Normandy is located in the north of France on the English Channel east of Brittany. The most famous towns and cities are Caen, Le Havre and Rouen.
How to Get to Normandy by Train
From Paris: As you can see from the map, Normandy isn't so far from Paris, the train from Paris Saint-Lazare to Vernon, the first stop in Normandy and the closest station to Giverny (see below), takes around 45 minutes, running along the river Seine.
The D-Day beaches, the most famous of which are marked in red on the map, are about 150 rail miles from Paris, the trains stopping at Caen where there is bus service to the beaches as well as rental car offices (directly across from the train station at Caen). A car is recommended when you wish to visit the D-Day memorials.
From elsewhere: You will inevitably need to change in Paris.
The France Eurail Pass might work for you if you're taking longer journeys in France. Be sure to check out the Senior pass if you're over 60 years of age. You can book single-journey TGV tickets online also.
If you need to get to Paris from the UK and want tickets in advance, you can order Eurostar tickets online (book direct).
See also: Interactive Rail Map of France
Normandy: Places to Visit
Two of the top places to visit in Normandy are Mont St. Michel (Map) and Giverny, at the opposite ends of Normandy. These sites are well known to travelers, but the charm of Normandy is visiting the smaller villages.
There's a lot of history here--and artists have eagerly sought out the Normandy light.
Visiting the Normandy D-Day Beaches and Memorials Without a Car
If you don't have a car in Normandy and still want to visit the D-Day beaches you can take a day coach tour out of Paris or, if you want to do it on your own, you can take the train to Caen, then take the D-Day Tour, which includes tickets to the museum and transportation to and from the train station, plus a five-hour guided tour of the of the Anglo-American beachheads.
The D-Day Tour and other options are available online through the Peace Museum website.
The Normandy Coastline
The Cote Fleurie is the coastline between the D-Day landings and the mouth of the Seine at La Havre. The impressionists loved it, and a walk around the quaint artist's village of Honfleur will let you know why. Deauville is a popular seaside resort with a casino, Trouville is a picturesque fishing port with a daily fish market. It became a popular resort town about 100 years ago. Cabourg is a Belle Epoque Edwardian seaside resort frequented by writers like Proust and Dumas.
Normandy's Top Cities and Towns
Rouen is where Joan of Arc met her sad end, and is very much an art city along the River Seine. Flaubert wrote here, and there's a museum dedicated to him in Rouen. Read more about a Guided Tour of Rouen from Paris.
Caen offers the visitor a William the Conqueror castle and two abbeys, but many come for the Peace Museum, Le Mémorial de Caen, which offers tour of some of the D-Day Beaches. Fewer come for les tripes à la mode de Caen. Caen tripe. You can perhaps guess why.
Bayeux is home to the tapestry that carries its name, and is also a town full of museums, split between the war and artisan crafts practiced here.
Giverny Where Money lived and painted for years. The closest destination to Paris. You can take a Monet Guided Tour from Paris.
Cherbourg was once a little fishing village but now sports a large historic port. The Liberation Museum is nearby.
Granville is another seaside resort and commercial fishing village, but everyone comes here for the Christian Dior Museum; Dior grew up here. Go to the Haute Ville, the high town, for picturesque views. Go to the casino to lose your money.
Domfront is a compelling medieval town visitors seem to like, which features an evocative 11th century ruined castle on a hill and lots of half-timbered houses. It's a good place to stay if you like very small towns (there are fewer than 4000 inhabitants).
Bagnoles has its hydrotherapic baths which date back to the medieval times as well as some fine Art Deco architecture from the roaring 20s when Bagnoles came into its own as a tourist spa town.
Camembert is a small village you've heard of if you're a cheese eater. Gawk at the half-timbered houses and picnic by the river with your Camembert and bread.
Evreux has a fine cathedral with great stained glass windows.
Lisieux (see the drop-down box for English) has a couple thousand years of history under its belt. See Le Musée d'Art et d'Histoire as well as all the historic religious buildings, especially those devoted to Therese Martin (no relation), then head over to Le Domaine St-Hippolyte where you can taste Normandy specialties.
Le Havre is the largest city in the Haute-Normandie region and has the second busiest port after Marseilles. See the Abbey of Graville, Musée des Beaux-Arts André Malraux, Musée du Vieux Havre, the Shipowner Home and the Japanese Gardens.
Where to Stay in Normandy
France Expert Mary Anne Evans recommends a stay at La Ferme de la Rançonnière Hotel.