At the beginning of 2017, I declared that I was going to travel to Europe at least once that year, and I somehow ended up receiving two separate invitations to do just that! My first invitation was from my friend, Katie, who had a friend staying in Normandy, France – more on that in this post. We would start our journey here and then head to Paris, France and on to Ireland.
My second invitation was from my friend, Stephanie. She had a friend living in Stockholm, Sweden who we visited before heading off to Copenhagen, Denmark.
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How to Get to Paris (Sort of)
A Budget Airline Booking Horror Story
I had originally booked round-trip flights through Spirit Airlines from Houston, Texas to Newark, New Jersey, where I would be meeting Katie before heading to New York to catch our flight to Paris. I was nervous, but their prices were so much cheaper than any of the alternatives. And, for cheaper prices, you get cheaper service. Mark my words; I will not make this mistake again!
I received the standard “it’s time to check-in” email around 24 hours before my scheduled flight time and paid the steep $100 fee for my carry-on luggage. But, what happened next was shocking…
Coincidentally, I checked my email again later that night, and to my horror, Spirit Airlines had sent an email at 11:21 p.m. stating that my 6:30 a.m. – as in seven hours from then – flight was CANCELED. And what Spirit Airlines thought would be useful was to instead book me on a flight to Ft. Lauderdale; you know, practically as far away on the East Coast as they could get me from my original destination. Like, c’mon, guys. I need to get to New York and am en route to France; I really don’t have time for all of this nonsense!
Needless to say, I started freaking out. I called them right away, and their customer service was basically the worst. They told me that I couldn’t change my flight more than once, which was funny considering that they were the ones who had changed my flight – not me. What was even worse was they couldn’t get me to New Jersey or New York at all the following day.
So, at this point, I tried to cancel my flight, which took me through about seven tiers of call operators who all refused to refund me until I finally reached a manager who was apologetic, refunded my entire trip, and sent me a $50 voucher (which I definitely never used).
Note: Spirit Airlines won’t refund baggage fees if you only cancel one leg of your itinerary. Naturally, I cancelled my entire itinerary to accommodate this rule and went with another airline for both legs of my trip.
Finding an Alternative Flight
By now, it was 2 a.m., and I was in quite the bind. I called Katie (like three times) and to my surprise, she actually answered. Thank goodness! We decided that I should take the earliest flight into Baltimore, since her parents were planning to drive her to New York, and I could catch a ride with them. So, I went ahead and booked a last minute Southwest flight (my personal favorite airline).
Sheesh! What a stressful way to kick off our international trip.
Taking the Megabus from Baltimore to New York
I arrived at the Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport around 10 a.m., which is when I learned that Katie’s parents were no longer able to make the trip to New York and back. This was totally understandable, but now I was in Baltimore with no way of getting to New York.
A Broad Recommendation: there will always be hiccups while traveling. Instead of getting upset, joke about it, and laugh it off! There’s nothing you can do about circumstances outside of your control. All you can do is stay calm, come up with a new plan, execute and move on. Having flexible travel buddies who remain calm in a pinch makes all the difference too! Sometimes, you’ll have to make decisions on the fly, and staying level-headed makes all the difference.
Okay, so this might sound crazy, but everything actually worked out totally fine! My parents picked me up from the airport (luckily they lived in the area); we went to visit my grandma for a bit; and Katie and I went on a four-and-a-half-hour Megabus adventure after exhausting all of our other (much more expensive) options.
A Night at the Renaissance New York Midtown Hotel
When we arrived at our beautiful, free hotel in Manhattan (thanks, Marriott Rewards!), we treated ourselves to some ciders and a nice rooftop dinner overlooking the city. It doesn’t get much better than that!
A Broad Recommendation: I gave myself a full day to get to New York, and this truly paid off. Always give yourself a buffer if you have connecting flights. Airlines sometimes delay or completely cancel flights, and this could ruin a trip of a lifetime if you aren’t prepared!
Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to do any sightseeing in New York on this trip, but we’d love to go back and try this four days in New York itinerary.
Finally Getting to Paris
The next morning, we headed to John F. Kennedy International Airport and checked in with Air France. To our surprise, we got upgraded to our own row with extra legroom! Perhaps this was because we had several issues while booking our trip, which required us to call the airline multiple times to get things worked out (we were really on a roll with this trip, haha).
We enjoyed our dinner and all the free wine before catching some sleep on our overnight flight.
A Broad Recommendation: to offset jetlag, set your phone or watch forward (or backward) to the time zone you’re traveling to right when you get on the plane and start acting as if you’re in that time zone. If it’s late at night in the time zone you’re traveling to, try to get some sleep. You’ll [hopefully] wake up feeling refreshed when you arrive!
The next morning, we arrived in Paris, France and were excited to start exploring; we just had to get to Normandy first!
How to Get to Normandy from Paris
Normandy is located in Northern France just west of Paris and is known for its charming coastal towns, lovely countryside, and yummy cheeses and ciders.
We traveled to Normandy from Paris by train. First, we took the metro from the Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport to the Paris Saint-Lazare railway station. Then, we took the train to Caen, where Katie’s friend picked us up shortly after lunchtime.
A Broad Recommendation: it takes about an hour and forty-five minutes to reach Normandy from Paris by train. Although we stayed for two days, it’s possible to squeeze in a day trip here if you’re limited on time.
We booked our train tickets ahead of time through Rail Europe and paid ~$54 total for two economy seats. The train was comfortable and had outlets to charge our devices and places to put our luggage. Just a heads up: we had to print our tickets ahead of time.
Things to Do in Normandy, France
There are plenty of things to do in Normandy and more than enough activities to fill two days here. This is what we did during our trip, but this list is in no way comprehensive.
Visit the Beaches of Normandy, France
A visit to the beaches in Normandy, France is a must for U.S. history aficionados and a profoundly emotional experience. Staring over the dramatic coastline, you can’t help but to reflect on the immense challenge the Allied soldiers must have faced here.
First, we headed to Utah Beach, the westernmost of the landing areas during the Normandy Invasion of World War II. Quick history recap: the Battle of Normandy lasted from June to August 1944, beginning on June 6th, aka D-Day.
On D-Day, more than 150,000 American, British and Canadian forces landed on five beaches in Normandy, along the heavily fortified coast of France. It was one of the largest amphibious military assaults in history, and it began the liberation of Western Europe from Nazi Germany’s control and laid the foundation for the Allied victory.
Utah Beach, specifically, was assaulted by the U.S. 4th Infantry Division and was achieved with relatively few casualties. Sadly, some did drown in the flooded marshlands while weighed down by heavy equipment, and others were shot out of the sky by enemy fire.
Pointe du Hoc
Next we stopped at Pointe du Hoc, a cliff overlooking the English Channel on the northwestern coast of Normandy. On D-Day, the United States Army Ranger Assault Group attacked and captured Pointe du Hoc after scaling the cliffs.
The last of the beaches we stopped at was Omaha Beach.
Surrounded by steep cliffs and heavily defended, Omaha was the bloodiest of the Normandy beach landings. This was due to an underestimation of the number of German soldiers and the rough surf, which allowed only two of twenty-nine amphibious tanks to reach the shore.
As you could probably tell from our photos, the rain was looming all day and had finally caught up with us at this point. We only stayed at this spot for a couple of minutes before having to move on.
Pay Your Respects at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial
The final stop on our tour was the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. The cemetery sits on a cliff and was established by the U.S. First Army on June 8, 1944; it was the first American cemetery created on European soil. Buried here are the remains of nearly 9,400 servicemen and women who lost their lives during the D-Day landings and the operations that followed.
The memorial includes maps and details of the Normandy landings, and both the cemetery and memorial get around one million visitors a year.
A Broad Recommendation: We just scratched the surface on all of the history held within these spots. For more information about the Normandy Landings and D-Day, check the Official Normandy Tourist Board website.
Try Authentic French Cuisine
After an interesting and informative day, we freshened up before heading to a French restaurant called Chez Le Bougnat. Here, I hesitantly tried pig ears for the first time – gross! I also had the cod and some to-die-for mashed potatoes. Overall, we enjoyed this place and can recommend it.
Note: Dinners run quite late in France and the staff moves at a slower, more relaxed pace. Americans tend to eat much more quickly, while Europeans take the time to enjoy their dinner experience. If you’re in a hurry or really hungry, don’t expect the waiter or waitress to rush their service.
A Broad Recommendation: Katie likes to ask for recommendations when she’s unfamiliar with the menu or feeling somewhat adventurous. Sometimes, what you think of as an American “pizza”, for example, is not necessarily the same thing in France, and you may be better off trying some of the local cuisine. Brushing up on your French food verbiage before your trip also helps with this.
Visit Mont Saint-Michel
We spent our second and final day of our short trip to Normandy from Paris at Mont Saint-Michel, a rocky, tidal island and UNESCO World Heritage Site. A visit to Mont Saint-Michel is one of the best things to do in France, and it’s the most visited historic site in France outside of Paris. Be sure to add Mont Saint-Michel to your itinerary when planning a trip to Normandy.
Since you’re not allowed to drive yourself to the island, a complimentary shuttle is available. Or, if you’re feeling super fancy, you can pay to take a horse-drawn carriage instead.
We opted to walk and recommend wearing comfy shoes if you choose to do the same. It’s about a mile and a half trek.
Once we made it, we walked around the town and started exploring. The houses, which have since been mostly transformed into hotels and shops, line the narrow street leading up to the abbey of Mont Saint-Michel and date as far back as the 15th century – wow!
In our opinion, the restaurants and shops here are quite expensive. Luckily, I was able to snag a cute “Le Mont Saint Michele” souvenir mug at a reasonable price.
The abbey church that towers over the island was built over three crypts. It boasts both Romanesque and Gothic styles from the different periods of construction. We were able to take a tour through the church for around 10 Euros each.
Behind the medieval walls on the southern and eastern sides of the mount, you can see a panoramic view of the bay. Mont Saint-Michel is usually surrounded by vast sandbanks and becomes an island only when the tides are very high. As you can see from our pictures, the tide started coming in a bit just as we were leaving.
A Broad Recommendation: the weather here may be different from other places you visit in Normandy, France. The island has its own micro-climate and tends to be on the chillier side. It also rained while we were here, so don’t forget to pack your rain jacket!
After two fun and history-filled days in Normandy, we headed back to Paris for the rest of our adventure in France.
Check back in to hear more about our Paris visit, and don’t forget to pin this post for future reference!
XOXO Sara at Travel A-Broads
I’ve not visited a lot of France yet but Normandy is on my list for sure. Lots of history to explore here!
Absolutely! I hope you can visit soon 🙂.
omgosh im so sorry you had to experience such a rocky start, i have so much anxiety when i travel this would have DEFINITELY unravelled me there and then! Glad you managed to work around it and still have an awesome trip despite everything!!
It makes for a funny story now at least, but it was definitely pretty stressful at the time, haha. Luckily, everything really did work out, and Katie is such an easy and flexible friend to travel with, so we were able to make the most of any and all hiccups that came our way and still had such a blast!
Spirit Air is the absolute worst! A friend used them for a Costa Rica trip. They cancelled her return flight twice before she had even left for her trip and cancelled it a third time the day before she was due to come back.
Looks like you had a great trip despite it all! Staying on Mont St. Michel (to avoid the crowds, hahaha!) is on my bucket list.
Oh my gosh! That’s awful, and I hope she finally made it home okay. They really are so terrible; I could never recommend them to anyone. Ooh I bet staying on Mont Saint-Michel would be such a cool experience!
My husband and I want to go to France and based on this I think it would be a great visit for us!
Oh how wonderful! I’m so happy to hear that 🙂.
I love all things history. Normandy is high on my list so greatly appreciate this post of the top things to do.
It’s my pleasure! I love learning the history behind every place I visit!
Normandy is on the list so I’m super grateful for this post! Great tips and awesome pics!
Awesome! I hope it has inspired you to visit sooner than later 🙂.
I’d never thought of visiting Normandy before, but it seems like there’s a lot to do there! I didn’t realize that’s where Mont Sant-Michel is — that’s the #1 thing I’d like to do in France someday.
I hadn’t considered visiting here either until my friend invited me. It was the perfect opportunity to travel somewhere new and brush up on my WWII history. Mont Saint-Michel was probably my favorite stop!
What an adventure! I am glad that it all worked out in the end. It would have been horrible to miss out on seeing Mont Saint Michele.
I sure did get lucky! I’m so happy everything worked out, and we had such a wonderful trip.
Visiting Normandy has been on my mind for some time. I particularly would love to see Mont Saint-Michel. It is architecturally gorgeous. I would also love to try the cuisine in that area of France.
I hope you can make it to Normandy soon – it’s well worth the visit!
Reading this post probably just saved me a huge headache with Spirit Airlines. I was contemplating using them for a flight from Austin. Thanks for all the great tips on visiting Normandy. Mont St Michel has been on my bucket list for some time. I was glad to read about your experience.
Oh, I’m so happy to hear I caught you before you booked with them! It’s always nice to save money on budget airlines, but for me, it’s just not worth the potential issues. I hope you can make it to Mont Saint-Michel soon – it’s simply incredible!
Eep what a stressful start to the trip…but I am so impressed that you held things together and found an alternative. Great work!
Normandy is such a gorgeous area isn’t it. It is so sad that it is attached to such a sad section in this planets collective history. Those soggy skies sort of match the tears you can feel when paying your respects. It is pretty cool that they still fly American flags alongside the French flag at the beaches…
Thank you for your thoughtful comment 🙂. I’m SO happy everything worked out, but it sure was quite the adventure getting to Paris, haha. A visit to Normandy is truly unlike any other experience I’ve ever had, and the weather definitely fit the mood here.
I love your attitude toward things going wrong, and I couldn’t agree more! Things out of your control are things out of your control.. 🙂 Fun story, and such an interesting destination!
Thank you! It was quite stressful, but luckily everything worked out, and we had a great time!
This place is truly on my dream travel buck list! I feel like 2023 will be my year to get there! Thanks for all these great details on what to do!
My pleasure! I hope you can plan your trip here soon 🙂.
Wow! What a crazy flight story! I’m so glad you finally got there!
ME TOO! Haha, I would’ve been so upset if it didn’t work out!
We did a cruise through the Normandy area and loved all the stops we did. One day we want to go back and explore this area on our own. And we would plan to do the train from Paris. We missed the beaches of Normandy and as ex-Navy these would be high on our list of things to see.
A cruise through this area sounds wonderful too! I would definitely recommend visiting the beaches whenever you make it back here; it was truly a moving experience, and relearning the history is always so interesting in my opinion.
This looks like a great day trip from Paris! I have visited at least three times and always find something new to see. Thanks for the information on Normandy.
I feel the same way! I can never get enough of Paris 🙂.
On our first trip to France we visited Bayeux (famous for its tapestry) and took a very good small-group tour of the Normandy beaches and cemetery. We haven’t made it to Mont. St Michel though — that is definitely on the list for a future visit to France!
Oh that sounds wonderful! I would love to see more of this area, and I really love guided tours because you get to learn so much more of the history. Sounds like we’ll both be needing a return trip! 🙂
What an adventure with the budget airline! Nor Spirit airlines ever. I am glad you were able to get the refund finally. That trip to Mont Saint-Michel sounds like fun especially the ride in the horse drawn carriage to get there. Adding Normandy to my bucket list. 🙂
It was quite the adventure getting to Paris, haha. Mont Saint-Michel was probably my favorite part of the visit 🙂. Hope you can visit soon!
oh the joys of budget travel – always vow never to use them in the future and then next minute – ooh look, really cheap flight! Loved my time in Normandy. Grey skies every day too.
Haha, I know right! It’s so tempting, but I’ve definitely avoided it ever since this experience because it just isn’t worth the hassle. Glad to hear you enjoyed your time here too 🙂.
Spending time on the Normandy Beaches was one thing I didn’t get to do when in France. I’m so jealous! It’s on my bucket list for next trip.
I hope you’ll get to do this on your next visit! It was truly a profound experience learning (and relearning) about all of the history these beaches hold and exploring some of the memorials.
I went here about 20 years ago with my father, who was a WWII vet. Your article brought back many happy memories. I truly think every American should visit it at least once.
Wow, what a moving and emotional experience that must have been; thank you for sharing. And, I agree – I think it’s a must-do.
I have visited Normandy twice. Once in the summer, it warm and beaches were packed, and again in November. Beach towns were completely shut down. Love it so much would go back again.
We really enjoyed our visit here too and would definitely go back. There’s so much more to see and do here that we couldn’t get to during our two-day visit.
I would LOVE to visit Normandy. I am a U.S. History and WWII History nut and I would love to pay my respects at Normandy. What an amazing experience. Thanks for sharing your trip with us! (flight mishaps and all, haha).
My pleasure! I really hope you can visit soon; you definitely won’t be disappointed! And, hopefully you have a much less eventful experience getting there, haha.
Normandy seems like a really interesting place to visit. Mont saint Micheal is definitely on my bucket list too!
Mont Saint-Michel is simply incredible! I hope you can visit soon!
Our family visited Normandy over the 4th of July weekend. It was poignant and moving and probably one of our best 4ths ever.
I actually remember reading about your experience here! I can’t imagine visiting on the 4th; truly a moving experience.
I remember your water bottle 🙂 had no idea you visited France during that trip. I thought you went to Sweden
Haha, I still have that water bottle; so funny that you remember it! Sweden was actually later this year, so you were very close!
I’ve never been to Normandy but would love to visit the Memorial and Mont St. Michael. Thanks for sharing a great list of things to do in Normandy!
My pleasure! Hope you can visit this area soon!
What a great post! I love how detailed it is and how many tips you give your readers! Mont Saint-Michel looks absolutely unreal, just out of a fairytale! Thanks for sharing and keep up the good work!
Aww thank you so much! That’s definitely my goal 😉. Mont Saint-Michel was definitely fairytale-esque, and we had a great time exploring there!
I love Normandy! Mont Saint-Michel is always a highlight, such a stunning place! Looks like you had a great time.
I have to agree! And, we really did have such a great time! 😊
I can assure you, Mont Saint-Michel isn’t chilly all year round 😉 It does get the sea breeze which is lovely in the summer months! We live in southwest France, but that part of the Normandy coast sure is lovely.
Good to know! It’s also quite possible we were especially chilly coming from Houston, Texas, where it’s usually pretty warm year-round, haha. We thought it was really lovely as well!
Normandy is a place I have always wanted to travel to. My favourite things to do everywhere I travel is eat and visit UNESCO Heritage sites. This post will help me during my travels for sure!
I’m so happy to hear that! I love visiting UNESCO World Heritage Sites too; maybe one day we’ll be able to visit them all 😉.