When I first saw pictures of the white cliffs and arches in Etretat, I had no idea that such a landscape could be found in France! These cliffs on the shore of the English Channel were beautiful enough to inspire Monet after all. We spent four wonderful days in Paris, but we were ready for a change of pace in Normandy, and Etretat was one of our first stops. Here’s a complete guide of what to see and do in Etretat, France.
Getting to Etretat
You have several options for visiting Etretat though renting a car is your best bet.
Rent a Car
At about 2.5 hours away from Paris by car, visiting Etretat is doable as a day trip. However, I think it’s best to rent a car and visit Etretat as part of a larger Normandy itinerary with other stops such as Giverny, Rouen, Bayeux, D-Day beaches, and Mont Saint-Michel.
Take a Train and Bus
There is no direct train to Etretat from Paris. However, if you want to avoid renting a car, you can take the train to Breaute and then a bus to Etretat. You can check out train options here. This will take longer than driving and you give up the freedom of making other stops along the way such as visiting Rouen. As an aside, Rouen is where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake and is also home to the famous Rouen Cathedral.
Take a Tour
If renting a car is out of the question and taking a train and bus sounds daunting, you could book a tour from Paris. These tours can be expensive and you’re basically just paying for transportation.
What to See and Do in Etretat
As a seaside village on the English Channel, the main things to see and do in Etretat are visiting the beach and checking out the natural scenery. There are two cliffs to visit in Etretat: Falaise d’Amont and Falaise d’Aval. There are three arches in the cliffs with one on Falaise d’Amont and two on Falaise d’Aval. If you park near the beach in between the two cliffs, it’s very easy to visit both on foot in a few hours.
We started out by visiting Falaise d’Amont which is located on the north side of Etretat. The arch on this side is called Porte d’Amont.
From the beach, it’s a short hike up to the top. From Falaise d’Amont, you’ll be able to snap the best photos of Falaise d’Aval and vice versa. You’ll see a church, Chapelle Notre-Dame de la Garde, at the top of the cliff. There is also a memorial to the French pilots who attempted to fly from Paris to New York City in 1927.
Falaise d’Aval is on the south side of Etretat.
This cliff has two arches called Porte d’Aval and the Manneporte.
While you’ll get the best photos of Porte d’Aval from the Falaise d’Amont, we found that there was a lot more to see on top of Falaise d’Aval. There are more walking paths and lookout points and even a small cave!
If the tide is low, you can even walk out to the caves at the bottom of the cliff. We chose not to do this for the sake of our shoes. I also have no idea how safe this actually is…
Visit the Beach
Etretat is a popular beach spot in the summer months. We visited in October so swimming was out of the question. However, there were still a handful of surfers in the water.
Walk Around Town
After visiting the cliffs and the beach, take a stroll around the town. Visiting in October, we found the town to be almost deserted but I’m sure it’s bustling in the summer.
Tips for Visiting Etretat
Here are some tips for visiting Etretat:
- Wear good walking shoes: Visiting the cliffs in Etretat requires a lot of walking. You can drive to the top of Falaise d’Amont, but I still think it’s preferable to walk up the steps from the beach. It’s not possible to drive to the top of Falaise d’Aval.
- Visit by boat: If you want an up-close look at the arches, you can book a boat tour.
- Visit in the off-season: Since Etretat is a popular summer beach destination, if you want fewer crowds and cooler weather for hiking, try visiting in the off-season. With that said, not as many shops and restaurants will be open so plan accordingly.
- Spend some more time in Normandy: While it’s possible to visit Etretat from Paris in one day, Normandy has so much to offer that I highly recommend spending a night or two in the region.
Etretat was one of the coolest stops during our time in France! After spending several days in Paris, it was nice to walk around and visit the beautiful white cliffs and arches in Etretat. There’s plenty to seen and do in Etretat in one afternoon. If you find yourself in Normandy, a stop at Etretat is a must!