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 take a couple of weeks, rent a car and see a cache. If you're a foodie, you'll enjoy the food 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 cafés, 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.
- #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 SPENDRead More
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 about 50-mile stretch of beach and pop by a number of museums, memorials and cemeteries that have spread out alongside the sand. The American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer and the Pointe-du-Hoc bomb craters are especially moving. Many recent travelers recommend exploring the beaches with a tour guide.
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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 Musée 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.
One Virtual Tourist user says, “If you've seen Monet's paintings of the Cathedral in Rouen at the Musée d'Orsay, a visit to the cathedral will be a very special experience for you.” Others recommend coming 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.
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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.
Many Americans who visit Normandy are partial to this cemetery and memorial in particular. One TripAdvisor user, from Massachusetts, says: "The visitor center, museum, and finally the graves of the war dead leave a dizzying impact on those who come to look, learn, and remember. … I recommend a visit here above any other sites for those interested in the D-Day invasion."
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The Bayeux War Cemetery is one of the largest of 18 military cemeteries in Normandy, with somewhere around 4,000 graves -- many of which mark the plots of soldiers who were never identified. These headstones are inscribed with "A Solider 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. This one contains soldiers from the United Kingdom and "the Continent," including some from Germany.
One TripAdvisor user was very touched by the cemetery, saying: "We visited the cemetery before going to the museum. I found it very moving to see the graves of so many young men, who must have been so terrified of what they were about to face. Some of the graves are touching each other where 2-3 soldiers/airmen/navymen died together." Another TripAdvisor user says this: If you need a simple lesson in the consequences of war, just come here and look at the many lives cut short. The sacrifices on both sides of the conflict … have given us peace in much of Europe for over 60 years."
- #5View all Photos#5 in NormandyChurches/Religious Sites, SightseeingTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDChurches/Religious Sites, SightseeingTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDRead More
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. Its first incarnation was raised on the 264-foot-high rock in 1144, but additions were added well into the 19th century. Today, you can tour the abbey and the little village at its base. Tours are offered all year-round, but you can also traipse the massive structure on your own.
One TripAdvisor user says: “The Mont Saint Michel Abbey is one of the most beautiful and interesting sites in the world. … The hike to the very top is worth the effort to view the surrounding sea and town.” Another TripAdvisor user gives a recommendation, “Rent a car, go in the evening, spend the night, and leave early the next morning -- the abbey and Mont in the morning light is a sight to see.”
- #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 SPENDRead More
Who doesn’t love them some water lilies, haystacks and gardens? Claude Monet, one of the most famous Impressionists, lived and painted many of these subjects in his home in Giverny. Today, Monet fans can tour his excellently preserved home and gardens for about €8 EUR (or approximately $11 USD). Closed in winter, this home is open to visit between 9:30 a.m. and 6 p.m., April through November.
“The grounds are fantastic! The house is interesting and well-preserved,” one TripAdvisor user says. “But ... be aware that there are no informational materials provided, anywhere. There are no signs or indications of why you’re looking at what you’re looking at.”
- #7 in NormandyMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDRead More
More than 60 rooms in the Musée des Beaux Arts de Rouenare hang with works by artists, such as Géricault and Delacroix, among others. Monet fans will also find some of his canvasses here, including a few that depict the Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Rouen.
One TripAdvisor user calls it, "a superb provincial museum," saying that it "is one of the finest I have seen in France outside of Paris. If you are in Rouen for the weekend, I highly recommend setting aside a couple of hours for a visit."
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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 (the exterior of which is reminiscent of fish scales) at Place du Vieux-Marché in Rouen.
One Yahoo! Travel user recommends taking a look at the stained glass windows: "Go up close and look at them. … The large colored glass is the religious stained glass but the little scenes are historic and utterly charming." One TripAdvisor user says the futuristic look of the church seemed somewhat out of place in quaint Rouen, but also says; "we still enjoyed visiting the church and the surrounding area including the town square and the open air farmers market. The chocolate croissants at the stand near the Joan of Arc church were awesome!"
- #9View all Photos#9 in NormandyMuseums, SightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDMuseums, SightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDRead More
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 is big (70 meters long), ornate (more like artwork than your grandma’s embroidery) and tells a story (it chronicles the 1066 Battle of Hastings). In fact, one TripAdvisor user says, “This is one of those attractions that I wasn't sure that I would find that interesting, but it turned out to be one of my favorite attractions in Normandy.”
One IgoUgo.com user gives this advice: “An audioguide is a smart investment here, for two reasons. First, it gives you the explanation of the scenes and brings your attention to details you would never have noticed. … Second, you get to step in front of everybody who doesn't have an audioguide, which is essential if you want to see anything in the crowd of tourists.”
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