By Paul Hermans – Wikimedia

Top 10 Things to do in Dunkerque


Dunkirk is a coastal city in northern France, 49 miles from the UK coastline. This is a historic city where the evacuation of the Allied forces took place during World War II.

The Dunkirk 1940 Museum documents Operation Dynamo, one of the WWII evacuation of Allied soldiers.

Another museum that documents this historic event is the Port Museum. This museum showcases the ships that built-in 1901.

This city is a few minutes from the French border with Belgium. Located close to the sea, most of the people here are known for fishing.

Being a port city, people connect to Dover through water shuttles. The beaches here are also perfect for walks as well as the dunes.

There is more to do in this city and I have picked out the top 10 things to do below.  

1. Attend the Dunkirk Festival

By Welleschik – Wikimedia

One of the most attended festivals in this city is the Dunkirk festival. Locals and tourists alike attend the carnival for a colourful party. The festival happens between January and March.

The highlight of the carnival is the mayoral tradition of throwing herrings from the town hall’s balcony. Another highlight is watching the famous musical processions running up to Ash Wednesday.

Costumes for the carnival include wearing wigs, stockings and short dresses by men and the best part is the dancing. This carnival was initially held to celebrate the beginning of the cod-fishing season.

Currently, the carnival is a point of local pride and worth joining in.  

2. Take a Tour of Musée Portuaire of Dunkirk

This museum is one of the few historic buildings in the City of Dunkirk that was spared during the war. The museum tells the history of the port.

Part of the exhibits that you will see in this museum are tools used for whales and cod fishing. They date back to the 19th century. The fishermen would spend six months in the water around Iceland.

Three heritage ships are at the quay near the museum. The largest of the three is a three-mast Duchesse Anne that was built in 1901. This ship can be boarded for a tour around France.

If you love ships, visit this museum to see all types of model ships and their history. Another ship to check out is the old Sandettie lightvessel that was built after WWII.

3. Parc Zoologique de Fort Mardyck

A good place to take the young ones while in Dunkirk is to the zoo. The park is home to more than 40 species of animals.

Some of the animals to look forward to seeing include brown bears, lynxes, seals flamingos, macaws, beavers, dwarf goats and griffon vultures.

One animal to see is the collared peccary. It is native to Central America and withstands a bite from a venomous snake.

The park is easy to walk through from one section to the other. There are birds too.

There is a reasonable entry fee charged at the gate. It is the perfect place to go as a family.

4. Tour the Le Beffroi

By Martinp1 -Wikimedia

One of Dunkirk’s landmark is this 58m tall belfry. It is the bell tower of the original Église St-Éloi that burnt to the ground in 1558.

The belfry was built in 1440 to replace an old watchtower. It is no surprise that it has been a UNESCO Heritage monument since 2004. There is a lift that takes tourists up to its 50 bells.

These bells chime every 15 minutes. Just 60 steps from the bells, you will find the viewing platform for panoramic views of the city. On a clear day, one can see as far Dover.

5. Tour Eglise Saint-Eloi

By Paul Hermans – Wikimedia

This church has been bombed twice; during WW I and WW II. The church was rebuilt after each war. The last reconstruction of the church was done in 1985. It resembles a Gothic church.

Walking inside the church, you will find posters that provide the historical background of the church. It is a UNESCO Historic monument as listed in 1916.

Since the original church was damaged during the two wars, the only remaining part of it is the belfry that was built in 1840.

The first known church dates from the second half of the 15th century.

6. Learn more about Operation Dynamo at Mémorial du Souvenir

This is the museum to visit for a historical perspective of the 1940 evacuation of the Allied forces. There is also a 15-minute video that you can watch too, it is in both English and French.

You will also find scale models, evocative period uniforms, weapons, photos and WWII-related objects. These were found around the Dunkirk area after World War.

There is enough information about the Battle of Dunkirk in this museum. You will find it in Bastion 32 of the Dunkirk coastal fortification from 1874 on Rue des Chantiers de France.

7. Check out the Contemporary Art and Action Museum-LAAC

This museum is Opposite Dunkirk 1940 Museum. It has green spaces and a sculpted garden. LAAC is one of the modern art museums in Dunkirk.

Inside the museum, you will see more than 1,500 art pieces from 1940 to 1980. Artworks by Andy Warhol and CoBra artists have been displayed.

Outside the museum, you will see bright childlike sculptures by Karel Appel. The white ceramic architecture of the museum is eye-catching.  

Do not miss the Graphic Arts Room for interesting artistic explorations. There are over 200 drawings and prints exhibited in sliding drawers.

This is a family-friendly museum rich with events throughout the year.

8. Stroll through the streets of Mairie de Dunkerque

By Welleschik – Wikimedia

Go for an easy stroll in this lovely town hall in the middle of Dunkerque. You will not miss it because if it’s red bricks.

The hall has a beautiful stained-glass window, photographs of the city on the walls among other things. This hall was rebuilt after World War II.

9. Dunkirk 1940 Museum

Photo sourced from Dunkirk 1940 Museum website

Located at Bastion 32 is the Dunkirk 1940 Museum. It was constructed in 1874 after the Franco-Prussian war to strengthen France’s border.

This was the location for the evacuation of the Allied Forces during World War II. More than 338,000 soldiers were evacuated from France.

You will learn how the operation was planned and executed. There is also a 15-minute video of the evacuation.

10. Spend the morning or afternoon at Fort Louis Park

Photo by Jan Canty on Unsplash

This fort was built around 1701 by François Martin and completed after his death in 1706. There is a canal that separated the native and European settlements which were destroyed in 1761.

It is a perfect park for the young ones during the hot summer. The park has walking trails, canals, ponds, an adventure park, a community hall and horse riding.