One of the defining moments of the twentieth century came on June 6th, 1944. On that day, the Allied Forces launched a huge offensive against the Axis Powers on the beaches of Normandy, and turned the tide of World War II. Over 132,000 troops landed in Normandy as part of “Operation Overlord”, but it’s now known in retrospect by a different name- “D-Day”.
For that reason, plenty of people from all over the world visit Normandy to try and take in some of the sense of history that pervades the area. Normandy is easily reachable from the UK as well, you can take the ferry to France and get there in just a few hours.
Given just how important D-Day was in the grand scope of World War II, and the huge scope of the landings, it’s no surprise that there are plenty of museums and monuments dedicated to the liberation campaign dotted throughout the region. If you’re planning on visiting Normandy to commemorate D-Day yourself, then here are some spots that you just can’t miss.
Omaha Beach is probably the most well-known beach where the D-Day landings took place, and it saw some of the bloodiest fighting of the day. The Germans had the tactical advantage here, having positioned their command posts on the top of the cliffs overlooking the beach. That meant the only way for U.S. soldiers to reach them was by scaling the cliffs themselves while under heavy fire, and the cliffs still bear evidence of constant shelling and gunfire today.
Omaha Beach is a popular choice for American visitors in particular, given the fact that 2,000 U.S. troops died there on D-Day. The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial is situated up on the cliffs, while on the beach itself there lie the remains of some of the German gunner posts, along with a striking memorial to the soldiers who lost their lives there.
American Airborne Museum, Sainte-Mere-Eglise
While the seaborne landings on the beach were a vital part of the D-Day operation, paratroopers also helped turn the tide of battle, and you can learn all about their heroic efforts in the Airborne Museum. Featuring a life-sized depiction of a paratroop regiment in action, this museum lets you see what D-Day was really like for those dropping in from above.
Arromanches 360 Cinema
While the beaches of Normandy still bear the scars of D-Day, they can only go so far in showing visitors what that fateful day was like. If you really want to feel like you’re at the center of the D-Day landings, then a visit to the Arromanches 360 Cinema is a must. As the name suggests, visitors are surrounded by nine screens, all playing real, high definition footage from the landings themselves. It’s a truly immersive experience, and helps to capture the human element of the battles that were fought that day.
Sword Beach was where the majority of the British forces landed on D-Day, and saw much less fighting than the more war-torn Omaha Beach. Thanks to false intelligence leaked to the German army, the British were able to ensure that their enemies were preparing for a landing hundreds of miles away, and as a result they were met with little resistance. In under an hour, thousands of troops had disembarked and were steadily making their way inland, to take back France from the occupying Germans.
Today, Sword Beach is a place that has recovered from its wartime occupation, but is still soaked with a sense of history from what happened on D-Day, and is therefore well worth a visit.
A trip to these D-Day sites in Normandy is a trip down the memory lane, and one you won’t forget easily.
Image source: Brittany Ferries presents the D-Day guide.