I’m not going to lie: I was really nervous about visiting the D-Day sites in Normandy with kids. I knew we’d be visiting a lot of somber, meaningful places where we’d want them to be respectful. Thankfully, my kids are typically pretty well behaved, but at 4, 6, and 8 years old…they’re still kids, which means they’re still unpredictable and moody.
This post will cover some practical tips that helped us during our trip to Normandy with kids, plus things we wished we knew ahead of time. And, as a bonus, I’m including extra things that have nothing to do with the war or D-Day in case you need a break from that heavier topic.
If you’ve been to Normandy and have toured the D-Day sites with kids, I’d love to know your thoughts and if you have any tips to make it a successful (or, let’s be honest: easier) trip.
Don’t Overdo It.
My first advice is to not overdo it. We spent a full four days in Normandy, but we only saw the “sites” in the mornings. We reserved the afternoons for letting the kids have fun: we played at the pool, went to the beach, did fun activities at our campground, or wandered around town to get ice cream.
Typically we like to go-go-go and cram as much as possible into our days; making use of our time in a new place. But, thanks to my husband’s work schedule (he had a virtual class every afternoon/evening), we had to do things a little different and slow down, and it totally worked in our favor.
Seeing the D-Day sites can be very emotionally draining and overwhelming, and while I wanted to see more, I also didn’t want to push it with them. Otherwise we’d have cranky, unpredictable kids on our hands.
Bribe the Heck Out of Them
I’m not going to lie: we weren’t above bribing the kids in exchange for them to be on their best behavior at all the places we visited. It was asking a lot since we were at cemeteries, memorials, and war museums, but they did amazing.
Nothing like a little motivation of ice cream and waffles and some water play to get them to act respectful. Win/win for everyone.
Check the Tide Schedule
If you’re planning on checking out any of the famous beaches in Normandy (especially) with kids, make sure to check out the tide times first. The tides go out very, very far when it’s low tide, making it perfect for sightseeing and really experiencing the D-Day landing sites.
When the tide comes in, though, it comes all the way up. I’m certain our experience and the enjoyability of our days would have been vastly different if we went to specific places during high tide.
Bring Water Shoes
Speaking of the beaches: some of them are rockier and slimy with seaweed in many places.
Omaha and Utah beach seemed to be more sandy, but Arromanches, Juno, and Sword beaches definitely had a ridge of seaweed and rocks when we were there. We were thankful for our water shoes!
Granted, Julia is holding hers in this picture, but she wanted to see what it felt like. The verdict: “gross and slimy.” Everyone else found a break in the seaweed to walk on/around.
Keep in Mind the Drive Time
Looking at a map of the area, I anticipated it would be easy to get from one D-Day site to the other. But one thing to keep in mind is that the Normandy beaches span 50 miles long, and to get from point A to point B or point C, it could take anywhere from 30-minutes to an hour in the car.
So, if your kids are the type of kids to get restless in the car, make sure you have some handy distractions for them in between sites.
In Normandy with Kids? Check out these tours:
Reserve Tickets Ahead of Time (and get there early)
We were shocked at how many people just showed up at places expecting to walk right in…or, maybe they anticipated a wait time? If you don’t like standing in a line, I highly recommend buying your tickets to museums (that need them) at least by the night before. You can pick your arrival time, and then just waltz right in.
Two out of three kids specifically said (on more than one occasion) that they were happy they didn’t have to wait in that line.
Pro tip: places are typically less crowded in the morning. We’re always shocked at the lines when we’re leaving some place.
Pack a Picnic Lunch
Here’s the deal: (almost) anytime you sit down for a meal in France, expect to be there for at least an hour. It’s just how the French roll. So if you’re on a tighter timeline (or have restless kids), maybe pick an alternative option for a meal.
Also, if you rely on Google for info about restaurants (like their opening hours), just know that things appear to be a little bit wonky around Normandy. Several places that said they were open were not, in fact, open. We’d find out (after stopping and looking inside a dark cafe) that they would actually open an hour or two later than what Google said. Totally fine most of the time, but when you have hungry kids and no other cafes near you, panic may set in.
We had this happen twice, so we learned from our “we’ll just grab some lunch when we get there” mentality, and picked up essentials from a bakery/store to have our own sandwiches. This was cheaper, saved us time, and we’d either eat once we got to our destination or in the car on our way to our next spot.
Pro tip: If you’re in the Saint-Mere area, we absolutely loved eating at this restaurant right in the town center. We were still there for awhile, but it was one of our favorite places from our time in Normandy.
Get Your Learn on Before You Go
Thankfully, my husband is a military history war buff and knows his stuff. I, on the other hand, knew next to nothing, so I felt like I was starting from scratch. Watching Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers helped tremendously. There’s also The Longest Day, which I heard was good, but we didn’t have time to watch before we went.
With a better understanding on our part, it made it easier to explain it to the kids…and truthfully, we explained a lot as we went so we could show them maps and actual places where things happened.
War is a hard topic for kids to comprehend, especially young kids, but we wanted them to at least know the very basics. For our four year old it was telling him about the “bad guys” and the “good guys.” For our six and eight year olds we talked about it face to face with them and described the situation in the most simplest terms as possible.
We had the kids listen to this D-Day: Operation Overlord by the Bedtime History podcast on our way to Normandy (I’m just now seeing that there’s also the YouTube video for it, which could be great to see instead or in addition to the podcast for a refresher).
Here are other podcasts to consider (note: we did not listen to these, so I can’t vouch for them):
D-Dy by Military History by Kids for Kids
Facts about Dwight D Eisenhower (episode 58) by Kid Friendly History Fun Facts Podcast
Donkey Flowers and D-Day by The Week Junior Show
D-Day by History Kids Podcast
One of the kids’ favorite museums was the Airborne Museum in Sainte-Mère-Église— they had these iPad-like devices that showed past/present looks and had realistic exhibits—but not too realistic (i.e. not lots of blood)—that helped us set the scene for them.
Things for Kids to do in Normandy That are Not D-Day Related:
I only have first-hand knowledge of the things below (the Whale Park), but they were all on my list to do in case we had time. Unfortunately, we just didn’t have time. But if you’re looking for some fun things to do in Normandy that has nothing to do with the war, check these out:
Park Festyland near Caen
The Whale Park in Luc-sur-Mer
Chocolate Museum (Hotot Chocolaterie du Drakkar) near Bayeux
Lait Douceur de Normandy (with tastings) near Cherbourg
Caramels d’Isigny near Pointe du Hoc
Bayeux Tapestry in Bayeux