The picturesque region of Normandy is nestled on France’s northern coast and is one of the country’s greatest historic regions while being a place of wild beauty. The area encompasses the colourful towns of Rouen, Honfleur and Caen where WWII landing sites, Viking tales and excellent cuisine await you when you visit.
Normandy is well known for the allied invasion of western Europe on D-Day in 1944, but did you know about its Viking invasions more than 1000 years earlier?
If it’s good enough for the Vikings, it’s good enough for me!
Here’s a Pro-tip: The annual events of D-Day commemorations in June and the Fêtes Médiévales de Bayeux in July make the summer season an exciting time to visit the region.
Most travellers visiting Normandy will fly into Paris (or take the Euro Tunnel from London) and then take the train north to Bayeux. Alternatively, visitors can fly directly to Dinard or Caen Airport. The towns of Bateaux, Le Havre, Dieppe and Caen all have dedicated train routes between them, and using the regional rail network is easy. However, there aren’t any trains along the coast, so you’ll need to rent a car or catch a bus to visit the D-Day beaches.
Here’s Another Pro-tip: Consider joining a guided history tour while in Normandy. It’s one of the best ways to ensure you don’t miss out on exciting sites. Plus, there’s the bonus of a local expert sharing Normandy knowledge with you.
Exploring Normandy is truly a delight. As you hop from one town to the next you’ll enjoy rolling countryside, sprawling beaches and impressive Romanesque architecture.
- Caen – This port city is of historic importance and is the third-largest community in the region. Founded by William the Conqueror in the 11th Century, Caen is home to Caen Castle, the Museum of Normandy Hommes Church and more.
- Rouen Cathedral – Located in the heart of Rouen, the capital of the Normandy region, sits this extraordinary Gothic Cathedral. It took seven centuries to build and was the site of the martyrdom of Joan of Arc.
This cathedral Rouen-d Joan’s day!
- Normandy Battlefields/Monuments – Pegasus Bridge, Merville Battery and Ranville should all be on your must-see list. Other areas of interest to history buffs include the Easy Company memorial, the Bayeux War Cemetery and Mulberry Harbour.
- Normandy Beaches – Visiting the beaches where the D-Day landings took place is a sombre experience, but an important stop in the region. Start with Omaha Beach and the Memorial Museum. From there, head to the Normandy American Cemetery to pay your respects to the 2,000 American lives that were lost.
This will tide you over for a while!
- Mont-Saint-Michel – The tidal island of Mont-Saint-Michel is one of the most spectacular attractions in northern France. During low tide, you can walk from the coast to the island but at high tide the sea is meters deep all around its walls. The island was difficult to invade because of this phenomena and visitors are still occasionally caught out by the flowing tide!
The town below the church still has a distinctly medieval feel. Climb to the top of this Eighth Century Romanesque abbey for spectacular coastal views.
- The Bayeux Tapestry – Visit the Bayeux Museum to relive the story of William the Conqueror as he invaded England in the faithful year of 1066. The 70-metre long tapestry was embroidered by hand by the female citizens of the defeated land.
With a rich tradition of dairy farms, meat production and the growth of all kinds of fruits and vegetables, Normandy is a region that knows food well. Expect to dine on deliciously rich dishes that’ll leave you asking for more. Here are my favourite restaurants in the region:
- Restaurant Gill, Rouen Imagine sitting on the banks of the Seine, dining on roasted pigeon and sipping red wine in a glass that’s too big to hold. Enjoy all that and more at Restaurant Gill, one of Normandy’s finest restaurants. Order the tasting menu, and you’ll be signing yourself up for gastronomic excellence.
- L’Accolade par Pierre Lefebvre, Caen – L’Accolade is a stylish bistro restaurant where a self-taught chef creates traditional dishes without pomp and circumstance. The lobster Parmenter is my favourite!
- SaQuaNa, Honfleur – This restaurant is a rustic yet refined Michelin-starred venue located within walking distance of Honfleur harbour. The head chef trained in Japan, so while the menu primarily boasts French cuisine, the dishes are made using intriguing elements of the Far East.
I Camembert a day without cheese!
From beach bars, Belgian beer gardens and cabaret bars, here are my favourite places to party (both day and night) in Normandy:
- Delirium Cafe, Caen – With 20 Belgian beers on tap and over 350 bottled options, Delirium Cafe in Caen is the “place to beer!” Visit on a sunny day and enjoy a refreshing drink and charcuterie board in the beer garden.
- Le Chat Vert, Rouen – If you enjoy live music, you’ll love Le Chat Vert. Every Friday and Saturday night local talent takes to the stage and sweet jazz music fills the air. Fun fact: Rouen has the highest number of bars per capita in France.
- La Mome du Vaugueux, Caen – Head to Caen’s historic Vaugueux district and you’ll find this small wine and tapas bar. Pick a table on the terrace and enjoy a relaxed evening in the old quarter.
From luxurious chateaux’s to traditional farmhouses and city-centre B&Bs, Normandy offers the perfect place to rest. Check out my favourite accommodation below, all ranging in price from affordable properties to luxury retreats:
- Chateau la Cheneviere – If you’re after a classy stay in a luxurious property, Chateau la Cheneviere doesn’t disappoint. This majestic manor house is nestled into the countryside between Bayeux and the D-Day landing beaches.
Omaha Beach is haunted by the courage of a generation
- Le Grand Hard – This is a picture-perfect farmhouse that’s both stylish and affordable. The traditional chateau-style accommodation sits in the village of Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, just a short drive from Utah Beach.
- Le Clos Saint-Martin – Located in the heart of Caen, Le Clos Saint-Martin is a funky B&B housed inside a former 17th Century mansion. Decor at Le Clos is a delightful clash of contemporary and traditional, making it all the more intriguing!
Normandy sits at the heart of European history but also supplies loads of opportunities for relaxation! So mix up your days between exploring historical sites and relaxing to enjoy the best of food and drink. Normandy will lure you back to its treasures again and again!
(P.S. Don’t forget to binge-watch the Vikings TV series before your trip).