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Will be in Bruges for the day with my 14 year old son - any World War 2 history?

Hi there,

I will be in Bruges for the day and will be staying over. I wondered if there's any interesting World War 2 monuments or museums in the area? What are the top attractions related to history for a man and his teenage son for the day/evening?

Thanks for any suggestions.

Posted by
12040 posts

The only thing I can think of in the region is a Canadian war cemetery related to the Battle of the Schledt Estuary, but this is well outside of the city. Unlike WWI, West Flanders saw very little action during WWII.

Posted by
16091 posts

Tom is spot on.
Brugge suffered no damage and saw little action during either WWI or WWII, which are just a couple of the reasons it's more well preserved than some other very old European cities. But it's far from short of history to explore! I might recommend attractions which are unique to the city, to specific eras, and/or important to the Brugge story? Here are a few favorites:

Sint-Janshospitaal:
https://www.visitbruges.be/en/sint-janshospitaal-saint-johns-hospital

Ten Wijngaarde Beguinage:
https://www.visitbruges.be/en/begijnhof-beguinage

Jeruzalemkapel:
https://www.visitbruges.be/en/jeruzalemkapel-brugge-jerusalem-chapel

Basilica of the Holy Blood:
https://www.visitbruges.be/en/basiliek-van-het-heilig-bloed-basilica-of-the-holy-blood

And, of course, there are all the historic buildings around the Markt and Burg:
https://www.visitbruges.be/en/burg
https://www.visitbruges.be/en/markt

There is a lot to choose from so take a browse though the rest of the website for attractions which may especially appeal to you? Keep in mind that Medieval religious and political life was once deeply entwined so the oldest of the churches are very important to the history. If you're interested at all in Flemish art, well, that's a subject that could take another couple of posts but you'll see some excellent examples at Sint-Janshospitaal!

https://www.visitbruges.be/en

Posted by
8293 posts

Yes, the Beguinage, though I am not sure a 14 year old would find it as fascinating I did.

Posted by
12040 posts

The only major action that took place in Belgium during WW2 (apart from evacuation of troops in june 40) is in the Ardennes. something about nuts...

Not true at all, unless you only refer to the US involvement. The initial German invasion of the west occurred through eastern Belgium, although there's virtually no memorials of any kind. And as noted above, Canadians fought a long, hard slog to clear the Scheldt estuary, although events elsewhere overshadowed their efforts.

Belgium's cities, with the notable exceptions of Antwerp and Liege, escaped most of the worst destruction of the war.

Posted by
7555 posts

Most people are not willing to give up a day in Bruges. But it's easy to get to Oostende on the train (or maybe your ferry ??? lands nearer there, or on the coastal tram line), which might have something you want:
https://cheeseweb.eu/2014/01/visiting-atlantic-wall-museum-oostende-belgium/

While I have been to Oostende, I did not go for that museum and haven't seen it. I am not slamming Oostende, but it is dramatically less attractive than Bruges (!), unless it's a hot summer day and you want some beach time. I'm sure there is as much beer in both cities. There is a casino in Oostende, but it might only be open at night. I couldn't get inside the day I went (on a daytrip.)

I agree that many Belgian cities have a plaque thanking the Canadian regiment that liberated them. In Brussels it's in the Cathedral, in Antwerp it's on the exterior of the Steen castle. The various liberation days are still celebrated.

Posted by
920 posts

I'm going to say this, and you can throw tomatoes at me if you want. Just take these as questions that could apply to many a place in Europe.

Why the need to force a particular topic (WWII history) onto a particular town? Why not enjoy learning about the period of history during which the town flourished? Climb the clocktower. Take a boat tour (and be impressed by the fact that your guide can speak 5 languages), eat frites, go look at the windmills. Learn something new that has nothing to do with a particular niche topic. They don't have to go to a lace-making demonstration, but there's plenty else to do that has nothing to do with WWII.

Posted by
7710 posts

You can go and see Michelangelo's "Madonna of Bruges" and comment that it was the stolen by the Germans during WW2. (and Napoleon for that matter)

Posted by
2019 posts

Tom – Think what you mention is the Canadian cemetery along the old N9 road to Ghent some 20km east of Bruges, but there is no bus stop nearby as far as I know so hard to get there.

It would be easy if there was a big museum about The Battle of the Scheldt north of Bruges, the battle that made the vital seaport of Antwerp operational. But reality is there are only a bunch of smaller private museums who are not so easy to reach from Bruges with public transport. The Canadian government is willing to pay more attention to this battle but I think there is a long way to go before a serious museum or memorial will de realised.

As Tim already remarks, the only serious museum in the neigbourhood about WWII is the Atlantik Wall museum in Oostend(e). Just take one of the frequent trains to Oostend(e) railway station and from there the coastal tram to stop Raversijde Domein Raversijde, traveling time about 1 hour. Besides intact bunkers (with complete interiors) and trenches there is also an original Enigma machine to see. At the north side of the harbour there are also remains of the Atlantik Wall but not open to public, you can get there with a free passenger ferry.
There is also a tall ship in Oostend(e) to visit not too far away from the train station.

Really spectacular are the two former V2 bases (La Coupole and Le Blockhaus) around St-Omer in Northern France, but you need a car for that. Think about two hours driving from Bruges to get there.

http://www.lacoupole-france.co.uk/
http://www.leblockhaus.com/en/

Posted by
7555 posts

Well, Rachel, I often think that posters here think the only important place in France outside Paris is the D-Day Beaches! But in this case you're talking to someone from the U.K., which had a much more direct experience with WW II than did much of the physical United States. The OP could have said that (if it's true) the 14-year old is interested in that period of history, but we don't know the reason for the question. Unlike Americans, they have probably been to the Continent many times, and are better traveled than the average American (excluding Rick Steves readers, of course.)

I have been as guilty as anyone else of telling posters here about something they didn't ask about! So I am not throwing tomatoes at you. I gave raindrophobnob a pass on this one.