Less reliant than Boulogne-sur-Mer or Calais on the cross-channel ferry trade, Dunkerque is the liveliest of the three big Channel ports, a university town with an appealing, boat-filled inner harbour, the Bassin du Commerce. It was from the shores of Malo-les-Bains, an attractive beachfront suburb, that the evacuation of Allied troops took place in 1940. Dunkerque remains France’s third-largest cargo port (following Marseille and Le Havre) and is a massive industrial centre, its oil refineries and steelworks producing a significant proportion of the total French output. Devastated during World War II, central Dunkerque is largely the brick-built product of postwar reconstruction, slightly more ambitious and stylish than the rebuild of Calais or Boulogne-sur-Mer. But among the 1950s architecture, you come across some delightful Art Nouveau-style villas with curving forms and balconies.

Among the few buildings of any significance that survived World War II (or were rebuilt afterwards) are the tall medieval brick belfry, the town’s chief landmark; the impressive, bullet-ridden fifteenth-century church of St-Éloi opposite, to which the belfry belonged; and, a few blocks north of the church on place Charles-Valentin, the early twentieth-century Hôtel de Ville, a giant Flemish fancy to rival that of Calais.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

France features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

Quiz: where should you go in France this summer?

Quiz: where should you go in France this summer?

France remains one of the most visited countries in the world – and it's easy to see why. From the bucolic charm of Provence to the metropolitan allure of Par…

14 Jul 2017 • Rough Guides Editors help Quiz
7 reasons why Lyon should be your next European weekend break

7 reasons why Lyon should be your next European weekend break

The ingredients for a great European weekend break are simple. You’ll need a walkable city centre, a handful of excellent restaurants, some cool bars, afforda…

14 Jul 2017 • Eleanor Aldridge insert_drive_file Article
The 10 best summer festivals for escapism in 2017

The 10 best summer festivals for escapism in 2017

Festivals are a different beast in 2017. They used to be associated with drinking warm cider while watching crusty bands in your naffest clothes; now the best e…

07 Jun 2017 • David Hillier insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right