One of the great things about traveling is that it allows you to gain a totally new perspective on the history you’ve always learned about. All of us likely studied World War II in school, but what’s it like to see the places you read about in person?
Best known as D-Day, June 6th, 1944 was the day the Allied forces invaded the beaches of Normandy, marking the beginning of the end of World War II. It’s a day that’s gone down in history, but for most of us, it’s little more than that.
In order to bring that history alive (and provide you with some stunning views), the beaches and battlefields of Normandy have become a popular travel destination. Guided tours combine visits to the best-known beaches with plenty of historical information so you actually understand what you’re seeing. Or if you prefer to explore on your own, you can read up before you go. Whichever you choose, touring Normandy’s beaches and battlefields is a memorable experience.
What are the Best Ways to See the Beaches?
Depending on where you are in the world, visiting Normandy can be a big ordeal. If you’re already in Paris or somewhere else nearby, it’s easy to do in just a day. There are plenty of options for how best to see the beaches and museums. You can go for the afternoon, or plan a more thorough visit spanning multiple days. If you’re short on time or just want a hassle-free trip, going on a pre-arranged Normandy tour might be your best bet.
What Areas are Included?
The location where the Allied troops landed in 1944 spans a 50-mile stretch of coastline. There are many beaches along the coast, but a few remain especially well-known. Omaha beach, Utah, beach, Gold beach, Juno Beach, and Sword beach were the main locations of the initial invasion.
Omaha beach is perhaps the most visited now and includes a memorial statue as well as the nearby Caen Memorial Museum (also known as the Peace Museum). There are various other lookouts, memorials, and cemeteries dotting the coastline as you drive between the beaches. You can visit just one of the beaches, or explore the entire area and its rich history.
If you’re staying nearby, day trips are an easy endeavor. From Paris, you have plenty of options for Normandy tours. Tours leaving from Paris are usually pretty affordable and offer round-trip transportation, lunch, and museum visits, in addition to touring the actual beaches and battlefields.
These are a great way to maximize your time if you don’t have a vehicle of your own, or if you just want the opportunity to travel in a group. Group tours are an easy way to make friends while you travel, and the guides are able to pass on their knowledge of history throughout the day.
Sample day tour from Paris:
Depart from Paris, take a bus to the Caen Memorial Museum and Omaha Beach. Lunch, touring the beach, then driving down to the other beaches and lookouts before heading back to Paris. Roughly 12-14 hour day in total.
Related: Unusual Things to do in Paris
If you don’t want to commit to a full day, there are plenty of options available. If you are open to departing from Bayeux, you can still get in most of the sites of the Normandy beaches without having to fill up your entire day. Half-day trips give you the condensed version of the Normandy experience, visiting the main attractions without much time for dawdling. If you’re on a tight schedule, this is a great option.
Sample half day tour from Bayeux:
Depart from Bayeux and take a short bus ride to Pointe du Hoc, stopping there before heading to Omaha beach. Tour the beaches and cemetery visitor’s center before heading back to Bayeux. 5 hour day in total.
If you don’t want to go all the way to Normandy just for a day trip to the beaches, why not combine it with other sites in the area? You can do a two-day tour that takes you to the Normandy beaches, Mont Saint Michel, and Saint-Malo. In a tour like this, you get a sampling of both historical sites and incredibly beautiful views of the surrounding areas. The castle at Mont Saint Michel has been described as the “wonder of the west” and is definitely worth the trip.
Multiple day tours allow you the chance to experience Normandy in-depth and really gain an appreciation for the area. These are most easily booked out of Paris, where you will return at the end of your tour.
Sample multi-day tour:
Day 1: Depart from Paris. Full day traveling to Rouen, Honfleur, and then to the beaches or Normandy.
Day 2: Tour of Saint Malo and Mont Saint Michel, before heading back to Paris
2019 marks the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, making it a perfect time to visit. You can combine your trip to the beaches and battlefields of Normandy with a visit to the sights and attractions of Paris, or a tour of the surrounding countryside, to make the most of your visit.
Seeing these places in person can bring a little of that history to life, but it’s also a terrific way to spend a quick holiday. Stunning beaches, beautiful castles, and rugged cliffs come together to make Normandy one of the best spots to visit in France.