Bayeux, France, is a small, ancient town near the coast of Normandy. It offers cobblestone lanes, world-famous art, the peaceful River Aure with its waterwheels, and mouthwatering local cuisine. What’s more, you can easily visit the D-Day beaches from Bayeux -- they’re only a few miles away from the town.
A short train ride from Paris, Bayeux makes for a fascinating day trip from the big city. Bayeux has something for every type of traveler, so there’s no doubt you’ll enjoy a memorable day.
Here are some of the best ways to spend a day in Bayeux.
Relax In The Old Town
When you arrive in Bayeux, what you’ll notice first is that the medieval town is astonishingly well preserved. Its narrow, winding streets and half-timbered homes and businesses will transport you hundreds of years back in time.
The preservation of Bayeux is even more remarkable considering that it’s located only 6 miles inland from the nearest D-Day landing beach. Bombs devastated towns all over Normandy during World War II, but somehow this gem survived.
My tour guide told us of an event that took place on the evening of the Allied landing on June 6, 1944. A priest from Bayeux risked his life to get to the beach and meet with the Allies. The soldiers, after fighting to gain about a mile of the shore that day, were recuperating as darkness fell, but they would be pressing inland the next day.
The priest knew that Bayeux lay in their path and that they would certainly bomb and damage his beloved city. He informed the Allies that the Germans had already quietly left Bayeux, and he begged them not to bombard the city. The next day Bayeux, unscathed by battle, became the first French town to be liberated.
Take time to enjoy a coffee and pastry or lunch at a sidewalk cafe and revel in this tranquil place, with its steepled skyline and stone buildings hundreds of years old.
See The Bayeux Tapestry
The Bayeux Tapestry, now included on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register, is the reason many visitors make their way to Bayeux. More than 900 years old, this work of embroidery is almost 230 feet in length and 20 inches high. The tapestry is the largest and best-preserved work of art in this style from the Middle Ages.
Detailed scenes depict the victories of William the Conqueror, who became the king of England in 1066 after the Battle of Hastings. In addition to battle scenes, the wool threads woven in linen cloth portray scenes from medieval daily life. I found the horses of different shades of threads most impressive, as well as the sailing ships filled with soldiers.
The survival of a tapestry this old is a true miracle. For centuries, it was on display at the Bayeux Cathedral. During World War II, Hitler ordered it hidden. In 1944, the tapestry was sent to the Louvre in Paris for safekeeping. It’s now back in Bayeux and is displayed in the Bayeux Tapestry Museum. The viewing area is darkened, with only the tapestry lit up so that it can be seen up close and clearly. Your ticket includes an audio guide in your language. You move along the glassed-in tapestry as you hear the story it portrays.
After looking at the tapestry, spend some time in the permanent exhibition area and learn more about the creation of the art as well as the historical context of the scenes.
Visit The Bayeux Cathedral
The towering cathedral that dominates the skyline of Bayeux dates to 1077, and it was consecrated in the presence of William the Conqueror. Built in the Norman Romanesque style, it was damaged by fire and rebuilt with Gothic elements.
The outside of this historic cathedral shows its age, but the inside has been lovingly restored. I found the stained glass windows especially bright and colorful. Some of the windows are clear, letting in more light than windows in similar cathedrals. It’s worth taking a few minutes to go inside. And if you’re particularly interested in cathedrals, take advantage of the tours given daily.
Pay Your Respects At The Bayeux War Cemetery
The Bayeux War Cemetery is a large, beautiful cemetery for Commonwealth soldiers who died in France during World War II, mostly in the Normandy area. More than 4,000 men rest here, and you can visit and honor their memory.
Note that the British have long memories. Here’s the inscription on the memorial in this cemetery: “We, once conquered by William, have now set free the Conqueror’s native land.”
If you visit the Bayeux Tapestry earlier in the day, this summary of hundreds of years of history will tie together your day’s sightseeing.
Learn About The Invasion Of Normandy
The excellent Memorial Museum of the Battle of Normandy is directly across the street from the cemetery. It presents in chronological order the events of the battle for Normandy, starting with the D-Day landings and continuing through that summer of 1944. You’ll find quite a collection of tanks and other vehicles and numerous items from World War II both inside and outdoors.
When I visited, I noticed several photos from the liberation of Normandy that featured children and their parents. Look for these as you tour the museum. They are a reminder that the war affected not just the soldiers but also countless civilians. The interactions between the liberators and the little ones are especially touching.
Allow an hour (or two if you are a history buff) to peruse the exhibits.
Immerse Yourself In History At Omaha Beach
If you’re taking a day trip to Bayeux, you can experience a D-Day beach by heading to Omaha Beach at Colleville-sur-Mer. The museum there is informative and easy to take in in an hour or less. You can walk above the landing beach at Omaha and understand the lay of the land, with its high bluffs that sheltered the Germans from the Allies.
A highlight of any visit to Omaha Beach is the peaceful cemetery, the final resting place of almost 10,000 American soldiers who gave their lives in the battle for Normandy. The rows and rows of graves will move you beyond words.
Tip: If you’ve come by train and don’t have a car, you can take Bus 70 to Omaha Beach. It’s a 20-minute ride.
Another option is to visit Gold Beach at Arromanches, also near Bayeux. Here you can see the large cement mulberry harbors still submerged in the water. A small but informative museum is at this beach, and you can learn about the engineering feat that resulted in this portable harbor.
Eating And Drinking In Bayeux
The Normandy countryside is full of farms and cattle, and the produce and dairy are fantastic. Cheeses are a specialty of the area, and I’ve read of people taking butter home on the plane -- it’s just that good. Then there’s the fresh fish from the little villages in the area. Add the boulangeries with their breads and pastries, and you are in foodie heaven!
Here are the restaurants in the heart of town that I highly recommend.
Au Georges VII
This sidewalk cafe serves a tasty breakfast, and you can sit inside or outside and watch people go by as you sip your latte.
For dinner, my first choice is Le Marsala, located in what I believe was once a farmhouse with stone walls and a wooden stairway to the upper level. The vegetarian lasagna is amazing.
La Table Du Terroir
La Table du Terroir in the heart of the Old Town serves delicious seafood. Sit on the patio if the weather is warm.
Where To Stay In Bayeux
Bayeux has a limited number of hotels, since the town is quite small. If you have a car, you could choose a bed and breakfast in the countryside.
My favorite hotel is Churchill Hotel on the main street in the heart of the city. Decorated in rich reds, the hotel is warm and welcoming. Ask at the front desk for recommendations for dinner or book a day tour in Normandy. You’ll be able to walk anywhere in town from here. Breakfast is served in the sunny day room, and parking is free.
Tip: Parking can be tricky in Bayeux. If you drive here, look for public parking lots, but beware that some of them close in the early evening. You may have to move your car to another lot. I found that the best way to figure out the parking is to ask a local to point you to a good lot.
Once you park your car, you will likely not need to drive until you leave Bayeux. The town and the major sites are all within a comfortable walking distance.
A trip to Bayeux will fill you with good memories. And digging into the historic events that took place here will give you much food for thought, too.