Best 5 day itinerary Normandy France: visit Normandy by car or public transportation

Yes, it is possible to visit Normandy by car or public transportation. While it is certainly easier to do a Normandy roadtrip, travelling around Normandy by public transportation is also quite possible. This is my recommended best 5 day itinerary. Normandy, France was somewhere Mr Francetravelplanning and I were keen to visit and initially we planned our Normandy itinerary based on public transportation. While we changed our mind and rented a car, this itinerary is quite achievable by public transport if you follow the order of this post and research train and bus timetables carefully.

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Best 5 day itinerary Normandy France: visit Normandy by car or public transportation View of Mont Saint Michel from the Casserne
You can’t miss the Abbey – even when seen from the Casserne

Best 5 day itinerary Normandy France: travel to Normandy from Paris

Even if you are planning a Normandy road trip, it is still easier to take the train to Normandy and pick up your car there. Normandy trains depart from the Gare St Lazare and while not the faster TGVs, are still a comfortable and relaxing way to travel to Normandy from Paris. I recommend getting the train to Caen and picking up a car there. While there is nothing particularly of note in Caen, it is a large town with an excellent choice of car rental companies at the station. Public transportation visitors will take the train to Pontorson.

Normandy is a very popular destination for a France road trip, so do book your car well in advance. While we were picking up our vehicle a number of Normandy visitors came in, attempting to rent a car without a booking. No vehicles were available…….

France Travel Planning travel tip

For car rental companies, I use and recommend AutoEurope, which allows you to compare and book different rental car options. You can compare and book your Normandy car rental here:

Visit Mont St Michel by car or public transportation

After picking up our car, Mr Francetravelplanning and I headed directly to Mont St Michel from Caen. Driving in Normandy, we found the roads excellent and in mid September, not particularly busy. Although everything was well sign posted we managed to turn off the autoroute too early, so took a very pleasant alternative route via the backroads.

Passing through a number of quaint villages we were rewarded with an early view of Mont St Michel. I’ve never been one for “bucket lists” per se, but have always wanted to visit Mont St Michel. My first view from across the fields of sheep, with the Mont in the background did not disappoint. It was truly majestic………

How to park at Mont St Michel

We were staying overnight at Mont St Michel and had received instructions on where to park our car. If you are making a daytrip to Mont St Michel you will need to park in one of the public car parks on the mainland adjacent to the island. There are a bewildering array of parking options depending your “status” and type of vehicle. Buses, caravans, and campervans have their own parking, and there are also a number of parking areas set aside for cars. These parking areas are off to the right before you reach the boom gate to enter the Casserne area. There is a fee to park the car, and a regular shuttle bus will take you to the causeway.

If you are staying at a hotel on the mainland at the Casserne, you continue straight ahead through the boom gate with the code your hotel will provide you. (If your Mont St Michel accommodation is on the island itself you should check with your host to confirm which car parking you can access). Make sure you keep the parking ticket the machine will give you when you put your code in, as you will need it to pay for your parking to exit the Casserne area. Then follow the instructions for your hotel’s car park.

Arriving at Mont St Michel by public transportation

Travellers to Mont St Michel by public transportation will take the train to Pontorson and then either bus or taxi it to Mont St Michel. The bus meets the train and will drop you right at the causeway. It is also possible to take the train to Rennes and then a bus from there.

How to plan a visit to Mont St Michel

Whether it is worth staying overnight at Mont St Michel is a regular question in my France Travel Planning Facebook group (you can join here if you aren’t a member). I always think for destinations that are very popular with day trippers it is always worth staying overnight so you can avoid the worst of the day trippers. Mont St Michel is no exception. I also think it is worth staying overnight to see Mont St Michel at night. Although at the time of our visit the island was not brightly lit to save on electricity costs, it was still impressive.

Best 5 day itinerary Normandy France: visit Normandy by car or public transportation Mont Saint Michel at twilight

Should you stay on Mont St Michel or on the mainland? Well that’s a matter of personal choice. We elected to stay on the mainland at the Relais Saint Michel. We booked a Mont St Michel view room and were well rewarded with an excellent view of the Mont and a very large, although a little outdated room. We elected to eat our dinner in their restaurant and enjoyed the view of the Mont from our table. An outdoor terrace was a wonderful place to enjoy an aperitif at the end of the day.

You can book your stay at the Relais Saint Michel here >>

What to do at Mont St Michel

Apart from a handful of shops and restaurants at the Casserne, all the things to do at Mont St Michel are on the Mont itself. The main attraction on Mont St Michel is the historic Abbey. Mont St Michel has been a centre of Christian pilgrimage since AD708. The current Abbey is built on top of older iterations and is topped with the golden St Michael – patron saint of many French kings.

It is impossible to “miss” the Abbey as it’s a case of all roads lead to it. Whether you head up the hill of the main drag, or walk around the ramparts if you keep walking, and then head up the last lot of stairs, you will arrive at the Abbey. If you don’t stop to enjoy the views (or pause for breath) allow around 20mins to reach the Abbey from the tourist information office at the bottom of the Mont.

Best 5 day itinerary Normandy France: visit Normandy by car or public transportation Mont Saint Michel from the causeway in the early morning

We headed to the Mont at around 3pm and decided to walk around the ramparts, following Rick Steves suggested ramparts walk, as the main street still looked very busy. While there were other visitors walking them, it was not crowded, and dare I say it, more interesting than the main street. Arriving onto the island we took the rampart walk to the left, which took us around the far side of the island. It was a wonderful way to appreciate just how isolated Mont St Michel was before the causeway was built. And the architecture was truly lovely.

We had purchased our Abbey tickets on line in advance, but at that time of the afternoon when we visited, there were no queues for tickets (if you are visiting in summer or school holidays I would definitely book in advance).

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The Abbey is full of steep stairways, some of which are quite lengthy. It is not suitable for strollers or those with decreased mobility. There is also limited water in the Abbey itself, so if you are visiting in warmer weather, do bring an adequate supply.

Best 5 day itinerary Normandy France: visit Normandy by car or public transportation Cloisters of the Mont Saint Michel Abbey
View of the Abbey from the cloister

The provided audioguide and signage takes you through the Abbey in an organised way. While there is little to no decoration, that is not the point of visiting the Abbey. Just marvel at the grandeur and scale and the faith it took to create it on top of a rocky island…….

France Travel Planning travel tip
Best 5 day itinerary Normandy France: visit Normandy by car or public transportation Interior of Mont Saint Michel Abbey
The Abbey is quite austere but still majestic

Having climbed every step and marvelled at every view on offer in and around the Abbey, the crowds down the main street had thinned so that we could meander down the street and see what was on offer. While the street and its signage is quaint the shops and eateries were definitely on the “tourist trap” side, but having not expected anything different we were not disappointed.

We left the island at this point, and returned to finish our walk of the ramparts the next morning. Even at 9.00am there were tour groups out. Fortunately they weren’t on the ramparts – we walked the mainland side and were on our way out again at around 10.30 while the Mont St Michel Paris daytrippers were still on the bus from Paris.

Best 5 day itinerary Normandy France: visit Normandy by car or public transportation Ramparts of Mont Saint Michel with gargoyle and turret

Early or late is definitely the best time to visit Mont St Michel…….

If the tides are right, it is also possible to explore the mudflats. Because they can be like quick sand it is best not to venture onto them alone. You can book tours with a qualified marine biologist guide to explore in a safe manner.

Explore Mont St Michel hikes and other active activities here >> (you may need to click on the map on the left hand side of page to view the activities)

A one night stay at Mont St Michel is sufficient time to experience its charms. Somewhere like Bayeux makes a much better option to base yourself for the rest of your Normandy travel itinerary if you don’t want to travel from place to place

France Travel Planning travel tip

Visiting Bayeux

Bayeux is only one and a half hours from Mont Saint Michel by car, and is an easy drive. Public transporters will take around two and three quarter hours depending on the bus and train schedules – from Mont St Michel, take the bus back to Pontorson and then the TER train to Bayeux.

If you are arriving in Bayeux by train be aware there is only one taxi in the town, and the station is a decent distance from most accommodation options. Hertz is the only car rental company with an office in Bayeux and is located far from the station – so renting a car in Caen is a much better option.

France Travel Planning travel tip

Bayeux is the main tourist town for the D Day Landing Beaches, but is also well known as being the home of the Bayeux Tapestry. What we didn’t realise was that is a charming town in its own right. Most places visitors will want to see in the town are easily reached on foot, making it easy to explore even without a car.

Best 5 day itinerary Normandy France: visit Normandy by car or public transportation Bayeux Cathedral illuminated at night
The Cathedral illuminated at night

Plan on a two night stay in Bayeux. Day one, arrive and visit the Bayeux Tapestry and explore the town, then on day two venture to the D Day Landing Beaches.

You don’t book online in advance for the Bayeux Tapestry. Instead you go to the museum and purchase your time entry ticket there. It was not busy when we visited so went straight in. Your admission ticket also includes the audio guide and admission to the Bayeux Tapestry museum.

Best 5 day itinerary Normandy France: visit Normandy by car or public transportation Detail of the Bayeux Tapestry showing knights and animals
Close up of the Bayeux tapestry (Photo credit Canva)

For those who are not familiar, the Bayeux tapestry is an eleventh century woollen embroidery on linen that tells the story of the invasion of England by William the Conqueror in 1066, culminating in the death of the English king Harold. Measuring 64 metres (70 yards) in length it is an astounding piece of work in amazing condition.

The audioguide is great at explaining the different panels, and keeps the queue of people moving along at a reasonable pace. There is still time for embroidery and textile lovers to appreciate the craftsmanship of the embroidery.
Upstairs is an excellent museum that explains all sorts of things about ship building and warfare at the time depicted in the tapestry. It puts the tapestry in context, and certainly adds to the appreciation of the tapestry itself.

One of my favorite things to see in Bayeux France was the town itself. The central part of the town is really lovely, with the river Aure passing through it.  We had a lovely time wandering the streets with its (very) old buildings and the pretty cathedral.  At night the cathedral was lit up and looked very atmospheric.  I also recommend a walk along the river.  Turn off rue Saint Jean at the tourist office and follow the river along the path.  There was an old water wheel from a mill, plenty of bird life and even an old public outdoor laundry.  And there was barely a soul in sight……

Best 5 day itinerary Normandy France: visit Normandy by car or public transportation River Aure in Bayeux with ancient public open laundry
An old public laundry on the River Aure in Bayeux

Unfortunately we didn’t make it to the D day beaches on this trip. We were planning on spending a full day visiting the D Day Beaches by car, but Mr Francetravelplanning woke up unwell the day we had planned to go. Sometimes a quiet day to rest and regroup is a day well spent.

Bayeux makes a great base to visit the D Day beaches and it is easy to do a D day beaches self drive tour from Bayeux. Allow around half a day to visit the main beaches, and add an extra half day if you are interested in visiting the associated museums.

Rick Steves’ France guidebook has an excellent self guided tour of the D day landing beaches for independent travellers.

If you are doing your Normandy travel itinerary without a car, the only practical option to visit the D day beaches is to take a tour. Both half and full day D day beaches tours are available from Bayeux.

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Where to stay in Bayeux

We stayed at La Tour Bayeux in Bayeux. It turned out to be an excellent choice, being well located to plenty of shops and restaurants, and there was easy, free on street car parking. Our room was very large with a comfy queen sized bed and a kitchenette. There is no lift up to the room, and the climb up the seventeenth century spiral staircase was interesting with our luggage. Our hostess, Paula, was American and was very helpful in assisting with the luggage and making dinner bookings for us. Most of the more upmarket restaurants close on one or more nights during the week, so making dinner bookings well in advance in Bayeux is a smart move.

You can book La Tour Bayeux here >>

A day in Honfleur

Leaving Bayeux, we headed further north to the pretty seaside village of Honfleur. A favorite of the Impressionists, Honfleur has a relaxed vibe and makes a perfect overnight stay. If you are short on time and only have a Normandy four day itinerary, you can visit Honfleur as a day trip between Bayeux and Rouen (or skip Rouen – see below).

Those touring Normandy by car will find a very convenient free parking lot at the Naturospace Honfleur. If you are visiting Normandy by public transport, take the train from Bayeux to Caen and then take the Bla Bla Car bus to Honfleur (public transport will take about 3hrs, so plan on staying overnight in Honfleur).

France Travel Planning travel tip

Because we had parked at the Naturospace, we decided to spend the 10€ each and visit the display. The Naturospace is basically a large butterfly house, although there are a number of displays of various creepy crawlies, including an impressively grusome tarantula. There was also a welcome video – despite being in French it was still fairly easy to follow along.

Best 5 day itinerary Normandy France: visit Normandy by car or public transportation Close up of a butterfly with purple and white flowers Naturospace Honfleur

The butterfly house itself is delightful, and is one of the best things to do in Normandy with children. Apart from butterflies, there were pretty birds, koi carp and riotous tropical plants. It was not busy, even in the middle of the day, and was an hour very well spent. Inside the butterfly house there were signs with the names of the plants and animals.

Best 5 day itinerary Normandy France: visit Normandy by car or public transportation Bird carrying nesting material Naturospace Honfleur
Friendly local doing some home repairs

The real star of Honfleur is the Vieux Port area, and visiting for the first time, it did not disappoint. We loved how the colours of the buildings and the water changed in the changing light during the day and into the evening – no wonder the Impressionists loved it. For families with young children, there is a traditional merry go round (carousel), whereas adult visitors will appreciate the café terraces to enjoy their apéro.

Best 5 day itinerary Normandy France: visit Normandy by car or public transportation Vieux Port Honfleur
The charming Vieux Port

While I rarely recommend eating in such an obvious tourist area, we did eat dinner in one of the many waterside eateries. Whilst it wasn’t the best meal we ate in France that trip, it certainly wasn’t the worst, and the atmosphere was unbeatable. Sometimes, atmosphere trumps fine dining……

Best 5 day itinerary Normandy France: visit Normandy by car or public transportation Vieux Port Honfleur at night

Apart from meandering the backstreets, and hanging out around the port, Honfleur’s other main claim to fame is the wooden Ste Catherine’s church. Built in the fifteenth century by local craftsmen, it was initially built with one nave with a second added some 50 years later. When you go inside it’s easy to see that it was probably designed and built by boatbuilders – the interior really does look like two upturned wooden boat hulls.

In Honfleur we stayed at the Hotel du Dauphin. Very centrally located, rooms were small but very comfortable. There was no lift, but the friendly young staff were more than happy to help with luggage. Breakfast was excellent quality and well priced. It was very close to Ste Catherine’s church and the Vieux Port area. If you park your car at the Naturospace, it’s around a 10minute flat walk.

You can click here to book the Hotel du Dauphin or explore other Honfleur options >>

Best 5 day itinerary Normandy France: visit Normandy by car or public transportation interior of Ste Catherine wooden church Honfleur
Interior of the church showing its boat like construction

Visiting Rouen from Honfleur

By public transport it’s easy to get to Rouen from Honfleur. Take the bus over the Normandy Bridge (Pont de Normandie) to Le Havre and jump on one of the regular trains. As we were visiting Rouen on the last stop on our Normandy itinerary, we elected to return our car in Le Havre and then take the train to Rouen. If you are planning on visiting Normandy further, or going to Monet’s Garden afterwards, you may find it more convenient to continue by car.

Rouen is part of the French government Crit Air program, where you need to have a special sticker to drive your car into the centre of the city. You can find out more about the Crit Air program and how to get your sticker here >>

France Travel Planning travel tip

Despite being an easy day trip from Paris, I’d never visited Rouen and was looking forward to our stay. Unfortunately, our experience did not live up to our expectations on this visit.

I booked a Rick Steves recommended hotel with a view of the famous Cathedral and a little balcony. Problem one was when we turned up (around 1pm) the hotel was closed shut with no one in sight. There was a card with a phone number, but no indication of when it would open again, so we decided to have a coffee at a café next door and wait. After a while a woman approached us and asked if we were waiting for the hotel. She turned out to be staying there, and said the staff were at lunch and would back at around 2pm. When no one appeared by 2.20pm, I called them, and we were finally admitted and checked in. No explanation, no apology – even when I said we had been waiting for some time.

Are you planning a trip to France? My France Travel Planning Facebook group is a vibrant and friendly group where you can ask questions, learn from others and get great advice. You can join here >>

Problem two was that despite booking for two people, the bathroom had only been set up with towels, glasses etc for one.

Problem three with this hotel was the view itself. Yes, it had a lovely view of the Cathedral, but it also had a lovely view of people relieving themselves in the nearby shrubbery and of the numerous rats who seemed to make the area their home.

It was very disappointing on multiple levels, and while I rarely write negative reviews, I cannot recommend the Hotel Cardinal.

The old town of Rouen itself is pretty with its Medieval houses and the Cathedral itself is very impressive and well worth visiting. Many people who visit Rouen will do so due to its association with Joan of Arc. The day we were staying in Rouen the museum and accompanying modern church were closed, so do plan your visit carefully if that is in your plans.

Best 5 day itinerary Normandy France: visit Normandy by car or public transportation Clock face in Rouen
The famous medieval clock in Rouen

The other thing I didn’t like about Rouen was the number of homeless people with their (often very large) dogs. Having visited Paris many times, and living in a large city with its own significant homeless population, I am used to homeless people. That was not the problem – what I didn’t like was the amount of….. errrr…. dog mess that was smeared over the streets. I’ve never experienced anything like this anywhere – even cities like Athens and Istanbul with large homeless dog populations roaming the streets are cleaner in my experience.

My most enjoyable experience in Rouen was our dinner at Brasserie Paul. A traditional French brasserie, we enjoyed excellent food and service in a classic brasserie interior. It restored my faith in Rouen.

Yes, I would visit Rouen again, because I do think everywhere deserves a second chance and none of the things I felt let down by are unfixable. The architecture is lovely, and I know many visitors love Rouen. I just didn’t on this occasion.

Other towns to visit in Normandy

Rouen ended our 5 day Normandy itinerary. On a longer Normandy trip other places you might consider include:

  • Etretat – France’s equivalent of the white cliffs of Dover, made famous by the Netflix series Lupin. North of Le Havre
  • Deauville & Trouville – a hop and skip from Honfleur, these two elegant resort towns make a great vacation from your vacation. For those without a car, these side by side towns can be reached by bus from Honfleur
  • Granville – a Normandy seaside resort town, famous for being the birth place of legendary couturier Christian Dior
  • Monet’s garden – open between the end of March and the end of October, Monet’s garden in the village of Giverny is well worth a stop regardless of the season. Easily visited by train and shuttle bus if you don’t have a car. You can read more about Monet’s garden here >>
  • Auvers-sur-Oise – not in Normandy and less than 30km from Paris, if you are dropping a car back to the outskirts of Paris, or heading to Charles de Gaulle, pretty Auvers-sur-Oise is the final resting place of Vincent Van Gogh.

Plan your trip to Normandy

We found the Rick Steves France guidebook invaluable for planning our trip to Normandy (although I don’t know what he was thinking with the Hotel Cardinal).

We were easily able to compare and book our rental car by using AutoEurope. As I said earlier, do book your car well in advance. Search for your car on AutoEurope here >>

Roads in Normandy are very good, with few tolls. Do pay strict attention to the speed limit as radars and speeding cameras are plentiful. There is little leeway for going over the speed limit. While it is not necessary to have an International Drivers Permit to pick up a rental car in France, if you get stopped by the police for any reason, you will be required to produce an IDP or an official translation of your own licence. You can purchase an IDP cheaply – normally through your local Auto Association.

France Travel Planning travel tip

List of Normandy accommodation. We stayed in the following accommodation:

Mont Saint Michel – Relais Saint Michel. Book your Relais Saint Michel room and other Mont Saint Michel accommodation here >

Bayeux – La Tour Bayeux. Book your La Tour Bayeux accommodation or search other Bayeux options here >>

Honfleur – Hotel Le Dauphin. Book your Hotel Le Dauphin accommodation or search other Honfleur options here >>

Rouen – Hotel Cardinale (not recommended). Book your Rouen accommodation here >>

To look for other Normandy accommodation options I use and recommend:

Bookingdotcom. Hundreds of hotels and other accommodation options at different price points. Search for your Normandy accommodation here >>

VRBO offers a variety of Normandy accommodation options at different price points. Book VRBO accommodation here >>

Plum Guide has a range of personally inspected properties including chateaux. These properties work best if you have a car. Search Plum Guide Normandy accommodation options here >>

We booked our train tickets from Paris to Caen on Trainline. Search for your Normandy train tickets on Trainline here >>

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Normandy is not one of the wine growing areas of France – cider (either apple or pear) and calvados (apple brandy) rule. Explore calvados tastings here >>

While it’s not our preferred travel style, Normandy is a great place for action activities, including scenic flights, cycling tours and even sand yachting. You can search for Normandy active activities, including these here >> (you may need to click on the map on the left hand side of page to view the activities)

Author’s note: we paid our own expenses on this trip. Photos author’s own unless otherwise stated

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