One of the most remarkable pages of the Second World War history has taken its place right here - with the Allied landing in Normandy on 06 June 1944. There are few places in the world that keep so many memories and details of one concrete day in the past: the beaches are still referred to on maps by their invasion codenames, streets are still named after the units that fought there, and you’ll see dozens of monuments, small museums, cemeteries and sites - all linked to the D-day. Whether you want to visit the old army bunker, the atlantic wall defence, the Polish cemetery or just to stay at the beach trying to imagine how it all happened on that very same place feeling the gratitude for those brave men and their sacrifice - we’ll help you to get the most of your visit and to plan your itinerary in order to avoid crowds at major D-Day sites.
Photo credits: Casper Moller via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Of course, summer is the most pleasant season to visit Normandy. The weather is great, and that advantage attracts many, many visitors. August is the busiest time of the year, followed by July.
Not surprisingly, there’s also a tourist peak around the 6th of June (the D-Day date) - there are often held numerous memorial ceremonies to mark the occasion, and a D-Day festival lasting for about 2 weeks around this day. If you plan to avoid crowds - better choose another time for your visit.
The best time to visit the D-Day sites in Normandy without crowds is April, September and October: you won’t need to worry about queues, and the weather is already/still nice. Long weekends in May are very busy and bring a significant number of day trippers and weekend trippers, but if you can come during the week - touring the D-Day sites is still completely manageable in May.
If crowds don’t bother you much, choose the second half of June. You’ll be able to take advantage of the summer season during the quietest of the summer months.
Coming in winter isn’t probably the very best decision: the weather is rough, cold winds and precipitations will make it difficult to enjoy the outdoor sights, while some museums have annual closures at that time. Up to you to make decision, as at the same time you may get incredibly good deals on tickets and hotels and visit other top touristic sites in Normandy, which will be same quiet and cheap (Mont-Saint-Michel, for example).
1) The Landing took place along the Normandy shore - and when people are talking about different Landing beaches - it doesn’t mean you can stroll from one of them to another on foot: there’s actually around 70 km of out-to-out distance along the shore, where the landing took place, and you generally need a car or another transport to visit them.
2) You need to prioritize. As we’ve said, there are dozens of sites and museums, and unless you’re staying for a week or so, you won’t have time to visit all of them (and even if you stay that long - it won’t probably be very interesting to visit the fifth Landing Museum in a row). Make a list of must-sees and those sites you’d like to visit. Don’t make it too big - rushing from one place to another will make you exhausted and won’t probably make the best impression.
3) Depending on where you come from or which sides of the Second World War interest you the most, you will probably choose a particular itinerary. For example, Canadians usually visit the Juno Beach (where Canadian troops landed), the Canadian cemetery in Bény-sur-Mer, the Juno Beach Centre and the Ardenne Abbey (where 20 Canadian soldiers were illegally executed by the SS Division during the Battle of Normandy). For the U.S. citizens, the American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer is something definitely not to be missed, while Pointe du Hoc is another significant place of commemoration. The Gold and the Sword beaches will be of particular interest to British visitors, as well as the nearby town of Arromanches with its D-day Museum and the circular cinema projecting “Normandy’s 100 days” film.
Check the brochure of the American Battle Monuments Commission for more details.
4) Make your itinerary varied and have plan B for the bad weather. Ideally you would alternate indoor and outdoor sites, visit the beach after the museum or follow the logical order (landing - place of the battle - cemetery). There’s no big sense in visiting all the 5 main beaches, doing all the museums or touring all the cemeteries in the area. Some sites’ visiting includes lots of walking (Pointe du Hoc) and it would be not such a great experience getting up the hill under the rain and sharp wind.
5) The WWII sites are all located along the Landing Zone. Your itinerary should ideally make a line - from west to east or vice versa, to save time on the route. The western end can be considered as “American” (where American troops landed, and most museums and sites are linked with their story) while the Eastern end is considered as “British” (beaches, the Pegasus Bridge, taken by the British airborne troops in the opening minutes of the invasion, etc.). Depending on which side you plan to start from, the first stop should be the one that can give you the proper introduction and the events’ background: the museum and film at Sainte-Mère-L’Eglise are a good option if you start from the west, while Pegasus Bridge and the Pegasus Bridge Museum can give you the good introduction if you leave from the eastern side.
6) Take a tour or hire a car. Group tours are very informative and highly advised - there are many tour agencies, and also the group visits organised by Caen Memorial’s guides - you have plenty of options and itineraries to choose from. The downside is that you’ll be tied to itinerary and arrival-departure schedules : if you plan to take a stroll from the American Cemetery to the Omaha Beach, you won’t have enough time for that. You will most probably visit the D-day sites during the peak hours, along with the other groups, and there won’t be ways to avoid crowds. If you hire a car and decide to discover the shore by yourself - read a good guidebook about the D-day and the Battle of Normandy, you need to be well prepared on that part of the Second World War to enjoy the visit and understand what this or that place is about. You’ll miss a dozen of small significant stories the guides share during the tour, but /you’ll be free to stay as long as you want, change your itinerary and choose the best time to visit the museum when it’s the least crowded.
around 1,5 million visitors per year
This Cemetery contains the graves of almost 10 000 military dead, who lost their lives in the D-Day landing and ensuing operations. The Cemetery is situated on a cliff overlooking Omaha Beach and the English Channel. Some of you will probably identify it as the cemetery from the opening and the closing scenes of the movie “Saving Private Ryan”.
The entrance is free, so there are no queues for the tickets (there may form ones at the security check during peak periods, but it won’t take much time). The Cemetery itself, however, can become really overcrowded. As the Cemetery looks the most impressive while being quiet and serene, you’d probably prefer taking some precautions to visit it during off-peak hours.
Photo credits: gacabo via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)
The main tip is to come in the morning: the first hours after the opening are the calmest ones. We recommend coming early especially if you visit Normandy in summer. From September to April such precautions won’t be needed, as the site is huge, and crowds are moderate.
In summer coming an hour or two before the closing time will not help you avoid the tourist crowds - that’s one of the WWII sites that most groups tend to visit in the afternoon. During the rest of the year those are another off-peak hours, so finishing your tour at the Cemetery would be a good idea.
In the afternoon there’s a ceremony of flag being brought down. You can watch it if you turn out to be at the Cemetery at that time.
Taking a stroll to Omaha Beach would be a nice walk, unless you’re coming with a group and are limited on time.
Allow yourself at least an hour for the visit.
Our suggestion: less than 20km away from the American Cemetery there’s a German War Cemetery: you’ll be shocked how completely different it looks and how different even the air is. That’s an insightful experience to look at the story from the other side. Plus, this cemetery has much fewer visitors and never gets overcrowded. Visit both of them if you have enough time!
around 950 000 visitors per year
The capture of Pointe du Hoc by US Rangers was one of the most heroic acts on D-Day. The area has changed little over the years - you can still see the bomb craters, casements and bunkers.
You need to be in form as visiting includes a lot of walking: consider spending not less than an hour walking by the craters, enjoying the surroundings and imagining what must have gone here more than 70 years ago. That’s why if you have a charged program, with more than 4 sites on it, or you’re doing a tour with kids, it’s better not to leave the Pointe du Hoc for the end of the trip, when some of you may be too tired to enjoy it.
If your program is more relaxed and you allow yourself more time to see each site (for example, Memorial of Caen - American Cemetery - Omaha Beach - Pointe du Hoc) - then it would be a good idea to finish your tour with Pointe du Hoc.
Photo credits: Passion Leica via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)
The crowds at the Pointe du Hoc won’t be really bothersome - the site is big. However try to avoid visiting it in late morning and early afternoon, when it’s at the busiest. There remain very few visitors after 7pm, but it’s better not to stay at the site when the sun is down - the dangerous drops are not necessarily fenced off.
If at the start of your tour the sky is gloomy and there’s a high risk it will rain later in the day - it could be a good idea to start the tour from The Pointe du Hoc.
around 80 000 visitors per year
This museum, a relatively new one, recounts the story of D-Day in 10 sequences, from the preparation of the landing, to the final outcome and success. It has a rich collection of objects, vehicles and materials, including an original B26 bomber.
Queues are rare to see here: the Utah Beach Museum is off the beaten track.
It’s the busiest on weekends, prefer visiting on a weekday if possible.
around 350 000 visitors
Photo credits: Alexandre CampolinaCampola via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 3.0)
Situated amongst the remains of the Mulberry harbour, this museum is dedicated to the technical effort that led to the construction of this artificial port with models, diaporamas and video presentations.
To avoid the crowds, arrive early in the morning, before 10 am, or later in the afternoon, after 5 pm.
Monday is the quietest day in terms of group visits, especially in the afternoon. Crowds dissipate already around 4 pm.
more than 150 000 visitors per year
This museum is dedicated to the memory of the troops of 82nd Airborne Division and 101st Airborne Division who landed in Normandy, by parachute or glider, on the night of 5 June 1944 hours before the Allied landings.
Crowds won’t be a big issue here, but to enjoy the museum at its calmest, arrive in the morning, right at the opening at 9 am (9:30 am in April and September, and 10 am in October, March and the second half of December).
around 400 000 visitors
The Memorial of Caen is often overcrowded with tourist groups, especially in the morning: this museum is considered as an ideal starting point for a D-day sightseeing tour, giving a big amount of information about the Second World War.
Photo credits: Engyles via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
For the comfort of your visit, do the opposite and visit the Memorial of Caen in the afternoon after 3pm - there will be much less visitors.
If you have enough knowledge on the subject, short on time to spend around 2 hours here, or are interested particularly in the D-Day collection (which is not big here and occupies just a room of the museum) - you may prefer to skip this museum and better visit another one focusing on D-Day events.
The groups are more common on place from Monday to Friday, come on a weekend to avoid crowds.
Avoid visiting this museum in summer, when it’s at the busiest, but consider that there are also a lot - really a lot - of school groups in May. Avoid it as well if possible!
The five landing beaches (Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, Sword) and the Arromanches beach (that was transformed into artificial harbour shortly after the Landing) are the most visited ones.
Omaha (known as “Bloody Omaha”, due to the highest number of victims during the Landing) sees the biggest number of visitors. Juno is often the calmest one.
To see the beaches empty, without crowds, arrive early in the morning, around 7am in August. Later in the day there are constant “waves” of tourist buses assaulting the beaches.
It may even be symbolical to sacrifice a couple of hours of sleep and get to the beaches at the time of the Landing on June 6, 1944 - the first troops to land were the Americans at Utah beach at 06:30, defined as “H-hour”. The British landed around an hour later.
It may happend to see the main beaches quite busy even after the end of the busy summer season - you should wait some time for the those bus groups to leave.
Otherwise come at the sunset time or later, once all the day trippers have already left and group tours are over. The beaches get very, very calm - most tourists who are staying overnight in the area choose accomodation in Bayeux or Caen and leave the beaches at dinner time or even earlier.
Photo credits: Allie_Caulfield via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
While in Normandy, you shouldn’t miss some of the other top attractions nearby:
We’re waiting for your postcards and bon voyage! (Have a great trip!)