Normandy (spelled Normandie in France) consists of two departments – Upper and Lower Normandy (Haut Normandie and Basse Normandie).
The lovely region of Normandy located in the north west of France is characterised by its rolling green landscapes, 360 miles of coast line with dramatic cliffs and sandy beaches, apple orchards which produce the cider which Normandy is famous for, half-timbered houses, the bocages (high hedges), cows resting in verdant fields – it is considered the dairy heart of France, and fishing.
The famous bocages are a defining part of the landscape in Normandy, the hedges that line the lush green and fertile network of fields and orchards in this very agricultural region and which encourage wildlife and birds.
Normandy was British land hundreds of years ago but it is definitely part of France now although nearby Channel Islands just off the coast of Normandy remain a part of the UK and there is a strong Norman influence there.
Normandy is steeped in history and the number of historic villages, buildings and monuments are a big draw for visitors to the region and mean that it is a great place to visit at any time of the year. From the ancient Mont St Michel to the evocative D Day landing beaches, bustling market towns with ancient churches and historic landmark cities such as Caen, Bayeux and Rouen there is a lot to see in Normandy.
The large ports of Normandy have been there for centuries, Rouen, Dieppe, Le Havre and Cherbourg have played important roles in ancient times in terms of trade. These days the remaining ports are more likely to be bringing visitors to the area by boat from the UK. There are also smaller harbours such as at Honfleur and Barfleur which are very picturesque and retain a timeless air of tranquillity and history. Trouvil and Deauville are elegant towns, a legacy from the last emperor of France who created a kind of “Normandy Riviera” there.
It isn’t possible to visit Normandy and be unaware of World War II, D Day and the landing beaches, everywhere you go there are memorials of the Battle of Normandy from St Mère Église to Arromanches, from the Mulberry Harbour to Longue-sur-Mer Battery, from Pegasus Bridge to the American War Cemetery and the beaches – Juno, Omaha, Utah, Sword and Gold. The reminders are numerous, evocative and at times dramatic. The largest military landing to have ever taken place in history was in Normandy on June 6, 1944 and every year on 6th June, towns in Normandy celebrate D Day and visitors from all over the world converge in villages along the coast where important battles took place to remember and to honour the memory of the veterans who return for the memorials and who are becoming fewer and fewer with the passing years.
Normandy is also famous for its produce from Camembert to cider, from Calvados the apple brandy to seafood, this region is a foodie’s delight.
To make the most of your visit plan in advance what you want to see and where you want to go, it will help to ensure that you don’t miss anything as Normandy covers a large area and the public transport system isn’t sufficient to get you around if your time is limited.
The weather in Normandy is generally temperate, warm sunny summers and rainy, chilly winters but the weather is rarely extreme which adds to the allure of potential all-year round visits.
Getting to Normandy
By train from Paris Gare Saint Lazare to Normandy is quite easy and there are several trains a day to different towns, as an example Paris to Rouen is about 1 hour 30 minutes, to Caen around 1 hour 45 minutes and to Alençon 2 hours 30 minutes.
Direct access by ferry from the UK, to Cherbourg, Caen (Ouistreham), Le Havre or Dieppe (see our feature on Brittany Ferries).
By car the routes to and across Normandy are very good including toll roads which speed you along. Don’t forget to check out our section on driving in France to help you.
By air: The proximity to Paris means that it’s actually easier and quicker (less waiting in queues and clocking in hours ahead) to take the train if you’re going to Normandy from Paris.
Things to do in Normandy
Le Mont-St-Michel – a magnificent ancient monument, the Abbey of Mont-St-Michel is perched precariously on a 264-foot high rocky islet connected to the mainland by a causeway. It is without doubt one of the wonders of the world with its steep winding streets, stairs to the summit, and fabulous views across the bay see our feature on Mont St Michel for more details.
Bayeux Tapestry – the awesome 200 feet long homage to William the Conqueror’s expedition to Britain in 1066 at the Tapestry Museum – see our feature on the Bayeux Tapestry for much more information.
Rouen - don’t miss the vibrant and visually stunning city of Rouen with its medieval centre which Joan of Arc, who was tragically put to death in one of its squares, would still recognise today. Victor Hugo said of Rouen that it was the “city of a hundred spires” and it still is, there are museums and the Gothic Cathedral of Notre Dame and much else to marvel at here.
Monet’s gardens at Giverny – a must for anyone who loves impressionism, beautiful gardens or the paintings of Claude Monet; the house and gardens at Giverny remain just as Monet left them.
Calvados the town famous for its production of the apple brandy also called Calvados.
Honfleur – a beautiful harbour village with narrow winding streets full of wonderful shops
The D Day landing beaches of Normandy and historic battlefields mark the battle of Normandy which has its own legacy in a series of war museums, memorials and cemeteries
The Caen Memorial – a museum dedicated to the D Day Landings and liberation of Normandy