The third stop on our Normandy itinerary was Honfleur! In many ways, Honfleur felt completely different than the other towns that we visited in Normandy. It’s a harbor town located at the intersection of the Seine and the English channel. In some places, the architecture reminded me of Amsterdam. Because of this different vibe, I highly recommend visiting Honfleur as part of an itinerary for Normandy.
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Our Normandy Itinerary and Travel Tips
We ended up spending two weeks in Normandy in late June and early July before spending another 9 days in Paris. We picked up a rental car at CDG and immediately drove to Mont St Michel. At the end of our time in Normandy, we dropped off the rental car at Gare du Nord after dropping our luggage off at our hotel in Paris. (Yes, my husband drove the Arc de Triomphe and did an amazing job!)
How to Get to Honfleur
It’s only about 2.5 hours from Paris to Honfleur by car. We found it to be a very easy drive. You can also take the Flixbus from central Paris. It runs twice a day and takes between 2.25-3.0 hours. The benefit of ttaking the Flixbus is that the bus station drops off in the heart of Honfleur. Because of the distance, I don’t recommend doing it as a day trip. Another thing to be aware of, despite its coastal location, one of our guides shared that it stays busy all year, as many Parisians have second homes in Honfleur.
15 Night Normandy Itinerary
5 nights in Mont St Michel at a cottage we rented through Gites de France
4 nights in Bayeux, including the D-Day Beaches and the American Cemetery, at an apartment in the Bayeux city center.
3 nights in Honfleur at L’Absinthe, a lovely boutique hotel
3 nights at Chateau d’Audrieu, a chateau in the Normandy countryside between Bayeux and Caen. I would book through Tablet Hotel to get the additional perks if you don’t have the Amex Platinum card.
We ended our trip with 8 nights in Paris at the Hotel Dress Code. I took pastry class at the Ritz Paris Escoffier for the second year in a row. And, we spent Bastille Day at the Hyatt Etoile with the most epic Eiffel Tower view room.
I spent a lot of time reading about the small towns in Normandy to put together our trip. I found the Back Roads France, DK Top 10 Normandy, and Rick Steves Normandy to be the most helpful in sorting through the options.
Day Trips from Honfleur
I’m not generally an advocate for day trips, but we did make some stops along our drive from Bayeux to Honfleur. If you want to see a truly impressive cathedral complex that isn’t written about in many US guide books, head to Lisieux. It is a living church, so you’ll want to be aware of the mass schedule. It has a large parking lot, so it’s easy to visit. The old town of Lisieux is very quaint, too.
Another popular town near Honfleur is Deauville, an upscale beach resort with casinos, golf courses, and an annual film festival. There are also several sites related to World War II, if you are looking to supplement your trip with some history. We met several people who were making trips to Deauville in lieu of going further west to Bayeux and beyond.
Where to Stay in Honfleur
When I was first planning our trip to Normandy, I was nervous about the vacation rentals. I knew it could go either way. By the time I started planning our trip to Honfleur, I knew I would want a little romance and some luxuries. Because it is a holiday and second home location for Parisians, most Honfleur hotels are pretty basic. I knew wanted a bathtub, a comfortable bed with nice linens, and a great location. While there are a couple Relais and Chateaux properties in Honfleur, I decided to save that experience for Chateau d’Audrieu, the last leg of our trip to Normandy. I knew Tom would love it, and I thoughti t would be a great place to unwind.
I loved L’Absinthe in Honfleur. The staff were incredibly helpful and kind. Its rustic charm with luxurious upscale finishings reminded me of some of the things I love most about some of my favorite hotels in the Alsace. The hotel has two buildings with rooms and a separate restaurant. You can add breakfast to your room rate, but we didn’t opt in for it.
This hotel is set in a 16th century building in the heart of old town Honfleur. It’s right around the corner from the Vieux Bassin and no more than a 5 minute walk from Saint Catherine’s church. The building retains some of its half-timbered charm, exposed beams in the rooms, and antique furnishings. Consistent with Honfleur’s vibe, the rooms are perfectly comfortable with some luxury amenities. And, the lobby is downright cozy in the evening.
We were able to drive right up to the hotel to load and unload our car. There is an off-site parking garage that is a short walk from the hotel. You’ll want to let them know in advance so you can reserve a space. There is additional parking nearby, but we appreciated the security of the garage.
Superior Double Room at L’Absinthe Honfleur
I loved how much light it had from the double sets of windows that overlooked Rue de la Ville. We enjoyed leaving the windows open in the evening, too.
Our room had a queen bed, but they do have the option for a king if you book in advance. I found the bed and the linens to be very comfortable.
Part of the reason I booked L’Absinthe was because of the bathtub. Our superior room offered a jacuzzi bath, which was very nice. If we came back in a cooler season, I would probably book their room with a sauna!
The room had a small desk and an additional chair, so Tom and I could both work without an issue. The room did not have a mini-fridge, but the staff did allow us to store our cider and pommeau in the kitchen refrigerator until the early evening. That was very kind and much appreciated.
Things to Do in Honfleur
Honfleur Walking Tour
We had the best tour guide in Honfleur. Seriously, if you’re not booking a tour with Pierre, you’re not seeing Honfleur. Honfleur is pretty small, but there really is so much to see and understand beyond the beautiful harbor. The history of Honfleur is fascinating, and one of the first thing you’ll learn is that Honfleur has nothing to do with flowers. Due to a scheduling snafu on my end, we ended up booking him at the end of our time in Honfleur, and it was really such a shame. Despite the fact that we had been roaming the streets of Honfleur for a few days before the tour, Pierre still managed to take us along a route we hadn’t seen, starting at the church of Saint Leonard.
We visited several places and learned a lot history than what was covered in our guidebooks. Pierre loves this city and has a way of making the streets come to life. He bounced between the past and present with remarkable ease. After the tour, I felt as if I was seeing Honfleur through new eyes. We returned to many of the places after the tour to reflect on the things Pierre shared; it was remarkable how much was covered so quickly.
Additionally, Pierre was happy to make recommendations on places to purchase cider and calvados, both in Honfleur and beyond the city, if you have a car. We stopped by one of the cideries he recommended, and it did not disappoint. The prices were outstanding and the cider was even better. We bought a case to take on to Paris with us and only a couple of bottles made it home.
Erik Satie House and Museum
If you visit Honfleur and take a tour, you will likely be introduced to French composer Erik Satie. And, if you’re anything like me, you may not recognize the name. A quick YouTube search will find his piano music, and you’ll probably recognize it. Pierre called it sad, but Tom and I find it beautiful, perhaps hauntingly so. And, located along a street lined with art galleries, you can find his home in Honfleur. It has been converted to a interactive museum. This is a completely different experience than the Mozarthaus in Salzburg or Vienna. It’s not a retrospective of his life, but if you want to enjoy a quirky museum in Honfleur, Maison Satie should fit your itinerary. Make sure you get the audioguide if your French isn’t strong enough to follow along. You’ll get more out of your visit with it.
Visit the Chapel of Notre Dame de Grace
One afternoon, Tom suggested that we walk up to the Notre Dame of Honfleur. This walk will take out out of old town and up a hill that overlooks the port of Le Havre and curves around to this small chapel. On a clear day, you can see the Normandy bridge. I didn’t find the view of the port to be particularly beautiful, however I loved this small church.
It is a church heavily influenced by Honfleur’s maritime past. The chapel is covered in notes of prayer and thanks from sailors that span decades. It also houses many replicas of ships of varying sizes and beautiful stained glass.
You should be aware that the path to the chapel is along a road that has some traffic. There isn’t a walking path, so you’ll want to be careful and watch for cars. It is a steep climb, similar to the hills in Cinque Terre or Cortona. It’s not impossible, but I wouldn’t do it in the heat of the afternoon.
Eugène Boudin Museum
If you’ve visited the Musee d’Orsay in Paris, you know that the French impressionists loved Honfleur. Some were trained here and others came to Honfleur to study the changing light. If you spend a few nights in Honfleur, you’ll understand why. Even though the weather wasn’t perfect while we were there, I was completely captivated at how the water and light changed the feeling of the old port.
Eugene Boudin, one of the pre-Impressionist painters who helped cultivate Claude Monet’s talent, amassed a collection of Norman-specific works of art and provided them to Honfleur upon his death. (It also includes a significant collection of his own art. This small museum, often overlooked for the larger museums in Paris and Giverny, includes works by Monet and Courbet.
The museum does close in the winter, so if you are coming for the art, make sure you check their schedule!
Saint Catherine’s Church
After being visiting the Bayeux Cathedral and seeing the Cathedral of Lisieux, I found Saint Catherine’s a little underwhelming – at first. However, this wooden cathedral and it’s bell tower captivated me each time we went back to visit. It is the largest church in France built of wood and you can see where they expanded it over the years. The oldest part of the church was built in the 15th century.
Consistent with the seafaring identity of Honfleur, the roof over the nave resembles an upside down ship hull. There is a lot to see in this church, and I found it enjoyable to visit over the course of several days. The numerous windows allow the light to change throughout the day.
Beyond being a large part of Honfleur history, I loved how St. Catherine’s allowed me to better understand the Normand influence on this region of France. Because I had the benefit of outstanding tour guides in Bayeux and Honfleur, it was easier to see why Saint Catherine’s church was so different than the other cathedrals and churches that we visited in Normandy. I don’t know if I would have been able to fully appreciate it without the perspective of our guides though. In the same way that the United States and its history is not a monolith, the same is true in France. For me, all the pieces of Normandy and its history fit together in Honfleur.
Where to Eat in Honfleur
Our trip to Normandy seemed to be pretty focused on light meals. The temperatures were quite a bit warmer, so heavy meals didn’t seem super appealing most of the time. I feel like we enjoyed a lot of cider, cheese, and aperitif snacks throughout most of our time in Normandy. Honfleur was one of the places where we had a few more significant meals.
Our first night in Honfleur, we had a lot of work that we had to before heading out for the evening. As such, we decided to head to a tapas bar. La Taberna was a short walk from L’Absinthe. We grabbed a table outside and ordered a bottle of wine and a few small plates. Our server recommended a Chilean wine, Tarapaca, which was a new varietal for us. We kicked off our wine with an order of spicy olives.
I was so excited to see patatas bravas on the menu, as it’s one of my favorite tapas from Barcelona. We ordered several orders of bravas, and they were more than generous. They were also super kind about providing us extra aioli. This was an exceptional version of garlic aioli. The other thing that stood out to us was the cheese plate. We ordered a couple rounds of the cheese plate, too. (I am so proud of how many French cheeses I tried on our this trip!)
This would be a great place for an aperitif or for an easy dinner. We were able to easily make a meal at La Taberna, and it didn’t disappoint.
In the shadow at St. Catherine’s church and its bell tower is Cote Resto, a delightful French restaurant that was recommended by our hotel. The first thing I have to say about Cote Resto is how delightful the staff was. They were truly so friendly and accommodating. We loved the entire experience so much that we went back twice during our time in Honfleur.
We ordered the entrecote and the filet au poivre on our first visit. The entrecote is served with a chimichurri sauce and oven-roasted potatoes. Both were exceptional, but when we returned, we both ordered the filet au poivre. It was perfectly cooked, delightfully tender, and beautifully plated. Tom loved the gratin potatoes in particular. (I was obsessed with the shallot confit.) If you are looking for seafood, they have a great fish menu as well.
If I’m being completely honest, one of the things that attracted me to Cote Resto was its dessert menu. Sacree Fleur, one of my favorite restaurants in Paris, serves apple sorbet with Calvados, which is one of my favorite desserts. Cote Resto offered that, but it also offered a pear sorbet with a shot of pommeau. I also tried the coupe amarena, which offered amarena cherries, chantilly cream, and a sour cherry ice cream. So tasty. If I could have just ordered all the desserts, I would have made a meal out of it. There were so many I wanted to try.
While I was intrigued by the cocktail menu, we ended up ordering a few bottles of the Michel Breavoine cider instead. We enjoyed it so much that we bought a couple of bottles from the cidery to take on the rest of our trip.
Final Thoughts on Visiting Honfleur
If I am being completely honest, the port of Honfleur took my breath away the first time I saw it. It had a lot of character, and it was lovely. I was glad that we visited Honfleur during shoulder season because it definitely felt like we had the city to ourselves in the morning and during the evening. I can see how and why it would get very busy during the day. I’m glad we went.
But, I think you really need to think about why you are going to Normandy. If you’re going for World War II history, some of the other towns in Normandy will be a better fit. If you want to learn more about the history of how the region came to be part of France, Honfleur is a great place to visit. Despite staying a few nights in Honfleur, it felt very difficult to get beyond the surface. For me, Bayeux felt more alive and local.
I would like to come back to Honfleur in winter and experience a different season. I’ve also heard that Honfleur has one of the most beautiful Christmas markets in Normandy, as it is set up along the Honfleur vieux bassin. That was one of my favorite places to be at blue hour, so I imagine the Christmas market is magical.
Ultimately, I’m glad that we visited Honfleur. It was beautiful and we learned so much about the history of the area by engaging with a local guide, but if you’re just going for the views, I think you’re going to feel like you’re missing something, too.