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Visiting the beaches of Normandy: D-Day landings and WW2 sites – your ultimate guide

normandy utah beach tank

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Visiting the beaches of Normandy, with its wealth of D-Day and world war 2 sites, was on our bucket list of things to do while in France and it’s one of those places that are well worth the visit.  They can be accessed easily from either the UK or other parts of France (and as such, the rest of Europe) and each year the get more and more visitors eager to learn of what happened on 6th June 1944, or as it’s now known – D-Day.  I hope our guide to visiting these WW2 sites on the French coast of Normandy will be helpful and inspiring to anyone planning a visit and also anyone with a passing interest in our recent history.

 

Our guide to visiting the beaches of Normandy and WW2 sites

The words have become almost normal now – incorporated into our everyday speech – D-day, beaches of Omaha, Utah, Sword, Gold and Juno.  Strange to think that 100 years ago, these words meant nothing in the context that we now think of them.  That’s what’s so moving about visiting the beaches of Normandy, the fact that it was so recent, that there are still people alive who remember those days, lived through them and either were there themselves or heard the news about it.  As time moves on fewer are around to tell the tale first hand, so it’s all the more important to keep the stories alive and to give weight to those words.

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The Normandy beaches in France are definitely a bucket list place to visit. The landing sites were really important in World War 2 and trips to this area include museums, memorials and artefacts left over from the fighting. British, Canadian and American soldiers all fought here and it's a popular pilgrimage site. #francetravel

 

I knew of D-day, of course.  I grew up with fairly limited knowledge of the history though, I had heard the term but only really learned about the operation when our son developed a passion about the time period.  We watched films, documentaries and tv series about the war – I thought I knew what we were going to see when we visited Normandy!

What remains of World War 2 in Normandy today is sombre, touching and hopeful.  Sombre because it was the scene of many deaths, not just fallen men, but brothers in arms (to coin a phrase), comrades and friends.  Touching because there are still memories of a time gone by scattered around.  Hopeful because it’s a reminder of what can be achieved by humans in the pursuit of a better world.

It’s not all about the war in Normandy though.  If you’re planning a trip with those who aren’t quite as interested, or perhaps with children who might not cope with days learning about death and fighting, the area has so much more too.  Gorgeous little towns, beautiful scenery and of course that amazing French food!

 

guide to visiting the normandy beaches d-day ww2

 

Normandy Invasion – a super quick history

Ok, this will be quick as I imagine if you’re interested in visiting the Normandy D-Day beaches you have a slight inkling of the history involved.

It was one of the largest organised invasions of all time that incorporated naval, air and land troops and it was a turning point for the Allies in World War 2.  The Normandy invasion on D-Day, 6th June 1944, were truly immense undertakings from the armed forces of not only Britain but also the USA and Canada.

Prior to it happening, France was under occupation from the Germans and their advancement throughout Europe was continuing. The Allies needed to have a foothold in Europe in order to have any hope of turning the tide.  What’s interesting is that the Germans actually knew that an invasion was likely to be happening, but they didn’t know where from and where the Allies would land.  There were many attempts to throw off the scent and the Germans did think the invasion would come further up the French coast in Calais or Dunkirk where it was much closer to the UK coast but of course that never happened.

It was so much more than D-Day itself though – there was months of preparation which included simulating the Normandy coastline in areas of the UK coast, practicing their manoeuvres and training the personnel.  This was an immense undertaking.  Further to this there was an operation whereby the coastal defences were bombed in advance of the invasion.

On the day itself, the Allies began by parachuting in airborne forces behind the enemy lines where they took strategic points and would meet up with the troops that began to land in the early hours of June 6th.  They fought with the soldiers and guards of the Atlantic Wall that Hitler built.  It certainly wasn’t easy but eventually they took the areas one by one, strategic towns and points were gained and the Allied forces pushed the Germans back.

Although the operation as a whole was a success there were many stories within D-Day where it seems the opposite.  Many, many lives were lost on both sides which is a terrible tragedy no matter the outcome.

A note on the names of the beaches in case you don’t know.  There were many different areas of the coastline that troops landed on but they were generally split in to 5 sections and each had a different armed force in charge of landing there.  Each area was given a code name – Utah, Omaha, Sword, Gold and Juno.  The Americans were charged with the Utah and Omaha landings.  The British landed at Sword and Gold and Juno was mainly Canadians.  The overall operation was called Operation Overlord and the landings themselves Operation Neptune.  

The history of this time is vast and I’ve researched thoroughly for this article but I’m not a historian so please forgive me if there are any inaccuracies – and also let me know so I can put it right!  For more in depth research of this time period Wikipedia is a good start and from there explore their related links at the bottom.

normandy map pointe du hoc

 

Why visit the D-Day beaches in Normandy?

Of course D-Day has been immortalised in films and tv series over the years and it’s one of the biggest and most well known operations from the Second World War.  It’s an iconic moment in history and one where we can look back and see the huge sacrifice that was made actually did make a difference.  If D-Day hadn’t turned out as it did the outcome of the war might have been very different.  As such it’s a huge part of our history.

I feel that we must always remember the sacrifices made for us and while watching documentaries, reading books and enjoying movies about it can keep the stories alive, visiting the sites really gives a new dimension.  You can know that soldiers lost their lives on a beach, but it’s just words.  Seeing that area and visiting the nearby graves really brings home the personal sacrifices.

For many of us it’s important to visit because we have a personal connection to the day too.  Many people come as a pilgrimage to pay their respects to family members who fought there.

For others, and I include myself personally in this, it’s just a really interesting place to go.  This is recent history and an important piece of the huge story that is the second world war.  No matter what I know about a place or piece of history I can’t fail to get something out of experiencing the place in real life.  Museums help to keep the information of each area in an organised manner and you’ll find many enthusiasts willing to speak to you about the history if you take the time to ask.  By supporting these places you’re also helping to preserve the historic sites for future generations – definitely worth it.

Lastly, Normandy is a beautiful place in its own right.  I’m focusing this guide on the D-Day beaches and the war history of the area, but there’s so much to enjoy here that’s not just war related so go enjoy the food, the countryside and the people too!

 

What are the Top 10 must see sights at the D-Day Normandy beaches?

Here’s the places you really shouldn’t miss on your tour of the D-Day beaches in Normandy – I’ve listed them in order from west to east rather than importance: 

 

1. Utah beach

normandy utah beach tank

The first beach that you’ll get to if you are coming from Cherbourg or doing the tour West to East is Utah.

This beach was landed by American troops and was the more successful out of the two the US were dealt.  The reasons are most likely geographical, the Germans were defending a wide open coastline here, flat with no difficult to reach areas they could attack from.  Overall there were less than 200 casualties for the Allies here and it was a relatively quick victory.

Utah beach is one that isn’t in a built up area and the beach itself is nice to walk along if you get good weather with many remains of the German defences scattered along and lots of monuments to the battalions and units present there.  There’s also a museum which attracts most people with an interest in the time period and is fairly inexpensive.

 

Utah Beach Landing Museum – learn about the chronology of the landings, see a B26 bomber.

Winter opening hours (Oct 1st – May 31st): 10am – 6pm. (It is closed for the majority of December, opening from the 26th – 30th only)

Summer opening hours (June 1st – Sep 30th): 9.30am – 7pm

Get tickets here

 

2. St Mere Eglise

st mere eglise normandy airborne

A big part of the operation at Utah beach was the destruction and capturing of many of the strategic points in the area from the airborne divisions who landed at various places including St Mere Eglise, a small Normandy town.

Some of the 82nd Airborne division landed at St Mere Eglise in the very early hours of the 6th of June 1944, unfortunately too close to where they planned to land.  Many of them died as some buildings on fire in the town lit up the parachutists descending and were easy targets for the Germans.  One interesting tale is about the soldier, John Steele, who found himself caught on the steeple of the church as he tried to land.  He was shot in the foot, in lots of pain and could only watch some of the others in his company as they were killed.  He dropped his knife so could not free himself and so had to pretend to be dead while the fighting was going on around him.  He eventually was rescued from his precarious position by the Germans and he became a prisoner of war until he escaped a few days later.

Despite early German dominance the town of St Mere Eglise was taken soon after on June 7th 1944 and it also has the honour of being the first liberated town of the Normandy invasions.

In the town itself there’s a museum dedicated to the 82nd and 101st Airborne division – if you’ve watched Band of Brothers, 101st Airborne is portrayed in it.  It’s well worth spending some time there with plenty that will keep kids happy (both of mine enjoyed their time there) and provide an insight in to what happened in the area for those interested to learn more.  Lots of replica planes and gliders to get a sense of what was involved!

The church keeps the story of the parachutist alive by keeping a fake dummy of a soldier on it’s roof top,  It’s a pretty town to explore round with many tourist shops selling world war 2 memorabilia, some restaurants and cafes too.  We really enjoyed our time there.

 

Airborne Museum – learn about the airborne attack, how they liberated the town and also see some of the gliders and planes used.

Opening times:

  • May – Aug: 9am – 7pm
  • April and September: 9.30am – 6.30pm
  • October – March: 10am – 6pm (the museum is closed throughout December and January)

See here for more information

 

3. Pointe du Hoc

pointe du hoc normandy france

One of the areas of Normandy that remains much as it was during the time of the landings is Pointe du Hoc.  It’s a steep cliff edge and the highest point of the area which sat between the beaches of Utah towards the East and Omaha which lay to the west.  As such it was heavily fortified and protected by the Germans despite it having been bombed prior to D-Day.  

The United States Army Ranger Assault group were charged with the scaling of the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc and removing the German artillery with the help of the British to land them at the scene.  Before even landing there were problems straight away with the sinking, and subsequent loss of those on board, of one of the amphibious DUKW vehicles. On landing the Germans fired heavily on all of the troops with disastrous effect and on reaching the base of the cliffs the Rangers were at half the initial numbers.

To reduce the risk of them being fired at as they grappled up the cliffs, navy ships from the US and British navies fired on the German defences.  On reaching the top the soldiers struggled with yet more set backs: their radios didn’t work and their objective of removing a main artillery defence was already gone.  After intense fighting the finally overpowered the remaining guns and destroyed them.  They held off lots of counter attacks from the Germans over the next couple of days until they got relieved by further US troops on the 8th June.  

Pointe du Hoc is one of the stories I personally didn’t know much about but which I’m so glad I learned about.  The museum at Pointe du Hoc does a really touching video which explains what happened.  Reading about the words often don’t convey the sense of what happened, but listening to the stories from the soldiers who scaled the cliffs themselves, watched their friends get fired upon and who came home to tell the tale brought tears to my eyes.  

There’s lots to see at Pointe du Hoc as well as the visitor centre – the remains of the casemates built by the Germans can be explored and you can imagine how it might have looked to them as the enormous amounts of D-Day troops descended on the area.  Craters litter the site too where it was heavily bombed.  

 

Visiting Pointe du Hoc

Opening times:

Open daily throughout the year

  • April 15th – September 15th: 9am – 6pm
  • Rest of the year: 9am – 5pm

Pointe du Hoc is one of the few free things to do in Normandy related to WW2 – if you’d like more information about visiting see here.

 

4. Maisy Battery

I have such a soft spot for parts of history that are covered over and forgotten about for years and Maisy Battery is one such place.

It was a very important German defensive position situated between the Utah and Omaha beaches and consists of over 2 miles of tunnels, bunkers and trenches.  The history of the site is still coming to light with all the war documents being released over the years – it seems that it was an unknown site to the Allies and that the Germans used Pointe Du Hoc as a ruse to confuse them and with the removal of the big guns that were expected to be there, this could certainly be true.

It was lost to the world for over 60 years and was only rediscovered as someone found an old map to it in a veteran soldiers trousers.  That discovery combined with the opening of war files has opened up an exciting and interesting chapter!

If you drive past you might miss it – it’s completely camouflaged from the casual viewer!  Nowadays you can walk round the site, explore the tunnels, see some old guns, cannons and weaponry.  It’s a great day out and quite different to many of the other WW2 sites around Normandy.

 

Visiting Maisy Battery

Opening times

  • April 1st – May 31st: 10am – 4pm
  • June 1st – Aug 31st: 10am – 6pm
  • September 1st – September 30th: 10am – 4pm
  • Closed from October – March (although you can contact them with a possibility of visiting)

See here for more details and tickets

 

5. Omaha beach

omaha beach memorial

 

The US Army had the objective of securing the Omaha beachhead however a catalogue of mistakes and confusion led to this being an extremely difficult operation with huge numbers of soldiers losing their life.  It started with the naval bombardment of the German defences – it wasn’t enough as they navy didn’t want to risk hitting the landing crafts.    The landing troops were also blown off course quite a lot on the morning of the invasion due to the weather and this did not help matters.  The intelligence about the defences were flawed, they had trouble bringing vehicles on land with many of them being swamped as they tried to land and finally many of the soldiers were wiped out as soon as they did land due to heavy gun fire from the Germans.  As many as 2000 lost their lives (some sources report up to 5000) on that day.  After many days of fighting the objectives were completed, the beach secured and it was eventually used as a harbour to bring artillery and troops in to France and to help the push against the Germans.

Nowadays there’s a few remnants of the war still visible.  There’s many monuments to the regiments that fought along this stretch of land and who also lost lives as well as a memorial museum.  At low tide you might also be able to see the remains of the harbour that they built but not as prominent as the one at Arromanches.

 

Omaha Beach Memorial Museum

Opening times

  • February: 10am – 5pm (opens mid February – check their site for dates if travelling round then)
  • March: 10am – 6pm
  • April – May: 9.30am – 6.30pm
  • June: 9.30am – 7pm
  • July – August: – 9.30am- 7.30pm
  • September: 9.30am – 6.30pm
  • October – November: 9.30am – 6pm (closes mid November)
  • Closes from mid November – mid February.

See more information here

 

6. American cemetery

normandy american cemetery

Overlooking the beach at Omaha is the American Cemetery which holds a great number of US soldiers who died in the second world war and with many of them being in the time of the Normandy landings.  It’s a beautiful place which overlooks the sea and it’s a heartbreaking visual reminder of the loss of life suffered.

It’s not the most cheery of places to visit and we couldn’t stay long as our daughter didn’t want to go (always something to bear in mind when visiting the sites with kids) but it’s a very important place that should be included in your itinerary if you can.  There’s a visitors centre there too which tells the stories of the soldiers and is free to enter.

 

Normandy American Cemetery Visitor Centre

Opening times

  • April 15th – September 15th: 9am – 6pm
  • Rest of the year: 9am – 5pm

Admission is free – see more info about the site here

 

7. Gold beach & Arromanches sur les bains

arromanches beach and mulberry harbour

This was my favourite site of our trip (see below for our thoughts on what to visit if you can only visit one beach) and it provides lots for anyone visiting Normandy with hopes of seeing WW2 history – there’s lots still visible!

The landings at Gold beach are slightly to the east of Arromanches and this was on of the two beaches that was taken by British troops.  The day started like many of the others with bombardment and bombing of the area the night before and the troops landed in the early hours of the morning of 6th June.  Choppy and rough seas meant that like many other beaches the men landed slightly off course and the vehicles they tried to bring ashore would get bogged down in the sand.  There were many casualties at Gold with around 1000 reported.  At the end of the day, almost 25,000 troops landed, they took Arromanches and eventually used that site to build a mulberry harbour which allowed them to bring in more weaponry to mainland Europe for the rest of the war.

There’s lots to see at this area.  We really enjoyed our visit to the town of Arromanches-sur-les-bains as you can see lots of the remains of the mulberry harbour.  This was the temporary harbour that was built to move tanks, weapons and soldiers in to the country.  There’s also a really good museum in the town too which I recommend to learn more about this area and how they landed and used the town.   Longues-sur-mer battery is also a well preserved German defence area that is worth visiting if you’re around this section.

 

Longues-Sur-Mer Battery

Freely open to look around – there are guided tours as well at the following times of year:

April, May, June, September & October: weekends only

July & August: daily

Tours run in both English and French – see here for more details.

 

Musée du Débarquement / D-Day Museum in Arromanches – learn about the mulberry harbours and the d day landing beaches

Opening times

  • January: Closed
  • February: 10am – 12.30pm & 1.30pm – 5pm
  • March: 9.30am – 12.30pm & 1.30pm – 5.30pm
  • April: 9am – 12.30pm & 1.30pm – 6pm
  • May – August: 9am – 7pm
  • September: 9am – 6pm
  • October: 9.30am – 12.30pm & 1.30pm – 5.30pm
  • November & December: 10am – 12.30pm & 1.30pm – 5pm

See here for more details

 

8. Juno beach

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

The responsibility of the Canadian army was Juno beach which was located inbetween Gold and Sword.  The familiar story of the sea conditions causing delays and problems to the landings also applied here and the beaches were heavily protected by the Germans.  Although there was a preliminary bombardment of the sites they weren’t very effective and as such the troops landing were under heavy fire from the very start.  

It’s considered one of the more successful landings, alongside Utah, even though many of the objectives weren’t actually met.  Casualties were low, around 340 dead on the day.  

One of the towns in the area, Courselles-sur-Mer, now features a museum and memorial called the Juno Beach Centre.  If you’re at all interested in the Canadian effort in the war as well as the specifics of the Juno landings then I’d highly recommend a visit.  

 

Juno Beach Centre

Opening times

  • January: closed
  • February: 10am – 5pm
  • March: 10am – 6pm
  • April – September: 9.30am – 7pm
  • October: 10am – 6pm
  • November- December: 10am – 5pm

Get more information here.

 

9. Sword beach & Pegasus bridge

pegasus bridge normandy d day

The final beach going from west to east is Sword beach at the town of Ouistreham. 

Sword was the responsibility of the British army and although the experienced quite a few casualties on landing at the beach, they managed to get their armoured vehicles landed quickly and took the beach in fairly good time.  This beach was the closest to Caen which was a major objective in Operation Overlord and so the troops moved onwards to there but suffered lots of setbacks and resistance on the way.

Another important place nearby is Pegasus Bridge which played a part on the night before the landings where the plan was to secure the bridge and prevent any further German troops from gaining access to the bridge and hindering the landings the day after.  They arrived by using gliders successfully taking the Germans by surprise.

Sword beach was the first that we visited and it’s very strange, yet happy place that is a completely normal beach town.  Not what we were expecting at all.  There were people playing on the beach, lots of land sailing going on and just a generally nice atmosphere.  The town of Ouistreham is a pleasant town to spend a night as well with lots to see if you’re interested in the landings.  There’s the Grand Bunker museum which is well worth a look, No4 Commando museum and also the Pegasus bridge memorial too all within that town.

 

Grand Bunker Museum, Ouistreham – see the command post as it was and learn about the Atlantic Wall

Opening times

  • Jan 6th – Feb 8th: Closed (2019 dates)
  • Feb 9th – March: 10am – 6pm
  • April – September: 9am – 7pm
  • October – January 5th: 10am – 6pm

See here for more information

 

Pegasus Memorial Museum

Open every day from 1st February – 15th December

  • February – March: 10am – 5pm
  • April – September: 9.30am – 6.30pm
  • October – 15th December: 10am – 5pm

See here for more information.

 

10.  Caen

Memorial de Caen museum dedicated to the history of the 20th century

Though not a beach, a major player in the Battle for Normandy is the city of Caen which suffered terribly in the days after D-Day.  It was actually in the plans for it to be captured on D-Day itself, but that never happened, the Germans defended it fiercely and what ensued was fierce fighting and many casualties on both sides and civilians.  It actually took around 7 weeks for the city to be taken and ended with a bombing from the Allies which killed many French citizens and completely destroyed the city, reducing the majority of it to a pile of rubble.

Caen has many memorials about WW2 but the main one is the Memorial de Caen which houses a really good museum which is worth checking out.  If you are in the area do also check out the Abbey d’Ardenne which was the site of an atrocity committed by the Germans against some Canadian soldiers they had taken as prisoners.  At least 20 soldiers were executed there and there’s a touching war memorial to the men.

 

Caen Normandie Memorial Museum

Opening times

  • January: Closed
  • February – March: 9am – 6pm
  • April – September: 9am – 7pm
  • October – December: 9.30am – 6pm (some Mondays are closed also in this time)

See here for more information and tickets

 

Tips for visiting the Normandy WW2 sites

  • Winter sees lots of the sites close for the season – do be aware of this if you are coming in the winter months.  If sites are open their hours are reduced a lot too.  Although out of season is generally a good time to visit, do make sure what you want to see will be available.  January sees many of the museums close completely so I’d recommend not to visit that month at least.
  • It rains.  A lot.  We were there for about a week in April and saw so much rain!  Later we learned that Normandy is a very rainy region and is well known for it!
  • As these are war graves, dress and act respectfully
  • Around D-Day itself many of the sites close for ceremonies and it will be much busier so if you’re visiting around then check individual sites and book well ahead.
  • France is well known for long lunch hours – as you’re visiting the towns and villages around be aware of this and don’t be surprised that shops shut.
  • Sundays are also a day when almost everything shuts (although the D-Day museums around here tend to be open) – get any supermarket shopping done in advance.  We were definitely taken by surprise by this on our first visit to France!

 

What Normandy WW2 museums are worth visiting?

normandy museum guns

There are many museums along the coast line and in towns, too many really for one trip.  Unless there’s a specific area or operation that you’re interested in I’d suggest heading to wherever is convenient for you and enjoying what is on offer there.  There’s a chance of information overload if you try to do too many.  I mean, how many guns can you see without getting bored?  Although my son would argue with me about that!

We haven’t visited all the museums in the area (unfortunately!) but we did enjoy the D-Day museum in Arromanches as well as the Airborne museum in St Mere Eglise and I’ve heard good things about all the museums in Normandy.  

 

How long should you spend in Normandy?

If you’re planning a Normandy trip I’d say that a good time to take in the sites is around 3 or 4 days.  This would allow you to really see all the beaches, plenty of museums and other sites around the area and for you to take in the larger towns such as Bayeaux and Caen.  More than this and I’d imagine that history overload might take over!  If you want to incorporate checking out the rest of the area including the gorgeous Mont St Michel then I suggest as long as you can spare and at least a week!  France is a great place to visit and we enjoy the slow pace of life there a lot!  Try not to rush your time there.

 

You can only visit one beach – which one?

This is a difficult one to answer and each person in our family who I asked said a different place.  I think this can possibly depend on your war knowledge or maybe your heritage – Americans will almost certainly say Utah or Omaha, Canadians will say Juno!  Personally I found Gold beach and specifically the town of Arromanches to be a really special place to visit and this is coming from someone with only basic knowledge of what happened in Normandy in WW2.  With parts of the artificial harbour still in view and being able to be seen up close, it really helps you visualise what happened back then.  Obviously if you can, visit at least a couple, but if I had to choose just one it would be the area around Arromanches-sur-les-bains.

I asked my son (our resident WW2 nut – he knows way more than me!) for his opinion and he said Omaha due to the extreme loss of life there and the significance of that beach in later films so that would be my second choice.  You also have the American Cemetery nearby too so easy to incorporate that in to your day.

My husband said to visit Pointe du Hoc.  I know, we’re not very helpful in narrowing down the choices!

If you are pushed for time, consider what is important for you to see.  If you’re British and want to see the places that they fought concentrate on the middle to east part.  If you’re Canadian you’ll likely want to concentrate on the Juno area and if you’re American or interested in the infamous Bloody Omaha then you’ll want to stick to the west.

 

longues sur mer batterie normandy

 

Interested in more WW2 travel? – see our guide to visiting Colditz castle in Germany here.

 

Getting to the Normandy beaches

How to get to the Normandy beaches from the UK

When we travelled we took our motorhome over on the Dover to Calais crossing with DFDS (always the cheapest option when I check) and travelled down from there.  It was a fairly straightforward journey but one thing I’d say is to not underestimate the time it can take to get to places in France.  It never looked too far on the map but it can be especially if you’re not using the motorways.

If you want to get yourself right in the heart of Normandy straight away and keep journey times to a minimum then I recommend a ferry to Cherbourg which means you can start at the Western end of the beaches near Utah within around 45 mins drive of the port.  Alternatively you can get a ferry to Le Havre which is about an hour and a half from Ouistreham and the eastern end of the beaches or Dieppe which is just over 2 hours drive away.

Brittany ferries – goes to Caen, Le Havre and Cherbourg
DFDS – goes from Newhaven to Dieppe

There are many tours that depart from the UK if you want to visit but aren’t too keen on doing it independently.  My Father in Law took a coach trip a few years back and thoroughly enjoyed his time there.  Leger is one of the biggest coach trip operators with great tour guides and worth a look if you want to go on an organised trip.

 

How to get there from Paris

If you are arriving in Paris and want to incorporate the beaches in to your France itinerary then I suggest one of two options: either hire a car or arrange a place on guided tour.  It’s around a 3 hour drive to Ouistreham on the most eastern end of the landing sites so doable as a day tour if you wanted to, although it would be a long day.  To check out rental car options I recommend this site which compares many companies to find the best deal.

Guided tours from Paris to Normandy are plentiful from the capital with some taking in the area over a couple of days and others just doing a day trip.  When looking at these tours bear in mind if you have any specific places you want to visit and see if they include them as it’s impossible for them to cover everything!  This one is a good option and if you have a couple of days to spare this one is worth a look and even covers other Normandy sites such as Mont Saint Michel.

 

Visiting the beaches from Le Havre

Many cruise ships stop in Le Havre and as such it’s a good place to get excursions to the beaches.  Here’s one that covers many areas in a day.

Canadian sites from Le Havre

US sites from Le Havre

 

Using public transport to visit the Normandy beaches

It’s not particularly easy to use public transport to get to all the sites in Normandy but with some planning you should be able to visit a few places.  

Caen is an important part of the invasions and is worth seeing if you can.  Trains are around 2 hours from Paris in to the city.  If you want to do a tour from Caen this one would be worth checking out.

Bayeaux is another good town to visit and easily reached by train as well.  From Paris it can take between 2.5 and 3 hours to get there and it’s also easily reached by Cherbourg in about 1 and a half hours if you happen to be a foot passenger on one of the ferries.

 

Tours from Bayeux

There are many tours from Bayeaux that can take you on to the beaches themselves and are a better option that trying to navigate the buses which are infrequent.    

US Sites tour

US and British sites

Canadian sites tour

 

Driving tips for France

If you decide to drive over in France then here’s just a couple of tips:

  • make sure you have a european driving kit that covers you for the legal things you need in France – Hi vis jackets, headlight deflectors (if coming from the UK), 
  • the motorways in France are often toll roads and it can add up over time.  Either be prepared for this or plan a route that avoids them.

 

Where to stay when visiting the Normandy beaches

Bayeaux is a perfect base for any tour to the beaches whether it’s self drive or going by guided tour.  I’ve linked below to a couple of options with Hotels Combined – no matter which hotel you decide to use they compare prices among the booking companies so you can get the best price.

If you want to stay in the centre of town itself, be close to the town’s attractions such as the Bayeaux Tapestry (ok, now WW2 but still pretty cool) then I suggest the Hotel du Luxembourg which comes highly recommended.  It does have parking, although there’s a charge of €9 a day so do bear that in mind.  Check the hotel out here.

A budget option in Bayeux would be the Ibis hotel with free parking on site – here’s some more information about it.

Campervan and motorhome travel in Normandy

If, like us, you decide to take your motorhome to Normandy then you’re in for a treat as France is amazing for free or low cost camping areas (called Aires) in towns and villages all round the area.  I think we managed pretty much not paying anything for the whole of our journey except for one night on a campsite.  I recommend getting the book All the Aires which gives all the information on where to stay and what facilities are available.

 

 

Pin for later!

The Normandy beaches in France are definitely a bucket list place to visit. The landing sites were really important in World War 2 and trips to this area include museums, memorials and artefacts left over from the fighting. British, Canadian and American soldiers all fought here and it's a popular pilgrimage site. #francetravel

The Normandy beaches in France are definitely a bucket list place to visit. The landing sites were really important in World War 2 and trips to this area include museums, memorials and artefacts left over from the fighting. British, Canadian and American soldiers all fought here and it's a popular pilgrimage site. #francetravel

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