If you’re ever thinking about visiting Belgium, you should definitely consider visiting Flanders Fields. The historic area known as Flanders Fields is the part of the province of West Flanders that had the misfortune of being one of the frontlines during the First World War.
Particularly the city of Ypres suffered tremendously in those four years of war and was completely destroyed. The so-called Ypres Salient was one of the most feared sections of frontline on the entire western front, which extended from the North Sea coast to the Alps.
Visiting Flanders Fields
After the war, Ypres was rebuilt from scratch and nowadays it’s a nearly perfect replica of the pre-war city. Its beautiful town square is dominated by the magnificent Cloth Hall, now the home of the marvelous – seriously – Flanders Fields Museum. This is where you should start your visit of the area; emerging yourself in the history and horrors of the war. Being aware of what happened in this region, you’ll look at the following landmarks, which are now set within a peaceful landscape of fields and rivers, with a totally different perception.
After exploring the Flanders Fields Museum in the morning, head out of the city for a tour of the surrounding area. The Trench of Death is located near the River Yser and the city of Diksmuide. This was by far the most feared part of Belgian front, a part where the Allied and German trenches were only a few dozen steps apart. The trench is free to visit and the remains can be explored on foot.
Another highlight is the 84-meter-tall Yser Tower, the tallest peace monument in Europe. You can get to the top with an elevator, enjoy great panoramic views of Flanders Fields and head back down the stairway, which leads through a museum of war, peace and the emancipation of Flanders.
Properly visiting Flanders Fields can’t be done without a visit to a few war cemeteries. The region is home to literally hundreds of those. The most notable German cemeteries are the Vladslo Soldatenfriedhof – the resting place of more than 26,000 German soldiers – and the Langemark Soldatenfriedhof – the largest German war cemetery, with more than 44,000 soldiers.
British war cemeteries worth visiting are the iconic Tyne Cot War Cemetery, and Polygon Wood Cemetery and Buttes New British Cemetery.
Additional landmarks are Hill 62, one of the very few hills that were occupied by allied forces, several mine craters, museums dedicated to war and peace, countless war monuments, and so on.
Back in Ypres, you should definitely head to the imposing Menin Gate, where the Last Post ceremony is still held every evening at 8pm sharp. The ceremony has taken place every evening since 1928 in commemoration of the British soldiers who gave their lives for the Belgian people. The Menin Gate in itself is a major landmark, a war memorial dedicated to fallen British and Commonwealth soldiers whose bodies were never found. The enormous Hall of Memory contains nearly 55,000 names of missing soldiers, but, as large as it may be, is still too small to contain all names. The rest of the names are inscribed on the wall that surrounds the Tyne Cot War Cemetery.
Visiting Flanders Fields and all attractions covered in this post will take at least two full days. Ypres is without question the best place to base yourself; the region can be explored by either bicycle or by rental car.