Discover the best things to do in Etretat, one of the jewels of Normandy (my native region). The massive white cliffs have inspired many painters and photographers, and should inspire you too. Below is my guide to plan your visit and exploration.
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Top 3 things to do in Etretat - Why visit?
I will list in more details in this article with plenty of pictures all the things to do in the famous town of Etretat, Normandy. But let's start with a brief snapshot to get you excited, or to satisfy those who don't wan't to read it all.
1. Walk up to l'Aiguille Creuse & past it - "Falaise d'aval"
Etretat is especially famous for its white cliffs. It is part of the Côte d'Albâtre where the high cliffs are made of chalk.
At Etretat, there are several arches and seastacks. Most are on the South side called "Falaise d'Aval".
One formation is famous at it is known as " l'Aiguille Creuse " (the empty needle), where the fictional character Arsène Lupin (invented by author Maurice Leblanc) hides things.
But, more than that, you can walk a lot along the cliffs for some impressive views in every direction.
2. Visit the Etretat Gardens
Etretat is a place where art mixes with reality. For a long time painters have been inspired by the cliffs and the skies.
In recent times, Etretat has developed a garden with that spirit in mind.
It is quite a unique place to visit as the nature is really connected with the art.
3. Go on a low tide adventure under the cliffs
At low tide, you can explore more than just the main beach of Etretat.
There are cuts in the cliffs to go down, or go through at the base, to be able to access other beaches. This requires walking on ladders and rocks but it is quite a fun adventure!
There are interesting paths on both side of Etretat.
Just beware: start before low tide to not get stuck and don't stand under the cliffs without moving, rocks fall frequently.
Etretat in video
I still need to film under the South cliffs, so the video will be published later.
Even if you can't walk a lot, this is a great place to spend some time. More ideas and photos after the planning tips
Planning Tips - Etretat, Normandy
Where is Etretat - Map
- Etretat is located in Normandy, more precisely in Seine-Maritime (Northern part of Normandy)
- It is part of the Côte d'Albâtre
- Paris to Etretat = 2h30 drive
- Rouen to Etretat = 1h10 drive
- Le Havre to Etretat = 30min drive
- Here is a map to help you locate Etretat:
How to get to Etretat
- You cannot reach it by train. You have to get off the train from Paris or Rouen to Le Havre at station Bréauté-Beuzeville and then take the bus line 17 (30min drive)
- You can also take the bus from Le Havre (line 24)
- The easiest option is by car
- There are also tours organized from cruises boats making port in Le Havre
- Or you can book a private tour from Paris
Where to park
- Driving inside Etretat is not fun. A lot of streets are narrow and only one way, and it is a touristic place so, crowded.
- They are trying to improve the system
- Outside of weekends and holidays, you can try entering the town to park, but I am warning you that you may search for some time.
- Or you can stop at one of the carparks outside of town - it adds some walking time: 10min downhill from town entrance's carparks to beachfront
- During the touristic season, there is a little road train that loops between the carparks, the beach and the chapel / gardens at the top of the Northern cliffs - it is called: Le petit train d'Etretat
- I recommend planning a minimum of 2 days. You want 2 opportunities to explore at low tide to check both side of the cliffs
- Bring good shoes to hike on the beaches and cliffs
- The beach is made of pebbles, this is not to everyone's taste...
- It is Northern France, so the water never gets really warm
- Book accommodation early - this is a beautiful place to stay and a popular one!
- Don't miss the sunset
- Plan your days around the tide - check the tide times here
Where to stay - hotels & accommodations
There are a lot of options to choose from with hotels, B&Bs, Guesthouses and many rentals.
Below are a few options with excellent rating by travelers to consider:
- Apartment - close to the beach "Les Echapées belles" has 2 flats very convenient to stay in town - see photos and availability
- Apartment with a view - you can also choose one of the rentals with sea view such as The Best View with large windows to immerse yourself in the view - see photos and availability
- Hotel - the most iconic hotel is the Dormy House on the cliffs, with magnificent views and a panoramic restaurant - see photos and availability
- Historical - looking for something unique? Check out Donjon Saint Clair
- Or check out all the best rated accommodations (mostly rentals) in Etretat
- Or have a look a little further from the town center, in the Normandy countryside such as this house with pool "La poterie" - see photos and availability
Explore the City Center - a few old buildings
Etretat is famous for the surrounding nature.
In terms of architecture, Etretat is not the place to visit in Normandy (such as Honfleur) but it still offers a few interesting buildings.
The center is not big, you can easily walk around to enjoy the few central streets.
Let's start with the market place. It is an enclosed one called 'Marché couvert'. Nowadays, you can find souvenir shops inside.
It is a wooden structure from 1926. Before a farm was located here.
Manoir de la Salamandre
The most noticeable building in the town center is between the Casino and the market place. Don't forget to look up!
You will notice the Manoir de la Salamandre, which is a hotel (see photos and availability).
This is quite an intriguing building with wood, colorful shingles and strange shape. It was built by copying a medieval house from another town (la maison Plantefor in Lisieux) which was destroyed in 1899. It is not an exact replica, but it kept the overall look.
You can find a few more houses with 'colombages' (half-timbered) which are typical of Normandy, but you will also find many bicolor brick houses from the 20th century which are also typical of the area.
The main church of Etretat - Notre Dame de l'Assomption
A little further from the beach, you will find the main church of Etretat (not to be mixed up with the famous chapel which is at the top of the cliff).
It is not one of the touristic spots. However, it is a typical roman and gothic church with few decors.
Le château des Aygues
Etretat also has a little castle. Two Queens of Spain have enjoyed this place several times.
It was built in the middle of the 19th century overlooking the town and it is today a protected historical building.
It can be visited in the afternoon in Summer but may be closed some weeks. Contact them first to know if it is opened (see their facebook page)
Etretat's Beach & Promenade
The whole town revolves around the beach. The waterfront is limited by high straight cliffs on each side.
There is a wide promenade to easily walk from one end to the other with beautiful views in every directions.
Or you can go down to the beach itself.
Just know that it is a beach covered with pebbles, so if you are not used to it, it might not be so easy to walk on it. Although the pebbles are not as big as in Le Havre, so I find it a little easier.
I recommend you visit at low and high tides because it looks completely different.
These views have inspired many artists, especially the impressionists such as Claude Monet.
Have a break and admire the show. It is even better with some clouds!
Etretat is also great to watch the sunset!
Aiguille Creuse and South cliffs ("Falaise d'Aval")
Now let's get serious and go explore those cliffs.
Starting with the South Cliffs which are known as 'Falaise d'Aval'.
Climbing the side of the cliff
There are no roads going up there, so no touristic trains to help you. You have to walk.
From the promenade, there is a staircase going up the cliffs before reaching the walking path.
However if you want to avoid those stairs, you can opt to walk on Rue du Dr de Miramont from the carpark and you can reach the first viewing platform with 0 stairs.
The walk to the top is steep but not long. Make the effort, it is worth it!
On the way to the top you will find 2 viewing platforms where you can enjoy the town, the beach and the Northern cliffs.
You will also notice the old oyster farm under you (it dates back to the 18th century and Marie Antoinette used to love those oysters).
Once at the top you can explore around L'aiguille creuse.
The cliffs here are 80m high. And there are views in all directions.
This is the closest you can get to those pinnacle formations which were transformed into a fort. You can take a second bridge to access a small cave known as 'La chambre des demoiselles'. Legends of ghosts surround it.
From the top of Porte d'Aval you also enjoy a beautiful view of the other giant arch of Etretat: Manneporte.
And if you keep walking South, you will enjoy better views of the seastack known as L'Aiguille creuse.
The name means hollow needle. It is 55m in height (at the moment, but erosion keeps happening).
It has become famous thanks to the adventure of the fictional character Arsène Lupin, invented by Maurice Leblanc. He was supposed to have hidden a treasure inside.
On top of Manneporte
I recommend you keep walking a little further South. All the way to Manneporte.
You can go on top of it.
This is the best place to appreciate the sea stack and the main arch of Etretat.
And if you look in the opposite direction, you can see more cliffs and on a clear day, you can notice the lighthouse of Antifer in the distance.
Bottom Walk to the Cave 'Trou de l'Homme'
At low tide you can also explore these formations at water level.
BEWARE - always start your walk at least 1h before low tide to have time to come back.
You will first reach the oyster park and then via a ladder, you can climb a little and access the cave 'trou de l'homme' where a man survived after a wreck in 1792.
This walking path also allows you to cross under the cliff and access to the next beach with impressive views of Manneporte.
Chapel, Gardens and Northern Cliffs ("Falaise d'Amont")
Now let's head to the North. This is a completely different experience.
How to go up?
Once again you have to go up. The road is now closed to all except people living here.
You have 3 options:
- Take the touristic train in Summer
- Take the walking path starting at the end of the beachfront (with stairs, steep)
- Walk on the road via Rue Jules Gerbeau and then Avenue Damilaville (no stairs, steep but less than the walking path)
At the top, you will be able to enjoy the most famous view but also a few attractions.
This chapel is often the one people have in mind when they say the church of Etretat.
It was first built around 1855 and is dedicated to the Holy Virgin. However, is was destroyed in 1942 by the Germans and a new one was rebuilt and inaugurated in 1950 (with a very different style).
It is considered as a chapel for sailors protecting them from the top of the cliffs. Notice the gargoyles in the shape of fish.
From the front of the chapel, you have a splendid view of the beach with the grey pebbles, the town to the left, and the south cliffs to the right with the first arch and the pinnacle. I can just sit there for hours looking at the view.
Monument Nungesser and Coli
Another attraction next to the chapel is the Monument dedicated to Nungesser and Coli. They were French world war aviation heroes and attempted the first non-stop flight between paris and New York. But their plane L'Oiseau Blanc disappeared in 1927. And its story remains a mystery.
This 24m arrow was erected in 1963. And it my opinion it goes perfectly with the tower of the church and the pinnacle in the cliff.
You can also find a small museum on the subject, more on that in the next section.
Gardens: Les Jardins d'Etretat
Then I recommend you enter the garden: 'les jardins d'Etretat'. This attraction combines art with nature.
You will find a historical plant collection from Madame Thébault, magnificent trees and thought-provoking pieces of art.
I think the most famous (and photographed) are the 'Drops of Rain'. These are 7 sculptures by artist Samuel Salcedo focusing on the range of human emotions.
Adventure down the cliff
Next you can keep walking North to enjoy the cliffs.
After just a few minutes walking, you will find a staircase.
If it is a clear day, and even if you don't go all the way down, I recommend you go down to the first viewing platform (if you feel you can walk back up).
Why? Because you can see the coast and its cliffs for a long distance. This is quite impressive.
However, from this point I have to stop you.
If you want to keep going on this adventure, know that:
1. You should only go at low tide
2. You are ready to cross a tunnel and go down a ladder and a wall of pebbles to get back to town (or walk all the way back up the way you came).
The rest of the path is quite steep and narrow. You walk inside the side of the cliff.
Once at the bottom you will find the tunnel. But before crossing, I recommend you explore this side. There is a magnificent view of the Northern arch from this side (which I had to miss because I was alone, and I was afraid my ankles would not be strong enough for the terrain - I often twist them).
After you have enjoyed the view, it is time to walk back to town.
You can cross the tunnel under the cliff. it is called "tunnel du chaudron" (tunnel of the cauldron). The entrance looks low, but you don't have to bend that much after.
Then there is a ladder to reach the beach and a wall of pebbles to reach water level. If you don't feel confident in the pebbles, just sit down.
Northern end of the Beach - "The elephant"
And then you reach the northern end of the beach (that you can also reach just by walking on the beach).
Take the time to admire the cliff here.
It is massive and you see the layers really well.
The author Guy de Maupassant refers to it as a "giant elephant" with its trunk plunging into the water.
And as you walk back to town, the views are magnificent.
Remember that there is always a risk of falling rocks close to the cliff.
Etretat Museums & activities
What else to do in Etretat? Let's have a look at the activities and museums to visit in town.
Musée du patrimoine
- Located at the top of the Northern cliff, near the chapel
- Learn more about the history of Etretat from the first inhabitants to the Vikings, the oysters of Marie-Antoinette, Napoleon's plan and to its modern history with WWII.
- Open mid-June to mid-September from 10am to 12:30 and 3pm to 6pm and some other weeks off season.
- Next to it is the monument to Nungesser and Coli and the shape of the plane on the ground.
Clos Arsène Lupin
- Located rue Guy de Maupassant (3min walk from the market)
- Inside the house of Maurice Leblanc
- Enjoy a program with 7 steps to discover Maurice Leblanc, the author, and Arsène Lupin, his famous character (proposed in English and French). Lights, sounds... room after room you discover their world of mysteries.
- See opening hours here
Watersport - Kayak, Paddle
You can also go and explore the cliffs via water with kayaks or paddles.
The Golf in Etretat
Etretat is home to a beautiful golf at the top of the cliffs with splendid views!
And you can enjoy a little bit of fun at the casino.
It has slots machines and tables, as well as a restaurant with seafront views.
On both sides of Etretat, I have shown you the cliffs close to town. However, you can keep walking on both sides to discover more views.
The Touristic Train
There is a touristic train that operates in Summer between Les Loges and Etretat (12km return). If you want to take the time to enjoy the valley.
Etretat with Kids
Planning to visit Etretat with kids? Here are the best activities in my opinion:
- Cliffs - They should enjoy exploring the cliffs but make sure they are reasonable. The cliffs can be dangerous, and cray is not the most solid. Do not go close to the edge.
- Museum - The Clos Arsène Lupin is a fun adventure and the character has always been a favorite with kids
- Garden - The Gardens on the Northern cliffs could also be a good choice, since they feel like a labyrinth
- Plane - while you are at the top of the Northern cliffs, next to the museum you can see the plane on the ground in mortar representing l'Oiseau Blanc
- Playground - still on the northern cliff, the Parc des Roches has a public garden, a playground, a mini-golf... open every afternoon in Summer and otherwise during the school holidays
- Tree adventure - 5km away from Etretat, you can enjoy forest acrobatic course (including a 220m zip line) - programs from 3 years old.
- Family adventure - rent a rail cycle to explore the 12km return line between the Etretat and Les Loges stations - starts in Les Loges.
Weekend or Holidays in Etretat - excursions in the region
A weekend in Etretat
If you have only a weekend or a long weekend in Etretat, I recommend that you only focus on the town and the cliffs.
Enjoy all the different walks and perspective.
First check out the tide times and organize your stay around them.
Holidays in Etretat
If you are lucky enough to spend longer in Etretat there are other attractions in the region, worth visiting
- Antifer - Saint Jouin beach - for another perspective on cliffs, check out the wider beach of Jouin, next to the Antifer port.
- Le Havre - 30min away the experience is totally different. Visit this Unesco site where art mixes with a special architecture invented by Auguste Perret for the re-building post WWII. See my article
- Yport and Fécamp - 30min away you can explore the town of Fécamp with exquisite buildings such as the Benedictine and a long sailing history (and its museum).
- Honfleur - only 45 min away you can discover the charming old town of Honfleur which has also inspired many painters - on the way you will enjoy the Normandy bridge - see my article
- Veules les Roses - 1h away, it is considered one of the most beautiful villages in Normandy
- Parc de Clères - if you want to see a few animals, head to the park. It is a 1h10min drive.
- and so many other walks and gardens, abbeys,...
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