Europe & Britain | Destination Guides

76 years on: Where to retrace D-Day landings

Recently updated on August 14th, 2023 at 03:57 pm

In honour of Veterans Day on November 11, we remember the D-Day landings and the battle for France in World War II. Read on to discover the history of the landings and the D-Day beaches you can travel to and pay tribute to those who so bravely fought and died on the Normandy coastline. 

History of the D-Day landings in Normandy

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On 6 June 1944, around 156,000 Allied soldiers landed on the Normandy coastline in Operation Overlord. It was the largest seaborne invasion in history. Their heroic battle against the Axis powers led to the liberation of France and the Armistice that ended WWII, but not without an enormous loss of life. There were almost half a million casualties, including over 125,000 from the US ground forces.

That first day is now known as D-Day and over 76 years later, Normandy still carries the wounds of this momentous battle. Today, hundreds of thousands of visitors travel to the D-Day landing beaches to pay their respects to those who sacrificed so much for Europe’s freedom. 

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Our D-Day beaches and battlefields tours take you on a moving journey to the key landing sites. You’ll see the white chalk cliffs and rugged shores of Omaha Beach, Pointe du Hoc, Juno Beach, Gold Beach and more. We’ll also visit the moving cemeteries, museums and memorials such as the Arromanches D-Day Museum and the American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer.

These are all incredible place to learn the history of the Normandy battles, pay your respects to the courageous soldiers, and reflect on this extraordinary moment in human history.

Omaha Beach and the American Military Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer

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Omaha Beach in Colleville-sur-Mer is an unmissable stop for any D-Day beaches travel experience. It was the site of the bloodiest battle of D-Day with major losses suffered by the US and Allied troops.

On the morning of 6 June 1944, the men of the 1st and 29th Infantry divisions headed to the coast. As the soldiers rushed out, they were gunned down on the spot. Within 90 minutes, the whole D-Day operation was close to failing. By the end of the day, they had neutralised the enemy’s cannons, but at the sacrifice of many lives. Over 2,000 American soldiers died here on that first day, earning the site the infamous nickname ‘Bloody Omaha’

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We’ll take you to visit this windswept beach where you can see the remnants of the German bunker. We’ll also visit the American Cemetery and Memorial at Colleville-sur-Mer, which holds 9,387 American graves, with the white grave markers spanning over 172 acres.

Most of the soldiers buried here were part of the D-Day landings and the following battles of Normandy. It’s one of the most emotional war cemeteries in the world, with views of the sandy beach below, and it’s a beautiful place to pay your respects to the fallen heroes.

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You may also like to witness the Colours Ceremony, held every day at 4pm or 5pm, depending on the season. It’s a very moving experience, with the lowering of the American flag to the sound of a military anthem. 

GET INSPIRED BY: WWI and WWII Battlefields

Utah Beach

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Led by Lieutenant Norman Poole, the US 4th Infantry Division landed on Utah Beach on the morning of 6 June 1944, signalling the start of Operation Overlord. They took the beach with around 200 casualties, leading to the eventual victory of the battles of Normandy and the end of WWII.

Today you can visit Utah Beach and the museum at the spot where the American troops landed on the coastline. The museum tells the complete journey of the day’s events, and there’s an authentic Martin B-26-G bomber on display.

You can also watch the film Victory Beach, which tells the story of the soldiers who took part in this momentous battle and the sacrifice they made to free Europe. There are many monuments to the soldiers, including the obelisk at the entrance, while the upper floor offers a striking view of the now peaceful coastline.

La Pointe du Hoc

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Made famous by the movie ‘The Longest Day’, the beaches of La Pointe du Hoc are recognised around the world. It’s an essential stop on any D-Day beaches travel experience, and it’s here that Lieutenant Colonel James E. Rudder led the US Army’s 2nd Ranger Battalion into battle on the morning of D-Day.

It was one of the most violent sites of the invasion, with the American Rangers using hooks and ropes to scale 100-feet high up the cliffs. Despite climbing under a barrage of military fire and suffering heavy losses, the soldiers bravely destroyed the key German guns that would have been used to fire on the American troops landing at Omaha and Utah beaches.

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We’ll take you to this site where you can pay tribute to these heroic men. You can walk along the cliff-top pathways, see the craters left behind by mortar blasts, and go into the concrete bunkers from where German forces unleashed artillery fire.

When visiting Omaha Beach, be sure to look out for the Pointe du Hoc Ranger Monument overlooking the beach. It was built by the French to honour Lt. Col. Rudder and the American 2nd Ranger Battalion for their incredible sacrifice in successfully stopping the German attacks.

GET INSPIRED BY: The Treasures of France including Normandy

Juno Beach

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Of all the five landing zones, the Allies gained the most ground on Juno Beach by the end of D-Day. It was also the site of major losses, with around 2,000 casualties, including 600 who drowned. The 3rd Canadian Infantry Division suffered particularly heavy losses here, and for the next month the remaining soldiers fought to liberate the area from the enemy. They were victorious, and today you can trace the history of their battle at this site.

We’ll take you to the beach where you can see the bunker and the Juno Beach Center, the only Canadian museum among the D-Day landing beaches. It tells the Canadian story of WWII, with films, sound archives and interactive exhibits. It’s a very emotional place to pay tribute to the Canadian casualties of the invasion of Normandy.

Arromanches-sur-Mer

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Your D-Day beaches travel journey will take you to the seaside town of Arromanches. Here we’ll visit Gold Beach, once the centre of the D-Day landings. We’ll also stop at the moving D-Day Museum, the oldest D-Day museum and one of the most visited. It stands in front of the remains of the artificial harbour built by the Allies during WWII. 

You can see a model of the port and learn about the construction of the artificial harbours, or Mulberry Harbours. These incredible ports allowed large amounts of equipment to be unloaded away from the ocean waves and for the Allies to take control of the Normandy coastline. 

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You can also visit the Arromanches 360° Cinema, a striking circular cinema above the town. It tells the extraordinary story of “Normandy’s 100 Days” and the D-Day operation that changed the course of WWII. It also pays tribute to the soldiers of all nations and to the 20,000 civilians killed during the battle.

You’ll see unpublished archive footage from the US, Canada, France, Britain and Germany, projected onto nine screens that loop around you. It’s a very immersive experience, and you can imagine the sheer terror and bravery of the hundreds of thousands of soldiers who fought on the beaches of Normandy to free Europe.

Are you thinking about visiting the D-Day landing beaches? Let us know in the comments below.

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