We have often driven past Dunkirk, on our way from Belgium to the Capes, and to be honest, the view of the industrial harbor areas before and after Dunkirk gave us little inclination to visit the city. But a few years ago, we gave Dunkirk a chance and we have to admit: the historic center of the city is worth a visit.
We made a walk in the historic center, part of the Jean Bart walk , which is marked with yellow arrows and runs along the main buildings of the city. You can leave the car at one of the docks in the center (paying) or a little further away from the center (free parking). We have indicated the walk on the plan in our guidebook .
We start the walk at the town hall, built in red brick. It looks suspiciously like the town hall of Calais . Central to the façade is a statue of Louis XIV, flanked by historical figures of Dunkirk. It was built in 1896. The tower of the town hall is one of the two 'belfries' of the city. At the back of the town hall, in the courtyard, there is a reconstruction of the Noordpoort.
The walk goes over the Quai des Hollandais and further back to the historic Sint-Elooi belfry (which also houses the tourist office). The belfry originally served as a bell tower of the St. Eligius Church across the street, but after a fire in 1558, the two buildings were separated.
The Sint-Eligius Church has had a turbulent history. The oldest mention of 'La Cathédrale des Sables' goes back to the thirteenth century. In the course of time the church was often destroyed and rebuilt time and again. In the 19th century it even got a neoclassical façade. In the second world war the church was badly damaged. Fortunately, the original gothic style was chosen during the reconstruction.
The walk continues around the church, across the 'Place Jean Bart, via the rue de la Marine. You can walk around (or through) the modern shopping center. On the other side you will find the Porte de la Marine, a monumental gate that dates from 1686. Several works of art are set up in the park.
You walk back in the direction of the Quai des Hollandais and before the administrative building you turn left to walk around the old historic dock (Bassin de la Marine). On the left is the harbor museum, with a rich collection of the maritime history of Dunkirk. In the dock are two ships: the three-master 'Duchesse Anne', a former training ship of the German merchant fleet that was handed over to France in 1946 as compensation for the war damage and the Sandette, a ship was used to warn for the sandbanks off the coast of Dunkirk.
The man who gave his name to the walk is actually a 'pirate' who was active in the 9-year war between England and France at the end of the 17th century. In the battle of Texel in 1694, he defeated 6 Dutch ships that were slightly larger than his small frigates. As a reward he was knighted by Louis XIV. Two years later he did that trick again in the Battle of the Dogger Bank.
During the walk you will find him back in the town hall (on the stained glass window, for which you have to enter), in the St. Eligius church (tombstone) and on the Place Jean Bart (statue).
If you drive from Dunkirk to Gravelines, you can take the E40 motorway. However, we recommend an alternative route, which runs through the port of Dunkirk and then along the dune belt. This route runs closer to the industrial area, but at the same time shows the beauty of the embankled dune area.
For the GPS users we give a few intermediate points of this route: Dunkirk Place du Minck - Rue l 'Hermite - Phare de Dunkerque - Ecluse Trystram - Ecluse Charles de Gaulle - Route de la Digue du Brack - Route des Dunes - Route de la Maison Blanche - Avenue Leon Jouhaux