History and gastronomy go hand-in-hand in Normandy, making it a great choice if culture and fine dining are what you’re looking for in a holiday! There’s still plenty on offer besides the food and tales of yesteryear, however – you can take a tour around some of the beautiful inland towns and villages or head to the coast, where you’ll find a mixture of wide sandy beaches and rugged, romantic cliffs. If you’re not already convinced to head to one of our luxury villas and chateaux in Normandy (or maybe if you’ve already booked) you’ll find a wealth of great things to do, see and eat in our ultimate Normandy travel guide!
Normandy has always been at the heart of European history. From William the Conqueror pinching the English throne to Allied troops storming the beaches, this region has helped to shape the politics and geography of the continent. Rich history is on every corner in Normandy, from the amazing Bayeux Tapestry to the haunting World War II cemeteries, yet the region’s appeal goes even further. The fortified island of Mont Saint-Michel, the dramatic façade of Rouen Cathedral and the delectable cheese of Camembert are just three more reasons why Normandy is one of France’s loveliest spots.
- Mont Saint-Michel – Explore the brooding Romanesque abbey perched atop a tiny island.
- The Bayeux Tapestry – See Norman (and English) history come to life in this famous artwork.
- Château de Caen – Stroll along the pretty ramparts of this dominating 12th century castle.
- Normandy Battlefields – Uncover the tragedy of WWII and pay your respects to the fallen.
- Rouen Cathedral – Go Gothic at a soaring House of God that took seven centuries to build.
When to Visit?
There’s never a bad time to visit Normandy, but most visitors descend during the hottest months of June to August. The sun is shining more often than not, with average highs of 23 degrees Celsius. Yet just like England, rain can appear at any time. Summer is also popular because it has the region’s two most significant events: the D-Day commemorations on the landing beaches at the start of June and the Fêtes Médiévales de Bayeux (featuring enthusiastic historical re-enactments of Viking, Saxon and Norman goings-on) in early July. There are also outdoor summertime concerts in Mont Saint-Michel.
For those who want to avoid the crowds, late spring and early autumn can also be tempting times to visit. Attractions and shops remain open, while several festivals, from May’s Joan of Arc celebrations in Rouen to September’s American Film Festival in Deauville, make these off-peak trips extra special. Winter (December to February) is best avoided, as a number of key sights and attractions are closed.
- Airport: Caen airport has direct flights from Southend and Luton Airport. Otherwise fly to Paris from London, then Train or Drive to Bayeux . You can also fly to Dinard with Ryanair from several UK airports, then hire a car to drive to Bayeux .
- Public transport: The regional rail network connects all of the major towns in Normandy, while long-distance train routes in and out of Paris regularly stop at tourist spots like Bayeux, Le Havre, Dieppe and Caen. However, no trains run along the coast so you’ll need to catch a bus to the D-Day beaches.
- By bike and by foot: With more than 310 miles of cycle paths, pedal-pushing is a memorable way to see Normandy. The long coastal footpath also allows ramblers to enjoy the views at a leisurely pace.
- Hiring a car: Having a car is by far the easiest way to see Normandy; the region’s wonderfully winding coastal and country roads also make driving an absolute joy. You can rent cars in all regional airports and city centres from companies like Hertz.
- Take a hike to the Cap de la Hague, known locally as ‘la petite Irlande’. As soon as you arrive, you’ll understand why: the rugged, dramatic coastline recalls some of Ireland’s most awe-inspiring coastal vistas. A popular hangout with local poets and artists (plus the odd pirate) throughout the centuries, today visitors are spoilt with stunning views and hundreds of miles of tantalising coastal paths.
- Discover the achingly picturesque port town of Honfleur. Best known for its waterfront houses with slate-covered façades, which have inspired painters ranging from the Impressionist Claude Monet to the Realist Gustave Courbet, it also boasts the largest and most beautiful wooden church in France. There are also other stunning old buildings, from salt barns to chapels, plus lots of great museums.
- Relive history at the departure point for William the Conqueror’s fleet: Dives-sur-Mer. This seaside city is jam-packed with history, from a medieval market hall to a 13th century church to an ancient coaching inn. The town also holds a great Saturday market that entirely consumes its narrow streets.
- It may not be as famous as some other Normandy castles, but Château de Crèvecoeur has a charm all of its own. This perfectly-preserved medieval jewel offers 10 centuries of local history presented in a rather attractive package. You will find a manor house sitting atop a mount, flanked by a courtyard of half-timbered farm buildings and a chapel; all wrapped in stone walls and surrounded by a moat.
- Visitors to Normandy will often find themselves caught between medieval and modern history, but the area’s story stretches far further back into the annals of history. The Vieux-la-Romaine, situated just 15 miles from Caen, is an archaeological site of the wealthy Roman city of Aregenua. Excavations began in 1697 – 45 years before those at Pompeii – and it is still turning up ancient titbits to this day.
On the surface, Normandy may not seem the ideal destination for kids – headline attractions of war cemeteries and giant tapestries hardly scream ‘family-friendly’. But who needs surfaces? Scratch just a little and you’ll discover that Normandy has more family fun than you can shake a Poohstick at.
Some of the region’s headline attractions are perfect for families with children. Mont Saint-Michel is like something out of a fairytale, and kids will love exploring the narrow streets, steep staircases and wooden drawbridges of this extraordinary monastic island. The chalky cliffs of Etretat offer beaches, caves and coastal walks that are certain to keep the little ones happy. And did somebody say ‘ruined medieval castles’? Château Gaillard offers everything you need for a swords-and-shields adventure.
Then there are those individual family-friendly attractions, from treetop adventure parks to petting zoos to hot air balloons. Here are seven recommended ways to entertain kiddywinks in Normandy.
The Best Family-Friendly Activities in Normandy
- Normandy’s diverse and sometimes dramatic coastline is a great choice for a day trip, and the choice of sandy beaches means you should make sure you’ve packed a bucket and spade for some classic seaside fun. Older kids might be interested in investigating the sites of the D-Day landings too.
- Want something a bit more hands on that’s bound to engage the whole family? La Cité de la Mer in Cherbourg is a maritime museum with a difference, thanks to the interactive Titanic exhibition and Redoubtable, a full-size submarine you can have a look around.
- And if water-dwelling creatures (or reptilian ones anyway) will get the kids interested head to Alligator Bay, where you can watch alligators and crocodiles get fed and even get up close and personal with some of their less snappy cousins such as tortoises and snakes.
- While some of Normandy’s gastronomic delights might be a bit challenging for younger palettes (tripe stew, anyone?), there’s plenty of sweet treats on offer that’ll help the kids develop their foodie side. Rice puddings, apple tarts and fresh brioche will definitely get the kids thinking about food in a slightly different way.
- And to make a whole day trip out of sampling some of Normandy’s delicious treats, head to Lait Douceur – it’s a craft producer of a delicious sweet spread known as ‘confiture de lait’. You can find out how it’s made as well as trying a few samples in the shop.
- And there’s no better way to see the splendour of the Normandy countryside than from the air! If the weather’s on your side then a hot air balloon ride is the kind of thing that the family will be talking about for years to come.
- If you’re looking for a company to go with, Montgolfières de Falaise arrange flights across the region,but do bear in mind that kids have to be taller than 130cm to be allowed to fly.
The Best Family-Friendly Beaches in Normandy
- Trouville is well worth the trip if you’re looking for all the ingredients of a day by the seaside, with the added bonus that the town offers some quirky places to shop for souvenirs and bars for a quick bite to eat.
- Deauville doesn’t just have a huge beach for a spot of paddling and sunbathing. As a top pick for French families, there’s loads of activities on offer, including a boating lake just ten minutes’ away by car. Forewarned is forearmed though – as it’s so popular, it can get very busy in the summer months.
- Houlgate is found a few kilometres west of Deauville and is well-known for its laid-back attitude and glitzy feel. If the kids gets restless, challenge them to a game of the nearby mini-golf to restore a bit of order.
- Vierville-sur-Mer was one of the sites of the D-Day landings and actually forms part of the notorious stretch codenamed Omaha Beach. While there’s some stark reminders of the fighting that took place here, there’s still run to be had in the sand and exploring the town.
If you need more ideas, just check out our post on the best family activities in Normandy.
Normandy is all about the great outdoors. There are few corners of Europe that offer such a variety of al fresco activities: you can hike or bike along the craggy cliffsides; canoe or kayak down the Eure river; fish for lobster off the Chausey Islands; learn about ancient history at stunning châteaux; recall recent history at the Norman battlefields; and join in the fun at the region’s regular cultural festivals.That isn’t to say you shouldn’t venture indoors, of course. Sunny weather in Normandy can never be guaranteed, so there are also plenty of excellent group activities available under-cover. Visitors can enjoy everything from cider tasting tours to cocktail workshops to spa treatments. To help keep you entertained on your Norman holiday, we’ve picked our favourite group activities – indoors and out.
Great Group Activities in Normandy
- The coast of Normandy is ripe for exploration and presents groups of friends with some great things to do – there’s sandy beaches for those long, lazy days of sunbathing, craggy cliffs for a bit of romance and plenty of opportunities for exciting watersports. The only trouble is deciding what to do first…
- You could take to the seas and visit the small group of islands known as Chausey – if the name sounds familiar, it’s because they’re far closer to the Channel islands than the mainland, though they’re still part of France. Vedette des Îles Chausey runs regular ferries across.
- And while you’re exploring the coast, you’ll doubtless come across reminders of Normandy’s lively history, not least of which is the D-Day landings. You can still see the fortifications on the beaches, but get even closer with the D-Day Historian Paul Woodadge, who can tailor your tour and fill you in on whatever parts of the landings take your fancy.
- As with a lot of France, one of the most pleasant ways of taking in the landscape (and getting a bit of exercise at the same time) is by bike. There are plenty of places to hire one from and some excellent routes, so whether you’re looking for a gentle afternoon’s pedalling or something a bit more challenging you’ll be well served.
- And if you’re up for something that’s more on the lazy side, you don’t even have to exert any effort yourself! ByCyclo are based in the beautiful and historic city of Rouen and offer electric rickshaw rides around the city, with your guide filling you in on local knowledge along the way.
More Laid-Back Activities
- Normandy offers a lot for the adventurous gourmand, from a whole smorgasbord of cheeses (including Camembert and Boursin) to lamb reared on the salt marshes and some amazing seafood. While you can get your fill at some great local restaurants, a food tour is a great way to hone your knowledge while enjoying a few nibbles at the same time.
- Etienne at La Compagnie des Terroirs will take your off the beaten track to show you the best of the countryside’s produce, focusing on cheeses and cider – and better yet, the tour can even pick you up from your villa.
- Another great place that lets you indulge in one of Normandy’s foodie treats is Bénédictine Palais. While the region is famed for cider and calvados, Bénédictine is an equally prized liqueur made from a special blend of herbs, and the palatial castle in which it’s distilled is as rewarding for its history as it is for a tipple.
- And finally, if you want to relax in style you and your group could do a lot worse than heading to one of Normandy’s rejuvenating spas. With a range of treatments and facilities to put the spring back in your step, it’s a great way to take a little time out from exploring and indulging yourself.
- Spa Pom is found in Le Perche Regional Nature Park, so you know that your surroundings are going to be just as relaxing as whatever treatment you choose!
Why not check out our blog? We’ve got the full list of the best group activities in Normandy.
It’s no secret that France is one of the world’s true culinary heavyweights, and Normandy‘s particular brand of regional cuisine is more than a match for any other. It has the country’s best cheese board, with offerings including Camembert, Neufchâtel, Pont-L’Evêque and Livarot, and is also famous for its canard à la Rouennaise (pressed duck) and agneau de pré-salé (salt meadow lamb).
As a coastal region, it also has some of Europe’s finest fish and seafood, with local specialities including turbot, oysters, scallops and mussels, while its douillons (pear-filled pastries) are loved all over the country. While Normandy produces very little wine, it is a major cider-producing region, and its apple brandy calvados is well regarded. Pommeau is a popular apéritif, while Bénédictine is the digestif of choice. With such a rich and varied culinary history, it’s no surprise that Normandy is also home to countless great restaurants and fine foodie experiences. Here’s our pick of the region’s gastronomic highlights.
The Best Restaurants in Normandy
- Restaurant Gill in Rouen should be high on your list if you’re looking for classic French cookery done exceptionally well, with indulgent seafood and classically refined dishes such as roasted pigeon ready to be tucked into with gusto.
- You’ll find the accolade of a Michelin star at Cherbourg’s Restaurant Le Pily,but you won’t find a menu. The dishes on offer shift with the changing of the seasons, so you know that whatever you choose you know it’s going to be made with fresh, seasonal ingredients.
- If you’re looking to really push the boat out when it comes to fine dining, you’ll probably want to pay a visit to Restaurant Jean-Luc Tartarin in Le Havre. It’s not only been awarded an impressive two Michelin stars (so you know the food is going to be out of this world) it’s interior is seriously impressive too, boasting a chic and minimalist style.
- For something a bit more rustic (and easier on the wallet), Picorette in Granville is a fantastic tea shop with a truly dazzling choice of teas, cakes and pastries as well as some more filling choices in the restaurant.
Feel free to browse through more of our selection of the best foodie experiences in Normandy.
The Must-Try Dishes of Normandy
- If you’re a bit of a carnivore, keep your eyes peeled for Agneau de pré-salé – lamb reared in Normandy’s salt marshes that has a distinct (and delicious) flavour.
- The region’s seafood is also rightly famed – you’ll find a mouthwatering selection on menus across the region, but if they’re in season (roughly September to April) the local oysters are some of the best you’ll ever taste.
- Thanks to its countless acres of orchards, apples are at the heart of some fantastic produce in Normandy. Unsurprisingly, Normandy residents make some fantastic cider, and their calvados apple brandy is legendary.
- Not one for the faint of heart (or weak of stomach), Tripes à la mode de Caen is tripe stewed in cider. It’s a bit of an acquired taste, but very representative of the region’s culinary style.
- And for dessert? A tarte aux pommes is a good place to start, but if you really want to eat like a local then try Teurgoule – a rich, baked rice pudding.
The Best Foodie Experiences in Normandy
- You can get right to the heart of Normandy by indulging in one of its most famous exports – calvados. This apple brandy is one of the region’s most prized products, and you can learn all about it (and try a sip or two) at distilleries throughout Normandy. One of our favourites is Christian Drouin in Pont-l’Évêque, which produces the spirit in beautiful 17th Century buildings.
- And with such a rich culinary heritage to enjoy, why not take a little of Normandy’s good eating back with you? Benoîtville’s Wilde Kitchen Cookery School offers courses to help you get to grips with some classic dishes from the area, and trips to markets and farms to grab yourself some ingredients makes the whole process more involving.
- Fromagerie Graindorge in Livarot is a cheese-lover’s dream! Not only is there an abundance of delicious cheeses to choose from, both entry and tastings at the fromagerie are free, so you really don’t have an excuse!
- Though you can only buy and not see how they’re made, the Yver Chocolatier in Granville is still where you’ll find some absolutely mouth-watering chocolates. It’s an absolute must for chocoholics, and kids will have a fantastic time there too.