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4-1/2 days in France - Normandy?

We are planning a family trip to Europe next summer, our first time there and probably will be our last...this is a MAJOR trip for us! We will start in France and end in Rome. We get into Paris at 10am and would like to get to Normandy to see the beaches and U.S. Cemetery and anything else we can get in within two days. Our original thought was to rent a car at CDG as soon as we get in and drive Normandy but have read that may not be the safest plan due to jet lag. Now our plan may be to stay in Paris the first night and head to Normandy the second and third day and then back to Paris for days four and five. First question, is two days in and around Normandy enough, we are not one's to "linger" but don't want to be rushed either? Is it best to try a "self guided" tour or do a bus tour? Any suggestions for places to see, places to stay, etc would be greatly appreciated. There will be 5 of us, my wife and I and our three teenage boys.

Posted by
408 posts

We spent a lovely long weekend in Normandy at an amazing Château. The owners were ex-pats and ex-British military they were very insightful and their British sense of humor made our trip. They not only feed us very well but were our tour guides as well. We took the train to their town & they picked us up. My teens loved it and are plotting ways to get back there with the teen girl saying she will work for free to stay there! PM me if you want more details. You honestly do have very little time in Paris though.

Posted by
4770 posts

I think you're right not to try to drive on the day you arrive after an overnight flight, but spending the first night in Paris, then going to Normandy, then back to Paris, seems like unnecessary moving around. Each time you move you're changing hotels, packing and unpacking, spending time in transit. Consider staying in Paris for all the days and nights you want to give that city, then moving on to Normandy, then to your next destination (If Rome, drive to CDG or Orly and fly. If elsewhere, where?)

I'd suggest a guided tour of the D Day beaches. I haven't taken one, but Overlord has a very good reputation on this forum. Bayeux is a good base for seeing the beaches and the cemetery, plus it has a good museum and the famous Bayeux Tapestry, a highlight of our trip, depicting the reverse invasion nearly a thousand years ago.

It seems a shame to limit Paris to just a couple or three days, though. If this were my trip, that's where I'd spend the time. But Normandy may be more meaningful to you and your family. Hopefully you'll have more chances to visit Europe, and certainly your teens should have many more.

Posted by
479 posts

We would recommend a guided DDay tour vs. "self-guided." In addition to the educational benefits, you won't have to worry about navigation, parking, etc. There are lots of recommendations on the Forum, including several in a post just yesterday.

Posted by
821 posts

Hi fro Wisconsin,
Consider taking a train to Caen. Renting a car from a place across the street from the train station. Driving to the beaches, staying in the area and doing the reverse to get back to Paris.

Dbahn.com is a way to search train travel. I checked and pretty much there is a train, with no train changes, every hour Paris to Caen. It takes about 2 hours. As I said, cars can be rented from across the street for the train station in Caen.

Normandy. The beaches are really something to see and walk upon. Don't ignore the Bayeaux Tapestry, or the cathedral, or the Saturday market live chickens and all. . Bayeaux is one of the few places in Normandy that wasn't leveled by shelling during WWII. So much of what you view else where in Normandy has been rebuilt post 1945 using Marshall Plan money. It looks old, but is about as old as my house.

wayne iNWI

Posted by
6686 posts

I agree with the others who have said to hire a guide for your visit to the WWII sites (beaches and cemeteries) in Normandy. It's not cheap, but it will enhance your experience immeasurably. A good investment, to my mind.

Posted by
19175 posts

The small-group (van) tours cost about 100 euros per person. [Edited to add: That's for a full-day tour, which I recommend, because there's a good bit of driving to and from Bayeux.] I'm a skinflint, but I thought my Overlord Tour was well worth it. There are a lot of good D-Day museums in the area, but if I had just traveled around myself to the sites themselves, I would have gotten very, very little out of it--a a bunch of beaches and chunks of concrete. Certainly having a local expert drive you around allows you to cover a great deal more than you could manage on your own, and it makes it possible to do a quick trip to Normandy without a rental car. (The area has many other things of interest and is definitely worth more than a short visit, in which case a car will be advantageous, though not mandatory.)

Others will have different opinions. I'm not one who is interested in going somewhere just because it was the location of an important event. I really, really, need museum-style explanation of the site's history unless I'm there just to see a beautiful building or lovely scenery. You get that explanation with a guided tour, as opposed to just driving (or bussing) around. Some other travelers enjoy just being on historic ground and seeing the house where someone famous was born or lived, the site of an important battle, etc; for them, just visiting some of the key D-Day sites on their own might be sufficient.

Posted by
128 posts

I would give another vote for Overlord Tours. We did the half day and wished we could do more.
The full day is 100 euros, 500 for your group. For 580 euro you can do a private tour with them.
Our driver was very knowledgeable. His family farm was in the area and he passed on amazing stories of the war that he had heard from his grandparents.
You didn't mention when in the summer you were traveling. With the 75th anniversary of D-Day it will be very busy. You may want to check on accommodations and tours now.

Posted by
139 posts

And you might find another 'private' tour for less than 580. We did one that was less expensive than that and still amazing.

Posted by
665 posts

If I was doing this I'd go to Bayeux the day you arrive. You'd take the RER into Paris and go to the Paris St-Lazare station, then buy a ticket to Bayeux on the next train. Or, given that it's your 1st time to Europe, it might be worth a taxi to St-Lazare to minimize the number of transist systems you need to figure out. The train trip is 2-3 hours depending on whether you end up with a direct train or not. There is no discount for advance purchase on SNCF regional trains although the price does change by time of day.

The advantage of going there right on arrival is that you get 2 full days in Bayeaux. I did a full day tour with Overlord and thought there is so much to see! I think you get much more from a guide; you can ask questions and the guides are really well informed on the D-Day events. They bring maps, photographs, tell stories, etc. I can't imagine a guidebook giving a comparable experience. Then the 2nd day you can rent a car and go back to some museums.