Please sign in to post.

D Day Museums

I am traveling to France in early June and have 1 full day to visit the D Day sites (have rental car). Curious to hear what would be the best museum to visit, with a max time of 1-2hrs at that location? I know there are a lot to choose from, but would like to hear which one would give a great overview and not take a ton of time. Thanks!

Posted by
27353 posts

Caen is too large. I guess the museum in Bayeux; it's on the outskirts of town. I assume there's convenient parking, but I didn't notice.

[Edited due to a case of mistaken identity!] A lot of us urge travelers to take one of the van tours operated by Overlord or Dale Booth. Much easier than trying to do it yourself, and certainly a lot more informative unless WWII history is your hobby. I paid 100 euros last year, and it was absolutely worth it. Most of the tours originate from Bayeux.

Posted by
3296 posts

Since you're talking about D Day, any museum providing a "great overview" will take a ton of time. The Airborne Museum in Sainte-Mere-Eglise will give you an overview of the Airborne's experience, if not the beach landings. But it won't take a ton of time. This would be my pick if I had to choose just one.

http://www.airborne-museum.org/en/

The museums at Omaha Beach and Utah Beach are well worth your time.

Posted by
4148 posts

With limited time , and depending on from where you are starting , a good choice ( since you have a car ) is to drive to Arromanches les Bains , a village right on the Channel coast and see La Musee du Debarquement , which tells the story of the June 6 landing , and the construction of Port Winston - https://www.google.com/maps/place/Landing+Museum/@49.3389198,-0.6261878,17z/data=!4m13!1m7!3m6!1s0x480a55dae15101c5:0x40c14484fbcfd00!2sArromanches-les-Bains,+France!3b1!8m2!3d49.339021!4d-0.622415!3m4!1s0x480a55dcee6f96e1:0x4ba95f54bc76fa5b!8m2!3d49.3401859!4d-0.6202649 From there it is an easy drive to The American Cemetery at Colleville sur Mer - https://www.google.com/maps/place/Normandy+American+Cemetery/@49.3604912,-0.8576809,17z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x480ba820276aa5db:0x85f59b047f230905!8m2!3d49.3604912!4d-0.8554922

Posted by
3984 posts

Acracen you must be thinking of a different Brad. This Brad has very few posts and I wouldn't assume he knows what some on this board regularly advise.

Posted by
1005 posts

I agree with the other posts that say if you only have one day, skip the big museums in Caen and Bayeux and instead visit sights at the beaches and their associated museums/visitors centers. You want to be where the battles actually happened, not in a huge museum building miles inland. I'd start at Arromanches, then visit the gun battery at Longues-sur-Mer, then Omaha Beach and the cemetery. If time, I'd continue to Pointe du Hoc. Rick has a good driving route in his France book that covers these sights.

Posted by
27353 posts

Thanks, Mona. You're right. I knew we had more than one Brad; didn't realize this was a third! I'll edit my earlier post.

Posted by
14161 posts

I'll chime in as well and agree with spending your time outside at the actual sites instead of in a museum.

I know many like the Caen Museum but I did not. It is a Peace Museum and not necessarily a D-Day museum. The day I went in May there were perhaps a dozen school groups ranging in age from 6 or 7 to teens. I was happy to see them being taught history but the crowd impacted my enjoyment of the exhibits. I liked the small museum at Arromanches (also with several school groups but they were better controlled and behaved in this much smaller space) mentioned above and the nearby Pegasus Bridge area and Longues-sur-Mer (You can see the Bayeaux Cathedral tower from this location which was the British objective for the end of the day on 6June. Gives you an idea of distance). I also liked the outdoor exhibits at Arromanches including the remains of a Mulberry Harbor.

As an aside, my guide said the Longues-sur-Mer German battery was represented in the film The Longest Day by the segment when the German Major Pluskat looks out the battery view slot and sees the combined forces on the horizon steaming toward his beach. This was not actually where this scene happened, it was a few miles down the beach from this location but you get a sense of what a similar shore battery would likely have looked like.

To be honest, I also agree that using one of the guide companies is the best way for an overview. One of the ones I took actually started with the geography of the area behind the beaches and that helped a lot with my understanding of the invasion and how things played out.

Posted by
32244 posts

Brad,

One caveat to keep in mind......

Depending on when you're travelling in "early June", that area is probably going to be horrendously crowded due to the annual commemoration ceremonies. Parking will be at a premium at many sites and roads may be crowded.

As others have mentioned, the best way to tour the most significant sites is by using one of the excellent local tours. The invasion sites cover a distance of ~50 miles and extend some distance inland. The guides know the area well and can get between them in the minimum time possible. If you would like to consider a tour, pre-booking is highly advisable (especially at that time of year). I've been told that some guides close tours during the ceremonies so that they can participate in them.

Posted by
509 posts

Another vote for the Airborne Museum in Sainte-Mere-Eglise. While limited in subject matter, the exhibits are exceptionally well done. And, if you're a fan of The Longest Day film, you'll want to visit the town regardless of your museum selection.

Posted by
410 posts

The Airborne Museum in Ste. Mere Eglise was closed for renovation when I visited Normandy, so I can't comment on it (I will see it on a future trip). I was very disappointed in the Peace Museum in Caen and actually was sorry I had gone. It is a Peace Museum and not a military museum. I highly recommend the Memorial Museum of the Battle of Normandy in Bayeaux (and the lovely British military cemetery across the street) .... and also the museum at Pegasus Bridge. It is incredible to see how close the British gliders landed to Pegaus bridge.

Posted by
6622 posts

I'll respectfully disagree with Pam and Elizabeth about the Memorial de Caen, a very large and time-consuming museum that covers the whole of WWII in Europe, including the Holocaust, plus the Cold War. We spent half a day there and found it fascinating (the Cold War part not so much). It doesn't focus especially on the Normandy battles but of course they're included. It's a "peace museum" in the sense that it deals with the causes of the war and its aftermath. It's not just a big collection of guns, tanks, and aircraft like some purely "military" museums.

That said, for Brad's purposes it wouldn't be a good choice because it's so big and goes so far beyond Normandy. I haven't been to the others mentioned on this thread, but I've heard very good reports about the one in Bayeux. I agree with others that a guided tour would be a good alternative to driving yourself, and that early June may be a busy time there. But the ceremonies and possible contact with veterans could make that a very rewarding time also.

Posted by
27353 posts

For what it's worth, my American-oriented Overlord tour last year took its lunch break at St-Mere-Eglise. If you packed your own lunch for the day so you didn't have to (at least) find a place to order a sandwich, you'd just about have time to see the whole museum, though you wouldn't be able to linger.

Posted by
1162 posts

Here's my take on museums in the area after seven visits to the area over the past decade.
The museum at Utah Beach is by far my favorite. Although it does emphasize that Western most beach, it does cover a lot more—including how the local French in the area lived during the occupation. My only hesitation if I had to have one, is your time limit of 1–2 hours. However, it is doable in this time frame if you hurry. And it is the only one that is situated right on one of the landing beaches (actually built in to one of the German coastal batteries.
The Bayeux Museum gives a very good overview without being too overwhelming. And it is centrally located. Yes, there's plenty of parking right by the museum and the British Cemetery is right across the street.
The Airborne Museum is wonderful, particularly if you are interested in the Airborne operations. It is one of my favorites, but is limited in scope as it really mostly covers the airborne operations. But the town itself is a must see!
The New Overlord Museum is a good addition, and is located right across the rotary/roundabout from the Normandy American Cemetery.
The museum in Arromanches is a nice, small museum. But really is mostly about the artificial harbor that was built there. Don't get me wrong, it is good, but I would never recommend it as your first or only museum to go to in the area.
IMHO, the Caen Peace Memorial is a waste of time, far from other D-day sights, and in a city that was mostly destroyed a couple weeks after D-day—so there is not as much to see in the area. No idea why RS emphasizes it so much.

Posted by
9429 posts

I’ve been to Normandy over 10 times and love everything D-Day related. I agree w Elizabeth, my favorite museum is the one in Bayeux precisely bc it’s small, uncrowded, inexpensive, succinct and gives a good comprehensive overview.

I’m with Pam and Elizabeth, we really disliked the Caen museum (chaotic, confusing, packed like sardines, expensive).

I think a museum, the one in Bayeux, is worthwhile to give you that comprehensive understanding if it all. You can do it in 1.5-2 hrs.

The museum at Arromanche is focused on the floating harbor Churchill invented which was a major contribution to the Invasion’s success. But it’s one small piece of the bigger story.

I did like the museum at Ste Mère Eglise, but if my memory’s correct it’s focus was limited to what happened there and nearby.

Can you do the Bayeux museum the day you arrive and a full day tour the next day?

Posted by
14580 posts

Hi,

From the itinerary you basically have time for one museum in Normandy. In that case I would recommend the Bayeux Museum, certainly less expensive, more compact, it is better organised. You 'll have a chance to see the PAK 40 there on the floor.

"... give a great overview and not take a ton of time." To fit your definition, it's the Bayeux Museum.

Ideally, one should see both museums...Caen and Bayeux, assuming time is not the pressing factor. A lot of information is thrown at you at Caen, not just that pertaining to the Normandy and D-Day operations...no problems with that. I liked both, but have only seen the Caen Museum once, Bayeux twice.

Save Caen for next time. If you want history over-kill and are into the operational history of Normandy, spend an afternoon in the Caen Museum...next time.

Posted by
23 posts

Thanks everybody for all your input! We are actually staying in Ste Mere Eglise area night before, and hope to tour Iron Mike memorial and downtown Ste Mere Eglise day prior (not enough time for airborne museum). We plan to stick with American sites only, as well as possible the german cemetery, during our full day of touring D Day sites. From doing more research, it appears there are 2 museums right near Omaha Beach. The Omaha Beach Memorial Museum and the Overlord Museum. "IF" we have time to view a museum, has anyone been to either of these 2 museums? If so, is one better than the other?

Posted by
8594 posts

Brad, I highly recommend that you time your visit so as to see the lowering of the flag ceremony at the American Cemetery. It is very moving.

Posted by
1162 posts

The Overlord Museum is far superior to the somewhat dated Omaha Beach Museum IMHO (I have been to both). I would still steer you towards the Museum in Bayeux, or Utah Beach if you can only visit one.

By the way, the La Cambre German War Cemetery in Normandy that is right along the highway (the one most people visit) is quite sobering. There are more than twice the number of Germans buried here versus Americans in The Normandy American Cemetery. There is another German cemetery that most people don't go to in Orglandes—not too far from Sainte-Mère-Église. I find it more contemplative, with lightly rolling terrain, although it is a little more off the beaten path. Like the one in La Cambre, there are six Germans to the marker—many unknown (Ein Unbekannter Deuscher Soldat). Interestingly, there are several individual Germans buried in various Commonwealth (British) cemeteries too—along with some from other nationalities. Besides the Normandy American Cemetery, my favorite cemetery to visit in Normandy is the small, Bény-sur-mer Canadian Cemetery in Reviers. Very peaceful, and I am often there alone when visiting.