Experience All The Charm Of France Without The Crowds At This Destination

Paris may have already snatched the title "The City of Lights," but the capital of Normandy is a close rival. Situated on the Seine riverbank, Rouen is the epitome of a vibrant and scenic European town that blends antiquity with modern luxury. It captures the enchanting culture of France with its passion for rich, complex cuisine and architectural masterpieces that rival the works of Nouvel and Labrouste. Flamboyant churches mimicking a Gothic taste and medieval, half-timbered villages blend effortlessly on a canvas of rolling hillsides and majestic cathedrals.

The winter months are the most budget-friendly time to visit with fewer crowds and reduced accommodation rates. (Just make sure to pack a winter coat and gloves to keep warm from potential flurries). A trip during the middle or backend of spring also has the potential for travelers to find reasonable prices and promises warmer temperatures, creating optimal conditions for strolling the gardens of Jardin des Plantes de Rouen. Springtime also means crowds are kept to a minimum, and it's easier to reserve a table at that one French bistro with the crème brûlée you can't stop thinking about. Rouen is famous for its cobblestone streets that invite visitors on a never-ending tour of its creameries and cheese shops — let's be honest, is there anything better than a cheese board and gelato in France? The city is renowned for its rich Normandy cheese, with more than 600 farms making the cheesy goodness in the Normandy region.

Get lost in the city of love and ... macarons

It's nearly impossible to squeeze Rouen's best attractions into a single day. However, the perfect date in this Normandy town should always begin at Prelude Cafè. This French coffee house boasts a warm, cheery atmosphere with a well-respected menu of sweet and savory breakfast fare, pastries, and delicacies. Located just outside Place du Vieux-Marché, the city's storied square, its outdoor seating area is the perfect place to sip an iced latte while taking in the beautiful French cityscape.

Across the river from the main square of town is an oasis of spring roses and honey plants. Jardin des Plantes de Rouen's 17th-century pavilion is the perfect place to spend the morning. Take your time strolling the outer edge of the ponds or getting lost in the honey gardens, a menagerie of honey bees that pollinate the botanical garden's collection of honey plants. One of the most exquisite sights in all of Rouen is Le Gros Horloge — France's oldest astronomical clock, dating back to the 14th century. This elegant work of craftsmanship is embellished with allegorical characters resembling the phases of the moon. Crafted on the Renaissance Archway, the tower houses the bells that give the clock its sweet-sounding chime. Resting at the foot of the belfry is the Gros Horloge Fountain. The wellspring represents the love story between the river god, Alpheus, and his lover Arethusa.

When the clock strikes noon, break for lunch at Social Perk, just a few blocks from the clock tower. Inspired by the iconic TV show, "Friends," this European cafe features a strikingly similar logo, wall patterns, and oversized coffee mugs. Their menu specializes in a crafty collection of creamy donuts, bagel sandwiches, and coffee creations overflowing with a cap of whipped cream. Of course, what's a visit to France without sampling every macaron flavor in the city? For a post-lunch sweet treat, split a macaron at Le Cacaotier. This dreamy chocolate shop is a French dessert haven with a carefully curated selection of macarons, with flavors ranging from blackcurrant to praline. Post-sugar rush, stroll by the Notre-Dame Cathedral of Rouen, an icon of impressionism that must not be missed.

Wine and dine in Rouen's Old Town

Fondly known as the medieval quarter of Rouen, is one of the city's most iconic dining scenes. The restorative neighborhood reflects the antique beauty of its founding character while embracing modern conveniences. A reservation at Le 6ème Sens is all you'll need to set the ambiance for the night. Its interior is built around a vaulted hollow, and the vegetated wall décor and a warm color scheme create an elegant, upscale ambiance indicative of the city's heritage. Complement dinner by sampling some traditional Calvados (a staple among the French). The apple brandy is poured into cocktails and even served over ice cream for a French-style affogato.

It's a tradition when in France to never go to bed without a spot of ice cream. Fortunately, Delicious is a local hot spot to satisfy your craving with a dip of creamy goodness. The homemade ice cream at this trendy tea house needs no introduction, as its name says it all. You need not spend more than a few seconds inside before catching the sweet scents of lavender, rose, vanilla, and honey wafting through the air. With excellent service and an impressive collection of organic and gluten-free sorbets, it's the perfect nightcap for a day well spent in Rouen. Nearly all of this venue's sorbets are complemented with a side of fruit or an indulgent pastry to bring out the best of the flavor. Gelato in hand, head outside to the open-air patio while watching the sunset over Gros Horloge.