Whether it’s your first time in Paris or you’re looking for ways to go beyond the Eiffel Tower, heading out of Paris for a couple days can change your itinerary from the typical to a unique and unforgettable experience.
Bayeux, France is located in the northern region of Normandy, just 4 miles from the English Channel. This small, popular town is central for exploring and reliving history in Normandy. It is close to the D-Day Beaches, WWII battle sights, memorials, and cemeteries, and is also home to the impressive Bayeux Tapestries showing the Norman conquest of England. Bayeux is also just an hour and a half drive to Mont Saint-Michel.
The train from Paris’ Gare Saint Lazare is an easy 2-hour ride into Bayeux, either heading there directly or connecting through Caen. We left Paris in the morning and enjoyed the late, winter sunrise over the French countryside.
Arriving into Bayeux, a few taxis were available from the station, but knowing our hotel was just a 5-minute walk from the station, we set off. Bayeux is pedestrian-friendly and the main road through the town is easily walked from the train station.
Tip: If you plan to return to Paris, ask your Paris hotel to store bags and items you don’t need to bring with you. We each had a bag but consolidated what we needed into one small rolling suitcase for our Normandy excursion.
We stayed at the Le Lion d’Or, which is in Tripadvisor’s Top 10 hotels in Bayeux. We chose this hotel for its excellent location and its reasonable rates, which included breakfast. The hotel was comfy, but the rooms and hallways were in need of some TLC. The town center, the Bayeux Tapestry exhibit, the markets, and the Cathedral were all easily walkable from the hotel.
What to do in Bayeux
The Bayeux Tapestry Museum displays the tapestry showing the Norman conquest of England and is a MUST-SEE. I know you’re probably thinking, “Why should I make time to see a tapestry? I came here for the WWII history. Is it really worth it?”
Yes. Yes. Yes.
The tapestry is over 1000 years old and is 230 feet long and 20 inches tall! It’s recognized by UNESCO and is thought to have been embroidered around the year 1070.
There are 50 scenes showing the events leading up to the Norman conquest. It tells the story of King Edward of England sending Harold, Earl of Wessex, to Normandy to inform William (the Conqueror) that the King has chosen him to succeed him upon his death. But, when King Edward dies, Harold takes over the throne, forcing William to battle for his right to be King. The tapestry culminates with the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
The museum offers audio guides, which explain the scenes on the tapestry. Be sure to take advantage of this. The audio guide is well-done and tells the complete story of the conquest. The history is fascinating and it’s inspiring to see the same tapestry that was rolled out and used to teach people since medieval times!
You will leave this museum feeling pumped to see more tapestries.
Bayeux’s market days are Wednesdays and Saturdays. Vendors sell fresh fish, produce, bottles of Calvados (an apple brandy produced in the region), housewares, clothes, and souvenirs.
Stroll through the market to browse, taste, and shop. Whether perusing the market on Rue Saint-Jean or Rue Saint-Patrice, be sure to take a break and veer off to walk along Bayeux’s canal and see the water wheel and the falls it creates.
Visit the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Bayeux. The cathedral opened in 1077 and was the first home to the Bayeux Tapestry. The cathedral towers over all the other structures around it.
Seeing giant cathedrals in small towns like Bayeux fascinates me. It’s easy to grasp how and why the church was so powerful over medieval townspeople, who must have seen it as a source of protection, comfort, as well as intimidation and fear.
What to do around Bayeux
Visiting the D-Day beaches, Pont-du-Hoc, the American Cemetary, and the countless other WWII memorials and cemeteries is a MUST. We didn’t have a car for our time in and around Normandy. We chose Normandy Sightseeing Tours and spent 2 days with a guide. We were picked up at our hotel and returned later on after full days of touring the area.
As we drove with our guide, it was striking to see the memorials and memorabilia left to honor the sacrifices made by the armed services of many countries.
There are many houses flying not only French Flags, but also British, American, and Canadian flags too. The people of Normandy understand and greatly appreciate how their allies helped them fight for freedom.
Plan on hiring a guide or taking part in a group tour. The guides are beyond knowledgeable about WWII history and can offer nuances that will build layers to the history you may or may not know. Our guide’s family was from Normandy and he expertly wove in anecdotes his grandmother had told him about what it was like to live in Normandy during WWII. It made the entire experience feel much more personal.
Traveling during an off-season comes with definite advantages. Not only were we with this incredible local guide, there were no crowds because of the time of year we went and Mother Nature treated us to 50F degree, partly sunny days. You could easily plan a last minute trip to Normandy during the off-season if you wanted to check on the weather first. Hotels are empty and train tickets readily available.
A visit to Normandy is not only heartfelt but also highlights one of the biggest benefits of travel. Firsthand experiences bring history to life and create a connection with the past that is far more meaningful than learning about it in a classroom.
How much time do you need?
Getting around the area, especially with a knowledgeable guide, can be done in 2 days. You could take an early morning train, spend a couple of days, and leave on the last train back to Paris on the 2nd day. If you’d like to spend time in some of the neighboring towns or visit additional D-Day beaches or make the drive to Mont Saint-Michel plan to stay longer.
What is your favorite sight to see in Normandy?
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