Visiting D-Day sites of importance in Normandy and Brittany

The North-East coastline of France, particularly Normandy and Brittany, has tremendous historical significance, often connected to WWII as many of the beaches saw the landing of the Allied forces on 06 June 1944 aka D-Day. Visitors can explore several of these landing sites, visit numerous related museums and memorials, and pay tribute to the brave soldiers who fought for freedom. But the region is so much more than that. It has beautiful landscapes, charming towns, excellent food (it’s renowned for its dairy products, seafood, and apples), and so much more, making it a varied place to discover.

This itinerary is for self-drive with a car, but some of it can be done by rail; you would then need a tour guide with car/van to get you to most of the beaches. There are several ways to get to Normandy and Brittany. From Paris, you can take a train to several popular destinations, such as Rouen, Le Havre, Bayeux, St Malo, or Caen. If you’re in the UK, you can take the Eurostar to Lille or Paris and then head to your chosen town in Normandy by train or hire car. There are also several ferry options to get you there from the UK.

Many D-Day landing sites are located near Caen and Bayeux, including Utah Beach, Pointe du Hoc, Arromanches-les-Bainss-les-Bains, Utah Beach, Gold Beach, and Sword Beach. It is also around this region that there are many memorials and museums to the event, so it’s a great place to base yourself or to start your journey.

Get in touch to book your trip at sales@britishtips.com or 021 975 2047. If you prefer not to DIY your trip, we work with excellent operators which can assist you with guided WWII tours too.

TIP! 2024 is the 80th anniversary of D-Day. This region is very busy in summer, particularly around D-Day (06 June), and will be more so this year. We strongly advise you to book your accommodation and tours far in advance to avoid disappointment.

Rouen (Upper Normandy) 1.5 hours by rail from Paris and 2.5 hours by car.

Start your trip in Rouen, a city packed with history, home to the second largest number of listed buildings in France after Paris, and a role player in both world wars (indeed, it was occupied by Germany during WWII and 45% of it destroyed). Marvel at the stunning gothic Rouen Notre Dame cathedral – and be sure to visit the Église Saint-Maclou just behind it, the exquisite Gros-Horloge clock tower over main street, the many monuments to France’s patron saint, Jean d’Arc, and the Rouen War Memorial. You can easily spend all day in Rouen – and we highly recommend you do so.

Overnight in Rouen.

Caen (Normandy) From Rouen,1 hour & 40 minutes by train and 1.5 hours by car (unless you go via other towns)

Head off bright and early towards the port city of Caen. If you’re driving, go via Le Havre, Honfleur, and Deuville, which all have links to WWII. In Caen, be sure to visit the Caen Memorial Museum, which focuses on World War II and the Battle of Caen. Explore the charming Vaugueux district’s cobbled streets, half-timbered houses and enchanting squares. Visit the Château de Caen, a Norman fortress, inside which you’ll also find the Musée des Beaux-Arts and the Museum of Caen.  

If you have a car, you can drive to nearby Battle of Normandy beaches of Sword Beach, Juno Beach, and Gold Beach. You can also cross the Pegasus Bridge en route to Ouistreham. If you’re going car-free, take a half-day or day tour from Caen to explore the landing beaches.

Overnight in Caen.

TIP! If you have time, do the Normandy Cider Route or part of it, a 40km route taking you past about 20 cider farms which you can visit for tours, tastings and shopping (just be aware that France is strict on drinking and driving).

Bayeux (Normandy) From Caen,15 – 20 minutes by rail or 30 minutes by car.

The charming medieval town of Bayeux has loads of history, culture, and beauty to offer. It’s renowned as being home to the remarkable 70m long embroidered Bayeux Tapestry from the Middle Ages, depicting the 1066 Norman conquest. Take a walking tour to help you explore the well-preserved old town with its cobbled lanes and half-timbered stone houses, wander along the River Aure (look out for the water wheel and old wash house), visit the towering Bayeux Cathedral, and learn about the town’s rich history. We suggest a visit to the Museum of the Battle of Normandy for greater insight into the 1944 military operations, and the Bayeux War Cemetery over the road.

Several significant D-Day landing beaches are found nearby, including Pointe du Hoc, where US Army Rangers scaled cliffs to seize German artillery positions, Omaha Beach and the American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer, and Gold Beach at Arromanches-les-Bains. You’ll need a car or guided tour to visit these, except for Omaha Beach which can be reached by local bus from central Bayeux.

TIP! Many restaurants in Bayeux are closed on Sundays or Mondays, so take this into account when planning your day

Overnight in Bayeux.

Juno Beach, Gold Beach, Arromanches-les-Bains, Longues-sur-Mer, Colleville-sur-Mer, Omaha Beach, and Sainte-Mère-Église (Normandy) Car or guided tour needed.

There are many D-Day sites within easy driving reach of Bayeux. You won’t be able to squeeze all of them into a day so, if your time is limited, choose just a few. Alternatively, spend a couple of days exploring the region either based in Bayeux or overnighting along the route.

If you didn’t already visit the beaches near Caen, a suggested route from Bayeux is via the Ryes War Cemetery just outside Bazenville to Sword Beach, Juno Beach and Gold Beach, stopping at the America & Gold Beach Museum at Ver-sur-Mer, before going to Arromanches-les-Bains. Here you can view parts of the artificial temporary harbour used by the Allies during WWII, and visit the fascinating Arromanches-les-Bains 360 Circular Cinema with its D-Day multimedia show. At Longues-sur-Mer, you can explore the imposing concrete German coastal artillery battery before driving to Colleville-sur-Mer near Omaha Beach (pictured) and the Overlord Museum. Visit Utah Beach and nearby Sainte-Mère-Église, the first town liberated by the Allies, where the American parachutist John Steele famously got caught on the church steeple during the invasion (there is a dummy atop the church to mark the event).

Overnight in Bayeux or one of the towns on your route (bear in mind that many of the small towns have limited accommodation options).

St Malo (Brittany) Just over 3 hours by train with 1 change, or 2 hours by car.

St Malo is a charming seaside town which, although heavily damaged during the war, has been restored with great attention to detail. Take a walking tour or explore the narrow streets, sea walls, and boutiques at your leisure, watch the sailboats in the bay, or take a sightseeing cruise.  

For eats, we recommend La Licorne Crêperie’s traditional buckwheat Breton savoury and sweet crepes, and a visit to Kouign Amann de Saint Malo for the famous Kouign Amann cakes and other traditional Breton delights.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! A visit to this region is not complete without taking in the breath-taking Mont-Saint-Michel, often referred to as ‘the castle in the sea’. In fact, it is not a castle, but rather an island town centred around an impressive abbey, reached by causeway. The narrow lanes, cobbled streets, charming buildings, high stone walls, and quaint shops are evocative of the ‘Olden Days’ and truly unforgettable. Be there early to beat the crowds or, better yet, stay overnight – after all the day visitors leave, those staying on the island can explore at leisure.

Overnight in St Malo or Mont St Michel.

Bid farewell to this beautiful region before heading back home. We’re sure you will enjoy your visit to this incredibly beautiful, interesting, special part of France.

To book your trip, get in touch at sales@britishtips.com or 021 975 2047.

The above is a suggested itinerary only and can be tailored to your requirements. Please note that all information is correct at time of writing, but it is always best to check before you travel to ensure there are no closures or changes.

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