On June 6, 1944 – now known to history as D-Day – Operation Overlord, the long-awaited invasion of Northwest Europe, began with Allied landings on the coast of Normandy. The task was formidable, for the Germans had turned the coastline into a continuous fortress with guns, pillboxes, wire, mines, and beach obstacles - and on it depended the likely outcome of the war. Following an all-night bombardment of the assault areas, the Allies attacked on a five-division front, with the simultaneous landing of U.S., British, and Canadian forces on five separate beachheads code named:
Troops from three airborne divisions descended by parachute and glider on the flanks of the invasion area. The American 82nd and 101st airborne divisions were dropped into a zone at the base of the Cotentin Peninsula, and secured their objectives. The British 6th Airborne Division at the eastern end captured key bridges over the Caen Canal and Orne River. When the seaborne units began to land about 6:30 AM on June 6, the allied soldiers stormed the beaches against fierce opposition from German gun positions and mined beach obstacles. The soldiers raced across the wide-open beaches swept with machine gun fire, and stormed the gun positions. In fierce hand-to-hand fighting, they fought their way into the towns and hills and then advanced inland.
By the end of the day the 3rd British Division was within three miles of Caen, the 3rd Canadian Division was well established on its intermediate objectives and the 50th Division was only two miles from Bayeux. In the American zone, the 4th Division had established a 4-mile deep penetration inland and was within reach of Ste-Mere-Eglise, where the 82nd had fought throughout the night. The assault forces at "Omaha" beach had met fierce resistance, incurring significant casualties, but here too, beachheads had been established.
It was a magnificent accomplishment; the formidable Atlantic Wall had been successfully breached. By the end of D-Day, the Allies had landed more than 150,000 troops in France by sea and air, 6,000 vehicles including 900 tanks, 600 guns and about 4,000 tons of supplies and, astonishingly, had achieved complete surprise in doing it. More soldiers and supplies were pouring ashore to continue the advance on D-Day-plus-one. The victory was a turning point in World War II and led to the liberation of Europe and the defeat of Nazi Germany.
Normandy has a 'maritime' climate. The summers are warm and winters are mild. Rain however is a part of the climate all year round, winter seeing more rain than summer. The ongoing rain isn't enough to spoil a vacation most of the time and it does have a benefit, the nature is incredibly lush and green. Winter does see the occasional snow and frost as well, but in general the climate is pretty moderate in winter.
Summers are a little warmer than in southern Britain with up to 8 hours of sunshine per day. Cyclists love the region because it is not nearly as hot as most other parts of France and can be more compared to southern England than inland France. Either way, sunscreen and a hat is necessary even if it doesn't feel as hot as the rest of France, the sun is still beating down with force!
Normandy is easily reachable from Paris, either by car (2 to 3 hours drive) or by train (2 hours from Paris St Lazare station to Caen central station). Alternatively, a ferry across the channel will take you in 5 hours from Portsmouth to Ouistreham, the easternmost D-day target, an ideal starting point.
Car rental in Normandy can be arranged through several international chains including Avis, Budget, Eurocar and Hertz. Cars can be picked up in Caen and . Driving in France is on the right hand side of the road and all distance and speed measurements are in km.
bus routes in Normandy with services between Caen and Bayeux, Bayeux and Ouistrem, and Bayeux to Grandcamp. These cover most of the main landing beaches. All the routes are operated by Bus Verts du Calvados, and free timetables can be acquired from the main tourist offices. Telephone 0810 214 214.
Bike tours are very popular in France and biking is an excellent way of visitng the battlefields. You can rent bicycles at most major towns and railway stations in France.
Local tourist information offices will provide a leaflet (in English) that lists key visitor attractions, and has details of seven route itineraries which are also signposted on the road network.
Now more than 60 years after D-Day, the Normandy coast is peaceful with lovely seaside towns and picturesque beaches. Behind the coast is an old-fashioned farming landscape of grain fields, cattle and pastures, hedges and farmhouses. But the memories of war and D-Day are engrained in the landscape. Along the 50-mile D-Day invasion coast there are the remains of German gun emplacements and bunkers, while war memorials and monuments mark where the allied forces landed on the beaches. Inland, there are monuments in almost every village and at every bend in the road, for there is barely a square yard that wasn’t fought over. Beautiful cemeteries overlook the sea and countryside and are essential stops along the way to understand and reflect on the human cost of the war. Along the coast and inland there are numerous D-Day related museums. Only by visiting do you get a proper idea of the vastness of the enterprise.
When you visit, “Take time to stroll on the beaches and through the villages and to drive country lanes that are once again regulated by rural rhythms, just as if they’d never been devastated at all. It’s pretty and poignant, and here’s a strange thing, it brings out the best in people. There’s respect in the air and a common bond between visitors. Folk behave well, smile and chat more easily than usual.” Anthony Peregrine, The Sunday Times.
An excellent time to visit is on the June 6th anniversary when there are numerous memorial ceremonies to mark the occasion. A large number of reenactment groups attend, adding pageantry and atmosphere. The church bells ring in the towns to celebrate the anniversary of their liberation. The French people will be happy to see you - these people remember, and the welcome will be warm.
The following description of the beaches is organized in an “east to west” order, so that it can be used to organize a driving tour along the coast. The length of a tour depends on how many sites and museums a person decides to visits. Enthusiasts could spend several weeks, however a 2 or 3 day visit will suffice to cover a couple of museums and most of the major sites. A good starting point is to get an orientation on the area and history of D-Day at either the Memorial de Caen, Caen or Musée du Débarquement (The Landing Museum) in Arromanches, and from there set out to explore.
The beaches are still known today by their D-Day code names.
Sword beach, the most easterly of the five beaches, stretches from Ouistreham to Luc-sur-Mer. The British 3rd Infantry Division landed on the 2½-miles of beach between Ouistreham and Lion-sur-mer. The 41st Royal Marine Commando landed at Lion-sur-Mer, while the N°4 British Commando landed at Ouistreham. Integrated with the N°4 British Commando were 177 Frenchmen of the 1st Batallion of Fusiliers Marins Commandos who were granted the honor to set foot on Normandy soil in the first wave. On the eastern flank of Sword beach, the Sixth British Airborne had parachuted in the early morning hours of June 6th to seize bridges over the River Orne and Caen canal, silence gun batteries and secure the eastern flank of the D-Day beaches.
1. Musée de la Batterie de Merville, Merville-Franceville Located in the Merville coastal battery casemate, the museum retraces the Sixth British Airborne operations. Place du 9ème Bataillon, 14810 Merville-Franceville, Tel. 02 31 91 47 53
2. Mémorial Pégasus, Ranville - Benouville The capture of Pegasus Bridge was a remarkable achievement of the Glider Pilot regiment and the Sixth British Airborne. The story is well covered in the museum where exhibits include the original Pégasus Bridge and a Horsa Glider. Several monuments to the Sixth British Airborne are beside the bridge. Avenue du Major Howard - 14860 Ranville, Tel. 02 31 78 19 44 (£2.85)
3. Site D’Ouistreham This beautiful seaside resort town has a legacy of fortifications, memorials, museums and military cemeteries, that stand at ease between beach hotels, fine stretches of sand, breezy cliffs and postcard-picturesque fishing harbours. There are several monuments in the town including the Free French monument - Kieffer monument, Royal Navy et Royal Marines monument, 13th/18th Royal Hussars monument, and N°4 Commando and Commando Kieffer plaques.
4. Musée No4 Commando (N° 4 Commando Museum), Ouistreham In this museum one can see scales models, weapons, and uniforms to retrace the epic story of the Franco-British Commandos who landed on Sword Beach. Place Alfred Thomas - 14150 Ouistreham, Tel. 02 31 96 63 10
5. Musée Du Mur De L’Atlantique (Atlantic Wall Museum), Ouistreham In a former artillery range-finding post on the Atlantic Wall, this 17 meter high concrete tower is the only one of its kind and has been restored and re-equipped to its original state. Avenue du 6 Juin 14150 Ouistreham Tél, 02 31 97 28 69
6. Site de Lion-sur-Mer Monuments include the Liberation monument, Royal Engineers Corps monument, and 41st Royal Marine Commando stele.
7. Site de Colleville-Montgomery A plaque is located on the Hillman Battery main blockhouse in memory of the 1st Battalion the Suffolk Regiment soldiers. There is also a General Montgomery statue and the Provisional Cemetery, Kieffer and Montgomery monument.
8. Site D’Hermanville Monuments in the area include 3rd Infantry Division and South Lancashire monument, Royal Artillery monument, Allied headquarter and Field hospital plaques and Allied Navy sailors monument. The British Cemetery Hermanville-sur-Mer, where 1,003 soldiers rest is close to Hermanville-sur-Mer.
9. Musée Du Radar, (Radar Museum), Douvres-la-Delivrande Located on the site of a German fortified radar base, the museum explains the evolution and operation of radar. Outside one can observe a German radar Würzburg. Route de Basly 14440 Douvres la Délivrande, Tel 02 31 06 06 45
10. Ranville War Cemetery The name of Ranville will always be linked with the parachute and glider landings of the 6th Airborne Division, many of whose dead are buried here, among the 2,235 graves.
Juno beach is five miles wide and includes the towns of St. Aubin-sur-Mer, Bernières-sur-Mer and Courseulles-sur-Mer. On D-Day the coastline had been fortified by the occupying Germans and bristled with guns, concrete emplacements, pillboxes, fields of barbed wire and mines. The 3rd Canadian Infantry Division reinforced by the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade landed in two brigade groups and fought their way across the beaches and into the towns. The No. 48 Royal Marine Commando secured the left flank at Langrune-sur-Mer. The opposition the Canadians faced was stronger than that of any other beach save Omaha.
11. Site de Langrune-sur-Mer Located in the town center, on the sea front is the 48th Royal Marine Commando monument. In the entrance hall of the city hall there is a plaque in memory of the friendship between the 48th Royal Marines Commando veterans and the citizens of Langrune-sur-Mer.
12. Site de Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer A 50-mm gun casement has been preserved at Place du Canada. There are stone memorials to the North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment, Fort Garry Horse and 48th Royal Marine Commando here.
13. Site de Bernieres-sur-Mer This pretty seaside village is distinguished by its church with a 13th century bell tower and 220-foot spire. La Maison Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada commemorates the men of this regiment. The house is one the famous houses on the beach as it appeared in many news reels and official photos. Memorials to the Queen’s Own Rifles, Le Regiment de la Chaudière and Fort Garry Horse are located by a German bunker at La Place du Canada. There is an excellent view of the beach from the bunker position and you can imagine what it must have been like when 800 men of the Queens’s Own Rifles stormed ashore here as the lead wave of the dramatic D-Day assault. There are also the North Nova Scotia Highlanders plaque and Journalists HQ plaque. There is a walkway on the seawall that makes for a pleasant stroll along the ocean. If you walk east along the seawall about ½ km, you can see the house that appears in the background on the famous film footage showing the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada storming the beach on D-Day.
14. Site de Courseulles-sur-Mer In the Courseulles-sur-Mer town center, on the sea front there is a Sherman Duplex Drive (DD) tank on display. This tank was recovered in 1970 from the sea and restored. Badges of regimental units who fought in the area are welded to it. Monuments in the area include the Royal Winnipeg Rifles monument, Regina Rifles Regiment stele, Canadian Scottish Regiment stele, Royal Engineers plaque, and the Liberation and De Gaulle monument. The Croix de Lorraine monument commemorates the return of General de Gaulle in France.
15. Centre Juno Beach (Juno Beach Centre), Courseulles-sur-Mer The Juno Beach Centre presents Canada’s role in military operations and the war effort on the home front in World War II. Film, audio and displays bring pre-war and wartime Canada alive, as well as covering the fighting experiences. Juno Park at the front of the center has walkways with interpretation panels, a preserved German bunker and a path leading to the beach. There is little development here, so nothing interrupts your contemplation of beach and ocean. You can imagine the sands littered with mines-on-sticks, spiky metal “hedgehogs”, barbed wire and other barbarisms intended to rip the heart out of landing craft and the 14,000 Canadians that landed in this area.
Voie des Français Libres - BP 104 - 14470 Courseulles-sur-Mer, Tel. 02 31 37 32 17 (£3.50)
16. Site de Graye-sur-Mer Monuments include the Liberation monument , Churchill “One Charlie” tank - Breakthrough plaque, Royal Winnipeg Rifles and 1st Canadian Scottish plaque, Canadian plaque, and Inns of Court monument.
17. Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, Reviers Surrounded by the fields where the 3rd Canadian Division fought, this cemetery contains the graves of 2,044 Canadian soldiers. This is a place of reflection and remembrance.
Gold beach is more than 5 miles wide and includes the towns of La Rivière, Le Hamel and Arromanches. The British 50th Infantry Division reinforced by the British 8th Armoured Brigade landed in two brigade groups at Gold beach. The 47th Royal Marine Commando landed on the western flank with the objective to take Port-en-Bessin.
18. Musee America Gold Beach (America Gold Beach museum), Ver-sur-Mer This museum recounts the 1st airmail flight between the USA and France, together with a retrospective of the D-Day Landing and the British beachhead on Gold Beach. 2 Place Amiral Byrd - 14114 Ver-sur-Mer, Tel 02 31 22 58 58
19. Arromanches 360 The film “The Price Of Freedom” impressively mixes archived film from June 1944 with present day pictures and is presented on 9 screens in a circular theater. Chemin du Calvaire – BP 9 – 14117 Arromanches, Tel 02 31 22 30 30
20. Arromanches At Arromanches, you’re looking down a stretch of Gold Beach and site of the Mulberry harbour. The invasion needed a port to bring in supplies on a huge scale. So the allies built concrete pontoons that were towed across the channel and sunk to form the port’s outer perimeter. Twenty of the original 115 pontoons still defy the waves.
21. Musée du Débarquement (The Landing Museum), Arromanches Located in front of the actual vestiges of the Mulberries, this museum is devoted to the incredible feat of technology achieved by the British in building and setting up the artificial harbour. Military equipment is on display outside. Place du 6 Juin - 14117 Arromanches, Tel. 02 31 22 34 31 (£3.90),
22. Batterie de Longues, Longues-sur-Mer The Longues-sur-Mer battery housed four 150 mm guns with a range of 20 kms and gave the Allied ships a pounding on the morning of 6th June. It is the only coastal battery to have kept its guns, giving an impressive picture of what an Atlantic Wall gun emplacement was really like. 14400 Longues-sur-Mer, Tel. 02 31 06 06 45, Access from the D514 road (follow the road-signs).
23. Site de Port-en-Bessin A Monument in memory of the 47th Royal Marine Commando soldiers who were killed during the liberation of Port-en-Bessin and Asnelles is located on top of the cliff, at the western side of the harbor.
24. Musée des épaves sous-marines (Under-water wrecks museum), Port-en-Bessin This museum presents recovered wrecks and artifacts from more than twenty-five years of under-water exploration, in the coastal landing area. Wrecks include a Sherman tank. Route de Bayeux - Commes - 14520 Port-en-Bessin, Tel. 02 31 21 17 06
25. Musée Memorial de la Bataille de Normandie, (Battle of Normandy Memorial Museum), Bayeux This museum offers a chronological presentation of the events of the Battle of Normandy along with an exhibition of equipment, weapons and uniforms, films, mementoes and slides. Bd Fabian Ware - 14400 Bayeux, Tel. 02 31 51 46 90
26. Musee Memorial du General de Gaulle (General de Gaulle Memorial), Bayeux Situated in the former Governors House, this museum is dedicated to the numerous visits made by the General to Bayeux and in particular, the two important speeches delivered on 14 June 1944 and 16 June 1946. Film archives, photos, manuscripts, documents and memorabilia. 10, rue Bourbesneur - 14400 Bayeux, Tel. 02 31 92 45 55
27. Bayeux War Cemetery Bayeux War Cemetery is the largest British cemetery of the Second World War in France, containing the graves of 3,843 British soldiers. The Bayeux Memorial stands opposite the war cemetery and bares the names of 1808 Commonwealth soldiers who have no known grave.
Omaha beach is overlooked by bluffs which rise to 150 feet and command the beaches. These naturally strong defensive positions had been skillfully fortified by the Germans with concrete gun emplacements, anti-tank guns and machine guns. Allied bombing left these largely undamaged, and since there was no cover on the beach, this tranquil strand of beach became a killing field. The US 1st Infantry Division had the most difficult landing of the whole Allied assault on D-Day. Within a mile to the rear of the beach lay the fortified villages of Colleville-sur-Mer, Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer and Vierville-sur-Mer
28. Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, Colleville-sur-Mer Overlooking Omaha Beach, this 172.5 acre cemetery contains the graves of 9,387 American soldiers. The rows of perfectly aligned headstones against the immaculate, emerald green lawn convey an unforgettable feeling of peace and tranquility. The beaches can be viewed from the bluffs above, and there is a path down to the beach. 14710 Colleville-sur-Mer, Tel 02 31 51 62 00
29. 1st Infantry Division Monument, Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer A monument dedicated to the “Big Red One”, the US 1st Infantry Division, is located on the sea front, within walking distance from the American cemetery. Other monuments in the area include the 5th Engineer Special Brigade Memorial, and plaques commemorating the American armoured vehicles that passed through here.
30. Musée Memorial d’Omaha Beach (Omaha Beach Memorial Museum), Saint Laurent-sur-Mer Located in Saint Laurent-sur-Mer on Omaha Beach, this museum has a fine collection of uniforms, weapons, personal objects and vehicles. Dioramas, photos, and maps together with a film featuring veterans’ testimonies explain the landings at Omaha Beach and at Pointe du Hoc. A landing ship, Sherman tank and “Long Tom” 155 mm gun are on display outside. “les Moulins" - Avenue de la Libération 14710 Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, Tel. 02 31 21 97 44
32. Site de Vierville-sur-Mer Monuments here include the 29th US Infantry Division stele, National Guard monument, 6th Engineer Special Brigade stele, 29th DI Engineer plate, 81st CM battalion and 110th FA bat. Plates, 5th Rangers Battalion plate, 58th Armored Field Battalion stele, Boundary Marker in memory of the 58the Artillery Battalion. Along the coastal road, 500 meters from Les Moulins a monument is situated in the place of the First American Cemetery in Normandy on Omaha beach. The soldiers interred there were later moved to the military cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer. The beach's desolation makes it a powerful site to imagine soldiers battling on the sand, completely vulnerable to German artillery.
33. La Pointe du Hoc La Pointe du Hoc, a rocky headland towering over the beaches, has become a symbol of the courage of American troops. Here, Germans had placed bunkers and artillery. The positions were bombed, shelled and then attacked by 225 US Rangers, who scaled the 35-metre rock wall, besieged the bunkers and finally took them, only to find there were no guns at all. The guns had been dismantled and hidden in an orchard inland. Only 90 rangers were still standing at the summit. Today, bomb and shell craters remain. There is a monument in memory of the 2nd Rangers Battalion, who assaulted and captured La Pointe du Hoc battery. The memorial is built on a control firing casemate where bodies of the soldiers still lie under the ruins.
34. Musée des Rangers – Batterie de Maisy (Rangers Museum), Grandcamp Maisy This museum recalls the history of the American Rangers unit, who assaulted La Pointe du Hoc on the D-Day. Uniforms and equipment displays revive the actions of the American Rangers. 14450 Grandcamp-Maisy, Tel. 02 31 92 33 51
Utah beach, the most westerly of the five beaches, was attacked by the US 4th Infantry Division. By mistake the landings all took place on the southern part of the beach which happened to be less well defended. Airborne troops landed through the night to secure the invasion’s western flank and to open the roads for their colleagues landing by sea at dawn. The objective was to cut the Cotentin Peninsula in two, and take Cherbourg.
35. Dead Man’s Corner Museum, Saint Come du Mont At the point where the 101st Airborne Division encountered the Green Devils (the German paratroopers) you can get an insight into the battle for Carentan on the site which has remained largely intact. 2 Village de l'Amont - 50500 Saint Come du Mont, Tel./Fax 02 33 42 00 42
36. Musée Airborne (Airborne Museum), Sainte-Mère-Eglise The story of D-Day is told in pictures and mementos of the American 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions. On display is a Douglas C47, weapons, equipment, uniforms and historic objects. 14 rue Eisenhower - 50480 Sainte-Mère-Église, Tel. 02 33 41 41 35 (£2.85),
37. Ste-Mère-Eglise Ste-Mère-Eglise, is perhaps the most famous “D-day village” of all. Street panels around Ste-Mère-Eglise explain the operations of the US paratroopers. In the square, a parachute effigy still dangles from the church, commemorating what happened to John Steele when his parachute snagged on the spire. Inside the church is a stained-glass window featuring the Virgin and child, surrounded by paratroopers. Monuments in the area include the 82nd Airborne plate, 505th Parachute regiment stele, and Sainte-Mère-Église liberators stele.
38. Musée du Débarquement (Utah Beach Landing Museum) Located opposite the beach on the Utah site, this museum uses film, documents and models to recall D-Day in a unique and innovative manner. Several armored vehicles, equipment and a landing ship are on display. Utah Beach - 50480 Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, Tel. 02 33 71 53 35 (£2.70)
39. Monuments located by the Utah Beach Museum include: American soldier’s monument, 4th Infantry Division monument, 90th Infantry Division monument, VIIth Corps headquarter plaque, Coast Guard plaque and US Navy plaque.
40. Batterie d’Azeville (Azeville Battery), Azeville Located near Sainte-Mère-Eglise, the Azeville Battery consisted of a dozen casemates, including four blockhouses with 105 mm heavy guns, 350m of underground tunnels, underground rooms and ammunition storages. The position was held by 170 German gunners. Guided tours of the Azeville battery offers insight into the German coastal defences and the battle that took place here. La Rue - 50310 Azeville, Tel. 02 33 40 63 05
41. Musée de la Batteries de Crisberg (Crisbeq Gun Battery Museum), Saint Marcouf The Crisbeq Gun Battery was one of the largest German coastal artillery batteries located on Utah Beach. There are 21 blockhouses linked by more than 1km of trenches and restored recreation rooms, hospital and kitchens. Route des Manoirs - 50310 Saint-Marcouf, Tel. 06 86 10 80 59
42. Memorial de la Liberte Retrouvee (Freedom museum), Quinéville This museum recalls the French peoples daily life during the German occupation until the liberation. 18 avenue de la Plage - 50310 Quinéville, Tel. /Fax 02 33 95 95 95
Tour the beaches and battlefields, see the various museums throughout the area, and visit the seaside villages and towns.
Guided tours of the D-Day beaches are available from a number of tour companies.
Take a D-Day Beach day trip from Paris.
Take a private plane tour from England for a unique aerial and land tour of the Normandy D-Day beaches.
Take a self guided cycling tour of the Normandy beaches.
Bayeux is an excellent town to stay in. It is easy to get in and out of, and convenient for visiting the Omaha, Gold and Juno beach sectors. It has excellent restaurants and shops with an interesting pedestrian section.
Hotels in Bayeux
Many visitors stay in Caen, the capital of Normandy with its various attractions an excellent shopping.
Hotels in Caen
Hotels in Arromanches-les-Bains
Hotels in Ouistreham