In September we spent some time exploring Normandy instead of heading straight to Paris – and boy, was it worth it! Here I share the three unmissable spots that we visited and can’t wait to get back to: Rouen, Bayeux & Mont St Michel.
A little further down stream of the Seine from Paris, sits Rouen – the capital of Normandy! This city is approximately a 1hr30 train ride from Paris Saint-Lazare Station, and before visiting – I had never really seen of people visiting Rouen. However, it’s beautiful medieval setting, occasionally interrupted by a series of grand gothic cathedrals, makes it must-see!
The biggest and arguably most impressive cathedral – Notre-Dame de Rouen – hosts a fantastic night-time light and sound show every summer. Every evening between July and September, the cathedral lights up to tell a story. You can keep updated with next years shows by clicking this link.
A short walk from the Notre-Dame Cathedral is Le Gros-Horloge – a stunning renaissance style clock, often surrounded by bustling nightlife!
We only spent a short while in Rouen. Certainly not long enough to explore within the cathedrals or the Museum of Fine Art. Nonetheless, it’s charming cobbled streets and short distance from Paris will certainly mean that we will return! If I am totally honest, Rouen is probably the nicest French city we have visited in terms of things to see, cleanliness and how safe it felt – I couldn’t recommend a visit more.
Bayeux is approximately an 1hr45 drive from Rouen. On face value, it is a quaint French town – but it comes with an astounding amount of history attached. Not only can you find the world famous Bayeux Tapestry – a tapestry which documents the unfolding events leading up to the Battle of Hastings in 1066 – but it is also home to the Bayeux War Memorial and the Museum of the Battle of Normandy.
Travelling to Bayeux to see the historic attractions can be a pretty cheap day out. Visiting the memorial is free of charge, and you can get tickets to visit the Museum of the Battle of Normandy, Museum of History & Art Baron Gerard and the Bayeux Tapestry for just 15 Euros. However, we visited during the pandemic, and tickets had temporarily been reduced to 10 Euros. You can found out more about the 3 museums from this website.
Eating and drinking in Bayeux seemed pretty reasonable too. Although, be wary that because this isn’t a city, you will not find 24-hour convivence… so make sure that you plan ahead for lunch & dinner – typically served between 12pm-2.30pm and 7pm-10pm respectively. You will find this the case in most French towns!
Have you ever seen Saving Private Ryan (now I sound like Emily in Paris)? Well, Bayeux is the place to head if you want to educate yourself on the scale of the Battle of Normandy. You can also take a trip to Omaha Beach – where the film is set – a half hour drive from Bayeux. Here’s a fact for you… Did you know that the D-Day scene from Saving Private Ryan wasn’t filmed in France at all, but in fact at Ballinesker Beach in Ireland?!
To add to the richness of things to see in the small town of Bayeux, it also has it’s very own Notre-Dame cathedral at the centre, sitting amongst the sandstone coloured streets – and I am yet to come across a Notre-Dame Cathedral that isn’t magnificent!
Mont Saint Michel
I visited Mont Saint Michel a few times whilst growing up – and it is one of those rare places that doesn’t lose it magical vibe when you revisit as an adult. Somehow it manages to maintain it charm and appeal, and although I’m not a huge Harry Potter fan I did find myself comparing to a real life Diagon Alley on my Instagram!
Talking of Instagram… this is the most photographed place mentioned in this blog post and hence, it comes with the crowds to suit! The island – situated approximately 1km from the shore – is surrounded by quicksand, but can be accessed via a footpath or by shuttle bus. The walk is about 40-minutes from the car park – so it’s that or stand in the rather long queue for the bus! We paid 14.20 Euros for 4hr20 parking, but this includes the cost of the shuttle bus should you choose to take it…
Did you know that Mont Saint Michel is home to one of the world’s most famous omelettes? Neither did I until I was met by the crowds of people gathering outside of the La Mere Poulard restaurant… which charges 75 Euros for a 300g omelette! I did have one, but at the much cheaper price of 16 Euros at a restaurant further along the street.
There is an Abbey that sits at the peak of Mont Saint Michel. The island is free to enter, but the Abbey costs approx. 10 Euros per person (free for EU residents aged 18-25). It’s definitely worth a visit, and when we were there it was a welcomed break from the crowds! It’s a fun place to walk around and explore; it feels remarkably like the Eyrie from Game of Thrones (for any fellow nerds out there!).
When leaving Mont Saint Michel, we drove past Alligator Bay and decided to pop it to satisfy our curiosity. They are apparently home to Europe’s largest group of alligators! It’s worth the visit if you can spare the time, and admission is 14 Euros per person.
Lastly, I just have to make a recommendation for the guesthouse that we stayed in whilst visiting Mont Saint Michel – you can check it out here! The hosts were absolutely fabulous and their home was beautiful. It’s our dream to own somewhere like it. Also, we opted for dinner at L’eveche in Dol-de-Bretagne – we would give that 5-stars!
We visited these places over the course of three days, but there is definitely more to explore and we will be back to the magical Normandy before we know it! Do you have any recommendations? I would love to see them in the comments below!
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