Thanks to its historical significance, beautiful scenery, delicious cuisine and proximity to Paris, Normandy is always a top region to visit for travelers in France. The list of historically significant places to visit in Normandy is long, which is why we’ve compiled a selection of the must-see places for history buffs.
Must-See Normandy for History Buffs
Rouen: The Capital of Normandy
The capital of Normandy has outstanding medieval heritage. Perfect for history buffs, Rouen is classified as a City of Art and History with over 200 protected historical sites.
Take a private guided visit to truly discover this incredible city. A highlight is seeing the Cathedral. Although badly damaged during bombings in April 1944, it has been restored. It inspired Claude Monet’s series of over 30 Cathedral paintings where he attempted to capture the building in different light and during different seasons.
Lovely half-timbered buildings fill the center of Rouen. Walk through the Place du Vieux-Marché, where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. The Gros Horloge (Great Clock) is emblematic of the city and dates back to the 16th century. Rouen also has several notable museums, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Museum of Ceramics, and a Natural History Museum.
Where to Stay in Normandy
La Ferme Saint-Siméon
This beautiful 17th-century inn located on the heights of Honfleur boasts a panoramic view of the Seine estuary, whose lights fascinated the masters of impressionism. Following their example, treat yourself to a memorable stay in this unique hotel and catch the ever-changing light of the Seine.
The 34 rooms and suites have been carefully decorated with traditional paneling, oak flooring and noble materials and radiate history and beauty. Each room has a mini-bar, an LCD TV with a DVD player and free Wi-Fi access. The private bathroom includes a hairdryer and slippers.
The spa offers various relaxation and beauty treatments. Guests can relax in the hotel’s floral garden and enjoy a drink or dinner on the terrace. The property offers a gourmet restaurant, a bistro, a bar, lounge and smoking lounge featuring numerous impressionist and contemporary paintings bringing back an atmosphere of a bygone era. It’s an ideal starting point to discover Normandy’s must-sees for history buffs.
D-Day Landing Beaches and Memorials
One of the most-requested tours in Normandy is to the powerful D-Day landing beaches and memorials. Along with your expert guide, you’ll travel back in time to the different emblematic places of Operation Overlord. Explore the D-Day landing beaches and gain insight into World War II history. Learn the names of the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Visits begin at the American Cemetery at Colleville-Sur-Mer, located on the top of the cliff overlooking the famous Omaha Beach. Omaha Beach is known for being the most devastating but glorious moment of the Normandy invasion, marking the beginning of the end of World War II. You will also get to see the Pointe du Hoc, an ominous piece of land jutting into the English Channel. It provided an elevated vantage point from which large German guns with a range of 15 miles could deliver fire upon both Omaha Beach and Utah Beach. The neutralization of these guns by the allied forces was the key to victory.
Visit Sainte-Mère-Église, one of the first French villages to be liberated. It is famous for a paratrooper who remained attached to the bell tower of the church. Close to the church stands the Airborne Museum. There, you will learn more about the role the paratroopers played in Operation Overlord. The final stop will be Utah Beach, the westernmost beach in the combat zone, where 23,200 American soldiers landed on D-Day.
One of France’s most popular and iconic sights is the magnificent island of Mont-Saint-Michel and its bay, listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Mont-Saint-Michel is located just on the border of Normandy and Brittany. The stunning medieval abbey at the top of the rocky island is a genuine historical masterpiece. Take your time to soak up the magic of the island and the beauty of its bay, which changes with the rise and fall of the tides.
Climb to the top of the grand staircase to reach the abbey. The abbey, built between the 11th to the 16th centuries, features both Romanesque and Gothic style elements of architecture.
Tides permitting, it is possible to take a half-day guided walk in the bay to discover the beautiful Mont-Saint-Michel from a different perspective.
Bayeux is a perfect base for exploring must-see Normandy for history buffs. The Bayeux tapestry depicts the conquest of England by the Normans, led by William the Conqueror, in the 1077 Battle of Hastings. An extraordinary feat, the tapestry is about 80 meters long and 50 centimeters high and is a fascinating document that provides a great deal of valuable information about life at that time.
Bayeux itself is an attractive town with a well-preserved medieval center surrounding its renowned cathedral. The cathedral dates in part from 1077, although most of what we see today is in the Gothic style and was built in the 13th to 15th centuries. Around the cathedral, the historic center was luckily untouched during the events of 1944. Take in the rich heritage with timber-framed houses, manors, and townhouses.
Where to Stay in Normandy
Gaiety and elegance are the two words which automatically spring to mind to describe this magnificent 5-star hotel. The 18th-century château is historically listed and set among exquisite French gardens and parkland.
Ever since becoming a hotel in 1976, Audrieu has been a symbol of the French art of living. Period fireplaces and furniture give a personal touch to this ancestral home. Stay in one of its suites and rooms, some with original wainscoting, and enjoy a combination of luxury, space, and comfort.
Treat yourself to superb, innovative cuisine in the gastronomic restaurant. The hotel also features a stylish bar serving light dishes as well as salty or sweet croques en bouche, served inside or on the terrace.
Unwind in the hotel’s charming gardens or take a dip in the heated outdoor swimming pool. A charging station for electric cars is available at this property.
Claude Monet’s House and Garden in Giverny
Claude Monet lived in Giverny, which is not far from Paris but technically in Normandy, for 43 years until his death in 1926. It remains a popular destination in Normandy for history buffs, art lovers, and garden fanatics thanks to the opportunity to visit his house and garden that inspired his most prominent paintings.
The garden is open from April through October and boasts a stunning array of flowers and willow trees. See the very pond where Monet painted the famous Nymphéas (Water Lilies). Monet was a gardener as well as an artist, using his creative eye to arrange and plant the flowers himself. The garden bursts with color and light, which Monet so wonderfully depicted in his paintings. Spring is a wonderful time to visit when daffodils, irises, peonies, nasturtiums, roses and narcissuses are in full bloom.
The interior of the charming pink house remains true to what the rooms looked like during Monet’s time. Visit Monet’s studio, reading room, and vibrant yellow kitchen. The Dining Room showcases Monet’s magnificent collection of Japanese prints, including some notable pieces by artists such as Katsushika Hokusai.
We hope this list of must-see Normandy for history buffs helps inspire a future trip. We would love to help you plan a dream trip to France with a custom, completely tailor-made itinerary. Some of our favorite destinations in France include Paris, the South of France, Normandy, and Paris. Get in touch with a travel designer today to start the planning process!