Best Things To Do in Normandy
Normandy's attractions are spread across the region, so we suggest you either spend a few days in just one or two towns or you set aside a week or two, rent a car and see a cache. If you're a foodie, you'll enjoy the bounty in Trouville and Honfleur (think: beachside oysters) or Camembert and Pont-l'Évêque (think: cheese). Should you enjoy the impressionist works of Monet, then consider touring his home in Giverny. You'll find a quaint yet impressive city of cafes, museums and cathedrals in Rouen (it's not called "the city of a thousand spires" for nothing). And then there's the D-Day Beaches and the war cemeteries in Bayeux, Caen and Colleville-sur-Mer.
Updated August 15, 2019
- #1View all PhotosfreeD-Day Beaches#1 in NormandyBeaches, Monuments and Memorials, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDBeaches, Monuments and Memorials, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
World War II's successful Operation Overlord took place on the coast of France. Although there were heavy Allied casualties, this invasion turned the tide in the war and helped lead to the fall of Nazi Germany. Today this piece of coastline, which includes Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha and Utah beaches, is collectively known as the D-Day Beaches.
Visitors can tour the approximately 50-mile stretch of sand and pop by a number of museums, memorials and cemeteries that are spread out alongside the coastline either with a tour or on their own. If you're driving yourself, start in the town of Arromanches, which hosts two museums that help provide context for the battle sites. The American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer and the Pointe-du-Hoc bomb craters are also especially moving. If you'd rather let someone else do the driving, recent visitors recommend going with a tour guide to fully appreciate the area's historic importance and receive a comprehensive overview. If you're visiting in June, you'll likely come across several ceremonies and reenactment groups commemorating the anniversary. Thanks to Normandy's unpredictable weather, you'll want to dress in layers (no matter the time of your visit) and bring rain gear, according to past visitors.
- #2View all Photos#2 in NormandyChurches/Religious Sites, SightseeingTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDChurches/Religious Sites, SightseeingTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
Surrounded by sea in the high tide and sand in low, Abbaye du Mont-Saint-Michel is one of France's most-toured sites outside of the popular Parisian landmarks. It's also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its first incarnation was raised on the 264-foot-high rock beginning in the 10th century, but additions were added well into the 19th century. Today, you can tour the abbey and the little village at its base, as well as several museums. Tours are offered year-round, but you can also traipse the massive structure on your own.
Guided tours – which are included in the cost of admission – do not require advance booking and are offered in French and English year-round. Tours are also offered in German, Italian and Spanish in July and August.
- #3View all Photos#3 in NormandyMonuments and Memorials, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDMonuments and Memorials, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Dating back to the 12th century, this Gothic cathedral was the world's tallest building for about five years – 1876 to 1880. But its beauty in changing light is what drew the impressionist artist, Claude Monet, whose work can be viewed at the Musee des Beaux-Arts de Rouen, to paint it several times. Today, the cathedral is one of the defining pieces of architecture in this part of Normandy. Aside from its striking architecture, it's also famous for its tombs – one of which houses the heart of Richard the Lionheart.
Visitors recommend going inside to view the many parts of this working Roman Catholic cathedral, including the lovely stained glass in the Lady Chapel, the transepts and the ambulatory monuments. Others add that it is worth coming at night in the summer to see the free light shows displayed outside. Reviewers also recommended reading up on the history of the church before you visit to enhance your experience and develop a better understanding of the many architectural styles on display.
- #4View all Photos#4 in NormandyMonuments and Memorials, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDMonuments and Memorials, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Somewhere around 9,000 soldiers are buried in this Colleville-sur-Mer war cemetery, which overlooks Omaha Beach. Most of these lost their lives during the D-Day invasion. There's also a memorial that gives a narrative of the invasion, as well as a reflecting pool and a chapel. And about 1,500 soldiers who were missing-in-action are remembered on the Walls of the Missing, in a semicircle garden to the east of the memorial.
Recent visitors advised setting aside more time than you think you might need, as there is a lot to take in and you don't want to rush through such a moving place. Several others recommended visiting with a tour company to enjoy a more in-depth understanding of the site's significance. Companies like Normandy Sightseeing Tours, Bayeux Shuttle and Paris City Vision earn high praise from past visitors.
- #5View all Photos#5 in NormandyMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
The sprawling Museum of Fine Arts features paintings, sculptures, drawings and objets d'art that date back to the 15th century. Throughout the 19th century, generous donations made the museum home to one of the largest impressionist collections in France, with paintings by masters such as Monet, Sisley, Caillebotte, Pissarro, Degas and Renoir. Other highlights include works by Perugino, Veronese, Rubens, Caravaggio, Velázquez, Ribera and Poussin.
Recent visitors praised the museum's collection of impressionist works and the impressive range of styles represented here. For many, viewing Monet's paintings of the Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Rouen was a particular highlight. However, reviewers advised going in with a plan, as the museum can be a little hard to navigate.
- #6View all Photos#6 in NormandyHistoric Homes/Mansions, Parks and GardensTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDHistoric Homes/Mansions, Parks and GardensTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Who doesn't love water lilies, haystacks and gardens? Claude Monet, one of the world's most famous impressionists, lived and painted many of these subjects in his home in Giverny. Today, Monet fans can tour his excellently preserved home, studio and gardens. Among the highlights are the water garden (home to his famous water lilies) and the artist's house (especially the kitchen and the blue sitting room), which has been meticulously restored.
Recent visitors raved about the house and gardens, but many expressed disappointment with the crowds. If you want to avoid the onslaught of visitors, heed the advice of reviewers and visit right when the attraction opens to avoid the tour buses that descend in the afternoon. Others suggested visiting the lily ponds first and saving your house visit until the end.
- #7View all Photos#7 in NormandyMonuments and Memorials, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDMonuments and Memorials, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
The Bayeux War Cemetery is one of the largest of 18 military cemeteries in Normandy, with more than 4,000 graves – many of which mark the plots of soldiers who were never identified. These headstones are inscribed with "A Soldier Known Unto God." Keep in mind that if you're an American looking for your ancestors, you'll most likely have more luck at the American cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer. The Bayeux War Cemetery contains soldiers from the United Kingdom and "the Continent," including some from Germany.
Recent visitors found the cemetery to be quite moving and somber. Others said this is a "must-see," applauding the beautiful grounds.
- #8View all Photos#8 in NormandyChurches/Religious Sites, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDChurches/Religious Sites, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
This modern-looking church sits on the site of Jeanne d'Arc's (or Joan of Arc, to us Yanks) burning. The 19-year-old girl was burned at the stake for heresy in 1431. Today, you can tour this contemporary church built in 1979 (the exterior of which is reminiscent of fish scales) at Place du Vieux-Marche in Rouen. Pay attention to the building's design – the architect, Louis Arretche, wanted it to resemble the shape of an overturned boat.
Recent visitors loved the church's gorgeous stained-glass windows and say it was quite moving to be in the spot where Joan of Arc was killed.
- #9View all PhotosfreeEtretat Cliffs#9 in NormandyNatural Wonders, Sightseeing, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDNatural Wonders, Sightseeing, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
These stunning white chalk cliffs have drawn people, especially artists, such as Claude Monet and Guy de Maupassant, to the area for eons. The cliffs are often compared to the famous White Cliffs of Dover. Visitors can hike along the top of cliffs, as well as on the beach to check out the striking sight.
Recent visitors were astonished at the beauty of the cliffs and recommended visiting at sunrise and sunset for spectacular photo ops. Others suggested hiking to the top of the cliffs for unforgettable views. Reviewers also reported touring the town of Étretat.
- #10View all Photos#10 in NormandyMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
This Le Havre art museum, located in a bright 1960s glass-and-metal building, boasts enormous plate glass windows that perfectly allow in the famous light that has fascinated artists for decades. This museum was actually the first to be built after the war. Le Havre's original Museum of Fine Arts was destroyed by bombing in 1944. Two local painters who immortalized the Normandy coast are highlighted here. The collection of works by Raoul Dufy includes oils, watercolors and sketches. Works by Eugène Boudin include his Normandy beach scenes and landscapes. It also has a number of works by Renoir, Pissarro, Sisley and Degas.
Past visitors raved about the museum's stunning coastal location and the collection of impressionist works. Others praised the friendly, knowledgeable staff.
- #11View all Photos#11 in NormandyMuseums, SightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDMuseums, SightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
You might ask why on earth would you make a stop to see a tapestry when Camembert cheese, hard cider and the rolling Normandy hills are beckoning? Well, because the Bayeux Tapestry, an astonishingly long and beautifully made work of art, chronicles the 1066 Battle of Hastings.
The approximately 230-foot-long tapestry is displayed in a dark room with special lighting, so you can see every detail. Though it's described as a tapestry, it is actually linen cloth embroidered with wool thread. In another room of the museum, a permanent exhibition describes how it was made and gives an overview of the historical context and the Anglo-Norman kingdom in the 11th century. There is also a short 16-minute film, which details the making of the tapestry and includes reconstructions of scenes from the Battle of Hastings.
- #12View all Photos#12 in NormandyMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
This museum details events leading up to WWII as well as its decadeslong aftermath, with exhibits ranging from photos and documents charting the Nazi's rise to power in the 1930s, to life before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall. A tabletop map shows the location of the D-Day landings and a split-screen presentation of the D-Day invasion from both the Allied and Nazi standpoints gives a good overview. A 17-minute film, called "Europe Our History," is shown in a 360-degree theater and included with admission. Outside, you'll find three gardens dedicated to the memory of the Resistance fighters and Allied soldiers who died in Normandy.
Recent visitors appreciated the comprehensive and educational way the museum covers the war. Others said a visit here is a must before a trip to the D-Day Beaches as it provides important context to the sites. Reviewers said you should plan to spend half a day here to make the most of the museum's offerings and that the audio guide is essential. One particular highlight for travelers was the reconstructed underground bunker of a Nazi general.
- #13View all Photos#13 in NormandyMuseums, SightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDMuseums, SightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
The Musée du Débarquement, located on the seafront where one of the most incredible achievements of WWII happened, shows how the prefabricated Mulberry Harbour was constructed. An engineering feat, the harbors were used to unload troops, vehicles and supplies during the Allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944. While not much is left of the floating harbors, you can still see some remnants of the concrete blocks that were towed across the English Channel. Museum exhibits include models, mock-ups, and photographs depicting its creation and the D-Day landings.
Recent visitors praised the small museum's models and explanations of how the harbor was conceived. However, some said its exhibits are a little dated.
- #14View all Photos#14 in NormandyCastles/Palaces, Museums, Sightseeing, ToursTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDCastles/Palaces, Museums, Sightseeing, ToursTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Bénédictine liqueur is a big deal in Normandy and if you want to learn more about it, as well as take in the Palais Bénédictine – a Gothic- and Renaissance-inspired building erected in the late 1800s – this is the spot. Le Palais Bénédictine was built in honor of the Bénédictine liqueur by Alexandre Le Grand, a wine merchant from Fécamp who discovered a lost recipe for a potent elixir dating back to 1510 created by a Bénédictine monk. Le Grand named the liqueur after the monks. He also stocked the palace with his art collection.
Today, visitors can explore the museum on a guided tour, which features collections of sacred and ancient art related to the legacy of Bénédictine, as well as a room dedicated to its industrial history. After the museum tour, you head to the only Bénédictine distillery in the world and enjoy a tasting of the liqueur in the palace's Winter Garden.
- #15View all Photos#15 in NormandyCastles/Palaces, Hiking, SightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDCastles/Palaces, Hiking, SightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
This castle fortress was amazingly built in a mere two years, between 1196 and 1198, at the direction of Richard the Lionheart, King of England and the Duke of Normandy to protect Rouen against the French. It was captured by Philip II after a six-month siege; Henry IV later ordered that it be destroyed. Today, its clifftop ruins are a reminder of its dramatic past and a fascinating place to visit.
Recent visitors were fascinated by the complex history of the fortress. Others raved about the views and recommend bringing a picnic to enjoy on the grounds. According to recent travelers, there is a large free parking lot within walking distance.
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