November 29, 2020
Five Days in Northern France: What to See and Do

Five Days in Northern France: What to See and Do

Find joy, history, pleasure, and adventure by taking a tour of Northern France.  The things you’ll see and the stuff you do will be memories you cherish.

Paris has forever been one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, renowned for its cobblestone streets, the River Seine, a surplus of cafés, and of course, the Eiffel Tower, looming over the City of Love. And while the capital of France should certainly be paid a visit by any prospective tourist, there is also much more about France, specifically the northern part of the country, that can be explored.

Day One-Arrival, and Paris, France

Transportation

Charles de Gaulle is an international airport and the busiest one in France. If a tourist is flying into or out of France, it is likely that this will be the airport they will do it in. The airport is approximately 14 miles from the capital city of Paris, and around it is many different restaurants, hotels, and attractions.

Spending the second half of the day in Paris on the day of arrival is a great way to kick off a trip to France. Getting into Paris is one of the processes that take away from the experience. Public transportation is one of the options and the more popular of the two.

Unfortunately, this makes the trains and subway tunnels crowded, and it can be expensive to purchase a subway pass and difficult to navigate the public transit schedule. The other option for transportation is to drive into the capital, which is easier said than done.

While a rental car would be the most efficient way to cover ground in most of France, it may not be the best thing for Paris, where chaos, crowds, and traffic are forever present. There is no great way to enter Paris, but the subway is usually the best option.

Dinner and Dessert

There are dozens upon dozens of places to eat in Paris, from upscale fine-dining restaurants to little cafés with optional outdoor seating, as well as restaurants with various cuisines, including French, American, and Chinese. Bir-Hakeim one of the closest subway stations to the Eiffel Tower, and plunges riders straight into the heart of Paris.

Saint-Michel Notre-Dame is another popular subway station that puts riders closer to Notre Dame and along the river. Traditional, famous French desserts are prevalent in the city, including éclairs, macarons (although macarons can be expensive in the city, and can be purchased for less at Charles de Gaulle), and crème brûlée, something a tourist can’t leave France without trying.

River Cruise and the Eiffel Tower

The Seine River winds through Paris and past several world-famous sites. Most cruises leave every hour or half-hour, providing plenty of opportunities to hop on one and tour Paris. Starting right next to the Eiffel Tower, the average cruise lasts an hour long and takes riders past several significant bridges, the building where new words are added to the dictionary, Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris, and out into the river to see the sights from a distance.

After the cruise, which returns to the Eiffel Tower, tourists can go up on the universally recognized piece of architecture and see the city from a different height. If there are a lot of people and a long line, as there often is, sitting on the grass area in front of the Tower or visit the sprinklers on the other side. When the sun begins to set, the sky is beautiful behind the Eiffel Tower and makes a great background for pictures.

Day Two-Paris, France, and Travel

Musée de l’Armée des Invalides

Paris is full of museums, and the Musée de l’Armée des Invalides may not be the most well known, but it is still one of the most impressive sights the City of Love has to offer. The museum is a large building with a beautiful gate out front and a huge courtyard in the middle of the museum.

On the first floor of the museum, there is an enormous collection of old guns, swords, bayonets, and other weapons used in dozens of armed conflicts France has participated in the country’s history, kept in cabinets that line the walls and are polished to perfection. Also on the first floor of the museum are old saddles from horses used in battle, as well as a taxidermied horse that belonged to Napoleon hundreds of years ago.

On the second floor of the museum are hundreds of miniature soldiers, dressed in different uniforms to exemplify how many different groups fought in the military conflicts of France. The third floor has a gift shop and rotating exhibits, an art exhibit of Picasso being one of the most recent.

On the fourth floor of the museum is a unique display seen hardly anywhere else in the world. Protected by glass enclosures, painstakingly detailed scale models of battle scenes the French fought on, so far as to put tiny chairs inside minute windows on sprawling castles. The topography is also included, with hills or flat land. Outside of the four floors of the museum is perhaps the attraction for which his museum is most well-known: Napoleon’s tomb. Enclosed in a large building with a domed ceiling, along with several other tombs, the previous ruler of France’s remains are in a large brown sarcophagus in a sunken area of the building.

The Musée de l’Armée des Invalides is an excellent attraction for history lovers, as well as those who simply want to see the beautiful architecture of France. There are several places to eat in the museum, as well, and a small cathedral.

Musée de l’Orangerie and the Louvre

The Louvre is a world-famous art museum and is also the largest art museum in the world, recognized for its famous pieces of art, including the Mona Lisa, as well as the pyramid in front of the museum. The art gallery has fourteen and a half kilometers of corridors and could take hours, even multiple days to go through.

The Louvre is a must-see for many tourists, but perhaps only for an hour or two. There are many other art museums in Paris, including the Musée de l’Orangerie, a smaller and less crowded art museum just down the street from the Louvre. Some of Claude Monet’s Water Lilies are housed in the Musée de l’Orangerie, along with other pieces from big names like Pablo Picasso and Rembrandt.

A much smaller museum than the Louvre, this art museum doesn’t take nearly as long to get through and still provides a look at beautiful pieces. The Louvre and the Musée de l’Orangerie are both great options to see the kind of art Paris has to offer.

Arc de Triomphe and Travel

Known as the structure under which French military leaders or conquerors of France would walk after a victory, the Arc de Triomphe is another symbol of Paris. Tourists can take the subway to the Arc de Triomphe depending on where they are in the city, or walk through the city, past stores, cafés, and small carnivals, experiencing more of the culture. The Arc de Triomphe towers over Paris, with intricate details carved into the stone.

Similar to the Eiffel Tower, there is the opportunity to go up on the upper level of the structure to see Paris from the height. After tourists have had their fill of Paris and have taken a subway or driven out of the city, they can begin to travel to the next destination, Rouen, either by train or by car.

Rouen, a medium-sized city in north-west France. Rouen is approximately two hours from Paris by train or by car, and tourists will cover a lot of the beautiful countryside of France, passing sleepy small towns tucked into valleys and slowly spinning windmills until they arrive in Rouen.

Day Three-Rouen, France

Walking the Streets

Similar to Paris and most towns in France, the streets of Rouen are lined with cafés and small restaurants, some with their doors open that allow tourists to peer in at baguettes, croissants, and other delectable French desserts. There are also several coffee shops. Many buildings in Rouen appear as if they have been taken straight off the pages of a fairy tale and placed into the city, with light colors and brown or dark boards crossing the walls.

Cobblestone streets are also popular in Rouen, and a great activity is simply wandering around the town, seeing all the different restaurants Rouen has to offer, as well as the open-markets selling fish, cheese, and produce. Also along the streets are small ice cream stands, with different kinds of treats. Rouen is a great place to experience European culture simply by walking around.

Cathedrals, Museums, and the Clock

In Rouen is Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Rouen, a beautiful church with an intricate, amazing architectural design. Peace and quiet inside the cathedral provide a somber mood to go along with the history of the city. Displays about World War II and other military conflicts are scattered around the interior of the church and statues of Saints around the room.

Tourists can even light a candle for the memory of a loved one, and simply enjoy the beauty of the cathedral. Saint Ouen is another church, as is the church in the middle of Rouen dedicated to Joan of Arc. The church for Joan of Arc is smaller and more modern than the other cathedrals but has a different kind of beauty with its stained glass windows and clean interior and exterior.

The Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen is an art museum near a public park, another beautiful building with lots of art to view. The park is also a gorgeous attraction, with playgrounds, large grassy areas, and a pond with ducks where residents come to feed the ducks and walk their dogs. Perhaps one of the most well-known attractions in Rouen is The Great Clock that hangs above a cobblestone street.

There are Roman numerals around the clock, as well as a gold rectangle encasing the dark blue circular clock. Dozens of tourists come to the arch on which the clock is placed, high above the street. Rouen is the type of town that comes to everyone’s mind when the thought of Europe comes to mind, and it is somewhere you don’t want to miss when visiting France.

Day Four-Le Havre, France

If it weren’t for the Women’s World Cup of 2019, Le Havre, France, a town on the northern coast of France bordered by the English Channel, may only be known as a shipping and port town, and many visitors still may not have heard of the city, the name of which directly translates to “The Haven”. But this less well-known city of France is still an excellent stop, about an hour’s drive from Rouen, France, and a little over a two-hour drive from Paris. Le Havre’s location is beautiful and maybe a welcome change from the city and the countryside.

History and Museums

Le Havre is a town that has been around for a long time, but most of it was unfortunately destroyed in various bombings throughout World War II and faced hardships even in World War I. There are a couple of buildings that stayed standing, and account for years of history of the city. Eventually, the city was built back up and became more modern than other cities in France.

Several homes were turned into museums, such as the house of a billionaire that is close to the coast and another large house with a large, open courtyard and an abundance of tour guides and historical information. Another kind of museum that is one of the more recognized symbols of Le Havre is the art museum in the heart of the city, referred to by the locals as the “White Volcanoes” due to the building’s shape and color.

Next to the White Volcanoes is a public library and a sunken courtyard, where a spiraling staircase leads tourists back up to the main streets. Off the side of the large White Volcano is a black hand with water trickling through and pooling below. There is also a museum of modern art closer to the coast of the city. Le Havre has a plentiful amount of historical sites and museums, along with cathedrals, for tourists to visit.

The Beach

Unlike many beaches in the United States and around the world, the beaches of Le Havre are not sandy, but rather mostly rocky. Walking along the beach of Le Havre is a popular activity of many tourists, as is eating at some of the food stands and small restaurants along the boardwalk.

Unique toLe Havre is the colorful beach huts that sit along the rocky shores. Residents of the city rent out tiny houses with fold-out porches to sit on the beach. Watching the tide come in and simply enjoying the water is a great way to spend time in the city.

Other Symbols of Le Havre

There are other sites in Le Havre worth seeing, such as the colorful monument built out of brightly-painted shipping containers, representing Le Havre’s rich history and status as a crucial port city. Near the coast of the city, closer to the English Channel there is a small lighthouse with Le Havre Porte de L’Europe written on the side, proudly sporting the name of the European city.

Another destination worth visiting in Le Havre is the large, rectangular pool of water close to theWhite Volcano. There is a large bridge that crosses the pool and allows tourists to see the city from a different point of view. Small gushers also spurt water after specific increments of time to form an arc of water at the top of the pool.

Also close to the White Volcano is a monument dedicated to World War II and to honor the soldiers who died in the war, with the French flag flying next to it. On the beaches of Le Havre stands a simple, but beautiful, white structure, best described as a series of rectangles, all of which are missing one side, intricately interwoven. Although Le Havre isn’t the most well-known city in France, it is definitely worth a visit from tourists.

Day Five-Normandy, France, and Travel

Bayeux

On the drive to Normandy, tourists will likely drive through or close to a small town called Bayeux, France, which is definitely worth a stop, if not for anything more than just a quick walk around. Similar to Rouen, Bayeux immediately gives off the “European feel,” with a river that runs under a bridge and through part of the town, as well as a mill wheel tucked against a building in the town and spinning in the river.

Small restaurants, from casual pizzerias to Italian restaurants that sell their hand-made pasta, to upscale fine dining restaurants that even have the famous escargot on the menu. Cobblestone streets are again present. Bayeux, overall, is a charming town worthy of a quick stop at the least.

Arromanches-Les-Bains

Arromanches-Les-Bains isn’t one of the most well-known towns when thinking about Normandy, but it is a beautiful down with lots of history that are right on the water and would be an amazing place to stay. In the small town itself, there are lots of small souvenir shops and ice cream stores, along with some casual restaurants. Hills of vibrant green surround Arromanches-Les-Bains and out in the water there still remain structures built for the defense of the French in World War II.

Climbing the steep hill at the edge of the town is hard work, but it is worth it to see the town from the vantage point and see the small museum and other historical references on the hill. Arromanches-Les-Bains is a beautiful coastal town that shows off France’s history and also the beauty it has achieved since the tragic Second World War.

Omaha Beach

Close to Arromanches-Les-Bains and with even more history is Omaha Beach. Tourists can walk the lower shores of Omaha Beach, one on which the Americans invaded years ago, and there are some parasailers, as well. On the upper hills of Omaha Beach are structures built by the Germans that are still standing and are relatively well preserved.

Huge German bunkers stand on the hills above the now-peaceful waters, with huge guns in the front and smaller dungeons in the back, with cells where prisoners would have been held. German words are still inscribed on the metal beams above the entrance to the cells, a chilling reminder of what happened on that beach and on those hills.

American Cemetery

Even if a tourist isn’t American, a visit to the American Cemetery is still a beautiful and meaningful experience, a reminder of all that was sacrificed in World War II and how those who gave up everything should have their memories preserved. At the beginning of the cemetery is an infinity pool, with a map of several invasions inscribed on the rock base, and if a tourist were to stand behind it, they would see the English Channel out in front of them along with the water that runs over the smooth surface.

Once a tourist walks into the cemetery, they fall into the somber, peaceful mood at the sight of the pristine white crosses and Stars of David that stand in perfect rows in the immaculately groomed lawns, representing the American citizens who sacrificed their lives for freedom.

Travel

If tourists are heading back to Paris to catch a flight out of Charles de Gaulle, it is close to a three-hour drive to return to the capital city, or they can continue their trip around France or to another country. This list acts simply as a guide for five days to spend in northern France, and there is much more to see and do around France to experience its rich history, beautiful architecture, and unique culture.