Many people could write literature and love songs about their admiration for Paris, I, on the other hand, could write them about Normandy. I never expected to fall in love with Normandy the way that I did, but the Basse Normandy stole my heart while I was gazing at the horses in the sunset.
I deeply understand why Normandy is significant to many people. It will always bear the scar of war. However, there is so much more to know and cherish about Normandy. The hidden gems of Normandy are begging to be discovered. So none of my best things to do in Normandy will be related to the war or D-Day.
My attachment to Normandy is more personal. My family lives in Normandy, but for years I avoided visiting them for many reasons. One of which was that I assumed it would be boring and the last thing that sounds exciting is being stuck in the middle of nowhere with your parents in your early 20s. Fast forward to now, spellbound is an understatement to the hold Normandy has over me. I’m not spending enough time in Normandy and I go back 1-2 times a year!
Trust me, you’re going to want to save this post for later after you fall in love with Normandy. 📌
Before I tell you the 10 best things to do in Normandy, here are a few facts to familiarize yourself with:
Normandy is vast and diverse stretching over 11,000 square miles making the region the size of a small country. While a day trip from Paris is feasible, this large area is best discovered and traveled over a few days. Normandy is divided into two departments, Haute Normandie and Basse-Normandie. I spend a lot of time in Basse-Normandie which is known for its unspoiled farmlands. Imagine it as the French version of Tuscany with rolling green hills, a wealth of local produce and goods that fuel the country.
On the other hand, if greenery, castles in the distance, and farms that are centuries old don’t speak to you, Normandy boasts many chic towns with casinos, high-end shopping, and gourmet experiences. Normandy has something for everyone and it should not be missed.
The 10 Best Things to Do in Normandy
1. Spend the Day in Pretty as a Picture Honfleur
Honfleur is one of those quintessential dreamy French towns that is often depicted in paintings. Even Claude Monet painted Honfleur, that should give you an idea of how charming, colorful, and captivating this little town can be. Honfleur is one of the trio towns that make up what the French and many U.K citizens refer to the “French Riveria” of the North.
Honfleur’s beauty is straightforward – it has managed to retain its old winding cobblestone streets, the bells from Saint Catherine echo down its allies, and the town celebrates its life around the local watering hole – the Vieux-Bassin (Old Harbor). This is a kid-friendly and adult paradise alike with its Ferris wheel and vintage merry-go-round, farmer’s markets, and vibrant seafood restaurants facing the harbor. Honfleur and its neighboring cities (see #2 and #3) can be seen all in one day if you’re in a hurry, but I recommend you dedicate at least two days to soak it all up.
Bonus Tip: Honfleur is surprisingly not swarming with tourists. I’ve been to Honfleur in June, July, and August and it was very easy to grab a table at a cafe, get undisrupted views of the harbor, and step in and out of shops without battling a crowd.
2. Relax like a Celebrity in Deauville
If you’re in France and want to take a break from Paris with some time at the beach, Deauville should be your next stop. Deauville takes the fashion-forward path of Paris and brings it to the ocean. Deauville is a chic beach resort town that takes traditional Norman qualities like exposed timber beams and makes them their own by painting them in pastels. There are gorgeous outdoor markets, boutique gourmet chocolate and bakery shops, designer shopping, a casino, a golf course, a boardwalk, and is home to many cultural events such as the Deauville American Film Festival in September.
Deauville attracts many English speaking citizens from the United States and the United Kingdom as well as international celebrities thus making English fairly commonly overheard. It’s colorful parasols and traditional bathing tents make this seaside resort town an ideal place to relax and escape the city. Deauville is located near Honfleur and Trouville (see #3 below) making it easy to see the trio of these cities in one day, but as I mentioned previously give yourself time to enjoy Honfleur, Deauville, and Trouville.
3. Throw a Stone from Deauville and end up in Trouville-sur-Mer.
Quite literally, you could walk from the Plage de Deauville (Deauville Beach) to Trouville- Sur Mer. If Honfleur and Deauville had a love child, it would be Trouville-Sur-Mer. This is a beachside town with a boat harbor and fewer crowds than that of its neighbor, Deauville.
If you’re a seafood lover, you must have a meal in Trouville-Sur-Mer. This town is known for its fresh, lively, seafood market and hanging out with the local fisherman is a common occurrence. The pace is slower in Trouville without losing the charm of its neighbors. Its coastline is defined by beaches and tall, towering, colorful Norman buildings built to resemble castles that mimic a fairy tale.
The best tip that I can share with you is this: Trouville-sur-Mer is more affordable than Deauville. If you’re going to visit this region for a seaside getaway, I recommend making Trouville-sur-Mer your home base. With 5-star hotels averaging $188 dollars per night, you’ll save hundreds of dollars of day. (Think of all of the calvados you could buy with the money you save. Not sure what Calvados is? Keep reading The Best Things to Do in Normandy).
4. Skip the wine tasting and opt for calvados tasting.
France has blessed the world with many things including Champagne, Cognac, wines from Bordeaux and the Loire Valley, and Grand Marnier, but there’s is often one liquor overlooked that hails from Normandy-Calvados.
Before I dive into why you need to skip wine tasting in Normandy, it’s important to know the region of Normandy is famous for its apple-based products. The land of Normandy is fertile and farmers have been growing hundreds of varieties of apples in this region for centuries. Thus, many of the food and alcohol from Normandy is founded on apples. Calvados is no different.
Calvados is a brandy made with Normandy’s tart apples making for a sweeter and diverse liquor. We enjoyed spending the day touring a handful of Calvados distilleries. The tours are inexpensive and include many samples of not just the strong Calvados, but also my personal favorite, the pommeau de Normandie which is a mix of Calvados and apple juice for a sweeter, less strong beverage.
The Best Calvados Distilleries to Visit:
Wondering which calvados distillery is best to visit? Don’t worry, I did all of the research (read: taste testing with my family and fiance until my fiance couldn’t stand up straight) for you. Normandy has a Route du Cidre which is translated as “The Road of Cider”, if you follow this route you’ll come across dozens of small and large distilleries alike selling apple cider, pommeau, and calvados. This is probably one of the best road trips in France.
The Best Calvados Distilleries to Visit:
- Pere Magloire
- Our favorite at the time of visit was the Pere Magloire Calvados V.S.O.P Calvados Pay D’Auge Double Distillation (40% alcohol)
- English speaking tours are available every day, all of the guides and sales staff speak English as well.
- Tours are 12.50 Euros per adult
- Pere Magloire is located in Pont-l’Evêque making it accessible by train from Paris. Pont-l’Evêque
- Chateau du Breuil
- This is a 3-in-1 stop. The guided tour and tasting visit of the Chateau du Breuil includes the guided tour, access to the historic Chateau, and the beautiful park to roam freely. My parents enjoyed this distillery the best.
- We enjoyed touring the aging rooms and somehow my mom talked the tour guide into letting my fiance try the not yet distilled very strong proof alcohol. The tour totally advised against it, but my fiance couldn’t pass up the dare.
- Tours are available in many languages, including English.
- Tours run year round.
- Surprisingly, this particular distillery is very family and kid-friendly providing many hands-on experiences for kids to enjoy while the adults are falling in love with apples instead of grapes.
- Lastly, this particular distillery has found a way to enhance your visit by embracing all 5 senses instead of just focusing on tasting. This was the longest and most personal guided tour of all of our stops. Highly recommended!
3. Calvados Boulard
When you pull up in the driveway, you’d be stunned to learn that this humble family owned and operated distillery is one of the leading exporters of Calvados. You can find it easily in the United States at Total Wine & More.
- Unlike the other estates, this is not open year-round to visitors. If you’re visiting between November and March, you’ll have to request a tour directly.
- The tours range from 6 to 13 euros per person depending on which tasting you opt for. Spoiler alert: there are no bad choices.
Planning a Calvados tasting is a must and one of the best things to do in Normandy. It’s a truly unique experience that is often overseen.
5. If brandy isn’t your cup of liquor, pour yourself many glasses of apple cider.
Believe it or not, I’m not a huge drinker (I’m not even a moderate drinker). Personally, my fiance loves calvados, but I prefer Normandy’s Pommeau and apple cider. I never really had apple cider other than the Angry Orchid’s apple cider, but after spending a few weeks in Normandy this became my beverage of choice.
Almost every farm, farmer’s market, and attraction will serve and sell their variation of apple cider, it’s that popular! Variations of “rose cidre” and “pear cidre” are also popular. Like many other French beverages, cidre is incredibly affordable at a few euros per bottle.
6. Stay in a treehouse.
You read that right. This is probably the best-kept secret in Normandy. Locals cherish the treehouse getaways otherwise known as the cabanes dans les arbres (literal translation: cabins in the trees). These are not your childhood treehouse, these come with all of the perks of hotels in an overwhelmingly natural setting.
On my first trip to Normandy, there was only one place that offered treehouses as accommodation. Now, it’s becoming increasingly popular so no matter where your base yourself in Normandy, you’re bound to find a local treehouse.
You’re probably ready to research “what is the best treehouse in Normandy”? So, let me save you the research.
There’s a town called Meizdon-Canon it’s about 222 km from Paris (2.5 hours) and is accessible by train. Meizdon-Canon is home to a trifecta attraction: a chateau, farm/petting zoo, and treehouses. The Chateau du Mezidon-Canon allows visitors to visit during the day or stay the night in their treehouses. On the property, you’ll find horses, donkeys, emus, chickens, pigs, rabbits, goats, and sheep. The family also makes its own calvados, cider, and apple juice. Naturally, this is a favorite for kids and animal lovers alike.
Here are some things to know about the Chateau du Mezidon-Canon:
- It’s easy to spend all day here. From touring the chateau grounds, getting lost in the trails, and enjoying the animals free-roaming, this is a 4-6 hour visit.
- Unfortunately, the farm and treehouses are not available for visiting and overnight stays from November to March.
- The farm animals are incredibly friendly and the park is spotless. We visit this park on every visit and we’re always surprised at how clean it is.
- These treehouses hold the title for tallest treehouses in France.
This is one of my favorite stops in Normandy and what I consider to be one of the best things to do in Normandy because it is authentic and rolls many of the great things about this region in one. You’re emersed in nature, surrounded by a chateau, temporarily staying on a farm, while having access to an on-site calvados and cider distillery.
7. Tour the farms that feed the French
When people think of France they think of baguettes, cheese (see #8 of the best things to do in Normandy), and butter. What if I told you that Normandy is responsible for France’s cream, butter, and cheese? Most cows in France call Normandy home. It is impossible to drive in Normandy without spotting a dairy cow (or hundreds) in the distance.
The French are immensely proud of their dairy products and it is certainly worth the trip to visit a farm or two. If dairy farms don’t interest you (and all of the AWESOME products you can taste at a farm), Normandy’s farmers and fisherman are proud to share their work with visitors. You can join a fisherman as he spends the day looking for fresh scallops, buzz around with a Norman beekeeper, or try your hand at making chocolate at one of the chocolate shops. After doing some calling around, La Ferme des Pâtis was happy to allow us to drop by for a private tour of their farm. We spent the afternoon with Antoine who taught us how to milk a cow. It allowed us to gain a new respect for dairy farmers and cows.
Visiting an authentic farm is one of the best things to do in Normandy you can do because you’ll be fingertips away from the French food you’re adoring on your vacation.
8. Normandy is for cheese-lovers.
I have a deep dark secret.
I don’t like cheese, especially French cheese.
However, if you’re a cheese-lover, you might be surprised to know some of France’s best cheeses are made in Normandy. Camembert, Livarot, Neufchâtel, and Pont-l’Évêque are all made in Normandy. If you want fresh, stinky, French cheese, you’re missing out by skipping a few days in Normandy. The towns of Livarot, Camembert, and Pont-l’Eveque are all charming, easily accessible, with many cheesemongers excited at the opportunity to say “bonjour” to a visitor. They are proud, generous, and relish in your bliss as your taste the cheese their families have been making for generations.
9. Just run to Falaise.
When my mom told me we were spending the day in Falaise, I didn’t know what to expect because I hadn’t read anything about this town prior to coming to Normandy. Why is no one talking about this town? It was on my way to Falasie with my mom that I first realized “J’aime Normandie”. The drive to this medieval town includes miles and miles of the wild French countryside with horses grazing, serene hills, and red poppies dancing in the wind.
Located in what is lovingly referred to “Swiss Normandy”, Falase is built around the castle of William the Conqueror. The town is a perfect addition to a Normandy itinerary. Here’s a tip: From Falaise, you can hot air balloon! Hot air ballooning might not be the first thing that comes to mind when visiting Normandy, but it is definitely a bucket list item for many people. Why not soar as high as the birds at the mercy of the wind above the grounds of the French countryside landscape?
10. Mont Saint Michel
My intention with sharing my affection with Normandy was to talk about the jewels of Normandy that no one really talks about. However, it’s hard to talk about Normandy without mentioning the magical island of Mont Saint Michel.
Most people think island and fantasize about sunshine, glimmery blues, and grains of hot sand hugging our backs as we lay our worries away. Mont Saint Michel is a little different. Take the tropics fantasy and envision the kind of town where the castle is the center and the streets are humbly spiraling the wooden doors of old, charming medieval structures.
As a warning, this is probably the one thing I’ve written as one of the things to do in Normandy where you will encounter the throngs of tourists. As one of France’s most recognizable landmarks, this UNESCO World Heritage Site has been cemented in time.
Tips for Visiting Mont Saint Michel
- Check the tides, visiting at high or moderate tide are the best times to see the magic of Mont Saint Michel.
- Patience is key. When you and millions of people are visiting an island with less than 50 residents every year, there’s bound to people in your photographs, long lines for the shuttle, and crowds in the street. If you’re looking to explore sans the swarms of people, opt to stay overnight and take advantage of the empty streets in the early mornings and evenings.
- The temperatures might drop, so pack layers and a light jacket.
- Pack snacks. We opted for eating packed sandwiches and snacks instead of waiting for a table at the limited restaurants. It was great to wander off to a little corner and listen to the waves crash as we ate our lunch, it felt like we were having an experience no one else was embracing.
Now you know the must do things in Normandy
Normandy is captivating and brilliant with an ease that the rest of France doesn’t offer right away. The only thing you must do in Normandy is welcome and embrace it while drinking cider. This is one of the many hearts of France. While Paris is magical in its own way, it does not reflect how the rest of the French people live and work outside of the urban jungle. The secret is that many Parisians choose Normandy as their home away from home with many Parisians visiting Normandy bi-weekly or monthly. If you’re in France for your first time or your 100th time, consider straying away from your favorite Paris arrondissements and jump on a train to Normandy from the Gare St. Lazare.
The best of Normandy is waiting for you. Have you been to Normandy? If so, what was your favorite thing to do in Normandy?
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