French 19th century "star fort" and was used by the Germans during World War 2. It was finally liberated by the Americans on June 26th 1944 in the battle of the Contentin.
If you know anyone who is even slightly interested in submarines, you HAVE to get them here. This machine is the most compicated and amazing thing I have ever seen and its type makes so many movie apprearances it is a rare chance to see one up close, both inside and out. The boat resides in a drydock so its possible to stand right under her and just gaze up at the immensity. Personally I thought this is one of the most amazing things I have seen in France, never mind Cherbourg!
On 29 March 1967 General de Gaule launched at Cherbourg La Redoubtable, the first of a series of submarines saw service from 1971 to 1985.
135 men lived aboard the 128m long giant undersea craft equipped for missions of 70 days at a time.
Retired from service in 1991 she joined Cite de la Mar in Jily 2000.
Audioguides are available in many languages and take you through a 35 minute tour.
Constructed at the end of the nineteenth century and protected as an historical monument since 1984, the theatre of Cherbourg is one of the last surviving theatres built in the Italian style.
Admire the beauty of the golden theatre, as it was nicknamed by the Cherbourgeois in 1882. The Cherbourg Theatre was built between 1880 and 1882 on the site of the old corn exchange. The painter Georges Clairin decorated the ceiling. In the lobby, he designed allegorical representations of comedy, drama, music and dance, and, finally, painted two large works "The Sea Wall" and "The Countryside" that decorate the main staircase. Originally designed to seat one thousand one hundred people, the theatre now has, due to current security standards, six hundred seats
Below the Montagne du Roule, where once stood the old hermitage, stands the first garden that provides a place to relax and to enjoy for the people of Cherbourg. First opened to the public in 1887, this garden with its statues, original layouts and greens, has kept the spirit and taste of those times.
The low walls surrounding it are still closed off with a monumental gate, entwined with wistaria. Near the ancient and exotic trees, the winding paths take you through the colourful flowerbeds and bushes, down the stream right to the grotto. You will also discover a momument dedicated to the local children, a pond that today still facinates the children as it did years ago.
To finish you will see the bandstand, essential to the public garden.
The museum is housed in a military fort built between 1852 and 1857. It was completely renovated and enlarged for the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the D-Day Landings. It now covers 800 square metres and contains 17 rooms over two floors.
The exhibition is organised around the theme "From the darkness to the light". In chronological order, the museum covers the different stages in the history of the Second World War, from the fall of France to Liberation.
It underlines the primordial role that Cherbourg harbour played in the latter part of the war as a supply base for the Allied forces.
Of course a town like Cherbourg has several parks and green zones. The most beautiful one however is at the foot of the fortress hill (rock) and houses a botanical part as well as mini zoo. The park is especially in summertime coloured by the many flowers. It is also a great place on a warm summerday to find shelter under the shadowy trees and let the kids play in the green fields. For them the animals in the park are also a great thing to look at. There are a few sealions in a bassin, birdcages and a small children's farm. Of course a few play grounds are available as well in the park. To get a full explanation on the botanical variety in the park, one best can book a guided tour at the tourist office in Cherbourg (see mentioned webpage). In Cherbourg, like anywhere else along the Cotentin peninsula's coast, the sea climate is so mild, that many (sub) tropical plants can thrive well here.
The Cité de la mer ("city of the sea") is a maritime museum in Cherbourg, France.
It was opened in 2002 as a scientifical and historical museum, around four axes:
- the Redoutable, first SNLE submarine of the French Navy, now a museum and the largest submarine in the world open to the public.
- a permanent exposition
- A cylindrical Aquarium, 8 metre wide and 10 metre high, which displays the successive marine life forms according to the depth
- a great hall where temporary expositions are held.
Want to do something you cannot do anywhere else in the world? Next to the museum Cité de la Mer and actually a part of this museum, lies in a dock, the first French nuclear submarine "Redoutable" is open for visitors. This is a unique fact, as nowhere else in the world you can visit a nuclear submarine. Submarines, and especially the nuclear modern classes, are true doomsday machines. Sneaking underwater til close to the enemies coast, they can launch rockets with nuclear bombs onto enemy targets in a matter of minutes. The enemies respons time is decimated, securing a homefront attack. To witness these terrible warcrafts up close is incredibly impressive (and for me emotional as well, as it shows yet again how stupid mankind actually is).
MUSEUMS IN CHERBOURG: Make sure you pay a visit to the 'Musee Thomas-Henry', located behind the port. This interesting museum contains work by Fra Filippo Lippi and Fra Angelico. An eclectic collection in the 'Musee d'Ethnographie', set in tropical gardens, illustrates cultures and societies from around the world, including the life of the Inuit.
Above the town, Fort du Roule, the scene of fierce fighting in 1944, houses a museum about the war years.
In the public gardens under Fort Roulle is a large war memorial in pink granite from Fermaville. It was inaugerated in 1924. The statue is the work of Descatoire. Today it is adorned with a beautiful crown of grandiflora magnolias.