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Normandy Itinerary - Honfleur vs. Caen vs. Bayeux

Hi Everyone,

We are going to France next month and a few days of the trip will be spent in Normandy. There are several things we want to see in a short amount of time (3 days total) so the plan is to take a train from Paris to Rouen one night to stay in a hotel, then rent a car there the next day. We will be traveling West in Normandy and staying in a different place each night.

The first day will be mostly spent exploring Rouen, then the late afternoon/early evening we will drive up to Etretat to stay the night (maybe stopping to see an Abbey or two on the way if we have time). We basically want to stay in Etretat to see a sunset/sunrise on the cliffs.

The second day we will spend most of the early morning in Etretat, then head west towards the American Cemetery and Omaha Beach. We plan on spending about 7 hours or so between driving to and exploring the beach/memorial site that day. Our hotel this night is near MSM, so we will be heading there in the evening so we can see the MSM lit up at night.

My question is for this second day because if we have time, we would be interested in stopping somewhere along the drive from Etretat to Omaha Beach. Our drive will take us directly through Honfleur, Caen, and Bayeux so my question is, is it worth a stop in any of those places and if so, which one would be the best to see? If we have time, I'd only want to make a stop at one, maybe grab some food and walk around.

The third day, will be spent exploring MSM and we will then drive to Rennes to drop off the rental and take a train back to Paris.

Any suggestions are appreciated! Thanks!

Posted by
5697 posts

Yes, Honfleur, Caen and Bayeux are all worth seeing, but not just for a half-hour stop. Honfleur might be the best "quick look at" stop, since looking at the harbor is like being in an Impressionist painting. Bayeux has the tapestry, well worth absorbing the story of the "first" Normandy invasion, and cathedral/town within walking distance. Caen museum took us an entire day (but we are history museum fans.) And Normandy invasion beaches are more than just Omaha -- it's 50 miles of landing sites. It's a lot to take in.
We saw Honfleur and Caen on a second Normandy visit; Bayeux, beaches and MSM were the first trip.

Have you reserved your car in Rouen ? That was our plan, but needed an automatic transmission AND a car we could return to the airport which we couldn't find in Rouen so we rented from Enterprise in Caen.

Posted by
11978 posts

If possible, stop in Honfleur for a walk around and lunch at an outdoor cafe overlooking the old port before traveling on to Etretat. You probably want to split your time between Fecamp and Etretat, going to Etretat last for sunset from the boardwalk/beach - then dinner and stay the night. That's not too much in one day and will shorten your next day. The best quick advice is drive up the road from town. Both towns have a chapel up on the hill, north of town. You can see them from below and park near them, get out and see some of the cliffs and WWII defenses (mostly filled with dirt, not destroyed), then down into town for a bit.

The next day it's iffy if you need to see both Caen and Bayeux. I like Bayeux because of the Tapestry (not as interested in D-Day) and it's a smaller/quainter town. It's also a good jumping off point for D-Day tours. Caen has the best museum. For a D-Day oriented day you might want to skip Bayeux completely, see the museum in Caen, then drive yourself to the beaches and cemeteries. It really depends on what you like most. You might want to stay the night in Bayeux just to enjoy it's charm and walkable center.

For MSM check out the tide tables:

It's not a long drive from either Caen or Bayeux. Since you have most of the day, you might really enjoy a walking tour in the bay at low tide. Also walk the ramparts up to the Abbey at top, then down the main road. Ask at the TI how to get to the ramparts, it's right by there and they can point you in the right direction. I'd try to watch the tide come in from the ramparts, if you can, it takes well over an hour to go from mostly low tide to mostly high tide (maybe two hours or so), so you don't need to see the whole thing but it's amazing how much difference between low and high.

Posted by
5267 posts

Given your overall plan, I'd skip Caen. The WWII museum there is very good, we spent at least half a day, but you won't have that much time. Caen itself was heavily damaged in the war and lacks the charm and compactness of either Honfleur or Bayeux.

If you're interested in Bayeux' Norman cathedral and/or tapestry, then make that your choice. If not, then Honfleur is easier to appreciate on a fast visit like you're contemplating.

For my money you're not giving the whole area enough time, but I don't know what the tradeoffs are for you.

Posted by
3706 posts

The centre of Caen is dominated by the fortress castle of William the Conqueror -- his invasion went the opposite way across the Channel -- and it is well worth a look-see for history buffs. Caen is as efficient a base as Bayeux, with a larger selection of hotels and bistros. The commute to Bayeux is short and easy. The peace museum also runs a tour of the invasion beaches.

Posted by
524 posts

No disrespect intended, but three days the way you laid them out are not enough to scratch the surface in Normandy, especially with a full day in Rouen. With all the driving you're doing I believe you won't even have as much time as you think for sightseeing. It seems to me you're going for quantity instead of quality and you'll miss a lot of things along the way. Rouen is a big city with lots of traffic and you don't really want a rental car there. Etretat appears to be somewhat out of the way for the rest of your trip, although I'm sure you have some special reason for going there. That said, if you're into art a 30 minute drive east is Monet's home and beautiful garden. Honfleur is about the same distance west and is one of those magical places to visit. Stay one night and have dinner on the harbor. In addition to one night each in Rouen and Honfleur we stayed three nights in a B&B in Bayeux, a quaint and charming town with two WWII and D-Day museums. The cathedral there is majestic, larger than Notre Dame in Paris, and once you see it you'll want to spend some time there. Another must see in Bayeux is the Bayeux Tapestry in the museum. Your RS guide book has a page on the tapestry and its also in his Normandy TV program, and it is well worth the time to see it. You'll want to have several hours at Omaha Beach, the American Cemetery and the relatively new museum there. Caen is larger than Bayeux and has another, much larger D-Day museum which is excellent. After five nights in Normandy I came to the conclusion that it takes a full week to see all it has to offer, to meet and enjoy the people and culture )and incredible food) and get the most out of it, and our trip allow enough time for Mont St. Michel which we will see on our next visit there this fall. Have a great trip and please Normandy the time it deserves. You'll never regret it.


Posted by
31524 posts

You may be aware of this, but don't forget that since you're renting a car, each driver will need the compulsory International Driver's Permit which is used in conjunction with your home D.L. or a certified translation of your home D.L. in French.

Posted by
25 posts

I will have an international driving permit as I will be the sole driver. My boyfriend will be renting the car under his credit card, but will not be driving at all because it's a manual car which he doesn't know how to drive. Does he need a permit too then or will we be fine with just me having one?

Posted by
8515 posts

Msybe you can give him a quick lesson on driving a stick.

Since Etretat under different light is one of your priorities, you may be interested in the Eugene Boudin Art Museum in Honfleur. Boudin is known for his seaside and Etretat paintings and was an influence on and a precursor to the Impressionists.

But for art and history, the Bayeux tapestry is a must. So much to see!

Posted by
43 posts

first, if the car is being paid by boyfriend's credit card, he will be required to be listed as a driver. If you plan on driving, then you need to be added as second driver. Doesn't matter that your boyfriend can't drive a manual - it's all about the name on the credit card. And, if both of you have a passport that is written in French and English (which all USA passports are), you won't need an international driving permit. The law in France is that you are required to have a picture ID that is written in French, along with a valid USA, Canada, or most of Europe driving license that has not expired.

Second, with your time constraints, you won't have time to see what all you want to see. The American cemetery and the beaches take a few hours. They are closest to Bayeux. Caen has quite a bit to see, including the WWII museum, which is an amazing museum for those interested in both sides of the war. Highly recommended, but that museum alone takes about 4-5 hours to see. With your itinerary, skip Caen this year and save it for another trip. As it its, with your plans to head on towards MSM, you really won't have time to spend in Bayeux or Caen.

Enjoy your trip - and don't try to rush thru too many; things. France is full of magical places, and each deserves plenty of time to explore.