Once a quiet fishing village, Etretat became a popular seaside holiday resort for the French in the 19th century. Today it is still frequented by locals but has also managed attracted tourists from Paris who travel to Etretat and other parts of Normandy. Located in the Seine-Maritime 'départment' of the Haute-Normandie 'région', Etretat is probably best known for its cliffs and needles off its coast. It is also the setting for many of the Arsène Lupin adventures, the gentleman thief created by Maurice Leblanc, and has inspired many an artist and writer such as Gustave Courbet, Claude Monet, Victor Hugo and Guy de Maupassant. Although you could make a weekend of Etretat, one day is certainly long enough to geta feel for the place and it makes a good day trip from Paris or other cities you may be visiting in the region.
The most popular activity in Etretat is of course strolling along the tops of the cliffs and taking in the beautiful scenery off shore, especially the three natural arches and the needle. You can walk for quite a few miles in either direction and there are good paths the whole way along. Some say that you can make out an elephant with his trunk in the water. Within the town itself you should go and visit the market which stands on what was once a farm and then a pond. Today it houses a few shops which sell local produce as well as souvenirs.
For fans of the gentleman thief Arsène Lupin, you can visit the house of his creator, Maurice Leblanc, where he wrote most of the adventures. Those with an interest in aviation should go and see the Nungesser and Coli memorial which commemorates the two aviators who attempted the first Atlantic crossing in their aircraft, the Oiseau Blanc (the 'White Bird'). Le trou à l'homme is another popular attraction in Etretat and is where, back in 1792, a man lay unconscious after the Swedish ship he was on crashed against the cliffs. Only visible at low tide, it gives access to the Jambourg beach.
There is no train station in Etretat, just a bus terminus. From Paris the easiest way to get there is by taking a train to either Fécamp or Le Havre and then taking the bus. Tickets for both the train and bus are relatively cheap.
If you don't like big crowds, best to avoid Etretat during the holidays and at the height of summer. That said, there is usually a fair crowd in the town as it makes a good day trip from nearby towns and cities. Otherwise there is nothing that you need to be wary of in a place like Etretat. There are no nuisances, it is very safe and the restaurants of a reasonable quality.
Etretat is a small town and therefore doesn't have a particular cuisine of its own. You'll find that much of the food and drink available is typical of the region at large. Crepes, cider and calvados are available in several places while the majority of restaurants will serve fresh seafood. Otherwise the food is typically French.
Aside from regional food, which you can find at the market or in several of the town's shops, there is nothing essentially typical from Etretat. You could take back some cider or calvados as well as some local produce such as jams or patés etc, although these later are not particularly representative of the town. Otherwise it's the usual postcards, key rings, tea towels etc that you can find in any tourist shop in the world (only with Etretat emblazoned across them).