Step back into one of history’s most defining moments with a visit to Normandy’s D-Day beaches by train.
2020 marks 76 years since the D-Day landings on Normandy’s beaches, when Allied soldiers undertook the largest seaborne invasion in history. On 06 June 1944, these brave troops rushed onto the 80km stretch of beaches north of Bayeux, known from west to east as Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword, finally securing an Allied foothold in France.
The D-Day landings were followed by the Battle of Normandy which lasted 76 days and which cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of soldiers and civilians. For many, visiting the D-Day beaches is to trace the footsteps of fallen loved ones and ancestors. For others, it’s a chance to see the sands that changed the course of history.
Bayeux, 2 hrs 20 mins from Paris, was the first town in France to be liberated after D-Day and is one of the few places in the region to have survived WWII mostly unscathed. It was here that Charles de Gaulle delivered a famous rousing speech during which he announced France’s allegiance to the Allied forces.
In order to take in the D-Day commemorative sites, catch the No. 70 bus from Bayeux train station to the American cemetery, Pointe Du Hoc, a monument erected in honour of the American Second Ranger Battalion and Omaha beach, all 30 mins away. Or, catch the No. 74 bus from Bayeux train station to Arromanches beach, approximately 18 mins away, where you can see the remains of the Mulberry harbours, temporary structures developed by the British forces during WWII to ease the unloading of cargo onto the Normandy beaches in 1944. For full bus routes and schedules, visit Bus Verts.
In the town of Bayeux itself, visit the Battle of Normandy Museum, a 2,300m² exhibition space presenting an historic account of the military operations which took place during the eponymous conflict. While there, be sure to stop by the neighbouring British cemetery and memorial garden for war correspondents.
Aside from being a convenient jumping off point for exploring the D-Day beaches and an important site for WWII history, Bayeux is a beautiful place to visit, heritage highlights including Bayeux Cathedral, an 11th century Romanesque and Gothic gem that once housed the world-famous Bayeux Tapestry. Woven in 1066 by Reine Mathilde, William the Conqueror's wife, it is one of the world’s oldest, intact tapestries. Today, this masterpiece is held in its very own museum, the Musée de la Tapisserie. The Bayeux Tapestry is set to be on loan to the UK in 2022.
Caen, just 2 hrs from Paris, sadly did not fare as well as Bayeux did during WWII, suffering extensive damage during the Battle of Normandy. Despite this, however, many of Caen’s most precious historic sites managed to survive the war and still stand today, making this attractive city on the River Orne a fascinating visit, especially when combined with a trip to the D-Day beaches.
Caen’s Memorial Museum is regarded as one of the country’s best WWII galleries. Centred around the themes of peace and reconciliation, the Caen Memorial Museum houses powerful collections dedicated to many wars, not least of all WWII, which it explores in moving depth. The museum is only 15 mins away from the D-Day beaches and runs regular guided tours of them.
Within town, visit the Abbaye des Hommes (the Men’s Abbey) to see William the Conqueror’s final resting place. If you’re up for conquering more historic ground, explore William’s former home, the Château de Caen, an 11th century castle that is now home to the Musée de Normandie.
Image credits top to bottom: Omaha beach (resized) Flickr Commons ©Romain Cloff, American cemetery and memorial in Normandy (resized) Flickr Commons ©Paul Arps, Bayeux Cathedral (resized) Flickr Commons ©Graeme Churchard, Memorial at Juno Beach in Normandy (resized) Flickr Commons ©Paul Arps