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D-day Beaches vs Vimy Memorial

My 18 yr old son and I are trying to decide on which of the two mentioned historic sites we should try to see...as we do not have time to see both. Perameters are as follows:
1) we are Canadians so both sights have historical significants
2) this is my son's grad gift as he is a huge history buff and is also in the process of applying for the Air Force
3) our time is very very limited..we have one week with flights in and out of London so logistics of getting to either may be a factor.

Any suggestions or feedback from travelers who have been to both would be most welcome.

Posted by
23466 posts

For a short trip with limited time, the Vimy Memorial would be more manageable. The D-day Beaches are a massive area more than 50 miles east to west with many miles behind. It would be very difficult to do a one day trip from London. You really would have to do an overnight from London. Don't remember where the Canadians came ashore so not sure of the section of the beach that would be more interesting to you. In some ways the Vimy Memorial is probably more significant to Canadians or at least that is my perception as a US citizen.

Posted by
8293 posts

As your son probably knows, the Canadians came ashore at Juno Beach and fought their way to Caen. There is a stretch of road called "Chemin des Canadiens" in fact. There are tours from Bayeux for those interested in either Canadian, British or American landings. Since you have already arranged your flights in and out of London, it would be easy enough to get to France on the Eurostar and then to Bayeux.

If you decide on Vimy, that is a very moving monument and a dolourous sight. We found the names of two great uncles and took photos.

Posted by
440 posts

We haven't been to the D-Day Beaches, but we have been to Vimy Ridge. You can easily spend a whole day in the area. Canadian National Vimy Ridge is an area that is about 200 ha in size. It has the memorial, interpretation centre, tunnel and trench line display, cemeteries, and remains of the battlefield. Also nearby is the Beaumont Hamel Newfoundland Memorial site - the preserved battlefield where hundreds of Newfoundland soldiers died during WW1. I would highly recommend visiting both of these sites if you can. A car is useful to visit these sites as they are not connected by either train or bus.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beaumont-Hamel_Newfoundland_Memorial
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Vimy_Ridge

Posted by
977 posts

The Newfoundland Beaumont-Hamel Memorial, along with Vimy Ridge it is the only National Historic site outside of Canada. I haven't been to Vimy Ridge, but have spent time at Beaumont-Hamel. It was a really moving experience as it is one of the only sites in the area where you can still see trench lines in situ.

Posted by
3941 posts

We did Vimy Ridge in 2010 and saw some of the DDay beaches in 2012. We didn't have a lot of time to do either, but both were very poignant.

We did Vimy Ridge as a day trip from Paris. Took the train to Arras, got a taxi out to the site, spent some time walking around and got a taxi back to Arras, had a bite to eat and back to Paris then moved on to Strasbourg (which was why we were a little rushed as we were heading for a different city). We visited the monument and went to the museum area. Visited a few of the cemeteries. The monument is beautiful - I guess some years ago they did a restoration of it and it's gorgeous.

When we visited the DDay beaches, we had a car rental and the first night we visited the Juno Beach Center - I'm not a big war buff, but if was especially poignant - watching the videos almost made me cry. We were staying with a lovely couple (via couchsurfing) in a tiny place called Amblie, and the next day he took us around to some of the beaches and towns, taking us to the Benys-sur-Mer cemetery, the DDay landing site, showed us Canada House (I think it's called)...pointed out the information around the town showing scenes of the war.

So you have WW1 and WW2. I guess it may be easier as a day trip from Paris to do Vimy Ridge on your own via public transport, but I also think you can do tours of the beaches with tour companies. I still remember the cab driver they called for us at Vimy Ridge - he didn't speak much English, but he gave us an armload of pamphlets from his trunk and drove us past a few of the German cemeteries on the way back to Arras - nice fellow - he even charged less than the taxi from Arras to Vimy (I don't think he was an 'official' taxi driver - I'm pretty sure there was no meter in the taxi).

Just consulted with hubby and for him, Vimy Ridge won hands down. For him, the beaches were just 'beaches' but he felt Vimy Ridge meant a little more as Canadians. (His words).

Posted by
32265 posts

runway,

My suggestion would be the D-Day beaches, although getting there from London is going to be a long journey. As your son is a "huge history buff", is there any way you could change your return flight to Paris and spend a couple of nights in Bayeux?

The D-Day beaches cover a lot of of territory and there are many significant and interesting places to see. As D-Day is a more recent event than Vimy, there's more information available as there are still veterans alive who can provide that. I would highly recommend taking one of the excellent all-day local tours as the guides are passionate about the history, and can make the history "come alive". They can offer some interesting bits of information that aren't in any history books (info gleaned from veterans that have taken their tours). Some of the local tours are a bit on the pricey side but well worth it. You'll need to book WELL in advance for the tours! Taking a tour is also a good idea as it's difficult to get to the various sights without a rental car, while the tours provide transportation. There's also an excellent Museum in Bayeux and another one in Caen, which isn't far.

If your budget will allow, I can provide a couple of suggestions on tours in that area. If you need more specific transportation information on getting to Normandy, post another note and the group here can suggest the quickest and most efficient route.

There are also some outstanding museums in the London area (and indeed all over the U.K.), so it's unfortunate you couldn't extend your time somewhat.

I may have missed it, but when is this trip taking place?

Posted by
1664 posts

I want to echo Ken's comments above. Can you switch to Paris for the airports? And can you get a car?

What are your son's historical interests? In addition to the ones mentioned. This might help. Bayeux is the hub for the beaches in Normandy, it is also the home of one of the greatest historical artifacts, the Tapestry. Also if you are Canadian look at your Coat of Arms, in the first quarter are the arms of England - this comes from Normandy, with Aquitaine's lion thrown in as the third.

I feel I am doing Vimy down. I cannot. I've been to Vimy, to the Newfoundland memorial at Beaumont-Hamel, the Commonwealth memoral at Thiepval. All are worth visiting for different reasons.

Based on what you have asked, based on my history and my history interests, I would say ditch London and go to northern France. Though you will probably need a car.

Posted by
4631 posts

I have not been to Vimy but have been to Juno beach and was disappointed. After visiting the barren and sweeping vistas of the US landing beaches, I found the Juno area built up and missing atmosphere. The enormous CDG monuments were distracting and didn't help. We didn't have a guide and did not visit exhibits, maybe we missed the main area.

Posted by
14580 posts

"...as he is a huge history buff...." On which topic more , D-Day or WW 1. Except for Bayeux and Caen, I haven't really been to the Normandie area but I've plastered the area around Vimy, Arras, etc If the history interest is on WW 1, then I heartily suggest he spend about a week in Arras, see all the sights mentioned above, ie, Beaumont Hamel, etc. I've been to Vimy a couple of times, took the tour also. Re: "....the German cemeteries on the way back to Arras" That's in Neuville St Vlaast. If you're going from Arras to Vimy by car , you have to go through Neuville St Vlaast. There is also a grim WW 1 museum in that village as well as the massive French war cemetery at Notre Dame de Lorette. Arras was the General HQ for the British, the city hall is also where the Tourist Office is located, lots of information available there on the war sites in that area, also at the edge of the city of Arras is the big British WW 1 cemetery next to the French Army caserne, which is not open to the public.

Posted by
2026 posts

For Canadians it is certainly worth to pay attention to the Battle of The Scheldt too. I know you have limited time, but nevertheless worth to mention and maybe to consider a visit in the future. I think it is interesting to read this Wikipedia article about the significance of this battle. There is no big museum like you have in Normandy, there are only smaller private ones. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Scheldt

Posted by
7566 posts

I don't know if the OP meant it this way, but the difference between the two locations is between having history interpreted for you, and looking at an open, barren place and thinking about what happened there. I have only been to the beaches (and the many, many surrounding locations, too many to visit in one day.) Naturally many nations are referred to in the museums near the beaches.

As others have suggested, Canadians contributed all over Europe. I remember coming upon the plaque on the Steen (riverside castle, not open inside) in Antwerp, with a loving tribute to the Canadian regiment that liberated the harbor and the city.

Edit: A recent book review, in the NY Times, suggests that it was a major American error giving control of two armies to Field Marshall Montgomery, who "allowed" the Germans to dig in near Antwerp and retain control of the port, while Montgomery went after "a bridge too far." http://nyti.ms/1YYhE4P

I wonder if Vimy is the best use of your time, simply because it's (nearly) 100% Canadian. You have to consider transportation - for example, many people post here about day-out trips to the beaches, which is very hard, but can be facilitated with the vast number of private tour companies that make the most of your time, for a fee. Why not see if there is a Vimy company that can pick you up.

Posted by
4066 posts

Are your flights purchased? If not, the suggestion to fly into London and out of Paris will make a great deal of difference. The channel tunnel train is pretty quick but all the hassles of moving will consume a half-day each way.
Your son deserves an intense study of the D-Day invasion and taking a full guided tour with a group concentrating on the Juno and Caen experiences by Canadian troops will be full value for the cost (unfortunately the company I went with is out of business.) The tank battles fought by Canadians cannot be fully understood without an informed commentary. Tours start pretty early in the morning and so you should stay the night before in either Caen or Bayeux. You might be able to find a tour ending in time to catch a late train back to Paris but that will mean storing luggage during the day tour and then retrieving it to catch the train.
Arras is an easy train ride from Paris and, as suggested, taxi drives are familiar with taking guests to the Vimy memorial (and bringing them back.) One surprise to someone who thinks in terms of trench warfare is how important underground tunnels were, fully demonstrated by the tours conducted by Canadian university students. The town of Arras itself has history in both the "world" wars and is pleasantly northern in its Flemish architecture and cuisine. I'd stay overnight, but I have lots more time when I travel. http://www.explorearras.com/?lng=en
The airman-to-be could be interested in a newer WW1 museum at Meaux, near Paris. La musee de la grande guerre, It concentrates on social as well as military history, acknowledging how the common soldiers and common citizens experienced WW1. It's a 45-minute train ride from Gare de l'est. http://www.museedelagrandeguerre.eu/en
And the Air and Space museum in a Paris suburb might suit too, probably for his next trip. http://www.museeairespace.fr/

Posted by
32265 posts

runway,

One other thought is that since he's applying for the Air Force, you may be interested in visiting sights in London such as the RAF Museum at Hendon (accessible via the Tube) or IWM Duxford (a bit more challenging to get to without a car, but can be done). When I visited the RAF Museum in September, they were commemorating the Battle of Britain and had some excellent displays! The building doesn't look very big from the outside, but there's a lot there and it will probably take 4-6 hours to go through it.

Posted by
2 posts

Thanks to all of you who took time to reply to my post - many helpful hints and insights! After discussion and review here is what we are thinking (sadly I cannot afford to change my flights to/from London)...we will take the train from London to Portsmouth and then the overnight ferry to Caen - giving us part of the day in the UK then early arrival in France. I have been in contact with Eric and Michelle from Ddaylanding Tours re a private tour highlighting the Canadian Beaches and will try to find inexpensive BnB type accommodation in Caen or Bayeaux for one night on the coast then back to London next day afternoonish. Ken, I welcome any other sources you may have for local tours etc. as I have not yet confirmed with D-Day Landing Tours. We go mid May. Will plan and trying to see museums in Bayeaux and Caens if possible. Thoughts anyone on this itinerary?

Posted by
1664 posts

Are you hiring a car? If so I would recommend the budget hotel chains in France (Hotels B et B, Campanille, Etap, Premiere Classe). Although as in all things it is almost certainly possible to get better, more historic and cheaper elsewhere. Most of these will be around Caen as it is the capital of Calvados and of Lower Normandy, and one of the two for the new united Normandy from 1st Jan.

For breakfasts, the best I have had in France was in a cafe in a hypermarket. A hot chocolate and a pastry for 1,50€.

Posted by
14580 posts

@ runaway...Go to the D-Day Museum in Portsmouth if you have factored in time for your stay there. I like taking the ferry, applaud the decision on that. Remember in 1944 Caen was supposed to have been taken by D+1. It wasn't and horrific fighting centered around Caen since most of the German tank divisions at full strength entered Normandie by reaching Caen first. I suggest seeing big Normandie battle museum in Caen, the Museum of Peace.

True, it has its down side, such as a pricey admission ticket but that was valid for 2 days (It used to be when I went in 2001, don't know that is still the case.) The Museum has a lot of information, if you want info overkill, a heavy bombardment of war history, it's the place to go. I spent the entire afternoon there until closing time.

Posted by
32265 posts

runway,

Here's some information on a few of the D-Day tours in Normandy. The first two are exceptional (IMHO) but also somewhat expensive. I've travelled with both of those guides and they provided an outstanding tour. Here are a few you could consider....

Most of the above tours depart from the Bayeux area. Be sure to book well in advance.

I believe your Ferry arrives at Ouistreham. How were you planning to get from there to your "home base" in Normandy?