Europe, Travel

Normandy Pt. 2: Visiting the D-Day Beaches

If you’ve seen shows like ‘Band of Brothers’ and ‘Saving Private Ryan’ then you might already have a picture of Normandy in your mind.

D-Day was a World War II turning point for Allied troops in the effort toward taking back France from German control and eventually ending the war, changing the course of history.

At the Normandy American Cemetery.

Visiting such a place was an unforgettable experience, both sobering and amazing.

We traveled to Normandy just a couple of months before the 75th Anniversary of D-Day. For more information on how we got to Normandy, you can visit my Normandy Road Trip blog post here.

I’m not an expert on D-Day history by any means, though I did learn a lot from our tour! This is not a history post, it’s a photo-heavy travel post with a few little historical blurbs to give some background to the photos. If you’re interested in learning more about the history of D-Day, here’s a History Channel post that covers each beach landing in more depth!

Bayeux

Bayeux is the largest town in the region and most of the D-day tours are based there. We stayed just a little north of town in Arromanches-les-Bains (I cover that more in my Normandy Pt. 1 post mentioned above) on Gold Beach.

Our Viator tour left out of Bayeux early in the morning and lasted for 8 hours! We had the option to book a 4 hour tour, but decided that we should just go all out and see as much as possible.

One of the best things about our particular tour group was that it didn’t fill up, so it was just our family of 5, a solo traveler, and our tour guide!

Cathedral Notre Dame de Bayeux.

It was so worth the extra time and money to do the longer tour! The day went by so fast and we saw so many things, but we had still barely scratched the surface.

The tour took us to all of the major sites, but there were still so many things to do and see involving D-day that we just didn’t have time for.

If we could do it all over again knowing what we know now, we would have stayed longer and explored the area on our own the day after the tour, hitting the sites that the tour didn’t cover. That way, we would have already been a little bit familiar with the area.

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I know that a lot of people choose to explore the area on their own, which is normally how I like to travel. But this experience was incredible, to have an English speaking (also very knowledgeable and friendly) French guide taking us all around Normandy was pretty priceless in my opinion.

I just can’t imagine navigating that area and trying to read all of the French road signs and attempting to figure out where each site is and how to get to it.

I guess if you have a lot of time and you don’t mind finding your own way, it would be ok. But we had just one day, and we made it count with this tour!

Batterie Allemande de Longues-Sur-Mer at Gold Beach

This was our first stop of the tour after we left Bayeux. Batterie Allemande de Longues-Sur-Mer is located between Gold Beach and Omaha Beach on a 200ft cliff overlooking the Atlantic.

The battery was captured by the Allies on June 7 and had no further involvement in the Normandy campaign.

This very well preserved battery is the only one in Normandy to still house all of it’s original guns.

It was such an important capture for the Allied troops because of it’s placement and range, having the capability of protecting both Gold Beach and Omaha Beach.

Omaha Beach

Omaha Beach had the most casualties of the five landings because of steep cliffs, rough surf, and rocky shores that quickly diminished the number of troops that were able to even make it onto land.

On top of that, U.S. Army intelligence severely underestimated how many Germans were in the area.

Thousands of men were lost at Omaha on D-Day. Around 2,400 U.S. troops turned up dead, wounded, or missing.

You can see Pointe du Hoc in the distance.

Pointe du Hoc At Omaha Beach

Pointe du Hoc is actually between Omaha Beach and Utah Beach, but is closest to Omaha.

You can see from these photos how steep the cliffs are and how difficult it made things for the American and British troops.

A portion of the Pointe du Hoc D-Day Memorial.
Concrete debris from a German battery.
Steep cliffs and rough banks surround the area.
Divits in the ground from airstrikes look like natural formations now, 75 years later.

Normandy American Cemetery at Omaha Beach

The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial is located in Colleville-sur-Mer on a bluff overlooking Omaha Beach.

The cemetery contains 9,388 burials, 307 of which are unidentified soldiers.

One of 307 unknown soldiers.

France allows the U.S. flag fly at the cemetery and has made it a special territory free of charge and tax to honor the American soldiers.

Visiting this cemetery was one of my favorite parts of the tour, because it put so much of the war into perspective for me. I’d of course learned about it in school, but things carry much more weight and meaning when you get to see in person where a historical event took place.

Wreaths and bouquets were laid in honor of the 75th Anniversary of D-Day in 2019.

It gave me a much deeper appreciation than I already had for our military and the sacrifices that they made, and continue to make, for our freedom. What these men fought and died for on D-Day quite literally changed the world and it’s entire future.

If D-Day hadn’t happened, it’s probably not that far of a stretch to say that we, along with the rest of the Western World, could have lost our freedom to Germany.

I wish every American could have to opportunity to visit this place, it was an absolute honor.

Utah Beach

If you’ve seen ‘Band of Brothers,’ Utah Beach is where Easy Company was supposed to land, but they were scattered all over the region.

Due to bad weather and heavy enemy fire, most of the paratrooopers landed outside of their drop zones and U.S. naval forces landed on the beach about a mile away from their targeted zone because of strong currents.

Memorial roses placed in the sand at Utah Beach.

Luckily, it was an area that was much less heavily occupied by German soldiers, resulting in less casualties as well as making their invasion more of a surprise.

Restaurant named after Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt Jr.
Musee du Debarquement Utah Beach.

The museum at Utah Beach was really amazing and definitely worth going to. It was included in our tour price!

Sainte-Mere-Eglise

The village of Sainte-Mere-Eglise is in close proximity to Utah Beach, and our tour stopped here for a lunch break.

Eglise Notre-Dame de la Paix.

The church in the town center of Sainte-Mere-Eglise has a paratrooper dummy hanging from the roof because of the story of John Steele, who got his parachute stuck on the steeple for hours before he was captured.

You might recognize this story from the movie ‘The Longest Day.’

You can read his story here.

Not sure what building this is, I just thought it was very French and lovely!

Juno & Sword Beaches

Our tour did not take us to Juno or Sword Beach because there was just not enough time! Both beaches are located on the Easternmost flank of the D-Day battlefields and landings. Juno borders Gold Beach on the east and then Sword Beach is east of Juno.

At first, 8 hours sounds like such a long time, but it was not nearly enough. I would absolutely love to go back there and see the things that we missed! I can highly recommend this trip, especially for lovers of history!

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Traveling the Northern coast of France and seeing the D-Day beaches is so far the best trip I’ve ever taken in my life, and that’s saying a lot!

Paris is my favorite city, but as an overall experience Normandy exceeded all of my expectations and the French countryside is the most beautiful part of the world I’ve seen so far!

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