My husband and I will be celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary in 2014 in FRance. We are thinking about going to Normandy for the 70th anniversary of D-Day and wonder if that's good idea because of the crowds. I'd appreciate your thoughts and advice.
The answer to this is somewhat multi faceted . If you are there in the vicinty of June the sixth , I would expect very high attendance and as such , would book accomodations as far in advance as realistically possible . Even the time frame from early May through late October is likely to be busier than usual . Having a bed , and IMO , a car rental confirmed would be essential . Needless to say , I am of the school that believes that seeing the area independently ( having done your homework ) is superior to a guided tour . I'm sure I'll get heat for that point of view . As one poster once remarked ,seeing the area without a tour , you will only see sand and concrete . Pure , Unadulterated nonsense ! A trip to the Normandy sites will change your perspectives about many things.
Sue, "seeing the area without a tour, you will only see sand and concrete. Pure, Unadulterated nonsense!" Of course, that's a matter of opinion. I've used both methods and found that the local tours provide a much more interesting and rewarding visit to the D-Day sites and I learned far more about the history. I'd suggest seeing the major sites before or after the official ceremonies, as they'll be packed and traffic will be dreadful. Also, if you did decide to take a tour, there may not be any available as the tour operators will be attending the ceremonies. Cheers!
It could be "nonsense" if one is unfamiliar with the history and doesn't know what he's doing there.
I can't underline enough what Ken said about the value of a good guide for a visit to the D-Day sites. I'm a smart person with interest in history who knows my way around France(I.e. presumably just the sort of person who could do it on my own). Although the D-Day tours can seem expensive on first blush, at the end of the day I found the value for money was extraordinary and enriched my experience immeasurably. This is definitely a place to invest in one's trip.
Thanks , Fred , that was precisely my point !
Thank you all for your advice. I think we'll schedule our trip either before or after the actual 70th D-Day anniversary celebration. Thoughts on when it would be better to visit the area, before or after? I'm leaning afterwards but we're flexible. How many days do you suggest we visit?
To piggy-back on Sue's question: wondering what tour you would recommend for our group of 4 who are not history 'geeks' but who would want to have a good day trip to the Normandy beaches and American cemetery. This is on Dad's wish list - he was 10 and had family serve in WWII . Will be coming from Paris. Dad is leaning toward a one-day tour from Paris - I could easily do an overnight so we could have more time. ( others in our group are my 17 yr old son who does love history and my aunt 72)
We all have our different ways... but we found that staying at Arromanche for three nights enabled us to leisurely visit the great museum in Caen, the German cemetery as well as the deeply moving and better known American Cemetery. We were there ofr the 60th anniversary of VE day and had a pint with some Brits who had been part of the invasion... a lot of people but little trouble moving around.I was 8 when the war ended, if that helps. Finally, our way is to read a lot before we go and then take our time when we want to and move on when we don't...
@ Diane , I appreciate your comment about not being " history geeks " , but you only need a starting point. Before you go , watch the films " The Longest Day " and " Saving Private Ryan " . They will give you a wonderful grounding . Two of the Niland brothers ( the actual name of the family depicted in " Ryan " are buried in the American cemetery at Colleville sur Mer ) . When you go to the cemetery be sure to spend adequate time in the visitors center and learn of some of the kind people interred there. Take your time at the cemetery , don't rush , ponder . This is a pilgrimage and it needs time. As well , whatever other of the myriad sites you visit , be sure to stop at the German cemetery at La Cambe. However you view the war , you will realize that many were victims ,regardless of their nationality .
My father served with Patton's 3rd army in the 290th Combat Engineers in WWII. He arrived in England on Nov. 2, 1944 and in Cherbourg, France on Dec. 31, 1944. After we visit Paris and Normandy, we're going follow my father's footsteps through France and into Belgium, with the 3rd Army and perhaps into Germany as well, although we haven't finalized our plans yet. I still can't decided if we should visit Normandy prior to the 70th anniversary of D-Day so we're not caught up with the crowds although I think it would be a very emotional and amazing experience; or visit France in April or May or Sept. I appreciate everyone's thoughts and advice, it's been very helpful.
I'd like to recommend a book that I felt was very informative and might be interesting for anyone traveling to WWII sites in the European Theater, it's call, Citizen Soldier by Steven Ambrose, I've been told his D-Day book is good as well.
September gets my vote !
My Dad served under Omar Bradley and landed at Omaha Beach a few days after June 6th. I spent time with him visiting the sites when I was young and have always felt a deep connection to that history. I've been there many times in the last 10 yrs with my son, for a week each time. It's hard to say how long you should spend there, I think 3 full days is a minimum amount of time just for the WWII sites. I highly recommend the WWII museum in Bayeux. It is excellent, and the best one imo. We did not care for the one in Caen. I would love to be there for the 70th Anniversary, but I think that would be a whole different experience from any other time. For a first time visit, I would not go during the anniversary. I don't think it matters if you go a week or more before June 6th, or after all the anniversary events are over. Bayeux is also worth spending time in, it's a wonderful, charming town. And the Bayeux Tapestry is also well worth seeing. I highly recommend Hotel d'Argouges in Bayeux if you haven't already chosen a place to stay.
If you go to the museum in Bayeux , allow time for a visit to the British war cemetery just diagonally across the road from the museum . Be sure to read the inscription along the frieze of the memorial .
June 6, 2014 is a Friday so the whole week before there will be a lot of re-enactors w/ jeeps, trucks, encampments all along the beachfront. You will feel as if you're a time traveler-a unique experience. It wld be best to visit the week before because there will be major security on the 6th and driving almost anywhere will be a zoo. Definitely book lodging by late fall 2013; we've stayed at a wonderful gite just minutes from Colleville-sur-mer and will be there again in 2014 (PM me if you are interested other than the week before June 6). We have had a car on each of our four previous trips and have found it almost a necessity to go to many of the sites. Take the train from Paris to Caen or Bayeaux and pick up your car there. Allow a full morning at Colleville to be able to visit the stunning new visitors center as well as wander the cemetary; the German cemetary at Cambe as well as the Canadian cemetary near Reviers are both very different from Colleville and worth a visit. The museum at Deadman's Corner (near St-Come-du Mont, off the N-13 s of St-Mere-Eglise) is smaller but well done and would be less crowded/overhwelming than Caen. Port en Bessin is a charming fishing town w/ good choices for a meal.Get the Michelin map (# 513) for Normandie which shows all the smaller roads/towns/villages. All of the sites, I've mentioned are sign-posted from the N-13. The chapter "D-Day Revisted" in Stephen Ambrose's book Americans at War is a great short overview. Be sure to sample some pomme de cidre (fermented cider)but beware that it can have a "kick", particularly if you buy it from a local farm along the road rather than a grocery in town. Mussels are also a Norman specialty.
My husband, adult son, and I stayed in Bayeux at a wonderful Bed and Breakfast - called Hotel De St. Croix. Overlord tours picked us up at our hotel, arranged by Florence, the owner, and we took the all day tour, which was wonderful. I had been to Normandy when I was 18 (40+ years ago !!), but know that as a teenager you do not appreciate that what you see as an adult. My husband and son (32) saw Normandy for the first time and loved it. They thought the tour was so informative and we all though that we enjoyed it so much more than what we would have on our own. It gave us all a sense of pride in the way the American cemetery is kept up - a tribute to all those who rest in peace there. I lost my second son at one month shy of 21, and I couldn't help but shed tears for all those mothers who had lost their sons at such young ages (many were 17, 18, etc.). Extremely moving......
I'd like to add one small tweak to Cary's fine advice , I hope he won't be offended . As he says , the N-13 lines alot of sights up very well , but it's a highway without alot of character , much like one of our interstates . You could also consider this approach ; Say you find lodging in Bayeux ( lots to see there as well ) you can take the D-516 north from Bayeux to Arromanches , a very pretty village and start by seeing the museum that focuses on the building of Port Winston ( Musee du Debarquement ) . When you leave you can pick up the D-514 coast road which goes around 30mph and meander your way west along Omaha Beach . Many of the sights that Cary mentions line up along this road like ducks ( Longues sur mer , Colleville sur mer ( the American cemetery ) Port en Bessin ,Vierville sur mer ( striking monument there ,has the look of a submarine conning tower ) Pointe du Hoc and many others . The drive along the D-514 is beautiful through the bucolic Normandy countryside . The N-13 will allow you to move quickly , but the D-514 was one of prettiest car trips I've ever taken , anywhere !
Wow, I hit the jack pot! Everyone has given me such a wealth of information and advice, keep it coming! Thank you all.
I so agree with steven about taking the country roads vs the freeway. You will miss so much of the charm of Normandy if you stay on the freeway. One of our favorite things to do in Normandy is drive the country roads... it is so enjoyable.
Sue, Here's another perspective: I was in Normandy last year over the anniversary I booked my B&B in Bayeux in March, I think, and a rental car much later ... late April. I didn't find the crowds bad. It was my 4th visit to the area am overwhelmed every time. There were probably a few large busloads of vets from the U.K.; only 6 or so American vets were there, I think. By 2014, the numbers will have dropped off even more :( I found even being able to watch a veteran, his movements, the look in his eyes as he stared at the ocean, or walked among the graves ... to be moving beyond words. The people in Bayeux, who have always been kind and helpful, were even more so at this time of year, their gratitude almost overwhelming.
So, my advice: Don't be put off by thinking crowds will be too much; but going at another time would be just as special. Definitely, go.
Steve, I'm not offended by your tweaking of my post. We, too, love the back roads---have had have found some great little cafes,museums, adventures just wandering around. For a first time driver in Normandy, i thought the N13 would be less confusing and it's well marked. By the way, I am a female (Cary is a family name) and over the years have had some interesting experiences because it's assumed I'm male.
I could be completely wrong, but I think the 70th anniversary will be more crowded than the 69th.
The sad point should be made that the D-Day veterans are passing on and the great anniversaries become harder to repeat. Being there with the remaining few, with the crowds that support them, might be its own reward for whatever inconveniences are involved.
We have been for the 50th, 55th, 60th, 64th and will be returning for the 70th. Meeting the vets is one of the most moving and profound experiences I've ever had. The French govt and the Norman people really roll out the red carpet. American vets are surrounded and asked for autographs wherever they go by people of all ages. We have also had French people, upon realizing we are Americans, thank us for saving their country! Attending the Memorial Day ceremony at Colleville or any of the American cemeteries is also a unique experience. Local families "adopt" the graves and bring flowers to add to the American and French (or Dutch or Italian or British) flags that the cemetery staff place at each grave. Check the American Battle Monuments Commission website for details for any of the cemeteries. All are meticulously maintained, and whenever we have visited, I always hope that loved ones' families realize how honored and cared for the soldiers' graves are.
I'm still can't decide if we should attempt to be there for the 70th anniversary. I was in contact with a women who owns a B & B i the area and who is also on the planning committee for the D-Day celebration. She indicated that it would be VERY, VERY crowded the week of June 6, ending on June 8th with parachute jump that all the veterans will be attending. She also said that we probably could not get anywhere near the American Cemetery on June 6 due to security and so on and everything will be extremely crowed, parking, restaurants, museums, towns, all crowded. With that being said, it's making me wonder if being there at that time and experiencing it all is worth it. I'm retired and can go anytime, thoughts on this and if we don't go then, should we go prior to that week or some other time altogether?
Sue ,since you are retired ( as we are ) , I find that traveling is best in the fall in general , even here in the states . Things are calmer , less crowded , and our experience in Europe is that the fall generally speaking is the best weather . We visited Normandy in mid September and it was perfect from every standpoint . You would be able to see the beaches and surrounding sites without dealing with the anniversary crowds and the usual summer visitors who come on beach holiday .
If you want to experience all the ceremonies and hoopla surrounding the 70th, then you will need to go at that time. On the other hand, if you're primarily interested in visiting and learning about the sites themselves, then I'd suggest you go in (early) September. I have been there in early October and it was somewhat cold and windy on the beaches at that time.
My father and I are planning on being in Normandy for the 70th anniversary. He served in the US Navy and was at Normandy 70 year ago. He's in excellent health, so doesn't have any problem getting around. We are planning on arriving in Normandy on 6/3/2014 (driving from Paris) and staying until 6/7/2014. I'd like to make sure that he is included in some of the celebrations (if possilbe). Any thoughts on who I might contact. The information provided by this sight is so useful. Thank you all for sharing your knowledge. Any other advice would be greatly appreciated.
Hey Sue, First, I can't believe there will not be tours from Paris for the day on June 6 (or before or after) and you could do a lot worse than spending your nights in Paris. In October, 2012, my nephew and I took the train from Paris to Bayeux and just missed the official tour leaving from the train station. There were a couple of local cabbies hanging out next to the station and we hired one of them for E100 (plus a E25 tip) to drive us to see the major sights and he spent 4 hours taking us around. He just sat in his cab reading a newspaper but I am very familiar with the WWII history of the area so it worked out great (I had been to Normandy before). My point: don't underestimate the locals getting to places you might not be able to get to on your own. The price will probably be higher for this event but you might find it cheaper than renting a car and driving yourself especially if this is your first trip there. Anyone else have any thoughts on these ideas?