Planning a bicycling trip to Normandy’s D-Day Beaches can be overwhelming. First of all, there’s an incredible amount to see and do around the D-Day Beaches: there are five landing beaches and over 50 major historical sites, museums and attractions. Then there’s the distance between the landing beaches, which isn’t much by car, but can definitely be challenging if you are traveling by bike, particularly since there is no through road.
Deciding how many days you will spend here, what areas you will visit and what attractions you see will have a direct impact on the experience you have exploring this historical area by bike. I spent 3 days exploring a small area around Carentan, St-Come-du-Mont, Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, Saint-Mere-Elise and Utah Beach. It was difficult to choose this one area when I was planning my trip, but I easily could have spent several more days bicycling the back roads of just this area.
Bicycling the back roads through the same marshes, open fields and hedgerows where the Allied troops walked is an experience few tourists have. It was definitely my favorite part of cycling around Utah Beach. On a quiet afternoon, bicycling through the marshes, you could easily imagine the American paratroopers advancing through the challenging terrain.
Good upfront planning will help you zero in on a manageable area to explore in-depth by bike, based on your time frame and interests. Advance planning can also help you figure out how to visit a more comprehensive area by using the local train system to travel between Carentan and Bayeux for example. Of course good planning doesn’t mean you’ll have the time to see and do everything that you want, but it will help you plan a bicycling trip that will be memorable, and hopefully make you want to return to the area again.
Unless you have a month or more to spend slowly exploring the D-Day Beaches by bike, you will need to make choices of where to go and what to see. Regardless of the area you are interested in, having a good list of resources can shorten your planning time significantly and help insure that you make the best choices for a great trip. Here are some of my favorite resources for planning a bicycling trip to the Normandy D-Day Beaches:
Normandy Office of Tourism: Regardless of whether you are thinking about visiting the eastern landing beaches or the Utah Beach area or both, the Normandy Office of Tourism website is great starting place for your research. There’s information on D-Day and the Battle of Normandy, as well as a comprehensive listing of D-Day sites and attractions. If you take the time to look through this list, you will begin to understand how many choices you have of places to go and things to see!
In addition to information on all the D-Day attractions, this website also has a wealth of information on places to stay including hotels, camping, guesthouses and B&B’s. If you don’t have an idea of which of the landing beaches you want to visit, learning more about the accommodation options for each may help you make a decision.
Whether you want to be based out of a larger town like Caen or Bayeux, or like me, you prefer a smaller town like Carentan or Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, this website will provide you with a broad variety of options to choose from. Don’t forget to visit the brochures page under “Welcome to Normandy” where you will find downloadable resources like a planning map, accommodations guide, a cycling map and heritage guide.
La Manche Office of Tourism: La Manche is the farthest west department in Normandy and is where Utah Beach and Cherbourg are located. It’s also the home to Sainte- Mere-Elise, the first French town liberated by the Allies after D-Day.
This department is one of my favorites. I wish I had spent more time here as the area is made for exploring by bike! This website has many resources to help with your trip planning including links to museums, war memorials and cemeteries, natural areas like the famous bocage and the marshlands, the incredible food and places to stay.
Under the Brochure section, download the La Manche Travel Journal, it’s packed with every resource you might need to plan a trip to this area. Also, be sure to request a hard copy of the booklet, “Cycling in La Manche”, it’s one resource you won’t want to do without as you plan a bicycling trip to this area! Request the booklet at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Calvados Office of Tourism: Located east of La Manche, Calvados is the home of the eastern landing beaches along the Bessin Coast including Gold Beach, Sword Beach, Omaha and Juno Beach as well as many very popular D-Day museums and historical sites. This website is another invaluable resource to help you plan a bicycling trip to this region. Similar to La Manche, there is much to see and do in Calvados in addition to visiting D-Day attractions.
Advance planning can help you narrow down where you want to spend your time and this website can help you in this regard. There are a number of brochures you can download in English with detailed information on accommodations and the historical areas of the Battle of Normandy. There is also a great cycling resource, Calvados a Velo, but it’s only in French. This doesn’t detract from the usefulness of the information! Click here to access the brochure.
Sainte Mere Eglise Office of Tourism: It’s hard to believe that a small town with a population under 2,000 could have such a large history! Such is the case with Sainte Mere Eglise, one of the most popular towns on the D-Day Beach tourist circuit. Many are familiar with the town from the popular WW II movie, The Longest Day, where paratrooper John Steele’s (played by actor Red Buttons) parachute gets caught on the church steeple. To this day, there is a dummy hanging from the steeple in memory of this night. With a strategic position on the main road between Cherbourg and Carentan, this little town was critical to the success of the allied invasion. So it’s not surprising that the economy of this town centers around the history of the events of June, 1944.
This website provides a wide range of information on accommodations in this town, as well as the major attractions, including the Airborne Museum, one of my favorites of my trip this summer. You can also access information here on the Open Sky Museum, a 50 km viseoguide with GPS that takes you to 11 historical sites where key events in during the D-Day invasion occurred. This Open Sky tour takes 2-3 hours by car. We covered about 20 km of the tour in 5 hours by bike, including stopping time. Each stop is enhanced by videos and commentaries on each event.
Office of Tourism of the Baie of Cotentin: A combined tourism site for the towns of Carentan, Sainte Mere Eglise and Utah Beach and a great resource if you are thinking about bicycling around Utah Beach. This was the area I chose to explore by bike this last summer and reading this website definitely influenced my decision. This area is rich in history at every corner, and to experience it by bike is a once in a lifetime opportunity. While many tourists quickly pass through this area to visit the Utah Beach or Airborne Museums, such a quick visit denies the opportunity to experience the incredible history of this area and its importance to the success of the Normandy Invasion. This website explains how pivotal this part of the Cotentin Peninsula was to the invasion of Normandy and to the eventual liberation of France. It might just persuade you to consider planning a bicycling trip to this area too!
There is a great historical perspective of the Battle of Carentan, six days of fierce fighting by the Allies to liberate the town, an essential step to linking Utah Beach to Omaha Beach. This background information is extremely helpful in understanding how the D-Day Invasion unfolded as the Allies began their efforts to liberate France. My favorite resource on this website is the downloadable Tourist Guide to Sainte Mere Eglise-Utah Beach-Carentan. This booklet provides a wealth of information on accommodations and historical attractions for all three featured areas.
Bessin Office of Tourism: This is the website of Bayeux, Bessin and the D-Day Landing Beaches on the Bessin Coast. It’s packed with information on places to stay and things to see. A full listing of museums of the Battle of Normandy and the D-Day sites can be found here. In addition there is a downloadable 70 page Tourist Guide that has information on everything from accommodations and historical attractions to markets and leisure activities. You can also find a great map on cycling routes in and around Bayeux.
Normandie Memoire: This is the official website of the Historical Area of the Battle of Normandy. The website’s an incredible resource for gaining a historical perspective on the D-Day invasion and the Battle of Normandy. With information on everything ranging from the history of the Atlantic Wall to phases of the Battle of Normandy to the contributions made by the French Resistance, the association that oversees this website is dedicated to preserving all aspects of the history of the Battle of Normandy. Of particular interest is the section on the residents of Normandy during the battle which details the sacrifices made and lives lost by residents during this time.
The downloadable booklet, Exploration and Emotion 2014 is hands down one of the best guides to the D-Day sites and museums, and it is totally free! It was an indispensable guide during my bike trip planning, as well as during my trip. It is a great tool to help you evaluate which sites and museums you would like to visit. If you visit, do yourself a favor and look beyond the major museums recommended in the tour books. This guide can help you choose the best museums and historical attractions to visit, based on your time frame and interests.
Loc-Velo: Planning a perfect itinerary only works if you are able to secure a convenient bike rental near your starting place. Fortunately there’s a great bike rental company in Bayeux, in the event you will not be bringing your own bike. In addition to the location in Bayeux, that also have branch locations in Port-en-Bessin, Caen, Colleville-sur-Mer and several other towns. Loc-Velo is run by Francois Briane. It’s within walking distance of the train station and it carries the Accueil Velo brand, which means that the rental agency provides quality service to touring cyclists.
The company will deliver bikes in Calvados and La Manche to your location of choice, and they can also arrange for luggage transfer during your trip. They rent Specialized mountain and all-terrain bikes as well as tandems. The company rents kid’s bikes, tag-alongs and baby carriers, as well as panniers. and Garmin GPS units. Daily bike rentals run from 15-20 Euro/day, depending on the type of bike rented. Discounts are available for multiple days. For additional information or to make a reservation, contact Francois at email@example.com.
I hope you’ll find these resources a good starting place for planning a bicycling trip to the Normandy D-Day Beaches. There are many many others that can be added to this list, but these basic sites should get you started in the right direction with ideas on the different areas to explore and the wide variety of historical attractions to see.
If you plan to experience this part of Normandy by bike, do yourself a favor and zero in on a specific area where you can really spend some time exploring the same back roads traveled by the Allied troops during the War. Allow time to travel on small rural roads where memorials to soldiers dot the landscape. Visit the small museums that capture the essence of the sacrifices that were made during this time in history. This part of Normandy is perfectly suited to exploring by bike. The experience could change your life. It did mine.