Starting from Caen take the D514 north to Ouistreham and then follow it along the coast towards Arromanches. This is quite a long drive, but is very scenic and on the way you will pass the Sword, Gold and Juno beaches which were key beach heads during the allied landings. At Courseulles-sur-Mer you can visit the only Canadian Museum in Normandy.
Arromanches is a small town where you should plan to spend a few hours at the 360 degree cinema and Mulberry Harbour Museum which explains how this incredible harbour was built and utilised as a key part of the allied supply routes. You can still see parts of the Mulberry harbour in the bay even to this day. If you wish you could make a detour inland to Bayeux for lunch then visit the D Day museum and Bayeux tapestry there. However, for children we would recommend you take your lunch in Arromanches and then continue along the coast to Longues sur Mer. Here you will find an excellent example of a German gun emplacement (there are several along the coast). There is an example pictured above.
As a sobering end to the day, travel on to Colleville-sur-Mer, pass through the town and take the right hand turn to the 170-acre/70-hectare American Military Cemetery. Its rows of gravestones stretch out as far as the eye can see (see picture). This moving landscape gives a palpable sense of the heroism and sacrifices of D-Day.
Additional Notes: When we did the above tour in August 2005 we made a start in the morning at the Caen Memorial. We then drove out towards Ouistreham and turned off the dual carriageway at Bénouville to head east to Pegasus Bridge (see right). This is a popular second world war attraction where a glider squadron famously landed gliders packed with troops behind enemy lines. There is a small museum there – our boys loved it, whereas the girls weren’t so interested….it’s worth a trip anyway, even if you don’t go inside – you can see one of the reconstructed gliders outside and there is a lovely atmosphere here. We enjoyed a lovely snack in an open air restaurant right adjacent to the river (this is where we took the picture from!).
A good tip for the Arromanches museum (the one in the town, not the 360 degree one) is that although the guided tours are in French and the museum is rather cramped…..the crowds tend to follow the guide….so they leave lots of space behind in which you can browse to your hearts content!
There are upwards of 40 sites that can be visited in this area of Basse Normandie, the majority of which are museums covering every possible aspect of the Second World War and its impact on Normandy, particularly with regard to The Landings. Some of these museums relate to the landings themselves, others are former batteries/defensive points, while yet others focus on a particular military division, the Resistance or the technical advances of the time.
On top of the aforementioned sites there are over 20 Allied cemeteries that can be visited as well as 5 German ones.
Whatever your particular interest there is sure to be something to interest you. In reality you will need to be choosy as there are more than enough places to visit to keep you busy for much longer than a fortnights holiday and in all honesty children would only be able to cope with a select few visits.
* please note that prices are subject to change, so check the providers’ website for latest information
Here’s more information to make the most of your visit to Normandy:
- Chateaux / Gardens
- D-Day Sites
- Food & Drink