Bayeux is a charming French town with a Gothic 11th-century cathedral, cobblestone streets and a lovely main street with cafes, wine shops, boutiques and patisseries. There are so many wonderful things to do in Bayeux, and it’s a city of significant historical importance. It became well known as the first major town in mainland France to be liberated by the Allies in the Second World War. Before the war, the Bayeux Tapestry, the nearly 68-meter embroidered cloth depicting William the Conqueror and Harold II’s “battle for the throne,” served as the town’s claim to fame.
I must admit I hadn’t heard of Bayeux until researching the best places to stay in Normandy for our trip to Normandy. Because it’s only 10 kilometers from the coast, Bayeux makes the perfect home base for visiting the landing and battle sites. Within the town, there is so much to be explored and discovered, too. So, here is how to fill your travel itinerary in Bayeux when you’re not exploring the nearby D-Day landing sites.
Museum of the Bayeux Tapestry
Imagine going to Paris and not getting even a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower. It is the same scenario for the Bayeux Tapestry! Although I didn’t understand the significance of the Tapestry before arriving in Bayeux, I went to the museum as any good visitor would do, and now I understand the hype. It blew me away!
What is the Bayeux Tapestry?
The Tapestry of Bayeux is a 68-meter-long embroidered cloth that tells the story of William the Conqueror and Harry II’s battle for the throne of England that ultimately led to the Battle of Hastings and the Norman conquest of England in 1066. Historians have various theories of who created the tapestry, but nearly all agree it was created shortly after the conquest. Regardless of the origin, this masterpiece is still in relatively good condition nearly a thousand years later!
Bayeux Tapestry Museum
To preserve the tapestry, the curators keep it delicately hung up in a dim room in a museum. Pick up an audio guide to learn what each scene represents and to better understand the battle for the throne. After viewing the tapestry, which takes approximately 15-20 minutes, visit the second floor for exhibits depicting life during that period and replicas of Viking armor and ships.
Check the museum’s website for updated opening hours. Note the museum closes during the month of January!
Bayeux Tapestry in the Second World War
One of the most irking (and yet remarkable) facts about the tapestry is that the Nazis became obsessed with it during the Second World War. Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS, believed the tapestry portrayed Germanic origins. Throughout the French occupation, the tapestry was constantly unrolled to be studied and frequently moved to new locations. The Nazis moved the tapestry to the Louvre in Paris, and Himmler planned to move it to Germany.
However, he met a strong French resistance, and following the war, the tapestry returned to Bayeux. It’s a miracle the delicate tapestry is still intact! The museum touches on this period, but this website from History Extra dives much deeper into Himmler’s ideology and interest in the tapestry.
Related Reading: If you like museums, check out this travel itinerary to Madrid, a city home to some of the world’s best museums.
The town’s cathedral, Cathedral of Our Lady of Bayeux (also known as the Notre-Dame Cathedral), was constructed in the 11th century and consecrated by William the Conqueror. The intricate gothic exterior is equally as impressive as the interior’s exquisite stained-glass windows and massive columns. Be sure to visit the crypt while inside and walk the entire perimeter when outside. There is a lovely courtyard (with a very old tree) adjacent to the cathedral. The cathedral is also the original home of the Bayeux Tapestry.
Bayeux Cathedral Light Show
If you are visiting Bayeux late November through December, the tourism office hosts a free “Tapestry of Bayeux” light show in the cathedral on Saturday evenings. This 30-minute digital show brings the tapestry to life with animation and narration. The show is in French, but if you visit the Bayeux Tapestry Museum beforehand, you will be able to follow along. It’s completely free, with no reservations necessary!
Related Reading: If you love cathedrals, check out the La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.
Bayeux War Cemetery
The Bayeux War Cemetery (Cimetière Militaire Britannique de Bayeux) is a military cemetery with more than 4,600 burials of servicepeople from the Second World War. While most of the servicepeople buried here served the British, a few are from other countries, such as France, Poland, Russia and even Germany. Across the street is a memorial for unknown and missing British soldiers from the war.
Bayeux Reporters Memorial
The Bayeux Reporters Memorial (Mémorial des Reporters de Bayeux) is a touching tribute to journalists killed in military conflicts and/or related to their work. Rectangular stones line the garden’s walking path and list each journalist’s name and the year of their death. Personally, visiting the memorial was a somber experience – I walked through it with my favorite journalist, my husband.
Memorial Museum of the Battle of Normandy
The Memorial Museum of the Battle of Normandy (Musee Memorial 1944 Bataille de Normandie) is close to both the Bayeux War Cemetery and the Bayeux Reporters Memorial. The museum displays several military tanks from the Second World War outside with the description of their function and usage in both French and English. And it’s free!
Place Charles de Gaulle
This square is a lovely place to pass through while wandering the Old Town. There is a fountain at the center with several historical markers about the area. French general Charles de Gaulle spoke here on June 14, 1944, just a week after British forces entered Bayeux, the first major town in mainland France to be liberated.
Historical Walking Tour in Bayeux
Pick up a map from the Bayeux tourism office and head out for a self-guided walking tour. Numbered, bronze-colored historical plaques, in English and French, mark key places around town.
Walking Trail Along Aure River
The walking trail follows the river and takes you from the Old Town’s city center out to the countryside. It’s an enjoyable walk when the weather is nice. Be sure to pass by the historic windmill in the center of town!
Related Reading: If you love being outdoors (hiking, skiing, etc.), check out this travel guide to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, a town just an hour from Munich, Germany.
Restaurants in Bayeux
One of many reasons to stay in Bayeux is the fantastic restaurants and cafes in town. Be sure to try food and beverages produced in the Normandy region. This includes calvados (which is similar to brandy), cider, stinky soft cheeses (such as camembert) and shellfish. Many dishes incorporate apples as well.
Les Volets Roses
Do as the French do and partake in an afternoon tea at this colorful tea house, located just outside the cathedral. A sweet-as-can-be mother/daughter duo runs the shop! It is open on Sunday afternoons, too, which is rare in Bayeux.
Le Volet Qui Penche
Dining in a wine cellar? Yes, please! This wine shop doubles as a restaurant. There is a daily set menu (appetizer, entree and dessert), although you can order a few a la carte menu items should you prefer. There is no shortage of wine, and the service is excellent.
Head to the local bar in town and drink French beers on tap with all the locals. They serve light tapas, too. Definitely check it out!
Should you prefer cooking a few meals at your accommodations in Bayeux, Carrefour Express is a grocery store in the center of the Old Town. You will also find plenty of local specialty shops for meat, cheese, wine, chocolate and bread! On Saturday mornings, head to the farmers’ market in Place Saint Patrice. Vendors sell produce, fish, meat, clothes, jewelry, crepes and even prepared meals. If you enjoy street food, you will find a good breakfast or lunch here.
Related Reading: Many travelers visit Paris before or after their time in Bayeux. Check out this guide to navigating Paris for the first time.
Bayeux Travel Tips
What is the closest airport to Bayeux?
The closest airport to Bayeux is the Carpiquet Airport in Caen. However, most international travelers will likely fly into Paris.
How to get to Bayeux from Paris?
If you have an international flight into Paris, the easiest way to reach Bayeux is by train, bus or car. If you want a car for exploring outside of Bayeux, I recommend taking the train from Paris to Caen (which is a town over from Bayeux).
Paris to Bayeux by Train
There is a direct train from Paris to Bayeux. The journey is just under two hours and 20 minutes, and it leaves from the Paris St-Lazare train station. This is the same departure point for trains to Caen.
Paris to Bayeux by Car
If you rent a car in Paris, the journey is approximately three hours, though traffic may affect your trip. Renting a car in Paris gives you the flexibility to stop along the way. Versailles and Giverny aren’t too far off the main route!
Paris to Bayeux by Bus
Typically cheaper than the train (but a longer journey), FlixBus offers transport from Paris to Caen. From Caen, you can take a 15-minute bus or train ride to Bayeux. There are several departure spots in Paris, so pick the one closest to your accommodations.
Related: If you are planning a multi-city trip or traveling abroad long-term, review this travel planning checklist to make sure you are prepared before takeoff.
Where to stay in Bayeux?
There are plenty of places to stay in Bayeux, including hotels, apartments, B&Bs and even campsites. You can view all available options with Booking. Thankfully, the town is very small, so you will be in a good location no matter where you stay. The Old Town is just a short 10-minute walk from the Bayeux train station.
Apartments in Bayeux
We booked a stay at the “Au cœur du centre historique” apartment. It was the perfect location, and the hosts were so welcoming and friendly. The kitchen had everything we needed for cooking meals, the apartment was cozy and the Wi-Fi was fast. Of course, there are plenty of other exceptional apartments with rave reviews, like the Le 32 Bis and Miss Valade of Bayeux.
Hotels in Bayeux
The Villa Lara Hotel is the only five-star hotel in Bayeux. While there are many other luxurious hotels outside of the city, this is the one to choose if you want to be in Bayeux (which you do, of course!). There are highly-rated hotels that are much more affordable, such as Hotel Domaine de Bayeux, Hôtel d’Argouges and Churchill Hotel.
Do they take credit cards in Bayeux?
Nearly everywhere we went accepted Visa and Mastercard. American Express isn’t as common.
What is the currency in France?
France uses the Euro as its currency.
What to pack for Bayeux?
There you go! Your itinerary should now be packed with things to do Bayeux. A trip to Normandy is a lifechanging experience – enjoy it.