If you’re headed to Normandy to see the places where troops fought and died in World War II, there are any number of ways to do it. The most popular way is to sign up for a Normandy World War II tour – either leaving from Paris, which makes for a long day, or from Bayeux, the closest town to the beaches where the battles were fought. Normandy tours usually last a while and include stopping at several notable locations, with detailed commentary of what happened when and their greater meaning to the war as a whole.
Much of the online information about Normandy tours – as well as the tours themselves – rightly focus on these details. But with all due respect, not everyone is a battle buff. Some of us don’t need, or want, to hear about the bloodshed and the strife. For many people, watching Saving Private Ryan was enough to last us a lifetime. We just want to see the area, pay our respects at the cemetery, and move on.
The thing is, though, that the key World War II sites in Normandy, including the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, are not the most convenient places to get to. Again, with all due respect, this is not a complaint! Obviously, a hoard of future tourists wasn’t on the minds of the great military minds of the era. It’s simply a fact that, unfortunately, makes many travelers who don’t want a full tour skip this important sightseeing opportunity.
In fact, this is almost what happened with some friends of mine recently. They were taking a trip to Paris and wanted to plan a side trip to Normandy. They wanted to see Omaha Beach and visit the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, and maybe a museum. They didn’t want the whole shebang. But they just couldn’t figure out how to make it work.
They finally came to me for help – and in digging into the research, I became just as confused as they were! There are more than a dozen museums and visitor centers in the area. There are tons of complaints about the local bus #70, which can take you to the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial; again, rightly so, it is for the benefit of the people who live in the areas, and not meant as a tourist shuttle. Therefore, the times are inconvenient for any meaningful visit to the area, there are none on Sundays, and if you miss one you’re stuck.
I decided to get to the bottom of this. After all, surely we are not the only people who have ever wanted to go to Normandy to visit Omaha Beach without the whistles, horns and bells of a full battle tour. With that in mind, I came up with three Omaha beach itineraries for us to choose from. Take a look at them, and see if any of them match your idea of a side trip to Normandy World War II sites.
First, though, here are some things these itineraries presuppose:
- Trains run from Paris St.-Lazare station to Bayeux, and cost between 28-35.
- It seems that taxis are the best choice for this whole side trip. I know budget travelers will wince, but you’re not spending a month out there – you want to do what you came for, not waste time trying to find what by all accounts is an unreliable local bus.
- All itineraries are at least one overnight stay. You could do this in a day, but it’s better to take the time.
- The main site is the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, which sits on a cliff overlooking Omaha Beach and the English Channel, east of St. Laurent-sur-Mer and northwest of Bayeux in Colleville-sur-Mer, 170 miles west of Paris. It’s run by the U.S. Government’s American Battle Monuments Commission.
Omaha Beach Itinerary #1 – The In-and-Out
- From the Bayeax train station, take a taxi to La Sapinière, a family-run bed and breakfast located on the shoreline just behind the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial.
- The next morning, walk from La Sapinière along the cliff trail to the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, visit, and walk back.
- Grab your bags, call a taxi and head back to Bayeux and the train.
- You won’t have to rely on any timetable or service to visit the cemetery.
- The hotel is simple, cute and has homemade food.
- It’s just one night away from Paris.
- There isn’t much else to do other than what you came for. That’s not a minus in my book; but if you wanted to kill any more than one bird with this stone, this is not the choice for you.
- This choice is entirely contingent on there being room at the hotel.
Omaha Beach Itinerary #2 – The Relaxer
- From the Bayeux train station, take a taxi to the Ibis hotel in Port en Bessin, a cute harbor town on the shoreline.
- The next morning, take a taxi to the cemetery and back.
- Stay another night in Port en Bessin.
- Take the train back to Paris the next day.
- The Ibis is a national chain hotel, with amenities like wifi and a 24-hour staff.
- You have more dining choices.
- It’s a relaxing change from the sightseeing schlep of Paris.
- It’s two nights.
- Because you’re halfway between Bayeux and the cemetery, it’s gonna be taxis-a-go-go.
Omaha Beach Itinerary #3 – The Full Monty
- Get an early start and stay In Bayeux (check out Bayeux hotels and Bayeux hostels).
- On day 1, check out the sites in Bayeux, such as its world-famous Bayeux tapestry and the Cathedral.
- On day 2, take a taxi to the cemetery and back.
- Take the train back to Paris the next day.
- You’ll only have the taxi ride to the cemetery and back.
- There’s lots to see and do in Bayeux, so it will give you a good idea of someplace else besides Paris.
- Possible trip fatigue, as you’ll be hitting the ground running the whole time.
- If you’re wanting to see somewhere other than Paris, Bayeux would not be my first choice, but that’s just me.
I sincerely hope that this can be a help to those of you who had as hard a time as I did finding no-nonsense information about visiting Normandy World War II sites and the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. If you still have any questions, feel free to contact me – france at whygo dot com – or hit me up on Twitter @WhyGoFrance. And if you’re looking for more info on Normandy, take a look at some of these links as well.