Cherbourg was where I first landed in France, many years ago, when I was 17. It was also where I arrived on my next visit some years later in 1993. My strongest memory of that occasion was sitting waiting to drive off the Barfleur, worrying about coping with driving on the right and with a foreign language. As you might have guessed it wasn't long into that trip that I realised that I could cope fine with both !!
Cherbourg has four sections to its port, naval, the marina, commercial (including the ferries and the occasional cruise ship) and fishing. You may not notice it from the ferry but there is a substantial naval dockyard which has specialised in building submarines for over 100 years. There are 4 or 5 small naval patrol craft based here, but no larger warships at present.
Next, going from west to east, is the marina which has 250 berths for visiting craft and caters for 11,000 visitors a year.
The fishing port comes next and is closest to the town centre. Then you come to the ferry port which has sailings to and from Poole ( Brittany Ferries), supplemented by fast craft in the summer and from Roslare in Ireland. There was previously a service from Weymouth (Sealink) which transferred to Southampton but was later discontinued. The area of the port which is now occupied by the ferries used to be used by trans-Atlantic liners, the terminal for which included a railway station for boat trains direct to and from Paris. At its peak in the 1920’s 41,000 people a year emigrated to the United States via Cherbourg. Incidentally, the liners which called here started their crossing from Southampton and so it was possible to use one of Cunard’s famous liners to travel across the channel to Cherbourg. The only link with this era now is the occasional visit by a cruise ship.
The final part of the port deals with general cargoes and also spent reactor fuel on route to the reprocessing plant at Cap de la Hague.
There is a “Free Port” area being developed at present.
Click on a photo to see the Cherbourg photos page
The old part of the town is centred around the old basin, the fishing port. Its history goes back at least to Roman times. Though there aren’t any Roman remains to be seen much of the centre of the town is 19th century or earlier in origin and there are traces of the old walled city to be seen. The town is worth spending some time in rather than just rushing through to or from the ferry or hypermarket.
A new attraction, la Cité de la Mer will open in 2002 in the former trans-Atlantic terminal building, it will include a cylindrical aquarium, a permanent exhibition in two parts – the submarine area and the ocean diving area, a former nuclear submarine – the Redoubtable - and a hall for temporary exhibitions and shows.
For those who are “topping up supplies” there are several hypermarkets, the largest being Carrefour at Octeville on the edge of town as you leave on the main N13.
If you want to find out more about Cherbourg have a look at Ville de Cherbourg en Normandie, France which is in English as well as French, while for local news and information in French visit Cherbourg.maville.com. Toute l’actualité de la ville de Cherbourg proposée par le journal Ouest-France.
Cherbourg is at the end of the N13/A13 dual carriageway/autoroute from Paris and this links to the A84 autoroute to Rennes with good roads on south from there. There is an electrified rail service to Paris via Caen, but unfortunately the TGV network has yet to reach Normandy
This site was last updated 18-10-2011