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From history buffs to beach bums, the shores of Normandy cater to many interests. Make your way to any one of their beautiful beaches for some time relaxing by the ocean or head to one of the coastal towns that witnessed the D-Day Landings of 1944. While some of the museums showcasing the events of the landings do have an entry fee, there are plenty of monuments that are free to visit, including the incredibly impactful Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer and the Pointe du Hoc in Cricqueville-en-Bessin.
Discover Normandy’s natural beauty free of charge and see the places famously painted by the Impressionist painters who frequented the region. Begin with Giverny, where you can peruse this charming village where Monet spent much of his life and visit the small church that houses his grave. In Honfleur, admire the picturesque port that served as inspiration for works by Georges Seurat and Eugène Boudin. And in Étretat, marvel at the wild, natural beauty captured by Monet in several paintings.
Some museums and sites are free to enter on certain days of the week. Normandy’s most impressive castle, Château Saint-Germain-de-Livet, lies near the city of Lisieux and offers a free guided tour on the first Sunday of each month. In Caen, the Museum of Fine Arts and the Normandy Museum, both of which are found in Guillaume the Conqueror’s former castle, also offer free entry on the first Sunday of the month. The Museum of Fine Arts displays works by prominent artists including Claude Monet, Eugène Boudin and Gustave Courbet, while the Normandy Museum presents the history and culture of the region through archeological and ethnological collections.
Normandy is home to four natural regional parks including the Boucles de la Seine Normande, a weaving landscape along the banks of the Seine river between Rouen and Honfleur and the marshlands of the Cotentin and Bessin peninsula. It offers almost every type of topography possible, from rolling hills to pastoral fields and rocky coastline. With well-marked footpaths and a variety of ability types to choose from, lace up your shoes and venture out to explore the beautiful countryside.
You don’t need to purchase a thing to enjoy a bustling French market: the sights, sounds and smells are entertainment enough. However, if you go hungry, there are usually vendors selling prepared foods that make for an inexpensive but quality lunch. You may also find a bargain from a brocante, a sort of high-end flea market that sells antique and vintage trinkets. Our top market picks include the Saturday market in Dieppe and the Sunday market in Trouville.
Some of the best architecture in Normandy is witnessed via its noteworthy churches. At the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Rouen, awe-inspiring Gothic spires stretch into the sky, making it the largest cathedral in all of France. Other must-see churches include the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Bayeux and the Abbaye aux Hommes in Caen.
A favourable climate allows for the growth of hundreds of apple orchards in Normandy. What better way to make use of these apples then craft them into boozy drinks? To learn more about this centuries-old craft, head to Calvados Christian Drouin for a free tour of their distillery, followed by a tasting of their three specialties: cider, Calvados and Pommeau.
One of the most visited sites in all of France requires no entry fee. The Mont Saint-Michel is a village rather than a tourist-made destination, so visitors are free to meander its cobblestoned streets and small shops with no obligation. Plus, the monument is arguably most impressive when viewed from a distance in the surrounding bay. A visit to the famous abbey perched atop will cost you extra – for the small fee of 3 EUR per ticket – it’s completely worth it.
For added low-cost fun, plan a trip to Normandy during one of their free festivals. For lovers of indie music, don’t miss Hello Birds, a music festival spanning over three days in July. This event, located beside the cliffs of Étretat, features live performances, DJ sets and food trucks paired with the naturally relaxed vibes offered by the gorgeous surrounding nature. In the beachside town of Granville, Normandy’s largest Mardi Gras Carnival, the Granville Carnaval, takes place over the four days preceding Mardi Gras. In its 144th year, this street party has even been labelled an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.
Learn about how the creamy fromage of Normandy is made at E. Graindorge Fromagerie, a cheese factory located in the town of Livarot that makes all four of the region’s specialties: Livarot, Camembert, Neufchâtel and Pont-l’Évêque. Their free tour presents visitors with the different stages of the cheeses’ creation through a film presentation, informative panels and windows that look into the production site. It even comes with a free tasting at the end. Who can say no to free cheese?
Thanks to the varying microclimates of Normandy, the region is home to a host of stunning gardens, many of which cost nothing at all to explore. In the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Le Havre, be sure to check out the Rouelles Park. Located on the site of an old farm, this park sees forest, meadows and streams blanket its 160 hectares of land. In Caen, the eight-acre Botanic Gardens were founded in 1736 and feature a garden of medicinal plants, a greenhouse with tropical flora and a play area for kids.