Visiting France - Things To Know

Normandy is made up of 5 departments: Calvados (Capital: Caen), Manche (Capital: Saint-Lô), Orne (Capital: Alençon), Eure (Capital: Évreux) and Seine Maritime (Capital: Rouen). It has over 350 miles of coastline including sandy beaches steeped in history. Like the south of England, Normandy has a varied climate with the best time to visit between May and mid-October. Of course, if you are interested in getting the richest of D-Day experiences then the first week of June is definitely the time to go.

Much of the information here is applicable to visiting France in general, but for obvious reasons certain information will be more specific to Normandy and the areas relevant to D-Day and the Battle of Normandy. You can click the links below to jump straight to a specific topic:




Important Information

Passport Requirements
As a member of the EU but outside of the Schengen Area, British Citizens will need a valid passport for each person travelling. The passports must be valid for the whole period including outward and return journeys undertaken. Following BREXIT and the decision to leave from the European Union, future requirements may change and we will endeavour to update the advice here as more information becomes available.

Medical Insurance
All foreigners travelling to France must hold a valid medical travel insurance policy.

European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)
The EHIC is a free card that can be applied from EHIC.org . Those carrying the card are insured/covered by a statutory social security scheme of the EEA countries, which enables the holder to receive medical treatment in another member state free or at reduced cost. The card only covers healthcare which is normally covered by a statutory health care system in the visited country, so it does not render travel insurance obsolete. Please note EHIC cards have an expiry date and are generally valid for up to five years.

General Government Advice
With the increase in terrorist attacks in Europe recently it may also be of some use to monitor the Foreign Office travel advice website.

Mobile Phones
If you are planning on remaining accessible via your UK mobile phone while in France, make sure the phone is connected to French networks for both incoming and outgoing calls. N.B: It is illegal (as well as dangerous) to use a mobile phone while driving a car or vehicle. If spending a lot of time in France it is worth considering purchasing a local SIM card.



France By Sea

There are numerous ways to get from the UK to the Normandy region of France - including sea, air and through the tunnel with onward travel by road or rail. Living in the South of England we are extremely lucky to be just a 20 minute drive from the Portsmouth and so are regular travellers on car ferries.

All information is correct as of January 2017 but subject to change. Whilst offering this guide DDay.Center assumes no responsibility for the details provided. We advise all users to check details with the service provider directly.

Brittany Ferries Duration Sailings Comments
Portsmouth - Caen Up to 3 sailing per day 6-7 hours Cruise ferry
Portsmouth - Cherbourg 1 sailing per day 3 hours Fast ferry (May to October only)
Portsmouth - Le Havre 1 sailing per day 9 hours (overnight) Economy ferry
Poole - Cherbourg 1 sailing per day 5 hours Cruise ferry
Portsmouth - St Malo 1 sailing per day 12 hours (overnight) Cruise ferry
Plymouth - Roscoff 1-2 sailings per day 6-8 hours (overnight) Cruise ferry

   Check-In Times for Brittany Ferries:
   By Car: No later than 45 minutes before the departure time on the booking confirmation.
   By Car with a Pet: No later than 1 hour before the departure time on the booking confirmation.
   By Foot: No later than 40 minutes before the departure time on the booking confirmation.



DFDS Seaways Duration Sailings Comments
Dover - Dunkirk Up to 12 sailing per day 2 hours Ticket includes car and up to 9 people. Multi-trip tickets available.
Dover - Calais Up to 15 sailings per day 90 minutes Ticket includes car and up to 9 people. Multi-trip tickets available.
Newhaven - Dieppe 2 sailings per day 4 hours Ticket includes car and up to 2 people

   Check-In Times for DFDS:
   By Car: No later than 45 minutes before the departure time on the booking confirmation.
   By Car with a Pet: No later than 1 hour before the departure time on the booking confirmation.
   By Foot: No later than 40 minutes before the departure time on the booking confirmation.



P&O Ferries Duration Sailings Comments
Dover - Dunkirk Up to 23 sailings per day 90 minutes Flexible tickets available

   Check-In Times for P&O Ferries:
   By Car: No later than 30 minutes before the departure time on the booking confirmation.
   By Foot: No later than 45 minutes before the departure time on the booking confirmation.


Comparing Deals
If you're looking to travel by ferry to France, or anywhere else in the world for that matter, it is definitely worth visiting what deals are available AFerry.co.uk to see AFerry - Ferry Comparison Website and check alternate routes. From their website you can book a ferry in over 70 countries around the the world - with more than 1,600 routes available with over 100 ferry operators. The site is easy to navigate (better than some ferry operator's own sites, we should add) and as well as pricing and route information there's an FAQ section and also user reviews of dozens of different ferry operators. There is also a free app that can be downloaded for iOS and Android devices. AFerry.co.uk scores highly on Trustpilot, with a rating of 8.2 out of 10 at the time of writing - based on more the 10,500 reviews.

Travelling With Pets
All the ferry companies will accept passengers with pets. A pet passport or third country certificate showing that the pet has been micro-chipped and vaccinated against rabies is required. N.B. Your pet may not leave or re-enter the UK until 21 calendar days have elapsed from the date of the rabies vaccination. The animal must also be a minimum of 12 weeks old before being vaccinated. Rabies boosters must be kept up to date. A muzzle is also compulsory. The links to the pet policies of the three ferry operators mentioned above are listed here:
Brittany Ferries Pet Travel Policy
DFDS Seaways Pet Travel Policy
P&O Ferries Pet Travel Policy



France Through The Tunnel

The Channel Tunnel opened is over 30 miles in length and opened in 1994 after six years of construction. Teams on both sides of the English Channel had been progressing towards eachother since 1988 using advanced tunneling machines. It costs some £5.5 billion The Channel Tunnel is now a popular way for tourists to travel to France and beyond. Two companies operate passenger services through the Tunnel, namely Eurostar and Eurotunnel. Eurostar is a high-speed passenger train service which operates from St Pancras International, Ebbsfleet International and Ashford International going to Paris, Lille, Brussels, Calais, and Disneyland Paris. Eurotunnel operate Le Shuttle, a train service which carries freight and all forms of motor vehicle, including cars, motorcycles, caravans and lorries. The service departs from Folkestone and operates through to Calais.



Eurotunnel Routes (with car)
Folkestone to Calais (with car only) - (4 departures per hour). Duration: 35 minutes
One one ticket covers a car and up to 9 passengers. Pet travel is available

Check-In Times
At least 30 minutes before departure but not more than 2 hours before departure.




Eurostar Routes (passenger)
St Pancreas (London) - Ashford International - Gare du Nord (Paris) - (15-17 departures per day). Duration: 135 minutes
Pet travel is not available but guide dogs are permitted.

Check-In Times
Depends on ticket type but generally 45 minutes prior to departure.



France By Air

From the UK, two operators currently offer services directly into Normandy or Brittany airports (which are the closest to the Landing Beach area). Of course, there are many services offered into other cities, especially Paris.



Flybe Routes
Southend (SEN) to Caen (CFR) - (4 flights per week). Duration: 70 minutes with three ticket types available.

Check-In Times
With hold luggage: No later than 60 minutes before scheduled departure time
With cabin luggage only: No later than 45 minutes before scheduled departure time




Ryanair Routes
London Stanstead (STN) to Deauville Saint Gatien (DOL) - (2 flights per week). Duration: 70 minutes with three ticket types available
East Midlands (EMA) to Dinard (DNR) - (3 flights per week). Duration: 75 minutes with three ticket types available
London Stanstead (STN) to Dinard (DNR) - (3-6 flights per week depending on the time of year). Duration: 70 minutes with three ticket types available

Check-In Times
Online check-in is mandatory unless a Business Plus customer
Pre-purchased seats: Between 30 days and 2 hours before scheduled departure time
Non pre-purchased seats: Between 4 days and 2 hours before scheduled departure time


From the United States and Canada there are a number of non-stop flights to the Paris airports of Charles de Gaulle and Orly. The table below shows from which cities you can fly direct. Visitors from the USA and Canada must have a valid passport, but a visa is not required if staying in Europe for less than 90 days.

From Canada
Montreal Air France, Air Canada, Air Transat
Toronto Air Canada, Air France
Vancouver Air France


From the USA
Atlanta Delta, Air France
Boston Delta, Air France
Chicago United, Delta
Cincinnati Delta
Dallas American
Detroit Delta, Air France
Fort Lauderdale Norwegian
Houston Air France
Los Angeles Aur France, Air Tahiti Nui, Norwegian
Miami American, Air France
Minneapolis Delta
New York City Air France, Delta, American, British Airways, United
Philadelphia American
Raleigh Delta
Salt Lake City Delta
San Francisco Air France, United
Seattle Deltae
Washington, D.C. Air France, United



Driving In France

If driving in France you will need to be aware of the following:

To Be Carried At All Times

  • A valid passport as a form of ID
  • A full driving licence
  • The original log book (V5), or a Vehicle on Hire Certificate (VE103).
  • Insurance documents
  • MOT Certificate
  • Headlight beam converters
  • A warning triangle in the event that you breakdown
  • High visibility vest (for all occupants)
  • Spare bulbs
  • GB sticker (unless the vehicle has a Euro number plate showing "GB")


Speed Limits

Remember, in France distance and speed is measured in kilometres and km/h respectively (see our conversion table below). The speed limits in France can vary depending on the prevailing weather conditions. In dry weather rural 2- or 3-lane roads are limited to 90 km/h, 4-lane expressways (in rural areas) 110 km/h, and highways (in rural areas, when classified as motorway) 130 km/h. When raining, the limits are lowered to (respectively)France speed limits 80, 100, and 110 km/h. Urban speed limit of 50 km/h is unaffected by weather.

The general speed limit is lowered to 50 km/h on all roads in the fog or other low-visibility conditions if visibility is under 50 meters.

French law stipulates that when vehicle are towing a caravan or trailer stickers showing "80" and "90" must be applied to the rear of the vehicle being towed. The "80" sticker must be placed on the bottom left corner of the caravan/trailer and the "90" sticker must be placed above it or to its right. When towing or if driving a motorhome there are additional rules regarding speed. Our table below shows the maximum speeds for different road types depending on the type of vehicle being used.

Note:  Holders of EU driving licences exceeding the speed limit by more than 40 km/h will have their licences confiscated on the spot by the police.


Vehicle Type Motorways Other Roads
Car + Caravan under 3.5t 81mph (130km/h) 56-68mph (90-110km/h)
Car + Caravan over 3.5t 56mph (90km/h) 50-60mph (80-90km/h)
Motorhome under 3.5t 81mph (130km/h) 56-68mph (90-110km/h)
Motorhome over 3.5t 68mph (110km/h) 50-62mph (80-100km/h)


Kilometres/Miles Conversion Table
Km Miles Km Miles Km Miles Km Miles
1 0.6 11 6.8 25 15.5 100 62.1
2 1.2 12 7.4 30 18.6 110 68.3
3 1.8 13 8.0 35 21.7 120 74.5
4 2.4 14 8.6 40 24.8 130 80.7
5 3.1 15 9.3 45 27.9 140 86.9
6 3.7 16 9.9 50 31 150 93.2
7 4.3 17 10.5 60 37.2 200 124.2
8 4.9 18 11.1 70 43.4 250 155.3
9 5.5 19 11.8 80 49.7 500 310.6
10 6.2 20 12.4 90 55.9 750 466


Rules of the Road and Penalties

Traffic travels on the right in France. The French rules for priorité â droite (yield right-of-way), a vehicle entering from the right has priority in cities and towns. Outside these areas, as indicated by a yellow diamond sign, traffic on the more major roads has priority.

- U-turns are not permitted, nor is crossing a solid white line. A flashing red light means do not enter. Driving in bus lanes is prohibited.
- The maximum legal concentration of blood alcohol is 0.5 grams per litre (0.05% Blood Alcohol Level).
- On motorcycles and scooters, helmets are required for both the driver and passenger.

The use of seatbelts is mandatory at all times, and children must be at least age 10 to sit in the front seat. Approved child seats are mandatory for children up to age 4: rear-facing infant seats for children less than 9 months old; child seats for children from 9 months to 4 years old; booster seats for children from 4 to 10 years old.

Fines for traffic violations are collected on the spot in either Euros or travellers' checks. The fines for not wearing seat belts, driving through a red light, driving while intoxicated, and driving without a license are extremely high, and can even include the confiscation of your vehicle.

If you're found responsible for an accident in which someone is injured, you can lose four points and, if someone is killed, six points. For multiple offences (e.g. driving through a red light on the wrong side of the road and killing a pedestrian), you can lose up to eight points. Officially you "only2 lose six points for refusing to take a breathalyzer test or being over the limit, although you will usually have your license withdrawn on the spot and receive a suspension.

Punishment for infringing the rules of the road can be very severe. A new category of offence has recently been created, relating to drivers who "deliberately put the lives of others in danger", for which you can be fined €15,000 and imprisoned for up to three years. If you are found to be responsible for the death of another road user, you can be fined up to €100,000 and imprisoned for up to seven years.

French law prohibits drivers from devices capable of detecting speed cameras and warning drivers of their location (including GPS/Sat-Navs with camera locations stored as points-of-interest). Penalties can include fines of up to €1,500 and confiscation of the offending device. Visit the AA information page regarding radar detectors in France.

More inforation regarding fines and penalty points can be found on the JustLanded website. Drivers have to be careful about straddling or crossing unbroken white lines, driving on the hard shoulder, accelerating whilst being overtaken and even tail-gaiting (which is sometimes monitored from the air). It should be noted, however, that in much of the Calvados and Manche regions of Normandy it seems you can drive around for several days without even seeing a police car.


Traffic Lights

The three-colour system conforms to the provisions of the Convention on Road Signs and Signals (red light on top). There is no amber light after the red light. Quite helpfully, many French traffic lights have a small set of "repeater" lights lower down the pole in eye line of car drivers. Remember:

  • A flashing amber light indicates: caution, slow down, proceed but give way to vehicles coming from the right
  • A flashing red light indicates: "no entry". It may also indicate a level crossing, exit used by fire engines, etc
  • A yellow arrow at the same time as a red light indicates: motorists may proceed in the direction indicated by the arrow, provided they give way to vehicles travelling in the flow of traffic which they are entering and to pedestrians

It is worth noting that if you see a sign at a set of traffic lights saying "Avancez Jusque'au Feu" it means drive right up to the lights. If you don't, the traffic light sensors may not detect your vehicle and you could be sat waiting for the lights to change.


Toll Roads (Péage)

The reason there are so many toll roads in France is simply because, unlike in the UK, the main roads are not owned by the government but instead operated by different private companies. The number and variety of the toll operators does mean that there is little consistency over pricing.France Peage Toll Road sign

If you are staying the in area between Cherbourg and Caen, toll roads won't be much of an issue, although if travelling down from Le Havre or further north then you will find toll roads on the way to the Landing Beaches. Some of the toll roads are terrific value and can save you a couple of hours on your journey time and it's worthwhile remembering that in Brittany the government do own the roads so there are no tolls there.

Some of the toll roads are terrific value and can save you a couple of hours on your journey time and it's worthwhile remembering that in Brittany the government do own the roads so there are no tolls there.

It can make life easier to plan ahead if you know you route. The websites Autoroute.fr and Via Michelin give accurate toll charges so you know how much money you'll need. Many tolls accept cards, but it's always worth having cash on hand. Some tolls have operators but some are only equipped with automated machines.


Hiring Rental Cars

Hiring cars to use in France can obviously be done on both side of the channel. However, many rental firms in the UK won't permit their vehicles to be taken out of the country, so it can be easier to hire a car in France. This will also have the advantage of the vehicle being a left-hand drive, making parking and navigating on continental roads just that little bit easier. This will be especially useful if travelling alone, as exiting junctions and paying at toll booths will be that much easier. Consider the following:

  • Book early
  • Compare prices between companies
  • Some hire companies charge a holding deposit to your credit card. Be aware of this to avoid any issues or embarrassment during your trip.
  • Check the fuel and mileage policies
  • Check Excess Insurance Waiver
  • Child seats and Sat-Nav/GPS units are generally charged on a daily basis, so where possible take your own
  • Check all the legally-required safety equipment is included, such as warning triangle and spare bulbs

Please also remember that since 2016 the paper counterpart licence in the UK is no longer valid. Before travelling you need to obtain a code from the DVLA's Share Driving Licence service so that the hire car company can check your driving record. Not all companies will ask for it, but you should get the code - which is valid for 21 days - before travelling, just in case.


Parking

City street parking is usually regulated by parking meters. Pay spaces are usually indicated by the term payant on a sign. Signs should be read carefully as often times Blue Zone parking disk the regulations vary from place-to-place, day of the week and time of day.

Drivers should look for "blue zone" parking spaces. These are marked on the ground and signposted zone bleu. If you have purchased a blue zone parking disk (le disque bleu de stationnement) which are available from tabacs, garages and police stations, you will be able to park for free. On the disk you set the time of arrival and leave on the dashboard.

When parking in France you should really only park in the direction of travel for that side of the road. However, regular visitors to Normandy will note well that especially during events, parking can become a free-for-all with little common-sense or consideration applied.

Look out for signs saying stationment interdit or stationment gênant which mean "No Parking". It is also illegal to park in the same spot on a public road for more than 24 hours; and, of course, forbidden to park in front of a fire hydrants.




Public Transport

Public transport in Normandy is quite poor with only major towns being served by trains. Buses generally run between city limits and not from town to town. Bus tickets can be purchased on board or bought in advance from tabacs. Bus services are organised by local councils so there are numerous operators across the department of Normandy. We have listed below the websites for the bus operators in the regions of Normandy, however, these are only available in French:

Calvados - Bus Verts de Calvados
Manche - Transports Manche
Orne - Cap Orne Network
Seine-Maritime - Seine-Maritime.fr
Eure - Eure en Ligne

The rail routes from Paris to the Landing Beach area includes the TGV from the Paris station Gare St Lazare to Caen. Services from Charles de Gualle airport to both Caen and Bayeux require multiple changes and take around six hours.




Cycling In France

France is a popular destination for cyclists, well known for being the home of the world's most famous cycle ride. France recently has become the second most popular place for cycling tourism. They have even created an official website called Tourism by Cycle all about discovering France by bike. Cyclists should remember the following:

  • To be roadworthy, bicycles must be equipped with a bell, fully functioning brakes, and after dark with reflectors and front and rear lights
  • The wearing of crash helmets is not compulsory but is strongly advised. Cyclists must also wear high-vis if cycling after dark
  • In urban streets, cyclists must use the marked cycle lanes where these exist
  • Cyclists must obey traffic signs and signals in the same way as other road users; this includes respecting "no entry", "one way" and "stop" signs
  • Like cars, cyclists riding behind each other on a roadway are obliged to keep a safe distance between them
  • Cyclists may ride two-abreast, but only during hours of daylight. At night, single file cycling is obligatory
  • Drinking and cycling: cyclists are subject to the same alcohol limits as other road users
  • Cycling while under the influence of alcohol can lead to a hefty fine, the impounding of the cycle, and/or the withdrawal of the cyclist's vehicle licence if he/she has one

A PDF guide in both French and English called Cycling in Normandy can be downloaded. As well as a detailed map it has a variety of illustrated routes, and even includes contact details for bike rental and repair facilities.




Hotels, Gîtes and Campsites

When visiting France there is a multitude of options when it comes to deciding on your accommodation. The familar hotel chains span most price ranges from Ibis, Novotel and Best Western to Marriot, Radisson and Hilton. However, for the more budget-concious there are a number of other brands which many outside of the continent may be unfamiliar with. They offer fairly basic but generally well kept facilities, and in most cases can even offer a light breakfast. For more information on these check out B&B Hotels, Kyriad Hotels, Campanile and Premier Classe Hotels.

If a hotel is your preferred choice of accommodation it is definitely worth checking with ferry operators to see what combination deals are available. It is possible to make some real savings when booking ferries and accommodation together.

Renting holiday houses, or gîtes, is very popular in France. There are literally thousands across the country, and more than enough to choose from in Normandy and the area around the Landing Beaches. All types of accommodation can be found, from little studio apartments to large homes with private swimming pools. Gîtes are encouraged by planning authorities and local tourist boards as they attract tourism and investment. Owners are required to ensure that their gîtes are safe and comply with all necessary rules, regulations, and insurance requirements.

If you are interested in renting a holiday home then check out the websites for Gîtes de France and Chambres-Hotes. Be sure to check the individual owners' rules and offerings for each location, for example acceptance of pets and whether they have Wi-Fi and dedicated parking. Most, but not all, will provide linen and there are often special arrangements to be made around cleaning the premises before departure.

Camping is a great way to stay in France. There are around 11,000 registered campsites in France which is almost 50% of the total for the whole of Europe. Campsites can vary quite considerably in size, quality and the ameneties on offer. In addition to tents, touring carvans and motorhomes, many will have mobile homes (static caravans) for hire as well. Check out the websites of About-France.com and Camping France.com for more information.




Markets and Shopping

People visiting France from abroad are sometimes surprised to see the thriving markets in villages and towns across the country. The market, or le marché, is a traditional still held in family life today. Stalls offer all manner of produce ranging from fruit, vegetables, cheese, seafood, as well as flowers and hot foods. Some markets also sell jewelery, books, clothing and accessories as well as Market stalls in Bayeux, Normandylive animals such as ducks, chickens and rabbits.

Markets can be categorised into four main types. Fish markets are often found in coastal fishing ports where the day's fresh catches can be purchased just minutes after landing. Traditional markets are to be found in most citues, towns and villages and offer all types of produce we've 'listed above. Organic markets offer fruit and vegetables both from farmers and home grown produce, whilst antique and craft markets do as the namees suggest.

We have compiled a list of around 500 markets across the five regions of Normandy. You can download our Normandy Market Guide in PDF format.

Shops in France generally open Monday-Saturday 0900-1900hrs. However, many close for lunch between midday and 1400hrs. If the shop doesn't close for lunch you should see a sign saying sans interuption. Supermarkets are generally open from between 0800-0900hrs until 2100-2200hrs and do not close for lunch. Sales in shops usually take place in January and July and last for our six weeks.

Laws in France mean that shops in France do not open on Sundays except on a few weekend before Christmas or in the high tourist season of July and August. Some smaller supermarkets do now open on Sunday mornings, but it is advisable to check this in advance. Many small boulangerie will be open on Sundays to serve fresh bread.

If travelling on a Sunday always ensure you fill up with fuel the day before. On Sunday you will generally need to use an automated pay-at-the-pump service unless stopping in one of the motorway service areas.




Duty-Free Allowances

Because of Britain's membership of the single market, at least for now, there are no longer any "Duty-Free" allowances when travelling to and from other countries within the EU (as long has tax has been paid in the country of origin. However, any alcohol or tobacco you bring back to the uK must be for your own personal consumption and be transported by you. Although there are no official limits, below is a guide to "personal consumption"" levels as specified by the British government:

Type of Goods Quantity
Cigarettes 800
Cigars 200
Cigarillos 400
Tobacco 1Kg
Beer 110 litres
Wine 90 litres
Spirits 10 litres
Fortified Wine (e.g. Sherry, Port) 20 litres

Note: Apparently fortified wine has nothing to do with cannon or drawbridges; and if anyone knows what a "cigarillo" is please let us know.

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