From Paris to Normandy: 4 Best Ways to Get There
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Normandy in northern France played a pivotal role during the Second World War. During the Battle of Normandy, the Allied invasion that occurred on June 6th, 1944 (known as D-Day) changed the course of the war. Today Normandy's D-Day landing beaches are some of France's most-visited destinations because of their historical significance.
The D-Day landing beaches are found along a 100-kilometer coastal stretch, from Ouistreham (Sword Beach) to Sainte-Marie-du-Mont (Utah Beach). WWII memorials and museums, including the Mémorial de Caen museum and the Pegasus Memorial in Ranville, pay tribute to the Allied forces and honor their heroic efforts.
There are several considerations to keep in mind when deciding how to get to Normandy's WWII sites: First, there is a lot of ground to cover. Second, visiting the D-Day landing beaches requires a driving itinerary.
Tourists can either rent a car and visit the sights independently or take a guided tour. For the most rewarding experience, an organized tour is recommended. Knowledgable guides share interesting information that helps visitors understand the D-Day landing sites; their commentary also provides context during visits to museums and military memorials.
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1. From Paris to Normandy by Guided Tour
Many tourists prefer to take a guided tour of the D-Day sites for a few reasons. It is much easier to leave the driving up to someone else, and guided tours allow for efficient sightseeing, so you can see more places in one day. But the main advantage of taking a guided tour is the in-depth commentary that brings the history to life.
For a truly educational visit to Normandy's WWII sites, take the Normandy D-Day Beaches Tour. This full-day (13-hour) guided tour covers the key places that tell the story of the Allied invasion. The tour also includes a visit to the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach.
A knowledgable guide will take you to the area's most important locations, including the Mulberry Harbor and the Musée du Débarquement (D-Day Museum) at Arromanches; Omaha Beach, where scenes of Saving Private Ryan were filmed; and the American Cemetery (172 acres of verdant space above Omaha Beach) in Colleville-sur-Mer, where heavy American casualties occurred. Along the way, your guide will share historical commentary to provide a sense of context.
Because there is so much to see, the tour departs early (at 7am). The tour includes round-trip transportation by luxury coach (with air-conditioning) and free time for lunch or refreshments on your own at Arromanches. The town of Arromanches-les-Bains has many casual dining options within walking distance of the Musée du Débarquement, including a few seafood restaurants, a crêperie, an ice-cream shop, and a boulangerie-pâtisserie that sells delicious pastries.
2. From Paris to Normandy by Train
You can take the train from Paris to Bayeaux, one of the top places to visit in Normandy. A direct train from the Gare Saint-Lazare station takes two hours and 20 minutes to arrive in Bayeaux. There are also excellent tours of the D-Day landing beaches that depart from Bayeaux.
It is definitely worth spending time in Bayeaux to discover its quaint old town and to see the UNESCO-listed Bayeux Tapestry at the Bayeux Museum. If you spend the morning exploring Bayeaux, then it makes sense to take a half-day guided tour of the D-Day sites.
The Normandy Beaches Half-Day Trip begins with a pickup at the Bayeaux train station at 1pm, and the tour lasts about five hours. A knowledgable guide takes you to the Pointe du Hoc, Omaha Beach, and the American Cemetery, while sharing insightful commentary about the war and fascinating historical details.
If you are taking the train from Paris to Bayeaux and have more time, then it is best to go on a full-day guided tour of the D-Day sites. A longer tour allows you to get a better sense of the D-Day sites and gain more insight into the monumental impact of the Second World War.
The American D-Day Landing Beaches Tour begins at the Place de Québec in Bayeaux at 8:45am and includes round-trip transportation, as well as an all-day guided tour. A professional tour guide will take you to Utah Beach, the Pointe du Hoc, and Omaha Beach, along the way explaining the historical details of D-Day. The tour includes a stop in the village of Sainte-Mère-Eglise for lunch or to visit the Airborne Museum.
The Normandy American D-Day Beaches Tour is another full-day tour that departs from the Place de Québec in Bayeaux. This nine-hour tour begins at 8:30am. The tour covers Omaha Beach; Pointe du Hoc; the American Cemetery; the Musée du Débarquement; and the village of Sainte-Mère-Église, which was the first town to be liberated in Normandy.
Alternatively, you can take the train from Paris directly to Caen. The train departs in Paris from the Gare Saint-Lazare station (in the direction of Cherbourg) and takes two hours to reach Caen. The main attraction in Caen is the Mémorial de Caen (Caen Memorial Center), which presents an overview of the Battle of Normandy.
3. From Paris to Normandy by Bus
The FlixBus company runs several direct bus routes from Paris to Caen. You can choose the departure station in Paris. For most tourists, the Bercy Seine station in the 12th arrondissement is the most convenient. The route from Paris Bercy Seine station to Caen takes three hours and 30 minutes.
If you are staying outside the center of Paris, then you might consider departing from another station. There are routes from Paris La Défense in Puteaux (the business district of Paris) and Pont de Levallois station in Courbevoie (eight kilometers from Paris). Both of these routes to Caen take two hours and 40 minutes.
Caen is a good starting point for exploring the D-Day landing sites, because several guided tours depart here. Also, the Mémorial de Caen museum in Caen makes this city a worthwhile destination in itself.
4. From Paris to Normandy by Car
If you feel comfortable driving in France and would like to spend a few days in Normandy, renting a car makes sense. This option allows you to customize your own itinerary of the D-Day sites and visit at your own pace.
Driving is also practical if you are planning visits to some of the nearby attractions in Normandy, such as the beach resort of Deauville or the charming seaside town of Honfleur.
The drive from Paris to Caen takes about 2.5 hours. Not to be missed in Caen is the Mémorial de Caen, a museum dedicated to WWII history. Visitors may opt to join a guided tour of the D-Day sites (Omaha Beach and the American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, Arromanches, and the Pointe du Hoc) organized by the Mémorial de Caen. The tour guides have trained with historians from the museum.
From Paris, it's a one-hour drive to Arromanches, where the Musée du Débarquement is located overlooking the remnants of an artificial harbor built for the Allied invasion. The Musée du Débarquement in Arromanches offers guided tours of its exhibits.
Rental cars are available at Charles de Gaulle Airport and at various car rental agencies in Paris. There are many car rental places at the Gare Saint-Lazare and the Gare Montparnasse in Paris.
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Other Attractions in Normandy: About a two-hour drive from Caen is the UNESCO-listed Mont Saint-Michel, an exquisite ancient monastery perched on an island just off the coastline. The quaint medieval town of Rouen, renowned for its glorious Gothic cathedral and picturesque half-timbered houses, is less than a two-hour train ride or 90-minute drive from Caen.