Normandy is a destination we discovered about nine months after having our first child, Travelbetter Girl, and haven't stopped going since. Honestly, we haven't missed a year since Travelbetter Girl came along and as long as travel funds allow we are not about to stop. We absolutely love and need our Normandy break each year.
It is a great destination for everyone with loads to do mixed with plenty of opportunities to do nothing but sit back and enjoy great food and a slower pace of life.
So, if you are thinking about a trip to Normandy, and you should be, then to help you here are the best thins to do in Normandy. Read them all or just jump to the ones that stand out in the contents.
The Normandy beaches are famous for the D-Day landings and while this is a big part of their appeal, and one of the reasons to visit, it isn’t the only reason you should visit Arromanches beach.
Arromanches-les-Bains beach is also a great big, flat, sandy beach that is great for sunbathing, beach games, paddling and exploring. We spent a fun hour on the beach last summer just drawing pictures in the sand. Not to mention our time paddling in the waves.
Plus, Arromanches beach is often very quiet and while you don't get it to yourself you do get plenty of space especially when compared to a beach in the Med.
Back to the D-Day history of Normandy and Arromanches beach is a great place to get a feel for the massive scale, effort and undertaking of the D-Day landings and this is highlighted in the museum up the hill from the beach but also for the large artefacts left over from the D-Day landings on and around the beach.
The most interesting of these D-Day artefacts has to be the large pieces of the floating bridge, or flotilla, at Arromanches that was used to deliver much needed supplies and equipment to the European battlefronts.
On the beach you can walk right up and explore what remains of the flotilla and then when you visit the museum in Arromanches you can see it in action in historic footage.
It is also fascinating to see it appear as the tide goes out and then later on, after exploring it close up, watch the sea submerge it once more as the tide comes in.
The other thing we love about Arromanches is that it is home to our favourite gallette restaurant.
It is a lovely family owned place on the main strip that serves tasty, freshly made, gallettes and crepes all day long.
It is also where I discovered crepe with crème-de-marron, such a wonderful combination and something of a treat I enjoy with every visit.
Next on our list of top things to do in Normandy is the miniature railway in Clecy, known locally as Chemin de Fer Miniature.
This is a wonderful display of dedication and craftsmanship of a father and son team who have spent years creating a railway based world and you can’t help but be impressed as you watch it come to life.
The attention to detail on the model is everywhere with just some of our favourites being the outdoor cinema, burning building and the working fairground. It will keep you and yours kids captivated for a good hour or so as you take it all in and watch a demonstration.
As well as the miniature railway models there is a ride on railway that goes around the grounds which is simple but fun.
And an inflatable bouncy train for the kids to play on while you enjoy a coffee and snack from the café.
Plus, Chemin de Fer Miniature also features a cidre cave to walkthrough and learn all about the cidre making process. Also, housed in the cave is a small cinema showing the changes to Chemin de Fer Miniature over the years.
For number three on our list of what to do we are staying in Clecy but this time going about a two minute drive from the miniature railway down to the action packed riverside.
Here you can enjoying lots of activities includeing boating and kayaking and we recommend starting off with an electric boat ride as this is great for little ones. The electric boats are very easy to use and come with two speeds. Slow and Slower. so they are fine to let the kids have a go, just be prepared to help them with the steering.
If you don't have any kids with you or they are not so little anymore then go for a kayak safari down the river and enjoy some great views while paddling on mainly gentle waters.
Clecy is in an area known as Swiss-Normand or Swiss-Normandy to us Brits. It is named due to its many high rising hills and low river valleys and Clecy embodies this. Plus, with its sheer rock faces it provides the ideal opportunity for some climbing adventures.
Or try your hand at abseiling off the viaduct.
Next is the Bayeux Tapestry. This famous woven art work depicts in good detail the events leading up to and including the battle of Hasting in 1066 where William Duke of Normandy defeated and killed King Harold to become King of Britain and gained his nickname William the Conqueror.
Bayeux is also a lovely pictureques Normandy town and a lovely place to grab lunch and stroll through winding streets.
There are many Chateaus in Normandy worth visiting but one that stands out to us is Chateau Vendeuvre.
While the stunning Chateau Vendeuvre itself is great to look at the real fun can be found in the large gardens and waterways that are found behind the Chateau. Better known as the Garden of Surprise.
The surprise being a collection of hidden water features designed to catch you out and give you a small soaking. The kids loved it and in truth so did we and think it is a must for your Normandy to do list. Especially when the weather is hot.
While Chateau Vendeuvre is an elegant and stylish place to visit. It also doesn't take itself too seriously as our video above shows.
If you are looking for some theme park fun on your holiday then you can try the fairy-tale based Festyland. It might not be Disney World, or even Alton Towers, but it is a fun park with a couple of coasters and white knuckle rides.
But best of all it has plenty of rides for the little ones.
If there is one person in history you associate with Normandy then it would be William, Duke of Normandy and Conqueror of Britain. And in the Market town of Falaise you can visit his place of birth and where he grew up to be king.
The grounds are very impressive to walk around and include special fixed Viewmaster style devices that allow you to see the castle and grounds in the past
Once inside the castle you can get a view of what life was like in the past as you walk through the castle thanks to their bespoke iPads. These work by allowing you to scan special places in each room and then your iPad displays a picture from the past that you can then move around the room to see how it would have looked. The system is very easy to use and Travelbetter Girl had great fun with it.
France has some great swimming pools and one of our favourites is this pool at Falaise.
This swimming pool is very well kept, has a splash area for babies, a big lap pool, slides, small wave pool, and an outside pool with a sun lounge area so you can relax here for a good few hours and this is why swimming in Falaise makes our list. You could combine a swim following or before you visit Chateaux Guillaume.
One tip to avoid the crowds in the summer is to visit over lunchtime between 12-2 as your in France and all the locals are at lunch. See their website for opening times and more details.
Normandy is also famous for its horses and is home to the National Stud farm and equestrian centre called Haras Du Pin.
As well as having some magnificent buildings, great tours of the stables, and fantastic horses they also put on a family friendly show a couple of times a week showcasing the horses at the stables and what they are capabile of.
In addition to the above you can now also get a pony ride at the Haras Du Pin and the Travelbetter Kids gave this a try during a recent visit.
France is famous for its cheese and each region has their own range of locally produced cheese to enjoy. For Normandy, the range is Camembert, Livarot, Neurfchatel and Pont-l’vec.
And since it is such a big part of life in Normandy then we think it is worth learning more about it origins and production at the Graindorge Cheese Factory in Livarot (Graindorge E Fromagerie).
Here you can take a self-guided tour through the whole cheese process and of course enjoy a few samples.
The smell at the factory, as you can expect, is pretty strong and while you do get used to it during the tour you might get a few complaints from the little ones.
Next on our list of top things to do in Normandy is the Automates Avenue in Falaise. This is a unique museum showing some very impressive automatons and how they have been used for advertising over the years.
The whole museum is set out along a mock street from 1920’s Paris and you walk along looking in each window and admiring the detailed work and performance on the automaton.
Be warned, a few of them can look a bit scary at first to the little ones (and some of the big ones) but this fear quickly passes and before you know it the kids are running from window to window to see what is next.
Learn more Automate Avenue here
Food in Normandy really is worth talking about and to really understand the range and quality of produce available in the area then you must check out one or more of the local markets.
Not only will you and the kids see some lovely, tasty and impressively colourful food on offer. But you will also get to see a few things you don’t normally come across at a market in the UK. Things like baby ducks, chicks, rabbits, a small fairground, donkeys to ride on and interestingly a number of people serving cous-cous.
When we visit we challenge the Travelbetter kids to find the most colourful food, the most unsual food, and the stinkiest food (normally this is found in the cheese section).
Most towns have market days and two that we can recommend are Falaise (on a Saturday) and San-Pierre-Sur-Dive (on a Monday).
The tidal island of cobbled streets and a majestic abbey is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but also the inpiration for Rupunzals home in the Disney film Tangled and this alone will have your kids running around with excitement.
The history of Normandy goes back further than William the Conqueror. In fact it goes way, way, way back.
At Paleospace you and the family can learn more about it's Jurassic history and see some impressive displays of Normandy's biggest Dinosaurs.
Whether you are a beginner or a more experienced rider there are plenty of opportunities for you and the little ones to have a go at horse riding in Normandy. For example, on this day Travelbetter Girl rode a very miniature pony called Minnie and loved every minute of it. Plus, as we said earlier in this post the riding fun has continued at Haras-Du-Pin.
Here is a handy map of some of the riding schools and other places in Normandy where you may be able to go riding.
Honfleur is a small harbour town near the larger port of Le Harve and it is a truly picture perfect town full or colour and restaurants. While it is a must do place to visit for a day you can easily spend a weekend here.
As mentioned previously Normandy is a great destination for foodies and one prominate product found all over Normandy is apples.
These apples are then turned into many lovely products and while we think you should try them all top of the list has to be Normandy Cidre (Cider).
It is a lovely refreshing drink to enjoy with a meal or on it's own and one of the best ways to find the best is to take the Cidre route where you make your way through fantastic countryside and visit small cidre producers, sample what is on offer and buy a bottle or two.
One thing that stands out in France and the French people is that life is to be savoured and enjoyed.
So take their big hint and give it a go. You will be a better person for it and Normandy is full or great places to stay and visit to help you relax and unwind. You don't have to indluge in wine and chocolate in front of a fire to relax but it certanly helps.
Our favourite way to get Normandy is via Brittany Ferries who can take you from the South coast of the UK direct to a number of Normandy ports.
DFDS Seaways also offer a service from Newhaven to Dieppe.
If you don't like the ferry then another option is to take the Eurotunnel and drive down from Calais. It is roughly a 4 hour drive from Calais to Caen.
More advice on taking the ferry to France