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How to visit the D-Day Beaches in Normandy France is a question asked by many. Which beach should I go to first? How will I get the full experience and understanding of what transpired here on June 6, 1944.
On June 6, 1944, more than 150 000 Allied troops landed along the French coastline of Normandy in what was and still remains the largest seaborne invasion in history. Code named Operation Overlord, the goal was to liberate Europe from Nazi Germany. General Dwight Eisenhower was in charge of Operation Overlord.
1. FAQ: How To Visit The D-Day Beaches In Normandy
The D-Day Beaches in Normandy
The Allied troops landed at five different beaches along a 50-mile stretch on the Normandy shores. The beaches were all given a code name for the invasion and those names are still used today. The Americans landed at Utah and Omaha Beaches. The British landed at Gold and Sword Beaches and the Canadians landed at Juno Beach. The D-Day beaches in Normandy are from west to east: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword.
How To Visit The D-Day Beaches in Normandy France: By Car
Although I did not visit the D-Day Beaches in Normandy by car, I know in my traveller’s heart that this is the best way, especially if you have plenty of time. This allows you to choose which beaches, memorials, graveyards and monuments to visit. It allows you to go at your own pace and stay longer when you want to. It opens the avenue to visiting small towns that have photographs of the Liberation of France hanging on their doorways and along their streets. Rent a car.
Pro Travel Tip: There are more car rental agencies available in Caen than in Bayeux.
Rent your car in France for the best way to visit the D-Day Beaches.
How To Visit The D-Day Beaches in Normandy France: By Guided Tour
I arrived in Bayeux after having done some research on car rentals, guided tours, and buses. It was September in the year of COVID-19 and tourism was at an all-time low. I booked a tour with Gold Beach Company and crossed my fingers. As a solo traveller, I knew that no tour company would take one person. I fully expected it to be cancelled. Luckily there was a French couple as well so presto – we had a small tour group. The three of us plus the guide wore our masks and sanitized our hands an inordinate amount of times.
The advantage of taking a tour is, of course, the guide. My guide, Adeline, was a local history buff and knew how to make the tour engaging by telling stories and facts about D-Day. The D-Day sites are spread out over an extensive area, making a local guide invaluable in making the most of your time. It was worth every cent.
Pro Travel Tip: Many guided tours pick up in Bayeux.
From Paris – a full day tour including lunch
From Paris – a full-day small group tour
From Bayeux – American D-Day sites (4 to 8 hours)
From Bayeux- Canadian D-Day sites
How To Visit The D-Day Beaches in Normandy France: By Local Bus
On this trip of mine through Normandy, I relied on the local buses and trains. But, the buses do not run very regularly, especially in the off-season to the D-Day sites. If you have a lot of time, I think it would be doable but you would have to pay very close attention to the schedules.
Where Is The Best Base For Visiting The D-Day Beaches in Normandy?
Both Bayeux (population of approximately 13 000) and Caen (population of approximately 106 000) make excellent bases for visiting the D-Day Beaches. Both cities are accessible by train from Paris. Getting to Bayeux involves one change in Caen. Book my train ticket
Hotels To Stay At In Caen and Bayeux:
Looking for a hotel? Check hotels in Caen here. Check hotels in Bayeux here. I stayed very close to the Bayeux cathedral in this bed and breakfast.
Read More: Here is my full article on what to see in Bayeux France.
Read More: If you are staying in Bayeux, be sure to visit the famous Bayeux Tapestry, almost 1000 years old. Here are some fascinating facts about it.
How Long Is Needed To Visit The D-Day Beaches in Normandy?
This, of course, is a personal preference. I only had one half-day and can honestly admit that it was a perfect introduction but left me wanting more. More of everything. More stories. More sites. More photographs. More understanding of this monumental event. More reflection time.
2. Pointe du Hoc, Normandy France
The first stop on our tour of D-Day beaches in Normandy was Pointe du Hoc. The deep craters in the landscape where bombs fell and the remaining German concrete bunkers make an immediate impression.
Here, on this bluff jutting into the sea between the D-Day beaches of Utah and Omaha, the 2nd Ranger Battalion soldiers carried out a plan that resulted in a terribly high cost of lives.
Over the course of three days, June 6, 7, and 8 1944, the Commandoes scaled the 100-foot cliffs with a mission to disable the German guns atop that could easily fire on Utah and Omaha Beaches. The Germans had already moved the guns further inland. The Rangers eventually found and destroyed the artillery.
The casualties were high. And after starting with 225 soldiers, only 90 remained standing.
The Memorial at Pointe du Hoc: To the Heroic Rangers Commandoes D2RN E2Rn F2RN of the 46th INF who under the Command of Colonel James E. Rudder of the First American Division attacked and took possession of the Pointe du Hoc.
3. Omaha Beach And Les Braves
Of the five D-Day Beaches in Normandy, Omaha Beach was the bloodiest of all the landings. Standing on the beach under the bluffs it is hard to fully imagine what went on that Tuesday morning so many years ago.
I try to feel what it would be like to land in the water with my gun and hear German guns shooting down all around. I try to understand the sensation of my fellow soldiers dropping beside me, in the water, on the shore.
I look up at the cliffs and imagine a hail of German bullets, bombs and artillery raining down on the young American soldiers.
I know what I sense is a mere fraction of the reality.
But it isn’t hard to be in awe of the courage and dedication that each young soldier brought to the battlefield. It isn’t hard to imagine the fear and bravado all entangled. It isn’t hard to imagine the sea turning bright red. My heart stands still.
Our van was scooting past this memorial which is a little further down Omaha beach than where we had initially stopped. I had to ask the guide to stop.
As this monument, Les Braves rises from the sea, its impact is powerful. Standing on the shore where thousands of soldiers arrived to meet their death and the seas were cherry red with their blood, this monument demands something of the visitor. It is not a drive-by, nor a five-minute stop to check off the list. It requires one to stand in silence against the crashing waves and imagine what transpired here. It’s a time to let gratitude flow through you.
This Omaha Beach Memorial, created by Anilore Banon is called Les Braves. He is quoted as saying “I created this sculpture to honour the courage of these men: Sons, husbands, and fathers who endangered and often sacrificed their lives in the hope of freeing the French people.”
The sculpture is in three elements: The Wings of Hope to remind us that together it is always possible to change the future.
Rise, Freedom! Honouring those who rose against barbarity to help us remain standing strong against all forms of inhumanity.
The Wings of Fraternity to remember this surge of brotherhood reminding us of our responsibility towards others as well as ourselves. On June 6, 1944, these men were more than soldiers, they were our brothers.
Read More: Here are 13 other fabulous day trips from Paris.
4. The Normandy American Cemetery And Memorial
I had no idea what to expect.
The glorious statue, Spirit of American Youth, invites you to enter. And there, 1557 engraved names of soldiers missing in action encircle you. Those that have a rosette beside their name have since been found.
Ahead there are 9387 white headstones that stretch as far as the eye can see between forest and the English Channel, perched over Omaha Beach.
As a mother, as a sister, as a human being, it is impossible not to be impacted as standing amidst the rows of crosses.
5. The Artificial Harbour Near Arromanches-les-Bains
From a distance, our group viewed and listened to the ingenious plan of Sir Winston Churchill to create two fake harbours that also acted as a breakwater so that Allied troops could bring reinforcements and equipment to France.
On the morning of June 6, 1944, huge concrete chambers were towed towards the Normandy coast and then sunk into place creating Mulberry Harbour. German pilots saw the concrete chambers heading to France but could not figure out what they were seeing.
The concrete blocks still remain today and can be seen off the shores of Arromanches-les-Bains. The D-Day Museum here goes into detail about creating Harbour, also known as Port Winston.
I went to the D-Day Beaches in Normandy to pay my respects, to stand and feel where recent history took place and to appreciate the liberties and freedom that I have today.
“Liberté” written in 1942 during the German occupation by French poet Paul Eluard:
On my crumbled hiding places On my sunken lighthouses On my walls and my ennui I write your name. On abstraction without desire On naked solitude On the marches of death I write your name. And for the want of a word I renew my life For I was born to know you To name you Liberty.
See the full poem here.
Lest We Forget…
More Travel Info
Movies About The D-Day Beaches in Normandy France were :
The Longest Day (1962)
Our guide recommended this movie as the most realistic account of the landing at Omaha Beach. I watched it recently and would say that for those of you who haven’t seen it, it is a must. Watch it before your visit, or after as I did or simply to get a glimpse into June 6, 1944.
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Heading To Normandy France?
You might also like this post, 19 Wonderful Things to do in Normandy.
There are also many individual articles on specific places to help you plan your trip to this incredible region of France.
Honfleur: An Authentic Taste of Normandy
The Magnificent Soaring Cliffs of Etretat
Deauville and Trouville-sur-Mer: A Seaside Day Trip From Paris
How To Eat Oysters Like the French
Visiting Mont-Saint-Michel: A Timeless Beauty
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