Heathrow: Pretty French town 2 hours from London with a medieval cathedral to rival Notre-Dame de Paris and marshes like Venice

Easily accessible from London and rich in food and culture, France is the top choice for many Londoners looking for a weekend getaway.

And while hotspots like Paris, Nice and Cannes are popular for good reason, there are plenty of lesser-known cities where you can get many of the same benefits.

Saint-Omer, a charming traditional market town in north-eastern France, is easily accessible by plane or train from London Heathrow and St Pancras.

A stone’s throw from Calais in Pas-de-Calais, the quintessential French commune is best known for its incredible old-fashioned street markets, scenic waterways and incredible cathedral.

Saint-Omer is a charming French town not far from Calais.

In fact, all fans of Notre-Dame de Paris will also enjoy a visit to Saint-Omer Cathedral.

Like the famous building in the French capital, Saint-Omer Notre-Dame is a splendid Roman Catholic cathedral dating from the end of the Middle Ages and dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

The interior is spectacular, with a main organ on the west gallery which is considered one of the most majestic in the entire Christian world.

Saint-Omer has a magnificent Notre-Dame cathedral that rivals that of Paris.
Saint-Omer has a magnificent Notre-Dame cathedral that rivals that of Paris.

This intimidating example of French Gothic architecture has been ranked the number one thing to see in the city on TripAdvisor, and also received a Travellers’ Choice Award in 2021.

As well as a canal linking Saint-Omer to Calais, there is also a canalized section of the River Aa which begins in the town and extends to the North Sea and the nearby Marais Audomarois.

Extending over 3,700 hectares, the latter is a magical marshland nicknamed the “Venice of the North” thanks to the navigable rivers and canals that connect it.

Saint-Omer is close to the beautiful Marais Audomarois, a beautiful green marsh where many of the city’s fruits and vegetables grow.

The UNESCO-listed green paradise also contains the last cultivated wetlands in all of France, with 440 hectares of land growing cauliflower, endive and more.

Those who want to know where the abundance of fresh and colorful fruit and vegetables sold at the Saint-Omer market come from can even take a boat trip to the beautiful wetlands.

Other sites of interest include the ruins of Saint-Bertin, a former Benedictine abbey originally founded in the 7th century.

In terms of gastronomy, you are spoiled for choice in Saint-Omer thanks to fresh products, unique cheeses and locally produced charcuterie.

The Claire'Marais restaurant is one of the many popular restaurants in Saint-Omer where you can find delicious local cuisine.
The Claire’Marais restaurant is one of the many popular restaurants in Saint-Omer where you can find delicious local cuisine.

There are plenty of places to sample the delicious local cuisine of the Flemish region, but some of the best are Le Phare Café and Restaurant Claire’Marais, two other Tripadvisor winners.

Restaurant Chez Tante Fauvette is another popular eatery where you’ll find the charming red and white checkered tablecloths and quaint, provincial décor that many imagine when they think of a classic French restaurant.

How to get there

Saint-Omer is easily accessible by train and plane, making it an ideal weekend destination for Londoners.

One of the quickest ways to get there is to take the Eurostar from St Pancras to Lille, then change to Gare Lille Flandres to Saint-Omer.

In total, it takes between two and three hours.

More information and to book tickets via Trainline here .

If you prefer to fly, you can do so from London Heathrow on a British Airways flight to Paris, which only takes 1 hour 15 minutes.

From Paris, it’s a three-hour drive to Saint-Omer, or about two hours on the train .

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