D-Day, when U.S.-led Allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy in an invasion that ultimately brought down Nazi Germany, lives on in the memory of every American. We hear the stories, read the books and watch the movies, but it often takes a visual prompt to truly begin to understand what happened on June 6, 1944.
On the eve of the 70th anniversary of the day that began the end of World War II, here are many ways – both in the U.S. and overseas – to celebrate, honor and remember this day on which so many gave their lives.
1. Official events
The Basse-Normandie Region will host an official 70th anniversary series of ceremonies and events. Some of the most interesting activities include parachute drops, a walk that retraces the steps of the soldiers, fireworks displays, a screening of the IMAX film “D-Day Normandy 1944,” narrated by Tom Brokaw, wreath-laying ceremonies and a sound and light show. These are but a few of hundreds of events in the region all year long.
2. Normandy by tour
If you’d prefer to visit the area with a guide, many companies are offering D-Day tours through the end of the year. Choose a historic tour or a more active adventure like biking or hiking to see the beaches of Normandy and the beautiful countryside beyond.
3. Historic highlights
The late Stephen Ambrose, author of “Band of Brothers” and founder of The National D-Day Museum, started his own tour company to offer trips to the places he wrote about. In September, film and history buffs can join Ambrose’s personally designed D-Day to the Rhine tour, which is based on hundreds of interviews that he did with World War II veterans and other research. A veteran will accompany guests on the tour.
Historic Hotels of America has partnered with National Trust Tours for a series of Great Experiences & Tours, including a September D-Day: 70th Anniversary tour. Led by a World War II historian, you’ll be guided along some of the more interesting and less visited landmarks associated with the Normandy Landings, including the house where Eisenhower made the decision to carry out the invasion, Churchill’s Cabinet war rooms and a chateau from which the BBC broadcast its reports.
4. Active adventures
Ciclismo Classico, Discover France and Wilderness Travel all offer options that let you work up a sweat while soaking in history.
On Ciclismo Classico’s Normandy bike tour and Discover France’s Brittany to Normandy bike tour, you’ll pedal through the beautiful hills and along the coasts of the Norman landscape. Both tours include stops at key D-Day sites and memorials, and you’ll enjoy some delicious French food along the way.
Wilderness Travel combines hiking with history on its Normandy and Brittany Hiking tour, which pairs you with a historian as you walk the high cliffs of Normandy, still pitted with shell holes and German bunkers, right down to the beaches of the D-Day landings. Travelers will spend a day exploring the historic areas, including the rows of crosses and clifftop lawns at the American cemetery at Colleville-Sur-Mer. Food also takes the spotlight on this hiking tour, along with the region’s history, which dates back to 4500 B.C.
5. Other tours
You can also see the region by boat with Tauck on its Rendezvous on the Seine and Cruising the Seine Plus Versailles, Paris & London river cruises. Both cruises visit the D-Day beaches in Normandy and the American Cemetery and Memorial at Colleville-sur-Mer, along with stops in other French favorites like Paris, Rouen and Giverny, and even on to London.
Where to stay? Les Manoirs Hotel in Tourgéville, located close to the Normandy beaches, has a special package for two for those looking to learn more about D-Day. The quaint hotel with just 57 rooms is offering three nights of accommodations, two dinners at its on-site 1899 restaurant, a private tour guide of the D-Day beaches and American war cemetery, admission to the D-Day museums and two spa treatments.
6. Closer to home
If a trip to France isn’t in the budget, there are plenty of ways to commemorate the day in the U.S.
We love the idea of flying on a real warbird that participated in the Normandy invasion to view the battle from up high. At the Warbird Air Museum at the Valiant Air Command in Titusville, Fla., climb on board and take flight on the “TiCo Belle.” This amazing plane not only was at the D-Day invasion, but it participated in the Berlin Airlift and other historic events, as well. Flights are available the third Saturday of every month.
The National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Va., is hosting a series of events on June 6, including a wreath-laying ceremony by D-Day units, a parade, a USO Show, a parachute jump and a flyover by a P-51 and C-47.
At the Tennessee Aquarium IMAX 3D in Chattanooga, you can catch a 3D version of the IMAX “D-Day Normandy 1944” movie, as well as see military displays and rare artifacts used during the invasion, courtesy of the National Medal of Honor Museum. More than 25 IMAX theaters across the U.S., from Maine to Washington State, are also showing the movie to commemorate the day.
Lyn Mettler is an Indianapolis, Ind.-based travel writer. You can find her at www.GotoTravelGal.com or on Twitter at @GotoTravelGal.