Normandy Holiday Planning Guide
Discover the steep Normandy coast with its spectacular chalk cliffs, scenic villages, and posh seaside holiday resorts. The shoreline is perhaps most famous today for the D-Day invasion by Allied troops on June 6, 1944. Along the coast, you'll find museums and monuments commemorating this turning point in World War II. Beyond the shore, Upper Normandy is predominantly industrial, while Lower Normandy is more agricultural. The Channel Islands are British Crown Dependencies, but are also culturally and historically a part of Normandy. As you explore the region's old towns, note the Norman architecture, which follows a pattern similar to the English Romanesque architecture that arose in the wake of the Norman conquest of England in 1066. Typical Norman villages are marked by half-timbered houses in their old towns, and historical vessels in their old ports. On your visit to Normandy's Alabaster Coast, sample the local products: The region produces hard apple ciders, Calvados apple brandies, and famous Bénédictine liqueur instead of wine, due to an abundance of apple orchards.
Places to Visit in NormandyRouen
: Rouen is the infamous site where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake, but most visitors today come to see the grand cathedral that inspired Monet. Caen
: The city of William the Conqueror, Caen’s historical buildings bear the marks of the violent fighting that took place during the Battle of Normandy. Le Havre
: Le Havre boasts a series of modernist buildings, built to revive the city after the heavy bombing that took place here during World War II. The contemporary city center has been declared a World Heritage Site. Honfleur
: A stunning scene awaits you at Honfleur, where the picturesque harbor, 17th-century village, museums, churches, and monuments attract tourists from around the world. The colorful historical homes that line the waterfront cast breathtaking reflections upon the water. Bayeux
: Discover Bayeux's prized possession, the Bayeux Tapestry, which depicts the events of the Norman conquest of England. Deauville
: A trendy seaside resort for the well-to-do, glittery Deauville is a lavish seaside town that's home to a race course, an international film festival, and a prestigious marina.Mont-Saint-Michel
: Home to an acclaimed World Heritage Site, Mont-St-Michel is a medieval town filled with winding, cobblestone streets and a spectacular abbey perched atop a hill. Trouville-sur-Mer
: A popular tourist attraction in Normandy, Trouville-sur-Mer is a quaint fishing village with stretches of beach and a charming riverside town center. Cabourg
: Cabourg was the site where William the Conqueror drove French troops back into the sea. Today, the town is a seaside vacation destination, with long stretches of sandy beach and warm, sunny summer days. Dieppe
: Seaside Dieppe bears strong ties to the Canadian forces who fought to protect it. Today, the vacation spot is known for its pebbly beaches and scallop dishes.
Things to Do in Normandy
Popular Normandy Tourist AttractionsFondation Claude Monet
: Explore Claude Monet's personal collection with a visit to his home, complete with a Japanese bridge and stunning gardens. The landscape shows all the attention to detail that you'd expect from this masterful painter. Musee de la Tapisserie de Bayeux
: Home to an 11th-century tapestry that commemorates William the Conqueror's conquest of England, the Bayeux Tapestry Museum is a key stop on any history buff's Normandy itinerary. American Cemetery & Memorial
: Overlooking Omaha Beach, a stretch of lush green grass lined with rows of crosses forms the Normandy American Cemetery & Memorial, erected in memory of the over 9,000 American soldiers who gave their lives here during World War II. Memorial of Caen
: Take a step back in time at Memorial of Caen, a modern museum that showcases the history of D-Day, World War II, and the Cold War. Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Rouen
: Immerse yourself in Gothic architecture with a trip to Cathedrale Notre Dame de Rouen, where soaring ceilings, curious gargoyles, famed tombs, and a preserved archiepiscopal palace await you.Notre Dame Cathedral
: Breathtaking Cathedrale Notre Dame de Bayeux towers over the town below with its intricate design, delicate lines, statues, and crypts.Museum of the Battle of Normandy
: Experience life on the front lines at the Museum of the Battle of Normandy. The site is chock full of artifacts from the infamous D-Day battle, including several tanks, a howitzer, and a bulldozer. Le Vieux Bassin
: A dazzling collection of yachts and fishing boats lines the bank of Honfleur Harbor, where narrow, colorful homes are stacked impossibly close to each other, casting glittering reflections onto the water below. La Cite de la Mer
: Take your curiosity below sea level at La Cite de la Mer, a museum dedicated to the study and history of maritime subjects. Home to many aquarium tanks, a French Army submarine, and an ocean diving area, this major Normandy tourist attraction has something for everyone. Rue du Gros-Horloge
: Connecting an old market square to Notre Dame Cathedral is the pedestrian thoroughfare Rue du Gros-Horloge, named after its its main attraction, a 14th-century clock and monument that provides a panoramic view of the surrounding town.
Planning a Normandy Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in Normandy with Kids
Aside from its unpredictable weather, Normandy is an ideal vacation spot for families looking to slow things down a little, with its collection of historical attractions and seaside resorts.
The seaside towns of Cabourg
offer kids historical interest and beachfront fun.
Things to Do in Normandy with Kids
Catering to younger tourists, Musee de la Tapisserie de Bayeux
has a section where kids can color in replicas of the famous tapestry. A junior audio guide is available for older children.
Kids with an interest in cars, trucks, and trains will love Museum of the Battle of Normandy
, where preserved World War II tanks and other war machines are on display.
Perfect for rainy Normandy afternoons, the aquariums at La Cite de la Mer
provide endless fascination. Curious youngsters will enjoy peering into a French Army submarine at La Cite de la Mer.
Home to many endangered species, Cerza
is a zoo and conservation center offering a safari experience. At Cerza you'll see alligators, snakes, fish, turtles, kangaroos, and giraffes.
Younger children will be mesmerized by the open-air wildlife exhibits at Zoo de Champrepus
. Zoo de Champrepus is home to giraffes, lemurs, otters, penguins, and aquatic features. The zoo's tropical area boasts lions and monkeys.
Tips for a Family Vacation in Normandy
When traveling with kids, it's easiest to get around Normandy by car. Car seats are available for rental, along with all the baby essentials--cribs, highchairs, baths, bottle warmers, changing tables, and security equipment.
Many of the region's towns offer tourist trains as an alternative to walking around with a stroller in tow.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Normandy
Cuisine of Normandy
The cuisine of Normandy centers around three main staples: seafood, apples, and dairy products. The region is renowned for world-class cheeses, including Neufchâtel, Pont-L'Evêque, Livarot, and Camembert. Try a variety of local meat delicacies, ranging from saltmarsh lamb to creamy chicken.
is on your Normandy itinerary, feast on their sole and oyster specialities.
Foodies will delight in the creamy omelettes at Mont-Saint-Michel
, accompanied by andouille sausages, tripe, and foie gras.
For dessert, pop over to Rouen
and satisfy your sweet tooth with apple sugars and toffees.
Shopping in Normandy
If you're looking for a little retail therapy, you'll appreciate Normandy's boutique shopping options, a welcome change from the mega shopping centers of Paris. The boutiques and flea markets focus on crafts, antiques, and fine food.
Pick up some culinary delicacies as a souvenir of your visit to Normandy; you'll find plenty of cheeses, foie gras, cider, chocolates, and preserved fruit.
The major town of Rouen
is your best bet for the latest in French fashions and fine porcelain. If you're staying for the weekend, visit Place Saint Marc market, loaded with vendors selling antiques and knick-knacks.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Normandy
History of Normandy
The border of Normandy was first outlined in the 3rd century by the Roman Emperor Diocletian. The land that constitutes today's Normandy fell under the rule of Constantine I, as did England. Following the collapse of the Roman empire, Normandy was invaded by the Germanic tribes that eventually created today's France, Spain, and Italy.
When King Edward the Confessor died in 1066, leaving no heirs to his throne, mass upheaval broke out. One of the three contenders for the throne was William the Conqueror, whose great aunt was the mother of the late king, and who claimed the king had bequeathed the throne to him. William assembled an army and led a force into the decisive battle of Hastings, successfully securing his hold on the throne. You can visit his former residence today at Chateau Guillaume le Conquerant
In the 15th century, Normandy was reoccupied by the English, but was reunified with France following the Hundred Years War. French rule did not sit well with the Norman people, however, and a series of ultimately unsuccessful revolts erupted.
Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, Normandy experienced periods of peace and prosperity that were violently interrupted by the ravages of the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, and the Franco-Prussian War.
During World War II, Normandy was part of the German-occupied zone of France. On August 19, 1942, the Allied Forces, mainly Canadian and American soldiers, initiated an attack on the coastal town of Dieppe. The Dieppe Raid was hugely unsuccessful and resulted in 3,367 deaths. On June 6, 1944, the Allies coordinated a large-scale invasion of Normandy, led by British, American, and Canadian troops, known as Operation Overlord or D-Day. The invasion was a significant turning point in the war, eventually leading to the restoration of the French Republic. Devastated by World War II, Le Havre was the first town to be liberated. The remainder of Normandy was liberated on May 9, 1945.
Today, the Battle of Normandy and the D-Day invasions are a focal point of many of Normandy's tourist attractions, including American Cemetery & Memorial
, Memorial of Caen
, and Museum of the Battle of Normandy
Landscape of Normandy
Normandy's spectacular steep chalk cliffs loom above the historical coastal towns below, making for stunning scenery along the Alabaster Coast.
The long coast boasts many of the most distinctive things to see in Normandy, such as Falaise d'Etretat
, a particularly scenic stretch of cliffs and beaches.
Holidays & Festivals in Normandy
Normandy celebrates many festivals and holidays that not only promote the region's rich history, but also showcase national and international artists.
History buffs on a trip to Normandy will appreciate the festivals in May and August that celebrate Normandy's medieval history. During these months, many towns have street music, parades, markets, minstrels, tournaments, and reenactments of historical events. One such festival is the Fetes Jeanne d'Arc and Medieval Markets, held in Rouen
in May every year. Bayeux
hosts another such festival in June.
During the autumn months, from October to the end of November, Normandy hosts its trademark Autumn Festival, with over 60 theater, music, and dance performances. The events include eclectic presentations, carnival events, circus acts, and experimental multidisciplinary performances.
Normandy Travel Tips
Climate of Normandy
Normandy's coastal location means that the climate is subject to change at a moment's notice, due to the sea and unpredictable winds. More often than not, the weather in Normandy is mild and wet, which contributes to the lushness of the countryside. The temperature only fluctuates slightly, ranging from 3°C (37°F) in winter to 18°C (64°F) in summer.
Transportation in Normandy
When traveling through the region on a Normandy vacation, hiking enthusiasts may opt to take the long, scenic coastal footpath that runs from Honfleur to Avranches and then to Mont-St-Michel.
For a quicker way to see the sights, you can easily journey by car or by train.
Language of Normandy
Though French is the only official language in Normandy, you may encounter the Norman dialect during your holiday. You'll hear this dialect in mainland Normandy, where it bears no official status, but is still taught in a few colleges in the town of Cherbourg. Native French speakers will find both written and spoken forms of Norman comprehensible.