Over 5 to 7 days in northern France, you can see many beautiful seaside towns, wander around historic villages and indulge in some excellent French food and drink. Our northern France itinerary will take you from Saint-Malo on the border of Brittany and Normandy, up the coast to the Belgian border city of Lille. Whatever your interests, there’s something for everyone on the north coast of France.
The North of France encompasses everything from Brittany to Alsace, including Normandy and of course, Paris – each of which has its own distinct culture and traditions. So, to see all of these amazing places in one northern France road trip, you’d need to spare at least a month.
That’s why we’ve focused primarily on the northern coast of Normandy, as you can happily spend at least 4 to 5 days in Brittany alone, and a further 4 to 5 days discovering the magical city of Paris. Or, if you want to experience beautiful castles and world-class wine, consider heading to the Loire Valley for a few days.
But if you want to spend just 5 days in northern France, sunbathing on the beaches, exploring the seaside towns and eating wonderful seafood, it’s best to stick to the Normandy coast and travel around at your leisure by car.
Normandy also has wonderful cycling routes, without too many inclines for a more easy-going journey, so you can have a fantastic 7 days in northern France on your bike, without spending too much time on the road. This way you also get to discover the quaint villages and rural locations that won’t come up on a standard itinerary.
There aren’t many major airports in northern France, especially near the towns on our north France itinerary, however, if you’re planning to reach France by aeroplane, you can fly into Rennes Airport, Paris-Orly or Paris Charles de Gaulle Airports and rent a car, or take a train to the first stop on our itinerary.
But, this will take the best part of a day to fly into Paris and make the journey out to Saint-Malo, so bear this in mind when planning your trip.
The best way to reach the starting point of your road trip in northern France, if you’re following our road trip itinerary and beginning in Saint-Malo, is by ferry from Portsmouth or Poole on the south coast of England, which takes about 7 hours; that way, you can also bring your own car to make your journey easier and cheaper.
If you’re following the itinerary in reverse, you can take your car on the ferry or Eurotunnel from Dover to Calais, or take the passenger train the Eurostar from central London to Lille.
If you need to rent a car for your trip, you can browse Rentalcars.com which compares prices across major companies.
Each stop on the itinerary is reachable by public transport so you can take the train or bus to arrive at each destination as well as book your tickets as a foot passenger on the ferries, or utilise the fast and eco-friendly Eurostar trains. You can view schedules here.
However, if you choose to use public transport, you will have to arrange your holiday according to transport times, rather than having the freedom of moving as you please with your own car.
5 to 7-Day Northern France Itinerary
Beaches, castles, cathedrals and history abound on our northern France itinerary, so don’t forget to pack your beach towels, sunglasses and guidebooks so you’re ready for everything that awaits you.
Ferry is the best way to arrive in Saint-Malo, not just for comfort and ease, but also to see the wonderful seaside town from a different perspective, arriving majestically on the French shore to explore your first destination.
Saint-Malo is predominantly famous for its large and scenic port area where you can find some delicious seafood as well as wander around the small side streets and coastal promenade. But Saint-Malo is also full of ancient history, with the 15th-century Saint-Malo castle and the National Fort standing proudly on the coastline, surrounded by the town’s ramparts.
You can spend a day walking along the 2 km-long city walls, enjoying views over the town, as well as the incredible coastline, filled with small islets.
You can walk to some of the islets at low tide to spend some time on the beautiful beaches, reach the National Fort and look back over the town.
There are several hotels in Saint-Malo, most of which are moderately priced, but you can also travel further inland to find holiday lets and gîtes if you’re travelling with several family members.
Where to Stay in Saint-Malo
Hôtel Bristol Union Intra Muros – This 3-star hotel is an excellent choice for those looking for a great place to stay in Saint-Malo. They have a number of chic rooms to choose from and a superb breakfast to enjoy each morning. Click here to check availability
La Maison des Armateurs – This grand hotel is an excellent choice for visitors looking for a bit of luxury on their northern French adventure. They have a number of lovely rooms on offer, they’re pet-friendly and also offer wine and champagne to guests. Click here to check availability
Hôtel Le Nouveau Monde – This 4-star beachfront hotel is another wonderful place to stay while in Saint-Malo. They have a great location and beautiful rooms along with amenities like a spa, indoor swimming pool and a great breakfast in the mornings. Click here to check availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Saint-Malo hotels!
When most people think of north France, the first image that comes to mind is the small rocky island, with mediaeval houses and winding streets below a magnificent abbey with pointed turrets reaching up into the sky.
This quintessential French town is the island of Mont-Saint-Michel, about 1 km from the French coast – although thanks to the massive number of visitors the town receives every year, you can now reach the island by road.
Having become a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, the first French site to be listed, Mont-Saint-Michel is one of the most popular spots in North France and is a must-see destination on any northern France road trip.
You can wander around the winding cobbled streets either independently on or on a walking tour, enjoying the remnants of the mediaeval architecture, as well as walk around the 13th-century ramparts to enjoy views over the French coastline and reach the Benedictine Abbey of Saint Michael that defines the island. You can buy your tickets in advance
The Saint Michael’s Abbey is a wonder of mediaeval and flamboyant Gothic architecture, built after Saint Michael appeared three times before Bishop Saint Aubert in 708, and welcomes visitors to discover its refectory, beautiful cloister, ornate chapels and crypts over several levels across the place of worship.
You can learn about the abbey’s transformation into a prison for almost 100 years, as well as the artistic history of the breathtaking island from its four museums in the town’s lower streets.
It’s definitely worth spending a full day in Mont-Saint-Michel as the changing light throughout the day will make you crave a photograph from every angle. At night, the island is lit up, looking even more picturesque as the shadows dance on the layered roofs, especially during the light shows in summer.
Stay on the island in one of the many bed and breakfasts and fancy hotels, or head back to the mainland to enjoy views of Mont-Saint-Michel in all its glory, with many hotels in the small village of La Caserne to accommodate the 2.5 million yearly visitors.
However, the longest journey on this north France itinerary takes place between Mont-Saint-Michel and Honfleur, so if you want to save yourself the 2-hour drive in the morning, get on the road in the evening and stay closer to the city of Caen for a shorter drive on day 3.
Further north along the French coast, before reaching the industrial port of Le Havre, is the beautiful port city of Honfleur. Located on the Seine estuary into the English Channel, this lovely city is a great place for a peaceful afternoon wandering around the old harbour and enjoying fantastic fresh seafood.
The city’s beauty is undeniable, having been a popular destination for many artists, including Claude Monet and Eugène Boudin, who adored the seafront as much as the 16th-century houses with their uneven and characterful roofs. You can organise a walking tour if you prefer to learn more from a guide.
The best part of Honfleur is the seafront, although, of course, you can enjoy a bit of shopping in the old and new town located just outside the harbour. So, if you have a full day to spend in the area and don’t mind driving a little further, it’s worth heading slightly further north to the picturesque gardens of Ertretat.
The Jardins d’Etretat is a wonderfully diverse ornamental garden, divided into separate areas, with one garden designed to replicate the area’s famous oyster farms, with unusual sculptures by Samuel Salcedo hidden amongst the topiary.
You can happily spend a few hours here, so it might be best to head here in the morning of day 3 of your 7 days in the north of France, before heading back down to Honfleur for an afternoon walk and evening meal.
There are lots of lovely hotels in Honfleur, with some budget hotels and several 4-star hotels if you’re looking for a bit more luxury, so finding somewhere to stay in the area is not a problem. However, if you don’t want to move accommodation many nights in a row, consider making the city of Rouen a base for the next few nights.
Where to Stay in Rouen
Hotel Cardinal – Located in the very centre of Rouen on the banks of the Seine River, this hotel is an excellent option for mid-range travellers. They have a number of great rooms to choose from along with a lovely terrace for guests to enjoy. Click here to check availability
Hôtel de Bourgtheroulde – This 5-star hotel is the perfect choice for those who want to spare no luxury while visiting the north of France. There are countless incredible amenities available to guests, the hotel is excellently located and there are plenty of great rooms to choose from. Click here to check availability
La Villa – If you’d like to have your own apartment while visiting Rouen, then these fully furnished flats are a great choice. There are a range of different flats to choose from along with plenty of great amenities and a fantastic location in the city. Click here to check availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Rouen hotels!
Moving away from the coastal towns and further inland towards Paris along the Seine, we reach the wonderful capital city of Normandy, Rouen.
Rouen is a fantastic city to walk around and admire the remaining architecture of the Romans and the Mediaeval period, with numerous Gothic churches to be found scattered around the city. You take a walking tour of the area.
The most famous is the huge Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Rouen which gives the Parisian cathedral of the same name a run for its money with its incredibly ornate stone carvings decorating the building from floor to spire.
Rouen’s Cathédrale Notre-Dame was another favourite of impressionist painter Claude Monet, so you can find many replicas and other paintings in a similar style in art shops all around the centre.
The city is perhaps most famous, however, for being the location of the death of French legend Joan of Arc. The 19-year-old was burned at the stake for heresy in May 1431 and quickly became a symbol of French freedom and heroism thanks to her efforts in leading the French army to defeat the British in Orléans in the Hundred Years War.
You can see the location of the young heroine’s death, now marked with a monument, as well as a statue in her honour beside the church dedicated to her.
Besides the beautiful half-timbered houses, historic monuments and churches, you can also find a number of lovely restaurants, the gorgeous 14th-century astronomical clock, the Gros Horloge, a brilliant Fine Arts Museum and the oldest auberge in France, La Couronne, dating back to 1345. Rouen has a bit of everything.
So, if you have more than 5 days to dedicate to your itinerary, it’s worth having a couple of days to spare for Rouen.
If you choose to continue on for another day rather than spending two nights in Rouen at the end of your 5 days in northern France, you’ll have a relaxing beach day in the town of Dieppe.
To get back home at the end of your day, you can head South to Paris to fly out of the country or take the Eurostar to London, Brussels or Amsterdam. Or, head up to Calais to take the Eurotunnel back across the English Channel in your car.
Dieppe is a small fishing community located on the Normandy coast, so it’s a perfect location to get your fresh fish, oysters and langoustines as well as enjoy the sunshine and a dip in the sea on a warm day.
You can visit the Château de Dieppe which houses a museum dedicated to the town’s history as a significant location in France’s ivory trade, with many skilled ivory carvers having lived there, as well as it being a place of influence in the impressionist artistic period.
For those with a historical interest, you can also learn about Operation Jubilee in the town’s permanent exhibition the Memorial of 19 August 1942; this military endeavour saw many soldiers from Dieppe killed during the Second World War.
The town itself is also lovely to wander around, with such gems as the Gothic Church of Saint-Jacques, the huge white cliffs looming over the beach and the harbour for you to discover.
Making the most of the coast before heading inland again on day 7 of your northern France itinerary, we come to the delightful small town of Le Touquet.
Also known as Paris-Plage, le Touquet is one of the main destinations that saw thousands of Parisians descend on it during summer from the early 1900s onwards to enjoy the wonderful beaches.
Many large villas were built as summer homes for the wealthy Parisians, as well as tennis courts, golf courses and a casino, so there are plenty of activities to enjoy in the warm weather.
A lot of the town of Le Touquet was destroyed in both Allied and Nazi German bombings during the Second World War, and some buildings remain partially destroyed as memorials to the destruction.
However, several wonderful large houses also remain, showing off the fanciful designs of the Roaring Twenties. The town has also kept up its famous nightlife, so it’s a great place to spend your evening with a few cocktails and dance the night away.
Just along the coast from Le Touquet, you can find another lovely seaside town, Berck-sur-Mer. Film and literature enthusiasts will know the town as the setting of the internationally renowned book and film, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly; the true story of a man who overcomes incredible adversity by writing a novel despite having Locked-In Syndrome. Definitely give it a watch before you go or read the book while you lounge on the beach.
This part of the coastline is also famous for having seal colonies living on the beach all year round, especially on the Plage des Phoques.
You shouldn’t approach the animals, but admiring them from the clifftops (you may need a pair of binoculars at low tide) is a wonderful way to spend your afternoon. For families with young children, there’s also a small amusement park, Bagatelle, just outside of the town.
End your day of exploration in the city of Lille, where there are plenty of great places to stay.
Where to Stay in Lille
Moxy Lille City – This 3-star hotel in the centre of Lille is an excellent choice for mid-range travellers. They have an array of great rooms to choose from, breakfast on offer each morning and a perfect location for exploring the city. Click here to check availability
Grand Hotel Bellvue – Those after a luxury option in Lille will love this opulent hotel located on the Grand Place. There are a myriad of gorgeous rooms to choose from and endless great amenities available to guests. Click here to check availability
Aparthotel Adagio – This aparthotel is a fantastic choice for travellers looking for their own furnished flat while visiting the north of France. They have a great location in Lille along with a range of flats to choose from. Click here to check availability
The People – Lille – Budget and solo visitors to this historic French city will love this centrally-located hostel. Not only do they have a range of private rooms and dorms available, but there is also an on-site bar and restaurant to enjoy here. Click here to check availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Lille hotels!
There’s no better place to spend the last day of your road trip, than the beautiful city of Lille. With its wonderful central square, Place du Général de Gaulle, lined on all sides by exquisite architecture, especially the city’s old stock exchange, La Vieille Bourse, this is a great place to enjoy your final night and say your farewells to France.
Take a quick ride on the big wheel for views over the city, visit the stunning modern Notre Dame de la Treille Cathedral and walk down to the Citadelle de Lille for a pleasant stroll and marvel at famed architect Vauban’s work.
While in Lille you can also visit the Maison Natale Charles de Gaulle, where the former French president and leader of the Free French during WWII grew up, expertly restored to accurately resemble his original childhood home, with the addition of information about the Frenchman and his contribution to defeating the Nazis in France.
You’ve probably eaten enough fish so far on the Normandy coastline, so it’s time for some cheese-covered treats like Le Welsh, similar to Welsh Rarebit and the Portuguese Francesinha, or the Flemish-style Chicory Gratin.
You can, of course, get fantastic Moules Frites in the city, but whatever you order, make sure you get some classic French Fries on the side.
If you’re lucky enough to have more than a week in northern France, there are many more activities you can enjoy and small coastal communities to visit, especially for those with a keen interest in history.
Between Mont-Saint-Michel and Honfleur, if you want to break up your journey slightly, you can stop by the small town of Bayeux, famous for its enormous tapestry of the same name.
Created in the 11th century and depicting the battles of William the Conqueror, the Bayeux Tapestry is an impressive 70 metres long and almost half a metre tall, and has survived the last thousand years in remarkable condition.
Along the coast north of Bayeux and on to Honfleur, are the famous D-Day beaches of Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword, which saw the Americans, British and Canadians land in June 1944 before pushing through northern France and freeing the French from Nazism. You can take historic guided tours of the beaches to learn of the significance of D-Day and the Allied efforts in the war.
You can also spend a day in the lovely historic city of Caen. With brilliant Romanesque architectural remnants all over the city and a castle constructed by William the Conqueror, there’s plenty in the city of history fans – not to mention the museums dedicated to WWII and the Cold War.
Another great option is to visit the lovely city of Giverny, which is en route to Paris coming from Rouen and another popular place to visit within Normandy. It has a beautiful, historic old town and a great vibe to explore.
Northern France has plenty to excite any traveller, from families to solo adventurers. Enjoy the wonderful beaches, delight in the incredible seafood and immerse yourself in a thousand years of history as you drive or ride along on your North France itinerary.
Are you planning a trip to northern France? Have any questions about this itinerary? Let us know in the comments!