Plan a Trip to Normandy, France This Year to Commemorate the 75th Anniversary of D-Day
Remembering This Historic Event
In recent years, millennials have turned out-of-the way destinations into tourism hot spots. Bali. Lisbon. Latvia. Myanmar. Given the generation’s penchant for exotic and overlooked sights, it makes perfect sense. But a recent millennial-focused travel guide surprises because it focuses on a very familiar historical event in a very familiar setting: the 75th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy, France.
Does it seem strange for a guide focused on a World War II event to select a younger generation as its target audience? Perhaps, but it makes a lot of sense when you consider the significance of this particular remembrance. “The importance of the 75th anniversary has given extra bite this year,” Michael Dodds, director of Normandy Tourism, told the Guardian. “I think this will be the last time there will be a large number of veterans. So, Normandy is making a big effort.”
Indeed, France is truly pulling out all stops to celebrate, and you won’t want to miss it. Following you’ll find our guide to visiting Normandy for the 75th D-Day anniversary.
“The Great Crusade”: A Short History of D-Day
On June 6, 1944, the Allied forces began one of the largest naval assaults ever conducted in the history of mankind; an assault across 50 miles of Nazi-held, heavily fortified French beach. Misinformation, dummy equipment, and fake radio chatter led German forces to believe that the Allied assault would strike at Pas-de-Calais. Instead, 156,000 soldiers stormed the shores of Normandy.
American President Dwight D. Eisenhower gave a stirring speech the morning of the Normandy landings, and his opening lines proved prophetic. He said, “You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.”
The battle became a crucial victory, one that turned the tide of World War II. Still, the Allies paid dearly for it. Estimates state that some 4,000 to 10,000 men perished in savage fighting.
Tours and Events for Every Age and Interest Level
The region of Normandy holds annual commemorations of the landings, and this year looks big. Officials expect some 2 million visitors from around the world to descend on the area in the first week of June. And Normandy has official events scheduled from May 25 through June 16.
The events run the gamut, featuring activities for individuals of every age, interest level, and emotional attachment to D-Day. The following are but a sampling of events going on throughout the month:
- Walk from Utah Beach to Sainte-Mère-Église as part of the International March for Peace (May 25)
- Take a guided tour of the Musee de Radar, a museum specializing in World War II technology (May 25 through June 16)
- See historic D-Day sights via air, courtesy of HéliEvénements (May 30 through June 2)
- Watch paratroopers make historic parachute jumps at la Fière (June 5)
- Listen to war correspondents dramatize D-Day as part of the On N’aime Guère Que La Liberté (We Only Love Liberty) lecture concert (June 5)
June 6 itself takes on a decidedly martial flavor. Here are some of the events taking place the day of the anniversary:
- View 250 historic military vehicles on Arromanches’ beach, followed by a parade and a concert featuring 40’s era music
- Meet on Gold Beach to follow in the footsteps of the British 47 Royal Marine Commando battalion
- Watch a historical reenactment in Merville-Franceville of the Battle of Merville Gun Battery, in which a skeletal force of 150 men successfully captured long-range German guns
Indeed, this article can only scratch the surface of the official offerings. Normandy has published a 34 page guide positively packed with activities, so give it a gander to discover even more options.
Hoping for a little help in navigating everything going on around the official D-Day anniversary? Specific groups such as Stephen Ambrose Historical Tours, Smithsonian Journeys, Explorica, and even The National WWII Museum in New Orleans have organized date-specific tours.
“But What If I Can’t Make It for the Anniversary Itself?”
Though Normandy’s official program and the date-specific tours only last through June, visitors who can’t make it during the summer months shouldn’t lose heart. There are plenty of companies that offer special D-Day tours throughout the year. You’ll even find inexpensive or self-guided options.
For instance, Overlordtour offers tours ranging from half-day to 2-day outings. In addition to providing excursions to Mont-Saint-Michel, they can meet you in Paris or at cruise ports. Bayeux Shuttle organizes similar D-Day tours, further delineating them to focus on American, British, and Canadian sites of interest. Finally, Viator combines the ease of online booking with the reviewing power of TripAdvisor.
The best part? None of these options are tied to a specific date.
Getting There: The Basics of Travel to Normandy
No matter your itinerary, Normandy is fairly easy to get to, being situated roughly 2.5 to 3 hours from Paris. Fly into Paris Charles De Gaulle Airport before renting a car, if you’d prefer to drive. The airport also features a train station, and you can easily ride by rail to Rouen, Normandy’s capital.
You won’t struggle to find adequate lodging no matter where you stay. American-style hotels abound in bigger cities, while smaller hamlets contain quaint bed-and-breakfast establishments. Those looking for a little more luxury might even consider renting a cateaux (i.e., a castle).
One thing to consider no matter the time of year of your visit is the weather. Notoriously variable, it can shift from sunny to rainy in a moment. Still, plan ahead, bring a coat, and go with the proverbial flow. A bit of precipitation was the least of those soldiers’ worries so many years ago.