Free Things To Do in Normandy
- #1View all PhotosfreeD-Day Beaches#1 in NormandyBeaches, Monuments and Memorials, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDBeaches, Monuments and Memorials, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDRead More
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 about 50-mile stretch of beach and pop by a number of museums, memorials and cemeteries that have spread out alongside the sand. The American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer and the Pointe-du-Hoc bomb craters are especially moving. Many recent travelers recommend exploring the beaches with a tour guide.
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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 Musée 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.
One Virtual Tourist user says, “If you've seen Monet's paintings of the Cathedral in Rouen at the Musée d'Orsay, a visit to the cathedral will be a very special experience for you.” Others recommend coming 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.
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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.
Many Americans who visit Normandy are partial to this cemetery and memorial in particular. One TripAdvisor user, from Massachusetts, says: "The visitor center, museum, and finally the graves of the war dead leave a dizzying impact on those who come to look, learn, and remember. … I recommend a visit here above any other sites for those interested in the D-Day invasion."
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The Bayeux War Cemetery is one of the largest of 18 military cemeteries in Normandy, with somewhere around 4,000 graves -- many of which mark the plots of soldiers who were never identified. These headstones are inscribed with "A Solider 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. This one contains soldiers from the United Kingdom and "the Continent," including some from Germany.
One TripAdvisor user was very touched by the cemetery, saying: "We visited the cemetery before going to the museum. I found it very moving to see the graves of so many young men, who must have been so terrified of what they were about to face. Some of the graves are touching each other where 2-3 soldiers/airmen/navymen died together." Another TripAdvisor user says this: If you need a simple lesson in the consequences of war, just come here and look at the many lives cut short. The sacrifices on both sides of the conflict … have given us peace in much of Europe for over 60 years."
- #8View all Photos#8 in NormandyChurches/Religious Sites, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDChurches/Religious Sites, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDRead More
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 (the exterior of which is reminiscent of fish scales) at Place du Vieux-Marché in Rouen.
One Yahoo! Travel user recommends taking a look at the stained glass windows: "Go up close and look at them. … The large colored glass is the religious stained glass but the little scenes are historic and utterly charming." One TripAdvisor user says the futuristic look of the church seemed somewhat out of place in quaint Rouen, but also says; "we still enjoyed visiting the church and the surrounding area including the town square and the open air farmers market. The chocolate croissants at the stand near the Joan of Arc church were awesome!"
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