Visiting the D-Day Beaches in Normandy, France - WanderWisdom - Travel
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Visiting the D-Day Beaches in Normandy, France

Chad is an avid traveler who loves to share his tips and experiences to help others get the most out of their travels.

German gun pointed towards the Atlantic Ocean in Normandy, France

German gun pointed towards the Atlantic Ocean in Normandy, France

The History of the D-Day Invasions

The D-Day Beaches are a 50-mile-long stretch of beaches in Normandy, France. In WWII, over 150,000 allied soldiers landed on the beaches in an attempt to drive off the German army entrenched there. The Germans were well defended by a linked series of bunkers, guns, barbed wire, and land mines. The allied invasion force was represented by troops from the U.S., Britain, Canada, and France.

Men of the US 1st Infantry Division wading ashore on Omaha Beach

Men of the US 1st Infantry Division wading ashore on Omaha Beach

On June 6, 1944, the U.S. assaulted the beaches code-named Omaha and Utah, the British fought to capture Sword and Gold beaches, and the Canadians took Juno. It was the largest amphibious invasion in history.

The allies were victorious, despite losing over 4,414 men and suffering over 10,000 casualties. The successful D-Day invasions led to the liberation of France and ultimately the end of the war.

The town square and palm trees in Ouistreham, France

The town square and palm trees in Ouistreham, France

Where to Stay Near the D-Day Beaches

Ouistreham

If you want to visit the D-Day Beaches today, it's easily combined with a trip to Paris. It's only a few hours drive north-west of the City of Light. When I visited, I stayed in the town of Ouistreham. The town is a port and ferry harbor (from England) where you can still see German gun batteries, bunkers, and to my surprise, palm trees.

Ouistreham is a small town. It doesn't have a lot of lodging, but it is quiet, pretty, and accommodations are reasonably priced. Ouistreham is a nice place to stay if you're checking out the Normandy area on your own. It doesn't offer a lot of tourist infrastructure, but that may suit some people, as it did me.

Bayeux

Most visitors' guides suggest the town of Bayeux as a sightseeing base. Bayeux is home to the famed Bayeux Tapestry. The tapestry is an almost 1000-year-old, 230-foot-long, tapestry depicting the battle of Hastings. Visitors will also find the Bayeux War Cemetery, the Battle of Normandy Memorial Museum, the Bayeux Cathedral, public gardens, and much more along the town's many cobblestone streets.

If you'd rather take a guided tour than explore on your own, Bayeux is a good place to stay, as a number of D-Day tours start there. There are plenty of restaurants and hotels around the area.

Nazi guns in a Normandy field

Nazi guns in a Normandy field

The D-Day Beaches Today

Driving along the 50 miles of beach and seeing all of the gun emplacement, monuments, and concrete pillboxes really gives a sense of how huge the D-Day battle was. Many of the guns and bunkers that were part of Hitler's Fortress Europe are still intact today. I personally couldn't believe how many of these are still around. The only reminders of that bloody day that I expected to see were monuments, signs, and headstones.

Mulberry Harbor at Arromanches-les-Bains, France

Mulberry Harbor at Arromanches-les-Bains, France

At the town of Arromanches-les-Bains, you can still see remnants of a makeshift harbor, called a mulberry harbor, used to offload men and equipment during the invasion. Here, huge concrete slabs form an arc in the ocean around the town.

The Normandy American Cemetery

Behind Omaha Beach, where the U.S. 1st Infantry Division made the toughest landing of the operation, is the U.S. military cemetery at Coleville-sur-Mer. This is the cemetery seen at the opening and closing of the movie Saving Private Ryan. 9,387 American soldiers are buried at the Normandy American Cemetery.

If you want to visit the cemetery make sure you show up before 4 pm. It closes at 5 pm, but you won't be allowed in anywhere close to that time. I found this out the hard way.

Monument to 1st U.S. Infantry Division on Normandy Beach

Monument to 1st U.S. Infantry Division on Normandy Beach

Inland Towns With D-Day History

There are also plenty of D-Day historical sites inland and away from the beaches, including the towns of Sainte Mère Église and Saint-Lô. Sainte Mère Église holds a D-Day celebration every June 6th commemorating the landings. I didn't have time to visit either of these towns, but I'm really hoping to in the future.

Parting Thoughts

Like the memorial at Coleville-sur-Mer, the Normandy region of France is quiet today. The coast is filled with a mix of beautiful sandy beaches and cliffs. Away from the beach, among the lush hedgerows and farmland, it's hard to imagine such an epic battle took place.

Sign in a field in Normandy, France. The region is also famous for its cider.

Sign in a field in Normandy, France. The region is also famous for its cider.

Being interested in WWII and also a Francophile, I had always wanted to visit the D-Day Beaches of France. It was a humbling experience to be on the beaches where so many brave young men fought and died and turned the tide of history.

© 2020 Chad Claeyssen

Comments

Chad Claeyssen (author) from Colorado on June 08, 2020:

Thanks for the comment. It was definitely a thought provoking experience. I would have loved to check out more in Bayeux and some of the other nearby towns. We just didn't have the time. Hopefully I'll visit the area again.

Chad Claeyssen (author) from Colorado on June 08, 2020:

Thanks MG. I thought it was a great experience too. It was one of my favorite trips ever.

Chad Claeyssen (author) from Colorado on June 08, 2020:

Thanks for taking the time to read the article. I was definitely surprised how many guns and bunkers were still in Normandy. I'd like to make it to some of the WWI battlefields one day too. I think it would be very interesting.

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on June 07, 2020:

We visited a few years ago and it was certainly a moving and memorable experience. It’s hard to fathom what those young men experienced landing on those beaches. The world owes a huge debt of gratitude to those who sacrificed so much. We opted to stay in Bayeux on our visit and we enjoyed the town. As you mentioned it has the Bayeux Tapestry and a wonderful Cathedral.

MG Singh emge from Singapore on June 07, 2020:

I have wasted the battlegrounds of Normandy once about 10 years back. It was a wonderful experience. Nice article

Liz Westwood from UK on June 07, 2020:

I still have vivid memories of visiting this area over 35 years ago. There's a lot of evidence left of the D-Day landings. Thanks for sharing your memories. Going back even further we visited Ypres, Belgium several years ago and did a battlefield tour to learn about World War 1 in the area. Farmers in Europe are still turning up relics from both world wars as they tend their land.