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Bayeux and D-day beaches self-guided tour

I am driving from Paris to Bayeux with 2 small WWII buffs (9 and 10 YO kids) We were only planning to do the Arromanches museum and the bunkers/museum in Omaha beach and the American Cemetery and maybe drive around St Michael. We only have 1 full day, and 2 half-days. We arrive around 3PM in the afternoon and leave at 1PM 2 days later. Should I add anything else to my short trip? Is there a "must see" that I am not finding? is it worth it to go to the actual St Michael? or the tapestry Museum?. I see a lot of people do reviews of tours they have taken in Normandy but we don't like tours, kids like to explore and they are avid readers, any recommended books or guides they could read along our trip. Also if someone can share in what order should I do this, I will be grateful FOREVER!!

Posted by Brad
Greeley, CO, USA
478 posts

Hey Gabriela I would do a half day tour. We did it five years ago. I can get you the guide's contact info if you want to private email me. Betrand comes in your car with you. Frankly my wife and I and my boys don't like tours either (they are 16 and 20 now) but Betrand was so good. And I hate to say but there is not a family that knows more about WW2 than ours unless you are a Yale professor of WW2. Between myself, my dad and the kids we have read hundreds of books on it. Betrand even stumped us on some questions and we learned alot from him. And he tries to end the afternoon tour at the cemetery at 5pm so you can participate in the lowering of the American flag. We have been to Europe 6 times (7 if you count our trip in a month), ground zero 6 times, Pearl Harbor, and on and on but there is not more hallowed ground to us. We are going back next year for the 75th anniversary of D Day. Be sure to add Point Du Hoc and Longues-sur-Mer. Both are awesome places.

Posted by Suki
New York
2189 posts

There is excellent signagedirecting drivers to the various beaches( US, British, Canadian).We dound the Beitish beaxhes and museum very interesting.. Do not miss St-Mere Eglese, Pont du Hoc.

Posted by PharmerPhil
Foxborough, MA
174 posts

First off, good for you for wanting to do a self-guided tour. While many people enjoy an organized tour, it certainly isn't for everyone and certainly isn't necessary. I have visited/toured the Normandy area seven times, and never felt the need for a guide. That being said, it helps to have a very good understanding of the lay of the land and how the battle(s) progressed to give context to those things you see. One of the best books of the overall scope of D-day is the 60-year old "Longest Day" by Cornelius Ryan. There was also a movie based on this book that will take less time to watch than to read the book. It looks at the battle from all sides, and is considered an excellent history. However it only covers D-day. The battle for Normandy is usually defined as everything in France leading up to the fall of Paris. However there were several days of battle in the immediate area of the shore with sights to be seen that didn't happen on June 6th.
I would say you could easily see the sites you mentioned in less than a day. If it were me, and I was primarily interested in the American operations, I would add Sainte-Mère-Église in the West to cover the airborne operations (an excellent small museum in town). And I would add Utah Beach near there which has one of the best museums of all. These could be done in a half day. Ste.-Mère also has an self-guided audio tour they will rent for a small fee.
With 9 and 10 year-olds, I would visit Longues-sur-mer. This is a large coastal gun battery between Arromanches and Omaha Beach, including an observation point over the beach, and would let the younger ones stretch their legs. I think they'd like it too. One last American sight is Point-du-hoc. An emplacement that the Rangers took by scaling cliffs on the shore, and which were bombed so much there are still large craters there. This could take a couple of hours max.
I've been to MSM twice, and while it is nice, I wouldn't fit it into a trip this short. There are a lot more sights if your interests vary. PM if you want more info.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
28678 posts

gabriela,

One other option you could consider would be to hire one of the excellent local guides to travel with you in the car. Not only would he be able to show you the quickest and most efficient routes between the sites you want to visit (so you could cover more in the short time you have), but he would also be able to provide a "running commentary and history lesson" during the drive. I'm sure your 9 & 10 YO history buffs would learn far more and overall it would be a much more rewarding and interesting experience. One guide you could consider is Chris at Visit D-Day tours. The guides often have some interesting details they've gleaned from touring with veterans, and some of the details aren't in any history books.

In order to get a more "complete" picture of the landings, you might consider including some of the British or Canadian sites, such as Pegasus Bridge which has a very interesting Museum. One other site that I found very poignant was the small Church at Angoville au Plain, where two Medics from the 101st Airborne performed exemplary service in caring for not only U.S. soldiers, but also Germans and civilians.

Another site you could visit if you have time is Maisy Battery, which was only discovered in the last few years. There are historic sites all over Normandy, so you'll only be able to get a short glimpse in such a short time frame.

Posted by Frances
San Diego
1478 posts

We booked at full day Beaches of Normandy Tour with Viator (they are consolidator and our guide worked for Overlord Tours) It was excellent and he took us all over Normandy, the Beaches, Battle sites, small towns with significant history on D-Day.
It added so much to have a local who knows all the history etc. It was excellent !!
The next day we had a full day tour with the same guide to Mont St. Michel and again it was excellent. I had been to both places before - but with a good guide ,.... these 2 days were so much better. We stayed in Bayeux (took the train from Paris)

Posted by Shoe
Grand Rapids, MI
419 posts

The "must see" is to take a tour. I know a LOT about WWII, but the tour guide made us feel like we were there at the invasion, and you won't get that by staring at some beaches. It turns a cognitive visit into an emotional visit. Do it. We used Alan Bryson, http://firstnormandybattlefieldtours.com/ who will drive you around, but there are other great ones as well.