Photograph by Dmitry SHISHKIN, Alamy Stock Photo
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Claude Monet created this garden in Giverny, France, that inspired his water-lily series.

Photograph by Dmitry SHISHKIN, Alamy Stock Photo

Step into Impressionist paintings on this French tour

During spring, walk across the Japanese bridge in Monet's water garden.

A version of this article originally appeared in the book Journeys of a Lifetime.

The Impressionists acquired their name from a painting by Claude Monet. It is called “Impressionism, Sunrise,” and shows a hazy scene of Le Havre on the Normandy coast. Monet grew up here and painted in the open air with the older artist Eugène Boudin, so discovering his vocation for capturing light and atmosphere. (See our travel guide to France.)

Starting in Le Havre, you can visit the beaches of Deauville and Trouville and the fishing village of Honfleur, then follow the “Alabaster Coast” east to Dieppe, taking in the cliffs at Étretat and Fécamp. At various times these places attracted Monet’s fellow Impressionists: Pissarro, Manet, Degas, Renoir, and Berthe Morisot.

The trail then leads inland to Rouen, where Monet produced an epic series of cathedral facade. Farther upriver, on the east bank of the Seine, lies Giverny, Monet’s home for the second half of his life. Here, you can visit the garden that he so lovingly created and which inspired his water-lily series.

Arriving in Paris, you are reminded of the Impressionists’ love of urban subjects. The city was being modernized at the time, so today it looks much as they painted it—imagine people in the 19th-century dress and horse-drawn carriages rattling by, and you have stepped into Renoir’s “Pont Neuf” or Degas’s “Place de la Concorde.”

When to go

Visit from March to November, when Monet’s house and garden are open. Spring and early summer show the flowers at their best.

Get there

The independent traveler can easily follow the route along the Seine Valley by rail or car. For Giverny by rail from Rouen or Paris, get off at Vernon. In Normandy, the administrative district, or département, of Seine-Maritime arranges excellent Impressionist-themed itineraries along the coast.

How long

The journey from Honfleur via La Havre and the coast to Dieppe and then Paris is about 200 miles (322 km). Allow three days minimum; five for a relaxed tour.

Insider tip

For a really authentic stopover in Giverny, stay at Le Bon Marèchal, a café/bed-and-breakfast with just three rooms, where Monet and his friends used to meet and talk.

Must-see highlights

  • Wander the Normandy cliffs and watch the changing northern light.
  • In Monet’s house at Giverny, the colorful rooms are hung with his collection of Japanese prints.
  • The Musée des Impressionnismes in Giverny displays American painters from 1750 to the present, including Mary Cassatt, Winslow Homer, and James McNeil Whistler.
  • Visit the Bois de Boulogne, a park west of Paris, painted by Renoir and Morisot.
  • The Musée Marmottan has the world’s largest collection of works by Monet, and many by Morisot, Renoir, Pissarro, and their contemporaries.