Top Normandy D-Day Landing Beaches and World War II Sites

  • 01 of 10

    Caen Memorial

    caenmemstairs
    ••• Caen Memorial, Normandy. © Mary Anne Evans, licensed

    If possible, start with the Mémorial de Caen - a visit here will give you an overview of World War II and the part the Normandy D-Day Landing Beaches played. Housed in a modern purpose-built structure on the outskirts of Caen, the huge exhibition takes you from 1918 and the damaged peace through World War II and on to 1989 and the fall of the Berlin Wall. the museum is very well laid out so you can take it in sections, spending as much time as you want in each part.

    The memorial is full of objects, models and films made both during the war and afterwards and you are carried easily into the history of the war and the stories of the soldiers. Particularly impressive sections include Total War, the 1941 events such as the attack on Pearl Harbor that took the war from Europe to the rest of the world. You should allow at least half a day; a whole day is best. But don’t try to do more than the Memorial in a day; it’s comprehensive, packed with stories and events of the war. Not only is it...MORE best to absorb all this before taking in more of the Normandy sites; a visit here is sobering and you may be left feeling drained.

    Guide and information on the Memorial de Caen

    More about Caen

    Guide to hotels and restaurants near the D-Day Landing Beaches

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  • 02 of 10

    The Airborne Museum in Ste-Mere Eglise

    airbornemus
    ••• Airborne Museum, Ste-Mere Eglise, Normandy. © Mary Anne Evans, licensed

    The first thing you see when you drive into the center of Ste-Mère Eglise is a lifelike model of the soldier John Steele hanging trapped in his flapping parachute on the tower of the church. He landed early in the morning, part of the attack by the American troops of the 82nd and the 101st Divisions. Ste-Mère Eglise was vital to the Allies, protecting Utah Beach and the American Normandy landings. The attack was ultimately a success, and it became the first town liberated on the night of June 6th, 1944.

    Airborne Museum

    The story continues in the Airborne Museum, right next to the church. It’s a small museum, with two main buildings housing a selection of documents, weapons, models and items from the war. Standing in pride of place is a Waco glider, the only one still intact and on display; the second building houses a Douglas C-47 (Dakota) plane that dropped paratroopers and towed gliders to the village.

    There are plenty of stories attached to many of the artefacts, so if you can, ask one...MORE of the people working at the museum for a guided tour. John Steele played dead for 2 hours but was finally captured by the Germans, along with others. They were locked in a bicycle shop but the Germans didn't check the back door which was left open. It took John Steele two days to find and rejoin his company.

    The casualty rate among the soldiers in the gliders was appalling -– 60 to 70 percent got into the tightly packed, fragile planes knowing they would die or be captured. The museum covers the battle with plenty of models, such as one of soldiers outside a plane, blackening their faces and preparing for battle. There’s also a film, Fight for Freedom which is well worth seeing.

    The small village played an important part in the film The Longest Day, made here in 1961, so som eof the buildings may be familiar.

    Practical Information

    Musée Airborne
    14 rue Eisenhower
    50480 Sainte-Mère-Eglise
    Tel.:00 33 (0)2 33 41 41 35
    Website (in English)

    Open
    February 1st to March 31st 10am-5pm
    April 1st to September 30th 9am-6.45pm
    October 1st to December 30th 10am-5pm
    Closed December 24th, 25th, 31st and January

     

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  • 03 of 10

    A Driving Tour of More Sites around Ste-Mere-Eglise and Utah Beach

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    ••• One of the stops on the Open Sky Museum Tour, Normandy. © Mary Anne Evans, licensed

    Pick up a map and an audio guide at the Tourist Office in Ste-Mère-Eglise and take yourself around some of the smaller memorials and sites of the Normandy D-Day Landings and the subsequent battles. It’s very well done, with a GPs guiding you along the small roads.

    After a general introduction, there are 11 stops on the tour. At each of these, there are images of the actual battles and commentary that tells you exactly what happened.

    The tour is easy to follow and you take it at your own pace and the tour takes from 2 to 3 hours.

    Hiring the audio-guide costs 8 euros. You will be asked to leave a deposit of 250 euros (returnable when you hand back the audio-guide), and some form of idenification, i.e. an identity card or credit card.

    Practical Information

    Tourist Office
    6 rue Eisenhower
    50480 Saint-Mère-Eglise
    Tel.: 00 33 (02) 33 21 00 33
    Tourist Office Website

     

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  • 04 of 10

    Utah Beach D-Day Museum

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    ••• Briefing Room at the Utah Beach Museum, Normandy. © Mary Anne Evans, licensed

    Utah Beach Museum (Musée du Debarquément Utah Beach) stands on the sandy dunes of a beautiful stretch of Normandy coastline. Today it’s the place for windsurfers, walkers and people swimming in the clear waters. On June 6th, 1944, it was a very different scene. At 10 minutes past midnight, Lieutenant Poole landed on Utah Beach, the first allied soldier to set foot on French soil. It was the start of Operation Overlord.

    The museum stands on the actual site where the American troops landed. It very effectively tells the story through different sections, starting chronologically with the German defences and Rommel’s part in the building of the Atlantic Wall defence. The Germans had been here since 1941 and life was hard both for the occupiers, reduced to horse-drawn carriages as they had run out of equipment, and the inhabitants, who lived on the edge of starvation.

    There’s a very good mix of films and objects, and a complete briefing room illustrating the allied strategy and the events of...MORE June 6th, 1944. Going to the upper level you get a fabulous view of the dunes. Also on show in a new hangar-style building is a huge Martin B-26-G bomber.

    Practical Information

    50480 Sainte-Marie-du-Mont
    Tel.: 00 33 (0)2 33 71 53 35
    Website (in English)
    Location

    Open
    June to September 9.30am-7pm
    April, May, October 10am-6pm
    February, March and November 10am-5.30pm
    Closed January and February

    Admission Adult 7.50 euros, child 7 to 15 years 3 euros

     

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  • 05 of 10

    American World War II Cemetery in Normandy

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    ••• The peaceful American World War II Cemetery in Normandy. © Mary Anne Evans, licensed

    The American Military Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer holds 9,387 American graves. Most of the soldiers buried here were involved in the Normandy D-Day Landings and the battles that followed. The cemetery is on the site of the temporary St Laurent graveyard, established by the U.S. First Army on June 8, 1944. Among the first casualties were those of the U.S. 82nd and 101st Divisions landing by glider along with the British 6th on the Normandy beaches. Also here are those from the U.S. 4th Infantry Division at Utah Beach and the U.S. 1st and 29th Infantry Divisions from Omaha Beach.

    Start at the Visitor Center and an exhibition that shows Operation Overlord and the lives of some of the soldiers who fought and died. Don’t miss the extremely poignant film Letters which reveals the lives of some of the young soldiers through the words and memories of their mothers, fathers, girlfriends and friends.

    The cemetery itself is huge, covering 172.5 acres. To get there, walk down a path to a plaque...MORE which shows you the battle and offers a panoramic view of the sweeping sandy beach below. In the cemetery itself, the white headstones on a gentle slope stretch into the distance, seemingly into infinity. At one end stands the Memorial; in the middle there’s a chapel and at the end two huge American military cemetery in this part of the world; that particular honour goes to the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery but it is the most moving. 

    Practical Information

    14710 Colleville-sur-Mer
    Tel.: 00 33 (0)2 31 51 62 00
    Website

    Open April 15th to September 15th 9am-6pm
    September 16th to April 14th 9am-5pm
    Closed December 25th and January 1st.

     

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  • 06 of 10

    The D-Day Museum, Arromanches-sur-Mer

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    ••• Arromanches D-Day Museum, Normandy. © Mary Anne Evans, licensed

    The Musée du Debarquément (D-Day Museum) at Arromanches explains the construction of the extraordinary Mulberry Harbor. In 1942 Churchill had sent a memo to Lord Mountbatten about the construction: "They must float up and down with the tide. The anchor problem must be mastered. Let me have the best solution."

    A formidable task, but the best solution was an ingenious series of artificial ports built to dock ships arriving after the main troop landings with essential guides and supplies. To form the barrier against the sea, huge concrete blocks and old ships were sunk at various points to form the barrier. The timing was impressive: the harbor was begun after the liberation of Arromanches on June 6th; the ships were scuttled on June 7th, the concrete blocks were sunk on June 8th, and by June 14th the first cargoes were being unloaded. Added to the technical difficulties was the bad weather, destroying a part of the new harbor and setting the plan back while the damage was...MORE repaired.

    The museum is quite old and small but effective with an excellent film on the building of the Mulberry harbors and models and items explaining the construction. Looking out over the long beaches, the remains of the artificial port is still visible, nearly 70 years after it was built.

    Practical Information

    Place du 6 Juin
    14117 Arromanches
    Tel.: 00 33 (0)2 31 22 34 31
    Website

    Open May to August 9am-7pm
    September 9am-6pm
    April 9am-12.30pm, 1.30-6pm
    March and October 9.30am-12.30pm, 1.30-5pm
    Closed December 24th, 25th, 31st, and January
    Admission 6.50 euros

     

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  • 07 of 10

    Arromanches 360degree Circular Cinema

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    ••• Film clip at Arromanches 360 Circular Cinema, Normandy. © Caen Memorial, Normandy

    Climb a series of steps from the middle of Arromanches, or take the car up to the circular cinema high above the little town. Standing in the center of the cinema, a film rolls around you on 9 screens. At the moment it shows the present day Normandy beaches, cut with archive footage of the actual events. The cinema is now run by the Memorial at Caen, and there are plans for a brand new film in 2013. But note: You may feel dizzy during the film, so be prepared!

    Practical Information

    Chemin du Calvaire
    14117 Arromanches
    Tel.: 00 33 (0)2 31 22 30 30
    Website

    Open September 1st to 15th 10.10am-6.10pm
    September 16th to October 31st 10.10am-5.40pm
    November 1st to 7th 10.10am-5.10pm
    November 8th to 30th Tuesday to Sunday 10.10am-5.10pm
    Closed December 2012 and January 2013 for refurbishment

    2013 opening times
    February 1st to 15th Tuesday to Sunday 10.10am-5.10pm
    February 16th to March 30th 10.10am-5.40pm
    March 31st to May 31st 9.40am-6.10pm
    June 1st to August 31st 9.40am-6.40pm
    Admission Adult 4.30euros,...MORE child 10 to 18 years 3.80 euros

     

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  • 08 of 10

    Museum of the British 6th Airborne Division, Pegasus Bridge

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    ••• Pegasus Bridge Museum, Normandy. © Mary Anne Evans, licensed

    The British 6th Airborne Division was made up of over 12,000 troops which included a battalion of 600 volunteer Canadian troops, 177 French Commandos, a Belgian unit and a Dutch brigade. Their task was to drop from the gliders that took them silently to the target, and land to the east of the main beaches to protect the D-Day landings from German troops.

    At the museum you start with a short film of the expedition, with a voice over delivered with the kind of clipped accent that takes you straight back to the 1940s. It shows the expedition and sets a few nice myths straight: in the film of The Longest Day, Lord Lovat and his bagpiper walk across the bridge. In fact they ran over the bridge, with the bagpipes silent.

    The first Horsa gliders left their base in Dorset in the UK and took 69 minutes to cross the Channel. The first men landed at 9 minutes past midnight on June 6th making this the real start of the expeditions. It was an amazing feat in the dark: one glider was so accurate it...MORE landed 47 yards from one of the two main targets: the bridge over the Canal (the Benouville that was renamed Pegasus Bridge after the emblem of the division), and the bridge over the River Orne (Ranville). The bridges were vital -– the only crossing points between Caen and the sea and they had to be captured intact.

    Outside, the scene is dominated by the original Pegasus Bridge, now marooned as part of the museum. There’s also a Bailey Bridge, huts with different exhibitions inside, and a reconstructed Horsa glider.

    Take a guided tour to hear some of the stories (such as Lord Lovat’s bagpiper), and a range of facts you won’t pick up in the museum. The Green Berets broke the rules by landing with their green berets on, not helmets; the youngest soldier over the bridge was 16 and was killed in the battle. These and more add to your visit.

    Practical Information

    Avenue du Major Howard
    14860 Ranville
    Tel.: 00 33 (0)2 31 78 19 44
    Website

    Open February to November daily. Summer 9.30-6.30pm, Winter 10am-5pm
    Admission Adult 6 euros, child 8 to 18 years 4.50 euros
    A visit, with guide, last around 1 hr 15 mins.

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  • 09 of 10

    The Merville Gun Battery

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    ••• One of the bunkers at the Merville Gun Battery, Normandy. © Mary Anne Evans, licensed

    The Merville Gun Battery squats in the ground, just a few yards from the sea. Part of the huge Atlantic Wall built by the Germans to defend Europe against any Allied invasion, it was heavily fortified, particularly after a visit by Rommel who recognized the strategic importance of the site.

    Today it’s rather eerie, both peaceful with the sea on one side and a small town on the other, and sinister with its massive bunkers. You take a circular walk, going into the various bunkers for different experiences. Start outside with a Dakota (not the right plane, this one comes from Bosnia with, naturally, a good story attached), then move round to see the history of the 9th Battalion’s assault and capture of the battery, at a terrible cost of lives. Of the 750 sent on the mission, 150 landed here and only 75 survived.

    Be prepared for some suprisies, particularly the extremely loud sound and light show giving a very real impression of what life was like inside a bunker under attack.

    Practical...MORE Information

    Place du 9 Battalion
    14810 Merville-Franceville

    Tel.: 00 33 (0)2 31 91 47 53
    Website

    Open March 15th to October 15th 9.30am-6.30pm
    October 16th to November 15th 9.30am-5.30pm
    Admission Adult 6 euros, child 6 to 16 years 3.50 euros.

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  • 10 of 10

    The Canadian Juno Beach Center, Normandy

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    ••• Juno Beach Center, Normandy. © Juno Beach Center

    Juno Beach sits between Gold and Sword Beaches, all three under the command of the 2nd British Army. Juno was attacked mainly by Canadian forces, volunteers who formed the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division and the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade. Alongside them were the 7th Canadian Infantry Brigade (the Regina Rifles, the Royal Winnipeg Rifles and the Canadian Scottish regiments), the First Hussars Tanks, the 12th and 13th Field Regiments and the Royal Canadian Engineers. Of the 135,000 allied forces taking part in D-Day, 14,000 were Canadian. The attack was as bloody as on the other beaches and casualties were huge. 1,074 men landed on Juno beach with 359 killed. During the whole of the Normandy campaign, there were 18,000 Canadian casualties, of whom 5,500 died.

    The museum is slightly different from the others in that it places the war in a larger context, explaining very well the background of Canada and how Canada entered the war. It gives you as much insight into Canada from the 1930s...MORE up to the present day as it does on the war itself. The sections on the war itself are equally well done, with interactive displays, films and audio guides.

    After a visit, a young Canadian guide takes you to the beach and the bunker in front of the museum, explaining the Atlantic Wall and the battles of the June Landings.

    Practical Information

    Voie des Francais Libres
    14470 Courseulles-sur-Mer

    Tel.: 00 33 (0)2 31 37 32 17
    Website

    Open April 1st to September 30th 9.30am-7pm
    November 1st to February 28th 10am-5pm
    October and March 10am-6pm
    Closed December 25th, and January
    Admission Adult Juno Beach Centre 6.50 euros; Juno Park 5 euros, Centre and Park 10 euros
    Child 8 to 16 years 5 euros, 4uros and 8 euros respectively.