In an effort to simplify things and put information in one place that I have posted on other threads, here is how we made our trip to the D Day sites and a few suggestions on what I have learned since our travel. Our experience is not the only way to make this trip, but I hope this will help travelers who are trying to find a place to start. This post will be made better by others contributing their thoughts and experiences, and I hope this will happen
1) Your destination: Our experience was to travel to Bayeux and take a guided tour from there. Caen is another popular location for D Day tours and home to the well known Memorial Museum. Bayeux is just a charming, relaxing place to visit, and within the town are a historic Tapestry Museum, lovely cathedral, and a collection of nice restaurants and pubs.
2) How to plan: I recommend at least one night in Normandy and at least a one day guided tour. On separate trips, we have toured on our own and with a guide, and I highly recommend a guided tour. You will just see more, learn more, and get a better idea about how the events came together. The D Day area is 2 – 2 ½ hours by train from Paris, and while it is possible to make the trip in one day, that day will be brutal. It will be long and you will only be able to take a half day tour of the sites. If you have to make the trip in one day, I would suggest that you hire a private guide who can meet you at a train station and start your tour immediately upon your arrival. With a group tour, there are specific starting times. As most tours start early in the morning and end by 6 pm (18:00), it is possible to return to Paris after a tour.
If you stay in Bayeux and take a guided tour, you will not need a car. Everything in the town is within walking distance, including the tour meeting points. Mont St. Michel is about 2 hours from Bayeux, and the Hotel Churchill offers a day trip by minivan (see the link below) . In general, public transportation is not very efficient in Normandy, so a car is necessary to visit other destinations. Renting a car in Bayeux is complicated, and I would recommend taking the 20 minute train ride to Caen where there are several car rental offices outside the station. Honfleur, in particular, is a popular, short side trip from Bayeux, and the scenic route from Caen, through Deauville and Trouville, is lovely. You may also choose to travel to MSM on your own, and there are a host of other driving trips you can take. I’ll leave those specifics to others who know more about these destinations than me.
2) Getting to Normandy by train: Trains to Normandy leave from the Paris St. Lazarre train station. I would recommend purchasing tickets in advance, especially if you are traveling during the tourist season. I would also suggest that you purchase a ticket that can be exchanged or refunded. While this may not be the lowest fare, it’s good for your peace of mind.
This paragraph applies to American travelers only, so skip it of you are traveling from another country. You’ll be bored and it might be confusing! American travelers need to be careful to avoid the Rail Europe site. US travelers using a computer from home are directed to RE if they use the SNCF site in translation or use “USA” on TGV as their home country. Fares are more expensive on RE and the list of routes is oten not as comprehensive. To avoid Rail Europe, American travelers should only use the TGV-Europe site, and for a translation, use any English speaking country as your home country. This will not affect your ability to print or purchase tickets from home.
US travelers wanting a translation, use TGV-Europe only:
Other travelers or American travelers who do not need a translation, use TGV or SNCF:
For the terms of ticket exchange, go to the “Help and Contact” link in the upper right corner of the TGV home page. I'm not sure where this info is on the SNCF site. For ticket retrieval in France, travelers must present the exact credit card they used to purchase the ticket.
If you are traveling to Normandy after a stay in Paris, simply find your way to St. Lazarre. If you will be traveling to Normandy from CDG, please do not try to drive after an overseas flight. No matter how rested you may think you are, you are jet lagged. You have not had a full night’s sleep, and your reaction time will be impaired. Besides, it is very easy and relaxing to get to Normandy by train, and you can sleep. Either spend a night in Paris or after clearing customs and immigrations, follow the “Paris by Train” signs that will direct you to the airport’s train station. Here is a link to the CDG site that describes what you can expect there:
You will take the RER B into Paris, but there is not a direct route from the airport to St. Lazarre. There are two ways to get there: Plan “A” is by two trains, meaning you arrive and depart on the same platform level at your connecting station and on “B,” you will take a train and metro line, meaning you change levels. Plan “A” is often recommended for its convenience, but as metro lines often run more frequently than trains, I am not sure that there may not be a wait between train connections. Perhaps someone can shed more light on this. Plan “B” was the information we had at the time of our travel and it worked for us. We changed platform levels, but there is a large, convenient elevator to accommodate passengers who need access or are traveling with luggage. For what it’s worth, we are empty nesters who traveled with a lot of luggage and this was easy.
Plan A: Take the RER B to Gare du Nord and the RER E to St. Lazarre.
Plan B: Take the RER B to Chatelet (one stop beyond Gare du Nord) and Metro line 14 to St. Lazarre.
3) Where to stay: So you won’t need to rent a car while taking a guided tour, I recommend staying inside the town of Bayeux. My first hotel recommendation would be the Hotel Churchill. It is charming and comfortable, and the staff is eager to make sure you enjoy your stay. The HC does not have an elevator, but if access is an issue, I think there are a few first floor rooms available. If the HC is where you want to stay, don’t delay as the hotel books quickly. We also met travelers who were happy staying at the Lion d’Or, and hopefully, some other hotel recommendations will follow.
4) Tours: Two companies that leave from Bayeux and have been very popular with TA travelers are Overlord and Battlebus. We took an Overlord tour and were very happy with our experience. Overlord has French guides, and we found the commentary particularly meaningful from a guide who makes Normandy his home. Overlord tours in eight passenger minivans, so the group is small.
Battlebus, a British company, seems to be scaling back and is now operating as D Day Historian. I mention Battlebus because it has been so popular with TA travelers and you may read reviews that will send you on a futile search. For now, there is a link between Battlebus and DDH, but that could disappear over time. Below are links to all three sites:
If there are more than three people in a party, private guide rates may be competitive to group rates. Some of these guides may require that you provide the vehicle, and again, I would send you to Caen for a rental. I can’t really find a list of private guides, but information is available on various TA threads. Go to the Normandy Forum and search “private tour guides.” Perhaps a better suggestion will follow.
There are tours that leave directly from Paris, but from what I’ve read, I would visit the region as I’ve described here. The whole trip was just a lovely, moving experience, and we enjoyed a little bit of Normandy while satisfying our desire to visit the historic WWII sites. As I said in the beginning, how we toured the sites is not the only way to have the D Day experience. This is what worked for us, and I hope others will follow with their comments and suggestions.