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Best World War 1 and WWII Sights

Hi -
We are traveling to Amsterdam, Belgium, and then to England starting 9/15/14. (total trip 15 days). I like military history and would like to spend two - three days in Belgium looking at battlefields and museums. Some ideas are: Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917 (Zonnebeke), Bastogne, Ypres.

We are traveling from Amsterdam and I assume we will need to rent a car. I would appreciate advice on what other readers of this forum have included on similar trips. Over the years we have received wonderful advice from very nice people on these forums.

Our thought is to go to Ostend and take a boat to England, so we would like to end our stay in Belgium in that area.

Thank you in advance.

Bill

Posted by
10344 posts

Bill, we can give you better and more specific advice, if you clarify whether this is your first trip to these locations, or whether you have previously seen some WW1 and WW2 sights at these locations?

Posted by
13000 posts

Hi,

If you were going to include northern France (which I've visited extensively) in the search for WW I sites, I could suggest a number of places....Beauvais, Arras, (and surrounding countryside), Compiegne, Cambrai, Vimy, Neuville St. Vlaast, Amiens, Albert, Peronne, etc, ie, in the Somme area and Nord Pas-de-Calais.

Posted by
12040 posts

The Royal Musuem of Military History in Brussels has a massive collection of material from both world wars, bigger than any I've seen elsewhere. About half the museum is devoted to these two conflicts, the other half is less interesting, unless you just can't get enough of 19th century Belgian weapons and uniforms.

Posted by
135 posts

Hi

I'm very interested in all the battles that took place in western Belgium and northern France and I've visited many sites and towns over weekends. WW1 and WW2 are the obvious wars that have left the most evidence behind for you to see, but that zone has been fought over since Roman times, and there are too many wars and battlefields to mention, that are older than the 20th century! As just one example, see Franco-Flemish wars . Many of the very picturesque border towns between France and Belgium near the coast have the remains of Vauban (or earlier) fortifications - see Fortified Places for loads of detail.

Back to your main question though - one very interesting site to consult as a compendium is Traces Of War. Secondly, be very aware that of all the places you mention, Bastogne (indeed the whole Battle of the Ardennes region) is very far to the east of Belgium; I'd seriously replan your route and timings if you want to see that battlefield on this trip.

Do your homework about crossing to the UK from Ostend, as opposed to Calais - there are many more crossings from Calais, they're shorter, and likely cheaper too. If you were to travel to the UK via Calais, then one famous medieval site you could consider visiting is Agincourt (or Azincourt, as the French call it). There is a great little museum there - the battlefield itself is, as you might expect after 600 years, farming fields. But worth a lunch stop.

Also close to Calais are very extensive WW2 German V2 and V3 (!) sites, now very interesting on-site museums. See Eperlecques, Mimoyecques and Helfaut-La Coupole . All are less-well known military history tourist gems.

As you can see, there are enough sites and museums to take up a lifetime - you just need to decide what most interests you!

Enjoy!

Posted by
100 posts

I was in Bruges last week and spent a day exploring the towns on the North Sea coast using the Kosttram, which is great. Included in my day was the Atlantic Wall, which the Germans used in both WWI and II. This should be on your intinerary.

Posted by
13000 posts

@ Mark G....Yes, those battles in the 1600s. I know what you mean. Go to Rocroi near the Belgian border, the battle that established French military supremacy (with a pause after Waterloo) until it was dashed for good at Sedan, also close to the Belgian border. At the Chateau of Versailles at the Battle Gallerie there's a painting depicting that victory at Rocroi. Of course, no painting for Leipzig, Waterloo or Sedan.

As you were at Agincourt, that's very close to Arras. I heartily suggest you visit that city, spend a week or so, which includes day trips to surrounding areas esp if your focus is on WW 1. The hotel de ville has the ground floor serve as a tourist office....lots and lots of historical sites in this connection, some of them I wrote above..

Posted by
1684 posts

Like to add the follow:

About WOI in The Netherlands is of interest Huis Doorn east of Utrecht, where former emperor Wilhelm II lived in exile till his death. The place remained in the orginale state, absolutely worth a visit, enthousiast guides.

Overlooked and hardly known is the WOII Battle of the Scheldt in the Delta Region of The Netherlands. The loss of the logistical vital port of Antwerp and the Scheldt Estuary for the Germans was one of the main reasons that leaded to the Battle of the Bulge. However there are just little museums dedicated to it, so it’s more fore those really interested and looking for a comprehensive idea about this stage of the invasion by the Allies. This operation was done by the Canadian, British and Polish armies.

dgnagle4 - You mean Ostend (Oostende) where you can visit the Atlantik Wall, lots of tunnels, trenches and completely fit up bunkers. As far as I know there are no more passenger ferries between Ostend and the UK. There is one between nearby Zeebrugge and Hull, but expensive. Like Mark G stated is Calais the place for crossings to the UK.

Ironical, now with the 100 year commemoration the WOI section of the Royal Museum of Military History in Brussels is closed for renovation! Hard to believe, but it’s a fact. However there is a very interesting ’14-’18 exhibition, with an interesting explanation about the lead up to this conflict from a general and more specific Belgian point of view. The unique material of the permanent exhibition however is stored elsewhere during the period of renovation.

France - Like Mark already says, both La Coupole near St. Omer and Blockhaus near Éperlecques are highly to recommend as well as the superguns of Mimoyecques, where also inside a little memorial of Joseph Kennedy, JFK’s elderly brother. More west Musée du Mur de l’Atlantique / Batterie Todt with unique K5 railway gun.

Dunkerque for museum about Operation Dynamo. Nearby Gravelines, one of the fortified places by Vauban.

U-boat bases along the French Atlantic coast like the one of Saint-Nazaire.

Fortifications of the Maginot Line like Fort Hackenberg.

Musée de la Grande Guerre in Meaux near Paris. Also absolutely worth to visit, the visit begins with the explanation of the lead up to the conflict, here more specificaly the political, military and economical tensions between France and Germany since 1870. Musée de l’Armee in Paris.

Not to forget Verdun. West of Verdun, the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetry

Posted by
13000 posts

Yes, I had forgotten that WW 1 Museum in Meaux, accessible from Paris by train, unlike the big WW 1 Museum in Peronne, which you cannot go to by train. There is also the U-boat pens in Lorient...still there,

Posted by
65 posts

Thanks everyone!
To answer your post, Kent, previously we have been to the Normandy beaches, Caen WWII Museum, and then to the Falaise pocket. Also, in London we have been to Churchill's war room museum. Also, we stopped at Dunkirk once. That is all.

I am very grateful for all the good information everyone sent, we will study it all carefully. I want to mention specifically the information about the ferry to England was helpful. After I have had a chance to study all these answers I'll reply again.

Bill

Posted by
1684 posts

dgnagle4 - How was your “Day trip from Bruges to Shoreline” and did the Atlantikwall near Ostend met expectations? I'm curious!

Posted by
3 posts

I'm just back from a WWI tour - Paris, Reims, Arras, and Ieper as the central sites, then visiting numerous places from there. My favourite areas had to be around Ieper, and Arras. I went in to Arras not expecting to like it, but really did. Great access to a number of battlefields and sites. Loved Ieper, can't wait to go back. Learn some Dutch/Flemish, as I did actually hear a person at the visitor centre strongly but nicely expressing that they don't speak French. And spell it as Ieper, as Ypres isn't used. I'd like to change all of our textbooks! Practice your mercis and s'il vous plaits for France. :)

Honestly, you'd need a car. However, driving over there is decent, and reasonably clear. Get a new GPS with current European maps. Buy a few of the guidebooks for war sites. They tend to be well marked, but are often tiny little roads that you think couldn't possibly be correct.

I went to the Passchendaele museum, it was fine but not brilliant. Some of the smaller, private museums, tend to be better. Do visit at least one of the large American cemeteries - they don't quite give you the history the way the smaller Commonwealth ones do, but for sheer impact it's well worth it.

Posted by
13000 posts

" I went to Arras not expecting to like it." Alot of WW I history can be seen and is located in the Arras area, the huge British WW I cemetery at the edge of town, takes a bit over one hour to walk it from the train station. Arras was the General HQ for the BEF. Yes, you do need a car to get the most out seeing the war sites outside the city of Arras such as going to Vimy and Neuville St Vlaast. Over the various trips since 1995 I've spent numerous days tracking these sites down. Hopefully, you went to the city hall in Arras which on the ground floor serves as a tourist office where the broshures on the war sites are available.

Posted by
3 posts

I highly recommend visiting the Town Hall in Arras, and doing both the tour of the tunnels, and going up the belfry. The view is lovely, of both the Grand and Petit Places, and they give some excellent history in the tunnels. There are also some splendid bakeries. :)

It does make an excellent jumping off point, especially for later in the war. My great-great uncle is actually buried around 10km away from Arras, having been killed breaking the D-Q Line.