Dunkirk is so much more than just a Ferry terminal and war memorials. This beautiful city in Flemish style has a rich history and lots to see and do. In fact, Dunkirk is one of those cities that is fairly close to the United Kingdom and worth a stop-over for a day or two on your way back home after a nice little trip tp France. But what is there to do in Dunkirk? What Dunkirk attractions should you visit? Here are the 10 best things to do in Dunkirk.
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Memorial du Souvenir Dunkirk Attraction
Operation Dynamo was the code name given to the Dunkirk evacuation, also known as the “Miracle of Dunkirk”. This memorial commemorates the safe exit of Allied soldiers from the beaches and Harbour of Dunkirk. You will see exhibits showcasing maps of military operations, strategies and photographs documenting the nine days that changed the world. You will see shipwrecks as seen by divers and stories of military personnel that made the operation possible. There is also a comfortable projection room with a 15-minute video showing an archive film. On the outside, you will see military equipment and weapons used during the operation. The Museum is a reminder of the harsh realities faced by those on the frontlines.
Lieu d’Art et Action Contemporaine de Dunkerque
This “Place of Contemporary Art and Action” was born thanks to donations of amazing works by twentieth-century artists, initiated by Gilbert Delaine. It is one of the few museums that showcase art from 1945 to 1980 when the country was torn in battle. This white ceramic architectural edifice is host to two major temporary exhibitions, over 200 works and sculpture garden. The LAAC acts as a connector between people and artists who want to spread a diverse and contemporary culture as well as being a point of innovation in Dunkirk. It is much more than a mere physical presence, being the mediator between other art movements while also serving as a relaxed recreational space for people. It will have something for all ages.
Musee Portuaire de Dunkerque
This maritime and society museum is located in what once was a tobacco warehouse. It houses four centuries of history in the form of drawings, models, photographs and even glass plates, traditional handling tools, maritime navigation and commercial tools and arms used during the battle in Dunkirk. You will also find the largest sailing ship preserved in France, in all its magnificence, which also serves as a support for temporary exhibitions, and items showcasing the local inland waterway transport. The Museum participates in “Heritage days” and Maritime and Nautical Festival of Dunkirk that educates the young and organizes workshops and other activities as well.
Zoo of Fort-Mardijk Dunkirk
This zoo was born in 1959 as a municipal playground which also hosted small animals to attract visitors. Throughout the years several animals such as zebras, kangaroos and bears were added to the group. It has now evolved into a fully-fledged zoo, home to much European flora and fauna. It also saves animals that have been confiscated at customs to ensure their wellbeing. School activities, workshops and guided tours are often organized to educate children of the different species inhabiting rivers to mountains to the sea. The zoo also participates and initiates in field conservation programs. It is a great, relaxed outing for the whole family.
This automated lighthouse is the highest of this type in France. It has been operational since around 1843 when its construction was completed. It can shine its light to at least 60km. The tower is at least 184 ft high and was built on the ruins of the 17th-century fort called Le Risban. It is open to the public and still actively aids navigation in the nearby waters. The white conical tower has black ornamentation on the highest point and a brownish-red lantern which cannot be mistaken.
Saint Eloi Belfry and City Hall Belfry make up “The Dunkirk Belfries”. They have been classified as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. The climb to the top offers people the chance to inspect the whole city and offers a panoramic view of the town.
The two were built in 1440 as one entity only to be separated by a fire. The sound of the 50 bells enchant the town every quarter of an hour with popular tunes such as “la Cantate à Jean Bart” and “Talire Taloure”. You can partake in some interactive tours or simply take a journey back in time as you reach the bells through the lift. The Terrasse, at 58m of height, contains photos of Dunkirk’s main monuments and cultural places.
Tower of de Leughenaer
This tower is the oldest heritage site in the city. It towers over the Minck Square, dominating it and the fish market below. It is also known as “Tour of the liar” due to its historically deceiving nature. It is said that it deluded enemy ships away from the port instead of driving them safely in, causing them to go in circles and many times get looted. It is around 30m high and has been around since the 15th century. It is now classified as a historical monument and is a famous symbol of Dunkirk’s port and maritime activity. It is often used during Heritage Days.
FRAC Grand Large - Hauts-de-France
FRAC stands for “The Fonds régionaux d’art contemporain” – loosely translated, the regional funds of contemporary art. It was born as a multidisciplinary cultural space, to promote and create awareness of contemporary art. The public is both encouraged and welcomed to emerge themselves in the art and mingle with the artists. The FRAC in Dunkirk has been around since 1996 and has international ties and includes more than 1500 pieces of art. It has also been collaborating and hosting activities to educate and motivate young artists as well as visitors to better appreciate and engage in contemporary art.
Casino Tranchant Dunkerque
A beautiful, almost monumental building hosts the Casino of Dunkirk, bordering on the reflective waters, it is a must-visit when here. It is located close to the famous beaches of the coast, in the “Dunes of Flanders”. You can find more than 200 slots machines, with varying stakes and video reels or classic slots. The traditional table games include blackjack, ball 2000 and English roulette as well as a poker room which welcomes fans of Texas hold’em poker. Between the gaming, you can visit the in-house restaurant “La Cascade” which serves in a tropical atmosphere.
Beach of Leffrinckoucke
This long stretch of beach may be best known for being a part of Operation Dynamo. Sitting a short drive from the Museum of Operation Dynamo, it also hosts various exhibits in remembrance. It even still hosts several bunkers from WWII all along the beach. It was also used to shoot the final scenes of the French comedy “Rosalie Blum”. Regardless of its sad history and gloomy atmosphere, the sunsets are still a sight to behold.
Lieze Neven is a globetrotting travel writer and expat currently based in Nepal. With a passion for exploration, she has lived in Dubai, the UK, and Belgium, alongside her international teacher husband. Her parents live in France and she tries to visit Paris at least once a year. Together, they travel the world looking for the best hotels, experiences and food locations have to offer!