Arriving in Paris, we picked up our rental car and hit the road to explore Northern France on a two week roadtrip. While the temperature and weather didn’t always cooperate in late October, autumn is a lovely time to drive through France. The changing leaves and crisp air were a welcome change to the beaches of the South of France.
I’ve included our stops as well as some restaurant and accommodation recommendations. I’ve also mentioned how I would change the itinerary and offer suggestions for alternatives to suit other travel styles. So keep reading for an extensive 2 week Northern France travel guide.
Northern France Travel Guide
Day #1 Monet, Château-Gaillard and Lyons-la-Forêt
- Depart Paris ORY airport (we were on the road around 11am)
- Drive 1h 1 min to Giverny to visit Monet’s House and Gardens (Spend 2 hours) or add another hour if visiting the Museum.
- Drive 25 min to Les Andelys to see the Château Gaillard and village of Les Andelys.
- Drive 20 min to Lyons-la-Forêt to wander the village.
- Drive 34 min to Rouen
Monet’s House and Gardens in Giverny is a must. If you’re arriving late and can’t fit in anything else, stop by Giverny. Art enthusiast may want to spend longer than 2-3 hours. However, with kids, it was the perfect amount of time.
Read more tips for visiting Monet’s House & Gardens
The Château-Gaillard looks over Les Andelys and the River Seine in Normandy. The stones of the château were first used by the Capuchin monks and then by the Penitents. The ruins have undergone some restoration. The outer bailey can be viewed for free, while the Upper court and dungeon have a small entrance fee.
We stopped for a quick visit to see the château and took a short drive through the village. You can visit in under an hour or explore longer if visiting the inside of the château and spending more time in the village.
Lyons-la-Forêt is a cute village worth a stop. We spent approximately 30 minutes wandering it’s streets. We’d planned to have a coffee in the square but the rain was moving in, so we decided to jump back in the car. We were just pulling out of the parking lot when the first raindrop fell.
The village is classified among “The Most Beautiful Villages of France”. Take time to appreciate the half-timbered houses from the 17th and 18th centuries and admire the old covered market.
Arrive late afternoon/early evening and spend 2 nights in the city of Rouen.
Day #2 Rouen, France
Spend the day exploring Rouen. Wander the streets of the old town, then head to the shopping district to look for the Gros Horologe above a passageway. This beautifully detailed astronomical clock contains a mechanism from the 1300s!
Then see the Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Rouen, visit the Church of St. Joan of Arc and take a minute to examine the walls of the Aitre St-Maclou.
Boys particularly may be fascinated by the morbid carvings in the timber walls there. The site was a burial ground during the Black Plague in 1348. Look in a glass case near the entrance to see a cat skeleton found in the walls.
Learn the history of Joan of Arc at Historial Jeanne d’Arc. The kids were begging to go back to the hotel and swim, so we skipped a visit to the museum. If you want more information on the life and trial of Joan of Arc, the museum is supposed to be extremely well done. Since we didn’t get our history lesson, I’m making the kids read, “Who Was Joan of Arc?“.
Where to stay:
This is rather difficult. We stayed at the Hotel de Bourgtheroulde, part of the Marriott Autograph Collection. It’s a 5-star hotel and looked fantastic from the photos and reviews. However, for the price, I really can’t recommend it. While the hotel itself was gorgeous and the staff definitely 5-star, I did not get a good night’s sleep. You can see more information on our upcoming Rouen article.
Day #3 Jumièges, Fécamp and Étretat
Drive 29 min to Jumièges to visit the Abbey (could skip)
Drive 54 min to Fécamp to see the cliffs and Benedictine Palace
Drive 15 min to Étretat for more beautiful cliff
Drive 38 min to Honfleur
Day 3 was all about the cliffs of Normandy. Our first stop, Jumièges, was to visit the ruins of Jumièges Abbey. The city located next to the River Seine could easily be skipped if short on time. We opted not to visit the Abbey (even though it looks charming from the outside) and kept driving to our next destination.
The tallest cliffs in Normandy are located in Fécamp making it a must stop on your journey. The Alabaster Coast is lovely, even on a chilly, rainy autumn day. We suggest driving up the hillside to the Cap Fagnet. We only stopped quickly for photos as a light drizzle had just started. In July and August, inexpensive tours are offered in English by the Fécamp tourism office. If visiting during the summer, I think a tour would be a great option – plus kids are free.
The Benedictine Palace is also well worth a quick stop. If you want to tour the Palace, keep in mind that it will be closed during lunch. We ended up arriving during this time, so didn’t get to take a tour. The reviews we read on the tour were pretty mixed. People either said it was a must stop or not worth the money. However, the café was open for tasting Benedictine liquor. Derrick and I shared a DOM, which is the Benedictine liquor, champagne and a lemon twist – tasty!
At our hotel in Rouen, Derrick tried a Singapore Sling, also made with Benedictine liquor, that he enjoyed.
After a quick sandwich lunch, we hit the road to explore Étretat. The stunning white cliffs were my favorite of the day. First, we parked by the Chapelle Notre-Dame de la Garde and walked along the cliffs. Then we drove down to the coast to explore the town. A cute store to find local goods was La Mer à Boire. We purchased sardines, candy for the kids and chatted with the proprietor about the region.
Afterwards it was time to head to our apartment in Honfleur. We arrived in the early evening.
Spend 2 nights in Honfleur.
Chapelle Notre-Dame de la Garde – Falaise d’Amont, 76790
La Mer à Boire – Place du Général de Gaulle, 76790
Where to Stay
We booked an apartment in the Old Town through VRBO. The stairs leading to the apartment could be a bit precarious for little ones, but it was a nice 2 bedroom for a reasonable price.
Day 4 Honfleur
You may be ready for a bit of relaxation at this point. I know we were! After a go, go, go first few days, we spent a leisurely day exploring Honfleur. We rose late and spent the afternoon meandering through the cobble stoned streets and checking out the shops.
The Vieux Bassin is literally picture perfect and a great spot to check out the boats and admire the architecture. My kids enjoyed visiting Naturospace, a butterfly garden. We spotted countless species of butterflies that were flying throughout the greenhouse. Derrick had a butterfly land on his head then move to his hand. It hung out on him for over 10 minutes! None of the butterflies landed on the kids, so they were a bit bummed.
Honfleur isn’t a large village, so it would be possible to visit in the morning then head to another destination instead of spending 2 nights there.
Day 5 Deauville, Pont-lÉvêque, Merville Battery, Cookies and Umbrellas
Drive 27 min to Deauville
Drive 20 min to Pont-lÉvêque
Drive 26 min to Beuvron-en-Auge
Drive 25 min to Musée de la Batterie de Merville (1.5 hours)
Drive 44 to H2o Parapluies in Crepon to purchase umbrellas
Drive 5 min t0 Les Sables in Asnelles for cookies
Per a recommendation from friends that have visited the region many times, our first stop of the day was Deauville. This classy city has grand half-timbered houses, shopping, and restaurants. We parked and wandered along the lovely, sandy beach which is massive at low tide and makes a great spot for kids to run.
As mentioned above, Honfleur can be seen in 1/2 a day. An idea would be to spend a night in Deauville, omitting one night in Honfleur. However, spending two nights there worked well with our drive times and kept the schedule fairly relaxed.
After stomping the sand from our shoes, we were back in the car to visit the villages of Pont-lÉvêque and Beuvron-en-Auge. These were brief stops to stretch our legs and see the half-timbered houses. Derrick had planned to purchase Calvados from Père Magloire in Pont-lÉvêque, but he found the bottles he wanted in Honfleur. The store and tasting room has good reviews if you want to purchase Calvados during your trip.
We spent approximately 1.5 hours touring the Musée de la Batterie de Melville (Museum and the Merville Battery.) The WWII museum is a restored Nazi fortification complete with bunkers and a C-47 American Military aircraft. The museum is well done and does a great job of explaining the importance of capturing the site during Operation Overlord. I think it’s an especially good museum for kids with the audio/visual display and outdoor areas. Plus the museum isn’t as crowded as other WWII museums we visited during the trip.
A unique souvenir from the region can be found at H2o Parapluies. Purchase the beautifully crafted umbrellas made locally at the workshop in Normandy. The umbrellas were pricy but include a lifetime guarantee. I bought a pretty pink umbrella with scalloped edges.
Another must stop is Les Sables in Asnelles. You do not want to miss these cookies! The shortbread cookies have been made from the same recipe since 1904 using Isigney butter, eggs, four and sugar. We loved them so much we tried to go back for more a couple of days later, but sadly they were closed. I wouldn’t complain if someone wanted to ship me some 🙂
After stocking up on cookies, we made our way to Bayeux where we stayed for 3 nights.
Day #6 D-Day Tour
Today was all about the Battle of Normandy. Choose from a guided tour or explore on your own. We booked a guided tour as we typically like all the extra tidbits of information that can only be obtained during a tour. However, for the price and since we had a car, we should have just planned our own.
Our tour focused on the U.S. beaches and included the German Cemetery of La Cambe, Sainte-Mère-Église, Airborne Museum, Utah Beach, Pointe du Hoc, Omaha Beach, and the American Cemetery. I highly recommend stopping to learn the history at each of these locations.
While the tour was a full day, another place to add if you have time during your trip is taking a self-guided tour to discover the German Battery of Longues-sur-Mer. It’s the only one on the coast with the original guns. See more on our D-Day tour in Normandy, coming soon.
Return to Bayeux in the evening.
Day #7 Bayeux
Spend the day wandering the streets of Bayeux. We explored the Bayeux Tapestry, Old Town, Cathedral and Memorial Museum of the Battle of Normandy during our one full day.
You can read all the details on our Bayeux travel Guide here.
Day #8 Arromanches 360°, Port-En-Bessin, Caramels and Mont Saint Michel
Drive 20 min to Circular cinema Arromanches 360°
Drive 21 min to Port-En-Bessie
Drive 23 min to Les Halles d’Isigny for caramels
Drive 1h 17 min to Mont Saint Michel
We almost skipped the Circular Cinema Arromanches 360°, but I’m so glad we decided that morning to visit. The film shown on 9 screens was a powerful look at the Battle of Normandy and served to reiterate the importance of remembering the story of the 100 days of this battle. The cinema is also located on the remnants of one of the two artificial Mulberry harbours set up by the Allies during the war.
Next up was a stop for lunch in the fishing town of Port-en-Bessin. The port is known for it’s scallops which is evident by a beach made up entirely of scallop shells. We enjoyed lunch at Fleur de Sel by the harbor. Since we arrived right at noon, we were able to get a table. People that arrived 30 minutes after us were turned away if they did not have a reservation.
- Le Bistrot d’à Côté, 12 rue Michel Lefournier 14520 Port-en-Bessin
- Fleur de Sel, 6 quai Félix Faure, 14520 Port-en-Bessin
- Hôtel de la Marine, 5 quai Letourneur, 14520 Port-en-Bessin
After lunch, we stopped by Les Halles d’Isigny for caramels and made our way to Mont Saint Michel. Derrick and the kids pronounced these to be the best caramels they’ve ever had. However, they are still debating over whether hard or chewy caramels are best.
The island of Mont Saint Michel was picture perfect and well worth a visit. We only needed a couple of hours to explore the island, but it was nice to be there after all the other tourist left. The tide changes drastically there, so visitors need to check the tide schedule before arriving. Unfortunately, we visited during one of the few times when the tide doesn’t change. The tide was out during our entire visit. We were able to walk around the island to get photos, but missed seeing the island surrounded by water.
We wandered in and out of the shops and had dinner at La Mère Poulard. A friend had visited years ago and highly recommended the restaurant, but I should have read the reviews. The food was just okay, it was way overpriced and the service was horrible. We would have been better off grabbing sandwiches for dinner.
Where to Stay:
We stayed at the Auberge Saint Pierre on Mont Saint Michel.A bit pricey, a better option would have been to stay off the island, although all area prices are somewhat high. We were torn when booking and I loved the idea of being on Mont Saint Michel in the evening and early morning, but to be fair, I did envision it as an island surrounded by water. If you do stay on the island, pack minimal luggage as you will be carrying it up a lot of steps.
Day #9 Saint-Malo, Dinard and Dinan
Drive 50 min to Saint-Malo
Drive 24 min to Dinard
Drive 27 min to Dinan
Before leaving Mont Saint Michel in the morning, we visited the Abbey. The Mont Saint Michel Abbey was one of the first UNESCO World Heritage sites in France and dates back to 708! I suggest purchasing an audio guide for 3€ to listen to the history of the Abbey as you explore the rooms. You’ll also want to have your camera ready to capture the sweeping views.
After taking the tram back to the parking lot, we took off for Saint Malo. The fortified city of Saint Malo turned out to be cooler than I expected. Unfortunately, there was an event taking place during our visit and we couldn’t find parking to explore the city.
Since we had extra time, we were able to add on a visit to Dinard. Dinard was one of France’s top summer resort areas until the 1930’s, when visitors starting flocking more to the French Riviera. The villas are spectacular making this a nice stop, if you have time. We ate lunch at a pizza restaurant, Castor Bellux. The food and service were good plus the prices were reasonable.
We arrived in Dinan fairly early, so there was a plenty of time to get settled into the apartment and explore in the evening.
Spend 2 nights in Dinan.
Day #10 Dinan
It was another relaxing day as we explored Dinan. We slept in, then explored the Old Town, walked the ramparts, and saw the Basilique Saint-Sauveur de Dinan. We skipped the Château de Dinan as it didn’t seem worth the expense.
Where to eat:
We had dinner at Chez la Mere Pourcel in the square one night. The restaurant is more upscale than we typically take the kids to but the food and service was good. For lunch one day we ate at Crêperie Le Be New, where everyone had a galette. We all wanted to eat at the Greek restaurant, Osa Boutique Gourmet, as it had great reviews but it was closed during our visit.
Day #11 Pontrieux, Meneham, Le Faou and Locronan
Drive 1h 27 min to Pontrieux (could skip)
Drive 28 min to Meneham
Drive 47 min to Le Faou (could skip)
Drive 28 min to Locronan
We left Dinan by 9am to get on the road and see the beaches of Brittany. Our first stop was to Pontrieux. It was a cute village, but similar to what we’ve seen earlier on the trip. We only drove through and kept going.
Meneham in Kerlouan was the highlight of our day. The kids loved the beaches and enjoyed climbing all over the rocks. Well, at least until the tide came in so fast it stranded them one rock short of a path to shore. Lucy had a bit of a meltdown, but K came to the rescue and “saved” her.
The village of Meneham dates from the 17th century. The main building has a stone roof and is literally built into the rocks next to the beach in Kerlouan. We spent almost 2 hours there, but could have easily spent an entire day, had the weather been warmer.
Le Faou was another village we just kept driving through. We added many of these villages to our list after weeks of researching the most beautiful towns in Northern France. Le Faou was cute, but we were kind of over cute little towns by this point.
We spent the night in Locronan, but I don’t recommend it. You can see Locronan in about 30 minutes. We ended up here for the night because it fit in with our driving times.
Day #12 Pont-Aven, Auray, Carnac, Vannes and Rochefort-en-Terre
Drive 38 min to Pont-Aven
Drive 49 min to Auray (could skip)
Drive 13 min to Carnac
Drive 26 min to Vannes
Drive 28 min to Rochefort-en-Terre
We started the day off early again with our first visit being to Pont-Aven. This picturesque village was worth a quick look and was a nice place to grab a cup of coffee for the adults and hot chocolate for the kiddos.
We drove quickly through Auray and onto Carnac to see the Carnac stones. The site has more than 3000 megaliths & tombs that were erected around 4000BC. We stopped quickly for photos, but the kids weren’t really excited to see a “bunch of rocks.”
I would have liked to see more Vannes, but we didn’t have time for more than a quick walk through the city center.
Spend 2 nights in Rochefort-en-Terre.
Where to Stay:
Our apartment through Airbnb was great and highly recommended. We even had 3 bedrooms, so the kids didn’t have to share a room. The 2nd and 3rd bedrooms are located on the 3rd floor, so it may not be ideal for young children. There is a bathroom on this level, so our kids didn’t need to go down stairs in the middle of the night. The apartment also featured a real dryer which is rare in Europe.
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Day #13 Rochefort-en-Terre
Allow most of the day to relax and limit sightseeing to Rochefort-en-Terre. The village is fairly small, so you really don’t need more than an hour of exploration here. Wander the streets of the village, visit the château and church (Notre-Dame-de-la-Tronchaye). There are a bunch of cute shops to browse as well.
We planned more of a “down” day. The previous days had been fairly busy and we knew we would be busy the last couple of days of our trip. However, there are several châteaux to visit in the area if you want to explore more and relax less.
The Naia Museum is an interesting but odd art gallery.
The Parc de préhistoire de Bretagne is nearby, but we didn’t visit. It just didn’t seen like a place my older kids would be interested in.
An option would be to stay in Rochefort-en-Terre or Vannes for one night and spend a night in Nantes. We had to skip Nantes as we couldn’t work it into the schedule.
Day # 14 Château d’Ussé and Château de Villandry
Drive 3h 4 min to Château d’ussé (could skip)
Drive 31 min to Château de Villandry
Our first château visit was to Château d’Ussé. We were looking forward to this château and it’s references to Sleeping Beauty. The château was nice but the Sleeping Beauty exhibition was a bit disappointing. This was our least favorite château and I wish we had decided to skip it. There are so many châteaux in the Loire Valley that I would suggest swapping in another for this one.
Next we drove to Château de Villandry, Lucy’s favorite. The Renaissance gardens are gorgeous and are separated into 4 distinct gardens including ornamental, herbal and medicinal, and the kitchen gardens. We could have spent hours just in the gardens alone – there is even a children’s maze! The château is well restored and is the best value for the money. The rooms are all well decorated so visitors get a sense of the rooms use, but without distraction.
Tip – Eat before getting to Villandry. The restaurant choices were poor and the boulangerie (bakery) was sold out of sandwiches by the time we arrived.
After our visit, we drove to Azay-le-Rideau. We arrived late and only had a little time to explore before turning in for the night.
Where to Stay:
We spent the night in Azay-le-Rideau at the Hotel de Biencourt. The hotel was clean and comfortable with a nice breakfast from organic, local goods. We usually don’t eat breakfast at a hotel, but we wanted everyone to be well fed before starting our day.
Day #15 Château d’Azay-le-Rideau, Château de Chenonceau and Château de Chambord
Drive 37 min to Château de Chenonceau
Drive 57 min to Château de Chambord
Drive 1h 44 min to Paris
It’s all about the châteaux in this part of France! We spent the morning wandering the Château d’Azay-le-Rideau. This was an unplanned visit, but one that we recommend. The château was built on an island in the Indre River. The reflection pond was lovely and the inside spectacular – it even had fun moving displays that Lucy adored.
Château de Chenonceau was next on the list. The château was gorgeous and has an interesting history. In 1547, Henry II offered the château as a gift to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers. The “ladies château” was one of my favorites and even featured Catherine de Medici’s bedroom. We could have spent and entire day here, exploring the château, gardens and grounds. This was one of the most expensive châteaux, so I wish we had been able to spend more time here.
Our last visit was to another famous and incredible château, Château de Chambered. This is another one that you could spend several hours touring. I loved the view from the rooftops and the massive double spiral staircase. We were short on time, but many visitors had a HistoPad. These iPads are available in 12 languages, provide a history of the château and even include a treasure hunt for children.
We didn’t have nearly enough time for all 3 châteaux and the long drive back to Paris. I’d highly suggest breaking this up into 2 days.
We stayed at the Best Western by the airport as we had an early flight.
Day #16 Flight Home
Sadly, all trips must come to an end. We flew back to Nice out of Paris Orly Airport (ORY).
Where to Rent the Car:
We tend to use Auto Europe for booking our rentals and typically chose Europcar or Hertz as the provider.
We drove mostly on the back roads, so we were able to skip a majority of the costly tolls. We hit toll roads on our way to Château d’Ussé and again on our way back to Paris. We also unexpectedly rented a hybrid car, so we saved some money on petrol.
Number of Travel Days: 16
Distance Traveled: XX
Number of Hotels: 5
Number of Apartments: 4
Price of Gas: ~$144.60
Price of Tolls: 33.10€
As shown in this extensive roadtrip itinerary, it’s possible to cover a lot of ground in 2 weeks. We were inspired by the home of Monet, learned the history of D-Day in Normandy, explored the beaches of Brittany and were awe-struck by the châteaux of the Loire Valley. We could have easily spent more time in each of these regions, but this trip gave us a great overview of what Northern France has to offer. I’m looking forward to visiting again.
Don’t miss our guide to understanding French road signs. It will be super helpful as you drive through the country.
What are your roadtrip plans? Can you add other ideas to our Northern France travel guide?
*Please note all times and distances are approximate. Gas and toll prices can also vary.