How hard is it to drive from Bayeux to the American D-Day beaches? I'm concerned about being about to read the street names and route numbers.
Very easy. I did it as my first time driving in Europe (in the era before GPSes and phones!) and still managed just fine. Beautiful countryside, friendly people, casual pace of life outside of the cities like Caen. I still recommend taking a phone for GPS if you can.
There also is excellent signage, markers for the US D-Day beaches. Make sure you visit the British and Canadian beaches too as they each have different story to tell.
All the roads in that area are small, 2-lane. As long as you have an idea which town you’re going to, follow the signs to it. Because of the roads, you’ll be driving at low speeds so it does take longer to drive between places than you’d think. If I remember correctly, all the D-days sights are well marked.
We did not have a problem finding the beach sites, but did have trouble finding a few out-of-the-way spots. There is a road that basically parallels the beaches, and we found the sites easily. I would recommend having at least a paper or off-line map available. Check out the CityMaps2Go app if you haven't already.
the question isn't really how hard it would be, it is what your experience would be like. The companies that offer tours have guides that are more informed than you can believe about D-Day history. They really make the area and battles come to life. You aren't going to get the same feeling reading a few pages out of a book. On the flip side you can spend as long as you want at a site when you drive yourself.
As others have said, it is very easy and well-marked. I find it nice to have a real paper map to plan my route and areas I want to visit ahead of time other than just the beaches (there is so much more). I also bring my Garmin GPS and download European maps for it ahead of time. But your methods may vary.
Yes, the smaller roads between towns are 2-lane roads, but it is wrong to assume everyone goes slow on them. They are slow (and are marked so) when you go through a town. But between towns, the locals expect you to step on the gas. Take some time to learn the street signs. Speed limits are listed in KPH, which your rental car's speedometer will also be marked in. But you may see a sign that says "50" or less entering a town, and then just a sign that has a "50" with a line through it—meaning that lower limit is no longer in effect. And the limit is now back up to what it was before—typically 70 KPH (43 MPH). Also, when you say "the American D-Day beaches," that includes Omaha and Utah. There is no coastal road between these two beaches, and you will have to take the N13 highway to go around the river that divides them, and then smaller roads between. The highway is still very easy, but just wider, divided road with higher speed limits (90–110 KPH, or 55–68 MPH). It is around 40 minutes drive between those two beaches, and there is one of the best museums of the area at Utah Beach. Google road signs ahead of time and enjoy driving through a beautiful countryside. I can't imagine going through Normandy an other way (I've done it 6 times and counting...).
I suggest reading up well on the history before visiting the beaches, such as the works by J.Keegan, A Beevor ( a more recent massive work), M.Hastings. You'll know the pertinent names and sites and what happened there, as well as the "might have beens" which did not occur, luck for the Allies, esp the US.
I agree with John. Taking a high-quality tour is a VERY productive experience.
I took the Normandy tour with Alan Bryson, First Normandy Battlefield Tours. It was excellent.
Folks could look at the terrain on their own and vaguely imagine things, but an expert like Alan will point out how the terrain was used in planning, in actual fighting, who parachuted where (with names of people he's personally researched), what exactly happened at what bunker, what happened in the landing crafts, etc. I felt like I had actually been there with the men.
There are other great tours as well, and you can find them via TripAdvisor.com . Read their reviews and consider a good tour. WELL worth the money, in my opinion.
You'll learn far more about the D-Day landings and have a richer and more interesting experience by using one of the excellent local tours. The guides I've used have been exceptional, and have knowledge of a lot of details that aren't in the history books. They know the area well and know where all the main sights are located, so that's a very efficient way to travel.
If you wish to drive and just look at the beach, I'd suggest packing along a good map or a GPS. One other point to note is that for driving in France, an International Driver's Permit or a certified translation in French of the terms of your home D.L. is highly recommended.
Another vote for taking a tour. The full-day van tours were priced as low as 100 euros per person in 2017.
And yet another for a guided tour. It isn't a matter of transportation. A guide can enrich the experience so much as to be well worth the fee.
We had no problems driving in the area, but if I were to have the opportunity to do it again I would opt for a tour. I think it would be more informative. If you don't want to take a tour you can still have a good experience if you know what your looking for.
Another vote for taking a tour. Our guide knew so much about the history of the area and told us so much more of the history and pointed out things we would have missed on our own.
We visited several of the small towns with very interesting events that occured during the D-Day action.
Hope you don't mind if I jump in here. We'll be heading to Bayeux too, and I see that there are references to a couple of tours, but they are only the private tours for 6 - 8 people. We only have 3, so does anyone have a suggestion for tours that aren't "private"?
You can book three spots on any of the Overlord tours. They use vans, not big tour buses. I assume there are other companies doing the same thing, but I haven't tried to verify that. I was very happy with the full-day Overlord tour I took last summer, and I know others have had positive comments as well. I paid 100 euros.