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Normandy Must Sees

Hello,
My wife and I are going to be in Paris and would like to travel by train to the Normandy beaches and the best cities in the area. I have got some pretty good ideas on what I would like to see (WWII memorial, Caan; ect) from guide books but would like to get some ideas from people who have made the trip on the best places to stop and see. I am really into the history of the area and have waited many years to experience Normandy and would like some ideas of what I "must" see and do. Any opinions and help are greatly appreciated. Frank

Posted by
1568 posts

I am VERY interested in WW2. We took an all day tour with Battle Bus Tours and was extremely satisfied with it. Was surprised the guide knew more than I did. You have to make reservations in advance. We took a train from Paris directly to Bayeaux. Spent the night and our tour started at 8:00 the next morning. http://www.battlebus.fr/ They have several tours to choose from....even the Band of Brothers tour. Enjoy.

Posted by
1568 posts

I see the American Experience Tour involves more and it is a 2-day tour. Well worth the price. You cannot imagine what all you will see. It is outstanding. The group is small. Our group was about 8-10.

Posted by
348 posts

We picked up a great map at Tourist Information and discovered that there are 17 small British cemeteries dotting Normandy countryside, kept up by the French in perpetuity. These were the most poignant scenes we visited. You might want to watch the old movie The Longest Day before you go. The ideallic beach towns on the Normandy coast belie their tragic history. Some still posting signs "Thank you America".

Posted by
80 posts

I highly recommend you take a tour. After reviewing the guidebooks I decided to take a tour and was glad I did. You will see places, get information and get insight from a local. The above mentioned tour companies get excellent reviews. I did a two day tour with Overlord Tours last month and was very pleased.

Posted by
3486 posts

Frank , At the risk of seeming pedantic ,traveling by train to see the area is a bit confusing . I assume you mean getting to the area which would mean either Caen or Bayeux . From that point you would have to choose a tour or rent a car . My preference was to take a car . There are many sights along gold, omaha, and utah beaches that are worthwhile but you must make those choices based on your preferences. With a car you will have far more flexibility with both your time and personal tastes. The driving in this part of the world is easy and very pleasurable . I wouldn't have done it any other way . As for a few key spots : at the top of the list is the American cemetery at Colleville sur Mer ; the gun emplacements at Longues sur Mer ; The monument at the beach at Vierville sur Mer ; and the German cemetery at La Cambe . The town of Bayeux is terrific ,lots to see and a great base to work from . Allow at least a full day to see the highlights , two would be better . This is an experience that will stay with you forever . Best wishes !

Posted by
80 posts

Let me add another thought. It sounds like you are trying to stick with train travel, but if you have the time and are willing to rent a car, the Pas de Calais area has some off the beaten path sights. Cap Blanc Nez and Battery Todt are a few miles from each other, both worth a visit and can be seen without a guide or tour.
It is a bit of a drive, however, from Caen and Bayeux.

Posted by
760 posts

I agree with Steven. There are so many small town and ports to see along the way. Also at the American Cemetery take time to really look at the displays in the lower level of the visitor center, the reading the material on the walls there is as moving or more so than the cemetery itself.

Posted by
1427 posts

We took a train from Paris to Bayeux and rented a car there. We did take the one-day Battlebus tour (this was 3 years ago) which as others have said is fantastic! You can take the tour directly out of Bayeux. It's very easy to drive on the little roads around Bayeux and well worth it. Bayeux is such a nice town - great restaurants, a wonderful cathedral, the WWII museum is great, plus the Bayeux tapestry.

Posted by
7696 posts

You can definitely do it without renting a car by doing as folks say: train to Bayeux, then visiting the WWII beaches with an experienced guide. Let them do the driving. Also with their study and insights, the places will come alive so much more than they would if you went on your own (at least this was my experience). The good guides are expensive, but worth every penny. Who do people use/recommend now that Battlebus is no longer?

Posted by
2876 posts

If you do it on your own, don't miss Pointe Du Hoc, the clifftop above Omaha Beach that was assaulted by American Rangers on D-Day. (I'm sure you'll see it on any organized tour.) You can still see shell craters and German fortifications. It's also worth getting out of your vehicle and walking on Omaha Beach itself, and imagining what happened there that day. The #1 site for me was the American cemetery above Omaha Beach, an absolute don't miss for any American.

Posted by
3486 posts

Irv's point is very well taken . The material in the visitors center is essential . Particularly there are photographs and biographical information on military personnel , both men and women who lost their lives in France . One example is a picture of the Niland brothers who were the models for the private Ryan film . Taking the time to absorb this information brings a deeper , more intimate understanding to what you will see in the cemetery proper. It puts a very human and personal face on it all making it less abstract . As well , Tom brings up a fine idea ; Pointe du Hoc was very thought provoking .

Posted by
1157 posts

We train to Caen and fetch our reserved car there, right across the street from the Caen RR station--easy-peasy. We drove to Bayeux and took and all-day tour of the beaches. Problem was--not enough time in several spots, especially the American cemetery above Omaha. If you've never realized what it took in blood, lives, and treasure to keep you and your family free, you will... after visiting the cemetery and looking across that vast expanse of white marble crosses and stars of David that mark the end of life for so many American boys. You REALLY need to spend a couple nights in Normandy and explore the beaches. Check out www.bandbnormandie.com for a B&B near Bayeux if you have a car. WE've stayed with Odile and love it.

Posted by
1288 posts

We had an excellent tour with Ellwood von Seibold at ddaybattletours.

Posted by
12 posts

Frank, I did the same from Paris. The train travels to Caen and then you have to come out of the platform to an "above ground paltform" to catch the train to Bayeaux. It was a little tricky but do-able. You must leave Paris early to get to Bayeaux in time for the tour. First train leaves at 7:07am from St. Lazare. It arrives in Bayeaux at 9:29am. I HIGHLY recommend a tour. I looked into Battlebus (great reviews); however, I wanted a smaller more intimate tour. I ended up going with Victory Tours. www.victorytours.com. Roel does the tour and limits the size to 5/6 adults, so book early. He once worked with Battlebus and started his own tour company. He takes you to all the sites and some special sites that are not on everyone's radar. I LOVED it! And he starts late enough that you can catch the first train from Paris and make it. If not, he and his wife have a B&B near Bayeaux. He has several WWII vets that have taken his tour and recounts their stories while driving. Did I say how much I loved it!!! If you go with Roel, please ask him to stop at the church where the 2 American doctors performed so many miracles. I plan on returning next year and Roel is a definite must see. I think regardless of the tour guide, as long as they are competent, it will change your life. If you are so passionate about seeing everything and getting the most out of it, take a tour. Catherine

Posted by
5 posts

Wow, I appreciate all of the awesome suggestions. We have started checking out the tours and we are really excited by all of the possibilities. Thank you all so much. Frank

Posted by
5557 posts

I'm sorry the subject for this thread isn't more precise. I'd add that the answers about "short-term Normandy Beach run-outs from Paris" make sense given that the OP specifies train travel and no car rental. I'd like to make a small note that it is possible to have a meaningful visit to the invasion beach sites without paying hundreds and hundreds of dollars for a highly skilled and eminently professional tour. We happened to overhear some presentations by clearly superb guides while touring the beaches "on our own". They were far above, for example, the level of a "talking heads" PBS documentary on the subject. But if you have one or more good guidebooks, and you read them, you can do nearly as well for much less money - if you have a car. We carried Rick's "France", Lonely Planet "France", and an older walking routes book called "Fodors Short Escapes in France", by Bruce Bolger and Gary Stoller. ing from those three fine books, we had a fulfilling day among our three from in a chateau just outside Bayeux. I'm not trying to take anything away from hard-working, hard-researching professional guides. But the degree of reverence for their fine work expressed here sometimes seems to suggest that there is no alternative for Normandy.

Posted by
515 posts

http://www.ddayhistorian.com We toured with Paul Woodadge of DDay Historian when he owned Battlebus. Remarkable. Most memorable days ever. Cannot recommend highly enough. Saw more, heard more, than we would ever have been able on our own. Both our fathers served in WWII, and Paul was able to show us places where they would have been. He has made friends with so many veterans and is able to tell their stories. Again, just wonderful. I have always had a deep interest in WWII, and have studied and read so much, but what we learned from Paul was new and so very special. And we would not have found so many out of the way locations and lanes and churches and other spots where significant events took place. If you have plenty of time, I would recommend his tours first, and then tour more on your own. He's also on Facebook, where you can see many, many photos and find out more information. Book early. https://www.facebook.com/DDayHistorian