D-Day beaches self drive tour (2023): a 3 day itinerary in Normandy, France

With the echoes of the past whistling around every beach, town and bunker, Normandy is the place to go to reflect on world war 2 and the pivotal events that happened there. It can be a hard hitting place for sure so having the ability to explore at your own pace, or have an afternoon off if needed, is a good idea. That’s where a self drive tour comes in.

When we self drove the coastline of Normandy we really appreciated being able to take in what we needed, explore different kinds of sights (not just museums) and take more than just the war stories too. We traveled with our kids so it made it even more essential we could pick and choose our destinations.

If you’re looking to explore the Normandy World War 2 sites then read on for our guide to a D-Day beaches self drive tour. It really is a perfect way to see the area!  Since it’s a fairly compact region with plenty to see and do whether you’re a complete history addict or just want to pay respects to the troops who lost their lives so many years ago.

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I’ve based this self drive itinerary on our own experiences driving the route and also for it to be perfect for someone going to Normandy from the UK on a ferry to Cherbourg.  If you find yourself coming from the opposite end of the country, perhaps arriving in Dieppe or Calais, or if you’re travelling internationally and starting from Paris, feel free to reverse the route.

Accommodation for your self drive D-Day tour

It is possible to just base yourself in one town for the duration of the trip and if you’re going to do that then I recommend staying in Bayeaux as it’s fairly central to all the beaches and D-Day sites.  This is a great idea if you don’t want to be changing hotels every day and want to be able to relax on an evening in familiar surroundings.  

If you want to maximise your time in the area and also want to see some new towns then I’ve given some ideas below on where to stay that is near to the days sites.

You might also like to check the map below for some other accommodation ideas in Normandy:

3 day D-Day beaches itinerary – quick look

Day 1AMUtah Beach
Day 2AMMaisy Battery & Pointe Du Hoc
PMOmaha Beach & Cemetery
Day 3AMGold & Juno Beach
PMSword Beach

Why do a D-Day beaches self drive tour?

Normandy, and specifically the D-Day beaches, are such important places that are inspiring, sad and unbelievable all at the same time. To me it’s vitally important that we remember what happened in world war two and remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom and their country.

Many people have relatives who served at the time and want to retrace their steps, see what difficulties they faced and pay respects to them and their fallen friends. Other people want to know what happened and for them seeing the place in real life can bring the time to life.

I include myself in this last one – I knew of D-Day but not a great deal really, but seeing the sites for myself really brought home the loss of life, the commitment our countries had to winning the war and the huge scale of the operation. Visiting inspired me to learn a lot more about the time period and as we went on our trip with our kids, means they learned a lot too!   As living veterans who served there are getting less and less each year, passing on the knowledge of these times is extremely important I feel.  

Why self drive rather than doing a tour?  

I’m personally someone who likes to do it myself when travelling so I’m always keen to see places with my own timescale.  When we visited Utah beach it was terrible weather and we just couldn’t stay there so we were free to move on.  If we were on a tour we’d have had a very wet day!

I find self guided tours to be great for those who aren’t just there for the war history and want to just incorporate it in to a road trip and exploration of an area.  We travelled with kids, one of whom loves anything to do with war history and one who can tolerate it but it’s not her idea of a fun day out – if this is you, whether you have kids or just another travelling companion who isn’t quite as keen as you are on the sites you can tailor the days to suit you.  If spending time at a cemetery is going to be too upsetting or a museum is boring then you can wrap it up and move on.

Tours can be good if you’re really interested in getting all the information that you need from experienced tour guides and also if you don’t want to navigate the roads.  

If you’re coming from the UK you might find some coach tours like this one good and if you’re based in Paris there’s quite a few from there too.  

The best place to base yourself if you want to have just a day tour is Bayeaux as many go from there.   I’ll not be talking too much about the history of what happened in this Normandy itinerary – if you want to know a little more about the places mentioned here and what happened do take a look at my guide to the Normandy beaches and WW2 sites.

A note about museums – there are a number of museums in the area, loads in fact and probably more than you can ever fit in to a small trip.  Feel free to pick and choose as to what appeals to you and your interests – it’s unlikely you’ll want to do them all and I’d probably suggest not trying to do too many since it will likely lead to museum fatigue!  I’ve added links to the websites so you can figure out which ones to spend your time in.  

Notes for visiting around D-Day (June 6th)

This itinerary works really well at any time of the year but if you’re planning to visit Normandy for the anniversary of the landings you might need to consider some other things:

  • From the end of May to the middle of June The D-Day Festival takes place

Fairs, reenactments, special museum displays and parades take place in the days around the 6th of June. Way too many to mention but plenty to take your pick from. Here’s a look at the 2022 programme so you can see the kinds of things happening.

  • Accommodation will be in much higher demand

It’s highly recommended to book well in advance if you’re set on visiting at this time of year. Booking is my suggested place to look, and they have the best cancellation policies I find as well as often the best prices.

  • It’ll be a much different experience than you’d get any other time

With sombre remembrance and also celebrations of the feat of the Allies it’s one of those unique times to visit that will be much different to coming at other times of the year

3-day Normandy Road Trip Itinerary

Optional – spend the night before your driving tour just by Utah beach at Le Grand Hard for a small French countryside hotel experience or Relais de la Liberte which is a small guest house – both have excellent reviews and have plenty of free parking.  

Day 1

normandy utah beach tank

Morning: Utah beach

55km from Cherbourg or 60km from Bayeux

We start our Normandy D-Day itinerary at the most western of the landing beaches – Utah.  Landed by the Americans, this was one of the more successful operations.  If you’re coming from the ferry or starting in Bayeaux it should be less than an hour to get here.

You can spend your time walking on the beach, taking in some of the monuments around to the various companies involved or you can also start off your D-Day trip in the Musée du Débarquement and learn about the landings.  

I suggest allowing for a couple of hours here, depending on if you decide to do the museum or not.  Its a nice beach and a really nice place to walk along.

Be sure to look out for the monument to the the liberation of France.  This is called Milestone 00 and commemorates the United States involvement in the liberation of France along this road.

Parking – there is plenty of parking available at Utah beach and also picnic benches if you want to bring some food too for lunch.  

st mere eglise normandy airborne

Afternoon: Sainte-Mère-Église

Driving time- 20 mins.  17km from Utah beach

It’s easy to assume Normandy is just the beaches and the landings there – as I found when I visited there’s so much more that went on!  

One well known story is that of the airborne forces who landed troops just prior to the beach landings and who played a part in securing towns and strategic points. Sainte-Mère-Église received some of these forces who actually landed there by accident, and who planned to land further out.  This wasn’t great for the Allies and many died and one man even got his parachute caught on the church steeple and he had to pretend to be dead to avoid being shot at.

Sainte-Mère-Église is a lovely town to walk around and explore.  There’s one thing I love in France and it’s the feeling of the villages with cafes and bakeries just waiting to be enjoyed!  You can see the church where the paratrooper got himself caught, there’s a dummy still on the steeple as a monument to him.  

We also enjoyed the museum which talks about the role of the airborne troops in D-Day and what planes and gliders they used.  

Parking – plenty of parking in the village itself.    

If you have time: On the way to Carenten from Sainte-Mère-Église is the D-Day experience museum just outside the village of Saint-Côme-du-Mont

Overnight: You could choose to spend the evening in Sainte-Mère-Église itself – Logis Le Sainte Mere is a recommended hotel. Alternatively spend the evening in Carentan at the Hôtel Le Vauban and be a little bit closer to the next day’s sights.  

Day 2

Morning – Maisy Battery

Driving time – 20 mins.  20km from Carentan

Our second day starts at Maisy Battery which is a little known site near to Pointe du Hoc and which played a big role in what went on there.  It’s basically a myriad of tunnels that the Germans used to attack the Allied forces from but the interesting part is that the whole story and site was lost to historians until just recently and when it was discovered it changed a lot of the perceptions of what actually happened on the day.  

It’s only open in summer months but if you can add it in to your itinerary then it would be a great addition.  Check their website here.  

pointe du hoc normandy france

Pointe du Hoc

Driving time – 10 mins.  7 km from Maisy Battery

A short drive from Maisy Battery is Pointe Du Hoc itself.  There’s a lot to look at here with many paths taking you around the site showing shelters and gun placements as well as a moving memorial right by the cliff’s edge.  I found this site really moving myself and would definitely recommend a trip here – there’s a small visitor centre with a movie playing to help you get your head around what went on here.  

omaha beach memorial

Afternoon – Omaha beach

Driving time – 15 mins.  9km from Pointe Du Hoc

Omaha beach is another of the landing beaches that the American troops landed on and this one was not as successful as the Utah landing.  As such there was a great number of lives lost here and many people come to pay their respects from all countries.

At the centre of the beach itself is a very moving memorial and the Memorial Museum of Omaha Beach and towards the eastern end (as you drive from Pointe Du Hoc) there is also another museum about D-Day at Omaha beach.  

Parking – there is parking at either end of the beach or by the memorial in the middle but bear in mind how much walking you want to do before you decide where to park!  It’s a lovely long beach with houses dotted along the beach front – plenty of time for walking and reflection.    

normandy american cemetery

American Cemetery

Driving time – 10 mins.  5km from Omaha Beach

Just up from the beach is the resting place for many of the Americans who lost their lives not just at Omaha but on the whole Normandy landing campaign.  It’s a sombre and moving place but one that I feel should be seen if you’re going to the effort of visiting the WW2 sites.  

There is no pathway from the beach at present – check their site out here for more information.    

If you have time: just by the American Cemetery is the Overlord Museum with more artefacts and exhibitions about the Omaha landings  

Overnight in Bayeux – The Hotel Du Luxembourg is a highly recommended 4 star hotel which would be a good option in the town.  

Day 3

arromanches beach and mulberry harbour

Morning – Arromanches-les-Bains (Gold Beach)

Driving time – 20 mins.  12km from Bayeaux

Arromanches was one my favourite sites to visit myself, coming from someone who knew very little about the landings.  You can see remnants of the artificial harbour that was created once the beaches were secured and when the tide is out actually walk up to them.

This is part of Gold beach which was one of the beaches that the British soldiers were charged with.  There’s a museum here all about the landings and also the building of the harbour and how they used it to bring supplies to Europe.  

Courseulles sur Mer, France - april 22 2018 : the Centre Juno Beach, D Day Canadian memorial

Courselles-sur-Mer (Juno beach)

Driving time – 20 mins.  13km from Arromanches

Juno beach is just a small drive from Arromanches and you can see where the Canadian troops landed and fought.  Again there’s a museum here dedicated to that story called the Juno Beach Centre. The town by Juno beach is called Courselles-sur-Mer and it’s a pleasant place to walk around and have lunch with a marina and cafes.  

pegasus bridge normandy d day

Afternoon – Ouistreham (Sword Beach)

Driving time – 30 mins.  20km from Courselles-sur-Mer  

Finally our trip concludes with the British landing beach of Sword which is a wide open beach at the town of Ouistreham.  This was the first beach we ever saw and it was very weird to see such a ‘normal’ looking beach with such history – wasn’t what I was expecting!  

The town is big and perfect for supplies and to enjoy restaurants and other amenities. While in the town make sure to head to the Pegasus bridge memorial for another slightly different story – this is where British Commando troops were parachuted in the day before D-Day to secure the bridge.  A museum tells the story and you can walk around outside to learn about what went on that day.  

If you have time:  Longues Sur Mer just east of Arromanches might be worth checking out at the beginning of your day – it’s a battery placement site which is free to enter with some tours also taking place that are good value. Ouistreham has a number of museums in the town too including one about Commandos and one about Hitler’s Sea wall.

Overnight:  For your final night enjoy the small seaside town of Ouistreham, an evening walk on the beach and perhaps a French Pastry or two.  There are number of good hotel options in the town like Hôtel le phare or La Villa Andry

Ouistreham is the port that Brittany Ferries uses (but actually calls Caen) so if you’re using them to get home this is the perfect stop for you.  

More days in Normandy?

If you have more time to spend in Normandy then I suggest adding in some time in the towns of Caen, Bayeaux and really just slowing down and exploring the area.  There’s so much more to Normandy than just the World War 2 sites and if you’re visiting with people who don’t have as much of an interest then it’s worth taking some days out from that.  

We also really enjoyed the beaches on the west coast of Normandy on the Cotentin peninsula and of course there’s also Mont St Michel over that way too which is a must see!  

Planning your trip

Useful links for planning your trip:

Brittany Ferries (Poole – Cherbourg. Portsmouth – Caen or Le Havre) 
DFDS Ferries (Newhaven – Dieppe) 
P&O Ferries (Dover – Calais)   

Booking.com (Hotels and Apartments) 
Hotels.com (Hotels and Apartments) 
VRBO (Apartments and Rooms)   

Skyscanner (flights – best airports are Caen from the UK or Paris for international flights) 
Discover Cars (car rentals)

Recommended books

I highly recommend the Liberation Route Europe book by Rough Guide that has recently come out.  It tells a lot about the background of what was going on in the war prior to DDay and the eventual liberation.  Will also inspire you to go to many more sites around Europe – just warning you!

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The D-Day Visitors handbook also comes highly recommended although I haven’t seen it first hand. I’ll be sneaking a peak soon as planning to get one as a gift for someone!

A guide book to Normandy like this Rough Guide is also a good idea for the planning phases so you can see what else is around the area – vital if you want to enjoy more than just the WW2 history.

Finally a map is essential for your self drive tour – there are many available like this one – we ended up getting a ring bound France map since we were doing lots of driving in the country.  

What to take to Normandy

If you’re coming from out of the country and renting a car then make sure to add in a sat nav system to your hire car.  If sticking with a phone system then it’s really important to have a car charging kit so it doesn’t die while driving!

If you’re coming from the UK by car you’ll also need to have a European driving kit – this has the required items that you need by law over in France (each country has different rules and they do change but if I’m honest, having some hi vis vests and warning triangles in the car is not going to hurt – get them!).

You definitely need to have the GB sticker and some headlight deflectors as well as soon as you arrive – you can normally get them on the ferries but at a much higher price so worth getting in advance  

France is a really easy country to navigate especially by car but I’d definitely recommend taking a really good road map with you just in case mobile or sat nav signals go down.  This is like the one that we used.

As for a sat nav system I suggest that you make sure you either have some capability on your phone like we did or get a dedicated system with European maps like this one.  

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3 day self drive itinerary for exploring the Normandy beaches in France. These beaches saw action in WW2 and many museums, graveyards and monuments can be found now along the coast. If you only have 3 days in the area here's what you should do. Northern France itinerary | WW2 France itinerary | Normandy self drive tour | Normandy 3 day itinerary
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Kirsty Bartholomew

Kirsty Bartholomew is a travel expert and has been getting lost around the world for over 30 years and writing about it for over 10 of those. She loves to help people explore her favourite places in Scotland, England and beyond. She cannot stay away from historical sites.

6 thoughts on “D-Day beaches self drive tour (2023): a 3 day itinerary in Normandy, France”

  1. Do you have any suggestions how to incorporate this itinerary with festivities on/around June 6? We are planning to go in June of 2024. Thanks

    • Hi Judy (apologies for the delay in replying – I only just came across this!)

      so each year there’s A LOT of events going on around that time, although obviously COVID slowed it down, here was the 2022 programme of events. Quite a lot goes on.

      I’d suggest to keep an eye on the Normandy Tourist Board website for when the years timetable gets updated and plan your trip around that.

      You could base yourself fairly central to give yourself plenty of wiggle room to attend any events you want.

  2. I’m an experienced guide for the Normandy battlefields and have some great tips for anyone travelling there.
    1. If you want to attend for the D-Day anniversary book EARLY as anything within reasonable driving distance will be sold out. I guarantee it.
    2. Do yourself a favor and don’t try to do a day trip from Paris. You will miss just way too much. It’s a three hour drive from Paris.
    3. Don’t even waste your time with a 3-Day trip. On these itineraries you will drive right past A LOT of extremely historical locations and you won’t even know it.
    4. I NEVER stay in hotels there. B&B’s are definitely the way to go. Many speak English and are a fantastic experience. I highly recommend Richard (Dick) Coopers place called Blazing Sky. He can hook you up with info, recommend tours, and his place played a part in the Airborne battles. BOOK EARLY!!
    5. I HIGHLY suggest you book a tour. If you are going to do just 3 days, You can take a one day tour with many assorted guys.
    5. Do yourself a favour and do at least 5 days. A week is HIGHLY recommended. Book three to four different tours. One to cover the British/Canadian battles. One to do the American Beaches etc. Then one or two days to cover the US Airborne battle locations. For instance, you will drive past 25-35 important locations just from St. Come du Mont to Ravenoville. They can get you access to very important places that you won’t get on your own.
    6. If visiting for the DDay celebrations, be prepared to spend a lot of time in gridlock. It’s cool to see all the vehicles and jump demonstrations but you will miss out on seeing many important battle locations. April-September is a great time to visit and with the exception of the DDay dates, it will be easy to hit the important sites AND get a place to stay.

    With the extra days you can hit Mont St. Michelle, Cherbourg, German Cemeteries, St. Lo, The Bayeau Tapestry and many other places.

    I cannot recommend enough not doing it on your own!! You will miss SO much, even with a guide book.

    I haven’t been guiding tours for several years, but I would consider doing fully arranged tours that will encompass lodging, tours, transportation (if need be), food, etc. Basically everything.

    • Hi Mark
      You have provided great information. I can assume you have only scratched the surface!
      I have a group of 5-6 people who are retired US military interested in WE2 sites. We would like a guide – as you suggest to maximize our time. We intend to get a cruise 1 June 2024 , Le Havre to Paris as we finish Normandy area.
      What would you estimate the costs for such a group for say 5 days?



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