Abbaye aux Hommes in Caen with flags outside © Shutterstock

Best cities to visit for a short trip to Normandy

Normandy isn't all about beaches and rural landscapes, it also has a fantastic selection of cities that are waiting to be explored. As well as these cities having their own beautiful architecture and history, many can also be used as great bases for trips to the Normandy D Day beaches.

Getting to Normandy is easy too! You can sail directly to three of our favourite Normandy destinations, Cherbourg, Caen and Le Havre, from the UK!

Visiting Le Havre

One of Europe's busiest ports, Le Havre is a bustling multicultural city with lots of things to see and do. Much of the city was rebuilt following the devastation wreaked during WW2 and its reconstruction by architect Auguste Perret, the concrete poet, gives it a unique architectural landscape that's made it a UNESCO protected heritage site. 

View of the stained glass inside the Eglise St Joseph in Le Havre © OTAH

View of the stained glass inside the Eglise St Joseph in Le Havre © OTAH

Perret's most famous work is the stunning Eglise St Joseph. Shaped like a lighthouse, this church features nearly 13,000 pieces of stained glass inside its octagonal tower - a beautiful sight that you definitely shouldn't miss when visiting Le Havre.

The city is also known for its ties to the Impressionists. In fact, the painting that gave the movement its name as of Le Havre's port - Monet's Impression, Sunrise. If you're a fan of this art style then head to the arts museum MuMa, where you'll find paintings by Monet, Renoir, Sisley, Degas and more including a particularly large collection of works by Boudin. You could also explore the world of the Impressionists even more with a road trip along the Alabaster coast.

Visiting Rouen

There are plenty of places to visit in Rouen and history and heritage abound in Normandy's capital. William the Conqueror frequently held court here, Richard the Lionheart is buried in the Gothic masterpiece of Rouen cathedral and Joan of Arc tragically met her end in the city when she was burnt at the stake in the Place du Vieux Marche.

View of the city of Rouen © Shutterstock

View of the city of Rouen

It is Joan of Arc that you'll discover at many attractions including the Historial Jeanne d'Arc and the modernist church the Eglise Jeanne d'Arc built in the square where she was executed.

Much of Rouen's old town is wonderfully preserved so wander the cobbled streets and admire the half-timber buildings as you go shopping in the quaint boutiques. Rouen also has some great shopping malls in the modern part of town too. You can hop on the train to Paris and be there in just over an hour so, if Rouen's shopping streets aren't enough to satisfy your shopaholic needs, those in France's capital surely will!

Caen for a city break

Caen is a fantastic place for a city break and also a great base for those wanting to visit the D-Day beaches. Much of the city was destroyed in the Battle of Normandy and it was one of the main objectives for the British when they landed at Sword Beach, just down the river at Ouistreham. The incredible Memorial de Caen, a museum about war, is unmissable and you'll find lots of other D-Day sites and museums in the area.

Chateau de Caen © Shutterstock

Chateau de Caen

Great restaurants, excellent shopping and a vibrant nightlife are just a few of the other good reasons to visit Caen. The city has some magnificent architecture dating from William the Conqueror's reign - the chateau is one of the largest medieval fortresses still standing in Europe and the ornate Abbaye aux Hommes and Abbaye aux Dames are sublime. The chateau houses several museums and if you want to explore more about the era, head to Bayeux nearby to see the Bayeux Tapestry.

Holidays in Bayeux

Bayeux is a wonderful destination in its own right as well as being close to Caen. This medieval riverside town is, of course, most famous as the home of the Bayeux Tapestry, depicting the events of the Norman Conquest in 1066. Not actually a tapestry (it's an embroidery), today it has its own museum where you can see the whole thing up close. In previous centuries it was displayed in the stunning Gothic cathedral located nearby.

Bayeux cathedral with French flag © Shutterstock

Bayeux cathedral with French flag

The town is also famous for some more modern history and was the first town liberated by the Allies after the D-Day landings. Don't miss a visit to the Museum of the Battle of Normandy if you're interested in WW2. In the evenings, you can relax in the historic centre (which escaped the Battle of Normandy miraculously intact) with a drink out on the terraces and some tasty local cuisine. 

A holiday to Cherbourg

If you really love the sea then Cherbourg is the place to be (when you're on land, at least!). With a rich maritime heritage, especially as a naval port, Cherbourg has much to see. Whether you want to explore wartime history at the Fort du Roule and the gun battery or find out about everything on and under the sea at the Cité de la Mer, there's plenty of places to visit. Check out the Thomas Henry art museum and the Saint Trinity Basilica if you're more interested in arts and culture.

Head out on a boat trip of the coastline or discover it from the land with a walk along the beautiful coastal path that goes right around the Cotentin Peninsula. Get your hiking boots on and breathe in some of that fresh sea air! It's also a great area for cycling too. Go to the Cap de la Hague for some truly spectacular views.

With so many history filled city break destinations to choose from Normandy is a great holiday destination. Feel inspired? Holiday with confidence with Brittany Ferries. Our 2021 selection of ferry-inclusive package holidays come with free Covid-19 cover and free amendments too.