From cider to battlefields to medieval towns to calvados, there is such a broad range of interesting things to do in Normandy. Just a short train trip from Paris or via one of the four local cross-Channel ports, Normandy combines heritage, culture, gastronomy plus both the seaside and the countryside.
Here are 28 fantastic things to do in Normandy that I think you’ll love.
28 Things to do in Normandy
Table of Contents
- 28 Things to do in Normandy
- 1. Visit Dieppe Harbour
- 2. Try the bread at Aux Pains Populaires
- 3. Stay at the cutest hotel in Normandy
- 4. Watch the sunset at Plage du Puys
- 5. Walk the Streets of Rouen
- 6. Pay tribute to Joan of Arc in Rouen
- 7. Visit Rouen Cathedral
- 8. Check the moon on the Rouen clock
- 9. See the street art in Rouen
- 10. Visit Rouen market at Place du Vieux-Marche
- 11. Visit the best boulangerie in France
- 12. Jumieges Abbey
- 13. Visit what might be the cutest town in France, La Bouille
- 14. Pere Magloire Calvados Experience
- 15. Eat steak smothered in Camembert
- 16. Visit a Cider and Calvados estate
- 17. See the Bayeux Tapestry
- 18. Visit Bayeux Cathedral
- 19. Explore Vieux Bayeux
- 20. See the most beautiful biscuit store in the world
- 21. Explore Cherbourg
- 22. Enjoy Pont l’Eveque in Pont l’Eveque
- 23. Visit an archetypal Normand Village Beuvron en Auge
- 24. Normandy Beaches
- 25. Explore Caen
- 26. Cote Fleurie – The Flowered Coast
- 27. Mont St Michel
- 28. Giverny
- How Many Days do you need to visit Normandy?
- What’s the best time of year to visit Normandy
- How to Get To Normandy
- More Boutique Hotels in Normandy
- Things to do in Normandy in Conclusion
1. Visit Dieppe Harbour
Located on the Alabaster Coast, this beautiful harbor town is bordered by limestone cliffs on entry to the River Ouse and then Norman houses, restaurants, flowers, shops and much more as you head into town. Dieppe became France’s first ever seaside resort in the early 19th century with the first seaside bathing establishment being set up in 1822.
I visited Dieppe Harbour on a beautiful clear day and it was lovely to grab a coffee at Tout Va Bien and enjoy the view. Once you’ve finished your coffee grab your camera and take a walk around the large harbor. There is a lot going on at Dieppe Harbour. Visitors will see a tourist train, merry-go-rounds, and many many boats.
2. Try the bread at Aux Pains Populaires
Only twelve months old, Aux Pains Populaires has become the most popular bakery in Dieppe. The bakery is owned by three friends who combine new equipment with old techniques. Their signature loaf is the pain compagne.
You won’t find any baguettes or croissants at Aux Pains Populaires but you may find some delicious brioche and the madeleines are awesome. Everything at Aux Pains Populaires is sourced locally.
Don’t try to visit Aux Pains Populaires on Mondays and Tuesdays as these are bread-making days and the bakery won’t be open. Instead, visit Wednesday – Saturday but get there early as their bread sells out fast. The bakers hold a free demonstration session once a month.
3. Stay at the cutest hotel in Normandy
I absolutely loved my stay at Auberge du Vieux Puits! The hotel is located in a blue and cream Norman house on the edge of a cliff overlooking the sea. Both Oscar Wilde and Alexander Doumas stayed at Auberge du Vieux Puits. Doumas even wrote a book on French food while staying at the hotel.
The rooms are simply furnished in light wood and white. Large windows make the most of the Normandy light. My room was more like an apartment. It had a kitchenette and an eating area as well as a separate bathroom and bedroom. I particularly liked the bathroom with its black and white tiles and large walk-in shower.
The perfect way to kick off a visit to Auberge du Vieux Puits is with a glass of bubbles on the terrace. Then move on to dinner at the hotel’s restaurant Gilles Goujon. This restaurant is popular with both locals and tourists and the dining area makes the most of the sea views.
Of course, the menu is heavy on seafood. I began my meal with some delicious local oysters followed by the fish of the day and some fantastic cheeses.
In the morning, the continental breakfast buffet has everything you need plus those views. The croissants are particularly good.
4. Watch the sunset at Plage du Puys
This beautiful little beach just a quick walk from Auberge du Vieux Puits is the perfect place to watch a Normandy sunset. You’ll be joined by local fishermen as you watch the sun go down on this pebble beach. There are some stunning Norman houses on the path down to the beach in some interesting dark red shades such as burgundy.
Plague du Pays was part of the D-Day landings. This was a beach where many Canadian soldiers landed and there is a memorial near the beach.
5. Walk the Streets of Rouen
Rouen was founded in the first century by the Romans. However, much of the city today is from its golden age in the 15th century. The area around the train station and bridges was hit during World War Two but the delightful town centre was left quite unscathed.
One of the highlights of a trip to Normandy is strolling the streets of Rouen and admiring the many beautiful and colourful Norman half-timbered houses on its paved streets. Plus many of them are home to great shopping, restaurants and cafes.
Don’t miss Rue Massacre. This small street is a little out of the city centre as it was home to the rather smelly dairy and fish monger in the 19th century. Today it is super cute and full of delightful shops. Plus, every season it has a design update. When I visited the air was full of colorful umbrellas.
6. Pay tribute to Joan of Arc in Rouen
Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake in the old market square of Rouen in 1431. Today that location is marked by a tall cross. The Saint Joan of Arc church was built next to the cross in 1979. The church is particularly beautiful inside, partly due to the stunning stained glass windows which are from the 16th century.
If you’re keen to learn more about Joan of Arc head to the Joan of Arc History Museum. This innovative museum uses multimedia to immerse the visitor in Joan of Arc’s second trial as well as clear up some of the myths about France’s most famous martyr.
7. Visit Rouen Cathedral
Notre Dame cathedral sits at the heart of Rouen. Construction of this gothic marvel began in the 12th century using the foundations of a 4th-century basilica. Its 19th-century cast iron spire is the highest in France at 151 metres.
The cathedral suffered extensive damage during World War Two. Three bombs fell on the church in 1944 and the restoration took 12 years. Since then, the Cathedral goes through frequent periods of renovation. It really is a jaw-dropping sight – don’t leave Rouen until you have visited the Notre Dame Cathedral.
8. Check the moon on the Rouen clock
If you head to the well-named Big Clock Street in Rouen it will be impossible to miss the magnificent Gros Horloge. This 14th-century astronomical clock features a silver moon at its top which demonstrates the current turn of the moon.
It also has an image for each day of the week which changes at midday. The mechanisms in Gros Horloge are some of the oldest of their type in France.
9. See the street art in Rouen
Just because Rouen is a medieval town doesn’t mean it has missed out on the trend for street art. Local artist NOJ uses red stones to fill in potholes and create art.
At the Justice Palace, lego blocks are used to fill in the holes which were created during World War Two bombings. Artist Jan Vormann came up with the idea of highlighting these spaces to ensure that the bombs and war were not forgotten in 2020.
10. Visit Rouen market at Place du Vieux-Marche
Rouen’s market square dates back to the 13th century. During the Middle Ages, the market square was the location for executions. Today the covered market serves locals and tourists with fresh produce. This is the perfect place to try some Normandy cheeses.
During the Hundred Years War women would send cheese in a heart shape to their soldier lovers on the front line. This Neufchatel cheese is still a big seller today. The appellation requires that only milk from Normandy is used in the cheese and the heart shape must be cut in a very specific way.
Livarot cheese is strong to the nose but softer to the pallet. The strips around the cheese help keep it together while it matures. Head to Fromager Affineur in the market to find out more about cheese in Normandy.
11. Visit the best boulangerie in France
Christophe Cressent’s Ma Boulangerie was voted the best boulangerie in France in 2000 (it’s up on the wall!) and it is easy to see why. Christophe is the great-grandson of a bread maker and he continues to make bread according to traditional French recipes and methods. His focus is on specialty bread using different types of grains. The most popular loaf at Ma Boulangerie is rye bread. His bread contains no sugar and no yeast – just rye.
And the pastries! Like the bread, Christophe locally sources wherever possible. One of his two stores in Rouen is near the old market and this is where he buys the eggs and lemons which go into his pastries. Christophe’s favourite is the chocolate tart but the most popular sellers are the brioche with white chocolate and the vanilla tart.
Cressent is also somewhat famous for resurrecting the Mirliton. This local dessert had been forgotten until he started making it again 12 years ago. This is a must-try when you visit Ma Boulangerie.
12. Jumieges Abbey
The land for this Benedictine monastery was first given in 654. It somewhat survived Viking invasions and the Hundred Years War. It was sold during the French Revolution and turned into a quarry. It was about to be destroyed when it was discovered and preserved in the 19th century by the Romantics.
Today the remains of Jumieges Abbey are located in a 14 hectare park. The exterior has remained unchanged since the French Revolution. It is a beautiful and quite haunting site. Don’t miss the dramatic cloisters.
If you’re hungry, Auberge des Ruins is a restaurant almost across the road from the Abbey. It sources many of its ingredients from the gardens of the Abbey.
13. Visit what might be the cutest town in France, La Bouille
Sitting on the banks of the Seine about 20 kilometres southwest of Rouen, La Bouille has been nominated as one of the prettiest towns in France. It is easy to see why. This small town is filled with colorful half-timbered Norman houses. I particularly enjoyed all of the colorful window sill displays throughout the town.
Once you have finished exploring the town’s pretty, small streets head to Le Tonneau and sit at one of its barrel tables and enjoy a cider. Or grab some dinner at the edge of the Seine at La Maison Blanche.
Take the five-minute free car ferry to La Bouille from Sahurs. It takes both cars and foot passengers and runs every 20 minutes.
14. Pere Magloire Calvados Experience
If you’re interested in Calvados, you’ll love this immersive exhibition experience. Work your way through seven rooms guided by sounds and visuals as the history and process of making Calvados is brought to life.
At the Calvados Experience, you’ll learn about how cider is distilled into eau de vie to create apple brandy. A double distillation process turns apple brandy into Calvados, a necessary step to meet the criteria for the appellation.
The Pere Magloire brand became the first big name in Calvados. The brand was created in 1821 and became synonymous with Calvados following the Paris World Fair in 1926. At the end of the sound and visual experience, you’ll be able to do a tasting of their various Calvados offerings.
15. Eat steak smothered in Camembert
The charming Au P’tit Normand is located in the town of Cambremer in Normandy. This is one of the best places in Normandy to enjoy one of the most delicious dishes in the region – entrecote with a camembert sauce.
Mrs. Huguette Besnard is the owner and head chef at Au P’tit Normand. She and her granddaughter run the restaurant. In addition to their famous entrecote with camembert sauce, don’t miss the apple pie and make sure you try some of the local cider on offer.
16. Visit a Cider and Calvados estate
The Louis Dupont Family Estate began producing cider and calvados in 1887. But it wasn’t until 1980 when the third generation of the Du Pont family saw an opportunity to export their cider apples, cider and calvados that the estate flourished.
Today, Domaine Dupont exports about 50% of its production. They grow 15 varieties of apples and harvest time is between September and December. This long harvest period is because they don’t shake the trees, they wait for the apples to fall to the ground. This ensures the apples have maximum sugar levels and they believe this makes for a better-tasting product.
Their production process is then similar to that of wine. They collect and press their apples by variety to maintain control and use only natural yeast. They have six different ciders so they wait till after the first fermentation to choose which apples best suit which flavours.
The area in which Domaine Dupont is located is the only one in Normandy that does a double distillation for its Calvados. Domaine Dupont makes 17 different types of Calvados, the youngest of which is two years old.
The family estate is a wonderful place to taste cider and calvados and enjoy the beauty of Normandy. Try their Cuvee Collette which is made using the traditional method. Or the lovely light Cidre Bouche which is perfect for everyday drinking.
The shop on the estate is open all year round and free tastings are on offer. Book ahead if you’d like to taste your cider and calvados with food.
17. See the Bayeux Tapestry
The most famous tapestry in the world, this 1000-year-old embroidery tells the story of the conquest of England by the man later known as William the Conqueror. The tapestry can be visited at the Bayeux Museum. Tickets come with a 30-minute audio tour that explains each frame of the tapestry.
However, if you really want to find out what was going on leading up to 1066 head to the upstairs area of the museum for more detail and background.
Unsurprisingly, no photography or video is allowed to be taken of the tapestry.
It is quite extraordinary to see a piece of cloth that is 1,000 years old. However, even better is that the story it tells is just as compelling today. Visiting the Bayeux Tapestry is an absolute must-do when in Normandy.
18. Visit Bayeux Cathedral
I was quite blown away by the cathedral in Rouen so Bayeux’s cathedral had a tough measuring stick. Originally built in the 11th century, the Bayeux Cathedral is a national monument of France. The present cathedral was consecrated in 1077.
It was in this cathedral that William made Harold Godwinson take the oath, later broken, that led to the Norman conquest of England.
It is a spectacular building and well worth a visit.
19. Explore Vieux Bayeux
In addition to being home to the world’s most famous tapestry as well as an extraordinary cathedral, the old town of Bayeux is a perfect example of a medieval Norman town. It is filled with narrow cobblestone streets, a picturesque canal and some more great examples of Norman architecture. Don’t miss the oldest house in Bayeux. It dates back to the 14th century.
20. See the most beautiful biscuit store in the world
As you travel west towards Cherbourg you will come across the stunning La Maison Du Biscuit. The exteriors of this building are reason enough to stop for a look – half-timbered classic houses combined with a shop front.
Heading into La Maison du Biscuit is like entering some type of Disney biscuit film. The store feels like a number of connected rooms that are filled to the brim with lovely items in adorable packaging. In addition to biscuits the store stocks tea, beans, herbs, soaps and much more.
But at the end of the day, it’s about the biscuits. La Maison du Biscuit has been independently owned since 1903 and uses Normandy butter in their biscuits (that’s why they taste so good). If you lived in Normandy, you would always have a box of La Maison du Biscuit in your pantry to be taken out for visitors.
The front counter of the store is heaving with free samples so you can find your perfect biscuit. My favourites were the caramel chip biscuits and the ones which were half coated with milk chocolate. The store is best known for its financier biscuits which are made with almond powder.
21. Explore Cherbourg
Many travelers take the ferry in or out of Cherbourg without taking the time to explore this charming city and its extremely deep harbor – the Titanic moored at Cherbourg. Check out the maritime museum Cite de La Mer and see an actual nuclear submarine. Then head to one of the fantastic seafood restaurants on the harbor for a meal.
22. Enjoy Pont l’Eveque in Pont l’Eveque
Pont l’Eveque is perhaps best known for the famous soft square cheese which bears its name. Located in the heart of the Calvados region the town is the meeting point of three rivers. But of course, what you really want to do is head to one of the town’s many good restaurants and order some Pont l’Eveque!
23. Visit an archetypal Normand Village Beuvron en Auge
Beuvron en Auge is a quintessential picturesque Norman village. The village lies just inland from Cabourg on the Cote Florie and is full of colorful 17th and 18th-century half-timbered houses.
This French village has more than just cute houses. There is some good shopping, craft workshops, lots of local produce to be purchased, antique stores, and of course good restaurants. And Beuvron en Auge is home to world-famous artist David Hockney.
24. Normandy Beaches
Normandy and its beaches became world famous in 1944 as the site of the D-day landings that ultimately led to the end of World War Two. There are numerous museums, monuments, and tours devoted to this event plus of course the beaches themselves.
I couldn’t hope to do justice in any way to the different ways to experience the World War Two history of Normandy but no article on things to do in Normandy would be complete without mentioning it. I would recommend visiting the Normandy tourism website where there is a complete explanation of everything related to World War Two in the area as well as excellent maps which can be downloaded.
For trip planning purposes, Bayeux is the best city to base yourself while you explore Normandy’s World War Two history.
25. Explore Caen
Lovely Caen is another Norman city filled with character and history. Historical sites in the city include William the Conqueror’s Ducal Castle, the Abbaye aux Hommes, Abbaye aux Dames and the amazing Memorial de Caen (don’t miss this if you’re interested in World War Two). In the evening head to the Vaugueux neighborhood for great food and bars.
26. Cote Fleurie – The Flowered Coast
The seaside towns of Normandy became popular in the 19th century when people started to enjoy swimming in the sea. The Flowered Coast or Cote Fleurie refers to beautiful Normandy beach towns like Honfleur, Deaville, Trouville, Cabourg and more.
27. Mont St Michel
Mont St Michel is perhaps Normandy’s most famous landmark. This UNESCO World Heritage site is a medieval wonder which rises out of the bay based on the tides. The bay where Mont St Michel is located has the greatest tidal ranges in Europe and at high tide, Mont-Saint-Michel becomes an island.
Whilst most of the things to do in Normandy in this article can be done as a day trip from Paris, visiting Giverny is possibly the easiest day trip. This stunning house and gardens were the home of Claude Monet, the father of the impressionist movement. He lived in Giverny from 1883 until his death in 1926.
The house is located on the River Seine and it is lovely but it is the gardens that are most extraordinary. Visiting the Giverny gardens feels like walking into a Monet painting. It is at its most beautiful (to me) in the Spring.
How Many Days do you need to visit Normandy?
I could easily spend 10 days in Normandy visiting everywhere mentioned in this article. However, if your time is more limited I would suggest staying at least 3 nights to get a good taste of Normandy. If you are limited on time then I would suggest basing yourself in Caen as many of the key sights are a reasonable distance.
What’s the best time of year to visit Normandy
It is said that June to August is the best time of year to visit Normandy. I visited in June and the weather was wonderful. Having said that, I also visited Normandy some years ago around Easter and that was a great experience.
Summer is the busiest time of year in Normandy. I am a big fan of travelling in the shoulder seasons of April/May and September/October. These are also good times to visit Normandy but the weather may be quite cool and wet.
Winter is cold and rainy and probably not the best time of year to visit Normandy.
How to Get To Normandy
The train from Paris St Lazare takes just over two hours to reach Le Havre or Caen. From the United Kingdom, there are multiple crossing options. On this trip, I took the ferry from New Haven to Dieppe. The train to New Haven leaves from Victoria station.
On our return, we took the ferry from Cherbourg to Portsmouth. Normandy has quite a long coastline so it is fantastic to have four different crossing options to match your perfect trip. Find out more on the Normandy Tourism website.
More Boutique Hotels in Normandy
In Rouen, I stayed at the Hotel Mercure Rouen Centre Cathedral. As a boutique adventurer, I am normally quite against chain hotels. However, I have stayed in several Mercure hotels of late and really enjoyed them. Mercure seems to have bought up quite a few historic hotels and is doing a good job of creating a local feel with all the chain hotel conveniences.
The hotel has a fantastic location in the heart of town. The rooms are a good size and simply decorated. To be honest we got in late and left first things so I didn’t have much time to experience the hotel. However, there was an excellent buffet breakfast on offer and a really comfortable seating area.
In Bayeux we stayed in Hotel La Reine Mathilde. This hotel is very spread out – you may need to cross a bridge or a road to get to your room. However, once you arrive the rooms are large and modern. The decor is simple in shades of grey and brown. The bathroom had a large walk-in shower.
We had dinner at the hotel’s The Garde Manger restaurant which seemed to be very popular with locals. I was in Bayeux on a warm summer evening and The Garde Manger has a large terrace that was packed.
The restaurant is classic Normandy – oysters, lots of camembert, chicken in norman sauce (mushrooms and cream) and lots of butter and cream in general. Don’t miss the grandmere crepe. It comes with local caramel, stewed apples and cream.
Breakfast in the morning was a classic continental. One unique cute twist was the ability to boil your own eggs for as long as you like. Small timers were available and could be taken to the table.
Things to do in Normandy in Conclusion
There is so much to see and do in Normandy. Most of this article is based on a recent trip I made to the region with their tourism board. Of course, I wasn’t able to visit everywhere so I have added in a few of the must-see spots in Normandy that I wasn’t able to visit. Having said that, I visited Honfleur, Giverny, Caen and the D-Day beaches a few years before I started this website.
Just two hours by train from Paris, Normandy provides the best of France’s culture, history and gastronomy.
Normandy Tourism covered all of the costs involved in this trip – thanks! However, as always my opinions are my own. This post includes affiliate links. That means if you click through and end up making a purchase I will receive a small commission. I wanted to make sure you were aware of this.