Free Things To Do in Normandy
- #1View all PhotosfreeD-Day Beaches#1 in NormandyBeaches, Free, Monuments and MemorialsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDBeaches, Free, Monuments and MemorialsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
World War II's successful Operation Overlord took place on the coast of France. Although there were heavy Allied casualties, this invasion turned the tide in the war and helped lead to the fall of Nazi Germany. Today this piece of coastline, which includes Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha and Utah beaches, is collectively known as the D-Day Beaches.
Visitors can tour the approximately 50-mile stretch of sand and pop by a number of museums, memorials and cemeteries that are spread out alongside the coastline either with a tour or on their own. If you're driving yourself, start in the town of Arromanches, which hosts two museums that help provide context for the battle sites. The American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer and the Pointe-du-Hoc bomb craters are also especially moving. If you'd rather let someone else do the driving, recent visitors recommend going with a tour guide to fully appreciate the area's historic importance and receive a comprehensive overview. If you're visiting in June, you'll likely come across several ceremonies and reenactment groups commemorating the anniversary. Thanks to Normandy's unpredictable weather, you'll want to dress in layers (no matter the time of your visit) and bring rain gear, according to past visitors.
- #3View all Photos#3 in NormandyFree, Monuments and MemorialsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDFree, Monuments and MemorialsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Dating back to the 12th century, this Gothic cathedral was the world's tallest building for about five years – 1876 to 1880. But its beauty in changing light is what drew the impressionist artist, Claude Monet, whose work can be viewed at the Musee des Beaux-Arts de Rouen, to paint it several times. Today, the cathedral is one of the defining pieces of architecture in this part of Normandy. Aside from its striking architecture, it's also famous for its tombs – one of which houses the heart of Richard the Lionheart.
Visitors recommend going inside to view the many parts of this working Roman Catholic cathedral, including the lovely stained glass in the Lady Chapel, the transepts and the ambulatory monuments. Others add that it is worth coming at night in the summer to see the free light shows displayed outside. Reviewers also recommended reading up on the history of the church before you visit to enhance your experience and develop a better understanding of the many architectural styles on display.
- #4View all Photos#4 in NormandyFree, Monuments and MemorialsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDFree, Monuments and MemorialsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Somewhere around 9,000 soldiers are buried in this Colleville-sur-Mer war cemetery, which overlooks Omaha Beach. Most of these lost their lives during the D-Day invasion. There's also a memorial that gives a narrative of the invasion, as well as a reflecting pool and a chapel. And about 1,500 soldiers who were missing-in-action are remembered on the Walls of the Missing, in a semicircle garden to the east of the memorial.
Recent visitors advised setting aside more time than you think you might need, as there is a lot to take in and you don't want to rush through such a moving place. Several others recommended visiting with a tour company to enjoy a more in-depth understanding of the site's significance. Companies like Normandy Sightseeing Tours, Bayeux Shuttle and Paris City Vision earn high praise from past visitors.
- #7View all Photos#7 in NormandyFree, Monuments and MemorialsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDFree, Monuments and MemorialsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
The Bayeux War Cemetery is one of the largest of 18 military cemeteries in Normandy, with more than 4,000 graves – many of which mark the plots of soldiers who were never identified. These headstones are inscribed with "A Soldier Known Unto God." Keep in mind that if you're an American looking for your ancestors, you'll most likely have more luck at the American cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer. The Bayeux War Cemetery contains soldiers from the United Kingdom and "the Continent," including some from Germany.
Recent visitors found the cemetery to be quite moving and somber. Others said this is a "must-see," applauding the beautiful grounds.
- #8View all Photos#8 in NormandyFree, Churches/Religious SitesTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDFree, Churches/Religious SitesTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
This modern-looking church sits on the site of Jeanne d'Arc's (or Joan of Arc, to us Yanks) burning. The 19-year-old girl was burned at the stake for heresy in 1431. Today, you can tour this contemporary church built in 1979 (the exterior of which is reminiscent of fish scales) at Place du Vieux-Marche in Rouen. Pay attention to the building's design – the architect, Louis Arretche, wanted it to resemble the shape of an overturned boat.
Recent visitors loved the church's gorgeous stained-glass windows and say it was quite moving to be in the spot where Joan of Arc was killed.
- #9View all PhotosfreeEtretat Cliffs#9 in NormandyNatural Wonders, Free, SightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDNatural Wonders, Free, SightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
These stunning white chalk cliffs have drawn people, especially artists, such as Claude Monet and Guy de Maupassant, to the area for eons. The cliffs are often compared to the famous White Cliffs of Dover. Visitors can hike along the top of cliffs, as well as on the beach to check out the striking sight.
Recent visitors were astonished at the beauty of the cliffs and recommended visiting at sunrise and sunset for spectacular photo ops. Others suggested hiking to the top of the cliffs for unforgettable views. Reviewers also reported touring the town of Étretat.
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