This is an update to a post I made in January, 2011 about how we got from Paris (CDG) to Normandy for a tour of the D day sites. As an FYI, our itinerary included two and a half days in Normandy, a day and a half in Paris, and five days in the Cote d’Azur for a convention. This going to be about our trip, and any leg of our journey can be dropped, inserted, shortened or stretched out to whatever works in another itinerary. Following will be a list of my planning tools, and they can be adapted to fit almost any travel plan. By putting Paris in the middle of our trip, we were able to travel to a third destination in France without spending full days on travel, but that isn't necessary for these tools to work. We were also adjusted to the time change by the time we arrived in Paris and had the energy it takes to tour a big city.
We traveled to Normandy on the morning of our arrival, taking a train from CDG to St. Lazare and a second train to Bayeux. Bayeux is a charming town that was relatively unscathed during the war and is the home of the famous “Tapestry Museum.”
If you are staying in the town itself, Bayeux is small enough that you won’t need a car until you venture out into the region. This link will give you an idea of what you can expect in Bayeux:
We spent two nights at the Hotel Churchill in Bayeux, taking the “Band of Brothers” tour with Overlord on the day after our arrival. On our second day, we rented a car in Caen and drove to Honfleur, spending a night at Le Cheval Blanc on the harbor.
(Links to the tour companies and Bayeux hotels will follow.)
If we had a “do over” on this trip, we would have revisited Omaha Beach in the morning before we traveled to Honfleur. On another trip, we had walked down the trail to the beach, and it’s a very moving experience that there usually isn’t time for on a group tour. This does not mean that a group tour is rushed, but you should allow at least an hour, if not more, for this journey. You will want to linger.
Spending a night in Honfleur is a good thing because you can enjoy it without the crowds. The historic harbor is a popular destination and with a late day arrival, you arrive after the crowds have died down and you can experience what’s wonderful about Honfleur.
Also, consider stops in Deauville and Trouville along your way to Honfleur. These beach resorts face each other across a harbor and are about twenty minutes outside Honfluer.
My planning information follows, but don't stop with me. I’m only one traveler and this is only our experience. For additional information, do other searches on TA and check the “Things to Do” and “Frequently Asked Questions” boxes along the margins on the forum pages.
1) TRAVEL BY TRAIN FROM CDG TO BAYEUX: We traveled by train to Bayeux after an early morning arrival at CDG, and we chose to do this because, for long distance travelers, your first day is your jet lag day. No matter how good you may think you feel, this is not a day when you want to get behind the wheel of a car on a long, three hour drive to Normandy. Your reaction time is slowed when you haven’t rested, and sleep on a plane doesn’t count. That’s sleep, but not rest, and if you are traveling from the east coast of the US, that sleep time is not an overnight. By putting Normandy on the front end of our trip, we were able to combine a travel day with a recovery day. We slept a bit on the train and after arriving in Bayeux early in the afternoon, we slept a bit more once we checked into our hotel. After a nice evening in Bayeux, we were good to go for our tour the next morning.
The RER B, a regional trail service, travels from CDG into Paris, and for trains to Normandy, your departure station will be Paris St. Lazare. The RER B does not travel directly between CDG and St. Lazare, but it’s doable with easy connections once you get into Paris. The RER runs frequently from CDG and advance reservations aren’t necessary. Here is a link to info on the CDG/Paris RER routes and timetables:
These are the two routes you can follow from CDG St. Lazare:
A) Take the RER B to Gare du Nord and the RER E to St. Lazare.
B) Take the RER B to Chatelet (one stop beyond Gare du Nord) and Metro Line 14 to St. Lazare.
We followed Plan B because it was the best information we had at the time of our trip, but both plans appear to be good and easy. We are empty nesters who were traveling with two garment roller bags and a carry on, and we didn’t have any problems managing our luggage along the "B" route. The metro is on a different level from where the trains arrive, but there is a large elevator between these platforms and the directional signs were well posted and clear. On another post, a traveler said that there is a slight elevation difference between the RER B and E platforms, but that it was manageable. I haven’t taken that route, so I can’t really advise on that.
It’s a good idea to book your St.Lazarre/Bayeux tickets in advance as fares become more expensive the closer you are to your travel date. Schedules are usually posted ninety days in advance, but you can do a “dummy” booking to see what you can expect. For train bookings, I use the TGV/Europe site, and the following link will give info and other websites that will help you on how to do this. There are quirks in the system that affect American and Australian travelers, in particular, so read the info here and the accompanying links before you start this process. You will also find info on the various ticketing levels, and if you are traveling after a flight into CDG, I would book the highest level, changeable ticket from St. Lazare. With these tickets, there is a small fee the enables you to change your ticket if you get to the station early or miss your train if your plane is late. Read the conditions on these changes carefully. I would allow at least three hours between your train’s arrival and the St. Lazare departure.
2) TOUR COMPANIES: It’s my opinion that the best way to tour the D Day sites is with a guide, especially on your first visit, and on a full day tour or longer. You will simply see more, learn more and get a better perspective with a professional guide. Here are my thoughts on that topic:
The tours I link below leave from Bayeux in small groups by minivan, and they start early in the morning and usually end around six in the evening. Guides are licensed for private tours, meaning they can book one party that includes several passengers, and group tours, meaning they can combine several bookings on one tour. Private guides can not co-ordinate separate contacts, and travelers sometimes are required to provide the transportation. For parties of three or more, it is sometimes cost effective to book a private guide rather than several bookings on a group tour. If there are several travelers in your party, this is something you should price and compare before you book. The starting point for the tours is usually somewhere around the Bayeux Tapestry Museum or the Cathedral, and the tours set out before the first train arrives from Paris. This means that a one day trip from Paris doesn’t work with a group tour, but sometimes a day is all a traveler has on their itinerary. For a one day trip from Paris, it is possible to arrange for a private guide to meet you at a train station and start your tour from there, and half day group tours are also available from some of the tour companies. Trains travel back to Paris into the evening, so after your tour, it is possible have an early dinner in Bayeux and return to Paris later that night.
Since our trip, one of the largest tour operators, Battlebus, disbanded. Several of its former guides have started their own companies and the owner formed his own private company. At the time when we were planning our trip, there were fewer companies offering D Day tours out of Bayeux than there are now, and a number of experienced guides are now out on their own. Here is a starter list of tour company links that you will find in Bayeux today, You should also search the forums for other suggestions, and some of the guides you may find recommended on other posts with email links can be found on the following company websites. It you like what you read on other posts, follow the trail.
This list will change from time to time, and I encourage other contributors to post new information as a reply.
Additionally, audio guides for travel via your own transportation can be downloaded from this site:
Be careful about “day trips” from Paris. Some of these are “en masse” on large tour buses, and others are resellers, booking the same train travel and tours that you can book for less on your own using the links I’ve provided. Some travelers prefer “everything is done for me” bookings, but it’s not a bad idea to compare costs and see what works best for you.
Here is the original post where I collected these links, and there are other discussions that travelers might find helpful.
Note: Some of these tour companies require a credit card to secure a reservation, but don’t process that card for payment. We paid cash at the end of our tour and used an ATM close to the Hotel Churchill for this purpose. This is just something you might want to check into and be prepared for before you take your tour.
3) WHERE TO STAY: If you stay within the town of Bayeux and are taking a guided tour, you won’t need a car until you venture out into the region. Everything is within easy walking distance if you are staying close to the town’s center. Lodging accommodation in Bayeux is usually “boutique” or B&B, meaning the number of rooms at each establishment is limited...so book early. Bayeux is a popular destination and rooms fill up quickly, especially during the peak travel times. We stayed at the Hotel Churchill and loved it. Here is another starter list that I’ve collected for accommodations that have received good comments on the forums, and I suggest that you read the “Hotels” reviews section for Bayeux to see what appeals to you.
Before you book, go a Google Maps “Walking Directions” from a hotel’s address and where your tour will start. A satellite image using the yellow walking icon might help you decide what is going to work for you.
Another tip: Websites aren’t always set up for bookings that are several months in advance of a travel date, but these hotels usually accept reservations by phone or by email. If you aren’t getting the response you want over the internet and booking sites, call the establishment or email them by copying their email address onto your own and contacting them from there. Small owners are usually “people people,” and throughout France, I’ve found that I get the best response when I contact a location directly. Website emails don’t always work.
4) CAR RENTAL: At the time of our trip, car rental was complicated in Bayeux, but since then, other travelers have reported good experiences with Hertz, based in the Total Gas Station, and Scauto Renault, a dealership that rents cars and is located close to the Bayeux train station.
At the time of our trip, we chose to take the twenty minute train ride of Caen and rented our car from one of the several companies with offices outside the train station. We used Auto Europe for our booking, and I would recommend it for booking throughout Europe. AE is an agency that searches companies for the best rates, and I find that it often includes small locations that are often missed on US based searches.
These options all have their advantages:
A) Hertz operates out of a a gas station on “gas station” hours, and is open when the other offices are not. The companies in Caen often take a two hour (or so) mid day break, and have limited weekend operations. The station is located about a mile and a half outside Bayeux, so getting to the location will most likely require a taxi. I would also check for drop off options if this is part of your itinerary.
B) The Renault office is located close to the train station. I really don’t know much about this option, but it’s certainly one to consider. My question would be about different pick up and drop off locations being available, if that might be an issue on your trip.
C) There several car rental companies located in Caen and the selection is probably greater and more competitive than it is in the smaller city of Bayeux. I also think that Caen is where you will be most likely to find a rental that you could drop off in another town, especially in smaller locations. An example might be dropping a car off in Rennes after driving to Mont St. Michel and taking a train back to Paris. This is just a question to research before you book. If you will be dropping your car off in Caen, you can take a train from there to Paris or your next destination. The downside to renting in Caen is that you have to travel from Bayeux for this rental, and don’t do as we did, just show up expecting frequent trains. This was our lesson learned, so check the train schedule before you travel to the train station in Bayeux. Other than that, renting a car in Caen was easy.
Wherever you choose to book, check office hours and make sure they work for you. As another FYI, you’re in rural France and automatic transmissions are not common for car rentals. You can pretty much expect typical availability to be for standard transmissions.
5) TRAVEL BETWEEN PARIS, NORMANDY and MONT ST. MICHEL: Admittedly, this was not part of our trip, but this is what I've learned and how I would plan a trip if we were to do this. Assuming a Paris/Normandy/MSM itinerary, there are several options I would consider:
A) If you are in Bayeux, the easiest is probably via the Hotel Churchill Shuttle:
B) ...or, rent a car in Bayeux or Caen, do the one and a half hour (or so) drive to MSM, and spend the night there. You could either drive back to Paris, or as we would more likely choose, drop your car in Rennes and take a train back to Paris.
C) Start from Paris and do “B” in reverse. Again, don’t drive after a long overseas flight.
Here is a link to my original post, and you might find some helpful information there.
This latest post is just an updated version of my 2011 post and a summary of things I’ve learned since then. One absolute must is that, if you are traveling from a region outside Paris and flying home from there, make sure that you are in Paris the night before your flight. You need to allow an overnight for things to go wrong and be happy when they don’t. There is more to see in the regions I've covered here via some highlights, and explore through TA searches and guidebooks from more information.
Have a great trip!