People come from all over the world to visit the D-Day and Battle of Normandy sites, cemeteries and museums. It is truly an emotional experience to walk along the beaches.
People visit the sites for all different reasons. Some are military personnel, some are historians, people with a passion for WW2, some follow the footsteps of their family or a unit. Many come with their families, some come alone. Some know nothing about the events, some know loads.
All wish to pay their respect to those who gave us our freedom, our “Greatest Generation”.
The history and images of D-Day are known throughout the world. D-Day, the start of the Battle of Normandy, is certainly one of the important dates in WW2 and world history. Allowing the Allies to develop a beachhead which would lead to the destruction of the German 5th Panzer Army and 7th Army.
When planning to visit Normandy, there are all sorts of logistical questions: how do I get there, where to stay, how long to stay, where is the best place to stay, what do I want to see and learn about, what else can we see or experience when in Normandy. (read more)
Most Europeans can drive to the sites. However, if coming from overseas, it means a flight, normally arriving in Paris. If coming from CDG airport, you can either hire a car or have a chauffeur pick you up? Or even take the train to Paris then to Normandy. Do you want to spend time in Paris before coming to Normandy? If you come by train, it is roughly 2 ½ hours, Paris St Lazare to Caen or Bayeux, the two main towns in the D-Day area. By car, it is about 3 hours from Paris, depending on traffic. Do you want to drive?
Other concerns may be the size of your group and amount of luggage, what’s going to be the best use of time and money.
What do you want to see?
Most people have their ideas about what they would like to see as main sites. Beaches, bunkers, cemetery. Quite naturally most people like to visit the sites relative to their own country’s part of the invasion or inland battles. However with the size of the landings on D-Day, roughly 70 miles in length, there are many different geographical variations, from built up tourist beaches to open remote beaches, different types of geography and everything from isolated important bridges to harbours, villages, towns and cities to explore.
To really understand the complexity of the landings, airborne and seaborne, with the support of our air and naval services, the SOE and French resistance, one must spend as much time as possible. One can spend as little as a morning or afternoon just visiting one beach and a cemetery, to a week or more just along the beaches and a few miles inland. With different types of German defenses all the way along the coast line, if possible to understand the big picture it helps to visit the sites of the other nations involved. One must also understand the German point of view, to understand why they were positioned as they were on D-Day, what were the most important areas to defend for them. Why they deployed their forces as they did after the landings.
What to see and visit.
Firstly, if visiting the D-Day beaches, the Allies started landing about 1h40m after low tide.
To see the beaches when the tide is out is a real must, such vast open ground to cover.
For the American visitors,
The American 1st Army carried out two main landings, V11 Corps (Airborne/Seaborne landing) in the Cotentin Peninsula at Utah beach, 4th Infantry Division and inland by the 82nd and 101st Airborne. V corps carried out landings at Omaha Beach, 1st and 29th Infantry Divisions supported by the 2nd Ranger Battalion at Pointe du Hoc.
One can just manage to visit both these areas in one day, American Highlights tour. It is better to spend one day in the Utah sector and one day in the Omaha sector, it gives a better understanding and allows time to visit German bunkers, gun batteries and other important battlefields without rushing around.
Good sites in the Utah V11 corps sector.
Beach defenses WN 05 (where the landings took place), WN 10, STP 09, Azeville Gun Battery, La Fiere, Brecourt Manoir, Holdy, Ste Mère Eglise, Angoville au Plain & Drop zone D, Carentan, there are countless other battlefields to visit in the peninsula as V11 corps moved on Cherbourg, think of a tour from Utah beach to Cherbourg, 1st Army’s main objective, or an American airborne tour. If interested in bunkers, there are some great examples of coastal batteries in the Peninsula.
Good sites V Corps Omaha sector.
- Pointe du Hoc, cliff top German battery, 2nd Ranger Battalion scaled the cliffs to assault this position on D-Day.
- Omaha beach, German defenses WN 60, WN 62, WN 65 (Easy & Fox sections of the beach)
- Dog section WN72(with original Pak 43 88mm anti-tank gun)
- The American Cemetery, beautiful and breathtaking, sits above the eastern end of Omaha beach. Where the first soldiers exited the beach.
- A great tour. Omaha Beach to the city of St Lo follows the actions of the 29th Infantry Division as they move inland to capture “the city of ruins”: one of my favourite tours.
For Canadian visitors.
The main landings were carried out between the seaside resorts of Graye-sur-Mer, on the west, to St Aubin on the east, landing at four separate sites. With the important port of Courseulles-sur-mer in their sector, the 3rd Canadian Infantry division pushed inland as far as north of Caen and west to Putôt-en-Bessin by the 7th June before running in the 12th SS.
One can spend the day along the beach landings and the Beny-sur-Mer cemetery: there are still some good examples of bunkers along this sector although many were removed post war. Plus visit one or two inland battlefields in one day. There are many great sites as one follows the Canadian Army as they struggled against the 12th SS and other German units as they pushed inland towards Caen and the Falaise pocket .
Good sites in the Canadian sector
- St Aubin sur Mer (Northshore New Brunswick & 48 RM landings): Anti tank gun in bunker.
- Bernier sur mer (Queen’s Own Rifles landing): famous Canada house.
- Courseulles and Graye sur Mer (Regina Rifles & Royal winnipeg landings): there are some good bunkers at Graye sur Mer and an original amphibious sherman at Courseulles)
- The Beny sur mer Cemetery is located a few miles inland from Courseulles, beautifully placed.
- Inland Abbaye d’Ardennes, Bretteville L’Orgueilleuse, Putôt en bessin, Point 67, Verriers ridge, Falaise pocket. There are many other sites.
For British visitors
There are three main D-Day areas to visit. 6th Airborne Division, on the eastern flank,
Sword Beach and Gold beach before considering the inland operations against the 5th Panzer army.
The invasion started on the night of 5th June with the landing of Canadian paratroopers on drop zone V followed by pathfinders and a Gilder borne assault to capture Pegasus Bridge and the Orne river bridge. Good sites to visit, Pegasus bridge and Cafe Gondree. Le Port, Benouville.
- Ranville, Ranville cemetery, Bois du Monts, Merville battery, Bréville ridge, Escoville.
- On Sword Beach we have the landings of the 3rd Infantry Division and supporting units including Lord Lovat’s commandos. Running from Ouistreham to past Loin sur mer, very much the main beach in the landing area situated above Caen. Good sites to visit, Atlantic Wall museum at Ouistreham, La Breche/ Hermanville, where the landings took place. French memorial at WN 10, WN 17 Hilman 736 Regiment,German HQ overlooking the beach. There are many bunkers, now hidden away, in woods and housing estates behind the beach, Morris and Daimler sites.
- Gold Beach, running from Port en Bessin to Ver sur mer with the landings of the 50TT Division and supporting units at Asnelles and Ver sur Mer who pushed in land almost to Bayeux.
- Great places to visit landing sites at Asnelles & Ver sur Mer: Mont Fleury Gun Battery, Longues sur mer Battery, Mare Fontaine Battery, Port en Bessin, Arromanches. New British Memorial.
When choosing one’s accommodation there is everything from campsites, B&B’s, Gites to Hotels and Chateaux to suit everyone's tastes and budgets. The two main towns are Caen and Bayeux.
Caen is the city, very nice but busy, sits on the eastern flank of the battles, closest to the British / Canadian landings, at least an hour from the closest American sites. Caen was destroyed during the battles but has been nicely rebuilt.
Bayeux is in the centre of the D-Day Landings and is a beautiful old medieval town full of old worldly charm. One of the few towns not damaged during the Battle of Normandy. Very much a tourist town and a great place to base oneself when exploring the region and D-Day sites.
Bayeux and Caen are the two main towns around. There are many different Hotels and B&B’s
In all price ranges. Following are a few suggestions I recommend
- L’Hotel Tardif http://www.hoteltardifbayeux.com
- The Villa Lara http://www.hotel-villalara.com
- Hotel Poppa https://www.hotel-poppa.com
- Churchill Hotel http://www.hotel-churchill.fr
- Reine Mathilde Hotel http://www.hotel-bayeux-reinemathilde.fr/
You can find many hotels and B&B’s on the Bayeux Tourist office website
- Royal Hotel https://www.hotel-caen-centre.com/
- Best Western Moderne https://www.guestreservations.com/best-western-hotel-moderne-caen/
- Mercure Caen Centre Port de Plaisance
You can find many place on the Caen tourist office site