“In a world where you can be anything, be kind” – Unknown
To celebrate the 75th anniversary of D-Day, in Summer 2019, we planned a unique Normandy road trip from the U.K. If you want to learn more about WW2 whilst also enjoying a romantic holiday in France, we can’t recommend this trip itinerary for two enough. Learn how to get here from the U.K., where we chose to stay and why, as well as the places nearby that pair well with a Normandy road trip, and a bonus section on vegan travel in Normandy.
How To Get To Normandy From The U.K.
Driving to Normandy from the U.K. is easy. We planned our Normandy road trip ourselves, with a little help from friends in France … and Google. Here, we’ll share with you the distances we covered and the ease of driving in France, the best times of day to travel, our chosen mode of transport for crossing the Channel and how much it costs. We’ll also let you know how long to allow for your holiday to Normandy.
Crossing The Channel – Ferry Or Train
When you drive to Normandy from the U.K., you can choose to take your vehicle on either the ferry or Eurotunnel, opting to go over or under the Channel. We highly recommend the Eurotunnel which, surprisingly, was cheaper for our dates of travel. The Eurotunnel is also a more eco-freindly mode of transport.
The crossing is easy and simple, and earlier departures are often available if you arrive before your allocated time, which is great if you want to benefit from a peak crossing at no extra cost to you. Please note – boarding an earlier train is dependent on availability and therefore not guaranteed.
Tickets are usually cheaper the earlier in advance you book them, during off peak times like early in the morning or late at night and on non-public or school holidays. You pay per vehicle, not per person on the Eurotunnel, making it a cost effective option for couples. The Eurotunnel departs from Folkestone in the U.K. and arrives into Calais in France. The journey takes just 35 minutes, compared to an hour and half journey on the ferry.
Book the lowest price Eurotunnel tickets in advance.
Driving In France – Your Normandy Road Trip
Once in France, driving isn’t anywhere near as difficult as we’ve heard some Brits make it out to be. As long as you are happy to drive on the right hand side of the road, you’ll find the layout, signage and speed limits very similar to those in the U.K. Check your data roaming charges before you leave so you can utilise maps on your phone, use a Sat nav or carry an old fashioned map and go adventuring.
At the time of our travel, a European driving license and a little extra travel insurance was all we needed to drive in France (June 2019). Before travel, check the most up to date requirements here.
How Far Is It From Calais To Normandy?
It will take you 3 hours 30 minutes from Calais directly to the Normandy city of Caen, or nearly 4 hours from Calais to Omaha Beach. Therefore, it is possible with an early Channel crossing to reach Normandy in one day from the U.K., depending on where you are starting your U.K. leg from.
We recommend a lunch stop and bathroom break in Baie de Somme rest area. It’s great for anyone travelling with children and/or dogs with ample areas to stretch everyone’s legs. This rest area is pretty enough for picnics and bathrooms are free to use. Food is available to buy too if you don’t have a picnic or the means to make something with you.
Be aware, depending on your time of travel, traffic around Caen can be heavy. If possible, plan to avoid rush hour by setting off early in the day. We hit the roads surrounding Caen at 4.30-6.30pm and added nearly 2 hours to our journey time.
How Long To Stay In Normandy
We enjoyed five nights in Normandy. We are so pleased we didn’t spend any less time in the area and don’t recommend you visit for shorter holidays because there is so much to see and do. In fact, we could have definitely enjoyed more time in Normandy but four full days was just about enough to do a healthy mix of museums and history, alongside relaxed evenings at our camp and sunrise walks with breakfast.
You won’t run out of things to do and see, especially if you have a keen interest in WW2. Even if you don’t or are travelling in a group with mixed interests, the beaches are beautiful and the towns and villages surrounding them are welcoming. We will return year after year now and see and do a little more each time.
Book things to do in Normandy
Choosing Where To Stay In Normandy on a Road Trip
We believe there are two clear options when it comes to where to stay in Normandy and we decided to take advantage of both.
If you like being outside in nature and don’t mind camping, we recommend you camp or glamp on one of the Normandy beaches. Read on to discover where you can and can’t camp in the area. However, if camping really isn’t your style and you would prefer a comfortable hotel or apartment with plenty of conveniences nearby, we also have a highly recommended apartment in the city of Caen to share with you as well.
Road Trip Camping In Normandy
We really wanted to camp somewhere along Normandy’s coastline and preferably on one of the actual Normandy beaches that was infamously part of the D-Day landings. This was our first visit to the area and it seemed an obvious choice to want to be right by the coast first and last thing in the day, instead of inside a hotel room in a town or city.
You cannot camp at all of the D-Day Normandy beaches. We would have loved to have camped at one of the ‘British beaches’ – referring to where a large majority of the British troops came ashore – in order to have followed Matt’s Grandad’s story more closely, but could not find any camping close enough.
We took our trip for the 75th anniversary of D-Day so campsites were popular and booked up very quickly. Instead, we found camping at Omaha beach (referred to as an ‘American beach’ due to the American troops that came ashore in this area).
We go into more detail about what happened at the beaches of Normandy in this blog, as well as how to follow a veteran’s war story on your holiday if this historic location is part of your family history.
Camping Omaha Beach
Locally owned and run, Camping Omaha Beach has fantastic facilities and we are so pleased we chose to be here. Benefit from an outdoor swimming pool, small shop with essentials and freshly baked French pastries every morning which you can pre-order to limit waste (no vegan pastries available currently), direct walking access to the beach, and shower and toilet blocks with basic but clean facilities. The site is very well maintained with the exception of a few bugs, some sand and dirt, but hey, you’re on the beach.
You may also like these other places to stay in Vierville-sur-Mer.
You can choose to pitch up a tent, check into a mobile home or strike the perfect balance between the two with a Coco Sweet Pod. These idyllic glamping tents have two sleeping areas or one sleeping area and one dining/living room.
You’ll have to go without a kettle or toaster, but you do get a two ring hob and a fridge. Plan your camping meals accordingly and you’ll have no trouble at all. There is no sink or running water inside but the outdoor washing up area and taps are not too far away.
Normandy Book Recommendations
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Sadly, the campsite were using disposable bed sheets and pillow cases when we stayed so we recommend fellow eco warriors bring your own from home, a simple way to avoid this unnecessary packaging. You also have a fold out table indoors and an outdoor table with chairs on the wooden decking too.
The large decking area is ideal for BBQs and al fresco dining. This campsite offers recycling bins and provides matches, toilet roll and cleaning items. You will need to bring your own cooking oil and condiments, whilst cutlery and crockery is provided. The cups are a little on the small side so bring reusable travel mugs – ideal for sunrise walks to the nearby beach.
You’ll find ample information on the surrounding area and D-Day museums and activities, including a handy map. In the showers, taps go off quickly which isn’t all that useful for anyone with long hair … but great for the environment.
The best thing about this campsite is its location. With its prime spot right on the beach, enjoy sunset romantic beach walks and sunrise cups of tea perched on the rocks.
Read more about the best things to do in Normandy.
If Camping Is Not For You…
If the idea of camping does not appeal, Caen is the main city of the region, close by to the Normandy beaches at just a 20-40 minute drive. It is steeped in WW2 history and is a great base. If camping wouldn’t be enjoyable, or you want to enjoy a mix of camping and apartment hotel, we highly recommend a stay at Adagio Aparthotel, overlooking the River Orne.
Ask for room 501, a small suit with excellent views of the river, with the castle in the background. It has the best views in the whole building, private secure parking is available from 7.50 euros a day and there is a shopping centre with a supermarket just a 10 minute walk away.
You’ll be welcomed by friendly staff and benefit from secure doors and lifts throughout the building. Your apartment has a small kitchen with a two ring hob, kettle, cutlery and crockery, cleaning items, bedding, towels and no oven or toaster. Enjoy an ensuite bathroom with shower, as well as a small dining table with views of the city, ideal for breakfast and dinner.
Vegan Food In Normandy – Why We Chose Self Catering
Food in Normandy is similar to much of France. Expect an abundance of traditional warm pastries freshly baked in the mornings, plus plenty of dairy and meat. If you are travelling to Normandy as a vegan, it can be tough to find vegan food. This is why we highly recommend accommodation options in Normandy that are self-catered for vegan travellers.
Whether you want to camp on Omaha Beach or stay in an apartment hotel in Caen city centre, self catering allows you to shop with locals and experience France whilst also going vegan. We found plenty of vegan options in Caen’s supermarkets and fresh fruit and vegetable stalls in rural villages between the beaches of Normandy. Pack picnics, eat breakfast in bed and create meals you love with locally sourced French ingredients.
Breaking Up The Drive With A Stop In Dunkirk
Depending on where you are starting out from in the U.K. you can reach Normandy in a day, but it makes for a pretty long one even from the south of the U.K. If you fancy breaking up the drive, a stop in Dunkirk is the obvious choice. Only a 40 minute drive to or from Calais, Dunkirk is also full of interesting war history. Pick a hotel right on the beach like Le Transat Bleu and enjoy the multiple local restaurants and bars – our favourite was l’edito Restaurant and Cafe.
We spent one night in Dunkirk at the end of our Normandy Road trip; it seemed an appropriate place to connect the history of the battles of Normandy. Enjoy relaxing beach walks, local museums and a park with a beautiful artificial poppies art display.
In conclusion, a road trip to Normandy is by far the best way to discover this region. Whether you are keen on war history or know very little about the D-Day landings, whether you want to be indoors learning or outdoors experiencing, planning a Normandy road trip with a healthy balance of ‘then’ and ‘now’ will make for a truly fulfilling experience.
We have split our Normandy holiday into two blogs.
If you enjoyed reading Planning a Normandy Road Trip for Two, you may also like to read The Best Things to Do in Normandy.
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