Amiens, Little Venice of the North
We first discovered this beautiful little city while exploring a route in the book Back Roads France.
Since then, it has become one if our favourite French stop-overs as we journey further south.
Back then, we were young and free whereas now we travel with our two adventurous boys. We know all too well that it really helps to have a rough plan for entertaining your kids in a new city.
If you travel often with kids then you really should read our tip for finding nearby playgrounds…it was a lifesaver during our 9 months in France.
We stayed in an Airbnb overlooking the water. It cost £45 per night for our family of four.
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Where is Amiens?
This beautiful city is in northern France and is a little over 90 minutes drive from Calais. It is the capital of the Somme department in the Hauts-de-France region.
Amiens is easy to get to. The motorway is the most convenient route and cost us just over €10 in tolls.
Parking is pretty easy to find even during the busier summer holidays. You can park in front of St Leu but only for an hour or so.
There are several paid parking spaces and free parking is also available on some of the streets (we were directed to one behind St Leu.
Amiens is also easily accessible by train.
If you’re already in Paris you can book a day trip to the Somme Battlefields which includes a tour of Amiens Cathedral and sightseeing.
What you’ll love about Amiens?
Amiens has everything a great city break should offer…shopping, atmosphere, nightlife, good food, attractions.
With a population of around 140,000 it’s a fair-size but Amiens somehow manages to feel quaint and un-intimidating (even to us country folk).
1. Amiens is postcard pretty without the crowds…
Tiny canals run along the streets with little bridges joining the narrow streets and even littler bridges leading to houses.
It reminds me a lot on Annecy but without the lake and the crowds that flock there.
You are guaranteed to get some stunning holiday shots in this city. Especially if you head for some of the attractions mentioned below…
2. Beautiful displays.
A lot of effort goes into making this city look good. Take a stroll around town and you’ll see a number of art installation like Les parapluies d’Amiens (The Umbrellas of Amiens).
On another street we spot giant lampshades which add a splash of colour to the 13th Century Cathedral.
3. Parc Zoologique
A 15 minute walk from the Cathedral and you step into another world…monkeys, parrots, zebras and sea lions live in the beautifully maintained Parc Zoologique.
This small zoo is free for under 3’s and around €6 per adult (€4 for kids).
There’s plenty of shade beneath the massive trees so you can sit a while and escape the summer heat while watching the monkeys playing.
4. Parc Saint Pierre
Around the corner from St. Leu you’ll find Saint Pierre Park. We love this park.
There is so much to do, especially during summertime when even more activities are available!
In the area that’s set up for the summer there is a big paddling pool with fountains, a giant sandpit, a big thing to jump off (that’s the technical term!) and lots of seating.
There’s a small kiosk there selling baguettes, gallettes (savoury pancakes), crepes (sweet pancakes), ice creams and drinks.
Stroll along the path and you come to a bridge crossing another beautiful water feature.
The play areas overlook the water but it is totally fenced and secure. It’s surrounded by trees too so was perfectly shaded for an afternoon play.
A short stroll again and our eldest spotted the ponies. The pony was more interested in eating than walking but then so would I be for €2!
5. Les Hortillonnages d’Amiens
Discover the famous “floating gardens” of Amiens on electric boats called “barques à cornet”. The perfect way to explore on what was a way of life unique to Amiens.
You can catch a boat from Boulevard Beauvillé for around €8 each (expect to wait a while at busy times). The trip itself takes about 30 mins but you may have to wait for a while at busy times.
The boats run from 1st April until the end of October.
6. The Food!
Bustling restaurants line the canal (right below the airbnb we stayed in). You can find a range of meals that should keep the whole family happy.
Pull up a chair and choose a local dish like “pâté de canard d’Amiens”, duck pâté in pastry or “la ficelle Picarde”, an oven-baked cheese-topped savory pancake.
For me, part of the fun of travelling is trying new dishes but if it’s not for you then you’ll find more familiar pizza or burger and chips!
We bought two local salads, a filled gallette, a sweet crepe and three drinks for around 40 euros.
Restaurants close from around 3pm until 6 or 7pm so don’t get caught out arriving hungry at 4pm like we did!
Breakfast in France isn’t a big deal so don’t expect the restaurants to open early for breakfast. If you need something then you’ll find boulangeries in town that are open for a breakfast treat.
7. The Atmosphere
Amiens takes a while to wake up in the morning but by midday the music is playing and the bars are full of chatter. This excitement continues into the early hours.
I did read a few reviews for the airbnb we used that complained about the noise on St Leu. To be honest, it didn’t bother us and our boys slept through (with the windows open).
8. Amiens by dark
If you think Amiens is beautiful during the day then just wait until the sun goes down!
The bars and restaurants light up and the water reflects the vivid colours.
We gave our toddlers an extra nap so that we could show them Amiens at night.
There is an amazing light show at Amiens Cathedral that starts when it gets dark so for us it was nearly 10pm.
The crowds started gathering on the steps at 8.45pm but there’s really no need to arrive so early unless you want to soak up the atmosphere.
It’s well worth the wait though…the crowds gather for a reason! (watch the video above!)
Amiens with Kids…Video
The not so great bit!
So, I hate to be negative about this amazing city but I’d rather warn you and have you say “I’ve got no idea what she’s talking about” than for it to make your stay really awkward.
Amiens has lots of steps and barely any ramps! There are steps to the Cathedral, over the bridge to the park and no ramps on the pavements as you walk to the zoo.
Basically if you need wheelchair or pushchair access then it’s not the most accessible of cities.
We spent a lot of time carrying our tired toddlers plus the paraphernalia that goes with them. The steps that once wouldn’t have phased us were starting to make sightseeing a little awkward!
When to visit
Spring is a lovely time of year to visit France. The weather should be dry but not too hot and the crowds smaller than in Summer.
Summer is pretty much guaranteed sunshine too although you are in Europe so you probably want to pack a rain coat too!
Visit in December to get in the festive spirit at the largest Christmas Market in northern France!
I’m pretty sure the avenues of trees would look spectacular during Autumn too so you can basically visit this beautiful city any time of year!
We’d love to hear about your trip to Amiens below…