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World War II tour

I want to put together a WW2 focused tour on which to take my 16 year old grandson. Since this is not my area of interest, I'd love some recommendations of what would be of the most interest to a teenager. Thanks.

Posted by
9110 posts

Burma, Okinawa, Russia, England, France, Germany, North Africa, Italy ....... How's about narrow it down a bit or we'll type ourselfs silly? :)

Posted by
32 posts

Good point! I guess I figured since it was Rick Steves' site..... I'm thinking Western Europe - Germany, France, Belgium, England. Ideas?

Posted by
403 posts

Well, the Imperial War Museum in London. The Cabinet War Rooms, also in London. The D Day beaches...Bayeux, Caen, St Lo, Omaha & Utah, etc. Coventry Cathedral in England...the modern cathedral stands adjacent to the burned out shell of the medieval one. Berlin, for obvious reasons, though most Nazi sites are buried or gone & a good walking tour is needed to make them come alive. Walk down the Champ Elysee from the Arc to the Tuleries, as US forces did August 25, 1944 as Paris was liberated. Perhaps between Paris and Berlin stop in Amsterdam and see the Resistance Museum, then go to Arnhem to see the "Bridge Too Far". All of these except maybe Arnhem, are places of interest to many people, not just WWII buffs.

Posted by
15346 posts

Why not recreate what most Americans went through: 1) Go to a small town in northern England. Spend much of the time chatting up the girls. 2) Hire a boat to take you from one of the ports in the south of England to Normandy where you'll disembark on Omaha Beach. While the soldiers were delayed by the Germans, you'll probably be delayed by the French police for entering France without going through passport control. 3) Head to Paris and march through the Arc de Triumph. 4) Head north to Bastogne in Belgium....make sure you mail your passport and money to your hotel in Bastogne rather than take it with you. You'll be stuck in Bastogne a few days without supplies until your stuff arrives. 5) March on towards Berlin. Seriously, how are you traveling? Car or train? This makes a difference. The key sites would be London (Imperial War Museum, Cabinet War Rooms), Normandy, Paris (Army museum), Berlin (numerous sites), and depending on how much time you had, you could head down to Berchtesgaden. Perhaps a concentration camp. There are books on the subject. Check your local library or book store. There may also be tour companies operating WWII themed tours.

Posted by
32 posts

Great ideas. We will have 10 days to 2 weeks, and while I normally take the train I think driving might be better for this tour - at least on the continent. Thanks.

Posted by
10344 posts

Yes, you'll want to do most of this tour by car. Your library probably has WW2 histories on CD for playing in the car on the long drives between battlefields. Or the right WW2 book on CD. Stops at the war cemeteries, of both sides, will give you time to remember the 60 million who died in this tragic chapter of world history. To fit WW2 into 10 to 14 days, you're going to have to make some choices. American combat operations began in Normandy so you could do the same. You could also bypass Paris, to the north, as you head for eastern Belgium and Bastogne. Then cross the Rhine at or near Remagen. And you could stop well short of Berlin, as did the American forces.

Posted by
15346 posts

Ten days to two weeks is not a lot of time. I would consider no more than London, Normandy, Paris and Berlin. And that would be pushing it. Forget the car. Trains and planes will save money. If this is your grandson's first trip to Europe, include more than just WWII sites and attractions.

Posted by
32982 posts

Judy I'm afraid that even after you have narrowed it down that you will need to narrow down a whole lot more to get what you want in 10 days. The Second World War was from 1939 to 1945 (well only from December 1941 for Americans) and in Europe it involved all of Europe except Ireland. To even get a tiny feeling of this in ten days you will need to be intensely focused. Just in and around London alone you could spend: Half to full day at Imperial War Museum Best part of a full day at Duxford air museum near Cambridge Several hours at the RAF museum at Hendon, North London A couple of hours at the Cabinet War Rooms A couple of hours at the Blitz Experience A good half day on HMS Belfast in the Pool of London Several hours at Chartwell, Winston Churchill's home, south of London in Kent
Several hours at Dover Castle in Dover, and exploring the tunnels and I could go on. Just last year I was on a tour of a WWII bunker at Biggin Hill Aerodrome. My wife reminds me that these are highly emotional experiences and some down time is required lest you are overwhelmed. In every country, in almost every city, in Europe there are plaques on buildings where people were rounded up, killed, or were resistance fighters, etc. I was just reminded that we have seen them in English, Dutch, French, Italian and German. Maybe take him to the memorial town in SW France which has been left exactly as it was on the day that every person in the town was murdered. ... its such a huge topic. Where do you start? If you don't focus tightly you'll not finish after thousands of miles and years and years... What about Concentration Camps? wow...

Posted by
2725 posts

What a wonderful trip. I too would start in London. The Cabinet War Rooms are fantastic underground and left just as they were during WW II. The Imperial War Museum is also very good and would definitely appeal to a teenager. Next I would go to Normandy. If you can do a guided tour of the area. It's expensive, but worth it if you can swing it. If you can't, do it on your own. I think it's best to have a car in Normandy, especially if you don't do a tour. With a two day tour, you could probably do it without a car. Make sure to see the beaches, the American Cemetary, Point du Hoc and Longues-sur-Mer and a couple of museums at the very least. I would skip Paris in the interest of time, or perhaps spend a day there. There really aren't many WW II sites there, though the museum in Invalides is very good. From there, you'll have time for one more place, two if you want to move very quickly. Bastogne, Belgium is the center of the Battle of the Bulge and an excellent choice. You can see the fox holes that Easy Company (from Band of Brothers) used. That's the end of my WW II experience in Europe. Others can advise you on sites in Germany or elsewhere. If you haven't already done so, I would suggest watching Band of Brothers before you go.

Posted by
2876 posts

All the sites listed are worthwhile, but for a 16-year-old I believe the maximum impact would be from the Cabinet War Rooms in London and the entire Omaha Beach area in Normandy, particularly the American cemetery. Another less-visited but very worthwhile site is the Battle of Britain Operations Room at Uxbridge, England, where you can see the RAF fighter control room preserved exactly as it was in 1940. I think it really evokes the feeling of the war. It's a bit out of the way, but the Battle of the Bulge museum in Bastogne, Belgium, is full of interesting artifacts & I think a 16-year-old would like it a lot.

Posted by
977 posts

And then there's the Allies Western Front sites. If you are interested in this area, I can give you the details of a brillliant full day tour of The Somme in we took in September.

Posted by
10344 posts

Somme has been mentioned, but that's WW1.

Posted by
9110 posts

What would be really neat, but would take some research to pull off is (from an American point of view) : Find somebody the kid can relate to (relative, guy down th street, etc) and preferably somebody who came across the beaches. Find out where this guy was in England, then retrace his entire footsteps to the end of the war (or where it ended for him). You'd probably have to settle for tracing the movements of a single division since anything smaller would be hard to track. Preferably it'd be an infantry division since those are the guys that win wars and wind up fighting with rocks and knives at times instead of lobbing artillery shells from a distance or sucking oxygen at twenty grand. Along the way you could pause at some of the other sites mentioned for perspective, but not concentrate on them. (The average grunt didn't give a whit about the cabinet war rooms - - he was wondering where his next jug of water and box of bullets was coming from.) Get the grandkid involved in the research and (especially if you're using an infantry outfit as the basis for the tour), make him walk a couple of dozen miles - - or even a couple of hundred if you're both up to it.

Posted by
1035 posts

Some great ideas. I have chased both world wars around Europe. Highlight for me was Normandy, not just the beaches, but some of the famous (and not so famous) inland sites. I think Paris has a lot more WWII history than it gets credit for; there are still reminders of the war if you know where to look for them. Paris Walks has a few tours that cover this (the Hemingway tour along with the WW II tour). You can stand in the spot of the infamous photo of Hitler with the Eiffel Tower in the background, see bullet holes in various buildings, see the window a sniper almost took out De Gaulle, see where the Battle for Paris ended, etc. I love standing under the Arc imagining the newsreel footage of the German tanks invading and then footage of the Liberation of Paris with De Gaulle boldly walking the Champs Elysee while Paris celebrated. I get goosebumps just thinking about it.

Posted by
1878 posts

I agree with Normandy, especially the American cemetery. My wife and I were there in 2003 and it's emotional even thinking about it. You absolutely need a car for Normandy. We skipped it because we were pressed for time, but there is a whole museum devoted to WWII in Caen, which Rick rates very highly. Normandy is also a very nice part of France to visit. Cabinet War rooms and Churchill Museum in London are great, I spent over two hours there earlier this year. Was in Dover in 2000, secret tunnels are interesting (as is Dover Castle, same admission though obviously not WWII related). The Documentation Center in Nuremburg covers the Nazi era in Germany including the holocaust, and nearby are the parade grounds where they held the Nazi rallies. Dachau in Munich is not too far from Nuremburg. All of that is very worth a visit, too.

Posted by
1986 posts

Looking for a "complete" WWII experience you would need to include Anne Frank's house and the concentration camps. Not sure if thats too serious for a 16 year old. This is a very broad subject Obvious answer to me is to ask your grandson. Probably Normandy Beaches (and for a historical perspective i would see Bayeaux tapestry) , Paris and then the Rhine (including Remagen)

Posted by
850 posts

There is so much to see relative to WWII and some really good suggestions. Is your grandson interested in any specific battles, countries or maybe a particular individual or units? If for example he was interested in the Band of Brothers he could touch on some of the places they went. They actually have Band of Brothers tours that start (or at least used to start in Toccoa, GA where they trained before leaving for Aldbourne, England and on to all of the places they fought. In Toccoa they now have the old stables that were used for sleeping quarters while in Aldbourne which were shipped over in pieces a few years ago. Also, a nice museum in Toccoa to visit. If he is a fan of BoB and gets a chance to come to Georgia he could visit the area and run Currahee. Three miles up, three miles down. I drove it a couple of times but had no desire to run it. If he has an interest in General George Patton, the cemetery in Hamm, Luxemboug is where he was buried. The majority of the men buried there were victims of the Battle of the Bulge. I would make it a point to go to Normandy and the D-Day beaches and especially the cemetery at Omaha beach. The rally grounds in Nuremburg as mentioned are worth a visit along with the documentation center. He can stand on the podium where Nazi officials addressed the troops during the rallies. The Eagles Nest Tour in Berchtesgaden with David and Christine Harper is the best tour I have taken during my visits to Europe. Maybe your grandson could let you know if there are a couple of specific things that really interest him more than others concerning WWII and concentrate your travels to those areas of interest. You have a number of good suggestions from everyone so hopefully you can tie together an efficient and interesting tour without pushing yourselves to see too much in light of your time constraints. He will want to go back one day and can concentrate on other areas of interest on future trips.

Posted by
1446 posts

And, this next year we are going to Bletchley in England (movie Enigma based on this site) - a museum addressing the code breaking that went on in WWII. Another spot to visit.

Posted by
12040 posts

The Royal Museum of Military History in Brussels has more material from the world wars than any other museum that I have seen. Half the museum is of limited interest to anyone except specialist studying the history of Belgian military uniforms, but the sections on the world wars are huge and include gear from every combatant nation. The rather small US military cemetery overlooking the beaches in Normandy is probably the most visited, but there are many other larger cemeteries scattered around Western Europe. Most of these receive only a tiny trickle of visitors. The day I visited the Normandy cemetery, I could barely find a parking space. The day I visited Epinal, I, my wife and the curator were the only people there. Here's the list: http://www.abmc.gov/cemeteries/cemeteries.php

Posted by
14580 posts

Judy, If your grandson wants to see WWII sites in England, France, Germany, Belgium, that's enough for one trip. You can add Austria, CZ, Hungary, and Poland to the next trip. I would suggest seeing the war museum in each of the capitals, as already suggested. Is there a particular piece of ordinance or aircraft he wants to see? Aside from London, depending on your time constraint, I would suggest the RAF Museum at Duxford, very doable from London as a day trip, and also the Tank Museum in Bovington, also doable as day trip...it's hugh, especially if he is interested in armour. In London there is a small RAF museum in Colindale (Tube stop in north London). If you are including Berlin on this trip, the Deutsches Historisches Museum on Unter den Linden features WWII with explanations in English next to the German. Take the S-Bahn to Berlin-Karlshorst to see the museum and site, where the Germans signed the surrender to the Russians after doing that with the Anglo-Americans in Reims, France. I saw building in Reims in 1984, very revealing and poignant. For France, as suggested above, see the D-Day museums in Caen and Bayeux, see the military cemeteries...poignant. In Paris (if you read French) you see numerous plaques on buildings that serve as memorials on WWII, esp., fusillé par les allemands...shot by the Germans In seeing the Army Museum in Paris (that's big) and Brussels, London (the Guards Museum and the National Army Museum), your grandson should think about how countries present their military history and their perspective on WWII. As far as picture-taking is concerned, only in London...I found...was that allowed, definitely not in Paris and Berlin with flash photography. In Vienna it was allowed but you had to pay extra for it, but still no flash. This first trip is just an overview. Are you going to Luxembourg too?

Posted by
32228 posts

Judy, I'm also very interested in WW-II history, and have visited various sites in Europe. Before offering suggestions, it might be prudent to ask your Grandson if there are any particular sites he's interested in, maybe as a result of specific movies (ie: Band of Brothers). With only 2-weeks (and keeping in mind you'll lose 2-days in travel), you'll need to choose carefully, which will limit how many locations you'll be able to visit. It might be a good idea to include a few "non-WWII" actvities as well. For transportation, I'd highly recommend using fast trains as much as possible, and rental cars for specific short term use. For tours of the D-Day beaches, I'd highly recommend taking a Guided day tour, as you'll learn more about the events and it will make the history "come alive". I can provide links if you're interested. With such a short time frame, I'd suggest focusing on three specific areas: > England: Imperial War Museum, Cabinet War Rooms, perhaps HMS Belfast or the Tank Museum at Bovington. > Normandy: this would be a good place to take a day tour! You could also rent a car for one day to tour specific sites that you're interested in. The Airborne Museum in St. Mere Eglise is great, and if time the Gun Batteries at Longues sur Mer, and of course the American Cemetery. > Germany: It would round out the tour to visit one of the Concentration Camps, and Dachau would be one to consider. You could also take a Third Reich walking tour to get some idea of the origins of the Nazi party. You could also visit Neuschwanstein. The Deutsches Museum would also be a good stop if you have time. Use open-jaw flights (into London, out from Munich). I wouldn't bother with Remagen on this tour, as you won't have time. Happy travels!

Posted by
32 posts

Thank you all so much. All these wonderful ideas will help me focus the trip. I will certainly talk to my grandson about some specifics as suggested as well.

Posted by
8975 posts

Ken had some great suggestions as did many others. My thoughts are that since you are going to be investing a large chunk of cash anyway just to get here, etc., make it really worthwhile by doing one of the tours on offer in the Bayeux area. You and your grandson will get so much out of this, enriching the experience for the both of you.. Going to Berlin and doing a 3rd Reich walking tour will magify and add valuable information to your trip. Berlin is close to 2 concentration camps, Sachsenhausen and Ravensbruck, which should be visited for the impact they present to anyone interested in WW2. Add in the Imperial War museum in London and you have 3 outstanding bases that will give a fascinating and balanced focus on this important time period in world history.

Posted by
375 posts

If anyone is exploring WWII sites in Bastogne, I would also recommend seeing the Musee National D'Histoire Militaire in Diekirch, Luxembourg. From the outside, at first glance it does not seem like it is very large, but inside it just keeps going and going. One of the things I like about this museum is that it does not overwhelm with explanations of battle strategies and maps with arrows representing troop movements. Rather, the exhibits represent the real-life experiences of the common people, with American, German, and civilian points of view. There are plenty of weapons, vehicles, and military equipment, but there is also an extensive collection of small artifacts with everthing from medical supplies to foods to very personal items. There are realistic life-sized dioramas based on actual photographs. This museum is perhaps not as well known as some of the others, but if you are in the area I believe it is worth seeing. Here is the website: www.nat-military-museum.lu I would also second Tom in Hessen's suggestion to visit some of the smaller military cemeteries. I am always overwhemed with a sense of gratitude and respect when we visit them. The lesser known ones are rarely crowded and you may have the opportunity to ask questions of the curator. Also try visiting a German military cemetery, for the comparison.

Posted by
2378 posts

I agree with you on renting car for the continent. There is a beautiful cemetery in St. Avold west of Paris on the way to Germany. Not crowded at all, I think over 10,000 Americans buried there. From there you are not very far from Dachau. I took my 16 year old on this tour and he was very impressed. We also watched several WW2 movies first. You might want him to do the same. Saving Private Ryan and definitely Band of Brothers. Someone also posted a great idea that grandson could connect with a veteran to get first hand knowledge of what it was like to serve in WW2. Maybe try your local VFW. Enjoy.

Posted by
2378 posts

Got directions wrong on previous post. St. Avold is going east from Paris on way to Germany.

Posted by
1035 posts

"....and definitely Band of Brothers." I have never watched a better dramatic TV series than the BOB. It does such a nice job following a unit from training in the US, to training in England, dropping into Normandy and again into Holland, their remarkable exploits in the Battle of the Bulge and then on to Germany and finally climbing to the Eagles Nest on VE day. If your grandson hasn't seen BOB, it is a great primer to the European theatre. Most of all, it gives a human face to the sacrifices made by the heroic citizen soldiers of WW II (and still be made by our service men and women today).

Posted by
32228 posts

Judy, If your Son is interested in Band of Brothers sites, one place that's a bit "off the radar" is the small Church at Angoville au Plain, where two Medics with the 101st Airborne distinguished themselves. Have a look at This website for more details. I visited the site with a BattleBus tour, and according to the Guide, of the ~80 people they treated (not only U.S. troops but also German troops and civilians), they only lost one. One of the wooden Pews still shows evidence of that time. They had one rule that they strictly enforced on all who entered the Church - NO WEAPONS. If your Son has seen The Longest Day (still one of the best IMO, although it's a bit "dated"), you'll notice that Pvt. John Steele is STILL hanging on the Bell Tower! Be sure to have a close look at the stained glass windows in the Church, which depict more than religious figures. Cheers!

Posted by
850 posts

Brecourt Manor which is where Dick Winters and some of his men took out the big guns that were shelling the causeway leading from Utah Beach on June 6 is close by and there is a monument to Easy company as you enter the little road going by the Manor. Plans are on to establish a staute of Winters in Ste Marie-du-Mont representing all army officers who were responisble for leading their men into combat in Normandy on D-Day. Apparently the project will not be finished until late 2011 or early 2012. They are also going to do a documentary film that will focus on Lt. Winters' and his leadership abilities in Europe and will have interviews with Easy company men who are still alive today and with Major Winters. It will air on a national cable channel but no dates given as yet. The staute probably will not be finished when you take your grandson but maybe the film will air before you go.

Posted by
9424 posts

Just wanted to add that we thought the WWII museum in Bayeux was the best one in Normandy. The one at the American Cemetery is also very good. We didn't like the one in Caen. In Normandy, I'd recommend staying in Bayeux. We've stayed at Hotel D'Argouge many times and love it. It's in RS France guide.