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A Guide to the Best Things to do in Étretat, Normandy

Last Updated on 24th January 2022 by Sophie Nadeau

The waves whip sea spit into the air and the smell of salt fills my senses… There’s no feeling quite like being beside the sea. And Étretat has it all; the charm of a French town, glistening turquoise sea, jagged coastline and endless windswept coastal walks… Here’s your ultimate guide to the best things to do in Étretat, including travel tips and things to know before you visit.

Hidden Gems & Secret Spots in Étretat you must visit in Normandy North of France

What is Étretat famous for?

Chalky cliffs overlook an azure blue sea and it’s hard to believe you’re on the very fringes of the English Channel. After all, it’s warm, sunny and a holiday vibe permeates the air. This is Etretat, an oasis of calm on the edges of Normandy in Northern France. 

Located in Northern France, you can’t go wrong by dedicating at least a day or two to exploring this breathtaking region. Famously known for William the Conqueror, the Bayeux Tapestry and Giverny, the region is a whole treasure trove of cultural history!

If you want to spend multiple days exploring in the Summer or Autumn, then I highly recommend camping! With plenty of options, you’re sure to find a campsite to suit your budget (or you could even try wild camping if you’re feeling brave enough…).

sophie nadeau etretat

Best things to do in Étretat

Discover the Cliffs of Étretat

While England may have the chalky white cliffs of Dover, France has the equally chalky coastline of Étretat. Most famous for its three whitewashed arches that rise up from the sea, the area has been a popular hotspot for French tourists for years.

The cliffs are so beautiful that they inspired countless painters to visit and paint the region. Plus, the light along the cliffs is perfect for taking an Instagram photo or two…

Think: Courbet, Boudin Monet and many more artists! Monet himself is quoted as saying “I count on doing a large canvas of the cliffs of Etretat, although it is certainly bold of me to do that after Courbet who did it admirably, but I will try to do it differently…

etretat normandie france
sophie nadeau etretat

Discover hidden gems around Étretat

For those who love to travel off the beaten path, it may well seem like, when it comes to Étretat, everything has been seen and discovered. However, this is simply not the case at all. Check our guide to the best of secret spots in Étretat for more offbeat destinations in Normandy.

Upper Gardens

One of the most magical places to visit in Étretat also offers one of the best views to be found anywhere in town. The Upper Gardens of Étretat are known in French as Les Jardins d’Étretat. The gardens are famous for being experimental and feature ‘living sculptures’ against the backdrop of a villa which was once owned by actress Madame Thébault.

etretat gardens
Étretat Gardens/ Telly/ Shutterstock

Coastal Walk & Chapel

There’s no better way to see the cliffs, arches and sea in all their shining glory than from a bird’s eye perspective. Although the walk up to the cliffs is moderately strenuous, once you reach the top, walking is fairly easy on soft, springy grass. It’s important to note that there are very few railings once you get to the very top of the cliff, or indeed, along many of the steps carved out of the side of the cliff. Make sure to keep an eye on children/ dogs!

The Chapel of Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde is perched, in pride of place, high above the surrounding area. The original chapel was built in the mid 185os but was tragically destroyed in August 1942. at the height of WWII. A new chapel was constructed on the very same spot in the 1950s, almost a century after the original.

chapel etretat normandy


When walking around the cliffs, I was incredibly surprised to see all of the tunnels and caves carved out from the chalky stone. These caves reminded me a little bit of all of the smuggling coves in Cornwall, England.

Etretat Beach

After a walk around the coastal line and a trip to the chapel that presides over the surrounding area, what better way to cool off than to take a quick dip in the sea or lie on the beach? Although the beach is pebbles, it’s one of those ‘smooth pebble’ beaches and so not uncomfortable to walk on/ lie down on.

Even on the mid-September day when we visited Etretat, the beach was absolutely packed! As such, I can’t even imagine how busy it must be in the summer! If you’re planning to spend the day on a beach, then make sure to head there as early as possible to secure the best spots!

etretat beach normandy france

Etretat Town Centre

The centre of Etretat town is bustling with tourists and locals alike. Filled with cute boutique shops, small quirky galleries and a whole load of eateries, Etretat is everything you’d expect from a French town.

A number of buildings are built in the charming timber architecture that is typical of the region (make sure to have your camera ready)! The town is also the perfect place to pick up a French crêpe (or two!) Cider is a local speciality and is the perfect refreshing beach drink!

etretat town centre normandy

Travel tips for visiting Étretat

You should definitely go!

Many people skip a visit to Étretat, believing that it’s neither worth the detour nor the extra time. Instead, they opt for relatively nearby Mont Saint Michel and the Brittany coastline. However, a trip to Etretat, no matter how small, is still worth a visit, if only for a day…

Bring a Coat/Warm Jacket!

We visited the coastline of Étretat on a balmy summer day and I even caught the sun a little bit. (Bring the suncream. Always bring the sun cream!) Despite my pink cheeks, I still felt a little cold in the evening and was definitely wishing that I’d brought my winter coat from Paris along for the car journey.

Bring Your Swimsuit

I know, I know. How contradictory to the tip above! However, as I said, the days can be warm, and it’s always lovely to go for a dip in the water. The sea may be a little chilly, but it’s always worth a quick swim when you’re by the seaside.

Visit in the shoulder season 

The only time I wouldn’t recommend visiting Étretat if you want to see a little sun is during the winter time. The climate of Normandy is pretty similar to the Southwest of England. That’s to say that it’s quite unpredictable, and you can never be sure when it will rain, or might be cold.

As such, I highly recommend visiting in the Spring or the Autumn as the Summer can be very busy. Not only that but nearby accommodation can get particularly full during peak season. If you’re planning to go pretty last minute, then finding accommodation near the town will be pretty near impossible in the summer months.

Practical Advice, Tricks and Tips for visiting Etretat, Northern France

See the Town

The town of Étretat is a tourist destination in of itself. With cute timber-framed houses, plenty of cafés and green spaces, it’s definitely worth a stroll around. There are a number of restaurants where the food looks delicious, and little cobbled lanes give way to adorable architecture.

Walk the Coastline

The town may be pretty, but let’s face it: you go to Etretat to see the sea! Of all the tips for visiting Etretat, this may well be the most important. Here, there are miles of coastline just waiting to be walked.

The grass is soft and spongy and the views are magnificent. There is also no better place to see the iconic cliff formations that the town and beach are so famous for, than by getting a bird’s eye perspective from above.

Bring a camera

Have you seen those views? Bring a camera and capture a day by the seaside. I just wish I’d remembered to bring a tripod along…

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Etretat Guide: Here's how to spend one perfect day in the seaside town of Étretat, Normandy, Northern France.

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Thursday 27th of December 2018

We’re going to Étretat this summer. We’ve been to Normandy many times but this will be our first time there. Thanks for the tips!

Tanja (the Red phone box travels)

Thursday 24th of November 2016

beautiful place! You changed your blog again?:)

Sophie Nadeau

Thursday 24th of November 2016

Yes, it was truly stunning! Ah, it was just temporary as I was having some problems editing my theme! All fixed now :P

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