A weekend in Verdun, France should be on your top priority location to visit when learning about all World War One. Verdun is different from locations such as Albert in France and Ypres in Belgium, with historic ruins, fascinating forts and original trenches still to be visited. In one weekend visit you can spend time at all of these locations as well as enjoy the small city of Verdun.
*All photos are our own and taken during our June visit of 2019.
Verdun During World War One
The Battle of Verdun started 21st February 1916 until 16th December 1916, with it being the longest single battle during World War One. Verdun was a national importance, both symbolic and historic to France. This was due to the history of the city being lost and regained during the Revolutionary wars. It was also the most northern fortress to defend Germany from getting close to Paris.
Verdun was also the most heavily fortified city in France in 1914. With this known to the Germans, it was also the main attack against the French who would do anything to protect this important location. From the first day, 140,000 German troops (with up to 1200 artillery guns) started the attack against what started with only 30,000 French soldiers. The impact of the attack on Verdun caused thousands and thousands of soldiers their lives in this small area of France. For the first time in World War One, flame throwers were also used during the Battle of Verdun.
The pure magnitude of loss was so great that there is not an accurate figure of those who lost their lives. It is calculated that the French lost a minimum of 360,000 soldiers and the Germans nearly 340,000.
Weekend In Verdun
The city of Verdun, known as Verdun-sur-Meuse in French, is pretty small with a population under 20,000. Our weekend in Verdun was something we had wanted to do for a long time. Especially after already visiting the Battle of Somme WW1 historical locations of Albert, France and Ypres, Belgium. This was also a perfect location to drive to from our home location of Rotterdam The Netherlands, as it was only a 4.5 hour drive in total.
How To Get Around
During our visit it was super easy to get around by car between the World War One locations, however we also saw some cyclists. In good weather you can definitely visit many of the WW1 locations by bike as they are all very close to each other. Just keep in mind you need a decent level of fitness to cycle around all weekend.
All WW1 Sites To Be Seen
Here is a list of all the historical sites that we visited during our weekend in Verdun. We had plenty of time to visit them all without having to rush on to the next one. Some included audio guides and others were free to walk around.
Underground Citadel Of Verdun
This museum you need to reserve a time slot, which we ended up doing the day before in person. This is because the museum is an audio guide where you are taken on a seated machine through the fortress. We were not sure at first what to expect, being seated next to some other tourists on a small moveable cart. We were worried it would feel like a Disneyland ride, but all aspects of the Battle of Verdun and the layout of the fortress was well explained and described in the audio guide.
Dont miss the peaceful walk around the outside of this attraction, spotting the ruins of the buildings and the tall original walls to keep people out.
Built in 1884, Fort Veux is one of the forts still visitable today. This fort has some very interesting history, such as the fort having changed hands 16 times during the Battle of Verdun! From the outside it seems very small but once inside you can see all the rooms still intact. The inside of the fort is well-preserved with original walkways, fittings and markings.
Highly recommended to go inside and follow the route given either by the audio tour or the written guide. However if you are limited for time in Verdun, we recommend visiting Fort Douaumont next on the list.
We found Fort Douaumont as the most impressive fort we have ever been in. This is due to the fact that the gun is still in tact. The 155mm gun can be seen inside the well-preserved Galopin turret, pictured below. Out of all the war locations we have visited (Albert FR, Normandy FR and Ypres BE), this is the first time we’ve seen an intact gun and turret together. Even one that you can go inside from the fort and walk on both levels!
Walking underground in this fort took also ages, as there has been so much which survived the war. There are multiple levels and its pretty wet inside so wear suitable shoes to explore. Like Fort Veux, take the audio guide or the written guide to truly understand what you are viewing.
Trench Of Bayonets
This memorial is the location of 137th Regiment French soldiers who were buried alive in their trench, in an upright position with rifles and fixed bayonets in their hands. This was discovered by French teams exploring the battle field after the war, who uncovered the clues of the horrific fate of this regiment. They died based on the heavy shelling in the area and being buried by the ground. It was very eerie to walk around this area knowing this.
This memorial was completed in 1932, recognising French and German soldiers of the Battle of Verdun. Inside you can find thousands and thousands of names engraved in the walls and ceilings of those who died. Under the memorial lies at least 130,000 unidentified soldiers of World War One. There are little windows outside to look in, but we didn’t do this. If you do, you will see the skeletal remains.
Outside the memorial are the graves of 16,142 soldiers, making it the largest single French Military Cemetery of World War One soldiers.
You will find this village along the road close to Douaumont Ossuary. Each post along the pathway represents farm land, a home or a shop from the village that once stood here. We followed the pathway past the bakery and barber shop too. The church was also destroyed, however it has been rebuilt in the same location and style after the war. This represents the once lively village that used to be here.
Verdun Memorial Museum
This memorial museum is a must see for all those interested in Verdun. The museum provides a good overview of the storyline of WW1 with the main focus of the local area. There are hundreds of artefacts that have been found as well images and videos to follow.
During our visit to Verdun it was raining throughout, so we timed it well by visiting the museum while the rain had started again outside. The museum is well worth your time while in Verdun. Check out their little book shop before you leave too, there were some very interesting books to buy!
This area and fort is literally ruins in the forest. You can park up close to the are and find yourself walking the front line through three bunkers (not accessible) and ruins. It was a 3-5km route back to our car so very doable to walk it within an hour. Along the route you will see the darkest puddles of water and brick stones laying around all over the place.
A little further away but highly worth your time is the Vauquois Hill. This area was the location of 14,000 soldiers losing their life during 4 years of the war. This might not seem much, but it was all within only a 500 meter long western front location. Here you can experience first hand a line of craters that were created from 519 mine explosions, with the official website quoting 199 German mines and 320 French.
You can walk freely around the whole area, which we had chosen to do based on needing to drive back home to the Netherlands on time. However we highly recommend taking the tour as you can truly see what it was like in the area by going in the large underground network still existing. This is something we would definitely go back to do if we are ever in the area again.
Check out our other World War One locations:
We found our weekend in Verdun very interesting and definitely worth our time. The historical sites make you speechless and it is still pretty unimaginable to what it was truly like for the brave soldiers. We recommend that you take the time and visit these important locations.
- Give yourself at least two days to see everything like us
- Plan ahead to know what times places are open (and reserve at the Underground Citadel Of Verdun)
- Be respectful of the locations and surrounding areas
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Have you ever had a Weekend In Verdun and visited the historic locations? What did you think? Let us know in the comments!