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Amsterdam, Brussels and driving to Normandy area

Planning a trip in late April 2023. Need to some input on logistics and method of travel. We have at least two weeks or more for proposed itinerary. Would like to either travel by train or boat from Amsterdam to Brussels with stops along the way. Then, Brussels into France for the purpose of renting a car and traveling to the Normandy area. (We will not be spending time in Paris this trip). I have hotel rooms reserved in Bayeux for 4 nights. Thinking of adding a night in Rouen or Honfleur. On the return I assume we need to drop the rental car at Charles de Gaulle in order to fly to Bristol UK to meet up with friends. That part of the trip is an additional 10 days. Overall we are very very flexible!

1. Has anyone put together a trip like this before and willing to share their experience?

2. I "assume" we would get the rental car at Charles de Gaulle and drive to Normandy area and travel back the same way, drop the car and fly to Bristol. Any other suggestions are welcome.
Thank you!

Posted by
47 posts

I have driven Amsterdam to Paris, visited Normandy by car. I will be visting Germany, Belgium, and Netherlands in February. Here are my thoughts:

  1. Rather than stopping along the way you may want to day trip the Netherlands from Amsterdam and do the same in Belgium from Antwerp or Brussels.
  2. If you are flying from Brussels to Paris look at going in and out of Orly rather than CDG. You don't have to go through as much Paris traffic to get to Normandy and I imagine that there are flights to UK from Orly.
  3. Consider a stop in Giverney for Monet's Garden (be there at opening time to avoid the crowds arriving by mid-morning). This is on the way to Rouen or Honfleur, both of which are worth a visit.
  4. Bayeux is a great base for Normandy. Drink lots of cider while you are there!
  5. If you can, visit Mont St Michel. You can day trip from Bayeux or spend the night and then travel to Orly via Chartres.


Posted by
8627 posts

Please do not fly from Brussels to Paris. It's 90 minutes by train.

But for your schedule, you may want to train just to Lille and then pick up a French rental there.

Posted by
30301 posts

No publicly available boats between Amsterdam and the Belgian coast that I am aware of.

absolutely no need to fly between Brussels and Paris. Plus it will take longer than the train.

Lille is much easier.

Although not nearly as easy as taking the train via Paris to Caen to get the car and continue to Bayeux (much easier in Caen than Bayeux for the car rental). It is a long drive from Lille or Brussels to Bayeux. I've done it. Once.

Look for flights to Bristol from Normandy or take the ferry to Portsmouth or Poole and you are almost there.

More than one way to skin a cat.

Posted by
6383 posts

I don't find the idea of driving from Lille to Bayeux that attractive, but you could certainly research things to see. Too bad Brugge is not "on the way." You may wish to use the search box top center to read opinions that Brussels may not be the most attractive city in that area of Belgium.

I might take a fast (Thalys) train from Antwerp or Brussels to Paris, and pick up a car on the outskirts.

Posted by
230 posts

We did the drive to Bayeux from Lille several years ago, and I would not do it again. There's lots of driving time, time that seemed a bit wasted to me. We went back to Normandy a couple of years later and took the train to Caen, then rented the car there. Since you have an interest in Rouen, why not rent your car there for the remainder of your time in Normandy? Then do the same on the return...drop the car back in Rouen and take the train into Paris.

Posted by
149 posts

We rented a car at CDG after flying into Paris from Prague. Easy drive out to our B&B in Normandy. We returned the car to Orly with no issues.

We also trained from Bruges to Paris and then to Caen all in one day where we rented a car for a few days in Normandy. Returned the car to Caen and trained back to Paris. My husband did the driving and would probably say that it was less stress to do it this way!

I think a lot depends on your comfort with driving out of CDG. My husband was game and it was fine but like I said, he'd probably say he enjoyed it more to train to Caen.

Posted by
4 posts

Thank you everyone! your tips and suggestions are very helpful. I hope to get some plans nailed down this week so I might be back with a question or two! I particularly like skipping the Paris airports for the car rental. Current thought is to fly from PDX to London and get over to Normandy area from London versus AMS or Belgium ...... to be continued!
Again thank you very very much for your input!

Posted by
6383 posts

kmsearles, you should pick London only for flight availability from your home, not for its "as the bird flies" proximity to Normandy. It is not, in fact, "close" to "Normandy".

For example, it would make more sense to fly to Paris, even with the change of stations from CDG to Normandy. I fail to see why CDG=bad and LHR=good. I have found exactly the opposite to be true. YMMV.

Posted by
4 posts

Update to my Post from 1-8-2023.
Thank you all for your earlier input. The itinerary has taken shape and plane tickets purchased. A few hotels reserved. Have not worked on train tickets or schedules yet. The new plans for the April trip are:
April 24. Portland Oregon to CDG. Land about noon. Spend night at hotel near Gare Saint Lazare Station. Open to suggestions for a good hotel near this train station.
April 26 - take train to Vernon, stay over night Giverny. Hotel is booked. cancellable.
April 27 - Vernon to Caen by train, pick up one-way rental car. (booked through Costco/Enterprise is the provider). No special fees for the one way rental are shown. I hope there are no surprises.
April 27, 28, 29 in Bayeux hotel (booked) but cancellable.
April 30 - 1 night Mont St Michel. (question for group, stay in a mainland hotel or on the island?). Favorite Hotel suggestions?
May 8 - We will drop the car and fly out of Bordeaux to Bristol UK for another adventure.

*Seeking itinerary ideas from May 1-May 8. Our early plan is to drive from Mont St Michel to Loire Valley (2-3 nights) and from there to Dordogne area 2-3 nights then end up in Bordeaux 2-3 nights. We like smaller, quaint towns/villages versus big cities. Open to suggestions! Curious why Rick Steves Best of France does not include anything about Bordeaux?

thank you all for your time and hotel and routing suggestions especially from the 7 nights we have from May 1-8.

Posted by
11905 posts

I've just been to Bordeaux once but liked it a lot. There was quite a bit to see in Bordeaux but 2 nights/1 full day will probably do unless you intend to do the wine areas around there and then I'd do 3 nights. The Museum of the Aquitaine was quite interesting to me. There are a couple of art museums that I thought were so-so although I'm not well-versed in art. The Cathedral is where in 1137, Alienor d'Aquitaine married her first husband, who became Louis VII. There is not much remaining from the 1137 cathedral but the nave area. The walk along the river is nice and I made it a point to find the small statue of Modeste Testas, a slave who was brought to Bordeaux then transshipped to Haiti. Her grandson became a president of Haiti.

For Dordogne, minimum of 3 nights which gives you 2 full days. Are you going to try to see some of the prehistory cave paintings? I think all the caves need timed entries. I also liked the Prehistory Museum in Les Eyzies if that would be of interest to you.

Looks like things are shaping up for your trip!

Posted by
6383 posts

I'm inclined to consider Vernon as an easy daytrip from Paris, rather than an essential overnight. You are going that way, but you have not expressed (for example, an Art History MFA ... ) reason to otherwise spend the night. You don't make clear whether your mean "Normandy" or "The D-Day Beaches, the only important thing in Normandy."

There are a million ways to see the Loire, but one personal trip is mentioned here, with some general comments:

Note that you are crazy to think of driving all the way when you could take the TGV to St. Pierre des Corps and rent a car there for the Loire. You are not going to the Mall of America in an SUV!

We did not find it necessary to sleep at MSM, but that is not a popular view here:

Posted by
4 posts

Thank you again for the great advice!

In response to Tim: The only real reason for spending the night in Giverny is because its on our way west. My husband enjoys photography so that will be his focus. We could continue westward rather than stay in Giverny. Maybe overnight in Honfleur instead? The Normandy area and the D-Day beaches were/are indeed the focus of this trip. We added the Tours to Bordeaux part just last week! Therefore need to get that part of itinerary figured out.

We will have 3 nights in Bayeux. Will probably hire a tour guide for 1 day. Hubby is in charge of this part of the trip. :). Getting a car in Caen and dropping in Bordeaux seems easy and gives more flexibility. Not at all opposed to train travel. It just seems it should be "fairly easy" to continue onward from MSM towards Tours with the vehicle and make stops along the way. Same idea moving from Tours towards Dordogne to Bordeaux. Hopefully a pretty easy trip with plenty of time built in to make spontaneous stops along the way. And thank you for the links to what others have posted about Normandy and The Loire and MSM.