Normandy — Attractions
Mont St-Michel (St Michael’s Mount) resides in the southwest of Lower Normandy and is the standout attraction for most tourists. It is, in fact, the most visited sight in France after the Eiffel Tower and the famous art museum the Louvre. The tidal, granite island lies just off the coast and is topped by a 13th century monastery, known as the Marvel. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and visited by over three million people per year.
Tours of the infamous D-Day beaches are hugely popular among American visitors especially. The beaches are dubbed Omaha, Utah (after American troops), and Gold, Juno, and Sword (after British and Canadian troops) and lie either side of the coastal commune of Arromanches-les-Bains. The best way to visit the beaches is by hire car or tour bus from Caen; buses from Bayeux are infrequent.
One of the major centers in Upper Normandy, Rouen, is the capital of the region and the place where Joan of Arc met her demise. It resides on the River Seine (farther downstream than Paris) and its Gothic Notre Dame cathedral is the main sight. Rouen’s ancient astronomical clock and dreamy spires are other highlights.
Caen, located in the north of Lower Normandy, is another of Normandy’s main cities. It is a popular place from which to mount tours of the D-Day beaches. William the Conqueror built up Caen and his castle is the main sight today. Caen also comes with cute shopping streets and is not far from Bayeux.
Bayeux is one of Normandy’s most intact old cities as it was never bombed in WWII. It is best known for the lengthy Bayeux Tapestry, which ultimately tells the story of the Battle of Hastings, following which William the Conqueror gained control of England. Bayeux’s Gothic cathedral is also a highlight.
Le Havre is the third main center in Normandy, lying on the Upper Normandy coast. It receives direct ferries from the UK (Portsmouth). Although an historical town, Le Havre was largely destroyed by Allied bombing during WWII and it is mainly used by visitors today as a transition or base for exploring elsewhere. The Saint-Joseph church is a must-see, however.
Lying across from Le Havre, on the mouth of the Seine, is picturesque Honfleur. This port town of intact Renaissance architecture has a lovely fishing harbor (Vieux Bassin) which is populated by myriad fishing boats, cobbled streets and waterside restaurants. Narrow streets amid tall buildings lead tourists to various intriguing corners.
Other popular Normandy places include Giverny, a picturesque town not far from Paris. It was once noted as the home of gifted painter Claude Monet, and visitors can see some of his works at the Giverny Museum of Impressionism. Dieppe, an ancient port and gateway to France from Newhaven in England, is also worth a look. It is the closest beach to Paris and site of one of the D-Day landings. Revamped St-Lô in the Vire Valley is best visited for its church and is popular with visiting Americans.