I was in Normandy last week to see what’s on offer there for families this year and I’m impressed. Normandy’s on the North coast of France and is easy to reach by ferry from England. Its beautiful sandy beaches and rolling green countryside make it a great family destination and the historical sites add another dimension, particularly with this year’s D-Day anniversary and with so many of our children studying WWII at school.
The D-Day landings in Normandy 70 years ago marked the beginning of the end of World War II in Europe. On the morning of June 6th, 1944, tens of thousands of Allied soldiers landed on five beaches and attacked the occupying German forces in one of the most important turning points of the war.
Besides the official commemorations in June each of the museums and historic sites around the region is marking the D-Day anniversary in its own way. Here are some of the best D-Day sites for families with children.
Juno Beach Centre
If you only have time to visit one D-Day site with your children I think this Canadian interpretation centre is it. The Juno Beach Centre is right next to the beautiful beach where Canadian and British forces landed in Courseulles-sur-Mer. It’s an engaging and thoughtful place to visit for families and I found the film In Their Footsteps the most moving and meaningful of the various films I saw on my trip.
Arromanches is a pretty seaside town where the concrete remains of the prefabricated Mulberry harbour used in the landings can still be seen from the sandy beach. On a hill above the beach the Arromanches 360 Circular Cinema shows a short film called Normandy’s 100 Days featuring original footage of the Battle of Normandy. The film is shown on nine screens surrounding the audience with different images projected simultaneously – it’s impossible to watch all of them so just go for an overall impression.
Pegasus Bridge Memorial
The Pegasus Bridge Memorial tells the incredible story of the British soldiers who arrived in wooden gliders during the night before the beach landings in order to secure strategic points such as the Pegasus Bridge. There’s plenty of space to run around and you can walk across the actual bridge captured that night and see a replica of a Horsa glider.
Willy’s Jeep Tour
Willy’s Jeep Tour offers re-enactments of what happened on the night of June 5th 1944 when parachutists landed in the countryside around the Holdy Battery and fought to defeat the Germans. The re-enactments are at night time with fake weapons and ammunition and it feels like you’re actually in the 1944 battle. Owner Jean assures me that children as young as six have taken part and loved the experience – I found it great fun but a bit scary and I’m not sure that all six-year olds would be keen to take part!
Open Sky Museum
The name’s confusing but bear with me. Open Sky Museum is a scheme where you can hire a hand-held GPS device loaded with details of a 50km tour of D-Day landing sites around Sainte-Mère-Église and Utah Beach. I think kids would enjoy this as it’s packed with videos and quizzes for you as you stop en route. It costs 8 euros for 24 hours from the Sainte-Mère-Église tourist office.
The Longues-sur-Mer Battery is great for running around and it’s free to enter. The WWII German command post looks out to sea and each of its concrete bunkers still has a huge gun in place. You can go inside the bunkers and look out from behind the guns.
The Azeville Battery is in the countryside and gives a good idea of how the German soldiers lived here during the war. You can choose either adult or child audio guides and the commentary leads you around the tunnels and living quarters and brings the place alive.
British cemetery Bayeux
If you’d like to visit one of the war cemeteries, the Bayeux Cemetery is the largest WWII Commonwealth cemetery in France. It’s peaceful and beautifully kept and there’s a register with details of the graves in case you want to look anyone up.
Brittany Ferries offers the fastest crossing to Normandy from England with a daily high-speed service between Portsmouth and Cherbourg which takes three hours. Fares for this crossing cost from £48 per person each way based on a family of four taking their car.
Where to stay
There are loads of great places for families to stay in Normandy and I’ve written a separate post with some recommendations.
For more information about Normandy go to the official website. Thank you to the Normandy Tourist Board and to Brittany Ferries for arranging my trip.
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