Planning a driving tour of Normandy? Then you are in for a treat!
Normandy is undoubtedly one of France’s most beautiful and historic regions. Situated in the northern part of the country, it is an area that boasts magnificent seaside resorts, grand casinos, beautiful hillsides, and Belle Époque–style villas.
It’s also packed with a plethora of mediaeval towns and historical landmarks, like the Mont-Saint-Michel and Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Rouen, that will charm and captivate you in equal measure.
Having played an integral role in the D-Day invasions of WWII, the area also provides a sombre reminder of the human cost of peace, as evidenced by the many memorials, museums, and cemeteries that are devoted to it.
Best discovered by walking through its mediaeval town centres, and engaging in scenic drives in Normandy, there are hundreds of places you can visit to really get a feel for the place.
In this guide, our aim is to help you plan your ultimate Normandy Road Trip itinerary. So let’s get into it!
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Planning a Road Trip in Normandy
When planning your Normandy road trip itinerary there is much to think about; not the least of which being when is the best time to go there.
How do you get there? And also what destinations should you visit once you arrive?
In the subsequent sections below we will try and answer these questions for you to help you to put together a proper schedule for your road trip in Normandy.
When is the Best Time to go on a Road Trip in Normandy?
The best time to embark on a Normandy road trip very much depends on what you are looking for.
For sure you’ll find the nicest weather between June and August. However, this also coincides with the peak tourist season, as well as the D-Day commemorations. So you are likely to encounter more people and higher accommodation prices around this time.
For this reason, the shoulder seasons of spring (April and May) and autumn (September and October) might be better options, as the weather is still pleasant (though you might need coats and jumpers), accommodation prices are cheaper and visitor numbers tend to be reduced.
Winter can be a good time to visit Normandy in the sense that accommodation rates will be at low season rates. However, the weather frequently might be cold, dark, and rainy, and you may even find some smaller towns, and several tourist attractions might have temporarily closed down.
How to Get to Normandy
Accessible by air, sea, road or rail, Normandy is a very easy destination to get to.
Just a two hour train journey from Paris, the region also boasts four cross-Channel ports, several major train stations and two international airports. So no matter how you choose to get there, you shouldn’t have too many problems.
Most international visitors to Normandy will fly into Paris Charles de Gaulle, Paris Orly, and Nantes International Airport. Although some flights from abroad will get you into Caen-Carpiquet and Deauville Airports. At all of these airports you will be able to hire a car from companies like Avis or Enterprise.
From the UK and Ireland, five different ferry companies operate, most of which will take you to Dieppe or Cherbourg.
If you would prefer to take the train, there are several stations around Normandy which can be reached from either Paris Gare Saint-Lazare train station, or Paris Gare Montparnasse. This includes Caen, Evreux, Le Havre, Rouen, Cherbourg, Dieppe, Bayeux, and Deauville.
The Perfect Itinerary for a Road Trip in Normandy
Planning a driving tour of Normandy? Well here are some terrific places to visit during your time there.
Stop 1: Rouen
The capital of Northern France, Rouen is the perfect place to start your scenic drives in Normandy.
Located on the River Seine, it is a city rich in history. Very important as a seaport in Roman times and the Middle Ages, it was claimed and reclaimed by both the English and French several times during the Hundred Years War. It was also here that Joan of Arc was famously tried and burned at the stake in 1431.
Now known for its charming, cobblestoned pedestrian centre, which features a number of notable mediaeval half-timbered houses, the city boasts some world-class cultural establishments including Rouen Cathedral, the Museum of Fine Arts, and the Secq des Tournelles museum.
Also featuring a collection of Gothic Churches, including Saint-Ouen and Saint-Maclou, its skyline is defined by the Cathédrale Notre-Dame. Whose impressive spires were regularly immortalised in the works of Impressionist painter Claude Monet.
- Stroll through the Jardin des Plantes: Covering 85,000 square metres, the Jardin des Plantes showcases plant species from all over the world. Major highlights include an Asian-inspired rock garden, a rose garden, and a garden for medicinal plants.
- Visit Old Market Square: Situated at western end of the Rue du Gros-Horloge, this is where Joan of Arc was burnt alive. Around the square you will find some beautiful corbelled and half-timbered houses.
- Check out the Musée Le Secq des Tournelles: This unique church is situated inside a former church – the Church of Saint-Laurent – which dates back to the beginning of the 16th century. It exhibits a fascinating collection of centuries old ironworks that used to belong to Henri Secq Tournelles.
- Peruse the Musée des Beaux-Arts: Rouen is home to a fine arts museum that features a range of art, sculpture, and decorative items that derive from the 1500s to the 20th century. Some of the cultural treasures you can see include the works of Monet, Pissaro, Degas, Sisley, and Renoir.
- See the Gros Horloge: A big mediaeval landmark in Rouen, this impressive, astronomical clock is mounted above a beautiful renaissance passageway and arch. It features a mechanism from the 1300s that still works today!
Stop 2: Veules-les-Roses
Looking like it was plucked straight from the pages of a fairytale storybook, Veules-les-Roses is one of the oldest villages in the Pays de Caux. It is also undoubtedly one of the prettiest, too.
Situated on the Alabaster Coast, about 180 kilometres to the north of Paris, this stunning coastal village is a ‘must-see’ destination.
Rich in unspoilt charm, and featuring several gorgeous half-timbered cottages, the town is also divided by The Veules, which is France’s smallest river.
Once a flourishing fishing port in the Middle Ages, it has been a cherished holiday resort for painters, writers and poets since the 19th century. Providing an inspiring and relaxing backdrop for a coastal escape and a city detox.
- Take a walk along the river: Enjoy the beautiful waterside scenery as you familiarise yourself with the area.
- Check out the watercress fields: The town has an impressive area where it grows watercress. Against the backdrop of the waterways, it is an arresting sight.
- See the mills: Mills have been a part of the Veules river since the 13th century. Though most of the remaining ones you can see today were built around the 18th and 19th century.
- Walking along the Veules-les-Roses Beach: This pebbly beach showcases fabulous views of the cliffs that run all the way to the Saint-Valery-en-Caux, as well as a stunning pier.
Stop 3: Honfleur
Possessing one of the prettiest ports in France, Honfleur was an important trading post back in the Middle Ages.
Nestled on the southern banks of the Seine estuary, it enjoyed a strategic location, which was fortified by the French King during the Hundred Years’ War. (Although this didn’t prevent the English from taking control of it for multiple decades).
Today it is one of the country’s most visited towns. With thousands of people flocking here to see the iconic brightly coloured half-timbered houses that line the quay.
Also well known for its captivating art galleries and delightful restaurants, the city boasts a famous wooden main church and a long-time association with such celebrated impressionist artists as Claude Monet, Eugène Boudin, and Gustave Courbet.
- Enjoy the beautiful architecture of the Vieux Bassin: This gorgeous old Insta-worthy harbour is framed on three sides by narrow and very high timber-frame houses that come in all colours.
- Be impressed by the Church of Sainte-Catherine: This incredible church was constructed entirely out of wood by shipwrights. It features many different decorative details that have a nautical theme. Not least, the ceiling that looks a lot like a ship’s hull.
- Browse the Maritime Museum: Previously known as the Church of Saint-Étienne, this fascinating museum provides a detailed history of the Honfleur from a seafaring perspective.
- Take in the magnificence of the Chapel of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce: A stunning 17th-century chapel that resides atop a hill and features an enchanting mix of paintings, plaques, and sculptures
- Delight at The Eugène Boudin Museum: This fine art museum houses several 19th and 20th century artworks by artists like Boudin, Monet, Jongkind, and Dufy that have a long association with the town.
Stop 4: Etretat
Nestled on the northern coast of France, Étretat enjoys one of the most breathtaking locations of anywhere in the country.
Definitely one to add to your bucket list, it is best known for its jaw-dropping 90-metre-high chalk cliffs. Which include three natural arches and a 70-metre pointed formation called L’Aiguille (the Needle).
Serving as the setting for ‘The Hollow Needle’, the popular 1909 French children’s book about Arsène Lupin that was written by Maurice Leblanc, the cliffs and its beach were also featured in the 2014 film Lucy – which was directed by Luc Besson.
They also served as an inspiration to many celebrated impressionist painters like Eugène Boudin, Claude Monet, Gustave Courbet, and Charles Daubigny, as well as countless tourists looking for that perfect Insta shot.
- Take in the views of the cliffs: Lay down a towel, or set up a fold up chair, and spend some time taking in the magnificent views of the small pebbly beach, and the two majestic white chalk cliffs that bookend it.
- Check out the outstanding views from the top of Notre Dame de la Garde: The existing chapel of Notre Dame de la Garde was built in the 1950s and replaced the previous one that was destroyed during the war by the Nazis in 1942. If you climb to the top of it, you will witness more incredible, panoramic views of the Etretat cliffs from a much higher vantage point.
- Go to the Etretat Gardens: Sitting on top of the cliffs that overlook the impressive ‘Etretat Needle’, the gardens are a picturesque mix of huge sculptures and landscape art that are well worth viewing.
- Play a round of golf at the Golf d’Etretat: Perched on top of the Norman cliffs and showcasing magnificent views of the Bay of Etretat, the golf course is a ‘must-play’ if you are into the sport.
Stop 5: Le Havre
Le Havre is a port city that is located at the mouth of the River Seine.
Regarded as the birthplace of the impressionist movement, it was here that Claude Monet painted ‘Impression, Sunrise’, a dramatic depiction of the sun rising through the industrial chimneys of the city. A painting that led one unimpressed critic to dismiss it as ‘impressionism’.
Almost completely rebuilt after suffering significant damage in World War II, the city features an unusual concrete landscape that was designed by Auguste Perret.
Now designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005, the city is known for its stunning beach, beautiful marina, very good bar and restaurant scene, and an excellent modern art museum.
- Marvel at the St. Joseph’s Church: Built by Auguste Perret, this incredible church features a neo-gothic temple that boasts a 107 metre tall tower and 12,768 panes of coloured glass.
- See the exhibits at Musée d’Art Moderne André Malraux: Contained within a modern steel and glass building adjacent to the marina, this museum features over 500 years of amazing artworks.
- Sunbathe on Le Havre Beach: This massive pebble beach has been awarded Blue Flag status. For those who want to swim, the sea is very clean, though maybe a little cold. There are also plenty of restaurants to eat at with a lovely view.
- Les Jardins Suspendus: An enchanting botanical garden that enjoys a stunning hilltop location. It features a fabulous selection of flora that derives from various parts of the world including North America, East Asia, and Oceania.
Stop 6: Deauville
Located on the Côte Fleurie, Deauville enjoys a reputation for being one of Normandy’s most upscale seaside resorts.
Famous for its iconic celebrity boardwalk, bright, multi-coloured parasols that line its beach, and for hosting the annual American Film Festival, it has been a popular holiday destination for the rich and famous since the 1800s.
Also well known for its magnificent casino, outstanding golf courses, and for its world-renowned horse racing tracks of Deauville la Touques and Clairefontaine, this is an area that oozes class.
Centred around the wonderful Les Planches – an immaculate, wide, sandy beach that features a boardwalk with colourful bathing cabins – it presents plenty of deluxe hotels, chic boutiques, high-end restaurants, and elegant belle epoque villas, as well as rejuvenating, and exclusive sea-related treatments from exclusive spas.
- Relax on Deauville Beach: The iconic 1.5 mile sweep of soft pristine sand provides a fabulous backdrop in which to sunbathe. For the full Deauville Beach experience, be sure to rent out a colourful umbrella!
- Walk the boardwalk: Built in 1923, the historic red ironwood Promenade des Planches boardwalk stretches for 2,000 feet and showcases tremendous views.
- Enjoy a day at the Races: Deauville has a history of horse racing that dates back to 1863, when riders and horses galloped along the beach. Today, its two courses attract international jockeys, trainers, and horses for its summer and winter race programme that incorporates about 40 races every year.
- Spot celebrities at The American Film Festival: This famous film festival takes place in September and features premiere screenings of new movie releases and A-List celebrities walking the red carpet.
Stop 7: Cabourg
Boasting a fabulous sandy beach that stretches far into the distance in both directions, Cabourg is another very popular seaside resort that you should make a point of heading to on your road trip in Normandy.
Founded in mediaeval times, over 1400 years ago, this historic region has been a popular spot for sea bathing since 1855. It is situated in the Calvados department of Normandy, at the mouth of the river Dives, and has affectionately been dubbed the ‘Queen of the Côte Fleurie’.
With a casino, racecourse, several stunning Belle Epoque villas that line the waterfront promenade, beautiful gardens, and a very Grand Hôtel, there is plenty to captivate the visitor.
- Walk the promenade: The Marcel Proust Promenade is a lovely place to stroll along. Providing eye-catching views of the coastal heights of the Côte Fleurie to the west, the stunning Côte de Nacre coastline to the west and Côte d’Albâtre and Le Havre over the water.
- Try your luck in the Casino: Why not consider having a flutter at Cabourg’s iconic casino?
- Check out the Casino Gardens: The Casino Gardens presents an outstanding floral environment that is well worth checking out.
- Wander down Avenue de la Mer: Explore the boutique shops and restaurants on this popular pedestrianised street.
Stop 8: Caen
Caen is both a port city and the capital of the Normandy region’s Calvados department.
Enjoying a rich history, much of its architecture was constructed during the reign of William the Conqueror. Who, himself, was laid to rest there, after he died in Rouen in 1087.
During the Battle of Normandy in 1944 much of the city was destroyed. However, despite this, several notable buildings remained intact, including the imposing Château de Caen, which was built around 1060.
Now fully rebuilt, this bustling city on the River Orne, is well known for its central location near several excellent beaches and imperious mountains, as well as being one of the oldest university towns in the country.
- Visit the Abbey of Sainte-Trinité: Impressive Norman Romanesque abbey that was founded by Matilda of Flanders, the wife of William the Conqueror in mid-11th century. Her tomb lies in the abbey.
- Head to Colline aux Oiseaux Rose Garden: Gorgeous manicured park with a beautiful rose garden that offers fantastic views over the city and its surroundings.
- Check out the Abbaye aux Hommes: Established by William the Conqueror in 1063, this abbey is his final resting place. Built in a Norman Romanesque style, it features ornately decorated gothic towers on its western facade.
- Have fun at the Festyland Parc: Divided into four different zones – Mediaeval, Viking, Belle Époque, and Pirate – Normandy’s largest theme park features two rollercoasters and four splash rides, as well as a 3D cinema, adventure playground, and a petting zoo.
- Pop into the Château de Bénouville: A stunning stately country home northeast of Caen that was designed in an 18th-century neoclassical style by Claude Nicolas Ledoux.
Stop 9: Bayeux
Nestled on the Aure river, just 10 km from the Channel Coast, Bayeux is an idyllic and historic place to visit on your Normandy road trip.
Radiating a distinctly French air, the city was lucky enough to be quickly liberated by the Allies in June 1944. However, this came at a tragic human cost as evidenced by the commemorative war museum and British cemetery that resides here.
Known for the spectacular 68-metre Tapisserie de Bayeux, a UNESCO-listed 11th-century tapestry that depicts the Norman’s successful conquest of England in 1066, the city also features the impressive Norman-Gothic Cathédrale Notre-Dame.
In addition, it also boasts a charming mediaeval centre that comprises half-timbered houses and cobbled streets, which has a rather magical feel to it.
- Revel in the magnificence of Notre-Dame Cathedral of Bayeux: Originally built in a Romanesque style in the 12th century, the church is an historic and stunning sight to visit.
- Check out the Tapisserie de Bayeux: This incredible 900 year old tapestry will blow you away with its ornate and meticulous detail.
- Visit the Bayeux War Cemetery: Pay your respects to the 4500+ fallen British soldiers who are buried here.
- Enjoy the beauty of the old town: Take in the sights of the charming old town, which includes an historic waterwheel.
Stop 10: D-Day Beaches
For many people, the D-Day landing beaches are a must visit destination.
Extending for over 70 km, they run from Sainte-Marie-du-Mont to Ouistreham and also include Colleville-sur-Mer and Arromanches-les-Bains.
Graphically portrayed in the 1998 American epic war film Saving Private Ryan, which starred Tom Hanks and was directed by Steven Spielberg, nearly 3,000 Allied servicemen were killed on D-Day.
Now a testament to the human cost of peace across the world, millions of people come to the area every year to learn more about the events of that fateful day, visiting the numerous cemeteries, museums, and memorials in the area that commemorate what happened.
- Visit the D-Day Museum in Arromanches: This museum pays homage to the Allied and British forces who fought and perished in the Battle of Normandy.
- Pay your respects at Omaha Beach: Visit the American Cemetery, where over 3000 US Soldiers are buried, as well as the Overlord Museum.
- Peruse the Sainte-Mère-Église and Airborne Museum: Discover the story of how paratroopers of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Division played a critical role in liberating the town of Sainte-Mère-Église. The first in Normandy to be liberated.
- Centre Juno Beach: Family-friendly series of displays, presentations, exhibits and films that convey Canada’s contributions to the Allied war effort.
Stop 11: Granville
Granville has been a popular seaside resort since the back end of the 19th century.
Nestled in between Mont-Saint-Michel to the north and Coutances to the south, it lies on the southwest coast of the Cotentin peninsula.
Presenting sensational views of the Bay of the Mont Saint-Michel, as seen from its fortified headland, this fabulous destination features an eclectic mix of attractions. Its mediaeval Upper Town and bustling fishing port are well worth exploring. While the fabulous Chausey Islands are situated just a 15 km ferry ride away.
Talking of fabulous, the area was the birthplace of Christian Dior, and also boasts a magnificent beach; just as well, on the more sombre side, concrete block houses that provide a link back to the German occupation in World War II.
- Explore the walled Upper Town: Comprises a gothic church, a house with multiple turrets, fine stone mansions, and a great selection of galleries, shops, restaurants, and crêperies.
- Peruse the Christian Dior house: Celebrated couturier was born in Granville. His childhood home has been turned into a museum, which hosts an exhibition dedicated to him.
- Eat lots of seafood: Granville is a major fishing harbour for clams, whelks, cuttlefish, dog cockles, scallops, and sea bream. There are plenty of restaurants where you can treat yourself to a delicious food platter.
- Attend the Granville Carnival: If you happen to be here in February, you should attend this major event which has run for over 150 years. Attracting around 130,000 visitors every year, this five day festival features over 40 carnival floats and many tons of confetti.
Stop 12: Iles Chausey
Nestled just 15 km from Granville, Iles Chausey is a fascinating place to visit.
Known for its stunning natural beauty and impressive tides, the Chausey archipelago comprises 365 islets at low tide and only 52 at high tide.
Gifted to the Benedictine monks of Mont Saint-Michel by Richard II in 1022, the islands are a haven for fishermen. The pristine landscape also features six outstanding beaches, of which three are open to tourists for sunbathing and recreational activities.
It also boasts an iconic lighthouse too, which towers 39 metres above the sea and has been operational since 1847. It also includes a castle that dates back to 1559 and a chapel that was built in the 1840s.
Dolphins have been known to frequent the area too.
- Sunbathe or Swim: On any of the three beaches that are open to the public.
- Visit the chapel: Built around 1850 it possesses gorgeous stained-glass windows that were created by Yves Durand de Saint-Front
- Check out the castle: Built in 1559, this magnificent structure was restored in 1923 by the industrialist Louis Renault.
- Explore around the lighthouse: Observe the square stone tower which rises 62 feet from the 2-story keeper’s house that is nestled on the Grand Ile Chausey’s highest point.
Stop 13: Mont-Saint-Michel
Situated just one kilometre off France’s north west coast, Mont-Saint-Michel is a small island commune that occupies just 240 acres.
Even though it is small – it is home to just 29 people – what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in beauty and history. As it rises dramatically from the sea, don’t be surprised if you break out into goosebumps at first sight of it.
Dominated by the magnificent Abbey of Mont Saint-Michel, this UNESCO World Heritage site is one of Normandy’s top attractions. It is also an important stop on the Chemin de Saint Jacques, which is the pilgrimage route that leads to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
The stunning abbey is positioned on the highest point of the islet, while the impressive mediaeval village is enclosed by ancient defence walls. During high tide, the Mont Saint-Michel can appear foreboding and impenetrable against the raging waters. But at low tide, it is actually very possible to walk around its perimeter.
- Take a guided tour of the abbey: Learn all about its history that dates back to the 18th century.
- Stroll around the Chemin des Remparts: Taking in the magnificent scenic views of the surrounding waterway along the ramparts pathway.
- Check out the Grand Rue: The island’s only street runs alongside the ramparts. It features a lovely mix of cafes, bars, souvenir shops, restaurants, and hotel accommodations.
- Walk around the island: You can only do this during low tide, but it will give you a unique perspective of the islet.
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