My travel to Cherbourg was part of a tour of D-Day sites around the French province of Normandy. As we studied the landings of Utah Beach and Omaha Beach, we learned that the key port city of Cherbourg was a secondary objective. Once the Allies had secured the front on the beaches, American forces drove west to the Cotentin Peninsula and eventually captured the city from a determined but disorganized German resistance.
In the limited time we had at Cherbourg, I had a very difficult time detecting where the original WWII-vintage Cherbourg was. There seemed to be little of it left, replaced by modern structures and a huge and beautiful marina (first photograph) that must have had more sail and motorboats than there were residents in the city. Indeed, the character of Cherbourg has changed in the past half-century. Formerly one of the major commercial ports in northern France, Cherbourg became more of a passenger port-of-call between France and England. This was not to say that Cherbourg didn't have plenty enough points of interest. I would suggest that the best plan was to arrive at Cherbourg by ferry, stay the night and enjoy the sights, then head off to see the rest of Normandy.
The lion's share of the attractions were around Cherbourg's massive marina and park. During the summer, festivals ran regularly in the Plage Verte ("Green Park"), whose entrance was graced by the Napoleon Monument shown in the second picture. They had such a festival going while I was there (evidenced by the massive yellow balloon arch in the background), though it hadn't yet opened by the time I had to leave. Instead, I spent the warm sunny morning strolling along the walkways by the marina. The first photograph was taken along a walking path (the Quai D'Artimont) along one side with stairs leading down to each dock. On the opposite side, a similar walking path led me out to the end of the Port de Plaisance where I could watch the boats go in and out from the sea. On the opposite side of the port were a Yacht Club for the serious yachtsmen (of which I am not), and a new city attraction called the "City of the Sea." This was a beautiful maritime museum with plenty of exhibits on ships and submarines along with a fair history of Cherbourg herself. I could only give it a cursory look, but it looked like it was well worth spending some time.
I returned across the Port and paid a visit to the downtown, stretching inland along the Avant Port, a very wide canal that cut well inland, practically bisecting the town. Its port side had many of Cherbourg's best restaurants and pubs, with the nearby streets containing the best of the shopping. The City Theater, shown in the third photograph, was a block away at the Place de Verdun, the fountained plaza shown. The City Theater was one of the few original buildings that survived the Second World War, and as the picture shows it has been beautifully restored. Close by the Theater was the Cherbourg Cathedral, shown in the fourth photograph. The Cathedral looked reconstructed, as it had the traditional buttresses but certainly lacked the impressive spires of other Cathedrals in the region, but it was beautiful nonetheless.
The one attraction I was able to see but not visit was the Fort du Roule, a huge blockish red-brick fortress perched on the Point de Vue on the mountains overlooking the city. I went inland from the Avant Port past the "Swing Bridge" to the Bassin du Commerce, the inland commercial canal, before I realized the Fort was simply too far away. The information I had indicated that the Fort offered a great view of the port, while also serving as home to the city's Museum of the Liberation, its dedication to World War II.
Cherbourg is not that big a place, but it is bigger than it used to be. My visit there was only a year or so after the city merged with the adjacent city of Octeville, reflected now in all the city's materials (including its website, which is also in English and German). Still, I can't say it was all that much of a tourism destination for me. Our World War II tour guides were able to describe the battle to us, but so much of the city has changed it was much harder to visualize the scene the way one could in places such as Sainte-Mere-Eglise off Utah Beach. Plus, I enjoyed other nearby locations like Caen and Bayeux much more. However, with a port capacity of over 10,000 boats, those wanting to get out sailing will probably find Cherbourg-Octeville to be a wonderful place to go!
Trip Taken 2-3 June 2002 -- Last Updated 04 October 2006 -- (C) 2006 Tom Galvin