Fort-de-France in Martinique is the capital of this overseas French department. It is also one of the major cities in the Caribbean, thanks to a port being the exportation point for goods such as sugar, rum, fruits, and cacao. In this article, I show you 5 best things to do in Fort-de-France.
After visiting Pointe-à-Pitre, the economic center of Guadeloupe, which did not enchant us so much, Fort-de-France was a nice surprise. We had the impression that Martinique’s biggest city was much more pleasant, clean and simply prettier.
The city itself is quite big, with over 85,000 people living there, but in fact, there are not many things to do in the center. But even so, there are still a few sights, that are worth visiting. And visiting Fort-de-France is also one of the most interesting things to do in Martinique.
Before we’re dive into the list of best things to do in Fort-de-France, maybe you also want some tips on where to stay in Martinique? Click here to open a post about best resorts in Martinique to read it later.
Psst. In Martinique, I spent a whole month. I wrote every single penny that I spent on this trip. And then, I created a detailed financial report from this journey. You can download it by clicking below (I’ll also send you some useful tips about traveling to this island).
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Table of contents:
- The short history of Fort-de-France
- The best things to do in Fort-de-France in Martinique:
- – St. Louis Cathedral
- – Schoelcher Library
- – Fort Saint Louis
- – Place De La Savane
- – Palais de Justice
- What else to do in Fort-de-France?
- How to get around in Fort-de-France in Martinique?
- Where to stay in Fort-de-France?
- Best day-trips from Fort-de-France in Martinique
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The short history of Fort-de-France in Martinique: the greatness caused by a tragedy
The history of the city of Fort-de-France started in 1638 when the first governor of Martinique decided to build a port of Saint Louis to protect the island against the enemies. The city was born around the port, originally called Fort-Royal, became the administrative capital of the island.
Nevertheless, for years it was outshined by the city of Saint-Pierre, a bit older and lying in the Northern part of Martinique. Saint-Pierre, where the cultural life of the island flourished, was called “The Paris of the Caribbean”. Fort-de-France in Martinique stayed in its shadow until the natural disaster in 1902.
The powerful eruption of the volcano Mount Pelée destroyed the city of Saint-Pierre and killed over 28,000 people. Only a few people lived through this catastrophe, including a prisoner – Louis-Auguste Cyparis, who was serving a sentence for starting fights under the influence of alcohol. His tiny cell did not have any windows beside a small opening above the door. Thanks to this not many consequences of the eruption reached him. Louis-Auguste was saved by rescuers a few days after the catastrophe.
From these days, the social, economic and cultural life moved to Fort-de-France in Martinique. Today, the city is modern and offers a few unique spots to visit during a one-day trip. Habitually, the local inhabitants still call it Foyal, which is the shortened version of the old Fort-Royal. Same, people living in the city are often called Foyolais.
Now let’s take a look at the biggest attractions of Fort-de-France in Martinique.
The best things to do in Fort-de-France in Martinique:
#1 St. Louis Cathedral
The main Roman Catholic church in the city of Fort-de-France was built in 1895. But actually, six other churches were standing there before. The first one was built in 1657, but during the years passing by, all of them were destroyed by natural disasters.
The designer of the current construction, which we can admire today, is pretty well-known in the world. Gustave Eiffel was responsible for creating a steel structure of the cathedral which would survive through hurricanes and earthquakes.
St. Louis Cathedral in Fort-de-France ideally composes with the environment of the city. It makes a light impression which perfectly suits the Caribbean atmosphere. The blue color of steel elements plays a great role and make the whole building look like a sketch idea drawn on a piece of paper. Interior geometrical ceiling ornament is a nice surprise.
#2 Schoelcher Library
This avant-garde for the times of its creation building is one of the most uniques heritage spots on the island. Victor Schœlcher, who was a famous abolitionist, was fighting actively the whole his life for the freedom of people in the Caribbean islands. He participated in the creation of abolition decree in 1848 and was one of the most important persons during the war against slavery in the French territories.
In 1883 he decided to donate a huge amount of 9,000 books and 250 music scores to the people of Martinique, below the one condition: they must be placed in a public library accessible for everyone. This was the reason to design this outstanding library by a French architect, Henri Picq. Today, the Schœlcher Library is still open to the public in the center of Fort-de-France in Martinique.
#3 Fort Saint Louis
The most famous fort in Fort-de-France – Fort Saint Louis – was built originally in 1638, as I mentioned before. But during the centuries many disasters and French enemies were destroying it. A few times it was a target of the attack of English and Dutch warships. But we still can visit saved part of the fort, since most of it is still in use until today as a naval base. History lovers can also take a guided tour of the fortress.
#4 Place De La Savane
Place De La Savane is a parc which lies just between Fort Saint Louis and the Schœlcher Library. It’s a big parc area of green grass, diversified with palms and trees. Alongside the park, there goes an alley with street food spots, which is a nice place for a relax after sightseeing of the rest of the city.
Nearby, you can find a statue of Empress Josephine, the wife of Napoleon Bonaparte. She was born in Martinique which was the reason for the location of her statue. A group of people accusing her of supporting slavery vandalized it in the 1990s. The head of Josephine’s statue was cut-off and the whole figure was painted with red paint.
#5 Palais de Justice
The original Palais de Justice (courthouse) in Fort-de-France in Martinique was built in the XVIII century. Unfortunately, the earthquake in 1839 destroyed the whole building. In 1855 the governor of Martinique decided to build a new one.
Palais de Justice which we can admire today represents the neoclassical style. The space in front of the building turned into a square with a fountain in the center. Nowadays, the statue of Victor Schœlcher with a young liberated slave replaced the fountain.
What else to do in Fort-de-France?
You can add some more engaging activities to your schedule such as guided tours. Below you’ll find some interesting options:
- Walking tour of the downtown of Fort de France
- Fort-de-France Food Tasting and Cultural Walking Tour
- Foodie Fort-de-France Tour
How to get around in Fort-de-France in Martinique?
The city center of Fort-de-France is small enough that you can visit all of its highlights on feet. If you travel by car, you need to have in mind street traffic. Since the city is the island’s capital and the biggest agglomeration on the island, the car traffic can be pretty big in the rush hours.
Nevertheless, renting a car is still the easiest way to travel on the island. Especially when you plan to visit other parts of Martinique and still feel independent. Click here to check out the car rental options in Fort-de-France.
The city and its suburbs have a great network of buses and trams Mozaïk. Unfortunately, this kind of transportation is not the solution when you travel from distant parts of the island. In this situation, the best option will be to use taxi collectif, which is a common way of moving around the island. In the center of Fort-de-France, on the shore side, next to Fort Saint Louis you will find a hard to miss the area where taxis wait to collect a group of passengers. Taxis collectifs hit the road only when they are filled with people – taxis are usually 7-9 person vans – and always go to a specific city. So you can leave a taxi wherever on its road. The cost is usually 3-8€ depending on the distance.
Where to stay in Fort-de-France?
If you prefer to spend the nights in the island capital instead of other towns, here are some interesting options near the city center you should try:
- Simon Hotel – this exclusive hotel offers modern rooms located in a perfect transport localization. [click and check the price on Booking.com]
- La Rue Des Fossés – this modern and colorful loft apartment will be perfect for you if you prefer independent travel but still want to stay in a high-end accommodation. [click and check the price on Booking.com]
- Appartement le Cerisier – if you want to have a sneak peek of the real Caribbean life, then this typical sunny apartment will be ideal for you. [click and check the price on Booking.com]
Best day-trips from Fort-de-France in Martinique
One whole day will be more than enough to visit Fort-de-France. But nearby, there are many other opportunities to have a great trip:
- Jardin de Balata – a beautiful botanical garden
- La Cascade Didier – exciting jungle trail to a hidden waterfall
- Small ferries cruising to Les Trois-Îlets, where you can visit beautiful beaches of Anses d’Arlet and visit a great open-air museum La Savane des Esclaves
- La Savane de Pétrifications – this is a place that surprised me the most in the whole island. The landscape unexpectedly converts into a desert. An interesting experience in a tropical paradise.
- Dolphin’s Watching Excursion – nature’s observation is a perfect experience to have in Martinique. Boat excursions are a popular and valuable activity on the island.
If you’re looking for some more awesome things to do in Martinique, click here and read my post about it.
Fort-de-France in Martinique is a modern, tropical city. Even if it is not the most attractive place on the island, it is worth to visit it for a carefree walk when you will have more time to spend in the Caribbean.
Have you been to Fort-de-France already? Do you have something to add? Let me know about it below!
Wanna some more Caribbean adventures? Check it out:
- Guadeloupe or Martinique: tips to choose the perfect island for holidays
- 16 examples of Caribbean food, sweets, and drinks to try in Guadeloupe & Martinique
- Caribbean Packing List: How to Pack for Fabulous Vacation [+printable!]
- How to pay in the French Antilles? For me, it was easy with this multicurrency card
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Dominika is a founder of Sunday In Wonderland and she recently switched her life to be local independent. She aims to travel the world and admire all of its wonders. She is much focused on sustainable life, self-development and making this world a better place.