Is it reasonable to think we can do the Normandy WWII sites on our own or is it better to book a tour?
Absolutely you can do it on your own. The distances between the sites are small. It's easy to find detailed maps and guidebooks. Personally, I think on-your-own is the preferred way, in case you want to linger at certain sites, like the American cemetery or Omaha Beach itself. Nothing against tours per se, but on a tour you have to follow the tour's timetable and agenda rather than your own.
Absolutely. But do your research in advance to know any opening or closing times (as for cemeteries, for example) that are important to you. Have detailed current map in advance and highlight where you want to go. It's really hard to figure things out on the fly, and the invasion sites are scattered across a broad area. Signage in the area can be confusing and it's hard to see where you're going (which is why the invasion itself took so long.)
You can definitely do it on your own. If you take Doug's advice and do some research you can lay out a nice plan to do your own tour. The research will be rewarding. If you watched Band of Brothers you could drive to Brecourt Manor where Easy Company took out the four guns firing on causeway #2 leading out of Utah Beach. The Manor is not far from Saint Marie du Mont and just down the road from the little hamlet of Le Grand Chemin. There is a memorial to the 101st at the head of the road leading to the Manor and it is neat to see that the owner of Brecourt still flies the American flag from his building. There are plenty of sites such as this all along the beaches and you can decide which carries the most interest and put your plan together. Good maps and a GPS will be a big help.
It's completely reasonable. However, I think you would get more out of a tour. We did two one-day tours with Battlebus (who are no longer in business, though some of the guides are) and also spent one day touring some of the sites on our own. The tours were fantastic and made the sites more meaningful. It was also a lot easier to have someone else do all the driving and find the places. We did enjoy the day we spent on our own, but we did not learn as much and it was more stressful. The driving in Normandy is easy, but we did have some trouble finding some of the places we wanted to go. Everyone I have every known who took a tour loved it. The major downside is that they are expensive.
We did it on our own in May of 2006. We probably missed a lot of what a tour would have covered but we had the flexibility that you get on your own and as a result, had a couple of experiences that we never could have had in a tour and we would not trade for a million dollars. As Rick says in the 2011 guide book, the exhibits in the lower level of the visitors center at the American Cemetery are something you must take the time to see. They are very, very moving.
Lauri, You can certainly visit the sites on your own, but you'll need to do a LOT of homework in order to narrow down the places you want to visit. The D-Day battles took place along about a 50-mile front, and there are obscure sites spread out across Normandy. Unless you know what to look for, you'll miss a lot of them. I found that taking a tour provided a much more interesting experience and I learned far more, especially some things that aren't covered well in a lot of history books. The Guides that I've toured with have been outstanding, and they've provided a lot of interesting facts obtained by talking to Veterans (again, not covered in the books). Another nice thing about the tour was they provided all the transportation, so no wasted time in getting to the sites. Happy travels!
Sad news. Major Dick Winters Passed away. A true american hero and a great leader of men who deserved the Medal of Honor in my opinion. http://www.pennlive.com/midstate/index.ssf/2011/01/dick_winters_of_band_of_brothe.html
Lauri, We did Normandy last October and did two one-day tours with Battlebus. I would recommend using a tour to get the major highlights, and then spend a day or two on your own going to places you did not see on the tour or going back and spending more time at some of the places you did see.
If you decide to self-guide your Normandy trip, an historian friend's book, "The March to Victory" is a guide tio WWII battle sites with good coverage of Normandy and beyond. There's a copy on ebay right now with a buy-it-now price of $0.99. As was said above, definitely do your homework for a self-guided trip. And leave time to wander around and find things on your own. In 2001, we tripped over the Crisbecq gun battery which was overgrown and barely visible (and behind fences - shhh!) Now, that site is fully developed with parking lots and tour guides. There are little museums, concrete bunkers, and sites of historical significance to be found and enjoyed. If your schedule can swing it, consider visiting Normandy over the anniversary of the June 6th, 1944 invasion. The celebrations are incredible, even 60+ years after the event. Many of the villages commemorate the day of their liberation by allied forces with a big party and fireworks. This goes on all through the summer! Have a wonderful visit!
The best money we spent in Normandy was on a day long tour of all the sites with a guide, Danielle, at Normandyours. Nine hours long, just us in a van, we saw it all - most of it off the beaten path so I don't know how we would have found it if we were on our own. I know we would not have seen as much. Now this was a trip to France planned around the WWII sites - my husband, me and our three sons are big Band of Brothers fans. So maybe this tour was more than you would want. But - if you plan ahead my guess is you will be fine. There are probably enough locals along the way that you can get directions if you get lost. I will say that some of the places had challenging parking so take that into account.
Guided tours are expensive. We had a rental a car and used Rick Steves guide book to do the tour on our own. Normandy area is very easy to navigate as long as you have a GPS. We spent plenty of time all over Normandy and never rushed. If your a huge WWII history buff and must see every site then a guided tour will show you the most. For the curious, on your own I say is best.
The good new is there are all options available - guided tour, group tour and doing it on your own! This area was of particular interest to us so we budgeted money for the tour. It's all a matter of your preferences. You can use your own car and hire the guide - saving a bit of money in the process. Yes, guided tours are probably more expensive, but that being said - there were advantages that made it attractive ...we weren't straining to hear a tour operator as we have done on larger tours, we were free to leave a site when we wanted to move on to something else whereas with a group tour we have on occasion been stuck waiting for people to meader back and board a bus. Finally, I would say the guided tour allowed us to ask as many questions as we wanted without feeling sefl-conscious regarding other participant's time and level of interest. The stairs down onto Omaha Beach are quite steep and we saw a group tour having a difficult time getting some of the more senior members down on the sand - We were able to park in a more accessible area with our smaller vehicle. Finally - we had two kids under 12 and some of the guided tours wouldn't take us! I think both tour options are good, but I would also say that if you are spending money on a trip to France there are "splurges" that may be worth it depending on your interests. For us, seeing all the "off the path sites" like a small church that was used as a field hospital, was very moving and memorable. Our middle child found a spent WWII rifle cartrage when he was towing around in the dirt outside the church. In any event, it's France so you will enjoy it no matter what!
We did it on our own in a rental car quite a few years ago now. Our interest was Canadian oriented and we found that the tourist offices in the towns were well prepared to help us with maps and other information for Canadians.
Thanks everyone for all the suggestions. It has helped with my trip planning.
Lauri; as others have said, a guided tour will show you things you'd never find on your own. That said, if you're prepared to do research (a lot of research) before the trip, I'd be renting a car and following your own interests and instincts. I have an uncle buried in Normandy, have visited his resting place previously, and am heading over in April to do further research of his "travels" between D-Day on Juno Beach and 25 July in Caen where he met his Maker. I've already contacted more than a few of the "well known" guide people/companies in Normandy and following that exercise, have decided to "self-guide" from Caen with a rental car for this trip. As they say; we can do this the easy way or we can do this the hard way but, IMO, with due diligence and some/much time spent on research (especially if following family footsteps in Normandy) I'll take the self guided tour.
Geoff You have said almost exactly the points I was going to make. I studied a lot before we did the D-Day thing and we did it on our own in our own car. We were able to see what we wanted, and I was able to find everything we wanted to find, and we traveled at our pace. When we wanted an extra hour at the cemetery at Bayeaux we had it. I never knew why we spent so many hours combing the beach so carefully at Arromanches. It just seemed right. When we got home I discovered that one of my uncles who had been in North Africa as a tank Commander had also landed there on D-Day+2. The only difference, Geoff, was that we were so highly blessed in my family that everybody who was in WWII came back. Dad was a Commando in Italy and Yugoslavia One uncle was a tank Commander Another was in the Signalling Corps in France and Germany Granddad instructed pilots
Mum was a translator for US HQ in Paris My brother's Father-in-Law was a US bomber pilot flying out of England My Father's parents had two houses bombed flat. And they all survived. I am one lucky guy. Anyway, one vote for doing it on your own.
Thanks for the reply Goeff, I think we have decided to do it both ways. We will have 3 days in Normandy and will do a half day tour the first day and gain some knowledge of the area and events that occured there leaving us the next 2 days to go back and visit areas where we may want to spend more time. I respect your wanting to do it on your own, sounds like a wonderful honor to your uncle. I wish you a great time. Nigel, yes you are blessed to have your family members return home safe. I was blessed too, my dad was there (before I was born) and returned to my mother safely. Thanks for the replies.
Hi Lauri, Your trip sounds wonderful. The spot I remember most from our day there was out in the country a bit. Don't get me wrong - it was all very interesting and very moving, but here is a link for the little church that was used as a hospital - it has a map which will hopefully help you if you decide to go. It's at a small crossroads, very quiet. Look at the benches inside the church as the parish decided to leave the bloodstains on them to commemorate it's use as a field hospital during the Battle of Normandy. The windows inside depict the 101st Airborne, I believe. Aside from the WWII history, look at the building and graveyard. http://www.normandie44lamemoire.com/versionanglaise/fichesvillesus/angovilus2.html I hope you have a great trip.
Thanks Marie. I just bookmarked the website. It looks exactly like something we would want to see. I have added it to our list. We love those kind of "off the beaten path" things to do. Thanks for the suggestion.
We did it on our own (with rental car), but the right tour would be better, I think. We didn't think the Museum in Caen was worth the money. Definitely should be at the American Cemetary when it opens in the morning-not to be missed.
'We didn't think the Museum in Caen was worth the money.' No kidding. Go to the one in Bayeux instead.