Discover the best things to do in Étretat, one of the jewels of Normandy (our native region).
The huge white cliffs have inspired many painters and photographers, and should inspire you too.
Here is our guide to plan your visit, whether it’s for a weekend in Étretat, or an entire vacation:
- What to see in Étretat: beach, cliffs and town
- What to visit
- Where to stay
- Where to eat
- Practical advice
Best things to do in Étretat – Top 3
We will list in more detail in this article with many pictures all the things to do in Etretat, one of the most beautiful villages in Normandy. But let’s start with a brief overview to get you excited, or to satisfy those who don’t want to read everything.
It is one of the must-sees of Normandy.
1. Climb the Falaise d’Aval and discover the Aiguille Creuse
Étretat is most famous for its white cliffs. They are part of the Alabaster Coast where the high cliffs are made of chalk.
In Étretat, there are several arches and formations. Most of them are on the south side called “Falaise d’Aval”.
One of the most famous formations is the “Aiguille Creuse”, where the fictional character of Arsène Lupin (invented by the author Maurice Leblanc) hides a treasure.
But more than that, you can walk along the cliffs for impressive views in all directions. One of the most beautiful landscapes in Normandy!
2. Visit the gardens of Etretat
Étretat is a place where art is mixed with reality. The cliffs and the sky have long inspired painters.
Recently, Étretat has developed a garden in this spirit.
It is a unique place to visit because nature is really linked to art.
Reserve your entrance to the gardens
3. Go on an adventure at low tide under the cliffs
At low tide, you can explore much more than the main beach of Etretat.
There are tunnels and stairs in the cliffs to descend, or cross at the base, to access other beaches. It requires walking on ladders and rocks, but it’s a very fun adventure!
There are interesting paths on both sides of Etretat.
But be careful: start before low tide to avoid getting stuck and don’t stay under the cliffs without moving, rocks frequently fall.
Practical tips – Étretat, Normandy
Where is Etretat – Map
- Etretat is located in Normandy, more precisely in Seine-Maritime (northern part of Normandy)
- It is part of the Alabaster Coast
- 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 can’t reach it by train. You must get off the train from Paris or Rouen to Le Havre at the Breauté-Beuzeville station and then take the bus line 17 (30min journey)
- You can also take the bus from Le Havre (line 24)
- The simplest solution is the car
OUR ADVICE FOR RENTING A CAR IN Normandy
- Compare prices on our preferred platform: DiscoverCars – one of the best rated sites.
- Choose a car that is comfortable enough (distances can be long) but compact (some parking lots and villages are narrow).
- Think of thecomplete insurance (some roads are tortuous and narrow).
- There is a lot of demand, book it early.
Where to park?
- Driving in Etretat is not fun. Many of the streets are narrow and one-way, and it is a very busy tourist area.
- They are trying to improve the system
- Outside of weekends and holidays, you can try to get into the city to park, but I warn you that you may be looking for a while.
- You can also stop at one of the parking lots outside of town – it will take you a little longer to walk downhill: 10 minutes from the parking lots at the entrance to the city to the seaside
During the tourist season, there is a small road train that makes a loop between the parking lots, the beach and the chapel / gardens at the top of the northern cliffs – this is called: The little train of Etretat
Tips for visits
- I recommend a minimum of 2 days. You want to have 2 opportunities to explore at low tide to check both sides of the cliffs
- Bring good shoes for hiking on the beaches and cliffs
- The beach is made of pebbles, which is not to everyone’s taste…
- It’s the north of France, so the water is never really warm
- Book your accommodation early – it’s a beautiful and very popular place!
- Don’t miss the sunset
- Plan your days around the tide – check the tide schedules here
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Where to stay in Etretat – hotels and restaurants
Where to sleep in Etretat – hotels and restaurants
There are many options to choose from with hotels, bed and breakfasts, lodges and many rentals.
For a more complete review, see our article on where to sleep in Etretat.
Otherwise here are some options:
- Historical and luxury – looking for something unique, with an elegant and cocooning atmosphere?
Discover the hotel Le Donjon Domaine Saint Clair – see our review of our stay // see prices, photos and availability
- Hotel –
The most emblematic hotel is the Dormy House on the cliffs, with magnificent views and a panoramic restaurant.
see pictures and availability
- Apartment with view
you can also choose one of the sea view rentals like The Best View with large windows to immerse yourself in the view
see pictures and availability
- Or see all the best rated accommodations in Etretat (mainly rentals)
And for a luxurious stay in the nearby countryside, discover the hotel Les Pins de César. A very nice place to relax and breathe deeply in the middle of the trees.
See prices, pictures and availability
Where to eat in Etretat
Our favorite restaurants at the moment are:
- The Bel-Ami for a bistronomic
- The Restaurant of the Domaine Saint-Clair for a gastronomic
- Dormy House Restaurant
- The Golf Restaurant for the view!
For a more complete review, check out our article on where to eat in Etretat.
Explore the center – some buildings to see
Étretat is famous for its natural surroundings.
In terms of architecture, Etretat is not the place to visit in Normandy (like Honfleur) but it does offer some interesting buildings
The center is not big, you can easily walk around to enjoy the few central streets.
4. Covered Market
Let’s start with the market place. It is a closed place called “Covered Market”. Today, there are souvenir stores.
It is a wooden structure dating from 1926. Before, a farm was located here.
5. Manor of the Salamander
The most impressive building in the city center is located between the Casino and the Market Square. Don’t forget to look up!
It’s a rather intriguing building with wood, colored shingles and a strange shape. It was built by copying a medieval house from another town (the Plantefor house in Lisieux) which was destroyed in 1899. It is not an exact replica, but it has retained the general appearance.
You will find some other half-timbered houses typical of Normandy, but also many two-colored brick houses of the 20th century, also typical of the region.
7. The 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 confused with the famous chapel on top of the cliff).
It is not one of the tourist places. However, it is a typical Romanesque and Gothic church with few decorations.
8. The castle of Aygues
Étretat also has a small castle. Two queens of Spain have enjoyed this place on several occasions.
It was built in the mid-19th century and overlooks the city. It is now a protected historical building.
It can be visited in the afternoon in summer, but it may be closed some weeks. Contact them first to see if they are open(see their facebook page)
Walk and beach of Etretat
9. Walk along the beach
The whole city revolves around the beach. The waterfront is bounded by high, straight cliffs on either side.
There is a wide walkway to get from one end to the other with beautiful views in all directions.
Or you can go down to the beach itself.
Just be aware that it is a pebble beach, so if you are not used to it, it might not be so easy to walk on. Although the pebbles are not as big asin Le Havre, I find it a little easier.
I recommend you to visit it at low tide and at high tide, because it looks completely different. One of the most beautiful beaches of Normandy.
10. Appreciate the impressionism of landscapes
These views have inspired many artists, especially the impressionists like Claude Monet.
Take a break and enjoy the show. It’s even better with a few clouds!
And don’t miss the sunset!
Falaise d’Aval and Aiguille Creuse – what to see in Étretat
Now let’s get serious and go explore those cliffs.
Let’s start with the southern cliffs, known as the “Falaise d’Aval”.
11. Climbing the side of the cliff
There are no roads leading to it, so no tourist trains to help you. You have to walk.
From the beach promenade, there is a staircase up the cliffs before reaching the walking path.
However, if you want to avoid these stairs, you can choose to walk down the street of Dr. de Miramont from the parking lot and you can reach the first observation platform with 0 steps.
The climb to the top is steep but not long. Make the effort, it’s worth it!
On the way to the top, you will find two observation platforms where you can enjoy the city, the beach and the northern cliffs.
You will also notice the old oyster farm below you (it dates from the 18th century and Marie-Antoinette loved these oysters).
12. Around the Aiguille Creuse
Once at the top, you can explore the surroundings of the hollow needle.
Here, the cliffs are 80 m high. And there are views in all directions.
This is the closest you can get to these spiky formations that have been turned into a fort. You can take a second bridge to access a small cave called “The damsel room”. Legends of ghosts surround it.
From the top of the Porte d’Aval, you also have a beautiful view of the other giant arch of Etretat: Manneporte.
And if you continue walking south, you will have a better view of the sea, known as L’Aiguille creuse.
It is 55 m high (for the moment, but the erosion continues).
It became famous thanks to the adventures of the fictional character Arsène Lupin, invented by Maurice Leblanc. He was supposed to have hidden a treasure inside.
13. Continue to the top of Manneporte
We recommend that you continue walking a little further south. Until Manneporte.
You can walk over it.
This is the best place to appreciate the needle and the main arch of Etretat, in my opinion.
And if you look in the opposite direction, you can see more cliffs and on a clear day, you can notice the Antifer lighthouse in the distance.
14. Bottom step to the cave “Trou de l’Homme
ATTENTION – access to the “Trou de l’Homme” is now forbidden.
At low tide, you can also explore these formations at water level. Always start your walk at least 1 hour before low tide to have time to return.
You will first reach the oyster park and then, by a ladder, you will be able to go up a little and reach the “manhole” cave where a man survived after a shipwreck in 1792.
This hiking path also allows you to pass under the cliff and access the next beach with an impressive view of Manneporte.
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Falaise d’Amont – Chapel and Gardens of Etretat
Now let’s go north. It’s a completely different experience.
How do I get on?
Once again, we have to go up. The road is now closed to all but the people who live here.
You have 3 options:
- Take the tourist train in summer
- Take the walking path that starts at the end of the waterfront (with steep stairs)
- Walk on the road via Jules Gerbeau street and then Damilaville avenue (no stairs, steep but less than the walking path)
At the top, you can enjoy the most famous view but also some attractions.
15. Chapel of Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde
This chapel is often the one that 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, it 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 a chapel for the sailors who protect them from the top of the cliffs. Notice the fish-shaped gargoyles.
One of the most beautiful chapels in Normandy(see our list).
16. Admire the view
From the front of the chapel, you have a splendid view of the beach with the gray pebbles, the town on the left and the southern cliffs on the right with the first arch and the needle. I can sit there for hours looking at the view!
16. Monument to Nungesser and Coli
Another attraction next to the chapel is the Monument dedicated to Nungesser and Coli. They were war heroes of French aviation and attempted the first non-stop flight between Paris and New York. But their plane L’Oiseau Blanc disappeared in 1927. And its history remains a mystery.
This 24 m spire was erected in 1963. And in my opinion, it fits perfectly with the church tower and the cliff top.
18. Visit the Gardens of Etretat
Then I recommend you to visit the gardens of Etretat. This attraction combines art and nature.
You’ll find a historic collection of Madame Thébault’s plants, beautiful trees and thought-provoking artwork.
I think the most famous (and most photographed) are the “Raindrops”. These are 7 sculptures by artist Samuel Salcedo that focus on the range of human emotions.
19. Continue the adventure by going down the cliff
Then you can continue walking north to enjoy the cliffs.
After a few minutes of walking, you will find a staircase.
If the weather is clear, and even if you don’t go all the way down, I recommend that you go down to the first observation platform (if you think you can get back up).
Why? Because you can see the coast and its cliffs quite far. That’s pretty impressive.
However, from now on, I must stop you.
If you want to continue this adventure, know that :
1. You should only go there at low tide
2. You must be ready to go through a tunnel and down a ladder and a pebble wall to get back to town (or back 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 it, I recommend you to explore this side. If you move forward, there is a great view of the North Arch (which I must have missed because I was alone and was afraid my ankles weren’t strong enough for the terrain – I often twist them).
After enjoying the view, it’s time to walk back to town.
You can cross the tunnel under the cliff. It is called “Cauldron tunnel”. The entrance looks low, but you don’t have to bend over much afterwards.
Then there is a ladder to reach the beach and a wall of pebbles to reach the water level. If you don’t trust the pebbles, sit down.
20. The northern end of the beach – “The Elephant”.
And then you reach the northern end of the beach (which you can also reach by walking on the beach).
Take the time to admire the cliff at this point.
It is massive and you can see the layers very well.
The author Guy de Maupassant described it as a “giant elephant” with its trunk plunging into the water.
And when you return to the city, the views are magnificent.
Remember that there is always a risk of falling rocks near the cliff.
Activities and museums – what to visit in Étretat
What else to do in Etretat ? Let’s take a look at the activities and museums to visit in the city.
21. Heritage Museum
- Located at the top of the northern cliff, near the chapel
- Discover the history of Etretat from the first inhabitants to the Vikings, the oysters of Marie-Antoinette, the plan of Napoleon and its modern history with the Second World War.
- Open from mid-June to mid-September from 10:00 am to 12:30 pm and from 3:00 pm to 6:00 pm and some other weeks out of season.
- Next to it is the monument to Nungesser and Coli and the shape of the plane on the ground.
22. Clos Arsène Lupin
- Located on rue Guy de Maupassant (3min walk from the market)
- Interior of Maurice Leblanc’s house
- Enjoy a 7-step program to discover Maurice Leblanc, the author, and Arsène Lupin, his famous character – Lights, sounds… room after room, you discover their world of mysteries.
- See the opening hours here
Water sports – Kayak, Paddle
You can also go exploring the cliffs by water with kayaks or paddle boats.
23. The Golf of Etretat
Etretat is home to a magnificent cliff-top golf course with splendid views!
And you can have a little fun at the casino.
It has slot machines and tables, as well as a restaurant overlooking the sea.
25. More hikes
On both sides of Etretat, I have shown you the cliffs near the town. However, you can continue walking on both sides to discover other views.
26. The bicycle-rail
There is a tourist bicycle-rail that runs in summer between Les Loges and Etretat (12 km round trip). If you want to take the time to enjoy the valley. Read more
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Visit Etretat with children
Planning to visit Etretat with children? Here are the best activities in my opinion
- Cliffs – They should enjoy exploring the cliffs, but make sure they are reasonable. Cliffs can be dangerous, and chalk is not the strongest. Do not go near the edge.
- Museum – Le Clos Arsène Lupin is a fun adventure and the character has always been a favorite of children
- Garden – The gardens on the northern cliffs might also be a good choice, as they resemble a labyrinth
- Airplane – while standing at the top of the North Cliffs, next to the museum, you can see the mortar ground plane representing the White Bird
- 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 school vacations
- Adventure in the trees – 5 km from Etretat, you can enjoy an acrobatic course in the forest (including a 220 m zip line) – programs from 3 years old.
- Family adventure – rent a bicycle-rail to explore the 12 km return line between the stations of Etretat and Les Loges – departure at Les Loges.
Weekend in Etretat and excursions for vacations
A weekend in Etretat
If you only have a weekend or a long weekend in Etretat, we advise you to focus on the town and its cliffs.
Enjoy the different walks and perspectives.
First, check the tide times and organize your stay according to these times.
Vacations in Etretat
If you are lucky enough to spend more time in Etretat, there are other attractions in the area that are well worth a visit.
- Antifer – The beach of Saint Jouin – for another perspective on the cliffs, discover the wider beach of Jouin, next to the port of Antifer.
- Le Havre – 30 minutes away, the experience is totally different. Visit this Unesco site where art blends with a special architecture invented by Auguste Perret for the post-war reconstruction. See our article
- Yport – 30min away, one of our favorite village with its 2 colors houses
- Fécamp – 30min away, you can explore the town of Fécamp with exquisite buildings like the Benedictine and a long history of sailing (and its museum) – see our article on Fécamp
- 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 appreciate the Pont de Normandie – see our article
- Veules les Roses – 1 hour away, it is considered as one of the most beautiful villages of Normandy – see our article
- Parc de Clères – if you want to see some animals, go to the park. It is 1h10min drive.
- and so many other walks and gardens, abbeys,…