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D Day self-guided tour in two days from Bayeux

I’m working on a self-guided itinerary for my family in November, based in Bayeux for 3 nights. My husband and 16 year old are history nuts, and will want to read every single plaque in every museum. This makes a guided tour too rushed (most give you 45 minutes max per site). Besides, my son is VERY excited about researching and acting as our tour guide. So we’re not interested in a guided day tour.

We will have a car. We are arriving around 7 pm from Paris, after flying from Spain. No earlier arrival is possible. We will be staying three nights in Bayeux before driving to Paris. No additional night are possible.

My son’s wish list includes: Omaha Beach, Utah Beach, Pont du Hoc, Ste mere Eglise, German bunkers, as many vehicles/planes as possible. He is a HUGE WWII buff and would spend all day at any ONE of the museums (there seem to be several good ones in the area).

This is my preliminary plan (I’ve taken drive time between sites into consideration):

Arrive in Bayeux around 7pm on a Tuesday in November. Dinner in town.

Drive to Arromanche les Bain, view harbor, see 360 degree film @ 10:00.

Drive to Longue sur mere (German bunkers/battlements) and tour for an hour.

Drive to toward Overlord Museum near Omaha Beach (Omaha Beach memorial museum will be closed). Stop for lunch somewhere on the way.

Spend 2-3 hrs in museum, then go to cemetary in time for 4:00 taps. Tour cemetary until 5:00, then go to beach for low tide around 5:30. Sunset is around 5:10.

Return to Bayeux.

Drive to Utah Beach and tour grounds before museum opens at 10:00. Spend 1.5-2 hrs in museum.

Drive to St mere Eglise. Have lunch, tour town. Maybe see the Airborne museum.

Drive to Pont du Hoc. Spend 30 minutes there.

Return to Bayeux to see the tapestry (last admission at 5:15).

Friday: drive to Paris, leaving around 10 am.

There are too many “must sees” and not enough time! Did I miss any absolute must-sees? Is one museum better than the other? I don’t usually plan in this level of detail, and I know we may need to change plans based on weather! Just trying to get an idea of what is doable in the time we have.

Posted by
8293 posts

I can’t offer any advice other than to say we found the tourist offices in the various towns in that part of Normandy to be very helpful. I will add, though, that in retrospect we should have taken one of the tours.

Posted by
6823 posts

Perhaps a compromise? One day with your son as a guide and one day hiring a private guide? This is an area where having an expert guide will make a huge difference. A private guide will tailor to your needs and desires while bringing a wealth of experience.

Posted by
173 posts

We effectively did the same driving tour last year on our own (weren’t interested in tour guide either as I know my WWII sites reasonably well). The only thing we didn’t do that you mention is the Overlord Museum, which is relatively small. I would cut down your expected time of 2-3 hours here and give more time to the Cemetery itself, which has its own excellent exhibit in the basement of the visitor’s center. I would spend maybe 90 minutes max at Overlord so as not to short shrift the Cemetery. If it’s still open [think it closes at 7] on your way back to Bayeux from Omaha, the German Cemetery is an interesting and worthwhile stop.

As for the next day, I think your itinerary is reasonable but I doubt you’ll only spend 30 minutes at Pointe du Hoc. It too, has a good little exhibit in the visitor center, but more, the Pointe itself is a good 15-20 minutes walk from the main building from what I remember, even if you’re not stopping to explore the bomb crater landscape or bunkers. We spent at least an hour there.

The Utah Beach Museum is excellent and the beach is far more peaceful that Omaha Beach, which has become overrun and touristy, so good choice!

Based on the way you’ve described your son, I would expect to spend more time at Pointe du Hoc then you are currently giving it. So no Bayeaux Tapestry, which I adored. It’s amazing and was my favorite part of visiting the town.

Is there any way you can give yourselves more time in Bayeaux the next day before heading into Paris? Perhaps visiting the Tapestry when it first opens and catching a later train. I’d include a visit into the Cathedral as well, if you can. They are near each other.

If you can’t and tapestry is a must (which it should be!), I would consider a skip of St Mere Eglise, especially since you’re already doing the Museum on Utah, which more than covers Airborne troop movements. Overall, I found the Utah Beach Museum and Pointe du Hoc more deserving of the time, though I’m sure there are others who would disagree. [On our itinerary, we did Bayeaux in the morning, moved on to your listed second day sites, and drove down to Mont St Michel in the early evening]

Posted by
23097 posts

I'm glad I did a combination of a tour (without which I'd have been looking at sand and chunks of concrete, and been monumentally bored) and visiting museums on my own. There is far more to see than you'll have time for, and I am not suggesting that the museums I visited are better than your planned stops, but I thought all of these were good:

Peace Museum in Caen: huge, with a lot of background material on the lead-up to the war as well as coverage of the post-war period. A lot of people find in overwhelming.

World War II Museum in Bayeux: good, modern, moderately-sized museum. On the outskirts of town, so I assume parking is not an issue. (I walked there.)

Memorial to Wartime Civilians in Falaise: very new museum focusing on civilian life during the war. Also covers resistance activities.

My tour stopped in St-Mere-Eglise just about long enough to see the Airborne Museum there if one wolfed down either a sandwich bought at the local bakery or a packed lunch. I remember a good bit of war materiel (definitely not my thing), and it's sort of an old-fashioned museum. I preferred the ones I've listed above, but this museum's more limited focus will appeal to many, and it can be seen in not much over an hour, I think.

English-language explanatory text was everywhere in all the places I've mentioned.

Posted by
763 posts

I agree with Acraven that without a tour guide, we would "have been looking at sand and chunks of concrete, and been monumentally bored". Our guide, Alan Bryson of FirstNormandyBattlefieldTours had interviewed the actual soldiers and their sons and KNEW their stories, and knew the strategies, and knew the use of terrain. 20X better than going to those sites without a guide.

Posted by
857 posts

Most people who recommend tours don't have the background that you and your son seem to have. If you know your history, and do your research, a tour is not at all mandatory. Overall, I think your plan sounds good. I would only add the following:

Day 1 sounds great! Arromanches and the 360-degree museum are both very informative sights. Do walk the beach at Arromanches to see the remains of the Mulberry Harbor. Great little museum at the edge of the beach too. You mention the Overlord Museum and the American Cemetery above Omaha Beach. Both are excellent, and deserve your time. But so does the beach itself. If you know the history, walking out onto that beach and looking up to the bluffs above it very sobering. FWIW, the Omaha Beach Memorial Museum isn't much to see. Use that time to walk the beach instead. There are German gun emplacements at either far end of the beach that you can walk up to (but you have to drive between these two extremes of the beach). One beyond the Hötel Casino after the road runs out, and one where the road ends at the Eastern end of the beach. You can park and walk to either.

Day 2 also sounds good. The Utah Beach Museum is one of the best museums in the area. And I highly recommend the Airborne Museum. It won't take long, and is right off the square where the paratroopers landed. If you can fit it in (and I think you can), I recommend two other stops in the area. First the La Fiére Causeway West of town. If you know the history of this heroic battle by the 82nd Airborne for control of this key access route, looking out at the causeway and visiting the Iron Mike monument will be very contemplative. Secondly, on the way out of Utah Beach, do visit the small church in Angoville-au-Plain near Sainte-Mere-du-Mont. This small church was turned into a refuge by two American airborne medics on D-day while the battle for control of the area waged back and forth just outside if the church. 30 minutes is fine here. Yes, you will want more than 30 minutes at Pointe-du-Hoc, but it is worth it.

While the area is huge, driving between sights doesn't take too long. I'll through out a few of my other favorite WWII sights in the area.

The Canadian Cemetery above Juno Beach. You'll have to seek it out, but it is one of the most contemplative places I visit regularly.

The Azeville Battery North of Sainte-Mère-Église. This may take an extra hour or so, but gives you a good look at the German artillery located inland.

Pegasus Bridge. Not near your scheduled route, and I understand if you miss it. But it was an awesome assault by glider-borne British paratroopers, and one of the first successes of D-day.

Given that you have some knowledge about the events of the area, ignore the advice about the Caen "Peace Museum." You will waste tons of of time there and not get any more insight than the sights you have already listed. This time is much better spent actually seeing the sights in the are. IMHO, it is way over-hyped by Rick Steves. Anything you see here you can see on your computer from home. The Utah Beach Museum will be time much better spent.

Enjoy your visit to one of my favorite places!