A trip to Normandy – the beautiful northern coast of France

trip to normandy coast etretat

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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.

4 day northern France itinerary – Rouen & Normandy’s classic coast

streets of honfleur france - normandy itinerary

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

rouen normandy france

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.

specialties of normandy cheese and cider

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

pont-leveque-cheese

Tip – if you are driving there is a handy underground car park near the Abbatial Saint-Ouen/Monastery of Saint-Ouen

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

half timbered house normandy

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.

pretty harbour of honfleur normandy

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.

ste catherine church honfleur trip to 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.

> Check accommodation options and latest prices in Honfleur

Things to do in Honfleur

church bell tower and interior ste catherine 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 normandy - trip to normandy

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

quaint streets honfleur normandy

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

sandy beach at trouville normandy

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

etretat cliffs normandy beaches

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

carousel in honfleur normandy - things to do in normandy france

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!

honfleur market normandy france

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

brocante honfleur 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

Paris is understandably a starting point for many trips in France. Once you have wandered the streets, and eaten your way around Paris, head to Normandy for some fresh country air.

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

mont st michel normandy france

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.

Bayeux

BayeuxTapestryScene22.jpg
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.

D-Day beaches

d-day beaches normandy france

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

visit giverny monets garden paris

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

brocante honfleur 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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64 thoughts on “A trip to Normandy – the beautiful northern coast of France

  1. Adonis Villanueva says:

    I only had a day and a half in Normandy on my previous trip. I mostly visited the coastal area where D-Day happened. I didn’t know there’s so much more to it than that! I’ll keep this in mind when I go back 🙂 Thanks for the article!

    • Katy says:

      Thanks Adonis. We had been to the D Day beaches too but were definitely in the mood for a more lighthearted trip. I think I could make a case for at least 3 more visits to Normandy!

  2. Meg Jerrard says:

    I would love the chance to visit Normandy – Rouen has been on my bucketlist ever since I did a project on Joan of Arc way back in primary school. Funny how some of those bucketlist items start and stay with you! Thanks for sharing your photos – I’m sorry about the Brexit too!

  3. Natasha says:

    Everything looks so amazing. We are planning to visit France in early November, so I need to narrow down which locations we will visit. It sounds like Normandy is so worth it! 🙂

    • Katy says:

      It’s so difficult to choose Natasha but I think at that time of year you might consider the South of France as it will be much warmer. Or just embrace the cold and head to the Alps! Have fun

  4. Jo says:

    I always say impromptu trips are the best. After reading this post, I am sure u agree 🙂 Driving along the Siene sounds dreamy. I wish I had explored more of France..I was just about stuck at Disneyland and Paris for two weeks lol

  5. Danielle Des says:

    I don’t think I’ve seen anything like Church of Sainte Catherine. The architecture looks so unique and reminds me of a time long ago. Did they offer tours inside? I would love to hear more about its historic importance and how it survived the test of time.

    • Katy says:

      Hi Danielle, You could simply walk in I’m not sure about the tours but it is not very big. The earliest parts of the church were built in the fifteenth century using ship building techniques. It is said the roof resembles the hull of a ship. I am sure those walls have a few tales to tell. Really appreciate your thoughtful comment

  6. Vyjay says:

    Normandy comes across beautifully, the towns have an elegance and old world charm which is so endearing. It would be such a great experience to stroll around leisurely in the streets of these towns.

  7. Paige Wunder says:

    I visited Honfleur 11 years ago now, and it makes me very happy to see that it is still just as charming as it was then. What a beautiful region to be able to take an impromptu trip to! Etretat seems to be such a beautiful place, and when my husband and I make it to France together is a spot we’d love to visit!

    • Katy says:

      I hope you do too Paige! I wouldn’t say time has completely stood still in Honfleur but it hasn’t moved too quickly either. It is such a beautiful place, it is no wonder Monet and the Impressionists were so inspired

  8. Star Lengas says:

    Impromptu trips across the EU was always my favorite thing about living in Germany. I wish I had the chance to explore Normandy, especially Rouen, I’ve always been fascinated with Joan of Arc! Also, the photos of Calais are gorgeous!

    • Katy says:

      Yes! I am sure some English people think it is bonkers the type of traveling we do. My kids have been to more places in Europe than a lot of people I meet. Oh well, their loss. We are not stopping now.

  9. Lolo says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this and have pinned lots of new destinations in Normandy to visit! Looks like it was a really amazing road trip! #MondayEscapes

  10. Clare Thomson says:

    I’ve wanted to visit Honfleur and Trouville for years. You’ve made Honfleur sound even better than I had imagined. It’s easy to forget how simple it can be just to head off to France. I love the idea of an impromptu trip away for the weekend – almost all the more special for being a ‘just because’ kind of trip. You’re giving me ideas…

  11. Kacy says:

    It certainly sounds like this trip would be a perfect cure for any ailment. Beautiful photos, and now I want to try some of that cider!

  12. Noemi of Pinay Flying High says:

    I can’t wait to the time that we leave for London! One of the things that I’m looking forward to is to be able to explore a new country nearby on a weekend which is impossible for me to do from where I currently live. Bookmarking this! 🙂

  13. Nell (the Pigeon Pair and Me) says:

    I feel the same way about Brexit. I just want to spend as much time possible in other European countries, to hang onto them before it’s too late! Where are you going after London? Great choice of Normandy for your trip – it’s one of my very favourite places in the world. #MondayEscapes

  14. Mary {The World Is A Book} says:

    Honfleur looks so charming and makes for a perfect getaway. I love all the colorful houses and that beach. Pedestrianized streets are always a welcome blessing when we travel with the kids. I have a teen and a tween now and they still can’t pass up carousels especially if they look like this. Love the photos!

    • Katy says:

      I adore the carousels too and am doing some research into the art deco ones as I find them so charming. Thanks for your lovely comment Mary

    • Katy says:

      I so want to visit Bayeux and return to Mont St Michel Rosie. What is the weather like in your part of the world in October? Might need to do another “impromptu trip”

      • Rosie @Eco-Gites of Lenault says:

        It is often lovely – last year we were able to have lunch outside right up to early November but other years it isn’t quite that warm. If you are interested in visiting Bayeux and Mont St Michel our gite isn’t that far away and we are also close to Falaise Castle, birthplace of William the Conqueror and the gorgeous region of Swiss Normandy. More details can be found on our website or ping me an email with any questions.

  15. Arnie Jacobse says:

    Honfleur is one of our favorites. Absolutely fell in love with it, and the little church dedicated to fisherman lost at sea, Cote de Grace, on the hill overlooking the town is a truly evocative experience.

    • Arnie Jacobse says:

      Just an added thought, have you been to Brittany yet? We worked our way from St Malo down the Atlantic coast to Auray and then inland to Nantes and Rennes last summer, and absolutely loved every minute of it.

      • Katy says:

        Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment Arnie. I have only spent a weekend in Brittany some years ago. It was a memorable trip as I was there with my fabulous aunt. I would dearly love to go back as a weekend just was not long enough. May we all spend more time in France very soon

  16. mytravelmonkey says:

    Normandy looks like a great destination for families. Having only just explored France earlier this year, it looks like somewhere we would be happy to visit. Such wonderful photos and glad you could have the chance to visit Rouen before the terrible atrocities last week and that it’s now shrouded in sadness. Thanks for linking up with #MondayEscapes

  17. nessafrance says:

    Thank you for this lovely reminder of Normandy. We now live in SW France, but visited Normandy a number of times before moving down here. I love the sights and particularly the food. I developed a taste for Normandy cider and the cheese and seafood are to die for! I recommend a visit to Monet’s house and garden in Giverny (go out of season), a great antidote to the world’s ills. #AllAboutFrance

    • Katy says:

      Giverny is on my France list! I agree about the food. If I was told I could only eat seafood and cheese forever I probably wuoldn’t mind!

  18. FrenchVillage Jacqui says:

    I love Normandy too and have some great holiday memories from there over the years, especially a weekend in Honfleur in February 2001, our son’s first trip to France aged four months old. #AllAboutFrance

    • Katy says:

      Thanks Jacqui. Does your son have an affinity with France now? We have been tripping around with our twins since they were 9 months old and I hope they get the travel bug!

  19. Phoebe | Lou Messugo says:

    This is a part o France I know well as we own a barn not too far from Honfleur. We also used to escape here when we lived in Paris (and when we lived in Calais) but now that we live 1000 kms away we go rather less. It’s much closer to you in London than to us in the same country! My son, the Teen, has just spent 5 days in Etretat with his girlfriend in the freezing wind and sleet! Not quite the same as your June weather. Thanks for sharing this with #AllAboutFrance, how did it escape being linked up for so long?

  20. Imps and Ramblers says:

    I loved my battlefield trip to Normandy last summer. It was there that I was assured that tripe was a local delicacy and tried it for the first, and absolutely, last time;) #AllAboutFrance

  21. Ruth says:

    Right now, this is the area of France I am more interested in visiting. It has a lot of the things I like: history, charming towns, good food and natural beauty. I even saw the area on a list of the most underrated areas in Europe. #AllAboutFrance

  22. Diane Oui In France says:

    Love Normandy and have luckily been able to visit a couple of times. Great pics, shared your post a while ago on my FB page. 😉
    #allaboutfrance

  23. Sharon says:

    I have been to Normandy twice and LOVED it! But I still haven’t been to Rouen and Hornfleur. I’m hoping to make it there someday. Thanks for sharing your info and photos!

  24. pamela says:

    I so loved reading your post and it was so informative. It all sounds so awesome… Would you consider Normandy a place for a honeymoon ?

    • Katy says:

      Hi Pamela. I think Normandy would be the perfect place for a honeymoon. I wish I had thought of it! Beautiful windswept beaches, amazing castles, pretty villages and towns and delicious food. Possibly the perfect honeymood I’d say. Are you thinking of going?

  25. Facundo says:

    It´s great to find a post on Normandy without a mention of the D-Day Beaches. There´s so much to see there other than the WWII historical site. Of course those places are also amazing and worth the visit. But it´s nice to see some other fresh places to enjoy. Safe travels!

    • Katy says:

      Thanks Facundo, really appreciate that. I didnt mention it specifically but we did avoid those sites deliberately because we had seen them before and felt it wasnt the most kid friendly activity

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