10 Unforgettable Things To See In Normandy

Visitors to France typically focus on iconic landmarks in Paris, the lavender fields of Provence, or the luxurious resorts along the Côte d’Azur. Few realize that there are many things to see in Normandy and plenty to do.

Beautiful, unspoiled scenery, great food, and magnificent historical landmarks exist. You’re sure to find something to enjoy. But for an extra memorable vacation, try these 10 unforgettable experiences in Normandy.

Go on a D-Day Historical Tour

The coastline of Normandy was the scene of the most famous military invasion to date. Known to many simply as D-Day, this military operation saw more than 156,000 American, British, and Canadian troops land here to fight the occupying Nazi troops and was a significant turning point in the Second World War.

As part of the WWII D-Day invasion, Allied forces landed at Omaha Beach, which is located in Normandy, northern France. German bunkers still dot the beach today. The stainless-steel sculpture Les Braves stands on the shore in honor of American soldiers. A museum behind the beach also provides information about the invasion. Dioramas and tanks from WWII are displayed at the Overlord Museum nearby.

Normandy has its fair share of military landmarks and museums to commemorate this event. But if you’re a military history buff with a deeper thirst for knowledge and adventure, a Band of Brothers Tour is the way to go.

Their tours are carefully curated to provide the ultimate war history experience, with expert guides fluent in English. You’ll see all the most critical WW2 sites across Europe.

However, the 6-day Beaches of Normandy tour is one of the most popular, offering fresh insights into Normandy’s role in the war. It allows you to experience the tragedies and triumphs of memorable military events while enjoying an unforgettable vacation you’ll be talking about for years.

Stroll Through “Mini Paris” – Rouen

Forget Paris. Normandy’s capital, Rouen, is the region’s “mini Paris.” Situated on the banks of the Seine, Rouen boasts the famous Rouen Cathedral, although the area is more well known as where the historical figure Joan of Arc was burned at the stake.

However, Rouen has much more to offer, and you’ll be delighted by gothic-style churches, Parisian-style cafes, and even a fine arts museum. Some of the outstanding landmarks of Rouen include the Astronomical Clock known as the Gros-Horloge and the Cathedral of Notre Dame.

But this city’s most beautiful attractions extend past those built of stone, wood, and glass. Nature’s greener elements steal the show at the Jardin des Plantes de Rouen. This botanical garden covers 8 hectares and includes a rock garden, rose garden orchard, and much more. Entrance to the garden is free.

Explore a UNESCO World Heritage Site

The UNESCO World Heritage program preserves sites of cultural significance and historical value. This brings them international recognition so that ensuing generations can appreciate these places of interest and learn more about them.

A trip to Normandy offers travelers various UNESCO sites, and Mont-Saint-Michel is one of the most spectacular. This Gothic-style Benedictine abbey and walled-in village sit atop a rocky islet where Normandy and Brittany’s tides merge.

The Abbey is centuries old yet is as impressive now as it was, presiding over the surrounding waters from its rocky summit. Treat yourself to a tour of this ancient abbey and marvel at the architectural wonders inside. It is open to the public all year round.

Several tours include “In the Archangel’s Heavens” and “The Bastille of the Sea and its Dungeons.”

Normandy & Mont Saint Michel Tours From Paris

Many people take a day tour to Mont Saint Michel or Normandy from Paris. Most choose one or the other. I’ve personally done the Paris to Mont-Saint-Michel. It’s worth it, but getting to the coastline from Paris is a long day. Regardless, if you can’t do one of the week tours, here are some great options:

Soak up the Sun With Some Outdoor Sports

If your vacation idea includes some fun in the sun, you’ll love Normandy. Mountain and electric bike rentals are widely available for sightseeing on two wheels. You can also hike among the soaring cliffs of Étretat for panoramic landscapes and breathtaking sea views.

If you’re a watersports fan, you’re in the right place, too. Thanks to its 600km (372.8 miles) coastline and beautiful rivers, lakes, and other waterways, Normandy is the perfect setting for thrilling watersports. The Manche, Calvados, and Seine-Maritime coastal departments offer world-class water sports facilities.

You’ll also find many water-based activities. Consistent winds and pleasant weather make Normandy the ideal spot for sailing, surfing, canoeing, and more.

If possible, time your Normandy vacation with the yearly Normandy Channel Race. This European regatta, which starts and ends in Caen, follows a 1000-mile route and passes through the English Channel. It takes place every year in Spring, drawing crowds from far and wide.

See the Sights in a Campervan

If you want a family-friendly vacation, consider touring Normandy in a campervan. Like many other European regions, Normandy is well-suited to camper tourists, with many designated campervan stops.

You will find one near Mont Saint Michel and another large motorhome camping site near the charming Honfleur Harbour. So you and your family can travel comfortably and see Normandy’s most popular attractions your way.

If you prefer getting closer to nature, pitch a tent at the Campsite le Cormoran. This 5-star campsite offers every camping experience, from campervan and motorhome stalls to tent pitches. It’s right near the Utah landing beach of Normandy fame, making it the perfect spot to use as a base for some sightseeing.

Visit Celebrity Homes and Gardens

Many famous people throughout history have called Normandy home. These include people like the writers Guy de Maupassant, Marcel Proust, and Maurice Leblanc, as well as the artists Eugène Boudin and Claude Monet.

Internationally renowned physicist Augustin Fresnel, who invented crystal optics and the compact lens still used in lighthouses today, also hailed from Normandy. The people of Normandy are very proud of these and other famous figures, and you’ll find many sites paying homage to Normandy’s famed folk.

Hollywood is not the only place you can enjoy celebrity home tours. Normandy has them, too. If celebrated artists interest you more than movie stars, you’ll love the Monet House and Garden Tour in the quaint village of Giverny.

Here, the non-profit organization Fondation Claude Monet has carefully preserved the surroundings that inspired some of the artist’s great works. Traverse the bridge across the Japanese water gardens and lily ponds and glimpse the scenes of nature that played muse to the master’s brushstrokes.

Admire Medieval Castles

One of the best things about traveling through Europe is visiting all the medieval castles. They certainly contribute to making a vacation in Normandy unforgettable. But if you thought Normandy’s medieval castles were limited to Mont-Saint-Michel, think again.

While it is undoubtedly one of the area’s most famous sites, several other medieval marvels are to be admired and explored. And each of these ancient castles is worth a visit, boasting its beauty and a unique claim to fame. Here are just a few examples among the many that still stand today.

Chateau de Caen is one of Europe’s largest medieval enclosure castles. Chateau de Gisors was a strategic stronghold of the famed Knights Templar in France. And let’s not forget Chateau de Falaise, where William the Conqueror was born, and Chateau Gaillard, built by Richard the Lionheart.

Chateau de Falaise:

Photo Credit: Chateau de Falaise

The more significant population never knew what happened behind these castle walls, as the entrance was restricted. Fortunately, anyone can now step back in time and enter these famous fortresses. And unlike medieval times, you won’t need to worry about a language barrier. Most tour guides are fluent in English. 

Go to an Equestrian Show at an 18th-Century Chateau

Combine your love of animals with your love of history. Hara’s national du Pin is known as the “Versailles for horses,” rightly so. It’s the oldest stud in France, but what makes it more exceptional is the castle and stables’ architectural style.

This 18th-century stud farm is in the Le Pin-au-Haras district, in the Orne department of Southern Normandy. It was built between 1715 and 1730 under the reign of Louis XV in the style of “École de Versailles ‘; it attracts fans of 18th-century French architecture and hippophiles alike.

There are many ways to enjoy this haven of all things equine. Take a self-guided tour of the 18th-century chateau and explore at your own pace. Attend one of the equestrian shows (Thursday afternoons from June through September) and marvel at these majestic beasts’ strength, beauty, and grace.

Photo Credit: Haras National du Pin

If you want to learn even more, book a guided tour of the grounds. Tours usually last about an hour, during which time you’ll be taken on a walk-through of the historic chateau, stable, and tack rooms. You’ll also see the horse-drawn carriages that once transported the wealthy and noble of the era.

For a fee, you can enjoy such a carriage ride and fully immerse yourself in the aristocracy’s footsteps (and hoofprints). Le Haras National du Pin offers something for everyone, from seasoned equestrians to those who would love to learn more about horses. So, book a tour, a carriage ride, a horse riding session, or a riding lesson while you’re there, and ensure an unforgettable experience.

Walk a Spiritual Path on a Pilgrimage

The iconic Mont Saint-Michel is famous not only for its architectural style but also for its general historical significance. It is one of Normandy’s better-known pilgrimage sites. But it’s by no means the only one worth visiting.

Basilica Of Lisieux, the second-most significant of Normandy’s pilgrimage sites, is in the Calvados department. It is associated with Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, a Carmelite nun and one of the patron saints of missions. Catholics who come here pay homage to this saint who greatly supported missionaries.

Of course, people of other religious denominations also visit the Basilica Saint-Therese. It offers a spiritual experience that makes a trip to Normandy unforgettable. Well-positioned on a hill overlooking the town, it has the best of both worlds- the beauty of the decor within and the beauty of the view without.

Pilgrim or not, though, there is plenty to see and do here while on a vacation in Normandy. Lisieux is one of Normandy’s oldest towns, with several preserved ruins dating back to ancient Gallo-Roman times.

Take a Culinary Tour

Normandy’s greatest treasures are its historical sites and beautiful scenery. But Foodies will enjoy their time here for another reason – the mouthwatering, delectable cuisine. Take one of the culinary tours on offer for an unforgettable taste experience. 

As one would expect of a coastal region, Normandy has fantastic seafood. Various shellfish and fish are typically doused in tasty broths and creamy sauces and have never tasted so good. Marmite Dieppoise is one of the most popular dishes and features fish, crème fraiche, butter, cider, crustaceans, and molluscs.

If you are not excited by the prospect of sensational seafood, have no fear! Norman cuisine’s rich tapestry weaves together threads of traditional French cuisine and pastries with unique local flavors. Creamy camembert cheeses and crisp apple ciders are some of the region’s most popular exports.

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