“In a world where you can be anything, be kind” – Unknown
On the 75th anniversary of D-Day, we took a holiday to the infamous Normandy beaches in France. If you are visiting the area, we recommend you combine a healthy mix of rural walking and beach sunsets with war stories and world-class museums. Here, we’ll give you our 10 favourite things to do in Normandy, discuss the contrast between the beaches and the city of Caen, plus share our absolute ‘don’t miss’ bits for your time in the area.
An Abundance Of Things To Do In Normandy
From D-Day museums and interactive experiences to peaceful walks and sombering cemeteries, there is no shortage of interesting and thought-provoking things to do in Normandy. We visited as a couple and recommend striking the right balance between history and holiday.
You could easily spend all day, every day learning about the tragic events of 6th June 1944 but you’re likely to feel overwhelmed if you do. Therefore, the best way to take in all the important information, whilst still enjoying a much needed break, is to balance out the death and violence with nature and walking.
As you’ll discover below, the beaches of Normandy are ideal for romantic sunsets, picnics for two and reflective countryside strolls, as well as being hugely important in aiding a far greater understanding of the events of D-Day.
Visiting For A D-Day Anniversary
It’s also worth mentioning that although you can enjoy Normandy at any time of year, visiting for a D-Day anniversary adds something special to your experience. You’ll find a whole host of events, celebrations and new memorials laid on especially for 6th June each year.
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Expect crowds to be far greater and accommodation harder to come by but the festivities are well worth it. Join in with period dress parades, see an endless trickle of war time vehicles out and about on the roads and drive through quaint villages decorated with bunting and flags.
We planned it so that our holiday to Normandy took place a few days before the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Subsequently, we benefited from seeing the area transform beautifully into a vibrant celebration whilst avoiding the main crowds which descend on the actual anniversary.
Top 10 Things To Do In Normandy
Regardless of when you visit Normandy, there are some things you should definitely prioritise. Alongside our specific recommendations for Caen and the Normandy beaches below, enjoy these top ten things to do in the area.
1. Utah Beach
One of the two American beaches, Utah is home to soft sand making it ideal for picnics. Grab fresh French baguettes from le Roosevelt who have a quirky bar with signed tables and walls, and will do vegan baguettes on request.
2. D-Day Experience Museum
Learn about the paratroopers of the 101st airborne division as you sit in an actual C47 for a simulated crash landing experience. This museum is well worth the visit, as is nearby Dead Man’s Corner.
3. Bayeux Museum
This museum offers an overall picture of D-day including a short film and cinema experience. Bayeux is a great option if you know very little about the events of D-Day prior to your visit.
4. Find A Local Event Or Parade
During our visit, we enjoyed being part of a 75th Anniversary Parade in Duvre le Deliverande with vintage cars and bicycles, period dress and 40s music. This is one of the reasons why we highly recommend a visit on or near a D-Day anniversary – it’s a whole different experience.
This quiet seaside town is lovely for a break from indoor museums. Take a peaceful beach walk along a seafront dotted with memorials. Breath in the sea air whilst you learn about the British Royal Marine Commandos who landed here.
6. Sword Beach No.4 Commando Museum
This museum is free to enter and details the incredible story of the French Resistance Green Berets. Learn about the strong-willed French freedom fighters who made the incredibly dangerous journey across the Channel to the U.K. to train in Scotland before returning to France. Whilst in the area, enjoy lunch at one of the many restaurants or cafes near the beach and take a walk to the memorial too.
7. Take The Coastal Road
We recommend you experience Normandy as a road trip from the U.K. Whilst navigating between the Normandy beaches and museums, it is best to avoid the highway. It is far more scenic to take the coastal road, easily followed on a local map. Wind through small villages decorated with WW2 heroes, their flags, photos, names and regiments, seeing more of Normandy than you would otherwise.
8. Arromanches 360 Museum
This museum depicts some of the British story with excellent views of the temporary harbour and a circular cinema experience. In 2019, there has also been some beautiful new memorials placed here including a beautiful flower garden.
9. Pegasus Mémorial
This beautiful memorial celebrates the story of the British paratroopers. Eat lunch near the Pegasus Bridge before visiting the memorial and museum to discover its interesting history.
10. Juno Centre
Arguably one of the best museums in Normandy, visit Juno Centre for the Canadian story of the D-Day landings. You will be taken on a well-thought-out journey of pre and post war Canada and watch an insightful short film called ‘They Walk With You.’ Be sure to do the Guided Bunker Tour too where you’ll get inside two German bunkers whilst learning astounding facts with your knowledgable and friendly Canadian guide.
If navigating Normandy alone seems a little overwhelming or you are limited on time and need to see the best bits quickly, book a Beaches of Normandy Tour instead.
Things To Do In Caen
Whether you stay in the city of Caen or not, it is also worth making some time for a couple of important days spent exploring in Caen. We highly recommend some of the smaller cemeteries located between the beaches in the north and the city of Caen which sits further inland. If you are not driving or have time for only one thing in Caen, make it the Caen Memorial.
The Caen Memorial
This wonderful display really deserves a whole day in itself but can be done in an afternoon at a push. If you do nothing else in Normandy at all, we suggest a visit to this museum. Learn about the global events that led to WW2, the battle of Normandy and life after the war in Europe.
At the Caen Memorial, see inside a German bunker and watch a movie capturing the battle of Normandy. This is the first museum we explored that seemed to show a very diplomatic and balanced war story, with all the nations involved being mentioned. With lots of information about local people and life, and all the extra details you may want to know, this memorial is really special.
It contains a mix of photographs, videos, articles and facts. You also have the option to use a headset for a verbally guided walk, great for anyone not keen on reading. We chose to wander and discuss the memorial without the headset guide, navigating the incredibly well-thought out maze at our own pace.
We recommend you eat lunch before you start the memorial if you are doing anything less than a full day here. It’s also wise to stop for a refreshment break before you watch the film, which is best saved until the end. It really is too much to take in all at once so don’t be surprised if you feel the need to visit Caen Memorial again. Toilets are provided throughout the exhibition so don’t rush through if you need a break.
The Cost Of Normandy’s Museums
Prices to the various museums and memorials in Normandy mentioned above, vary from being free to around 20-30 euros per person for entrance tickets. Multi-access discounts are available for many locations, including all the main museums and memorials. When you buy your first ticket, you will receive a discount leaflet offering money off at subsequent museums.
Either buy your tickets on arrival or pre-book Normandy Tours before you travel.
Making The Most Of The Normandy Beaches
As much as we benefitted from the impressive museums and history exhibitions, one of our favourite ways to enjoy Normandy was to take some much needed time-out, relaxing on the actual Normandy beaches.
If you are looking for a way to enjoy a balanced Normandy holiday, pack a beach picnic and enjoy some reflective time, or take a sunrise or sunset walk.
You’ll notice a stark contrast from the WW2 information boards you will see or the photos in your guidebook of the D-Day landings compared to the natural, family-friendly atmosphere found today. It’s extremely thought-provoking. Watch couples walk hand in hand, families play with excitable dogs and small children run in and out of the surf. Take a deep breath of salty, sea air and revel in gratitude for the peace we are able to enjoy in this place now.
Things To Do Further Afield
On your way to or from Normandy, it is worth considering a combination holiday that involves other worthwhile stops nearby.
Possible add ons to your Normandy holiday include:
- Visit Dunkirk before or after you cross the Channel – read more about our recommendations for Dunkirk in part one of our Normandy Road Trip blog – coming soon!
- Explore neighbouring Belgium
- Follow a particular regiment through Holland or Germany
Our ‘Don’t Miss’ Bits For Your Normandy Holiday
Whilst on your holiday to Normandy, our personal ‘don’t miss’ bits include:
- Delicious French baguettes on Utah Beach
- Romantic sunset walks along Omaha Beach
- The insightful and interactive Bunker Tour at Juno Beach
- At least half a day at the moving and thought provoking Caen Memorial
- Down-time spent in smaller Normandy villages between the more popular sights
In conclusion, there is probably too much to do in Normandy for just one holiday. Whether you love reading and museums or prefer to learn through cinematic films and simulator experiences, don’t miss the best things to do in Normandy. And if you run out of time or the trip opens new interests for you like it did for us, you can always visit again. We know we will.
Thank you for reading The Best Things to Do in Normandy.
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