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WW1 and WW2 sites in Belgium and Eastern France

We will be driving in Belgium and eastern France in a few weeks and are wondering if anyone has advice on the locations they appreciated most in those areas. We're looking at the Flanders/Ypres, Verdun, and Bastogne areas. We're not sure how much time the itinerary will permit, so are trying to prioritize which we want to make sure to visit. Any input would be appreciated in terms of what to see, where to allot the most time, not to be missed, etc. Thanks.

Posted by
12040 posts

With a car, you can get a good overview of the war-related sites around Ypres in about a day. If you want to visit some of the less-visited US cemeteries (besides the obvious choice in St. Laurent overlooking the English Channel that everyone knows about), check out this website: http://www.abmc.gov/cemeteries/index.php

Posted by
331 posts

The bunkers at Camp Marguerre near Verdun are worth a visit in my opinion. The Blockhaus d'Eperlecques just south of Calais is also very moving, a fee is charged however. Check them out on the internet as if memory serves me right Camp Marguerre is closed on Mondays.

Posted by
893 posts

The only one of those I have been to is Verdun and I highly recommend it. We had allotted only 1/2 day to it, stayed longer and wished we'd allotted a whole day. Fort Douaumont and L'Oussuaire (I think I butchered that spelling) are not to be missed. The movie at the Ossuary is quite moving. If you get out of your car and walk around, you can see still-standing shelters, parts of trenches, and a ton of little markers and memorials. Skip the Citadelle unless you have younger children with you.

Posted by
408 posts

I really enjoyed Bastogne. We spent 2 nights at the Best Western and had a private guide that grew up in Bastogne during WWII. His name is Henry Mignon. His niece owns the Best Western in town. I also spent 5 nights in Bayeaux and loved it. We took 2 Battle bus tours that were wonderful. The Band of Brother's tour and the American Experience Tour with Dale. I highly recommend using a guide for the Normandy area. We also spent one night in Mont St. Michael, and one night in Honfluer.

Posted by
2744 posts

Verdun is really nice and interesting to tour. Stop at the tourist office in town to get a map. The drive to all the major sights is quite easy, and the countryside is pretty. We really enjoyed Forts Douaumont and Vaux and the Ossuary, as well as the Trench of the Bayonets and some of the cemetaries. We spent a litte over half a day and felt that we saw quite a lot. You could easily spend a full day. Bastogne is also a nice trip. The town is nice and the surrounding area is beautiful. We too had booked a tour with Henri Mignon, but he got sick, so we toured on our own. Our favorite thing was seeing the foxholes that Easy Company used, which are not far outside Bastogne. We drove down to Diekirch, Luxembourg to see their museum on the Battle of the Bulge. It's only about 40 minutes from Bastogne, and it's excellent. The museum in Bastogne is also good. We also saw the American Cemetary in Hamm, just south of Luxembourg City. It's where Patton is buried. Very moving. We spent three nights in Bastogne, which gave us two full days to tour around. It seemed about right, but I'm sure you could spend more time. I have not been to Flanders or Ypres.

Posted by
263 posts

Lauren, A few years ago we went to the Museum of the Great War in Peronne, France. It was just WWI, but it was a good stop to see what the Great War was like. I agree with posters about Verdun and Ft. Douamont....definite do not miss sights and worth the entrance fee to explore the fort. You might to some research on Thiepval, where there is a memorial to 75,000 troops who are unidentified and buried there. A small museum shows men who disappeared and were believed to have died there. Another area with a well preserved trench section and a memorial to New Foundland and Canadian troops was at Beaumont Hamel. I found the numbers of those who died in battles in WWI to be overwhelming. Bastogne was also a good site for the museum and memorial. Hope that helps

Posted by
440 posts

Hi Lauren. We were in the Somme area of France a few years ago, and I would strongly recommend visiting Vimy Ridge and Beaumont-Hamel, near Arras. If you're traveling from Ypres to Verdun, it's on the way. Vimy Ridge is the "mecca" for Canadians who wish to honour and visit WW1 battlefields, and Beaumont-Hamel is the battlefield where the brave Newfoundlanders fought, and lost, against the Germans. Both sites have preserved the trenches and mortar craters from the war, and have very good guides and museums. VR also has an area where you can tour the tunnels -- very worthwhile, and very moving.

Posted by
12040 posts

I forgot to mention this. The Royal Museum of Military History in Brussels has a huge collection of material from both world wars, encompassing nearly every combatant nation. Half of the museum consists mostly of historical Belgian military uniforms (probably of interest only to a specialist), but the section on the world wars is huge and very comprehensive.

Posted by
893 posts

One thing I wanted to add - if you go to Verdun, and are willing to drive a bit, you can get to the Museum of the Surrender in Reims. They've preserved the room where Germany signed unconditional surrender in WWII. The museum is small, but contains a good amount of WWII memorabilia, including giant maps that were used to mark the fronts and movements of troops and supplies. We were surprised at how it was essentially an English museum.

Posted by
162 posts

The "In Flander Fields" museum in Ypres ( Ieper) is excellent. Also the gate and ramparts of the town are good to see. Nearby are lots of WW1 cemeteries and you can also find intact trenches. My family found all this very interesting.

Posted by
39 posts

For an easy and relatively quick experience in Alsace, go to the village of Marckolsheim, which is just off the Rhine River, about 20-30 minutes north/northeast of Colmar (about an hour south of Strasbourg). There is a neat exhibit on the Maginot Line there that you can explore.

Posted by
2397 posts

For WWII cemetery, you can visit St. Avold not too far a drive from Strasbourg, I think it has the largest numbers of men buried there who were KIA in WWII. You can also look for information on cemeteries on the American Military Commission site. Hopefully someone else will see this post and see if I am correct on that site as I can't remember the exact name. Good luck.

Posted by
188 posts

I believe an earlier poster recommended Ypres and the In Flanders Field Museum. I would heartily second that recommendation. The museum is excellent and well laid out. The day we were there (last summer), there was a temporary exhibit about the thousands of Chinese laborers who were imported by the Allies to work on road, railroad, war debris removal tasks. While in Ypres, I would also recommend a side trip to Tyne Cot Cemetary, the largest Commonwealth Cemetary in the world. The remains of 12,000 Australian, New Zealand, and British troops (plus 4 Germans) are there. There is also a marble wall inscribed with the names of 35,000 Commonwealth troops whose remains have never been found. A very moving and haunting place that I don't think I'll ever forget.

Posted by
141 posts

I rented a car last September and drove to Bastogne. Initially, I purchased the book "A Tour of the Battle of the Bulge" by Wm. C.C. Cavenaugh and was going to drive to the various places of interest myself. Then I realized that there was so much to see, that I would be better off with a guide. Another poster suggested Henri Mignon - I have heard wonderful things about his tours. He was busy and so I hired Reg Jans who was an outstanding guide. We spent the entire day reliving parts of the Battle of the Bulge. Mr. Mignon had an emergency on the day of the tour and his guests joined us - there were 4 of us. Don't miss the Bastogne area if you have time. I cannot compliment Reg Jans enough. He has taken a number of WWII veterans on his tours so he has personal stories from the veterans to recount to you as well. Also, if you are a foodie, I highly recommend Chateau de Strainchamps just outside of Bastogne. Wonderful accomodations and the best food ever. The son speaks just a little English. The Luxembourg American Cemetary where Patton is buried is just a short drive from Bastogne. You might enjoy that as well. Have a great time!

Posted by
1064 posts

If you are driving from the WWI Memorial at Verdun to the WWII memorial at Bastogne, route your journey through Sedan, France, and visit the castle there.It is on your way. That is where Emperor Louis Napoleon was captured by a Prussian army in 1870. For all practical purposes, his surrender signaled the end of the Franco-Prussian War and set the stage for ACT II, usually referred to as WWI. If France had won that war, the unification of Germany would not have occurred until well into the 20th century, and there would probably have been no World Wars I and II on the Western Front. The 20th century would have been a lot different. In other words, there might have been no battles at Verdun or Bastogne if France had won 40 years before the start of World War I. If you are going to Verdun and Bastogne, anyway, stop to see where it all started. The Ardennes and the area around it in Belgium and northern France have been the target of countless military campaigns since Atilla the Hun swept through there in the final days of the Roman Empire. Verdun and Basogne are simply the latest, and I hope, final examples of the military significance of the area.