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Normandy Itinerary Advice

We are planning a trip to Normandy at the beginning of May 2023. I'm pretty sure I've got a decent itinerary planned but I wanted to see if anybody had any advice on how to improve upon what we're planning. We have never driven on our previous trips to Europe, always sticking with trains. So this will be our first time with a car.

Day 1 - Arrive in Paris from Atlanta - train from St. Lazare Station to Rouen City Centre. Not much planned for the day otherwise as we know we don't really enjoy doing much while jetlagged. We'll be using Rouen as a base for 5 nights.
Day 2 - Rouen sites (Old Town, Cathedrals, FOOD!)
Day 3 - Picking up rental car early today and driving north to Etretat where we'll spend the day hiking there. May head east to Fecamp.
Day 4 - Drive to Honfleur for half (most?) of the day and then up to Le Havre for a couple of things we want to see there.
Day 5 - Leaving this day open to do day 3 or 4 stuff if the weather has been uncooperative - also leaving a day open to just drive through the countryside, stop at a cidery, or stop at something we've seen on our driving the previous two days that we didn't have time to do.
Day 6: Leave Rouen for Liseux (Basilica and Cathedral, Chateux de St. Germain de-Livet), Graindorge Fromagerie)- spend most of the day here and then on to Bayeux where we're basing ourselves for 5 nights.
Day 7: Bayeux sites (Tapestry, the old town itself)
Day 8: D-day beaches, museums
Day 9: Budgeting an extra day for stuff we may have missed the previous two days.
Day 10: Drive to Mont St Michel early and then drive back to Bayeux late (I'd prefer to stay here, but my partner insists that three hours of driving to/from here is fine. Since he's driving, I'm choosing not to argue).
Day 11: Driving around West and NW of Bayeux - just visiting some sites up here. Or we may head to Caen, see some sites there and turn in the car late in the afternoon. Train from Caen to Paris this evening. Stay near CdG for an approximate noon departure back to Atlanta the next day. We might also have an extra night here depending on our final dates and the availability to be away from work. If so, we will likely stay another night in Bayeux so we can see some other sites South and Southeast of Bayeux.

I do think we could shorten this up a bit by eliminating days 5 and 9. But I also don't want to rush. Since we're driving for the first time, I think I prefer to have the extra time built in for all the stuff we might run into along the road that we feel warrants a quick stop.

I'm wondering if anybody has advice on better rental car agencies that we can use in both Rouen (pick-up) and Caen (drop off). Our hotel in Rouen allegedly offers parking, but there are nearby paid lots we can use. Our hotel in Bayeux does not offer parking, but again, there's a lot within quick walking distance. Any advice on parking in these two places otherwise? Thanks!

Posted by
6932 posts

What you have in mind is well-paced. There are many parking garages in Rouen, and the highway gets very close to the city center (too close, some might argue) so driving is not an issue there.
As for rental agencies... I'd just use a broker such as Auto Europe, and see what comes up with the best price! Big-name agencies offer equivalent service, with inconsistencies across branches since they are franchised.

On Day 3, Fécamp is worth the detour if you have time; Palais Bénédictine is a fun visit.
On Day 4, I think that Honfleur is only a half-day stop at most, so you will have time for le Havre
On Day 5, consider visiting the Seine valley. Jumièges Abbey is wonderful, other abbeys in the area are interesting too.
On Day 6... opinions will vary, but unless you have religious reasons to visit Lisieux, I am not sure that it is worth most of your day.

Posted by
5778 posts

I will say I loved Honfleur. The art museum was great. The church is very unusual and the area around the harbor is stunning when its sunny. We rarely sit at a restaurant during the day, but we had quite a nice time doing little more than admiring the view and people watching.

I don't think you have enough time for the D-day museums and beaches. We didn't get in everything we wanted in 2 days, but my husband is quite a WWII buff. One place that many miss is Arromanches. Its a pretty little town. The beach is nice and has views of the Normandy cliffs. Additionally, there are large remnants of the artificial harbor built for D-Day and a museum overlooks it and does a great job describing the harbor and touches on other aspects of D-Day.

Posted by
2000 posts

Hicking along the cliffs in Étretat and from there to Vaucottes and think Yport too is well worth doing. The walking trails are just close to the edge of the cliffs. Both Vaucottes and Yport are nice, as well as Vattetot-sur-Mer and Bénouville. The road (D11 and D211) from Étretat to Fécamp is scenic. The cliffs at both sides of Étretat offer stunning views, so worth doing to my idea in the first place and depending time and physical condition you can add the hike as described above if still of interest.

From Rouen you can visit lovely Lyons-la-Forêt and the ruins of Château Gaillard for the stunning view with the Seine and Les Andelys at the background, the part along the river of the latter worth visiting too. Saw it only on French tv, but Ma Boulangerie in Rue Armand Carrel seems one of the best bakeries if not the best in Rouen.

My impression driving to the Basilica that Lisieux itself is not directly a place of outstanding beauty to put it mildly. The Basilica is a place of pilgrimage, those places have always something special to my opinion and liked visiting it even it was just a bit more than a half hour. Both Bayeux and Rouen have cathedrals, Honfleur a nice church, so question if it is really necessary visiting the cathedral of Lisieux too. But that’s up to you ofcourse.

Certainly of interest is a scenic drive from Château de Saint-Germain-de-Livet through the Pays d’Auge countryside and visit places like Cambremer and Beuvron-en-Auge on the way to Caen / Bayeaux. Fun to do is taking the free car ferry west of Jumièges for driving further via D913 to the A13 toll road and further Lisieux. Absolute worth visiting is Le Beq-Hellouin close to the A28, enjoyed it very much a few years ago.

Posted by
386 posts

I'm wondering if anybody has advice on better rental car agencies that we can use in both Rouen (pick-up) and Caen (drop off). Our hotel in Rouen allegedly offers parking, but there are nearby paid lots we can use.

Use AutoEurope, a USA-based broker, and get the zero-deductible insurance for peace of mind. You can find plenty of stories from people that have rented from Hertz or whomever and then at the counter to pick up the car they get a surprise demand for insurance running hundreds of dollars or no car. With AutoEurope there are no surprises and if they try something at the counter they have a 24hr number to call.

I recommend getting a Michelin map for the area. Car nav is great and we used it, but I liked to look at the map at the start of the day and get an overview in my mind of the route.

As for parking, it may be interesting! Our hotel in Rouen had parking but the hotel was in a larger building so their parking section was literally fenced off and gated. If I remember right there was a gate to get under the building, then another to get into the hotel's section. Says something about the French perhaps. You can't open the gate until you've checked in and got a key, but you can't check in until you've parked the car somewhere. We ended up using a local lot to get over that hump.

We budgeted 4 hours or so for Honfleur and it is a regret of our trip we didn't spend the full day there. Also there are 2 kinds of lots around Honfleur; one where you prepay for X amount of time, another where you take a ticket and pay when you exit. I'd recommend the latter. We went to the prepay and it's a hassle to have to go back to the car when you're time is near expiration to buy a new ticket.

Posted by
1154 posts

To me, your day 9 will have the most to offer. Don't eliminate it! There is so much to see as far as D-day sights that you can't really fit into just your days 7 & 8. Your day 11 NW of Bayeux is also chock full of sights (don't miss Sainte-Mère-Église). As far as parking, if your hotel offers it, take it. I was in Rouen in early June and was able to park underneath my hotel that was otherwise in a pedestrian-only area. Bayeux parking can be tricky. I would ask your hotel for advice. There are public lots, but they cost during the day. And street parking is limited.

Posted by
1771 posts

Unless you are devout Catholic and really into religious kitsch, I'd skip Lisieux. Everything there is dedicated to Saint Teresa. The basilica in her name is huge and ugly, in my opinion. And all the shops sell tacky religious souvenirs.

I second the vote for Jumieges Abbey. A special place with an almost mystical feel.

Other places to consider:

  • Falaise, birthplace of William the Conqueror, with an attractive chateau
  • Coutances, with a gorgeous Gothic cathedral
  • Granville, a charming fishing town that is now a resort. (I was there in 1990, when it was less resort and more fishing town, so it's possible it's lost some of its charm since then...)

Overall, I think you have a very smart, well-paced itinerary. You will enjoy your visit to Normandy for sure!

Posted by
27261 posts

Falaise has quite an interesting museum about civilian life during the war. It covers Resistance activities as well.

I always recommend a one-day tour of invasion sites unless the travel party includes someone highly knowledgeable about the invasion. Otherwise, I fear you will be driving around, possibly getting lost and wasting time, and not understanding the importance of much that you are looking at. The driver/guide will move you around efficiently and provide a lot of background info as well as describing what you are seeing. You can use your additional time in the area to visit related museums (Bayeux has a good one) and additional sites not covered by the tour. The tours operated out of Bayeux all seem to use minivans, so you are not part of a mob of 40 people.

Posted by
5778 posts

I think you have plenty to do for your trip, but if you do have time, I second the suggestion of Etretat. Its beautiful, and the drive from Honfleur to Etretat was lovely as well.

Posted by
10 posts

My sister and I are renting a car through our Costco membership. We chose to go through Costco because a second driver is free.. We are picking up in Caen and dropping off at CDG after 20 days of traveling through France.

Posted by
93 posts

I think you have a wonderful plan! I am envious of the extra time you have built in and would not eliminate any days. You can pivot depending on weather, fatigue, newfound information. Some of the best advice we have found in our travels was from fellow travelers.

I would recommend getting a private guide for the WW2 sites. It is wonderful to have the personalization, flexibility and all of the information. We did a half day tour from 1:00-6:00 and our guide made sure we were at the American cemetery for the lowering of the flag and the playing of taps. Some do a full day guide or 2 full days, but there is a lot you can do on your own.

We loved Etretat and would have loved more time in that area. There are some fantastic suggestions here.
We would vote for a half day in Honfleur, but you have the ability to adapt according to your inclinations. I also, would want to stay at Mt. St. Michel.

This is an area that is so beautiful and moving. It is nice you can have leisurely meals, great food and wine and stop at those gorgeous surprise vistas just around every bend.

Posted by
12 posts

In 2016 we did much the same itinerary as you.
I strongly suggest that you take several hours to visit the Memorial de Caen also known as the Peace Museum.
It is the largest museum in France dedicated to the history of the 20th Century, World War 2, D-Day and the battle of
Normandy. Very much worth a visit.

Posted by
27 posts

I just wanted to thank everybody for the thoughtful replies, so many extra ideas and the encouragment! We're thinking we're going to be able to add an extra day to the itinerary, so I'm very excited that I'll get to possibly check out so many of these places we hadn't thought or even heard of. So thank you!

We'll likely give a bit more time to Honfleur than we were anticipating given that there are really only a couple of quick things we want to see in Le Havre anyway. And since we're basing ourselves in Bayeux for a bit, I think we can definitely squeeze in at least half a day in Caen.

Follow up question - does anybody have any preferred hotels near CdG? We really want to be able to wake up, grab a quick breakfast and be able to get to the airport as quickly as possible.

Posted by
5778 posts

We spent almost a day at the Caen museum. My husband is very interested in WWII and to read just about everything takes at least 6 hours. I will again plug Arromanches. . . .

Posted by
6932 posts

Follow up question - does anybody have any preferred hotels near CdG? We really want to be able to wake up, grab a quick breakfast and be able to get to the airport as quickly as possible.

The best choice is the Sheraton at T2, but it can get expensive.

Otherwise you have a cluster of hotels around T3, accessed by shuttle train: Hilton, Ibis, Novotel, Ibis Styles, Pullman, Citizen M. None is outstanding, none is terrible either. There's another cluster of hotels near-ish another stop of the shuttle train, but it's a bit less convenient.

Posted by
1154 posts

I'll just add that I believe Caen is mostly a waste of time, other than using it as a transportation hub to and from Paris. Most of the city was destroyed (by the allies) in WWII. The "museum" is over-rated, and there are several better museums in Normandy IMHO. I think it wouldn't get much attention accept for Rick's adulation of it in his guide books.

Posted by
18 posts

The town of Caen was destroyed and rebuilt; it's still worth a visit if you're visiting the WW II museum.
That museum is one of the most moving I've visited and certainly worth the time.
It sounds like you have a lovely itinerary. Enjoy!

Posted by
14580 posts

I understand why one would want to spend hours at the Caen Museum, I did likewise the one and only time I was there. That was over 20 years ago.

The museum then was historical presentation in overkill. If you want that, then I suggest earmarking ample time to absorb this overkill history. There is a lot to read and see.

On the other hand, if you want to see less history, more succinct, and better organised, then I would recommend the Bayeux Museum. The two museums have different aims in presentation. That in Caen starts in the inter-war years whereas the presentation in Bayeux concentrates on D-Day and the Normandy battle. Ideally, one should see both museums.

Caen was destroyed in the battle for Normandy. The British had expected to take it on D-Day itself. Six weeks later still not within their grasp as they couldn't break through the German defence lines. Not until the town was carpet bombed, plastered, did they enter the town on 9 July , by which time the Germans had pulled out.

Posted by
14580 posts

Hi,

Before the return flight of 11 hours non-stop to SFO from Paris CDG, I stay the last night at an airport hotel. If you want something decent, but nothing fancy and luxurious, I suggest the Campanile , a 2 star French chain hotel, always satisfactory with a "free" shuttle I like the Campanile, it's a good chain. Good restaurant in the hotel too.

Posted by
768 posts

I agree with acraven. Even though you have a car, a good tour guide makes everything you see come alive. Looking at scenery won't give you insight into the tactics, the experiences, and the emotions of D-Day. We recommend Allan Bryson. Just Google Allan Bryson Normandy.

Posted by
621 posts

My husband and I have stayed at the Ibis CDG twice. It's nothing to get excited about but if you're looking for a comfortable, safe, clean, inexpensive hotel right at the airport this fits the bill. We had to return our Europe car rental to CDG (don't get me started on what a nightmare that was!) the night before our flight and we were very happy to just take the CDG shuttle from the car rental drop off to T3 where Ibis is located. I think there might actually be more than one Ibis but this is the one right at T3. If you join the Accor hotel membership it should lower your costs. I think ours was about €15 less. Your itinerary sounds very well thought out. I can't comment on specifics as we have not yet been but are looking forward to doing so next year. Have a great trip!