A weekend in Ypres is the perfect location base to seek out the historic and memorable locations of World War One. You can explore the WW1 no man lands battlefield locations and original trenches surrounding the small medieval city, as well as the museums like In Flanders Fields and Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917. We couldn’t wait to explore the city during for our mini road trip weekend to Ypres, officially named Ieper.
WW1 History of Ypres
Located in the province of West Flanders, originally named city Ieper was once the center of the Battle of Ypres, German troops against allied troops from England, France, Canada and of course Belgium. Further battles in Ypres has caused more than 400,000 casualties, with the Third Battle of Ypres, more famously known as the Battle of Passchendaele, being one of the largest with up to 800,000 casualties.
The name Ypres became more commonly used among tourists and even locals when British Troops in WW1 called the city ‘Wipers’.
The city of Ypres was fortified before the war, dated back to 1385. This can be seen when visiting the city, as there are some original city walls and a partial moat. Walking around the city, you may feel that the buildings are really old, however after the war, all buildings such as the town hall and the cloth hall that were bombed were completely reconstructed in the same original style.
Ypres was one of the first places where chemical warfare was employed.
Tear gas, chlorine, mustard gas and other poison gases were used during WW1 battles of Ypres. The city of Ypres at present has the title of “City of Peace”, hosting an international campaign mobilizing cities worldwide to abolish and eliminate nuclear weapons. You can read more about the history of Ypres here.
Ypres was one of the locations that hosted an unofficial Christmas Truce in 1914 between British and German soldiers.
Our Weekend In Ypres
We decided to visit after the hottest heatwave that August was experiencing in central Europe for a long time. Luckily for us, the weather had cooled down to 15-20°c instead of the high 33-36°c from the Netherlands.
This self drive itinerary for a weekend is something we really enjoyed. A weekend in Ypres was on our list for a long while, wanting to explore more of WW1 locations. We have previously completed a long weekend in Normandy for the WW2 locations too. We initially booked two nights in Ypres after seeing what we would like to do in the city and surrounding areas. However we added two extra nights in Albert, France to extend our weekend for the WW1 historic sites. Our extra 2 night itinerary is added to this post and you can read about it later.
Top Things To Do In The City
Mysterious Ypres Walking Tour
Registering for the Mysterious Ypres Walking tour at the Tourism Information Office was the first thing we planned for Saturday night. A walk of only 2 hours through the city, to learn more about the city as present and from the past era of WW1. There wasn’t much information from the website regarding what we would actually learn, see or walk past but thats the whole idea of it being called mysterious! So I won’t give much away either but we can highly recommend it!
It starts at 17:30 to 19:30, finishing at the Menin Gate where you can stay for the 20:00 Last Post ceremony.
As of July 1927 this Menin gate memorial to the missing has represented the soldiers killed in action of the WW1 battles in Ypres. The memorial is situated east of the city center, a starting point that soldiers once took towards the front lines. Soldiers would pass through this eastern exit of the city through the fortified walls and past the moat. Many of these soldiers did not return through this entrance, with a record of 300,000 being killed and 90,000 missing in action.
The Hall of Memory inside the Menin Gate contains a total of 54,395 soldiers names who died but whose bodies were never identified or recovered. As present day, any remains found of soldiers found in the surrounding areas of Ypres will be given a proper burial in one of the cemeteries and if identified, the name will be removed from the Menin Gate.
The Last Post ceremony is held every evening at 20:00, with the road users stopping and no longer using the gate at 19:30. The Buglers of the local volunteer Fire Brigade arrive, where they will position themselves under the memorial arch and face towards the city center at 19:55. With the sounding call of the Last Post, it will follow with a minute of silence.
We found it rather emotional to watch, paying respects to those never identified or recovered during the war. This dignified event was very busy and crowded with what felt like all the tourists visiting Ypres. Please read all the information here before you attend.
The poppy wreaths were placed one week before, for the 100 year anniversary end date of the Battle of Amiens, also known as the Hundred Days Offensive, which ultimately brought an end to the global conflict in 1918.
In Flanders Fields Museum
This museum can be found in the heart of Ypres, in the renovated gothic Cloth Hall building. The museum represents the truth of the First World War of the West Flanders front line region. The In Flanders Fields museum was very interesting to visit because they have a collection of artefacts from personal collections to general pieces. Take your time to see these as well as watching the short videos throughout, that tell personal diary inserts from those on the front line.
For only €2 euro extra you can get access to the Cloth Hall Tower, giving you a 360 view of the city. This tower has been reconstructed after the war in the original gothic style. Keep in mind you have to walk up and down the winding staircase of 231 stairs.
Built from 1230 to 1370, the church can be found in the center of Ypres close to the In Flanders Fields museum. Reconstructed in after the First World War in the original gothic style, the Sint-Maartenskerk is open to the public. Known in english as St Martin’s Church, it has a tower of 102meters tall making it one of the tallest buildings in Belgium. Unfortunately for us, there was a service during our visit so we could not go inside.
Situated in the close to the market square, museum Merghelynk is situated in a reconstructed building from 1774. You can see with your own eyes the beautiful of the French styled furniture, silverware and paintings saved from the bombings and fires of WW1. You can also find a unique collection made up of Japanese and Chinese porcelain. For only €3,50 per person, its perfect for a visit during a rainy day too.
Top Things To Do In the Surrounding Area
Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917
From our whole weekend in Ypres (and a few days in Albert, France) we believe this was the top informative museum. Using an audio guide, you follow the path in your own time to know more about WW1 in general and the Battle of Passchendaele. Within the museum you explore the clothing, weapons and general life of the soldiers. Furthermore you follow the steps down into a life size model of the underground trenches, seeing how soldiers would sleep, eat and prepare for the war. Additionally, you can watch a video explanation of the battle and where the trenches and bombings were with a map. Lastly you find yourselves walking through actual trenches, with explanations of how they were made. Highly recommended!
Close to the Museum you can also visit:
- Passchendaele New British Cemetery
- Passchendaele Canadian Memorial
- Tyne Cot Cemetery and Visitors Centre
Tyne Cot Cemetery
This is the largest cemetery of the Commonwealth War Graves in the world, a resting place of more than 11,900 servicemen of the First World War. Most of the soldiers who fought at the Battle of Passchendaele are buried here. Within the cemetery you can see two german pill boxes, once a strategic location over the valley.
Hooge Crater & Front Line Hooghe
Close to the B&B, we decided to check this out before checking in. Parking up on the side of the road we stuck on our walking boots for a comfy walk through the landscape. We first stopped next to the Manor house, where you can walk into the trench area of both the British and German front lines. The middle is now a pond area, once where an explosion took place. You can go inside one of the bunkers and see for yourself the shell cases and other metal objects left behind. Along one of the paths you can also find 4 guns presented against the trees too.
From here you can walk up the side road to the Hooge Crater situated just north. This small walk allows you to walk up and in to the crater, created by mine explosion. Along the walk you will pass both allied and german memorial trees. With these trees you can really see how close the front line was.
There is also a Hooge Crater Museum, which should have been open. But the owners were on vacation themselves so we didn’t get the chance to visit during our stay. A photo doesn’t really show off how deep it is, and well worth a visit during a weekend in Ypres.
Hill 60 memorial site, otherwise known as Côte des Ama by locals, is a front line location of WW1 where soldiers once fought. The hill was originally created in the 1850s, when the railway line between Ypres and Comines was made. With good views across the area, this was a strong tactical advantage point during the war. Throughout the Battle of Ypres, defending soldiers were conflicted to heavy artillery and chlorine gas from the Germans. It is interesting to know that Hill 60 was also a location of WW2. This preserved battlefield memorial site is well worth visiting during your trip to Ypres. You can find the whole WW1 and WW2 history of Hill 60 here.
We decided to walk the 4km loop walk from Hill 60 during our weekend in Ypres, as you can see 3 other sites during the walk. Parking at Hill 60 seemed best as there is a small car park area. During this route there are also two locations you can stop for a bite to eat or drink at. One near Hill 60 and the other right at the bottom corner of the route. We had a drink at the Hill 60 location which got rather busy. As well as Hill 60, you can see the following other locations along this route:
- Caterpillar Crater
- Bomb Corner
- The Bluff Crater
Furthermore, along the same route you can currently visit an art installation of 600,000 clay sculptures, each bearing the name of a person killed in different battles in Ypres. Created by Koen Vanmechelen, it is one of many art installations that Belgium has planned. This can be visited visit only until November 11th 2018, which marks the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI.
Sanctuary Wood Museum (Hill 62)
This was one of the most touching places we had visited during our weekend in Ypres. Walking through the trenches gave a somewhat eerie feeling, knowing how many soldiers would of been fighting on the allied front line there. Just a 10 minute drive east of Ypres you will find this museum situated in what was once ‘no mans land’. These front line trenches against the Germans are still walkable, following the zigzag paths yourselves.
You will also see a concrete tunnel, that takes you from one side to another under ground. We walked this pitch black tunnel with our phone flashlight on. It was a little damp from the rain the day before, so good to wear some sensible shoes. Afterwards you can sit outside for a drink or visit the memorial and cemetery on the same street. Definitely worth a visit during a weekend in Ypres.
Yorkshire Trench & Dug Out
This tiny open trench line can be visited in the middle of an industrial estate. The history states that this dug out was up to 10 meters deep, now submerged in water to the stair openings. The ground above shows where the rooms were underground, like a map that you can follow. This gives you a good impression of how big the rooms were for sleeping, cooking and ammo storage.
John McCrae Dressing Station WW1 Flanders Fields Fame
This dressing station was once used by Canadian army physician and poet John McCrae. With a few small rooms still possible to enter, but now filled with cobwebs and poppy remembrance crosses. It is close by to the center of Ypres, easy to fit in during your weekend in Ypres.
Written by Major John McCrae in 1915, in the trenches of World War One:
“In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.”
Here are some extra things you can do during your historic weekend in Ypres:
- On Saturdays you can visit the local market located on the Market square for local treats and produce.
- Rent bicycles to cycle the many Ypres routes available. We had some regrets not taking our bikes and cycling in this beautiful region to the locations instead.
- Not wanting to drive all the time? Take a 2, 3 or 4 hour minibus tour. We saw many advertised at the tourist information center and on Trip Advisor that you can book. They guide you to a few locations and have lots more information to share. Such as more personal stories of those buried at the cemeteries.
Where To Stay For A Weekend In Ypres
We stayed at the lovely B&B Laurus for two nights in August. It was a lovely cottage area external from the main house. Our deluxe room had the perfect amount of space for us with our weekend bags. Toiletries and towels were supplied so we only had to worry about what clothes to take with us. Our deluxe room had a private bathroom, super clean and spacious. Waking up from our peaceful location, our fresh breakfast was a treat to start the day. Our weekend in Ypres here was lovely. Perfect for couples!
Other places you should consider staying at:
- Ariane Hotel – Located only a 7-minute walk from city center of with a gorgeous garden terrace.
- B&B Ter Vesten – Located in the city center and perfect for couples.
- Apartment De KloosterLoft – Located in an authentic monastery in the city center.
- Hotel Kasteelhof ‘T Hooghe – Located just 10mins away by car from the city center of Ypres. Also perfect for couples!
Two Nights Extra in Albert, Province of Somme France
Want to extend your weekend for a few more days? We did too and stayed for 2 nights in Albert, France which is at the center of many more WW1 historic locations. This location is only 1 hour south from Ypres, so we could have stayed in Ypres longer and drove down without a new hotel to stay at. However decided to sleep closer to the WW1 site locations so we would have more time.
Close to Albert we stayed at Coquelicotel where we booked a whole apartment with kitchen for ourselves. This was ideal for making our own breakfast and dinners to save on the extra costs of our last minute extra two days. It was very spacious and clean which we highly recommend.
You can read more about our 2 nights in Albert on our separate post here!
Summary of the Weekend In Ypres
Our weekend in Ypres was definitely a moving one. To walk the trenches with our own feet, to read and see stories of the soldiers and to explore the no mans land locations really gave us a strong impression of what it was like more than 100 years ago of WW1. We feel that the combination of museums with visiting actual locations of bunkers and trenches was a good combination to understand the true atmosphere and situation of what those in the war went through. By car was ultimately the easiest to travel around the locations, but would have loved to have cycled here too.
Highly recommended to visit all these locations and things to do for those who wish to learn more about World War One, an unforgettable experience.
A weekend in Ypres is perfect for those living in the Netherlands, Belgium or France, but can also be made by travellers from England who can take the Eurotunnel to Calais, or boat from Dover UK to Dunkirk in France.
Tips for later:
- Remember that sites are memorials to those who fell so act in a dignified way.
- Leave the site as you found it, no littering.
- Everything was within 10 minutes away from each other.
Pin for later:
Are you thinking of a weekend in Ypres? Or have you visited Ypres before? What did you think of the historical sites? Let us know in the comments!