9 things to do in Normandy, France

Normandy Region – France you’ll fall in love with

What to visit in Normandy?

UNESCO World Heritage sights, a huge number of gastronomic specialties, 128 Michelin-starred restaurants, landscapes celebrated by the Impressionists – all this is Normandy. The province, which attracts up to 16 million tourists a year, is one of the five most important tourist regions in France.


  • 7 interesting facts about Normandy, France;
  • The main sights of Normandy and all of France;
  • The most beautiful cities of Normandy and Northern France;

Rouen is the capital of Normandy. Photo: brittany-ferries.co.uk

Rouen – the capital of Normandy. Photo: brittany-ferries.co.uk

7 interesting facts about Normandy, France

  1. Normandy takes its name from the Vikings, the “Nordic people” – the Normans. Scandinavian pirates attacked towns and monasteries from the sea, and by the tenth century began settling in the conquered lands of the future French province, giving it its name.
  2. Normandy has its own language – Norman. Although it has no official status, you may well hear it on the streets, especially in small towns.
  3. Normandy was part of England. From the 11th century Normandy was considered one of the lands of the English kings, tracing its lineage back to William I of Normandy. It did not finally pass to France until 1450.
  4. Normandy is the birthplace of French impressionism. Parisian artists went there in search of elusive lighting effects and picturesque nudes. Normandy is famous for the work of Claude Monet, Vincent Van Gogh, Alfred Sisley, Camille Pissarro and many others.
  5. Normandy’s picturesque nature and historic towns inspire writers and filmmakers. The province has produced such famous films as “Man and Woman”, “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg”, “Saving Private Ryan”, “Joan of Arc” by Luc Besson.
  6. Normandy is associated with the last page in the life of the Maid of Orleans – Joan of Arc was condemned and burned in the provincial capital, Rouen.
  7. Normandy has the highest tides in Europe: the difference between full and low water reaches 15 m.

The main attractions of Normandy and all of France

All the peoples and events that have passed through Normandy over the millennia have left their mark. They remain to this day, from the medieval “comique” carpet in Bayeux about the adventures of William I to the memorial complex on the site of the Allied landings in 1944.

Mont Saint-Michel, the Pearl of Northern France

The Abbey of Mont Saint-Michel attracts 3 million tourists a year – the second most visited attraction in France after the Eiffel Tower.

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According to legend, the abbey was founded in 708 by Archbishop Aubert of Avranches after he received a vision from the Archangel Michael. In the Middle Ages the abbey was a place of worship and attracted many pilgrims. They crossed the bottom of the sea on “low water”, but often fell victim to the treachery of the tides: dying in quicksand or drowning in a tidal wave that was then said to move at the speed of a galloping horse (6.5 km/hr, in fact).

Mont Saint-Michel is the only hilltop for many kilometers around. Author: Daria Ivanyushkina

Mont Saint-Michel is the only elevation for many kilometers around. Author: Daria Ivanyushkina

Over a thousand years, a small town has sprouted up on the slope of Mount St. Michael. On the island, which is completely pedestrianized, tourists can visit:

  • St. Michael’s Abbey with its spire rising 155 meters;
  • The old walls and lookout tower from the 13th century;
  • Grand Rue, the Great (and only one on the island) street between 15th- and 16th-century houses;
  • the famous historic Auberge de La Mère Poulard.

In addition to the expressive medieval architecture, Mont Saint-Michel is also a natural wonder. This is where the highest tides in Europe are recorded. Several times a month they are extreme and several times a year they are dangerous. When visiting Mont Saint-Michel, one must realize that at high tide, the sea floods the gates and cuts off the abbey from the only way to land.

Bayeux Tapestry, Normandy, France

The old town of Bayeux is charming in its own right – postcard wooden-frame houses, a picturesque watermill, a monumental Gothic cathedral, a beautiful botanical garden. But Bayeux’s greatest treasure is a 70-meter tapestry that tells the story of William the Conqueror’s accession to the throne, from the reasoning behind his claim to the throne to the epic battle of Hastings.

The Bayeux Tapestry is a world-famous monument to the march on England. Photo: bayeuxmuseum.com

The Bayeux Tapestry is a world-famous monument to the march on England. Photo: bayeuxmuseum.com

The rug is a canvas of 58 scenes embroidered, according to legend, by William’s wife, Queen Mathilde. The tapestry is astonishingly detailed and historically accurate; it is not without reason that reconstructors study it with a magnifying glass.

The purpose of creating a masterpiece of embroidery was very prosaic – once a year the carpet was taken out and unrolled in front of the cathedral, so illiterate people could remember the exploits of their great countryman and glorify his valor.

Museum Giverny, Normandy, France

The famous impressionist Claude Monet lived in Giverny for the last 40, most fruitful years of his life. Today, his small manor house has been restored and is open to the public.

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The museum’s exhibition consists of several objects:

  1. The artist’s house, a picturesque building with green shutters and carefully restored interiors with authentic furnishings.
  2. Clo-Norman Garden – Here from April through September, luxurious seasonal flowers bloom, planted in an artful imitation of wildlife.
  3. A water garden with water lilies and a Japanese bridge, familiar from many of Monet’s paintings, including his famous “Water Lilies” series.

Fans of the artist can visit his grave in the local cemetery. And if you want to continue your tour of the masterpieces of Impressionism, you can visit nearby museums:

  • The Giverny Impressionist Museum has more than 200 Impressionist works on display, not including temporary exhibitions;
  • the museum in the neighboring town of Vernon (10 minutes away) displays several works by Monet, as well as paintings by the American Impressionists who were part of the Commune of Artists of Giverny.

Memorials to the Allied landings in Normandy, France

The first scene of Saving Private Ryan gives a glimpse of the dramatic events of June 6, 1944, when more than 4,000 Allied men were killed during the landing alone.

The American cemetery near Omaha Beach is a monument to Allied losses in France. Photo: culturezvous.com

The American Cemetery at Omaha Beach is a monument to Allied losses in France. Photo: culturezvous.com

Today, memorials at these sites attract up to 400,000 American tourists a year. If you’re interested in these pages of history, it’s worth a visit:

  1. Omaha Beach. The 10-kilometer coastline stretched from Port-au-Bessen to the mouth of the Veer River. From here, with the landing of the 1st and 29th American divisions, the ground portion of Operation Overlord began, and it was here that the Allies suffered the heaviest losses. The ruins of German bunkers and piers are still visible on the shores, and monuments dedicated to the event (“Daredevils,” “Signal,” etc.) stand on the beaches.
  2. The American Cemetery at Colville-sur-Mer. The largest American cemetery, consisting of 9,000 tombstones that stand in straight rows, is a clear indication of the war losses suffered in Normandy. Not far from the cemetery is the Overlord military museum dedicated to the Allied landings and the liberation of Paris.
  3. City of Caen. Strategically located close to the coast of the English Channel, Caen played a significant role during the German occupation of France. Today, Caen has a Memorial Museum dedicated to the Allied landings, the Battle of Normandy, and World War II in general. Beneath the museum is General Richter’s bunker, where the German command post was located during the war.

In addition to war memorials, in the capital of William the Conqueror you can explore the 11th-12th century castle, which is among the largest in Europe, and several interesting Romanesque and Gothic churches.

The most beautiful cities in Normandy and Northern France

Every big or small town in Normandy is a little gem with amazing history and architecture. Let’s note a few.

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Rouen – the most interesting city in Normandy

The capital of Normandy, Rouen was founded by Gallic tribes before Christ. Today its well-preserved pedestrian center with its timber-frame houses and Gothic churches allows you to take a little trip back in time.

Rouen immerses itself in the atmosphere of the Middle Ages. Photo: tripsavvy.com

Rouen immerses itself in the atmosphere of the Middle Ages. Photo: tripsavvy.com

The main sights of Rouen:

  • Rouen Cathedral, a monumental 13th-century building with the tallest spire in France, which is familiar to art connoisseurs thanks to a series of paintings by Claude Monet;
  • The Museum of Fine Arts, which features works by Caravaggio, Velazquez, Van Dyck, Claude Monet, and Renoir, among others;
  • The Palace of Justice, a masterpiece of medieval architecture that once housed the Normandy Parliament;
  • The medieval clock tower with its magnificent Gros Orlage clock, a symbol of Rouen;
  • The tower in which Joan of Arc was imprisoned, and the very interesting modern church on the site of her burning.

Honfleur is the most beautiful city in Normandy and France

French old-world charm and a picturesque harbor on the Seine has brought Honfleur a well-deserved place in the list of the most beautiful cities in France.

The main attraction of Honfleur is the ancient harbor. Photo: normandie-tourisme.fr

The main attraction of Honfleur is the old harbor. Photo: normandie-tourisme.fr

Tourists can walk around the old harbor and see the governor’s house of the 16th century, visit the Maritime Museum and the museum of Claude Monet’s teacher painter Eugène Boudin, see the amazing Church of St. Catherine – the oldest and largest wooden church in France, built by shipbuilders after the Hundred Years’ War.

Deauville and Trouville are the most resort towns in Normandy

Resort towns on the coast of Normandy that came into vogue back in the mid-19th century and created the concept of beach tourism.

Deauville and Trouville are the best beach resorts in Normandy. Photo: normandie-tourisme.fr

Deauville and Trouville are the best beach resorts in Normandy. Photo: normandie-tourisme.fr

Today, tourists still come here to warm up on the 2 km long beach and swim in the English Channel. There are other attractions associated with prestigious French resorts: fashionable boutiques, spas, exclusive restaurants. Deauville hosts the International Polo Championship and the American Film Festival.

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Etretta is the most picturesque city in Normandy.

This small town is nestled by the famous chalk cliffs of the Côte d’Albâtre in Normandy.

The town of Etreta is famous for its amazing natural terrain. Photo: 35photo.pro. Author: Andrei Chabarov

Etretat is famous for its amazing natural relief. Photo: 35photo.pro. Author: Andrei Chabarov

With 90-meter cliff above the city offers incomparable panoramic views. Claude Monet, who spent the winter of 1868 here, captured the landscapes of Etreta in several paintings, appreciated its beauty. In addition to picturesque nature, the city offers cultural attractions – beautiful villas from the Belle Epoque, including the house of Maupassant “La Guillette” (privately owned).

Normandy’s gastronomy is a symbol of Northern France

Like other regions of France, Normandy has its own gastronomic face. Every locality has its own gastronomic attractions – in Caen it’s stew of ox stomach tripes a la mode, in Mortan – black sausage, and in Dieppe – flounder. Compared with general French cuisine, the differences in Norman cooking are the love of fatty dairy products (the Normans add butter and sour cream to everything), the abundance of game and seafood, and apples and their derivatives in all forms.

Sea farms in Normandy deliver the world's best oysters. Photo: sceadelisle.jimdofree.com

Sea farms in Normandy supply some of the world’s best oysters. Photo: sceadelisle.jimdofree.com

Seafood in Normandy.

Normandy is one of France’s leading seafood regions. Fresh fish and seafood are available in markets and supermarkets like Carrefour. Yes, you’re not wrong, in Normandy you can buy a box (not a dozen!) of the freshest oysters right in the supermarket. The fleshy, nutty Normandy oysters of the Isigny and Saint-Vaast breeds are especially prized by connoisseurs. If you want to, you can visit one of the oyster farms or go on an organized “Oyster Tour” of several of them.

Normandy is famous for its soft cheeses with a washed crust. Photo: authenticnormandy.fr

Normandy is famous for its soft cheeses with a washed crust. Photo: authenticnormandy.fr

Normandy cheeses are the most famous in France

Normandy ranks first in France for milk production – cheeses are produced on more than 600 local farms. The region is best known for its soft moldy cheeses with a buttery texture – Brilla-Savarin, Coutance, Saint-André, etc. Four Norman cheeses have AOP (appellation protected by origin) status, which means they can only be produced in the region. The most famous Norman cheeses:

  1. Camembert. The emblematic soft cheese made from raw milk with a white moldy crust was created by the dairywoman Marie Arel in 1791. Already by the end of the 19th century, the export of cheese required the invention of a special wooden box for transportation, in which Camembert travels to this day. Try the local specialty, Camembert soaked in Calvados, and don’t forget to visit the Camembert Museum in Vimoutier.
  2. Neuchâtel. France’s oldest cheese has been produced since 1035. The shape of the heart is historic – according to legend, the cheese was given by Norman girls to their beloved Englishmen during the Hundred Years’ War.
  3. Livaro. Known since the 17th century, Livaro was so popular it was nicknamed “the meat of the poor.” Today it is called a “colonel,” thanks to the cattail stripes around its circumference, reminiscent of an officer’s insignia.
  4. Pont l’Eveque. This soft, rectangular cheese rivals Neuchâtel in antiquity – it is already mentioned in the chronicles of the 12th century. Pont-l’Eveque holds 2nd place in France for aroma intensity – be careful if you take it on public transport!
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The best apples in France: the symbol of Normandy

Normandy’s apple orchards have been around since the 8th century, and the number of apple varieties grown here exceeds 800. In the region one must try the breast of duck in apple sauce, Norman apple tart or baked in dough apples – bourdelot. The province is also famous for its apple-based alcoholic beverages, especially its “signature” Calvados.

Calvados, or apple brandy, has been produced in Normandy since at least the 16th century, but its finest hour came at the end of the 19th century when an epidemic of phylloxera destroyed vineyards and caused great damage to wine-making. You can buy Calvados in the province of the same name and Normandy everywhere – from boutiques with the best representatives of this alcoholic drink to small home wineries on farms. But Calvados AOC from Pays d’Auge is most famous for its distillation in a traditional distiller.

Although Normandy lacks the Provencal lavender fields and gentle climate of the Côte d’Azur, the Parisian glitz and Renaissance splendor of the Loire, the region has its own charm, which is impossible to remain indifferent. The third largest province in France deserves more than one visit – it falls in love slowly, but forever.

We offer once again to admire the beauty of Normandy in the video:

Editor: Daria Ivanyushkina

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