The city's origins are as a medieval port protected by a castle up on the hill, which stands to this day, now a museum. After extensive allied bombing during World War II the city and the port were rebuilt post-war thus creating what is now known as the Old Town (inside the castle walls which largely escaped the destruction) and the New Town at the riverside and on the seafront.
Today Boulogne is the principal fishing port for all of the France, where fish is auctionned, frozen, salted, smoked and processed for distribution across the whole country in the commercial port district.
The place used to be a very touristy place, and having once had a direct ferry service from Dover and Folkestone, it used to be popular with British day-trippers and, later, booze cruisers. Since the opening of the Channel Tunnel, however, ferry services were reduced and then stopped altogether. Since then various companies (including Speedferries and LD Lines) have tried and failed to run profitable ferry services so as of today there are none.
Nevertheless though not as swamped with tourists as it once was, Boulonge remains popular with visitors, mainly British and Belgian, as it remains only 30 minutes drive from Calais, 20 from the Channel Tunnel, and is still considered by many to be prettier and more interesting than Calais.
By Road - The A16 motorway passes round the back of the city - junctions 32, 31, 30 and 29 are all for various parts of Boulonge. Ample parking is available at the riverside in the New Town. The old main road from Calais, the D940, enters Boulonge from the North on the coast and leaves towards Le Touquet through the subhurb of Outreau. The N41 from St Omer enters Boulonge from the East.
By Rail - Boulogne has two stations. The main one is Boulogne-Ville and located 10 minutes on foot from the city center. Direct trains come from Calais Ville (30 mins), Calais Frethun (for the TGV and Eurostar - 25 mins), Le Touquet (20 mins on a fast train), Lille (1 hour), Amiens (75 mins), and Paris (2 hours).
Public Transport - Boulogne is the centre of an extensive bus network reaching all of its outlying subhurbs and satellite towns. There is also a reliable taxi service.
By Sea/Channel Tunnel - Boulogne is a 20 minute drive from the Channel Tunnel and a 30 minute drive fromt he Port of Calais.
The Old Town (or Upper town) The walled old town contains the Castle, Cathedral, Belfry and Town Hall surrounded by many interesting narrow streets, shops, and cafes. It is located about 1/2 mile up the hill, east of the harbour, and contains:
- The Cathedral - In the crypt of which, you can still see the stone cannonballs employed by Henry VIII when he besieged and captured Boulogne at one stage.
- The Walls - Vast ramparts built at the beginning of the 13th century on the foundations of the Gallo-Roman walls, with four gateways, surround this part of town. From the walkways there is an amazing view of the old port and the main town.
- The Castle - In a corner is the 13th century Château, with its moats filled with water and waterlillies, modified in the 16th and 18th centuries. The Castle houses a museum with the most important exhibition of masks from Alaska in the world, the second largest collection of Greek ceramics in France, collections of Roman and medieval sculptures, an Egyptian collection.
The New Town (or Lower Town) The modern Boulonge at the riverside and sea-front, which contains:
- Nausicaa - A massive aquarium and centre of all things to do with marine life and conservation. Contains a particularly good fish restaurant.
- The Market - Wednesdays and Saturdays.
- Beach - Boulogne does have a beach with all the usual amenities in high season (children's club, lifeguards and so forth) however most of the locals prefer the beaches at Equihen, Le Portel and Hardelot.
- Cinema - In the New Town
- Attractions - See Above
- Shops - See Below
The main shopping streets are around Rue Adolphe Thiers, in the New Town, 5 blocks east of the harbour. There is one large supermarket in the town (a Carrefour) on the Station Road.
Boulogne has two hypermarkts, an Auchan in the St Martin subhurb (at the Boulonge end of the N41, Junction 31 of the A16), and, on the other side of town, a LecLerc in the Outreau subhurb. Both are surrounded by other large out of town style shops. The largest shopping centre in the area, the Cite D'Europe at the Channel Tunnel, is 20 minutes drive away.
Most of the restaurants are in and around the Place Datlon in the New Town, though there are a few up in the Old Town as well. The most famous and long established is Hamiot's.
There are many excellent bars in both the Old and New Towns.
There's a small Ibis in the City Centre, and most of the rest of the hotels are small privately owned establishments out towards the beach.
There is also a youth hostel (auberge de jeunesse) opposite the main station (Gare de Boulogne), which is open year round and offers accommodation for around 16 euros.
Just outside of town is the Column of the Grande Armee, a park where a (somewhat presumptive) monument commemorates Napeleon's successful invasion of England.
Montreuil is about an hour's drive on the N1, St Omer the same time on the N41.
The Cote D'Opale itself in either direction on the D940 including the beauty spots of Cap Griz-Nez and Cap Blanc-Nez (north of Boulogne).