D-Day Beaches Tour
This was a guided tour offered by the Mémorial de Caen
that I went on in early September 2016. It presents a convenient and informative way of getting from Caen
to some of the most significant spots along the Normandy coast where the amphibious landing operations of Operation Overlord took place on “D-Day
” on 6 June 1944. It also includes parts of the Atlantic Wall
as well as a visit to the large US war cemetery near Omaha Beach and the small memorial museum there.
What there is to see:
The tour has four stops, beginning with the one furthest from Caen
to the west, so the first 40 minutes or so are taken up by just driving there.
The first stop
was at Pointe du Hoc
, at the western end of Omaha Beach, where the US 2nd Ranger Battalion had to scale sheer cliffs to reach the German fortifications, which had already been heavily bombed. But the landings here began 40 minutes late, and so the Rangers came under heavy fire from the German defenders, who’d had time to recover from the initial shock of the aerial attacks. The battle for the fortress of Pointe du Hoc lasted over 50 hours until noon on 8 June. By then the Rangers were down to just about half their original number. But a crucial part of the Atlantic Wall
had been taken.
Today, what you see at this promontory is mostly ruins of bunkers, with all gun emplacements empty, amidst a heavily scarred landscape with countless bomb craters clearly visible. Atop the observation bunker closest to the cape a monument commemorates the “heroic Ranger Commandos”. Inside the bunker you can see evidence of the fighting, e.g. shrapnel marks and a charred ceiling.
There are several text-and-photo panels detailing parts of the battle and its wider context. The texts are in English (the site remains US territory) with French translations.
The second stop on the tour was at a stretch of Omaha Beach near Vierville where amongst others it was the US National Guard who was involved and was given a large monument. You can also see the odd bunker ruins, but the main thing was actually walking on this historic beach. Unlike most people, I don’t normally like beaches as such, but this was different! There’s also a touching sculpture of a soldier dragging along a wounded comrade. Our guide had a folder with laminated photos from the landings and battles, which helped to bring the place to life. However, we did not have the time to explore all the information panels and further monuments at this beach, before heading off again.
The third stop was further south-east, a bit inland from Omaha Beach, namely at the very large US war cemetery & memorial. This was also the longest stop, where we were given a good amount of time to explore, starting at the visitor centre, which features a museum exhibition about the US landings. This is located in a newer building behind the original main memorial monument at the eastern end of the cemetery. The monument also features some battle maps, a sculpture and a reflecting pool.
sea of graves (9,387 in total) of mostly uniform white crosses are also several that are in the shape of a Star of David instead (for Jewish soldiers, obviously). Amongst the specially marked ones is the grave of Theodore Roosevelt Jr. (son of the 26th US
president of the same name), who was killed in the Battle of Normandy on 12 June 1944. Our visit also coincided with the daily flag lowering ceremony
at the pole in front of the main monument, after which the group rejoined for the drive to the last point on the tour.
and final stop
was at Arromanches
, at Gold Beach
, where the main thing was seeing the remnants
of the Mulberry harbour
constructed here by the British. These were temporary, movable facilities that could be constructed quickly to facilitate rapid offloading of cargo, in particular vehicles and supplies for the front. You can see various formerly floating pontoons and further out to sea remains of caissons and shipwrecks of vessels scuttled intentionally to provide a breakwater. On land a couple of the bridges that connected the floating harbour with the beach are on display. The Mulberry harbour at Arromanches was of such special importance partly because a second Mulberry harbour at Omaha Beach was quickly destroyed in a storm, so Arromanches remained the only point for landing more troops and hardware until the liberation of Cherbourg
(see Liberation Museum
That was it, basically. However, in addition to the places where the tour actually stopped, we also passed various other sights
, such as yet more specialized museums, tanks and planes on display, as well as Château de Creully
, where, so we were informed, the BBC established its base the day after the D-Day
landings and that was also used by Field Marshal Montgomery as his headquarters during the Battle of Normandy until 2 August 1944.
All in all
, the tour was a significant investment (and is even more so now – see below
), but I found it worth it. Not only was it convenient, making a hire car unnecessary, but it also came with the added value of information provided by the guide and the folder of historical photos and charts he had with him. Note, though, that of the five D-Day
beaches only Omaha and Gold were included on this tour, but neither Utah, Juno or Sword Beach.
starting from Caen
, the tour makes four stops all along the Normandy coast in northern France
between Pointe du Hoc and Arromanches.
Google Maps locators:
Access and costs: easy, far from cheap but worth it.
You can get the tickets from the counters at the Mémorial de Caen
or pre-purchase them online (at least I’m sure that was possible back when I went in 2016 – now I don’t seem to be able to find the relevant webpage, but maybe that’s only because of the current coronavirus pandemic …). The meeting point is also in the atrium of the museum. Tours are normally by van/minibus with seven seats. In the peak summer season tours may also be conducted by coach.
Price: This seems to have gone up quite a bit in recent years. When I did it, it was still 65 EUR per adult, now the Mémorial
’s website says 99 EUR! That’s quite steep, but you pay for the convenience of transport, the bilingual guide, and you also get an illustrated booklet about the Battle of Normandy as part of the package. Moreover, the tour price includes admission to the museum (valid for 24 hours).
Times: Daily from 1 p.m. – but make sure to be at the counter a bit earlier to check in.
The tour as such lasts about four hours, plus you need time to get to the Mémorial de Caen
– and for exploring that (hardly possible to do both in a single day, so you’ll need at least two nights in Caen
Combinations with other dark destinations:
Most obviously this tour can and should be combined with a visit (or two) to the Mémorial de Caen
. The Mémorial also offers other packages, including one with pick-up and drop-off direct at the train station in Caen
, and with a guided tour of the museum as well.
If you go on one of these tours it’s probably likely that you do not have your own vehicle, but if after this taster tour you get the feeling you want to see more, there is indeed plenty, so much, in fact, that you can probably spend two weeks exploring all the war-related sites and museums in the area – and beyond. See the lists on these separate pages:
And of course see also under France
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
see under Caen
, also Cherbourg
, and France
- D-Day Tour 01 - Atlantic Wall bunker
- D-Day Tour 02 - inside
- D-Day Tour 03 - Pointe du Hoc
- D-Day Tour 04 - monument at the top
- D-Day Tour 05 - observation bunker
- D-Day Tour 06 - going down
- D-Day Tour 07 - looking out
- D-Day Tour 08 - charred ceiling
- D-Day Tour 09 - granade shrapnel scars
- D-Day Tour 10 - another bunker
- D-Day Tour 11 - big gun emplacement
- D-Day Tour 12 - big gun on display
- D-Day Tour 13 - period vehicle
- D-Day Tour 14 - coast with cliffs
- D-Day Tour 15 - Omaha Beach
- D-Day Tour 16 - monument copy
- D-Day Tour 17 - closer
- D-Day Tour 18 - National Guard monument
- D-Day Tour 19 - more monuments and information panels
- D-Day Tour 20 - Sherman tank
- D-Day Tour 21 - main memorial at the American war cemetery
- D-Day Tour 22 - sculpture
- D-Day Tour 23 - battle plans
- D-Day Tour 24 - visitor center
- D-Day Tour 25 - exhibition
- D-Day Tour 26 - exhibits
- D-Day Tour 27 - helmet on gun
- D-Day Tour 28 - Normandy American cemetery
- D-Day Tour 29 - also Jewish Stars of David
- D-Day Tour 30 - unknown soldier
- D-Day Tour 31 - well-known soldier
- D-Day Tour 32 - chapel
- D-Day Tour 33 - inside the chapel
- D-Day Tour 34 - chapel ceiling
- D-Day Tour 35 - lowering of the flag
- D-Day Tour 36 - Omaha Beach seen from the American cemetery
- D-Day Tour 37 - monuments at Arromanches
- D-Day Tour 38 - circular cinema
- D-Day Tour 39 - Arromanches
- D-Day Tour 40 - remnants of the artificial harbour
- D-Day Tour 41 - a fire in the distance
- D-Day Tour 42 - Chateau de Creully