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If you are in the mood for spectacular coastlines, delicious gooey cheeses and browsing local markets then plan a trip to Normandy in the north of France.
This French region is perfect for wandering pretty towns, soaking up the coastal breezes and walking barefoot on wide sandy beaches.
Northern France is easily accessible from the south of England and London as well as Paris and Belgium. Within a few hours you are soaking up the gallic vibes and getting your French fix in the fresh sea air.
Here is how we spent our days exploring Normandy’s coastal countryside.
What's in this article
- 1 4 day northern France itinerary – Rouen & Normandy’s classic coast
- 2 Day 1 – Rouen: Medieval city with half timbered houses
- 3 Day 2 – Picturesque harbour town Honfleur
- 4 Day 3 – Trouville by the sea
- 5 Day 4 – Étretat – the spectacular Normandy coastline
- 6 Tips for visiting Normandy with kids
- 7 How to get to Normandy
- 8 More highlights of Normandy for your onward journey
- 9 Resources for planning your trip to Normandy
4 day northern France itinerary – Rouen & Normandy’s classic coast
Northern France is beautiful and historic. I have been a little in love with France my whole life and this is one of my favourite regions.
In Normandy you will find rolling green hills, cows munching on green pastures, some of the prettiest towns and villages in Europe and of course delicious food. Not to mention spectacular coastal scenery.
We used our trusted Lonely Planet guide to help plan our four day trip to northern France starting in Rouen. We made our base in Honfleur and explored that town and nearby Trouville before our finale in Etretat.
Day 1 – Rouen: Medieval city with half timbered houses
Our first stop was the medieval city of Rouen. A thriving city in the Middle Ages, it most famous for its gothic cathedral and association with French legend Joan of Arc. She met her untimely end, burned at the stake, in the city’s Place du Vieux Marché.
For such a pretty place, the city has been the scene of great tragedy over the centuries. Rouen suffered serious damage during both world wars – 45% of the city was destroyed in World War II.
But not to worry, restoration has ensured that visitors can enjoy the charm of its gorgeous half-timbered houses and position on the banks of the Seine.
We wandered the cobbled streets and found a local restaurant – Restaurant La Petite Auberge – that satisfied our need for French food.
Like most regions in France, Normandy has some famous gastronomic specialties. We were keen to try the famous Normandy cider and cheese varieties but we were also tempted by the restaurant’s specialty – les escargots – snails!
Make time to stop at popular Fromagerie François Olivier to pick up some local cheeses when you are in Rouen. You will not be disappointed.
Pro tip – try the local Pont L’Évêque variety – it is soft and pungent just like a French cheese should be
Rouen is a city I would like to return to and explore further. Here are some of the things to do in Rouen that we missed:
▪️ the interior of Rouen Cathedral is breathtaking
▪️ at the Historial Jeanne D’Arc museum you can learn more about this French heroine via a multimedia reenactment of her trial
▪️ and the Musée des Beaux-Arts has an impressive collection (plus free admission)
You could easily spend several days in Rouen but those coastal breezes were calling.
Day 2 – Picturesque harbour town Honfleur
We drove along the Seine through the National Park – Parc natural regional des Boucles de la Seine – passing through the countless pretty villages of Normandy along the way.
You can’t help but fall in love with the half-timbered and thatched roofed buildings of Normandy. They are the perfect escape from a busy city life.
Our base for this trip was picturesque Honfleur, a harbour town overlooking the English Channel.
Honfleur is the ideal spot for a few days of relaxing and exploring northern Normandy.
Pretty Honfleur was immortalised by the Impressionist artists including Monet. Since then it has been a hub for artists and there are many galleries in the town.
Honfleur’s old harbour – le Vieux Bassin – is surrounded by colourful buildings and cobbled streets. It is easy to see why the Impressionists were so inspired by this pocket of Normandy. It’s literally pretty as a picture!
Where to stay in Honfleur
Honfleur has some beautiful hotels and B&Bs in the heart of the old town and near the harbour.
La Cour Sainte Catherine – >click here to check prices
- historic B&B in former convent just steps from the harbour
- lovely sun drenched garden where continental breakfast is served
- sitting area in every room
- 2 bedroom apartment suitable for families
Hôtel L’Ecrin – >click here for more information
- friendly hotel close to the old town and harbour
- large swimming pool and pretty garden
- free parking on site
- family rooms
On this occasion we stayed in the old town in a wonderful attic apartment with views of the church and clock tower. I found it using my tried and true method of finding the best short term apartment rentals – you can read about that here.
Our apartment was the perfect vantage point to see the market traders set up their wares on Saturday morning and hear the bells tolling and choir singing from the church below.
Things to do in Honfleur
We spent our days in Honfleur wandering around the produce market, choosing pastries, tasting (more) cheese and fruit before heading to the Vieux Bassin (Old Harbour) to admire the sailing boats.
The harbour is lined with colourful cafes and restaurants and has a magnificent 1920s carousel at its mouth. You can easily spend an afternoon simply enjoying the goings on at the harbour.
Don’t forget to visit the Church of Sainte Catherine (pictured above) and its clock tower. Built in the 15th and 16th centuries by local boat builders, these unique structures provide an additional focal point for the city.
Honfleur’s general household and souvenir market is held at the harbour on Saturdays. All the locals turn out and the atmosphere is festive.
If that is not enough market for you, Honfleur hosts a brocante (antique and bric a brac) market on the first Sunday of each month.
Soaking up the atmosphere, taking a walk along the promenade and browsing the shops and galleries built up our appetites. Luckily there are many wonderful eateries in Honfleur.
Where to eat in Honfleur
Of course there is an abundance of seafood to be found at all the cafes and restaurants in Honfleur. But our favourite was La Ciderie specialising in cider and crepes.
I tried the local galichot (pancake), described as a combination between a galette and a blini. I am not sure about that, but it was fluffy and delicious.
Day 3 – Trouville by the sea
In the early afternoon sun we drove the short journey to Trouville to enjoy some beach time. The beach at Trouville is wide, flat and sandy and stretches for over a kilometre.
In other words, great for kids young and old to run amok.
Trouville hosts several seaside attractions including a sandy beach park and fairground rides. These were the highlight for our kids but I enjoyed laying on the sand gazing at the nineteenth century mansions looking down over the beach.
We visited in June and while the weather and sea were a little bit cold for our Australian bodies, there were plenty of people were swimming.
Day 4 – Étretat – the spectacular Normandy coastline
We drove back to Calais via the spectacular white chalk cliffs near the town of Étretat. Here you can walk along the beach boardwalk and admire the cliffs and rock formations.
If you are feeling energetic, climb the cliffs for views of the surrounding coastline. If not, there is a tourist car train – perfect when you are managing tired or little legs.
The town itself has the typical half-timbered buildings of Normandy and you will find many restaurants, cafes and tea rooms catering for hungry visitors.
Tips for visiting Normandy with kids
Normandy is a wonderful destination for families. Apart from the wide sandy beaches we found playgrounds with equipment for all ages in all the locations we visited.
Pedestrianised streets ensure that supervising the little ones is relatively easy and they can explore unhindered.
Kids will quickly discover the fairground ride attractions. Who can resist treating children to a few turns on a carousel when you see the smiles on their faces.
It certainly makes for a happy holiday. And I don’t mind admitting that I enjoyed the carousel rides too!
Our children also loved the sights and sounds of the bustling markets.
They were keen to choose their own market produce including seasonal cherries, apricots and raspberries. And of course they gobbled up the delicious french pastries and crepes.
How to get to Normandy
Getting to Normandy is easy from Paris or the UK.
How to get to Normandy from the UK
If you are driving from the UK, take the Eurotunnel or ferry from Folkestone to Calais.
I prefer the Eurotunnel to the ferry services because it is a lot quicker but obviously that means you pay a bit more.
You could also catch the Eurostar from London St Pancras and pick up a hire car in Calais.
Pro tip – book your Eurotunnel and Eurostar tickets well in advance for the best deals on ticket prices
From Calais it is a 2½ hour drive to Rouen and the A16 and A28. It is another hour from Rouen to Honfleur on the A13.
Flights to Caen in Normandy leave from Southend starting in Spring. You can also fly to Paris and connect to train services from there.
We use Skyscanner to find the best flight deals and plan our trips.
How to get to Normandy from Paris
Train travel in France is fun and easy. Trains to Rouen from Paris take 1½ hours – even faster on the express – and leave from Gare St Lazare. If you plan well ahead you can pick up fares as low as €10 for this trip.
Alternatively, if you don’t have much time in France, you could join a guided tour of Normandy from Paris. It’s a long day and you would need to choose from:
- Mont St Michel day trip from Paris > click here for more info
- Visit a traditional Normandy village
- Explore beautiful Mont St Michel and its spectacular abbey
- Normandy D Day beaches day trip from Paris > click here for more info
- Explore Omaha Beach and the visitor center
- Visit the Colleville-sur-Mer cemetery dedicated to fallen American servicemen
- Enjoy a traditional lunch
More highlights of Normandy for your onward journey
Normandy is a large region that we had explored several times before. Our goal with this trip was to relax so we did not see some of the region’s main attractions:
Mont St Michel
If the pictures don’t make you want to go, I am not sure what will. Mont St Michel is a magical place and should be on your bucket list. The town and abbey built on a small rocky island has been attracting visitors for centuries.
It is a 2 hour drive from Honfleur to Mont St Michel.
Image on web site of Ulrich Harsh. Public Domain, Link
The historic town of Bayeux is just over an hour from Honfleur.
The famous Bayeux tapestry that commemorates the Norman conquest of England in 1066 is found here.
Of course many people visit Normandy to pay their respects to American, British, Australian and other Allied soldiers who fought in World War II. Normandy was the scene of the Allied assault into Nazi occupied France and was as a major turning point in the war.
You can take a tour of the Normandy beaches from Caen (just under an hour from Honfleur by car) – > click for ticket info and prices
Giverny – Monet’s Garden
Closer to Paris, you can visit Impressionist master Claude Monet’s beautiful garden at Giverny. You feel like you’ve stepped right into one of his paintings as you wander the grounds. Don’t miss the Japanese bridge and waterlily pond lined with weeping willows.
For more information about visiting Giverny, read our guide to the gardens. If you can’t squeeze Giverny into your Normandy itinerary you can do a combined day trip to Giverny and Versailles from Paris.
Resources for planning your trip to Normandy
I found these useful sites while researching our trip:
- Those keen to discover the local cider can follow the 40km cider route mapped out by the Normandy Tourist Board
- Normandy Then and Now is a fascinating resource full of suggestions, stories and an all round passion for Normandy
- Trouville has an English language website full of interesting information on activities and attractions
- More information about beautiful Rouen
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