Last Updated on 16th March 2021 by Sophie Nadeau
Crashing waves, rolling hills and medieval towns… There is nowhere else in France- or indeed the world- quite like Normandy. With its rich history, local produce, and oodles of activities on offer take, if you take a trip here, you’re guaranteed to find something you like. Here are the very best things to do in Normandy!
- Where is Normandy?
- Why should you visit Normandy?
- Best things to do in Normandy
- #1 Walk to Mont Saint Michel
- #2 Marvel at the ruins of Jumièges
- #3 Visit Rouen Cathedral (and the final resting place of Richard the Lionheart)
- #4 Marvel at the Bayeux Tapestry
- #5 Admire Monet’s Giverny
- #6 Wander around the ancient city of Rouen
- #7 Explore the white cliffs of Étretat
- #8 Check out Yport, a quaint little fishing village
- #9 Visit Château de Caen
- #10 Stay in Deauville and Trouville-sur-Mer
- #11 Walk to Tatihou Island
- #12 Wander around the Old Port at Honfleur
- #13 Sample some local cider!
- #14 Sample the local food in Normandy
Where is Normandy?
Normandy is a geographical region in Northern mainland France. The name ‘Normandy’ or ‘Normandie’ as it is so-called in France and derives from the old French meaning “northman”. Today, the region of Normandy roughly traces the former Duchy of Normandy and covers an area of 30,627 square kilometres.
Why should you visit Normandy?
As well as French châteaux, and a rugged coastline, if you’re looking to visit a region outside of Paris (and you definitely should while exploring France, then make it the North of the country). Surrounded by the sea and home to some mouth-watering cuisine, here are some of the top reasons to visit Normandy.
All of the beautiful towns
Truth be told, one of the more magical aspects of the region of Normandy are all of the beautiful towns to be found there. Some of the best places to visit include the seaside resort towns of Deauville and Trouville-Sur-Mer (so popular with Parisians that they’re often referred to as the ’21st arrondissement of Paris’), as well as Bayeux (home of the Bayeux Tapestry).
If you’re looking for a coastal weekend break, then you might consider checking in to the tiny town of Yport, a little-known fishing village on the water’s edge. Elsewhere in the region, the world-famous cliffs of Etretat draw crowds of tourists and locals alike all summer long.
Normandy has plenty of French Châteaux and Manor Houses
Between ruins, medieval fortresses, and French Baroque masterpieces, there’s a castle from every era when it comes to Normandy. While one of my personal favourites is that of Château du Tilleul, a reportedly haunted mansion close to the beaches of Étretat, other regional highlights include Château Gaillard in Les Andelys and Château de Pirou in Pirou.
Normandy is home to plenty of history
Did you know that Richard the Lionheart (who was actually kind of French) is buried in Rouen Cathedral? Or that Monet’s Giverny (the picturesque location where the iconic artist painted his famed waterlilies- that you can book tickets to see in Paris) were painted in Normandy?
In fact, so entrenched is the history of the Normandy region with the rest of Europe, that it is actually here where William the Conqueror was born in the 11th-century. Other notable historical figures to have come from the region include Joan of Arc, Guy de Maupassant, and iconic French author Marcel Proust.
Normandy is the perfect place for a road trip
Whether you’re looking for a country escape or coastal break, Normandy is the perfect escape from busy city life. During our three days in Normandy a couple of years ago, I even remember finding it hard to find any mobile signal in many areas, particularly in the smaller fishing communities.
Which area of Normandy you should visit is totally dependant on your personal preferences. For example, if you want to enjoy a seaside resort vibe, then be sure to head to the Parisian favourites of Deauville and Trouville-Sur-Mer. On the other hand, if you’re looking to experience more off the beaten path France, then plan a trip to go antiquing in Calvados.
Best things to do in Normandy
#1 Walk to Mont Saint Michel
Magical and inviting, Mont Saint Michel is a must-see on any trip to Normandy. This tidal island is separated from the rest of France by rolling waves twice a day and has been inhabited by an order of monks for well over a thousand years.
Of all the best things to do in Normandy, a visit to Mont Saint Michel is probably my favourite. Indeed, Mont Saint Michel is well worth a visit, if only to enjoy the gothic architecture of its ancient abbey and see a town quite literally built on a rock in the very middle of the ocean… If you’re running short on time, then you might consider visiting book tickets to see the Mount as a guided day trip from Paris.
#2 Marvel at the ruins of Jumièges
The ghostly ruins of the walls at Jumièges are all that remains of a Benedictine Abbey founded in the 7th-Century. During its heydey, in around the eleventh Century, Jumièges enjoyed the patronage of the Dukes of Normandy and became internationally known as a centre for learning.
Centuries worth of history finally came to an end with the French Revolution, and the abbey has sat empty ever since. Head here for oodles of history and a hauntingly beautiful setting (as well as a great photo spot if you’re a camera lover!).
#3 Visit Rouen Cathedral (and the final resting place of Richard the Lionheart)
Rouen cathedral is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful cathedrals in Normandy, if not all of France. Once the tallest building in the world, it is here you’ll find the final resting place of English King, Richard the Lionheart.
The cathedral itself was consecrated in the presence of William the Conqueror and once played a vital role in the dissemination of knowledge throughout Medieval Europe. The final resting place of many a famous figure, including Rollo the Viking, nearby you’ll find the square where Joan of Arc was allegedly burnt at the stake.
#4 Marvel at the Bayeux Tapestry
Of all the best things to do in Normandy, a visit to the Bayeux tapestry is easily near the top of the list. For history lovers, Bayeux and the Bayeux Tapestry will need no introduction. The 70-metre long tapestry that is housed in the sweet town of Bayeux depicts the events leading up to the Norman Conquest of England and beyond.
Fun fact: perhaps rather ironically, the Bayeux tapestry is not technically a tapestry at all! Instead, as it is embroidered rather than woven, it is actually an embroidery! Rather interestingly, in honour of the Game
#5 Admire Monet’s Giverny
Filled with small streams and picturesque houses, Giverny is world-famous thanks to acclaimed artist Monet. See this picturesque place through Monet’s eyes in the brush strokes he used to paint his water lilies, and in the lovely house he once called home.
#6 Wander around the ancient city of Rouen
Located along the River Seine in the North of France, the capital city of Normandy is the incredible settlement of Rouen. Dating back centuries, one wander around the town’s centre feels akin to stepping back in time. Timber-framed houses and cobbled lanes come together to form a storybook city.
While you’re in this magical city, make sure to also check out Le Gros Horloge of Rouen, a medieval clock dating back hundreds of years (which also houses one of the oldest time movements in France). Dating back centuries, one wander around the town’s centre feels akin to stepping back in time.
#7 Explore the white cliffs of Étretat
The chalky cliffs of Étretat easily rival those of the white cliffs of Dover in England. Each year, tens of thousands of national and international visitors flock to the small town to see the eery chalk pillars looming out of the sea, visit the quaint little town square, and lie on the inviting beach. Nearby, you’ll find the haunting French Château du Tilleul. Although not open to the public, its exterior is still worth a look, and its rich history is well worth reading about.
#8 Check out Yport, a quaint little fishing village
Charming and by the sea, Yport is a traditional French fishing village which has changed little in the few Centuries since it was built. This small fishing community makes for the perfect escape from many of the crowds that flock to the rest of the region and is filled with small bakeries and quirky campsites. Read more: A quick guide to Yport.
#9 Visit Château de Caen
Built just before the conquer of England by William the Conqueror (and under his direct orders), the ancient Château at Caen is well worth a visit, if only to soak up some history. Today, you can visit the Castle which houses several museums. Musée des Beaux-Arts de Caen, Musée de Normandie and St George’s Church, as well as several other sites of importance, can be found within its walls.
#10 Stay in Deauville and Trouville-sur-Mer
Often referred to as the ’21e’ arrondissement of Paris, no trip to essential Normandy would be complete without a stay in Deauville, or its neighbouring town, Trouville-Sur-Mer. These chic towns are situated a couple of hours North of Paris and are easily some of the most beautiful towns in Normandy.
#11 Walk to Tatihou Island
Due to its close proximity to the land, at low tide, it’s possible to walk over the oyster beds and to Tatihou Island by foot. Here, you’ll find a whole array of history, just waiting to be discovered. Activities and things to do on the tidal island include visiting the Maritime Museum and Gardens and learning all about many of the 150 species of birds that nest here on an annual basis.
#12 Wander around the Old Port at Honfleur
Located by the sea, one glance at Honfleur and you can see exactly why it inspired great artists like Monet and Boudin, among others. Situated in the Calvados department of the region, a wander around the old port of this picturesque town is akin to strolling back in time and is easily one of the best things to do in Normandy!
#13 Sample some local cider!
Of course, no trip to any region of France would be complete without sampling at least one or two of its local specialities. And in Normandy, one of the best and most famous regional delicacies is the cider to be found here! Calvados is a popular variation of cider drank throughout Normandy (but particularly associated with the region of Calvados) which is created using a double distillation method.
#14 Sample the local food in Normandy
From Normandy cider to local pastries, there’s no shortage of delicious foodstuffs to consume when it comes to Normandy. While in the area, be sure to check out the sea-inspired menu, as well as sampling the local butter ‘beurre’ together with some fresh French bread.
It’s also worth noting that you’ll be hard pressed to find a better apple cider in France than in Normandy. Other local specialities worth sampling while in the area include cheese (Camembert de Normandie, Livarot, Neufchâtel, and Pouligny-Saint-Pierre) and the Bénédictine liqueur, which is used in many a French cocktail.
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