Visiting the many Normandy museums (and other amazing D-Day sites) should be at the top of every World War II history buff’s bucket list. Very few other places evoke the kind of historical energy that the battlegrounds and memorials of Normandy do. It will truly be a trip you will never, ever forget.
The 14 best Normandy museums for WWII enthusiasts
As you can imagine, there’s an incredible amount for a World War II enthusiast to see in Normandy, France. There are beaches and battle sites, museums and memorials, and cemeteries… so many cemeteries.
If you’ve got a few months to dedicate to seeing all these sites, you’re in luck. But for those of us who don’t, let me make it a little easier and narrow down your choices. As far as museums alone go, here are 14 of the best WWII museums in Normandy. (in no particular order)
1. Mémorial de Caen (Caen Memorial Museum)
The Caen Memorial Museum is thought by many to be the best World War II museum in all of France (so obviously one of the best Normandy museums). It opened on D-Day in 1988 and covers not just the subject of D-Day but all of World War II.
This enormous museum was built on top of a former German bunker (which you can visit) and utilizes countless historical artifacts, video and sound recordings, artwork, props and replicas, vehicles and airplanes, and much more to tell the story of the second world war.
The Caen Memorial Museum has sections dedicated to:
- The start of the war and how it spread throughout the world
- The many global resistance movements
- Genocide and mass violence
- Liberation and the end of the war
- And, of course, the D-Day landings and the Battle of Normandy
- And more.
This museum also offers a comprehensive gift and bookshop (drinking out of my Army ration coffee mug as we speak), two cafés, three gardens dedicated to American, Canadian, and British soldiers who died in Normandy, and a movie theater you must check out. You could definitely spend the better part of a day here.
2. Airborne Museum
Normandy’s Airborne Museum opened in 1964 and is dedicated to the United States Army paratroopers of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions who parachuted into Normandy in the wee hours leading up to D-Day.
The Airborne Museum is in the town of Sainte-Mère-Église (the first French town liberated by Allied forces) and faces the church belfry where paratrooper John Steele became famously suspended. (Check out the movie The Longest Day to see his story.)
The Airborne Museum consists of three buildings:
The WACO Building
The WACO Building, itself shaped like an open parachute, focuses on gliders and their use in the Normandy invasions. (More than 500 unmanned gliders were used on D-Day and the days following to transport vehicles, ammo, equipment, and troops.) Inside you can check out a Waco CG-4 glider, the only one of its kind on display in France.
The C-47 Building
Another parachute-shaped building at the Airborne Museum is the C-47 Building which simulates D-Day preparations on the night before. Here you’ll see dioramas of preparations taking place (featuring General Eisenhower) and a Douglas C-47 Skytrain aircraft. This is the same plane that dropped paratroopers on D-Day.
A third building named Operation Neptune (after the first assault phase of the grander Operation Overlord) opened on the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in 2014. This building covers 13,000 square feet and aims to “make you experience a night jump as if you were there!” which sounds fun and interesting yet truly terrifying at the same time.
Through what they call a “hyperrealist museography” you’ll first board a C-47 aircraft then drop into the town of Saint-Mère-Église in the midst of battle. This part of the museum aims to give you a feel for what it was like for paratroopers on D-Day.
Why visitors love the Airborne Museum
Reviewers say the Airborne Museum is one of the best Normandy museums for WWII enthusiasts because of:
- the chance to see authentic WWII aircraft up-close
- how interactive it is
- how well the museum is organized and laid out
- its impressive artifact collection
- and how engaging a visit is with multimedia use and the “histopad”
3. Utah Beach Landing Museum
The Utah Beach Landing Museum is another built on top of a German bunker and is located right on Utah Beach, the first of the five beaches landed on by American troops on D-Day. This museum tells the story of D-Day from preparations to the final outcome through a chronological series of 10 sequences.
This museum utilizes many historical artifacts, oral histories, and original vehicles to tell its story as well as an award-winning film. Here you can find exhibits on:
- The German defenses
- Daily life of the town under German occupation
- The Allied strategy behind Operation Overlord
- What happened on D-Day with naval, air, and land forces
- The link-up between divisions
- The journey from landing on Utah Beach to liberating the town of Cherbourg
- and the artificial harbor built at Utah Beach
At the Utah Beach Landing Museum you can also check out an impressive and well-preserved original B26 bomber (one of only six still in existence). After your visit you can spend some time on the beach itself, which I recommend.
Why is the Utah Beach Landing Museum one of the best Normandy museums?
Reviewers love the Utah Beach Landing Museum because of:
- the museum’s extensive collection, especially of vehicles, military uniforms, and weaponry
- the way the museum presents information in a thematic way
- the personal narratives from those involved in the Utah Beach landings
- its location right on the beach
4. Overlord Museum
Located just a few minutes’ drive from Omaha Beach in Colleville-sur-Mer is the Overlord Museum—named for Operation Overlord, the codename for the Allied invasion of the German-controlled beaches of Normandy.
This museum tells the story of World War II from the period of the Allied beach landings to the liberation of Paris. Its collection was founded by Michel Leloup, a local who personally witnessed the war as a teenager and helped rebuild the area afterwards.
At the Overlord Museum you’ll get the chance to see his collection which includes more than 10 tanks and armored vehicles (plus 30 others), a reconnaissance plane, artillery pieces, documents and other memorabilia, plus many personal effects such as uniforms that were picked up right off the battlefields.
Why visitors love the Overlord Museum
Reviewers say the Overlord Museum is one of the best Normandy museums because:
- …of the authenticity of the collection. Many say this is the best collection of artifacts they’ve seen in Normandy.
- They also showcase many artifacts from German soldiers as well
- The museum is the perfect size—not overwhelming, but definitely thorough
- It’s location near Omaha Beach sites and the Normandy American Cemetery couldn’t be more convenient.
- Apparently their awesome gift shop also has local beer and cider offerings. Can’t argue with that.
5. D-Day Omaha Museum
The D-Day Omaha Museum is conveniently located between Normandy American Cemetery and Pointe du Hoc (please visit this also!). It includes a unique collection of thousands of original artifacts.
Much like the Overlord Museum, the D-Day Omaha Museum is the result of a massive personal collection by a military history enthusiast—this time Michel Brissard.
The museum’s collection was compiled over 50 years and includes a particular focus on the D-Day landings. Among it are paratrooper motorcycles, an Enigma machine, sabotage materials, plane motors, an LCVP landing barge, and much more. Outside the museum you’ll get to see five restored Mulberry footbridges.
Why visitors love the D-Day Omaha Museum
Reviewers think the D-Day Omaha Museum is one of the best Normandy museums because:
- It’s in a great location near many other popular D-Day sites
- It has a wonderfully varied collection of authentic items from a private collection. (Museums based on private collections are always my favorites too.)
- The collection of bikes is great for a motorcycle enthusiast
- It’s a small museum but packed with great things to see
6. Normandy Victory Museum
One of the newest Normandy museums on this list, the Normandy Victory Museum opened in 2017 on the site of the former Normandy Tank Museum. It’s comprised of 10,000 original artifacts, 20 military vehicles, archival film, and more than 20 exhibits detailing historical events.
The Normandy Victory Museum is also sometimes referred to as the Hedge Battle Museum as it focuses on the Battle of the Hedgerows, one of the lesser known periods of World War II. In this museum you’ll specifically learn about what happened in the days and months following D-Day.
The museum aims for an immersive experience and utilizes sound and visual aids on 20 sound stages to fulfill this. They showcase German occupation of the region, the resistance movements, the actions of the paratroopers, the region in ruins, and many more.
Why visitors love the Normandy Victory Museum
Reviewers feel the Normandy Victory Museum is one of the best Normandy museums for WWII enthusiasts because:
- Tours of this museum are self-guided so you can focus more on the parts that interest you
- The artifacts are incredible—especially the Sherman tank, Higgins boat, military uniforms, trucks, dioramas, and more
- It covers more than just the D-Day landings and tells the story of what happened afterward to ensure an Allied victory
- There’s a café, a bar, and a pizzeria on site
- And the fact that you have opportunities to handle actual WWII weaponry, sit inside a WWII Jeep, and ride in a working tank (!!!)
- And If you’re interested in World War II tanks and other military vehicles, definitely check out my post on the American Heritage Museum where it’s all WWII transportation, all the time.
7. Musée du Debarquement
The Musée du Debarquement (the Landing Museum) is located in one of my favorite parts of Normandy—the commune of Arromanches-les-Bains in the Gold Beach sector. It officially opened on June 5th, 1954 and was the first museum built to commemorate the D-Day landings.
Unlike the other five Normandy beaches where the majority of fighting took place, the beaches of Arromanches were used to accommodate Mulberry harbors, or artificial ports. Because there wasn’t adequate space for unloading military vehicles (and more), Allied forces built temporary ports (developed by the UK) and were able to unload and transport 9,000 tons of materials per day. You can still see the remnants of these today.
Here at the Musée du Debarquement you can explore a gallery of working models while looking out at that very historic site. You can see the museum’s collections in the Hall of Allied Nations, watch a film featuring archival footage, and take guided tours in either French, English, or German.
You’ll learn about the design and construction of these Mulberry harbors as well as the very important role they played in winning the war.
Why is Musée du Debarquement one of the best Normandy museums?
Visitors love the Musée du Debarquement because:
- The artificial harbors you’re learning about are right outside the window. Being able to see both the actual site and historical footage simultaneously is a unique experience.
- The subject matter is especially interesting and one not typically covered in other D-Day museums and documentaries. Some visitors are learning about these harbors for the very first time.
- Arromanches is purely delightful (that one is from me)
8. Arromanches 360°
While in Arromanches you can also visit Arromanches 360°, a unique kind of “museum.” Arromanches 360° is actually a circular, 360-degree cinema that transports you back into ‘Normandy’s 100 Days.’ The theater uses nine screens and archival footage from the United States, Canada, France, and Great Britain.
This 360° aspect of the film makes it feel as if you are right in the center of the action. This very popular Arromanches attraction plays every 30 minutes on the hour and the half hour.
Why visitors love Arromanches 360°
Reviewers say Arromanches 360° is one of the best Normandy experiences because:
- It’s so much better than watching a standard film. Here, you feel like you’re actually in the action presenting a “strange yet exhilarating experience.”
- It’s the perfect introduction to the other sites you’ll visit in Normandy (start your day here!)
- The location of the theater presents awesome views of Arromanches and the artificial harbors
9. Memorial Museum of the Battle of Normandy (Bayeux Museum)
Unlike many of the other Normandy museums on this list that center on just a particular portion of the war, the Memorial Museum of the Battle of Normandy focuses on the entire Battle of Normandy. Located near the British military cemetery in Bayeux, this museum is the largest one focusing on the entire Battle of Normandy.
All military operations from June 7th to August 29th, 1944 are described in detail here—day-by-day, and some hour-by-hour. The stories are told using the equipment, vehicles, uniforms, and other personal artifacts of both German and Allied soldiers.
In addition to this memorabilia, the Memorial Museum of the Battle of Normandy uses diorama and the film “Normandy ’44, Decisive Victory in the West” based on archival footage to illustrate the battles.
Why visitors love the Memorial Museum of the Battle of Normandy
Reviewers think the Bayeux Museum is one of the best Normandy museums because:
- It covers the entire Battle of Normandy from start to finish here in one place
- It goes into detail about all the equipment and personal effects on display and how each piece played a part in the war
- This museum is informative without being boring
- You can purchase your tickets for this museum together with the Bayeux Tapestry and the Museum of Art and History Baron Gérard at a discounted price
10. Juno Beach Center
Located on Juno Beach, one of the five Normandy D-Day beaches, is the Juno Beach Center, a museum aimed at showcasing the contribution of Canadian troops to World War II. 🍁
Though the location is where Canadian troops landed on D-Day, the Juno Beach Center focuses not just on their D-Day contributions. Instead, this museum tells the story of Canada’s military and civilian contributions to all of World War II in addition to life in Canada before, during, and since the war.
The Juno Beach Center takes visitors through 7 rooms:
- Courseulles, June 6th, 1944 – Visitors stand in a simulated amphibious landing craft to get inside the minds of troops landing on Juno Beach on D-Day
- Canada in the 1930s – used to explain the state of Canada before the war: its economic situation, military and politics
- Canada goes to war – follows the transformation of the country as it enters WWII
- Road to Victory – describes each of the military campaigns Canada participated in during the war
- Some Came Back, Others Did Not – serves as a memorial to the 45,000 Canadians who lost their lives fighting in WWII
- They Walk With You – an immersive film using archival footage and reenactments of Canada’s role in D-Day and the Battle of Normandy
The Juno Beach Center also offers temporary exhibitions throughout the year. It is located in Juno Park, a one-time D-Day battleground that still contains many remnants of the war you can check out.
Why the Juno Beach Center is one of the best Normandy museums
Visitors love the Juno Beach Center because:
- It’s a must-see for Canadian visitors to Normandy and tells the Canadian history like none of the other Normandy museums do
- Seeing the remaining structures from WWII in Juno Park is a unique experience
- It describes so much more than the war such as the events leading up to it and what life was like afterwards
- They employ Canadian tour guides and staff
11. Le Grand Bunker (Museum of the Atlantic Wall)
This museum, devoted entirely to the history of the Atlantic Wall, is located on the five levels of the former German bunker at Ouistreham. This grand bunker is the last visible evidence of the most powerful coastal battery in the region and has been completely renovated to appear as it did in June of 1944.
During World War II, this blockhouse served as the nerve center for German command and controlled all batteries in the area. This 52-foot tall concrete tower remained under German control until June 9th when British lieutenant Bob Orrell and his men took it over.
Today, the museum encompasses all five floors which are all meant to appear as they did on D-Day. Each level and all rooms will show how they organized operations inside the bunker through use of documents, plans, maps, and lifelike mannequins. You’ll see spaces like:
- Generator and machine rooms
- Ammunition bunker and anti-gas rooms
- Officer’s rooms
- Armory, first aid, and equipment rooms
- German flak
In addition to the museum rooms, from the rooftop of the Grand Bunker you’ll enjoy 360° views of entire city, the D-Day landing beaches, and the estuary of the Orne River.
Fun fact: Here at Le Grand Bunker you can view the D-Day landing craft used by Tom Hanks’s character in the movie Saving Private Ryan. This craft, PA 30-31, was used in the actual D-Day landings, then fully restored and modified for use in the film, then brought here to be put on display.
Why is Le Grand Bunker one of the must-visit Normandy museums?
Reviewers encourage a visit to Le Grand Bunker because:
- The recreations of actual life inside the bunker are an interesting way to learn about the time
- It’s a highly immersive experience
- It’s a great way to learn about the Nazi operation side of things
- Getting to the rooftop platform is an adventure of its own
- Who doesn’t love Tom Hanks and Saving Private Ryan?
12. Museum and the Merville Battery Site
The Museum and Merville Battery Site is both a museum dedicated to the Merville battery and a memorial to the 9th Parachute Battalion of the British Army. Their D-Day mission was to destroy the German battery at Merville before British troops could land on nearby Sword Beach.
At this museum you’ll be able to see the entire battery and gun casemates and learn all about the 9th Battalion and how they completed their mission. You’ll also see planes, tanks, and weaponry; the ammunition bunker and dormitories; and more.
Additionally, every 20 minutes is a sound and light “show” to recreate the events of June 6th, 1944.
Why do visitors love the Museum and Merville Battery Site?
Visitors say this is one of the best Normandy museums because:
- The entire museum is located within the concrete casemates making it an interesting way to learn about the Merville mission
- The displays are well laid-out and maintained
- You can sit inside the Douglas C-47 Dakota plane
- It serves as a great memorial to the 9th Parachute Battalion
13. Memorial Pegasus
The Memorial Pegasus is a memorial and museum dedicated to the 6th Airborne Division of the British Army, also known as the “Red Berets.” The mission of this division on D-Day (known as Operation Deadstick) was to prevent German counter attacks coming from the east. To accomplish this they had to:
- Capture, preserve, and prevent German troops from using the bridges over the Orne River and Caen Canal
- Neutralize the Merville battery (see above)
- And to destroy the bridges over the Dives River
The site is named for the Pegasus Bridge (formerly called the Bénouville Bridge) which was the major D-Day objective of the 6th Airborne Division. This bridge over the Caen Canal (originally built in 1934) was replaced in 1994 with a more modern design but is on display (on land) at the Memorial Pegasus Museum.
The bridge was renamed to Pegasus Bridge in honor of the men of the 6th Division who wore the emblem of a winged horse on their sleeves. The taking of the Pegasus Bridge is another story featured in the movie The Longest Day.
Along with the Pegasus Bridge, here at the Memorial Pegasus you can also view the Bailey Bridge, learn more about the 6th Airborne Division, and see a full-size replica of a Horsa glider—the most widely used glider in World War II.
(The 6th Airborne Division used more than 300 of these unmanned gliders to transport troops, Jeeps, and equipment. Only one original Horsa glider still exists today and can be found at The Army Flying Museum in Middle Wallop, England.)
Why is Memorial Pegasus one of the must-see Normandy museums?
Visitors love Memorial Pegasus because:
- You can visit the original bridges and structures
- It covers both the operation and the personal stories behind it very well
- There’s a lot to see, both indoors and out
- It’s nice to learn about one of the lesser-known operations of D-Day and World War II
14. Memorial des Civils dans la Guerre (Falaise Memorial)
The Memorial des Civils dans la Guerre (known in English as the Civilians in Wartime Memorial, also known as the Falaise Memorial) is one of Normandy’s lesser-known museums, but I chose it because of its unique view of World War II. This museum focuses on what life was like for Normandy’s civilian population during the war—a topic not typically covered in Normandy’s D-Day museums.
At this museum you’ll learn about how civilians in Normandy lived during and survived World War II. It was designed by the Mémorial de Caen (see way above) and opened in 2016 making it another of Normandy’s newest WWII museums.
Each floor covers a different topic. They are:
Ground floor: The Immersive Room
According to the official museum website, the ground floor of this memorial features an “exceptional film [that will] plunge you into the hell of the Second World War bombings.” And if that’s not how you want to spend your vacation in France, I don’t know what is.
1st floor: Civilians and Liberation
Many of Normandy’s towns were destroyed by Allied bombing that preceding liberation (including 80% of the town of Falaise where this museum is located). This area explores the complex relationship between civilians and soldiers during that challenging time.
2nd floor: Civilian and the Occupation
This area aims to illustrate daily life of French citizens during the time of German occupation. It also covers topics of Norman resistance, Jewish persecution, and the exodus of 1940.
Why is the Falaise Memorial one of Normandy’s best museums?
Visitors love the Falaise Memorial because:
- Listening to locals relay their experiences of the war is incredibly moving
- It gives you a chance to understand what civilian life was like during this time, something not many people know about or fully appreciate
- The material is informative, yes, but also thought-provoking.
Before you head out to visit these amazing WWII museums in Normandy, watch these movies (and TV series), that were all based on real events, for an entertaining history refresher:
Saving Private Ryan
A U.S. Army captain must take his men behind enemy lines to find Private James Ryan whose three brothers have all been killed in combat. Set in Normandy on D-Day and the days following, known for its historical authenticity and its depiction of the Omaha Beach landing.
Stars Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Tom Sizemore, and directed by Steven Spielberg. Nominated for 11 Academy Awards, won five. (It’s such a great movie; I can’t recommend it enough!) Get Saving Private Ryan here on Amazon.
The Longest Day
Epic war film from 1962 that covers the actions of D-Day beginning a few days beforehand. The Longest Day covers many important events from D-Day such as the paratroopers landing in Saint-Mère-Église and the taking of the Pegasus Bridge as mentioned above, as well as beach landings, the assault on Pointe du Hoc, the attack on Ouistreham (location of Le Grand Bunker), and more.
Stars John Wayne, Richard Burton, Sean Connery, and many more famous names. Also stars several servicemen from the actual war like actor Richard Todd who was among the first British officers to land in Normandy and who also participated in the assault on Pegasus Bridge.
Nominated for five Academy Awards, won two including Best Special Effects and Best Cinematography. (Another awesome movie to show the stories you’ll learn about at these Normandy museums. I first saw it on my tour bus while visiting Normandy and it was incredible.) Get The Longest Day here on Amazon.
Band of Brothers
This 10-episode HBO miniseries is based on Stephen Ambrose’s non-fiction book of the same name. It follows the “Easy” Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division all the way from jump training in the U.S. to the beach landings in Normandy, to the end of World War II and the major European battles in between.
Stars David Schwimmer, Ron Livingston, Damian Lewis, Donnie Wahlberg, and tons more big names. Created and produced by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg—a winning combination if you ask me.
Nominated for 20 Primetime Emmy Awards, won seven plus and loads more exceptional awards. Far and away a must-watch! Get Band of Brothers here on Amazon.
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