Normandy is well known for its D-Day landing beaches but this region in the north of France has a lot more to offer! From culinary delights and a stunning coastline to a picturesque countryside with charming towns and elegant castles. Normandy truly offers something for all travellers. In this article, we’ve compiled a list of 10 things you don’t want to miss in Normandy!
Here’s our Top 10 list of things to do in Normandy:
- Try traditional Normandy Cuisine
- Follow the Calvados Route
- Remember the past and visit WW2 sights
- Explore the medieval town centre of Rouen
- Visit the mesmerizing Mont Saint-Michel
- Visit Bayeux and its famous tapestry
- Explore the white cliffs of Étretat
- Discover Honfleur’s Old Harbour
- Sip champagne at Deauville Beach
- Spend the night in a Chateau
1. Try traditional Normandy cuisine
France is famous for its gastronomic cuisine. The Normandy region of France is no different, this region in the northwest of France offers everything from fresh seafood to famous cheeses and every kind of apple product imaginable. Normandy is best known for its 4 C’s: Camembert, Calvados, Cider and Cream.
The food of this region is simple and rich, with lots of locally produced butter, cream and cheese. The local ‘Normande’ cows are a breed that produces milk that is high in fat and is therefore perfect as a base product for making amazing butter, cream and cheeses.
One very famous Normandy cheese is Camembert. Camembert is a soft round cheese with a rich, buttery flavour and a white edible rind. Camembert is similar to Brie but has a more earthy and intense flavour. Some other famous Normandy cheeses are: Pont l’Evêque, Neufchâtel and Livarot. Make sure you give them all a try!
Apples are a very popular fruit in Normandy, thanks to all the apple orchards that grow abundantly in this region. You’ll notice many restaurants and bakeries have both sweet and savoury dishes made with locally produced apples and pears on their menu! Many bakeries have seasonal treats, so be sure to visit a couple of bakeries to get your French bread and patisserie fix!
Normandy has a long coastline and as such is also famous for its seafood. ‘Moules’ or mussels and other types of shellfish, clams and scallops are a must to try!
Our top food tip:
Have yourself a little feast and buy some fresh bread at a local bakery, get some camembert or other delicious local cheeses, a bottle of calvados or apple cider and have yourself a delicious picnic in the countryside, on the beach or at one of the scenic cliffs on the Alabaster Coast!
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2. Follow the Calvados Route
Its geographical region and climate make Normandy perfect for apple and pear orchards. Apples are a staple in many Normandy dishes, you’ll find them in sweet apple pies and savoury dishes, but also in many drinks! Follow the Calvados Route and visit local Calvados distilleries. These distilleries make their own Calvados and apple cider from the apples in their orchards.
Calvados is a liquor made from apples, it’s distilled and aged in oak barrels until it reaches the desired flavour profile. Calvados is similar to brandy, with an alcohol content of at least 40%. Apple cider is a clear or muddled alcoholic beverage made through the process of fermentation. Its flavour profile can be anything from fresh and fruity to dry and more tart. With an alcohol percentage ranging between 3-7% it’s a lovely alternative to beer or wine to accompany your lunch or dinner.
We recommend visiting some calvados and cider distilleries to see how these delicious apple products are made and to buy some souvenirs to bring back home. We visited the Domaine Dupont Distillery in the heart of the Pays d’Auge region of Normandy. This award-winning family-owned Calvados and Apple Cider distillery is absolutely worth visiting! They’ve got an amazing range of products, including some delicious apple vinegars and juices if you’re not into alcohol.
3. Remember the past and visit WW2 sights
Normandy is rich in history and an important chapter of WW2 took place right on these beaches. For history enthusiasts, there are many things to see, do and learn about this dark period of the European past. There are loads of WW2-themed museums in Normandy. Some museums will give you a more general insight into this part of history, while others will focus on a specific part or location. The Caen Memorial Museum is one of the largest and will give you a good general insight into what happened. We recommend visiting this museum before going to see the actual sights, this will give you a better understanding of what went down.
For a humbling experience, we recommend visiting the cemeteries where the fallen soldiers rest. The American Cemetery is the most famous one in this area. The rows upon rows of white crosses show the immense sacrifice that was made to put an end to the war.
The beaches where the landing of the Allied Forces on D-Day took place stretch for about 70 km along the coast. They were given the code names UTAH, OMAHA, GOLD, JUNO and SWORD. Omaha Beach is right next to the American cemetery. Now, it’s a place of relaxation where you’ll see children playing and people enjoying an ice cream. The local monuments stand tall as a reminder of the past. Drive along the coastline and visit the beaches and take a moment to stop at any spot you find interesting. You’ll come across many memorials and museums along the way.
COMING SOON: Exploring Normandy's D-Day Sights
4. Explore the medieval town centre of Rouen
Rouen is the capital of the Normandy region of France. This town has a stunning old medieval centre that’s perfect for strolling around. You’ll feel like you’ve been transported to medieval times while following the cobblestone streets and looking at the pretty half-timber houses.
Rouen is famous for its cathedral. The historic Gothic church dates back to 1030! This famous and impressive building has been partly reconstructed over time. During history, several fires have taken their toll on the building and more damages were taken during the Second World War. Another interesting fact is that the heart of Richard the Lionheart is buried inside the tombs of this cathedral.
Rouen is also famous for another historical figure: Joan of Arc (or Jeanne d’Arc, as she is known in France). She was burned at the stake in the Old Market Square of Rouen. At the time she was only 19 years old. The Old Market Square now houses a church dedicated to her legacy.
Wander around the cobblestone streets and visit the smaller boutiques and artisanal shops that sell local delicacies. Make sure you don’t miss the Gros-Horloge, a gorgeous 14th-century astronomical clock that became the icon of Rouen. The historic centre is packed with shops and restaurants, making it a wonderful spot to have a bite to eat after exploring the city centre.
5. Visit the mesmerizing Mont Saint-Michel
Mont Saint-Michel looks like something out of a fairy tale. This tiny island with a Benedictine Abbey at the top lies about a kilometre off the shore. You can access the island via a long bridge that connects it to the mainland. During high tide, the island will be completely surrounded by water.
Wander around the medieval cobblestone streets of this tiny island and feel like you’ve gone back in time. On the island, you’ll find many small shops and a couple of restaurants, keep in mind that these are all very touristy. We suggest visiting this place for a couple of hours and then going for lunch or dinner in a nearby town. Or bring some delicious French cheese and bread and have yourself a picnic!
The Mont Saint-Michel is a very popular tourist destination, and as such it can get extremely busy. Our best advice is to either arrive super early in the morning, or late in the afternoon to avoid the busiest hours when most people (and the tour buses) arrive. Weekends are also packed, so when you can try to go on a weekday.
Access to the island itself is free, but you do have to pay for parking. You can then either walk up to the island or use the free shuttle bus. Walking will reward you with some stunning views of the island and the leisurely stroll will take about 45 minutes.
Once you get to the island you’ve got a choice to make; either follow the main cobblestone road that slowly winds its way up towards the abbey, or climb the ramparts and walk the walls until you’re at the top. It was quite busy when we visited, so we went with the ramparts. This involves more stairs and climbing, so fewer people choose to go this route. Walking along the wall will also reward you with stunning views of the surrounding area.
If you want to visit the abbey itself then we highly recommend purchasing your tickets online before you arrive. We didn’t and we couldn’t get in, so learn from our mistake. A visit to the abbey also gives you a nice break from the crowds.
You will see many people walking around the island during low tide. If you are interested in walking the mudbanks during low tide then only do so with a guide. Also keep in mind that during high tide this area is completely flooded, so the mudbanks are really muddy and wet. Make sure you’re wearing old shoes that can get dirty, we also saw many people walk around barefoot to keep their shoes clean.
6. Visit Bayeux and its famous tapestry
The small historical centre of Bayeux will transport you back in time. The old town centre is well preserved and its narrow winding streets and gorgeous medieval architecture really give you a glimpse into what this town must have looked like in times gone by.
Bayeux is located only about 10 kilometres (6 miles) from the D-Day landing beaches. It was the first town that was liberated in June 1944. Many small towns around this area were destroyed during the Second World War, but Bayeux survived unscathed.
The half-timbered houses and cobblestoned streets make Bayeux a beautiful picturesque town to spend a couple of hours during your Normandy trip. While you’re roaming around you’ll inevitably stumble upon the Bayeux Cathedral. Make sure to look up and admire the stunning colourful stained glass windows.
The town of Bayeux is famous for its UNESCO-listed tapestry. The Bayeux Tapestry depicts the story of the conquest of England by William, Duke of Normandy in 1066. Study the 70-metre-long tapestry up close and witness these pivotal moments in history depicted on this canvas.
For such a small town there are plenty of restaurants with amazing reviews. Make sure to book ahead of time because during high season many restaurants will be fully booked.
7. Explore the white cliffs of Étretat
The dramatic Alabaster Coast with high chalk cliffs and rock formations is absolutely breathtaking. The Côte d’Albâtre, as it’s called in French, stretches for about 130 km (80 miles) from Le Havre to The Bay of Somme.
The Étretat Cliffs and rock formations are the most famous part of this impressive coastline. Étretat is a small but touristy beach town that’s in between two high chalk cliffs. Park your car in or right outside the town (parking spots are well-marked) and walk along the cliff for stunning views. Be prepared for a bit of a climb, the cliffs are about 90 metres (300 ft) high!
Please be careful while you’re at the top, stay on the marked paths and don’t get too close to the edge. Unfortunately, several tourists have already fallen down the cliffs with deadly results. Just don’t get too close and you’ll still be able to enjoy the breathtaking views.
Our top tip for this area is to grab some delicious snacks at a boulangerie down in Étretat town centre and have yourself a picnic with the best view in Normandy!
A little further up north you’ll find the town of Fécamp. It’s the home of the famous brewery of Bénédictine liquor. This beautiful building called ‘Le Palais Bénédictine’ is actually the original factory and brewery where they make this herbal concoction. You can only visit the museum and brewery part of the building with a guided tour. Unfortunately, all were booked during our visit so make sure to book online ahead of time! A tour includes a tasting and can be combined with a cocktail workshop!
There’s also a small shop and bar attached to this building. In the bar, you can get a bite and a drink, or enjoy a cocktail made with Bénédictine. They also serve a tasting menu of this famous liquor, which includes a small glass of all 4 varieties. We suggest pairing this with something to eat because the alcohol profile of this liquor is around 40%. Afterwards, you can buy your favourite variety at the shop. We went for the Bénédictine 1888 version!
8. Discover Honfleur’s Old Harbour
Honfleur is one of the most visited places to visit in Normandy. This picturesque fishing village with a small harbour, colourful buildings and quaint cobblestone streets has been the inspiration for many artists, including Monet.
The Vieux Bassin, or old harbour, is the heart of this beautiful town. It’s famous for its colourful high and narrow timber-frame houses that overlook the dock. This is a great spot to enjoy an ice cream in the sun while taking in the surroundings.
We recommend taking out at least half a day for this enchanting town so you have enough time to roam around at your own leisure. There are loads of small boutiques that sell locally made delicacies and unique gifts. Walk around the cobblestone streets and get lost in the alleys, you’ll be delighted by the beautiful streets you’ll encounter around every corner. Art enthusiasts will be happy to know there are many small art galleries where you can buy local artwork to brighten up your home.
There are several outstanding restaurants in this town, but as mentioned before, we recommend booking beforehand as many restaurants can be fully booked.
9. Sip champagne at Deauville Beach
They say Deauville is to Paris what the Hamptons are to New York. This glamorous seaside resort town is a popular weekend destination for well-off Parisians who seek to escape city life. Deauville is only 2 hours by car (or 3 hours by train) from Paris.
Deauville has been an upscale holiday destination since the 1800s. It’s known for its grand casino, golf courses and horse races. It’s also famous for the Deauville American Film Festival, which takes place at the end of each summer. In the town, you’ll find several high-end hotels, boutiques and restaurants. Don’t forget to stroll along the famous boardwalk where you’ll spot the names of many Hollywood actors.
Deauville is also the home of Villa Strasburger, a stunning villa built in 1907. This imposing residence is protected as a historical monument since 1975. It was commissioned by Baron Henri de Rothschild, who was a great horse racing fan. The outside of the villa has a stunning grandeur of times gone by, the inside is preserved in time with its period furniture and paintings of horses. The villa can only be visited for a guided tour or rented for private events.
10. Spend the night in a Chateau
Last but not least, we recommend spending the night at one of Normandy’s many chateaux. A chateau is a large French manor house or castle. While driving around the Normandy countryside you’ll lay eyes upon many of these stunning gems. A lot of these gorgeous chateaux have been completely restored and turned into private homes or bed & breakfasts.
Staying at a beautiful chateau will be the icing on the cake of your visit to Normandy. Most chateau owners are very proud of their unique and beautiful homes and will enthusiastically tell you all about the local hidden gems that you mustn’t miss!
We spent five days in Normandy and stayed at Chateau de Saint-Maclou. This majestic chateau is only 20 minutes away from the enchanting town of Honfleur. We thought it was the perfect location from which to discover the rest of Normandy.
More Normandy Travel Inspiration
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