5 things to do in Bayeux

Mention the name "Bayeux" and you instantly think "Tapestry", but there is much more to discover in this ancient Norman city in addition to its show-stopping treasure. Read on to find out all about the things to do in Bayeux on your trip to Northern France
The river embankment of Bayeux. Photo: Shutterstock
The river embankment of Bayeux. Photo: Shutterstock

Normandy, in Northern France, is rich with attractions of historic significance, and the city of Bayeux is home to some of the most show-stopping sights

This summer, I visited Bayeux to see the famed Bayeux Tapestry, the 70-metre-long depiction of the events leading up to and including the Battle of Hastings, which marked the Norman Invasion of England over 950 years ago. This amazing sight would be worth the trip on its own, but I was delighted by the city itself. I discovered that there are several must-see sights and things to do in Bayeux, from savouring traditional Norman fare to visiting places of both uplifting and sombre reflection. Our Northern France Tour: City to Coast trip package includes a day and night in Bayeux – read on for my suggestions for the five best things to do with your time here.

1. Marvel at the Bayeux Tapestry

Bayeux’s unique treasure, of course, is the Bayeux Tapestry, superbly ­presented in the Centre Guillaume-le-Conquérant, with a museum to set the historical context. Visitors walk along the carefully-displayed cloth, listening to personal audio commentary in their own language. The Bayeux Tapestry is one of the earliest and most vivid examples of visual propaganda. Almost certainly made in England in the 1070s and commissioned by Odo of Bayeux to hang in his new cathedral, it presents the Norman case for William’s right to be King of England. Earl Harold, the Saxon claimant, is shown being sent to Normandy by King Edward the Confessor to tell William he is his chosen successor. Harold then fights alongside William in Brittany, and swears on holy relics to support William as king, so that by then claiming the throne himself he broke a sacred oath and committed a crime against God. The scenes then gather pace, with superb visual verve, to climax in William’s victory at Hastings. How much is entirely true is impossible to know, since no contrary Saxon version exists. 

Beyond the main events, the great fascination of the Tapestry (really an embroidery) lies in all the details it gives of 11th-century life: the way ships are built, the gathering of stores for the invasion, the moustaches of the English, the peasants stripping clothes off the dead after the battle. The margins at top and bottom of the main panel are filled with all kinds of images, of peasant life, strange animals, legends, before the dead and the dying from the main panel spill over into them in the dramatic final scenes.

This is a must-do for any visitor to Bayeux – especially history buffs – and will be a highlight of your trip to Normandy.

Detail of the Bayeux Tapestry, which depicts the Norman invasion of England in the 11th Century.Detail of the Bayeux Tapestry, which depicts the Norman invasion of England in the 11th Century. Photo: Shutterstock


2. Dine on Norman cuisine

Bayeux is filled with charming restaurants, bistros and wine caves, generally serving a sampling of Normandy's delightful specialities (mainly involving cheese, cider, apples, terrine, seafood...) or you can grab a galette (local buckwheat crepe) on the go. For a traditional meal, Le Pommier is a great choice – the dishes make use of local ingredients and the setting is stylish, plus they offer a good menu du jour. Get further recommendations from Insight Guides' local expert for France, when you book your trip.

3. Feel your spirit soar in the Cathedral

The glorious Bayeux Cathedral, consecrated by Odo, Bishop of Bayeux and William’s troublesome half-brother, in 1077, has one of the most beautifully serene of Norman naves. The Cathedral is a mix of Norman-Romanesque and Gothic architecture, but the unified whole is quite magnificent. For me, the highlight was a trip into the crypt – it dates from the 9th century and was only rediscovered in the 15th century. The weight of history and chill air made this quite an evocative place. As entry is free, it's easy to include a visit here, spending as much or little time as you like, on your day exploring the city (as you can experience for yourself on Day 6 of our Northern France trip).

Bayeux Notre-Dame Cathedral. Bayeux Notre-Dame Cathedral. Photo: Shutterstock

4. Pay homage at the World War II memorials

Bayeux had the great fortune to fall to British troops on 7 June, and so emerged near-unscathed as a model Norman country town, with medieval and 18th-century houses on its long main street. But the D-Day landings took place on the beaches just north of the city and as such, this is the ideal place to start a tour of historic places of interest. Our half-day excursion to the Allied landing beaches along the Normandy coast is the perfect way to access these evocative sites, and contemplate the scale of the operations that led to the liberation of France in 1944, especially poignant after a visit to the Bayeux Tapestry, with its depiction of the Norman conquest of England.

On the south side of Bayeux is the largest Commonwealth War Cemetery in Normandy, and the Musée-Mémorial de la Bataille de Normandie, which those closely interested in the events of the campaign will find very informative.

The Omaha Beach.

The Omaha Beach. Photo: Shutterstock

5. Venture into the Pays d'Auge

An alternative to exploring the D-Day landing beaches is to take our half-day private excursion into the Pays d'Auge region, south of Bayeux, to explore the gastronomy of the region. This is cheese, cidre and calvados country, and the country roads are dotted with local producers offering the chance to try it all. It is definitely best to have the driver provided on our excursion, so that everyone in your party can sample the potent calvados (warning: strong!) and light, crisp cider. Three of the great Norman cheeses are also from here: Pont l’Evêque, Livarot and Camembert, plus there are delicious hams, terrines and cured meats for the carnivores among you.

Of all the idyllic green landscapes in Normandy, nowhere are the leaves more lush, the valleys more softly curving or the cows more contented-looking than in the Pays d’Auge. You can be sure you'll be sated as you bid au revoir to Bayeux and the region, vowing to return again soon.

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