It is impossible to visit all the D-Day sites in Normandy. We did our homework before our trip, read a lot, watched movies and documentaries, and researched travel books. After doing this we designed a day that covered highlights that interested us the most.
Stop One: Arromanches
The small town of Arromanches is home to the Port Winston Artificial Harbor We stopped at the 360° theater. There is a parking lot there that offers a great view of the Harbor. We looked across the English Channel and down into town. There are still remains of the Artificial Harbor in the water and on the beach.
We walked downhill into town and toured through the Musée du Débarquement (6 Juin 1944 Musée). This has models of the Harbor while explaining the planning and building of the Harbor. There are quite a few dioramas and models in the museum that help put many sights of the D-Day landing into context. Walking through the museum, looking at the models and mannequins of soldiers and their gear gives you an appreciation for the bravery of every soldier or sailor that participated in the D-Day operations.
Stop Two: Longues-sur-Mer Batterie
Located between Omaha and Gold Beaches this was a German gun battery able to protect both beaches – had it not successfully been bombed prior to the landings which prevented it being able to fully take part in D-Day battles. The guns are still in the batteries and show the scars of war and 70+ years of wear and tear – and tourists climbing on them. While here you will start to appreciate the planning and work it took for the Allies to overcome all of the German coastal defenses to call D-Day a success.
Stop Three: Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial
This iconic memorial is a must for all visitors to Normandy. You never truly appreciate the price of freedom until you visit here.
We started our visit at the visitors center. We took in the displays, read the stories, and heard the names of those lost being recited. As we left the visitors center we looked down to a quiet, beautiful Omaha Beach and blue watered English Channel. I couldn’t help but pause and realize 70+ years ago that beach was far from peaceful and comforting as the waters ran red.
We then turned the corner and experienced an unforgettable moment. The memorial honoring the youth of America was on our our left, and 9,387 graves were on our right. Stop and imagine was it must feel like to look at 9,387 Crosses and Stars of Davids looking back at you. It is simply overwhelming and emotional. Then stop and realize this only represents about 40% of US casualties. I can’t imagine seeing that number of graves more than doubled.
After spending time amongst the 9,387 graves we then went to the wall honoring the 1,557 missing in the Garden of the Missing. There are too few indicators or “buttons” next to names of people found since the wall was created.
Stop Four: Omaha Beach
Omaha Beach is a very short drive from the American Cemetery. You used to be able to walk to the beach from the cemetery, but that access has been closed recently due to security concerns.
We arrived at the beach with fellow tourists – some like us there fore history, some there to enjoy the beach as we would enjoy a beach at home. There are two monuments at the beach that serve as a constant reminder of the battles fought there in 1944. Again, it is so hard to stand there on a perfect, blue-skied, sunny day and imagine the horrors of D-Day.
Stop Five: Pointe du Hoc
Because of our preparation we were ready for what we would see at Pointe du Hoc – something similar to the surface of the moon with craters all over due to pre-D-Day bombing. We had also watched The Longest Day and the events at Pointe du Hoc are chronicled as part of the storyline of the movie.
We walked amongst the craters and German defenses – all on the edge of a cliff the Rangers were charged with scaling. It is an experience to stand there and imagine climbing the cliffs with string ladders and enemy gunfire showering down on you. I am awe-struck anyone made it up the cliff – let alone captured and controlled the site.
This site is considered a cemetery as many people died here and is part of the American Battle Monuments Commission collection, just as the Normandy American Cemetery is. There is a memorial here fashioned to look like the Rangers symbol of a dagger on the very edge of a cliff.
Stop Six: La Cambe German Cemetery
Our last stop on or D-Day tour was the German Military Cemetery at La Cambe. What a contrast to the US Cemetery we visited earlier in the day. The US Cemetery has memorial Crosses and Stars of David that stand proud and tall in gleaming white. The German Cemetery has small, brown Crosses that are huddled together in groups of five, with small, in-ground headstones marking the two individuals in each grave. It is a very sorrowful sight.
In the center of the cemetery is a large monument to the mothers and fathers of Germany who lost loved ones to the war. So many families destroyed.
I wrote this in my travel journal the night of our D-Day tour:
“I come away from today knowing what a hero is. A hero is a person who gets left on a rocky beach and climbs up a cliff to almost certain enemy fire. A hero is a person willing to wade into water that is red with blood, under enemy fire, running up a beach. A hero is a person who builds a harbor where none existed before to bring supplies to our troops. A hero is a man who fought on D-Day. None of us would be here without those men.”
- No matter how you build your tour be ready for some emotional moments and Kleenex. You will spend more or less time at some sites depending on how they impact you. In truth our day was too packed – I would not recommend following our agenda. I would split it into two or one and a half days.
- Restrooms and restaurants are far and few between if traveling directly between sights – remember you are on the edge of a coast with just small villages connecting the sights. If you are in Arromanches at any point of your day pick up a lunch and/or dinner. At one point in this day we were snacking on Oreos we had with us to carry us over to dinner.
- If using a GPS, when you get into towns follow the signs over the GPS. Many times our GPS led us directly in front of a building, not the parking lot!
- To fully appreciate what you are going to see do your homework. Watch Saving Private Ryan and The Longest Day. Amazon and Netflix both have a few documentaries you can watch, and of course there are always books to read.