A tour of Normandy in France is not a simple trip. Or rather … it is very simple because we are in Europe and there are no serious problems for a traveler. However it is a complicated journey because visiting Normandy necessarily means to face a piece of history that has marked the life of many of our relatives.
What happened in Normandy is not one of those historical events that you read only on books and once you close the it, “poof” you forget about it in 5 minutes.
No! The Allied landing on the Normandy coast on the morning of June 6, 1944, is a piece of history that is part of our DNA. Whether you like it or not, and once you come across those places, your mind travels back a few dozen years. You picture the scene with your imagination, and it seems unbelievable that it all happened.
However, a tour of Normandy is not only limited to the landings of the Second World War. Normandy is the French region of the ups and downs among the hills that seem to be painted with houses dotted here and there.
Normandy is part of the Alabaster coast near Étretat. It is the smell of cheese that envelops your car when you buy Camembert at the supermarket. Normandy is Mont Saint Michel which alone is worth the entire trip. 4 or 5 days along the roads of Normandy are ideal and these are intense days, full of things to see although the distances are very short for those who, like me, are used to making trips on the road. The longest section was 180 kilometers long.
Visiting Normandy, the best things to do and see
The great thing about travelling through Normandy is that the “theme” of each day is different:
- Nature with Étretat’s coasts and inland landscapes.
- History with museums and landing sites in Normandy.
- A city tour around the beautiful Rouen.
- A somewhat mystical place of the incredible abbey of Mont Saint Michel.
Let’s see if we can draw some conclusions and outline what to visit.
1 – Normandy landing sites
Being one of the things that touched me the most during my journey, I cannot help but put it at the first place among the things to do in Normandy.
It is something that makes you think and, theoretically, should affect the visitor. It helps to make you understand that certain mistakes of the past should no longer be made. It’s a place where the world’s leaders should come back and meditate from time to time.
The Normandy landing took place on the stretch of coast between Le Havre and the Cotentin peninsula.
There are 5 beaches, codenamed Juno, Sword, Gold, Utah and the bloody Omaha near Colleville-sur Mèr.
I won’t linger to explain to you step by step why I have a dedicated article. I just want to tell you that you don’t need to visit all the 5 beaches of the landing. Actually, besides Colleville-sur Mèr beach and Arromanches beach, the others are normal beaches. It’s just the story that made them so famous.
I’ve written a whole article centered on the Normandy landing sites. If you want to know more -> Among D-day-landing sites and Normandy beaches in France
Here’s what you don’t want to miss:
- Arromanches, because from the hill of the cinema museum you can enjoy a wonderful 360° view over the whole bay. You can still see the structures of the mobile port built by the Allies in the post-invasion period on the Normandy coast
- A Colleville-sur Mèr troverete Omaha beach, la spiaggia in cui lo sbarco è risultato più difficile e sanguinoso. L’arenile è molto ampio ed è presente un monumento/opera dedicato ai caduti.
- Nei pressi di Colleville-sur Mèr è da vedere assolutamente il Cimitero alla Memoria degli americani. Un numero infinito di croci bianche su un prato verdissimo che vi faranno riflettere.
- Il memoriale di Caen, rispetto agli altri musei della Normandia, fa una panoramica su tutto quello che è stato l’evolversi della storia dalla fine della prima guerra mondiale fino ai giorni nostri, ovviamente si focalizza sul periodo della seconda guerra mondiale con tutte le fasi. Al suo interno c’è una sezione apposta dedicata allo sbarco in Normandia. Un museo che a mio avviso è da visitare.
- Il Ponte Pegasus tra Bénouville e Ranville. Pochi lo nominano tra le cose da vedere in Normandia, ma questo era uno dei primi obbiettivi successivi allo sbarco. Un ponte semovibile strategico sul quale ancora oggi si passa in macchina.
- Il Point du Hoc, poco distante da Omaha Beach.
2 – Visit Mont Saint Michel
At second place among the things to see in Normandy there is, obviously, this place that will leave you speechless. Seriously, a trip to Normandy without visiting Mont Saint Michel would be absolutely mental.
You can’t get there by car, however but reach it on foot or by using the convenient shuttle service from the mainland car parks. It’s really very simple.
Mont Saint Michel will charm you. You’ll spend several minutes looking at the sea in the distance wondering how it manages to move so many kilometers away and then cover everything in a few hours. Mind blowing.
Also check: Mont Saint Michel, France: Abbey, tides and opening hours
3 – Discover Étretat and its cliffs
Étretat is a small village of 1500 people that has expanded between two cliffs overlooking the sea: the cliffs of Amont and Avant.
A church has been built on one of them, and a golf course on the other… under the sea that breaks on the cliffs and the characteristic yet tiny village of Étretat.
It’s really a place that is worth a visit, both for its scenery and for its natural beauty. It seems almost, and maybe it is, that these cliffs are perfectly complementary to those on the English coast. They should be more or less near the Seven Sisters.
In the evening, the Aval cliff is lit and the show is guaranteed.
Also check: Étretat cliffs, the beautiful nature of Normandy
4 – Rouen, the city of Joan of Arc
Have you ever visited a city without high expectations? That’s what happened with Rouen. I didn’t think it was really that interesting. Of course it doesn’t take three days to visit it, but one day is enough.
Rouen is a gem. You can’t miss it. Besides its famous cathedral, which is really impressive, there are 2 other important and fascinating churches that during the war suffered the consequences of the bombings. Rouen is a city marked by the Second World War and the signs of its wounds are still visible.
Learn more about Rouen with my post -> The Best Things to do in Rouen
5 – Visit Honfleur
The town of Honfleur is one of the most beautiful I have seen along this itinerary in Normandy. It is a very important harbour and its centre overlooks the inner marina full of moored sailing boats. The horseshoe shape makes it even more characteristic. The church of Honfleur, built almost completely in wood, is also very beautiful and particular.
Why is Honfleur so beautiful? Let’s say that in Honfleur it is nice to walk and enjoy the scents, tastes and smells of Normandy. There are plenty of shops that sell typical products, more or less touristy, that make a simple walk a way to discover the Norman culture. Do not forget to dine in one of the restaurants of the port, all offering a “menu of the day” that costs between 15 and 19 euros. Given the expensive prices of Normandy, given the place where you will eat, 15 euros for an entrée, a main course and a dessert, are worth a shot.
Honfleur’s only drawback: parkings.
Solution: park in a pay parking which is as expensive as a jewellery store.
P.s… Honfleur in the evening is spectacular!
6 – Giverny and Monet’s Gardens
I am not very knowledgeable about art, nevertheless the impressionist world of Monet impressed me a lot. Giverny is a village of 500 people along the Seine river. Here you can find the Monet Foundation with the Impressionist painter’s house and gardens. It is a place worth visiting on a trip to Normandy.
Walking around the gardens full of flowers and streams of water brings peace and certainly also stimulated the artist’s creativity. The house is cosy, especially in the part of the living room.
The rest are small but well-kept spaces, decorated with paintings everywhere and the interior is pastel-coloured. I strongly advise you to include Giverny in your Norman itinerary, you won’t regret it.
7 – Les Andelys on the banks of the senna
Heading up from Giverny towards the city of Rouen, taking the “Seine river on your left” you reach a bigger village called Les Andelyes. On the ground level, so to speak, it looks like a very normal village and in fact it is… what is its peculiarity?
The view from the Château Gaillard, the castle of Les Andeleys. Just select the castle on google maps and the GPS will take you near the car park. From there walk up the hill and enjoy this fantastic view of Normandy.
8 – The landscapes of Normandy
When travelling in a Normandy road trip (click for more itineraries) landscapes are an essential element and this is the beauty of road trips: being completely immersed in a country that is not your own and that you do not know, where every inch represents a new discovery and a new landscape.
Normandy is full of secondary roads and, therefore, the landscape itself becomes one of the highlights. Continuous ups and downs surrounded by fields, woods, remote and depopulated villages. Yes, I say depopulated, because you can hardly see people in the villages, they seem almost uninhabited. Houses far from each other, each with its own independent house and a piece of land to cultivate.
Apart from a few slightly larger towns like Bayeux, Honfleur, Le Havre and Caen… there is just the constant and omnipresent countryside. I think it would be perfect for a nice break to relax and unwind. It’s something you should take into account!
9 – Feast on sweets, cheese and baguettes
This is more than just a thing to see in Normandy. It’s also a thing to do. The French pastry tradition is unquestionable. You cannot miss the morning croissant or the mid-morning enclair. Shall we talk about the omnipresent baguette?
However, the problem lies in the way you travel… with a road trip you find yourself shopping in the supermarket and, although you try to contain yourself, you will fill the bag with supplies for the journey.
And so you will clash with the French gastronomy and therefore, in short, follow my lead.