Top 10 Must-See D-Day Places When Visiting the Beaches of Normandy
Top 10 Must-See D-Day Places When Visiting the Beaches of Normandy

Top 10 Must-See D-Day Places When Visiting the Beaches of Normandy

Maria - June 29, 2016

Even though the Allied invasion of Normandy (now known as the D-Day) took place seventy-two years ago, many people haven’t forgotten what the U.S., British, Canadian and French forces and their families sacrificed during World War II. The long-awaited Operation Overload was a formidable task as the Germans were in control of the coastline, turning it into an interlinked series of strongpoints, each with guns, pillboxes, barbed wire, land mines, and beach obstacles. With that in mind, the Allied troops launched an extensive bombardment of the assault areas (a simultaneous landing on five separate beaches). By the end of that day, the formidable Atlantic Wall had been successfully breached. The war, which was a turning point in World War II led to the liberation of Europe and the defeat of Nazi Germany.

Today, the region remains a friendly territory and millions of people visit this inspiring place every year to see museums, monuments, and cemeteries that pay tribute to the courage of the Allied armies. We have listed top ten places that you must include on your travel list to the beaches of Normandy.

10. Pegasus Bridge and Museum

Top 10 Must-See D-Day Places When Visiting the Beaches of Normandy

The first and the most important mission on D-Day was carried out on the night of 5-6 June 1944 during World War II by British forces known as the Airborne Division. 180 troops of the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry, commanded by Major John Howard, captured River Orne Bridge at Ranville and the bridge across the Caen Canal at Bénouville after landing in Horsa gliders only meters from their objectives. The purpose of the operation was to seize the bridges so as to prevent the Germans from crossing to attack the western edge of the landing beaches. Also, it would enable the Allied forces to drive their tanks over the bridge to attack the Germans. The operation which lasted less than ten minutes freed the first house in France and sorrowfully led to the first death of an Allied soldier on D-Day.

The Prince of Wales officially opened Pegasus Bridge, initially known as the Bénouville Bridge (the bridge which was captured, and which was placed on waste ground about 100 meters from its original location in 1993) on 4 June 2000. Pegasus Bridge contains an excellent collection of artifacts from the D-Day operation. Items such as steel helmets which were used by the people who took part in the Operation Overload are found in the museum.

9. Sword Beach – German Command bunker Ouistreham

Top 10 Must-See D-Day Places When Visiting the Beaches of Normandy

Sword Beach is popularly known as one of the code names used during the Allied invasion of Normandy. The operation which was carried out by the British 3rd Infantry Division, under the leadership of Major General Tom Rennie, was the most far-reaching objectives of D-Day. The British 3rd Infantry Division were to link up with the British 6th Airborne Division on their left flank and the Canadians on their right to capture the town of Caen which was situated ten miles south of the landing beaches.

While landing on the Sword Beach on the 6th of June, the 3rd Division were determined to take control of the tower but met resistance from the Germans at the bunker throwing heavy machine gun fire and grenades at them. While Lieutenant Bob Orrell of the Royal Engineers together with other groups managed to seize the bunker on 9th June, it still remained a permanent threat during the days that followed.

After some restoration work in 1987, the tower became a museum and was dedicated to the Atlantic Wall. The four-story-building contains mannequins in uniforms of the garrison with original equipment. The generator room, radio communication room, gas filter chambers, and the machine gun emplacements have been fully restored to make them look how they were on the D-Day.

8. Juno Beach Center

Top 10 Must-See D-Day Places When Visiting the Beaches of Normandy

In the 1990s, a group of Canadian veterans who had participated in the D-Day landings and the subsequent battles in Normandy and Western Europe constructed the Juno Beach Centre (one of the five beaches of the Operation Overload, codenamed Juno, and was the responsibility of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division and commandos of the Royal Marines, all under the command of Lieutenant-General John T. Crocker). The center was conceived to commemorate the contribution and sacrifices of 14,000 Canadian troops during the liberation of Europe.

Located in Courseulles-sur-Mer in the Calvados region of Normandy, France, Juno Beach Center was inaugurated on 6 June 2003 attracting thousands of Canadian veterans who visited the beach during that time as well as the 2004 ceremony for the 60th anniversary of D-Day. The building was designed by Canadian architect Brian K. Chamberlain, and has detailed and exhibition rooms which not only provide complete reviews of people and events that make up Canada’s contribution to the D-Day, but also narrates the story of life in Canada before the outbreak of the war, Canada’s civilian and military contribution to the war effort, and contemporary Canadian society in the decades since World War II.

7. D-Day Museum Arromanches

Top 10 Must-See D-Day Places When Visiting the Beaches of Normandy

D-Day Museum Arromanches, also known as the Musée du Débarquement in Arromanches, was the first museum to be constructed to represent the Allied invasion of Normandy. Located right in front of the first port which allowed the debarkation of 9,000 tons of material per day, the construction of the museum is said to have been financed by the auction of the wrecks littering the surrounding coastal area. It was inaugurated on 5 June 1954.

The museum together with another site build further West at Omaha Beach were the two sites chosen by the Allied forces to establish the necessary port facilities to unload quantities of supplies and troops needed for D-Day. With the British effecting the construction, they first needed to deploy a line of floating breakwaters (metal boxes in the form of a cross called Bombardons). They then build a pier by scuttling redundant freighters and aligning huge concrete caissons (about 1.600-6.000 tons). After immersing them on the appropriate spot, they were connected to the mainland by floating roads.

D-Day Museum Arromanches is a breathtaking place as it gives a strong sense of the tremendous effort and sacrifices involved in the Allied invasion to liberate Europe. When you visit the museum, you’ll learn how the artificial port facilities were constructed and used.

6.Batterie de Longues

Top 10 Must-See D-Day Places When Visiting the Beaches of Normandy

Located on the landing beaches between Arromanches and Port en Bessin, the Batterie de Longues was built as part of the coastal defense line Atlantik Wall of the German Navy in the first half of 1944 within four months. This German coastal defense battery included a firing command post and four bunkers each harboring their original guns of 150mm. It played a strategic role both to the Allied forces and the Germans on the D-Day. Earlier in May 1944, the battery was operational, but the fire control station located at the edge of the cliff did not yet have the equipment needed to calculate an effective fire on lakeside objects.

On the night before the D-Day landings, the Batterie de Longues yielded a long-lasting battle with the Allied forces subjecting it to a barrage comprising approximately 1,500 tons of bombs though much of this only affected a nearby village. During this time, the five guns which were set gradually incapacitated, and some were destroyed by direct hits. By the end of the next day, the Allied troops seized Gold Beach and captured the crew of the battery (184 men, half of them over 40 years old)

Today, the plant is one of the best preserved in France. Only here can one see the original cannons from the time that could fire 45 kg heavy shells 22 km far.

5. Overlord Museum

Top 10 Must-See D-Day Places When Visiting the Beaches of Normandy

In June 2013, Michel Leloup, a first-hand witness of the Battle of Normandy with the help of other veterans finally managed to find a place to build a museum that would display the used wrecks from the Battle of Normandy and surplus equipment of the Allied armies he had been collecting for 40 years. The unique exhibition included over 10,000 items, 35 tanks, guns and artillery pieces dating from the Battle of Normandy, some of which are still in an operating state. The museum was inaugurated by the civil and military authorities.

The museum is located in the heart of the D-Day Landing beaches, opposite the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. Overlord Museum covers the period of the Allied landing until the liberation of Paris. Considering its diversity and quality, the museum is a unique place to visit for an emotional journey through time. The museum has also set up interactive tools, video terminals, computer graphics and audio guide tours to attract all generations and to allow visitors to determine their own itineraries.

4. American Cemetery

Top 10 Must-See D-Day Places When Visiting the Beaches of Normandy

Located in Colleville-sur-Mer, on the site of the temporary American St. Laurent Cemetery, the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in France was established on June 8, 1944, by the U.S. First Army as the first American cemetery on European soil in World War II. The cemetery which covers 172.5 acres at the north end of its half mile access road contains the remains of 9,387 9,387 American military soldiers, most of whom died during the invasion of Normandy and ensuing military operation of World War II. Also, a semicircular garden, on the east side of the memorial are inscribed 1,557 names on the Walls of the Missing.

Under Congressional acts that provide yearly financial support for maintaining the site, the Normandy American Cemetery is managed by the American government, with most military and civil personnel employed abroad

About one million visitors tour Normandy making it one of the most visited cemeteries of the ABMC. There is also a lawn directly embedded opposite the entrance to the old Visitors’ Building with an orientation table depicting the landings in Normandy. Facing west at the memorial, one sees in the foreground the reflecting pool; beyond is the burial area with a circular chapel and, at the far end, granite statues representing the United States and France.

3. Pointe Du Hoc & Range memorial

Top 10 Must-See D-Day Places When Visiting the Beaches of Normandy

The World War II Pointe du Hoc lies between Utah Beach (to the West) and Omaha Beach (four miles to the East). As one of the beaches immortalized as the sites of American landings on D-Day, 6 June 1944, Pointe du Hoc offered a commanding view of the Channel for artillery observers and gun crews through it cliffs which were eighty to one hundred feet high, almost vertical. The Pointe Du Hoc & Range memorial was erected by the French to honor elements of the American Second Ranger Battalion under the command of Lt. Col. James E. Rudder.

With a battery constructed by the Germans in 1942, as part of the Atlantic Wall to defend against the Allied forces, the Germans were sure of high ground for observation purposes as well as a defense mechanism that would wreak absolute havoc on the landing beaches. However, the U.S. Army Rangers made it their priority and knocked it out so as to prevent massive losses that they might incurred at Omaha and Utah.

La Pointe du Hoc’s monument, shaped like an enormous menhir (standing stone) consists of a simple granite pylon positioned atop a German concrete bunker with tablets at its base inscribed in French and English. It is believed that bodies of the German soldiers who died and fought there still lie under the ruins. The simplicity of this monument that soars towards the sky and stands out against the horizon seems to be committing the souls of those who died to God.

2. Utah Beach Museum

Top 10 Must-See D-Day Places When Visiting the Beaches of Normandy

Utah Beach museum is built on the very place where the first American troops landed on the D-Day. As it recounts the story of D-Day in ten sequences, from the preparation of the landing, to the outcome and success, this fantastic museum with loads of artifacts and information immerses tourists in the history of the D-Day landing through a rich collection of objects, vehicles, materials, and oral histories.

Originally opened in the 1960s, the Utah Beach Museum was renovated for the 50th Anniversary of D-Day in 1994. The museum offers a wide range of German and American war attributes related to the D-Day on Utah Beach. The 4th US Infantry Division and 8th Infantry Regiment are usually discussed at length specifically because they put the first foot on shore.

Objects and pictures show what an important role this beach played in the war logistics. The landing craft with flat bottoms were specially designed to run on low tide on the beach and deliver their cargo of soldiers. A room is reserved for the 101st Airborne Division to the area around Sainte-Marie-du-Mont. The museum also possesses a rare Martin B 26 ‘Marauder’, an American double engine-bomber which was used during the war.

1. Dead Mans Corner Museum

Top 10 Must-See D-Day Places When Visiting the Beaches of Normandy

The Dead Mans Corner Museum’s name was derived from an event which took place on 8th June when an American Stuart tank was knocked out on the intersection outside a building. The tank commander Lt. Walter T. Anderson tried in vain to escape, but died as he was half out of the turret hatch. The body remained slumped in that position for several days, and the tank was used as a point of reference for other American soldiers – “the corner with the dead man” or “dead man’s corner”.

The Dead Mans Corner Museum has as much historical significance as it commemorates the night when the American paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division of General Maxwell D. Taylor parachute were dropped in Normandy, thus becoming the first soldiers to reach the French territory. Their operation was to capture Carentan. For the operation to be successful, they had to pass through the village of Saint Come Du Mont, a small town which was occupied by elite German paratroopers (Fallschirmjagers) and who were heavily armed and instructed to hold off the Americans at all costs. Since this was the only way from the beach for the American troops to reach Carentan, they had to wait for the support of the light tanks of the 70th Battalion that landed on Utah Beach in a sole house that stands at this crossroads.

This amazing museum houses a unique collection of authentic German and American uniforms, equipment and other artifacts from World War II.