What's the best way to see the D-Day beaches? We will have a car but we see that Rick S also gives options of 1/2 day mini-van tours from the Caen Memorial Museum or full day tours w/the Battlebus. Will we be missing anything if we drive ourselves, stopping at all the museums & sites that Rick Steves recommends?
Your question: "Will we be missing anything if we drive ourselves [instead of taking Battlebus]?"
The Battlebus folks have done pretty well proving that the answer to your question is "yes, you will be missing something."
I'm going to be rash and predict that no one here, who has done one of the Battlebus tours, is going to come on here and say that the answer to your question is, no, you won't be missing anything if you pass on Battlebus and drive yourselves.
No one is saying you can't drive yourself. I DIY my first visit there. Next time I did Battlebus. I learned: you don't always get what you pay for, but you almost never get what you don't pay for.
But it also depends on your budget: the Battlebus tours aren't cheap--worth it, but they aren't cheap.
Here (link below) are some reviews/discussions of the Battlebus tours.
You can browse those and then make up your own mind(s).
I enjoyed the all day Battle Bus tour because of all the information and history offered by the tour guide. I thought I knew all about the invasion, etc., but the tour guide knew far more.
Well worth the money and the tour.
It depends upon how much you really want to know about the Normandy invasion. We were able to visit the key beaches and the American Cemetery on our own and came away very impressed by the experience. Posters who have taken the Battlebus tour speak very highly of it on this board.
Our first 3 times in Normandy we did it on our own and it was great, the 4th time there we took an all day Battlebus Tour and that was good too, we learned a lot more from the guide than we did on our own. But to me, the very best way to see all, or at least a lot of, the D-Day sites, is to do both. Do the Battlebus Tour one day, then go back the next day on your own. We felt rushed at the sites w/Battlebus but got lots of fascinating info, going back on our own the next day to spend a longer time at the places we were interested in was the perfect combination for us.
Our favorite D-Day museum was the one in Bayeux. We didn't like the one in Caen.
I always prefer driving myself. Maybe I am cheap. First you are paying for the car so you may as well use it. Not sure where you are staying. But if in Beaux (sp) area I wouldn't want to drive back to Caen. I like doing it at my own speed. If you do your homework you can get a lot out of a self guided. There is a lot along the way to read as you go. I must admit I am not a big fan of tours. And I am sure as Kent points out, I probably missed something. But if I did, guess what, I don't know it. I still had a great time. There is a real cool little museum up at St Mare Englais that is well worth the visit.
We had a great time driving ourselves. We were there last February and the weather was fabulous. Sunny and beautiful - we had the coast to ourselves. Climbed in and out of some bunkers, ran on the beach, visited the cemetery. Enjoyed the movie in the round at Arromanches. At the time my son was 8 years old and while he likes tours I think that even the half day tour would have been too much for him (and me). I wanted my own car and to be on my own schedule.
The "best way" to see the D-Day beaches is unquestionably with a BattleBus Tour! While you could certainly drive yourself to some of the local Museums, stop at the beaches and wander around, it's not the same as travelling with a knowledgeable Guide.
Most visitors to Normandy don't have knowledge of all the numerous small locations where decisive battles took place. One example that comes to mind is the small Church at Angoville-au-Plain where two Medics from the 101st ("Band of Brothers") performed such distinguished service. I learned about that from a BattleBus Tour. I also learned about a location that was significant to Canadian troops, the small town of Authie.
The tours provide an enormous amount of information on the events that took place, and although they're not inexpensive, I found them to be good value as they provided such an interesting travel experience.
I agree, the Airborne Museum at St. Mere Eglise is interesting and well done (nice touch having the roof shaped like a Parachute!). I believe that was the objective of the 82nd Airborne during the landings, and of course Pvt. Steele is still hanging on the Church tower (the Red Buttons character in the movie The Longest Day).
We were in Normandy from July 22 - 25th. Since there were 5 of us (including two young children) we chose to rent a car & tour the area ourselves. No way little kids would do well on a tour.
As R. Steves recommends we went to the 360 degree theatre in Arromanches first, and we visited the lovely town of Arromanche. We visited the museum in that town. We walked on the beach and saw the remains of port winston.
We went to the American Cemetary which also has an extremely informative museum. No need for a guide here.
We visited Utah Beach, Juno Beach and St. Mere Eglise.
We never made it to either Caen or Bayeaux (unfortuantely), but there's only so much you can do in a few days.
My husband, the real historian, was happy enough with what we did get to see. Having kids in tow definitely slows you down a bit.
I've read some posters who say they would not want to visit Normandy because it's so sad; I'd like to say that another reason to visit this area is that it is absolutely beautiful. I thought it was breathtaking. The mix of coast and countryside with beautiful Normand Stone & half timbered homes and villages were incredibly breathtaking. I'm tempted to retire there!
My husband and I spent four nights in Bayeaux last Spring and we did the American Experience tour with Battlebus and the Band of Brothers tour. I think you need a guide to explain the areas that you will be seeing. Some of the places we stopped were not marked so I don't know how you would find them on your own. Our guide set the scene for us and told us of the battle plans for each area. It was a highlight of our three week tour of France. I would like to go back in the future and do the Canadian and the British tours with Battlebus. It is amazing hearing the stories of our fallen heros. Have a wonderful trip, the tours are well worth the cost.
I also did not care for the Caen memorial museum. I thought there were much better museums and the cost was not worth it.
My wife and I did the beaches on our own by car, and we felt that we saw everything we wanted to see. We not hit any museums that day, but we spent a lot of extra time at the various cememteries and on the beach. Biggest advantage for us with not doing a planned tour/battlebus was that we could go at our own pace and spend extra time where we wanted to. I do recommend starting early that day.
My husband and I rented bicycles in Bayeaux and rode out to the beaches...it was wonderful! We stopped at the American cemetery and its excellent "museum" and rode all along the coastline when possible...bicycling was very safe and a great way to see the countryside. We spent pretty much an entire day this way. Another day, we walked to several museums in and around Bayeaux--all were very good and informative. After returning home, we rented "Saving Private Ryan", which put things into perspective...you could also watch it before you go...
The half-day car offered by the Caen museum was too short and the guide wasn't that great. Next time, I would probably take one day on Battlebus and one day on my own by car.
I used a similar method of touring on my last trip to Normandy. I took two full day tours with BattleBus (American highlights, Canadian highlights) and then rented a Car in Bayeux to see a few sites that weren't covered by the tours.
With the Car I visited Pegasus Bridge (where the British Glider troops landed - interesting Museum there) and the Gun Batteries at Longues sur Mer (which are only a short distance outside Bayeux).
We've done a combination of "DIY" tours and guided tours. We used Battlebus last year on a trip to France and couldn't have been more impressed. There are some sights you just NEED to have an knowledgeable tour guide describe. My husband know a great deal about WW2 (both of our fathers served) and we learned alot! Do it!