Visiting Omaha Beach had long been on my travel bucket list. As a major history buff, especially about WWII, as soon as I booked a flight to Paris, I knew I’d have to make a road trip up to Normandy. We only ended up with about a day and a half to explore, but you could easily spend three or four days seeing all of the sights, especially if you were to throw in a trip to Mont Saint-Michel while you’re in the area.
Renting a car is by far the best way to visit the D-Day historical sites on the Normandy coast. Unlike other parts of Europe that I’ve visited, there isn’t any great public transportation around there, so a car is essential unless you plan on doing one of the big bus tours that we crossed paths with. I’m not typically a huge organized tour fan because I like having the freedom to explore at my own pace and spend more or less time at a certain location depending on how much it interests me. This was my third Europe trip in the last three years, all of which have involved driving, so renting cars over there doesn’t really phase me.
American Cemetery at Omaha Beach
Our next stop was the American cemetery near Omaha Beach. We were somewhat surprised to find metal detectors and baggage screening at the entrance to the main building, but we got through quickly since it wasn’t crowded when we were there.
We didn’t spend much time in the museum area because it was our third D-Day-focused museum in the last 18 hours. We did take the time to watch a fantastic short movie in a theater on the lower level that followed the stories of a few of the people who were killed in the Normandy campaign. I’m not usually much of a softie, but I was a little choked up at the end.
This part of the memorial, behind a glass wall but lit by the sky above, hit me the hardest. Nearby, the following quote by General Mark W. Clark was inscribed in the wall: “If ever proof were needed that we fought for a cause and not for conquest it could be found in these cemeteries. Here was our only conquest: all we asked…was enough…soil in which to bury our gallant dead.” Googling at a later time informed me that the full quote specifically refers to Italy, but the same sentiment applied here in Normandy.
We were lucky to have a beautiful, sunny day to walk around the cemetery. It was cold and windy, but the day we were in Normandy was one of the nicest days we had the entire trip. The views from atop the cliffs overlooking the Channel were stunning.
The rows of white crosses and Stars of David were laid out in perfect rows that made the cemetery seem like it stretched on forever in a mesmerizing pattern. We walked toward the back along the cliffs and then I wandered through the rows reading names of men and an occasional woman who had died on foreign soil so many years before I was even born.
There was a little restaurant in a hotel called Domaine de l’Hostreiere outside of the cemetery, so we stopped for some crepes before heading down to see the beach itself. I had a simple butter and cinnamon sugar one, and was once again left jealous of the choices my mom and siblings made.
A short drive west of the American cemetery takes you to a small town called Colleville-sur-Mer that has access to Omaha beach. I read that you used to be able to hike a trail down from the cemetery, but that it had recently been closed for safety reasons. There were a couple of smaller memorials here that also presented some facts about the landings, but the most interesting part to me was being able to walk on what was the bloodiest of the D-Day beaches. There’s some uncertainty, but this may be where my grandfather came ashore in August 1944. We obtained some of his service records just before this trip, and he’s listed as coming over on Omaha Beach that August, but with Gold Beach handling almost all of the landing traffic at that point, we’re not certain that it’s accurate.
Pointe du Hoc
We had one more stop to make before heading back to the Paris area for the next leg of our trip, and that was Pointe du Hoc. I thought it would be a quick roadside stop, but I would budget at least an hour for it. We had to hurry because we had dinner reservations at Disneyland Paris that night, so we power walked through and did it in about 35 minutes.
Pointe du Hoc was a fortified German position that overlooked both of the American landing beaches. US army Rangers took it at an unbelievable cost by scaling the cliffs and managed to hang on to it with until reinforcements came much later. This was the only area around Normandy that we were able to tour that actually showed remnants of fortifications and battle scars. The entire area was dotted with craters that gave it a moon-like feeling. My brother and I climbed down into one of them and it was almost double my height.
You could also peek into destroyed German bunkers and fortifications that housed large guns. The weapons are no longer there, but you can see the field of fire they would’ve had.
On top of all of that, Pointe du Hoc also offers a stunning view of the Channel contrasted with gorgeous rock formations. I don’t know if the barbed wire that could be seen from the overlook was left from the war of if it was just placed there to keep stupid people from falling off the edge or destroying the rock formations, but it made an interesting contrast to the scenery.
Looking east back toward Omaha Beach, we were even treated to a rainbow. Sadly, we didn’t have time to visit Utah Beach, as we had to hit the road to head back toward Paris.
Read more about our trip to France, Belgium, and Luxembourg:
- One Afternoon in Caen and Bayeux, France
- Why Any History Buff Needs to Visit Arromanches-les-Bains
- The Best Time to Visit the Eiffel Tower
- An Evening on the Seine
- Should You Buy A Paris Museum Pass?
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