As we road-tripped through France, the wine wasn’t the only thing fueling our agenda. During our 28-day tour of the country, we were on a mission to visit all of France’s best world war sites and attractions scattered throughout France. Due to our love of history, we sought out anything and everything related to both World Wars.
Touring France’s Best World War Sites and Attractions
The goal was to learn more about how both World Wars impacted the people and countries involved. We primarily used Rick Steves’ Whirlwind Three-Week Tour of France by Car as a rough guide to planning the itinerary, and we found a few of our own hidden gems along the way.
After tons of research and planning, we realized that the best way to tour France was by renting a car through one of the short-term lease buyback programs through Auto Europe. This is our guide to the best World War sites on our road trip around Normandy, France.
La Main de Massiges, Massiges, France
We stumbled on this outdoor museum by chance. La Main de Massiges is a memorial and archeological site where visitors can walk the trenches of WWI. The site provides an insight as to what life was like in the trenches. Real artifacts are still in place and are free to be touched and held. This is definitely one of France’s best World War sites.
Historical photos in the ruins provide visitors the chance to get a glimpse into what daily life was like. The site is eerily quiet and often free from other visitors. As late as 2014, excavators and volunteers are still finding the remains of soldiers buried beneath the rubble.
Oradour-sur-Glane Village, France
To us, this was the most shocking and disturbing WWII site that we encountered during our European travels. On June 10, 1944, 642 men, women, and children of the small French village of Oradour-sur-Glane were viciously massacred by Nazis. The charred remains of the village still stand as a memorial to all who died in this horrific event.
We walked around the rubble in stunned silence, getting a visual image of this war crime which historians claim still has no understandable motive. As this is the site of the worst Nazi massacre of civilians carried out on French soil, it surprising that this memorial is not better known throughout the world.
Oradour-sur-Glane was one of France’s best World War sites that we visited. Touring the village is free. The Interpretation Center has a small admittance fee.
This WWII location tells the story of an American paratrooper (from our home state of Illinois) who accidentally landed on this church’s tower. He played dead for two hours. Unfortunately, he was shot in the foot and captured by Nazi soldiers. He eventually escaped and continued the fight against the German forces. Today, a mannequin hangs from the place where he landed back on D-Day in 1944. An interesting and unexpected sight in the small village of Ste-Mére-Eglise.
* We recommend pairing it with the Airborne Museum, our vote for one of the best WWII museums in France. The admission cost is 8.00€ per adult.
D-Day Beaches, Normandy France
It’s hard to imagine the death and destruction that occurred on this beautiful piece of France’s northern coast back in 1944. Along the stretch of historical beaches, there are memorials, monuments, and bunkers that allow visitors to get a better understanding of the battles fought here. Pack a picnic lunch and take time to walk the sandy oceanfront to reflect on this significant part of WWII history.
Pointe du Hoc, Normandy France
Pointe du Hoc overlooks a cliff overlooking the English Channel. After scaling 100-foot cliffs, over 225 United States Army Rangers assaulted and took over this German strategic site. There are bunkers, underground tunnels, and a bomb-cratered landscape to explore
An interesting fact is that during the planning and training phases for this engagement, the teams practiced firing the grapnels with DRY rope. However, during the rough English Channel crossing, the ropes became soaked making them extremely heavy. When the Rangers initially fired the grapnels none of them made it to the top of the cliff. (Talk about having to overcome a huge problem at the worst moment!) Luckily, a few of the last ropes were dry enough to be fired to the top of the cliff. The rest is history.
Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial
No trip to France’s WWII sites is complete without paying respect to the American heroes at rest in the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. These soldiers bravely gave their lives to help liberate Europe from those damn Nazis. There is a good free museum insider the visitor center. It is worth exploring before walking around the beautiful grounds.
Have you had the opportunity to retrace the footsteps of some of history’s bravest heroes by visiting some of France’s best World War sites? If so, please feel free to share your experience in the comments section below.