15 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Normandy
With its beautiful, varied scenery and rich history, Normandy has much to offer visitors. Normandy boasts one of France's most famous tourist sights, Mont-Saint-Michel as well as impressive castles, splendid churches, and picturesque ancient towns such as Rouen. The seaside resorts of Honfleur and Deauville are popular during summer, and the natural beauty of the region's coastline, woodlands, and meadows is an attraction in itself. Along the Channel coast, dramatic limestone cliffs drop off into the ocean, while Lower Normandy is characterized by verdant, peaceful valleys. An idyllic pastoral area known as the "Suisse Normande" ("Norman Switzerland") attracts nature lovers and outdoor sport enthusiasts. Normandy is also well known as the site of Allied landings in 1944. There is evidence of World War II events throughout the region. Tourists can visit the military cemeteries, war memorial museums, and D-Day landing beaches, including Omaha Beach and Arromanches Beach.
1 Mont Saint-Michel
An important medieval pilgrimage destination, Mont-Saint-Michel is one of the most famous and most spectacular sights in France. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Abbey of Saint-Michel has a mythical quality, soaring more than 100 meters above the sea. The Gothic spires seem to reach towards heaven as the site beckons visitors to cross the foreboding Bay of Saint-Michel. During low tide, visitors may participate in a "traditional crossing" (a guided walk or a pilgrimage) to reach Mont Saint-Michel. During high tide, Mont Saint-Michel becomes an island only accessible by one road. The highlight of a visit is the Abbey Church, reached by climbing a 200-meter pedestrian path and then 350 steps to the top of Mont Saint-Michel. The magnificent Abbey built in the 12th century has a serene Romanesque sanctuary and an awe-inspiring Gothic choir. From the Abbey's terrace on the West facade, visitors can enjoy breathtaking panoramic views.
Wandering the medieval cobblestone streets of Rouen, visitors will enjoy the historical ambience and beautiful half-timbered houses. Magnificent Gothic churches are found at every turn and many are gems of architectural achievement. The impressive cathedral awes viewers with its splendid facade, which was depicted by Claude Monet in a famous series of paintings. Monet's pieces show the beauty of the cathedral at different times of day. Another important monument in Rouen is the Gros-Horloge clock tower in the center of town. Those who appreciate culture should visit the Beaux Arts Museum with its renowned fine arts collection. Rouen is also well known as the location where Joan of Arc was brought to trial. Tourists can see the tower where this courageous young woman stood before her judges and the spot where she was martyred. She later became a saint and now there is a contemporary church dedicated to her invincible spirit.
With its picturesque old harbor on the Seine estuary, Honfleur is one of the most charming towns in Normandy. About 25 kilometers away from Le Havre, the town has quaint cobblestone streets and many picturesque half-timbered houses. The old seafaring port was used by seamen who made voyages to Canada in the 16th century. On the north side of the harbor is the 16th-century Lieutenance building, the old governor's house, built on the remains of the town's ancient walls. One of Honfleur's most noteworthy attractions, the Musée de la Marine (Maritime Museum), is housed in the former church of Saint-Etienne built between the 14th and 15th centuries. The Maritime Museum tells the history of seafaring, fishing, and shipbuilding in Honfleur. A must-see attraction for lovers of Impressionist art, the Musée Eugène Boudin features an extensive collection of 200 works. Boudin's works represent more than half of the collection; the rest includes pieces by Monet, Courbet, Millet, and other Impressionist artists. The main museum is found at Place Erik Satie, while the annex lies in the free-standing belfry of the Church of Sainte-Catherine. An interesting tourist attraction in itself, this Late Gothic church was built by local shipwrights after the Hundred Years' War.
4 Caen Churches and Memorial Center
At the point where the Orne River meets the English Channel, Caen is the chief town of Lower Normandy and the capital of the département of Calvados. Although three-quarters of the town was destroyed during the Allied landings in June-July 1944, its magnificent churches survived almost entirely unscathed. Created as a tribute to Caen's suffering during the war, the Caen-Normandy Memorial Center tells the story of the Second World War, the D-Day Landings, and the Battle of Normandy. The museum aims to educate and express the theme of reconciliation. It also offers half-day and full-day guided tours of the D-Day Landing beaches.
Address: Le Mémorial de Caen, Esplanade Général Eisenhower, Caen
5 Bayeux and the Bayeux Tapestry Museum
In a fertile plain near the Atlantic Coast, the historic town of Bayeaux is most famous for the Bayeux Tapestry (called the "Tapisserie de la Reine Mathilde" in French). This masterpiece of medieval art is actually a work of embroidery rather than a tapestry. The exquisite 70-meter-long piece is a historic document that tells the story of the conquest of England by William the Conqueror (Mathilde's husband) in 1066 through the Battle of Hastings. Because of its cultural value, the Bayeux Tapestry has a UNESCO designation. Rendered in exquisite detail, the Bayeux Tapestry depicts 58 different scenes in incredible detail, including 623 figures, 759 animals, and 37 buildings and ships, along with a running commentary in Latin. Besides the Tapestry Museum, another noteworthy attraction in Bayeux is the Cathedral of Notre-Dame. Built in the 11th and 13th centuries, this cathedral is one of the finest examples of a Norman Gothic church.
Address: 13 bis Rue de Nesmond, Bayeux
6 Omaha Beach: D-Day Landing Beach and Museum
The most famous of the five Normandy D-Day Landing Beaches, this beach was the scene of the bloodiest battle of World War Two. Omaha Beach extends between Vierville-sur-Mer and Colleville-sur-Mer-the dramatic Atlantic coastline where sheer cliffs rise almost 100 meters above the sea. Visiting this site provides a chilling impression of the deadly fighting that took place here on D-Day (June 6, 1944). Remnants of German bunkers and military piers can still be seen in the cliff-fringed coastline. The American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer overlooks Omaha Beach. This cemetery contains more than 9,000 perfectly aligned gravestones, which makes it the biggest American cemetery in Normandy. Near Omaha Beach and the American Cemetery is the Overlord Museum, which chronicles the history of the Allied Landings and the Liberation of Paris. The museum's collection includes war vehicles, tanks, and guns as well as soldiers' personal items.
Address: Rond-point d'accès du Cimetière Américain, Lotissement Omaha Center, Colleville-sur-Mer
The upscale seaside resort of Deauville is one of the largest and most popular tourist destinations in Normandy. Its beautiful seafront features two kilometers of sandy beach and a promenade (boardwalk) for seaside strolls. Lifeguards are on duty daily from 10am to 7pm in July and August as well as in June and September (with more limited hours of supervision). Visitors can hire parasols, lounge chairs, and beach cabins. The colorful old-fashioned beach umbrellas and tents give the beach a classic 1920s look. Sunbathers can take a break from the beach to shop at fashionable boutiques or enjoy a meal at one of Deauville's stylish restaurants. Another attraction is the harbor. There are several boating marinas and the Port of Morny, with the Deauville Yacht Club. The yacht club organizes many high-level regattas, and the city of Deauville hosts sailing events such as Deauville International Week, attracting visitors from many countries. From the harbor, tourists can continue along the scenic Côte Fleurie ("Coast of Flowers"), which extends for 30 kilometers southwest to Cabourg.
8 Giverny: Monet's Garden
Monet's Garden is a must-see destination for lovers of Impressionist art. Claude Monet's former residence, Giverny, is a lovely property in the countryside about one hours' drive away from Paris. The house is charming, however the beautiful gardens are what distinguish the place. The vibrant flower garden is a delight, and the famous water garden with the Japanese bridge and a waterlily pond are surrounded by lush weeping willow trees. Monet devoted many years to painting different aspects of his garden; he was inspired by the varying reflections in the water and how the lighting altered the scenery throughout the day. Visitors can tour Monet's Garden and will recognize the different elements painted by Monet especially in his "Water Lilies" paintings.
Address: Rue Claude Monet, Giverny
Another popular summertime destination on the Côte d'Albâtre, the beaches of Fécamp attract many vacationers looking for a relaxing holiday break. Established in 1832, Fécamp was one of France's first seaside resorts, and it attracted a cultured and high-society crowd. Today, sunbathers and socialites alike enjoy the refreshing ocean scenery. The writer Guy de Maupassant lived in Fécamp for some time, and some of his stories are set in the town. Apart from the fishing harbor, the main tourist attraction here is the old abbey church of Sainte-Trinité, originally built in the 12th and 13th centuries. The interior is remarkably spacious with an exquisite choir and handsome Renaissance altar. The medieval pilgrimage chapel, Notre-Dame-du-Salut, lies on a steep chalk cliff to the north of town, while 11 kilometers away is the village of Valmont with a medieval castle and the ruins of a 12th-century abbey.
The popular seaside resort of Étretat lies on Normandy's picturesque Côte d'Albâtre coastline at the foot of spectacular white limestone cliffs. The cliffs reach 90 meters in height, and from the top are sensational panoramic views. The beautiful scenery of Étretat appealed to Claude Monet who spent a winter here in 1868 while capturing the dramatic landscapes and waterfront in his paintings. The beaches of Étretat are popular with sunbathers, and the ocean is a source of livelihood for fishermen who catch fresh seafood that is an important part of the local cuisine. Étretat also has many lovely Belle Epoque villas, the most well-known is the Villa Orphée. There is also the Villa La Guillette, which was built for the author Guy de Maupassant.
11 Suisse Normande (Norman Switzerland)
The name of Suisse Normande (Norman Switzerland) is given to the beautiful stretch of countryside in the Orne Valley, extending between Thury-Harcourt (south of Caen) in the north, Flers-de-l'Orne in the south, and Falaise in the east. With its green rolling hills, lush forests, and pristine lakes, this idyllic area of Lower Normandy offers an escape to nature. The Suisse Normande is a center of outdoor activities including hiking, mountain biking, climbing, canoeing, and kayaking. The winding river, rocky bluffs along its banks, and the intricate patchwork of hedges give the landscape a particular charm. The most striking features are the Rocher d'Oëtre in the hilliest part of the area, and the exceptional view from above the gorges of the Rouvre. Other picturesque areas include the Vère and Noireau valleys and the stretch of the Orne Valley between Thury-Harcourt and Pont-d'Ouilly.
12 Château de Fontaine-Henry
The most spectacular château in Normandy, the Château de Fontaine-Henry enjoys a peaceful setting in the verdant Mue Valley of Lower Normandy ( about 14 kilometers from Caen). The château was built in the beginning of the 13th century, and the family who owns Château de Fontaine-Henry traces their ancestry to the year 1200. During the Renaissance, the building was enhanced with splendid embellishments and is a notable example of Gothic and Renaissance architecture. The château has an impressive stone facade and an interior that is just as beautiful. The rooms are filled with exquisite furniture and a wonderful painting collection, including works by Mignard, Rigaud, and Robert. There is also a separate 13th-century chapel that was renovated in the 16th century. The Château de Fontaine-Henry is surrounded by forests and parkland. In the park, there are traditional games for visitors to enjoy.
Address: 3 Place du Château, Fontaine-Henry
13 Château de Caen
Built in 1060 by Guillaume le Conquérant (William the Conqueror), the King of England, this castle is one of the largest medieval monuments in Europe and a quintessential symbol of Caen's heritage. The château was a royal fortress in the Middle Ages and an English stronghold during the Hundred Years' War. During the Second World War, it was used as barracks by an infantry regiment. Both the Musée de Normandie and the Musée des Beaux-Arts (Museum of Fine Arts) are housed in the castle. The Normandy Museum offers an overview of the region's culture and history, including the history of the castle. The Fine Arts Museum of Caen is considered one of the most important art museums in France. The collection focuses on European painting (French, Italian, Flemish, and Dutch) of the 16th and 17th centuries. The museum's treasures include masterpieces by Poussin, Rubens, Veronese, and Brueghel among others. The museum's collection also extends to the 19th century with wonderful Impressionist pieces, such as paintings by Monet, Boudin, and Courbet.
Address: Le Château, Caen
14 Memorial Museum of the Battle of Normandy, Bayeux
Bayeux has a British World War II cemetery as well as the Memorial Museum of the Battle of Normandy. The museum boasts extensive exhibition space recounting the Battle of Normandy from June 7th to August 22nd, 1944. There is also an auditorium that shows the film "Normandy 44, a Decisive Victory in the West," based on archival documents. Created by a World War II historian, the film explains the major operations involved in the Battle of Normandy. The museum's main aim is to share the history with the public and to serve as a place of remembrance, while honoring the memory of fallen civilians and soldiers.
Address: Boulevard Fabian Ware, Bayeux
15 Arromanches D-Day Museum
Near Omaha Beach, the landing beaches of Arromanches were successfully captured by the British. The British 50th Northumberland Division destroyed German bunkers and installed an immense artificial harbor, the Mulberry Harbor. The museum lies near the shore, close to the spot where one of the harbors was constructed. It offers guided tours with working models that demonstrate how the artificial port operated. Visitors can also watch a documentary film featuring exceptional World War II archival footage. It's possible to see remnants of the harbors in the area, which now boasts a busy public square with many cafés and shops.
Address: Place du 6 Juin, Arromanches
Other Places of Interest
Another popular seaside resort on the Côte d'Albâtre coastline, Dieppe lies on the Channel about 60 kilometers north of Rouen. The two-kilometer-long bathing beach extends to the 15th-century castle on a chalk crag above the town. The castle now contains a museum. Northwest of the castle, the Boulevard de la Mer offers exceptional sea views. In the center of the town is the charming Place du Puits-Salé. Dieppe has two important churches: the Baroque church of Saint-Rémy built in the 16th and 17th centuries and the magnificent Gothic church of Saint-Jacques with its beautiful doorways and richly decorated interior. Dieppe was the site of a pivotal World War II Allied Landing, and there are a number of memorials to the Canadian troops who landed here as part of the disastrous raid that took place in 1942. In nearby Pourville-sur-Mer, a museum is dedicated to the history of the Dieppe raid.
An important commercial and market center, Evreux is the main town of the département of Eure. The main tourist attraction is the Cathedral of Notre-Dame founded in the 11th century. The cathedral boasts gorgeous 16th-century stained-glass windows and delicately wrought Renaissance grilles in the chapels around the choir. Other interesting sights are the 15th-century Bishop's Palace, which now houses the Municipal Museum, and the Tour de l'Horloge (Clock- Tower) that dates from 1490. The former abbey church of Saint-Taurin contains the 13th-century reliquary of Saint Taurin, considered a masterpiece of French goldsmith's work.
The popular seaside resort of Trouville lies about two kilometers northeast of Deauville, beyond a bridge over the Touques River. The beautiful beach and a boating harbor attract many visitors, especially during summertime. One highly recommended excursion from Trouville is a drive along the Corniche Normande, which skirts the coast high above the sea. This scenic drive offers extensive views all the way to Honfleur.
In a beautiful location on the estuary of the Seine, Le Havre is France's largest port after Marseilles. From 1840 to 1926, Claude Monet lived in Le Havre and painted many important works here. Le Havre suffered much damage during the Second World War and was almost completely rebuilt with many buildings designed by the architect Auguste Perret. The rebuilt city center offers interesting examples of modern architecture, such as the spacious Place de l'Hôtel-de-Ville with its functional tower blocks.