Normandy is in the northern France, bordering English Channel. Normans- people of Normandy region, have a long courageous history with their medieval empire stretched as far as England and Wales. Normandy is not only about history but about nature and culture also. Here is a guide to explore Normandy region including important things to do.
How to reach
Normandy is well connected to Paris by roads and trains. One can reach to Rouen, the capital of region, in about 2 hours by car or train from Paris. The famous D-Day beach is about 3-4 hours from Paris.
England and Normandy coasts are separated only by the English Channel. There are various sea-routes with different vessel types in operation which differ in their travel times. Normandy is also well connected by domestic airlines. Caen airport receives flights from major French cities and some low-fair international airline routes.
Places to visit
Normandy’s coastline is marked by historic Mont Saint Michel towards west and by the battle grounds of Dunkirk towards east. In inland, Honfleur, Rouen, Caen, Giverny are popular places to visit. Apart from these, there are some hidden gems like Etretat, which are worth visiting. Lets discuss each of these tourist places in details.
Rouen is the capital city of Normandy and is settled along the banks of River Seine. It takes less than 2 hours to travel from Paris by trains or car. Unfortunately there is no TGV connection to this northern region of France but it doesn’t stop tourists coming in this little historic city.
Rouen’s historic city centre is best explored on foot. The important sites in Rouen old town area are as follows
Construction of this cathedral started in 4th century and continued through various stages up to 12th century. The Cathedral was once the tallest building in the World and is considered to be epitome of development of Gothic style architecture
Prague’s astronomical clock is world famous. Very few tourists know about this another astronomical clock in Rouen. This clock was first constructed in 14th century and then later in 16th century, it was moved over to the current position- belfry tower. At this time, new facade was added to the clock and it is believed to be largest one. Tourists can climb up the belfry tower for some beautiful views over the old town of Rouen.
Half timbered houses
Rue du Gros-Horloge, a street where the above said astronomical clock is mounted, is lined with half timbered buildings standing adjacent to each other. These half timbered buildings are typical of Rouen region. A wooden construction is made on the top of ground floor structure built with water proof stone. While walking around the Rouen’s old city centre, you will find many of such historic buildings which are now reconstructed and maintained as heritage sites.
Rue Saint Romain, rue de Martainville, Rue Damiette, Rue des Bons Enfants are some of the streets where you will find such reconstructed half timbered houses.
The above mentioned Rouen Cathedral is definitely a beautiful Gothic style architecture example. Apart from this, there are many more churches and public building in Rouen which also reflect the French architectural styles. Palaise de Justice, Grande Pharmacie du Centre, The Church of Saint-Ouen are some examples.
Rouen is also the birth place of famous French writers Pierre Corneille (at 4, rue de la Pie) and Gustave Flaubert (at 1, rue Lecat).
D-Day beaches and War memorials
Caen offers a convenient base for travellers visiting to D-Day beaches and the war memorial.
These sites can be easily visited as a day trip from Rouen also.
Coastal lines near Caen had been epicenter and a turning point for English and American troops in 1944. Today, one can visit this place and get well informed about various incidences and their consequences during WWII. There are museums displaying weaponry used during the war, telling stories of brave soldiers and politics at that time. There are cemeteries of military of Germany, America, England and Canada.
The best way to explore all these sites is by car. But even if you don’t have it, you can take local buses from Bayeux.
Situated close to the D-Day beaches, Caen gives an extended experience of tour through WWII memories. The Memorial for peace and Museum of Normandy include exhibits from the WWII. Apart from these, Caen castle is also a popular site among tourists.
Honfleur and Le Havre
Honfleur and Le Havre are like twin towns on either banks of estuaries of River Seine.
Honfleur is a small but scenic port town which was settled back in 17th century. It is about 140 km from Paris and well connected by national highway A13. The old town is quite congested with a little space for car parking. The best way to avoid this congestion is to keep your car at the allotted car parking and explore the old center on foot. One can also arrive here by daily private couch service from Paris.
Le Havre is about 30 min from Honfleur by car. Historically, his was a popular harbor for Paris. Goods and freight used to be transported from here via Seine to Paris.
Honfleur and Le Havre both offer a laid back and local experience of French (or rather Norman) culture. There are nice bike trails where you can explore country side and Normandy’s coast line on your own.
Beaches, ports, sea-side cafes and restaurants and local fresh seafood will make you stay forever here.
Etretat is known as Dover of France. The tall rising white chalk cliffs, emerald color of sea-water and deep green vegetation on the plateau make this place a-must-visit destination for photographers and nature lovers and for a true local experience. I have written another articles covering all the details about how to visit Etretat and things to do. You can refer it here.
This is an UNESCO World Heritage site and perhaps the most popular site in Normandy region.
Mont St-Michel is located on the far west side of the Normandy, bordering the Brittany region of France. This is Norman Benedictine Abbey of St Michel built on the rocky tidal island.
This popular and one of the most visited places in France is, sadly, not well connected by public transport. There is no direct connection between Paris and the island. The best way to reach here is by car or private couch tours.
I have written a detail article on how to visit Mont St-Michel and things to do during your visit.
While visiting this heritage site, I recommend extending your trip for 1-2 days and going to St Malo and Cap Frehel which are in Brittany region but not far away. Why should you visit these places? Click on their names and read the details about things to do at St. Malo and Cap Frehel.
Giverny is the closest from Paris (only about 80 kms) among all the places listed here and is highly recommended as a day trip destination.
One can reach Giverny by car or private couch tours from Paris. Public transport is also suitable with one or two changes and little extra time. Best time to visit is from spring to fall season as in winter, most of the attractions are close.
The main attractions of Giverny include Monet’s house and its gardens. Cloude Monet was a French impressionist and he had a beautiful gardens surrounding his house. Today, there is a display of his paintings in his well-maintained house. The gardens include various elements like water garden, Japanese bridge etc.
Giverny is a spectacular day trip destination from Paris.
Normandy has its own food culture and traditions. Cheese, sea-food and lean meats are famous from this region.
Due to vast coast line, sea-food has to be part of Norman cuisine. Shellfish, lobster, clams, whelks, scallops, mussels and oysters are major produce of the region. These products are high in demand from all over Europe and across the continent as well. Moules-frites (Mussels with French fries) is a must-try dish in the coastal towns.
The main course of Normandy’s cuisine include different types of meats. I got to know that lamb meat from Caen and Mont St-Michel is popular (I am vegetarian).
Normandy is also a popular cheese producer and some famous cheese types like Camembert, Livarot, Neufchâtel etc are from this region.
French liqueurs like wine and Champagne are world popular but do you know, Normandy has its own drink? Normandy’s apples are one of the best quality and locals have become expertise in producing apple liqueur- Calvados. Along with Apple cider and pommes, Calvados is exported all over the world from this region.
As Normandy’s cuisine is well cherished, there are special routes developed for such experiences. For example, Cider route will take you on the journey of apples from farms to bottles. On the cheese routes, you will visit different dairies and will observe production of different cheeses followed by freshly prepared local cheese loaded dishes.
Plan a visit
Normandy is a vast region with tons of things to do. It is not possible everyone to visit all these places in one trip. Therefore I have suggested possible ways to explore Normandy region as per your available time
Through our Travel your Dreams! page, you can plan your visit to Normandy and book accommodations.
If you are in Paris and can spare only 1 day for Normandy. Even though this is not just enough even to scratch the vastness of the region, no need to be sad.
Like I said above, Giverny is the best day-trip destination from Paris. In about one to one and half hours, you can reach the town and spend as much time as you wish wandering around beautiful gardens.
Rouen is also easily reachable from Paris. If you start early in the morning, you can visit major sites in the Rouen and return back to Paris by the end of the day
Less than a Week
If you have around 2-4 days to explore Normandy, I would suggest you to visit Mont St-Michel for one day. From there, you can proceed to D-Day beaches and base yourselves in Caen or Rouen. To explore all the sites scattered on the D-day beaches and war memorials will take about 1 to one and a half days. In rest of the time you can explore Rouen.
About 2 weeks
If you have 2 weeks, which I think is the ideal time to spend in Normandy, you can cover almost all of the places listed here.
Start your trip from Rouen. From Rouen, proceed to Etretat and then further to Honfleur and Le Havre. These places can be nicely experienced and enjoyed in about 1 week.
From there, you can go to explore D-Day beaches and war memorials. After this, you can end your trip by staying for last 2 days of the trip at Mont St. Michel- on or nearby the island
If you can spend more than 2 weeks in Normandy region, I am sure, you are going to have your life time experience of travel. You can enjoy your visit to each place including some local experiences like attending local festivals, visiting museums as per interest etc. You can rent a bike and set off on a country side for great landscape views and to experience local life. Now you also have some extra time to traverse the special routes like cider route, cheese route etc.
When you are in Normandy for 2 weeks or more, I recommend to have a car for better travel experience.