Rouen’s “Big Clock” is impossible to miss. It is, in fact, quite large, and it hangs across the city’s main shopping and pedestrian street. It’s an astronomical clock, with only one hand, but it also portrays the days of the week with a big dial that turns to show the various Roman gods.
What you may not realize is that you can actually go up inside the Gros Horloge. At first, I thought the 6€50 admission charge was a little silly to just see the inside of a clock, but the Gros Horloge is so much more. For starters, you receive an incredibly informational audio guide that goes into great detail about the clock’s design and historical significance. The Gros Horloge was actually one of the world’s first public clocks given permission to ring bells on the hour – that honor had previously been reserved for churches. The bells still chime – at an ear shattering volume – so you may want to plan your tour accordingly.
As you climb the four-story tower, you’ll get up close with the clock’s mechanism. Its physical distance from the face, a whole floor above instead of directly behind, is quite unusual. You’ll also see the governor’s quarters, painted in bright reds and yellows, which are a quirky example of Rouen’s traditional, half-timbered houses. Given its charm and ideal location, I think the governor’s quarters would surely rent for big bucks nowadays – if only it had a bathroom!
The inside of the Gros Horloge is a real treat for fans of history, architecture, or you know, clocks, but the true hidden gem of the Gros Horloge is at the very top of the tower. There’s a balcony on the roof with a nearly 360 degree view of Rouen. The ville des cent clochers (city of 100 steeples) is really a sight to see from above. The view of the Cathedral Notre Dame de Rouen – the tallest church in France – is particularly striking from up high where you can actually get a sense of its full scope as it towers above the rest of the city.