Normandy is best known for June 6, 1944– D-Day, or Jour-J en français, also known as the day the Allied troops (Canadian, British, and American) stormed the beaches and overtook Nazi Germany occupation. Essentially, this event was the turning point of the war, which eventually resulted in an Allied-victory.
Normandy is why I first fell in love with France. It’s rustic-beautiful, it’s entrenched in history, and the mix of flying American flags as well as all things French makes me feel like I’m living in the best of both worlds, merging two identities. Perhaps why it’s one of my all-time favorite regions in France.
Unfortunately, Normandy is a bit isolated, so the best way to see all the D-Day sights is by car. You should give yourself a full day to see the essentials, including Caen, Arromanches, the American Cemetery and Omaha Beach, and Pont-du-Hoc. If you have a few extra days, I highly recommend taking one to check out Mont Saint Michel, another to do Etretat and Honfleur, and a third for Bayeux. My friend and I took two days over this past Christmas break to see the essentials.
D-Day Essentials Include:
- Le Mémorial de Caen: The Mémorial de Caen is a museum and war memorial in Caen, commemorating the causes; courses of conflict, and liberation of France during World War II. There are also three memorial gardens, The American Garden, The British Garden and the Canadian Garden, all dedicated to the main allied nations who liberated France. The student price for this museum is 16 euros; it is extremely well done and well worth the visit. Plan on spending at least two hours inside.
- Arromanches: Once you have checked out the Mémorial, head towards the coast, with Arromanches as your first stop. Arromanches is remembered as the location where first a temporary harbor and then later an artificial port was installed, allowing of 9,000 tons of material to be imported per day. Today, you can see what is left from the ports along the seaside. The 360-degree cinema in Arromanches is also currently showing a 20-minute video entitled Normandy’s 100 Days. For 4 euros, you can enjoy the spectacular film on 9 screens, and learn about the terrible Battle of Normandy.This film is extremely moving, and pays tribute to soldiers and civilians who were killed during battle. There is also a small museum.
- American Cemetery/Omaha Beach: From Arromanches, continue west to the American Cemetery, located just above Omaha Beach, the bloodiest of all the beaches, in Colleville-sur-Mer. Entrance to the cemetery is free, and walking along the grounds is a very humbling experience. Interestingly enough, the American Cemetery is actually considered to be US soil. It covers 172.5 acres, holds the remains of 9,387 American soldiers, and memorializes 1,557 men on the Walls of the Missing, a semicircular garden on the east side of the memorial, rosettes inscribed alongside the names of those who have since been recovered and identified. You can also take the path down to the actual beach, as well as check out the newly-added information center, with a really great, informative museum downstairs.
- Pont du Hoc: The last stop on your Normandy tour should be Pont du Hoc, located another 4 miles (6.4 km) west of the American Cemetery. Pont du Hoc is the highest point between Utah Beach and Omaha Beach, and during the war, the Germans highly secured and fortified the area with concrete bunkers and gun pits. On D-Day, the US Army captured Pont du Hoc via scaling the cliffs. Today, you can admire the spectacular views and explore the bunkers on foot. The remains are actually incredible.
If you have any extra time in Normandy, I highly recommend:
- Bayeux, where you can see the oldest tapestry in the world.
- Etretat, one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to!
- Honfleur, a great, little, ancient port city!
- Mont Saint Michel, because it’s Mont Saint Michel.
Do you recommend any other Normandy hot spots? Do you love Normandy as much as I do?