In each major city we visited during our European trip, we opted to take one long day trip outside the city limits. In Paris, many options for day trips vie for attention, but for our family, a tour of the Normandy D-Day battlefields won out. We have two teens who have studied WWII history, and this tour was their pick.
Touring Normandy D-Day battlefields:
We opted to go through Viator for our tour,, choosing their Normandy D-Day Battlefields and Beaches tour. One of the most respected and well-known tour companies operating across Europe, we trust Viator to provide a high quality experience. One thing for families to note that many don’t realize: Viator is a middle man. They don’t conduct the tours themselves, but rather outsource them locally. For travelers who expect to be led by a Viator guide from a Viator office, this can be unsettling or even alarming, but I think there’s a good reason behind it: Viator is a huge operation, and cannot be the expert on everything, everywhere. I appreciate that they seek out the best guides within each city. In any case, we had a tour with them in both Paris and Rome, and in both cases, our guides were top-notch.
For the D-Day tour starting and ending in Paris, Viator uses Paris City Vision. We met our group and guide at the Paris City Vision office by the Concorde in Paris at 6:30 am the day of our tour. Yes, painfully early, especially since we’d be late if we waited for the metro. We opted to call a car service so we’d be certain a ride would be ready and waiting for us. (We used Blacklane, which I highly recommend. Read more about our experience with them in this post on planning a Paris itinerary.)
After an easy check-in experience at Paris City Vision, we headed for Normandy on a luxury tour bus. I know, I know, everyone hates big tours in tour busses. But it was fine and I’ll explain why: we never, ever walked all around in a huge group at the sites. Our tour stopped at four locations, and our guide talked to us while the bus was in transit in each case, allowing us to tour as individual families. This is where the value of the tour came in: we didn’t have to figure out our own transportation to and from Normandy, we had all entry tickets taken care of, and we had expert commentary before each stop.
The drive to the first stop, which is in Caen, takes almost three hours. Yes, ouch. But we slept, and found the bus very comfortable, with reclining seats and reading lights and a restroom onboard. The first stop on the tour is the Caen-Normandie Memorial museum at the site of a German bunker and stronghold during the French occupation, and covers WWII very much in depth, from pre-war time through the liberation. It does cover the holocaust in detail, so prepare children. In fact, I’d recommend this whole tour only to families with kids age 10 and up. We’d prepared them for D-Day battle details, but didn’t know we’d need to prepare them for some very sad details regarding Jewish ghettos and camps. This part of the museum was too much for our 11-year-old. It’s hard to bypass because exhibits are intermixed, but the area downstairs towards the end of the hall have the most holocaust stories. The violence of the D-Day battles are much less graphic, even in the film…he has no problem with those aspects of the museum.
An included lunch was served in the museum for our group privately. It was a sit-down affair, with a salad bar (French cafeteria style, with a second dessert and cheese station) and main dish. There was not a choice in the main dish. When we visited, it was a rustic French style cuisine of baked chicken or hen. Some of us loved it, others not so much, but there was plenty of food for those who didn’t enjoy the main dish.
The tour then drove us through very pretty Normandy countryside and villages to Pointe du Hoc, Omaha Beach, and Juno Beach. Pointe du Hoc is the region on high cliffs scaled by US Rangers and has extensive bunkers and bomb craters to look at and walk through. Omaha Beach has an excellent visitor center (be sure to leave time to go downstairs) and the US cemetery. Juno has the memorial to the Canadian forces and easy beach access.
The picturesque countryside and tiny villages (of which we drove through several) was an added bonus for me on this trip. I had wanted to find a way to explore more of the French countryside, and this way, we got to see some of this without renting a car for the day. Our guide pointed out WWII-related landmarks in and around the villages, such as the hedgerows that cost so many lives as smaller battles were fought through and between them.
The entire day was certainly sobering, but also beautiful and impressive. We learned a lot, and as noted above, we had plenty of time for personal reflection and family time during the day, as we spread out from our larger group at each stop. As a family, we were able to decide our own itinerary through each memorial and museum, spending time together and digesting the information together. For families wishing to find a particular memorial marker or name, there is time for this. However, we found that at each stop, we didn’t quite have as much time as we’d like. Certainly, had we been staying in Normandy and had more time, we would have spent at least a half hour more at each stop.
We returned to Paris around 4 pm, stopping for a quick dinner at a service station along the interstate. This meal was on our own, and nothing more than a necessary stop. I was actually glad they hadn’t built in another longer meal, as we were ready to be back in the city by this point. We arrived back at the tour office around 8:30 pm.
Certainly, this tour was a very full day, but our sixteen-year-old lists it as one of the most memorable of our trip. Teens who have studied (or will study) this war will find it fascinating. Our 11-year-old was also old enough to understand and enjoy the tour, though he did get bored a few times. If you go, be prepared for some heavy subjects and hard questions, and do your best to prepare kids ahead of time. As noted above, there’s nothing visually graphic as far as war images go, but the stories and the cemeteries do take their toll. By the last stop at Juno, I will admit all we wanted to do was walk together as a family on the beach.
A few practicalities and pricing info:
Bring books or iPods for kids’ entertainment on the bus, or even a deck of cards. The bus seats have little trays like airplane seats do. I also suggest bringing bottled water, though our guide was great about pointing out where we could buy more along the way. The cost of the tour is on the higher side of Viator’s Paris offerings, due to the length of the tour and distance traveled. We felt the value was definitely there, provided you have older kids or teens.
Book on Viator.com, and print out your confirmation page. That’s all we needed at the tour office. When you book, you’ll receive an email from Viator letting you know which company is conducting your tour and where to meet.
At the time of our visit, pricing was $199 for adults and kids were approximately $99. This price includes all admission fees and lunch, plus the transportation. There’s an option to pay more for hotel pick up/drop off.
As we disclose whenever applicable, our Normandy tour was paid for by Viator, for the purpose of review. All opinions remain our own.