Just 2 hours away from Paris by train, Normandy is the ideal place to escape the city. With its dramatic coastline, medieval villages and divine food there is a lot to like about it. These top 10 places in Normandy are just the tip of the iceberg, but it is a good starting point to experience some of the highlights of the region.
My top 10 places in Normandy
Situated on the Côte d’Albâtre Étretat’s appeal is its stunning chalk cliffs. There are 3 natural arches and a pointed formation aptly named L’Aiguille or the Needle, which rises a dramatic 70 metres out of the ocean. There are some stunning walks along the cliff tops that offer breath-taking views.
The village at the base of the cliffs is a bit touristy but is still worth visiting. There are still some villas scattered in the town that are from the Belle Epoque era and the best known is Villa Orphée. The beach is also a popular spot to relax. Étretat is a fishing village so if you are feeling peckish head for the nearest restaurant and place an order for some of the super fresh seafood on offer.
It’s not surprising that this is one of the most beautiful towns in France. As soon as I saw the small picturesque harbour and the beautiful half-timbered houses I was hooked. It’s no wonder that the Impressionists loved this town.
If you love Impressionist art then a visit to the Musée Eugène Boudin is a must as it houses around 200 works. Boudin’s works make up the bulk of the exhibit, but there are also pieces by Monet, Courbet and other Impressionist artists.
Honfleur is in the Calvados region so there’s no better place to try the local tipple.
Giverny : Monet’s Garden
Following on from the Impressionist theme is Monet’s Garden at Giverny. It is about an hour’s drive from Paris and is always busy. The house is quite ordinary, but the gardens are spectacular. It’s hard not to fall in love with the weeping willow trees, Japanese bridge and water lily pond that you will recognise from the “Water Lilies” paintings. Take time to watch how the light and reflections change which was one of the many aspects of this pond that fascinated Monet.
This charming upmarket town has been a resort since the 1860s and favourite with Parisians since the 1920’s. It’s a chic getaway that is just over an hour away, by train, from Paris. It’s not surprising that it is fondly referred to as Paris 21e arrondissement. It oozes old world charm with a boardwalk that dates from the 20’s and striped umbrellas that line the white sandy beach. Horseracing, polo, yachting and golf feature prominently on the list of sports in the area. The town is also filled with trendy boutiques, art galleries and excellent restaurants.
Trouville –sur- Mer
Right next to Deauville is Trouville as the locals call it. It has also been named the “Queen of the Norman beaches”. It has a pretty fishing port and a covered fish market surrounded by seafood restaurants. Scallops, sole, mackerel and prawns are the local specialities. There is even a casino in town.
Located in the Calvados region Bayeux is not far from the English Channel. It was lucky not to be severely damaged, as many of the other towns in the area were with the D-Day invasions and was one of the first towns liberated.
It is also home to the famous UNESCO listed tapestry that depicts the Norman Conquest.
The medieval town is a delight to explore with the beautiful Notre Dame Cathedral, attractive buildings and a labyrinth on the outskirts of the town.
Le Mont Saint -Michel
It’s hard to decide which of the top 10 places in Normandy I like most, but I think that this has to rate as my first choice. It’s all a bit like a fairy-tale. The medieval monastery perched at the highest point seems to defy gravity.
It has been a destination for pilgrims since 966 and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The tides play an important role so remember to check the schedule before you visit. During high tide, the island is accessible only via the road, at low tide you can follow the route of the pilgrims in days gone by and do a “traditional crossing” with a guide. Please do not try and do this on your own. The sands are dangerous and you really do need an expert to help you across.
Mont Saint- Michel really is an unforgettable sight that will make a lasting impression on you.
On the banks of the Seine the cobblestone streets and half -timbered houses make this one of the prettiest towns of the region. It is an easy town to wander around while you enjoy the history, monuments and stunning architecture. Be on the lookout for Le Gros Horloge ( the big clock) from 1527 with the internal movement dating from 1389.
The beautiful Notre Dame Cathedral was made famous when Monet depicted it in a series of paintings showing the cathedral at different times of the day as the light changed.
Richard the Lionheart was crowned Duke of Normandy here and oddly enough his embalmed heart was buried in his tomb.
Rouen is also where Joan of Arc was brought to trial. Later she became a saint and there is a church dedicated to her.
There is a 2 km pathway that runs along the river banks that’s perfect for a stroll. It begins at William the Conqueror Bridge and ends in a large garden complete with a pétanque court so be sure to pack a set of boules.
The Cider Route
Although technically not a “place” this is more about a number of small towns, but this particular route is one of my favourite top 10 places in Normandy. The route starts 35 km to the east of Caen where you will find “Route du Cidre” signs. In case you are confused, they have an apple on them! It is about 40 km long and takes you through a number of quaint villages where you can stop to sample the wares.
Other routes to explore
More details of these routes can be found on the Normandy Tourism Website
- The ivory and spice trail ( La route de l’ivoire et des épice)
- The Camembert Trail ( La Route du Camembert)
- The tradition trail (La Route des Traditions)
- The mill trail ( La Route des Moulins)
- The fruit trail (La route des fruits)
For Foodies: The delicious food of Normandy
Château de Caen
The castle is one of the largest medieval monuments is one of the biggest in Europe. It was built by Guillaume le Conquérant (William the Conqueror), the King of England, as a royal fortress in around 1060 and was an important stronghold during the Hundred Years War. It houses the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Caen, the Musée de Normandie and St. George’s church.
There is so much to see in Normandy even getting through this list in short time will not be an easy exercise. It’s much better to choose a few of these things at appeal to you most and enjoy the countryside at a relaxing pace rather than running around like a headless chicken trying to tick everything off the list.
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