department: pas-de-calais (62)

Arras, although not the largest settlement, is the capital of Pas-de-Calais department, and is located on the Scarpe river. Established during the Iron Age by the Gauls, the city of Arras was first known as Nemetocenna, which is believed to have originated from the Celtic word nemeton, meaning 'sacred space'. Unlike many French words, the final 's' in the name should be pronounced. 

Arras is the third most populous city in Pas-de-Calais after Calais and Boulogne-sur-Mer, and located 182 kilometres (113 miles) north of Paris. It is the historic center of the former Artois province, and the city is well known for its architecture, culture and history, once part of the Spanish Netherlands, a portion of the Low Countries controlled by Spain from 1556 to 1714. The centre of the city revolves around two large squares: the Grande Place and the Place des Héros, both of which are graced by buildings restored to the pre-World War I condition, and in particular the Gothic town hall and the cathedral.

Each year the town attracts thousands of visitors, who come to the visit the splendid Town Hall, or make the ascent of the Belfry (listed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2005), the Squares (La Place des Héros and La Grand'Place), the Art District (the Theatre and the Hôtel de Guînes), the Abbey District (the Saint-Vaast abbey and the Cathedral of Arras), the Vauban Citadel, and the Nemetacum site (the ancient town founded by the Romans 2,000 years ago).

Arras is one of a number of towns and cities in northern France that holds an outstanding Christmas Market, one that is easily accessible from the UK.


Numerous descriptions have been thrown at this northern city – “Decor unique in Europe”, “jewel of Flemish architecture”, “Gothic pearl in a Baroque setting”... But none can do justice to the sensations aroused when viewing for the first time the town squares and the splendid Town Hall. To further heighten the thrill, what could be better than a dizzying ascent of the Belfry, a plunge into the hidden ways of the town on a tour of the Boves, or an awestruck stroll through the magnificent rooms of the Town Hall itself?

Of special interest is the Wellington Quarry (Rue Arthur Deletoille: open daily 10am-12.30pm and 1.30pm-6pm; guided and audio-guide visits (1 hour) Tel: 03 21 51 26 95). This is a site immersed in memory and emotion, an underground museum to the memory of thousands of men of the Allied forces who lived under the streets of the town during the First World War. These medieval tunnels, linked and greatly expanded by the New Zealand Tunnelling Company, became a decisive factor in the British forces holding the city.

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Arras Tourist Office
Hôtel de ville, Place des Héros, 62000 ARRAS
Tel: 03 21 51 26 95