If you’ve never visited France before, then Normandy is a great place to start. Often called the historic Duchy of Normandy, this northern French region is perhaps most known for its blood-soaked D-Day beaches.
But there are many other things to do in Normandy including the iconic Mont-Saint-Michel, illustrious Monet’s Garden, and the unbelievable Bayeux Tapestry.
In this 10-point guide, you’ll discover the quaint villages, picturesque gardens, beautiful chateaus and delicious cider Normandy has to offer. Plus, we’ll also share our tips four touring the region in a campervan and how to find the best aires to use throughout Normandy.
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Top 10 Things to Do in Normandy
To prepare this handy guide for you, we’ve spent a glorious month in Normandy, enjoying beautiful towns, cities and the idyllic French countryside. We toured the region and beyond in our van conversion and stayed at some fantastic spots thanks to the helpful resources that we’ll share with your further down this guide.
But for now, here’s our take on the top 10 things to do in Normandy.
1. Soak Up the Impressionism at Claude Monet’s Garden
Out of all the things to do in Normandy, the excellent Monet House and Garden are sure to be a highlight of your tour around the area. Located in the small and charming village of Giverny, a visit here can make an easy day trip from Paris.
Lovingly restored after suffering severe damage during WWII, the house, flower garden, and the famous water lily garden are a delight to explore.
While the greenery and flowers grace Monet’s garden for most of the year, spring is, of course, the prime time for planning your trip to the home of the founder of the impressionism.
A visit in April will see you exploring tulips, forget-me-nots and daffodils. In May, you’ll be greeted by pink rhododendrons and violet wisteria suspended over the bridge from Monet’s painting.
If you love roses, plan your visit in the summertime. Also, July is when water lilies start opening up and August is the last month when you can see Nymphaeas in full bloom.
The two-storey artist’s house overlooking Clos Normand, the main flower garden, will take you on a journey through the artist’s work and daily life.
To extend your visit beyond Monet’s Garden, head to the Église Sainte-Radegonde de Giverny church. Next to the church, in a small cemetery, you’ll find Claude Monet’s modest grave.
We highly recommend exploring Giverny before or after the garden’s opening hours. That’s when you can soak up the peacefulness of the village and appreciate just how beautiful Giverny is. You are also more likely to have the small church and cemetery all to yourself.
2. Catch the Sunset at Saint Mount Michael
Pictured in the one-thousand-year-old old Bayeux Tapestry, Saint Mount Michael (Mont-Saint-Michel) is one of the most extraordinary places to visit in Normandy, France.
Located on the tidal island where Brittany and Normandy merge, it’s a mesmerising UNESCO World Heritage Site. Eternally popular with visitors year-round, it’s the second most-visited site in Normandy and France after the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
Founded by an Irish hermit, Saint Michael’s Mount has seen centuries of change since it was first constructed here in the 8th century.
Today, thanks to the newly constructed bridge, connecting the island to the mainland, this Normandy attraction welcomes over 3 million visitors a year. And although the inside of the fortress can feel a bit like Disneyland, the views from the top are worth the climb.
One of the biggest attractions inside the walls is the La Mère Poulard restaurant which was opened here in 1888. Annette Poulard, the founder of the original inn devoted her life to feeding pilgrims and visitors alike at the Mont Saint Michel.
Alongside many other French dishes, she has invented the famous puff omelette that she cooked over the fire in the fireplace. If you have a spare €39, you too can try it at the restaurant.
But the best part of Mont Saint Michel is the location itself and the external walls reflecting in the water surrounding the mount. The reflection and sometimes spooky fog encircling the mount makes for fabulous photography conditions.
If you can time your visit with low tide at sunset, then you can take a smashing shot of the iconic fortress in all its glory from the beach.
How to get to Mont-Saint-Michel from Paris
It’s easy to reach Mont-Saint-Michel in Normandy by car, train or campervan.
The closest train station to Mont-Saint-Michel is Pontorson and can be accessed from Paris Saint-Lazare and Paris Montparnasse train stations.
From Saint-Lazare, you’ll need to take a train going to Caen. From Caen, change for the TER (Transport express régional) train to Pontorson and then catch a shuttle bus to the mount.
From Paris Montparnasse, you’ll need to take a train going to Granville and change at Folligny. From here, you can get a shuttle bus as above.
Alternatively, to take the hassle out of your day, you can book a day trip to Mont-Saint-Michel from Paris.
Accessing Mont Saint Michel
To preserve the natural surroundings, the parking lot is located around 1.5 miles away from the mount. Around 800m from the carpark, you can take a modern shuttle bus, ‘Passeurs’ for easy access or walk.
Top tips for campervans
In case you are touring Normandy in a campervan, seek out Maison Jehan Michel, a little cider shop along the main road towards Mont Saint Michel.
In exchange for buying their delicious local produce, you can park your motorhome behind the shop with a view to the mount! Be sure to pick up their excellent pear cider and mouth-watering chocolate and pear spread, Confiture de Poire au Chocolat. From here, you are within a walking distance to the famous Normandy attraction.
Otherwise, there is a designated campervan stop near Mont Saint Michel called Aire du Mont Saint Michel which costs €16.50 per night including all facilities.
Is it worth going to Mont St Michel?
Yes, it’s worth ticking off one of the world-renowned places to visit in Normandy. If not for the history and puff omelette, then for the brilliant photo opportunities at any time of day.
3. Tour Honfleur Like a Local
Characterised by the Vieux-Bassin lined with 16-18 century colourful townhouses, Honfleur is a busy medieval harbour town that sits on the estuary where the Seine river meets the English Channel. The old port is the most picturesque part of the town and therefore crammed with restaurants, galleries, and other tourist attractions.
Despite the business, the seaside town is charming and worth a visit. Once you’ve taken in the beauty of the old port, take the path leading towards the beach through Jardine des Personalites. The park is filled with stone busts of various personalities making the strolling fun and educational.
Other things to do in Honfleur include exploring the many medieval churches such as Saint Catherine’s Church and Notre Dame de Grace. Also, pop into the Eugene Boudin museum to learn more about the famous French painter and Monet’s friend.
For the best experience and to go beyond the touristy spots, explore Honfleur with a local who can show you Honfleur’s best-kept secrets and take you to the best food spots.
Tips for motorhome travellers
There’s a large motorhome camping site right next to the fairground, around 800 m from the old harbour. It has some 200 motorhome spaces with limited facilities and costs around €11 per campervan per night. Max stay 12 hours.
We stayed there overnight when visiting Honfleur and despite the site being quite busy with campervans, we had a peaceful night’s sleep.
4. Discover Christian Dior’s Childhood Home
For more unusual things to do in Normandy, visit the former Dior family home in Granville. Don’t go out of your way to see it, but if you are nearby, pop in for a quick visit. The location is fabulous.
For €7 you can enter the Belle Epoque era house and enjoy the small but tasteful museum displaying haute couture as well as photos celebrating Dior’s life.
The best part here is the outdoors. Free of charge you can wander around Dior’s childhood home’s elegant gardens and enjoy views stretching across the sea to Jersey on a clear day. In the garden, there’s a delightful tea room serving delicious French patisserie.
5. Admire the Ancient Bayeux Tapestry
You can’t leave Normandy without seeing the one-thousand-year-old Bayeux Tapestry, a 68-meter long embroidered cloth depicting the conquest of England by William, the Duke of Normandy in 1066.
It’s amazing how the embroidery managed to stay intact for hundreds of years, even after being used as a cover for military wagons during the French revolution.
Seeing the embroidery displayed at the Musée de la Tapisserie de Bayeux in Bayeux is one of the absolute must things to do in Normandy. As you slowly move along the glass display, listening to the audio guide, scene after scene stitched exquisitely with the colourful wool yarn unfolds in front of your eyes (you’re not allowed to take pictures of the tapestry).
In total 70 scenes tell the most famous story in British history, the battle of Hastings and the events leading up to the legendary battle.
Arriving at the Musée de la Tapisserie de Bayeux as early as you can, gives you the best chance of beating the crowds so be sure to plan an early morning visit.
Other things to do in Bayeux include visiting the magnificent gothic-style Cathedrale Notre-Dame, especially the atmospheric crypts. They look quite spooky in the evening light.
For a relaxing stroll, head to Bayeux Botanical Garden, home to 400 trees as well as the natural monument, ‘weeping beech’. The park is free to enter.
To learn more about the D-Day, the Memorial Museum of Battle of Normandy is home to numerous military memorabilia from the largest seaborne invasion in history.
If you have time, visit Bayeux War Cemetery with its 4,500 graves, mostly British soldiers. It’s also just a short drive from Bayeux to visit some of the Normandy landing beaches.
Top tips for campervans
Just outside the centre, across the park from the cathedral, there’s a parking lot where you can park overnight. We arrived at Bayeux the night before and were first in line to enjoy an unobstructed and uninterrupted view of the tapestry.
6. Visit the Landing Beaches in Normandy
Often referred to as the D-Day beaches, Omaha, Sword, Utah, Gold, and Juno are the main landings in Normandy used for the biggest and bloodiest Allied seaborne invasion into Nazi-occupied territory.
On 6 June 1944, British, Canadian and American troops landed on the shores here, initiating operation Overlord. Being close to England, easy to reach and less well-defended, these five beaches were perfect for the allied operation.
According to the history books, Omaha beach witnessed the goriest of all the fights. Over 2,000 American troops died or went missing due to an underestimation in the number of German troops on the beach at the time of the attack.
Overlooking the beach, you can now visit the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, created to honour the US troops who lost their lives during World War II. Some more on that below.
Most of the beaches today have some form of memorabilia or visitor centres to commemorate the D-Day landings in Normandy.
The Gold beach has great panoramic views while the Sword beach is lined with beautiful villas built in Anglo-Norman architecture right on the beach.
Get access to museums and have a full day exploring the Normandy D-Day landing beaches with this top-rated tour.
7. Honour Troops at the American Cemetery and Memorial
As you explore the picture-perfect French villages along the coast of Normandy, schedule a quick stop at Colleville-Sur-Mer. Here, overlooking Omaha beach, you’ll find a heart-clenching yet absolutely beautiful cemetery honouring American troops who lost their lives during WWII.
The cemetery is home to 9,388 graves, all marked with identical white marble crosses and stars of David for the Jewish soldiers. The walk along the cemetery is one of the most peaceful things to do in Normandy.
The main memorial building in the cemetery displays maps of landings on the Normandy beaches as well as military operations. You’ll also see an American flag which, at certain times, gets folded away as a sign of respect to all the people who fought in the war.
The cemetery, run by the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) is a really lovely place to visit, especially because you can see the beach from the top of the site. The symmetrical rows of marble headstones look even more impressive against the backdrop of the deep blue sea.
Tips for campervans
By the main entrance, there’s a pretty large free car park which can accommodate even the largest of motorhomes, if you are touring Normandy in one.
8. Explore Rouen’s Best-Kept Secrets
There’s so much to see and do in Rouen with some sights more unusual than others. Find the very spot where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake, look for King Richard’s Mummified Heart, sip coffee, and eat French food.
With the fine arts museum and the spires of Notre Dame of Rouen, the capital of Normandy is often referred to as mini Paris. Alongside its charming old town, gothic churches and Parisian-like cafes, you’ll also find some rather unusual attractions in the city, making it one of the most interesting places to visit in Normandy in one day.
During your visit, be sure to pop into Musée Le Secq des Tournelles. Housed in an abandoned church, the atmospheric museum showcases a collection of 1,400 art pieces all made from wrought iron.
One of the last examples of a medieval cemetery, the Medieval Plague Cemetery is another unusual place to see in Rouen. But if you want to wander outside the pristine touristy streets of old Rouen, head to Jardin des Plantes on the southside of the city.
Located an hour away from the French capital and easily accessible by train, Rouen makes a chill day trip from Paris. Follow our Things to do in Rouen article to see what are the other fascinating things to do in Normandy’s capital city.
9. Go Back in Time at Chateau Gaillard
On the way to Monet Garden, stop at the commune of Les Andelys, home of classical French Baroque painter Nicolas Poussin. While the town itself is not the most inspiring, the nature surrounding it is truly picturesque. You’ll be able to see it as you drive down towards the Chateau.
Overlooking the river Seine, the imposing Château Gaillard was built in just two years by Richard the Lion-Heart, King of England and the Duke of Normandy. Considered a military masterpiece, the 12th century ruined medieval castle was constructed to guard Normandy against Philippe Auguste, the King of France.
However, just a year after the castle was built, the Duke of Normandy was shot by a crossbow and died from the infected wound. The Chateau passed on to King John who was too weak to make a stand against King Philippe. From then on, the castle passed between various owners until it eventually fell into ruin.
Surrounded by a large moat, a visit to Château Gaillard is certainly one of the most impressive things to do in Normandy. It’s worth a quick detour if you are after some good travel photo opportunities.
10. Drink Apple Cider on the Picturesque Cider Trail
With so many things to do in Normandy, you’ll need a break to catch your breath and quench your thirst. One thing for sure, you won’t be short of cider options when travelling around Normandy.
During our explorations, we’ve learnt that nothing can be as refreshing as a glass of crisp cider made from the local apples or pears when touring around the picturesque French countryside.
To try some, simply pop into a supermarket and buy what tickles your fancy or visit one of the numerous calvados distilleries along the way.
East of Caen, you’ll find a circular cider walk called The Cider Trail which takes you through delightful countryside roads leading to many distilleries which welcome visitors. Start with Cambremer village and see how many more you can visit. There are 20 or so distilleries along the trail to enjoy so take it easy and pace yourself!
Tips for Travelling Around Normandy
Where to Stay in Normandy
There is no shortage of fantastic accommodation in Normandy. Whatever your taste, a city apartment, luxury hotel or a countryside villa, you’ll find many options to suit your budget via the trusted Booking.com or Airbnb.
To search for the best deals available right now and compare the prices, use the handy HotelsCombined site. But most importantly, book your hotels in Normandy well in advance, especially during the peak summer season.
The Best Way to Tour Normandy
France is incredibly well set up for campervans and therefore one of the best ways to tour Normandy is in a campervan or motorhome. There are many Aires around the region where you can park your campervan for free or for a small charge. Some of the more luxurious private aires may charge a small fee for water and showers.
The best thing about exploring France in a campervan is that you get to see how beautiful the French countryside is. Plus you can stop at the many little villages with top-class boulangeries and patisseries whenever you feel peckish.
Throughout our travels around Normandy in our van conversion, we stayed in so many cute villages and that’s what made our trip so memorable. To find the best camping car spots, we used a combination of the All the Aires France guidebook and the Park4night mobile app.
Avoid the Toll Roads
One thing you need to be aware of when touring Normandy is the toll roads which can soon get expensive to use if you have a busy itinerary.
To avoid the toll roads, we used Google maps navigation and selected the ‘avoid tolls’ option. This does increase your total journey time, but only usually by a few minutes, whilst the savings can be substantial if you are in Normandy for several days.
Planning a tour around Normandy? What’s on your itinerary? Let us know in the comments below…