Things to do in Etretat, Normandie

Visiting Normandy without seeing cliffs at Etretat would be a great mistake if you love dramatic landscapes. Etretat cliffs are surrounding the little town, which is one of the most picturesque spots on the French coast. 

Not only are they famous for their natural beauty, but this is also an unusual place for swimming and surfing you should not miss. Etretat beach offers great views, amazing waves, and closeness to the town, highway, and hotels.

Located in the Normandy region of northwestern France, Etretat is a tourist and farming town situated about 32 km (20 mi) northeast of Le Havre. With a population of little over 1000 people, this is a quiet and relaxing place when all the day tours leave.

The best way to visit Etretat is on a day trip from Paris, which is 200 km away. Other options are to include this charming town on your Normandy tour, or even better, book the hotel for a few days vacation and stay in Etretat for a long weekend.

Is Etretat worth visiting?

Despite being crowded with tourists year-round, the stunning cliffs of Etretat are the best walk you will take in upper Normandy. You will love gorgeous views of the Atlantic ocean and surrounding area, especially if you stay long enough to see the sunset.

Two of the three famous arches are visible from the town, the Porte d’Aval, and the Porte d’Amont. The Manneporte is the third and the biggest one, and cannot be seen from the town.

What is Etretat famous for?

Etretat is best known for its chalk cliffs, which feature three natural arches and a pointed formation 70 meters (230 ft) above sea level. The tallest cliff is 90 meters (300 ft) high. These cliffs were inspirations to many artists, including Eugène Boudin, Gustave Courbet, and Claude Monet. 

In books and films, the cliffs are featured in the 1909 Arsène Lupin novel The Hollow Needle by Maurice Leblanc, and later on in a Netflix TV show about this famous fictional character. They were also featured in the 2014 film Lucy, directed by Luc Besson.

Étretat was the last place in France from which the 1927 biplane The White Bird (L’Oiseau Blanc) was seen. Charles Nungesser and François Coli, both World War I heroes, attempted to fly the first nonstop trip from Paris to New York City, but the plane vanished somewhere over the Atlantic after taking off on May 8, 1927. It is regarded as one of aviation’s biggest mysteries.

A memorial honoring the flight was built, but it was demolished when the Germans seized the region during World War II. In1963, a new and larger memorial, as well as a neighboring museum, were built.

Best things to do in Etretat, Normandie

Etretat is not just cliffs, there is so much to it, from historical significance to cultural and artistic one. Walking around this 19th-century village is very inspirational, especially to romantics and artists.

Walk to the cliffs of Etretat

You can walk up to the cliffs to get some breathtaking views of the Aiguille. On the way to the top, you will pass by an 18-hole golf course, which can be a great activity for your day outdoors. 

On your way down head east to get to the Jardins d’Etretat, a beautiful Asian-inspired garden with incredible views of Etretat and its bay. You will see the Aval arch famously immortalized by Claude Monet and Eugène Boudin. 

Come back to the seafront before sunset so you can enjoy the sunset over the cliffs, an incredible view that is going to stay in your memory for a long time. 

Falaise Amont at Etretat

Falaise Amont is a viewpoint that doesn’t require climbing. You can see two of three beautiful white cliffs from the beach and boardwalk. For the first cliff, you have to go to the Falaise Aval, the path to the top of the rock that starts from either side of the boardwalk. 

This view of the needle and the third arch is the most popular sight in the area. This little hike takes about an hour each way, and no toilets or water are available along the way.

Visit Etretat Town Center

Enjoy the typical coastal old town, with some amazing buildings, small shops, and bistros. Since the destination is so popular, prices are similar to those in Paris. The beachfront even has a casino that is open daily from 10 am to 3 am.

Marché Couvert, once a traditional market, is now reconstructed and mostly used by shops aiming squarely at the tourism market. Another historical location is the Église Notre Dame, a 12th-century Romanesque church that is now used only as a tourist stop for tourist bicycle-train. 

Learn about the Oiseau Blanc

Located behind the chapel of Notre Dame, there is a sculpture with the shape of a white arrow inspired by François Coli and Charles Nungesser. These two aviators on May 8, 1927, made the first attempt to cross the Atlantic Ocean aboard the Oiseau Blanc (the White Bird), a brand new large Levasseur biplane immaculate white.

The plane left the Bourget airport in Paris at 5.18 am heading to New York, and it was seen for the last time flying over the cliffs at Etretat at 6.05 am. Then the Oiseau Blanc disappeared into the mist. It is not clear what happened to them, and it is one of the biggest mysteries of aviation history. Right next to the sculpture there is a small museum dedicated to the aviators.

Visit the house where Maurice Leblanc created Arsène Lupin

In this traditional two-story house popular French writer Maurice Leblanc created his world-famous character Arsène Lupin’s creator. He wrote 19 novels and shorter stories about Arsène Lupin in Etretat.

Go swimming on the beach

Etretat is a popular swimming and surfing spot, with beautiful waves from the Atlantic. In the summertime, lifeguards are on duty, but because of the often strong current, it is not advised to swim far from the shore for those not experienced enough.

Getting to Etretat from Paris

Coming to Etretat from Paris is easiest by car, bus, or train. If you go by train or bus, go to Le Havre Etretat and from there take the hourly bus #13 (59 min) to Etretat. In the summer, there are direct buses from Paris to Etretat.

Finding parking in Etretat can be tough during the high season. If you don’t mind walking, cheap or free parking can also be found in the outskirts of town. One reliable parking lot is located at the top of the Falaise Amont cliffs to the north of Etretat. 

Where to Sleep in Etretat

Since it is a small town it is no wonder why the accommodation is limited to only a few hotels and quite a small selection of Airbnb’s. Here is where you can stay in Etretat:

Hotel Le Rayon Vert

This is a 3-star beach hotel with a restaurant, great for families and romantic getaways. 

Main amenities:
  • 14 smoke-free guestrooms
  • Near the beach
  • Restaurant and bar/lounge
  • Breakfast available
  • Self-parking
  • A train station pick-up service

Hôtel La Résidence Manoir de La Salamandre

This lovely hotel is located inside a historic building, and it is one of the most unique places to stay in Etretat.

Main amenities:
  • 15 smoke-free guestrooms
  • Daily housekeeping
  • Near the beach
  • Restaurant and bar/lounge
  • Breakfast available
  • Terrace

La Villa 10

This 3-star hotel near the beach has a beautiful bar, gym, and free parking.

Main amenities:
  • 20 smoke-free guestrooms
  • Daily housekeeping
  • Near the beach
  • Breakfast available
  • Bar/lounge
  • Fitness center

After deciding on all the things to do in Etretat, Normandie you will know if it is a day visit for you or if you need to stay for a few days. While vacation days should be well spent, sometimes relaxation by the sea is more valuable to the soul than city buzz.

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