In Normandy, you can experience the rural lifestyle and picturesque coastline only 124 miles northwest of the capital city.
This section of France has so much to offer, in the form of the splendid scenery of towering cliffs overlooking the English Channel, charming cobblestoned villages with quaint restaurants serving unique cuisines, medieval forts, and numerous iconic landmarks, such as the Mont Saint Michel.
But Normandy is also synonymous with one of the world’s most historic and significant events – The D-Day landings!
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Why You Should Go on a Day Trip From Paris to Normandy
On June 6, 1944, the Allied forces landed over 156,000 troops on a 50 miles section of Normandy to begin the liberation of Europe after five years of German occupation.
Another 24,000 paratroopers parachuted behind enemy lines during the night before. The landing beaches were code-named Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha, and Utah.
Of course, they knew the following 24 hours were to save the world, but there had to be a human cost.
An estimated 10,000 men were to perish on that day alone. Ten thousand airplanes and 5,000 ships participated in the invasion, making it the most significant military operation in history.
Today, hundreds of monuments, museums, cemeteries, and numerous features are scattered across this coastline, honoring the heroes of D-Day, and drawing thousands of visitors each year.
How to Visit Normandy from Paris
Multiple tour companies offer guided Normandy day trips from Paris to the various significant battle sites. The day can be long, but it will be a day you will never forget.
In this Normandy tour from Paris, the tour company will pick you up and drop you off near the Eiffel Tower, so right in the heart of Paris! Then, they will drive you in a mini-bus to Normandy.
It’s a full-day tour packed with lots of information where your guide brings history to life. The knowledgeable and attentive guides will take you to many highlights in the area, such as Caen Memorial, Pointe du Hoc, Normandy American Cemetery, Omaha Beach, Juno Beach, and more.
Alternatively, you could rent a car and drive to Normandy yourself, join the tour at Caen, or go from Paris to Normandy by train + car, from the Gare du Nord station in Paris and have the tour guide pick you up at the Caen train station.
Unfortunately, there is no direct train to Normandy, but you can go to Bayeux and hop on a tour from there.
It is absolutely worth spending time in Bayeux to stroll around its quaint old town and see the UNESCO-listed Bayeux Tapestry at the Bayeux Museum and the Cathedral of Bayeux.
However, we personally prefer taking the tour from Paris instead of using public transportation because the tour takes all the hassle of planning and getting around out of the equation, AND you don’t lose precious time.
Word of warning, though, these Paris to Normandy tours are all-weather tours, so if possible, try to pick a day with favorable weather to make your tour a pleasant one. There will be some walking involved, so comfortable shoes will certainly help.
Before your day tour, we advise you to read up on this historical event to truly understand the significance of these places and appreciate the remarkable achievements and human sacrifices made by so many young brave souls that fought and perished for our freedom.
Places to Visit in Normandy
Below we list some of the most important D-Day sites you should not miss on your one-day Paris to Normandy tour.
Caen Memorial Museum
If you had to choose only one museum to visit in Normandy, this would be it!
Unlike other museums, which only cover the D-Day invasion, Caen Museum covers events from WW1 through to the Cold war, with much emphasis, of course, being on the Normandy D-Day beaches.
Hundreds of WW2 exhibits, such as an Enigma Machine, weaponry, live archive videos, photographs, uniforms and artifacts from the Holocaust, and the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan, will captivate young and old while constantly reminding you of the atrocities of war suffered both by soldiers and civilians.
A most informative film simultaneously showing the German and Allied perspectives on a giant screen is a must-see. It’s like watching two movies on one screen at the same time! A unique experience.
Bridges are critical features in war. Seizing the two bridges over the Caen Canal and The Orne River from the Germans was crucial to the overall success of the entire operation.
In Allied hands, they would enable the landing forces on Sword Beach to breakout and prevent panzer tank units from reaching Normandy beaches and repelling the invasion.
The task of seizing the bridges was assigned to the Brits under the command of Major John Howard.
The plan was to land six Horsa gliders carrying 182 men, as close to the bridges as possible, destroy the machinegun pillboxes, overpower the sentries before they could blow them up, and hold them until reinforcements arrive.
But landing a fully-laden plywood airplane with no engine, in darkness, and enemy territory, using a compass, stopwatch, altimeter, and speedometer for navigation, would be a hazardous task, even before engaging the enemy.
Landing too far from the target, or crashing onto one of the thousands of spikes planted by the Germans, would spell disaster for the men and the entire operation. It had been dubbed a suicide mission!
The gliders landed right on the button, with the nose of the first one buried in the barbed wire fence fifty yards from the canal bridge—British precision at its best.
The paratroopers immediately stormed the bridges capturing them within minutes. Running across the bridge firing from the hip, platoon leader, Lt. Den Brotheridge, was struck in the neck, becoming the first Allied soldier to be killed by enemy fire on D-Day.
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The Orne River bridge was captured without firing a shot. Satisfied the bridges had been secured, Major John Howard sent the coded message Ham and Jam! The operation was a complete success.
The canal bridge, an important D-Day site, was renamed Pegasus Bridge to honor these heroic men, and it is the symbol of the British airborne forces, while the Orne River bridge is known today as the Horsa Bridge, one shudders to think of how different things might have been had they failed.
A most informative museum displaying artifacts on the taking of the bridges and a Memorial next to the original Pegasus Bridge, with its distinct water tower, tells the story of these brave soldiers, lest we forget.
A replica and original Horsa glider are also on display. Finish off with a snack or drink at the Gondrée Café at the foot of the bridge, the first house in Europe to be liberated in the first hour of D-Day.
For the invasion to succeed, the landing troops would need supplies, ammunition, and heavy equipment to be brought in on hundreds of big supply ships, which required a sheltered harbor to berth.
So the Allies brought their own artificial harbor! Towing giant hollow, floating, concrete caissons across the Channel, they sunk them in formation off Arromanches to form a harbor.
Miles of floating piers and platforms connected them to the Normandy beaches, from which thousands of tons of equipment and supplies could be offloaded. This ambitious and ingenious plan was the brainchild of Winston Churchill.
Although many breakwaters were destroyed by a violent storm two weeks later, Port Winston continued to serve its purpose, allowing four million tons of equipment, 400,000 soldiers, and half a million vehicles to disembark over the following months.
The remnants of these caissons (code-named Mulberries) scattered across the sea testify to the engineering skills and logistical challenges faced by the Allied forces. They make an impressive sight off the cliffs of Arromanches.
The D-Day Landings Museum at Arromanches gives an emotional audio-visual presentation and exhibition of the D-Day landing sites and the artificial harbors’ construction, transporting, and installation.
A few hundred yards away, an even more informative presentation is given at the Arromanches 360 Circular Cinema, where footage from the German and Allied archives is projected on nine screens. A theatrical presentation.
Above the cliffs, at Longues le Mer 3.1 miles west of Arromanches, is an observation post linked to four 155 mm gun fortifications, firing onto the Allied armada.
These fortifications were protected by yard-thick steel-reinforced concrete slabs, surviving almost unscathed from the aerial bombardment.
A French nine-year-old blind boy, whose father farmed on the land, sent out the coordinates of the gun sites to the allied ships using Morse code on his homemade wireless set.
Either a stroke of luck or sheer accuracy resulted in a direct hit from HMS Ajax lying offshore, destroying one site and its ammunition magazine below.
The Germans immediately abandoned their positions. The boy’s wireless set is on display at the Caen Museum.
Three fortifications and massive guns stand almost intact, with the barrel of the destroyed gun lying in pieces half-buried in the mud to this day as it did on that fateful day in 1944.
Nobody can go from Paris to Normandy without setting foot on Omaha Beach. For anyone who has been in battle, this is sacred ground.
You cannot imagine what went on on this now picturesque beach on the morning of the 6th of June 1944 without sending shivers down your spine. Visualize thousands of bodies strewn across the beach with the sea red with blood.
At the same time, bombs and bullets rain down upon the brave men racing desperately across the 437.5-yard beach, which was littered with landmines and other obstacles.
About 2,500 soldiers, most barely in their 20s, were to perish that morning, many of whom before they even reached the sand.
You can stand along the low bank that shielded the survivors from the line of fire coming from machine guns on the hill and cliff above and “hear” the chilling call of Col.
George Taylor, to the men, “there are two types of people on this beach; the dead and those about to die! So let’s get the hell out of here!”
Not a place to take silly selfies, but to stand and reflect upon the fear and the courage of these young men who fought and died here so we could be free.
Above the beach, numerous monuments honor the various units that played their part in this bloody and decisive battle of WW2.
It comes as no surprise that all the one day Paris to Normandy tour companies take people to this historic place. After all, the Normandy D-Day beaches are must-visits!
American Cemetery Coleville
If you weren’t affected when standing on Omaha Beach, the American Cemetery at Coleville directly above Omaha, most certainly will.
White marble crosses laid out in perfect straight line formations on green manicured lawns mark the 10,000 soldiers who fell on D-Day, including Gen Theodore Roosevelt Jr. (The US President’s eldest son).
A circular wall in the Garden of the Missing bears the names of the 1557 soldiers, whose remains were never found.
The various memorials and statues among the exquisite gardens honoring the heroes that gave their lives for our freedom will humble you. In the middle of the military cemetery, there is a quaint chapel, in which you could whisper a prayer for the boys.
This is the cemetery that is featured in the last scenes of the Steven Spielberg movie Saving Private Ryan. If you don’t get a lump in your throat or shed a tear while walking among the crosses, seriously, you are not human.
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Pointe du Hoc
Less than 4.4 miles west of Omaha is the high rocky outcrop of Pointe du Hoc upon which the Germans had placed a battery of six 155 mm guns, capable of firing on Omaha and Utah beaches as well as the Allied armada offshore.
The task of scaling these 100-foot cliffs and destroying the guns before they could be used was assigned to the elite US Rangers under the command of Col. James Rudder. A bold and daring mission!
Using ladders and grapnel hooks fired from the ground, the Rangers began to climb while under constant grenade and machinegun fire from the cratered cliff-top. When one Ranger fell, another took his place and pressed on.
When they reached the top, they engaged in close combat, taking cover in the deep craters created by the aerial bombardment. To their surprise, they found no armament! They had been moved a few days earlier.
Setting off inland, fighting for every inch of ground, they eventually found the guns unmanned and ready to fire upon Utah Beach.
Using thermal grenades, they destroyed them, also blowing up the ammunition dump, resulting in Utah Beach having the least casualties of all the D-Day landing beaches.
The reinforcements did not arrive as promised, leaving the Rangers to spend the next two days crawling on their stomachs, fighting for their lives.
By then, out of the initial 225 that scaled the cliffs, only 90 were still able to fight. A few years later, one Ranger went back to “see what the place looked like standing up!”
Almost all the Paris to Normandy tour companies will take you to the cliff face the Rangers scaled and the German bunkers scattered among the massive bomb craters. It will leave you in awe.
A plaque bearing an emotional inscription by US President Raegan is testimony to the bravery and sacrifice made by these elite soldiers.
Utah Beach Museum
Less than 8.7 miles from Pointe du Hoc is the westernmost landing site of Utah Beach and a small but fascinating museum with a rich collection of artifacts, including a Higgins landing craft and B26 Marauder Bomber.
It also screens the award-winning documentary “Victory in the Sand,” telling the full D-Day story.
This is the beach where the first soldiers landed on D-Day. Strong currents and wind took the landing craft away from its target, landing in the wrong place.
It turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as the spot they landed was weakly defended. Gen Teddy Roosevelt, the US President’s son, at 56 years of age, was the oldest soldier on D-Day and the first General to come ashore.
Realizing they were on the wrong beach, he was reported to have said, “we’ll start the war right here!” Wearing a cap and brandishing a walking stick and .45 strapped on his shoulder, he marshaled the troops with distinction throughout the entire operation. Sadly, he died of a heart attack three days later in his Jeep.
Many monuments, German bunkers, beach obstacles, and other historical objects are scattered around Utah Beach, including the 00 Monument.
You can also find a monument every mile marking the soldiers’ route from Utah Beach to Bastogne in Belgium, where the critical Battle of the Bulge was fought.
In front of the 00 Monument is the Le Roosevelt Café, an institution all on its own. Dine on tables signed by Utah Beach veterans and be surrounded by D-Day artifacts and memorabilia—a stunning, stunning place to visit.
Final Thoughts on a Day Trip from Paris to Normandy
Normandy has so much to offer! It has not only beautiful scenery but also a rich history.
If you’re visiting France, we urge you to go on this day trip from Paris to Normandy, where you can learn and pay your respects to these brave men who fought for our freedom. The historical significance of this place should never be forgotten.
Besides, Normandy is one of the most critical places from WW2, if not the most. Whether you hop on a guided tour from Paris operated by Paris City Vision or rent a private vehicle, whatever you do, do not miss it. You won’t regret it.
Author and photographer: Johnny Vassilaros – We can’t thank you enough for writing such a thoughtful article! We enjoyed reading every word, and we hope other travelers will too.
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