Understanding the Seasons in Normandy
Normandy is located in northwestern France. Thanks to the close proximity of the Atlantic Ocean—much of the region is coastal—the climate is mild, with humidity and precipitation throughout the year. Expect a cool summer, rainy autumn, mild but wet winter, and a sunny spring that brings a profusion of colorful flowers to Normandy. June, July, and August are the warmest months, but temperatures rarely climb higher than the 70s. Any time of year, it's wise to dress in layers and bring rain gear.
Summer (and to some extent, late spring and early fall) is peak season for tourism in the region. Crowds are especially large on summer weekends and in August, when French residents go on vacation. Without a doubt, the busiest time of year is in early June: the D-Day Anniversary on June 6th brings major crowds to Normandy's beaches. Winter is the quietest time to visit, but avoid January if you're interested in museums, as many take their annual break in the post-Christmas weeks.
Visiting Normandy in Summer (June - August)
Summer is peak season for tourism in August. It's vacation time for European and North American tourists alike, so expect big crowds at major attractions in the region, especially on weekends and particularly in June, when annual commemorative events take over the D-Day Beaches.
Keep in mind that August is the busiest time of the year in terms of domestic tourism: French people take their vacations then, and hotel prices are inflated. You'll want to book tours ahead of time, too, as a lot of tourists are competing for a limited number of spaces.
Luckily, this section of the coastline stays cooler than many other areas of France. First-time visitors may be surprised to learn that even in the middle of summer, temperatures hover in the sixties in Normandy, climbing up into the lower 70s during the warmest part of the day. You should bring a jacket and a hat and dress in layers, especially if you're planning on spending a lot of your time in and around the beaches.
Pair sightseeing with gourmet meals—fresh oysters and locally produced wine, anyone?—on this luxury trip that combines Normandy and Brittany.
June 6 - D-Day Anniversary. Major commemorations take place on the anniversary of the 1944 D-Day Landings and the Battle of Normandy.
July 14 - Fête Nationale. Known as Bastille Day to foreigners, this national holiday is celebrated throughout France with fireworks and revelry.
Visiting Normandy in Fall (September - November)
Autumn is a fairly wet season in Normandy, particularly moving into October and November, which also bring chillier temperatures. In September, you'll see a fair amount of sunshine and highs in the sixties, but expect increased precipitation and average temperatures in the lower 50s and 40s as the days roll on. Bring an umbrella and a rain jacket, and a coat, too, depending on when you go.
On the flip side, if you're willing to take a chance on the weather, you'll see far fewer crowds in Normandy during fall. This can be an advantage for sightseeing and for visiting the region's famous cider-producing areas. Still, September is your best bet for decent weather, fewer crowds, and reasonable hotel rates.
Traveling with kids? Check out this family-friendly trip around Normandy, Brittany, and western France.
September - Normandy Impressionist Festival. The culmination of a months-long fair ends with art-focused parties and special events.
September 21 & 22 - European Heritage Days. Historic monuments and buildings all over Normandy open their doors to the public.
Visiting Normandy in Winter (December - February)
Winter is chilly and wet in Normandy. December is the region's rainiest month, and January is the coldest month, with temperatures hovering in the 30s. Snow is rare; when it happens, it's usually a light dusting of snow that turns into rain. In contrast, February is the driest month of the year in Normandy.
Needless to say, hotel rates are down at this time of the year, and many tourist sites—especially those along the beaches—aren't crowded. But you'll find that many small businesses, like family-run restaurants and shops, close up for the winter, and many museums close their doors in January. These are key factors to consider, depending on what you want to do. But it's also the cheapest time of the year to visit, and by far the least crowded.
Consider visiting Normandy on a longer itinerary around France that includes stops in Bordeaux, the Loire Valley, and Paris.
December - January - Christmas & New Year. Throughout December, festive events pop up around the region, including a major parade in Rouen and special lighting displays in smaller villages.
Visiting Normandy in Spring (March - June)
In terms of both weather and crowds, spring in Normandy is similar to fall. Luckily, it's not as rainy: you're likely to see sunnier days and fewer rainstorms. (Luckily, the fall and winter precipitation comes with a major reward: one huge advantage of visiting Normandy in spring is the abundance of flowers that bloom throughout the region.) You'll experience average temperatures in the fifties in April and May, with the thermometer pushing up into the sixties in June. Dress in layers and wear sunblock, even on cloudy days.
You'll see a good number of international tourists and French weekenders in spring, especially later in the season when temperatures start getting warmer. Still, this is a good time to visit popular destinations like Mont Saint-Michel, which can get uncomfortably busy in summer. If saving money is important to you, consider a trip in March or April, before the region's most popular tourist season gets started and hotel rates start to rise.
On this five-day itinerary geared to history buffs and beach lovers, you'll be based in Bayeux and see many of the region's top sights.
May - Jazz Sous les Pommiers (Jazz Under the Apple Trees). A major jazz festival that's been happening annually for decades.
May - Mont-Saint-Michel Bay Marathon. It's hard to imagine a more scenic setting for a marathon than this one around Mont-Saint-Michel Bay.
Beating the Crowds During Normandy's High Season
You'll be able to explore D-Day beaches and museums in peace and quiet if you visit in winter—but you'll have to deal with the cold weather and rain. Summer offers great weather but major crowds, and the same applies to many weekends between May and September.
Chances are, you'll be visiting during the region's warmer months. Your best plan is to reserve hotel rooms and tours ahead of time, and to get an early start when you're there: many vacationers don't book early-morning excursions, so if you're willing to get a jump start on the day, you'll be able to avoid the busiest times of day, especially on D-Day beaches. If you don't want to be in town around June 6th for the D-Day commemorations, plan your trip around avoiding those dates: you'll save money and avoid the biggest crowds of the year.
Check out this itinerary that takes you to Normandy's smaller towns and coastal villages, which are generally great places to get away from the tour bus crowds.
Conclusion: When is the best time to visit Normandy?
If history is your thing, June 6th is the best time to visit Normandy. You'll have major crowds to contend with, and you'll need to book your accommodations well ahead of time, but the annual D-Day commemorations are unique and worthwhile. But if you're not intent on being present for that event, steer clear of Normandy in early June and plan your trip for late May or September, when you'll have decent weather, reasonably sized crowds, and affordable hotel rates. July is busy but the weather is good. October through January is the wettest and chilliest time of year to visit, but spring, with its beautiful flowers and sunny days, can be a great time to go.