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Things to Do in Ypres

Despite the traditional charms of historic Ypres (or Ieper, in Dutch), the Flemish town remains inextricably linked to its harrowing past, as the site of some of WWI’s most notorious battlefields. Some 300,000 Allied Soldiers lost their lives here during WWI, as three major battles swept along the Ypres Salient and the town itself was completely destroyed. Touring the infamous ‘Flanders Fields’, immortalized in John McCrae’s eponymous war poem, is one of the main reasons for visiting Ypres and a number of poignant war memorials, museums and cemeteries now mark the former battlefields on the outskirts of the modern town.

Post-war Ypres’ medieval center was rebuilt in its original style and the reconstruction efforts resulted in some strikingly authentic ‘medieval’ architecture. Highlights include the Gothic-style Saint Martin’s cathedral; the Menin Gate, a memorial for the missing British and Commonwealth Soldiers of WWI, which hosts a moving Last Post ceremony each evening; and the UNESCO World Heritage listed Lakenhalle (Cloth Hall), a nod to Ypres’ textile-producing roots, which now houses the In Flanders Fields Museum.
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Menin Gate Memorial (Ypres Memorial)
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One of Europe’s major World War I landmarks, the Menin Gate Memorial (sometimes known as the Ypres Memorial) commemorates more than 54,000 British and Commonwealth troops who perished in the Flanders region. Many of these soldiers were never formally buried, and their names are inscribed on the historic gate in a lasting tribute.

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In Flanders Fields Museum
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The In Flanders Fields Museum is a World War I museum is located in a famous cloth hall in the center of Ypres, Belgium. The major theme of the museum is the consequences of war. Mirrors are used to inspire visitors to examine how we look at the past, how and why we remember, and how we view the nations involved in World War I. The museum encourages visitors to reflect on the major historical events as well as the personal stories of individuals. Visitors will learn about how the war affected the lives of thousands of people of different nationalities who were involved in the war. The museum also has a heavy focus on how the war affected West Flanders and the city of Ypres.

Visitors receive a poppy bracelet for a one euro deposit when they enter the museum. The bracelet has a microchip in it which tells the stories of four individuals, in the language you choose, as you walk through the exhibits in the museum. You can also climb 231 steps to the top of the bell tower for views of the city and the Ypres Salient battlefields.

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Hill 60
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Hill 60 was a World War I battlefield in the Ypres Salent battlegrounds of Flanders named for its height at 60 meters (197 feet) above sea level. It was the site of intense fighting between British and German troops in April and May 1915. The British attack on April 17, 1915, began with the explosion of three mines which blew the top off the hill. Hundreds of soldiers died, and because of the continued fighting in this area, it was not possible to identify or even recover many of the bodies. Tunneling and mining operations were carried out here throughout the war by French, British, Australian and German troops. If tunnels caved in, soldiers who died underground were often left behind because of the difficulty of retrieving them. The remains of many soldiers from both sides of the war are still at this site.

At Hill 60 is a memorial to the 1st Australian Tunneling Company. Its plaque has bullet holes from World War II when this area was briefly fought over again. Near this memorial is the 14th Light Division Memorial. The site also holds the remains of several concrete bunkers which were used by both sides. Several other memorials and monuments are located at Hill 60 to honor soldiers who fought here during World War I.

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Tyne Cot Cemetery
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The Tyne Cot Cemetery, located near Zonnebeke, Belgium, is the largest Commonwealth military cemetery in the world. It contains the graves of nearly 12,000 soldiers who died between October 1914 and September 1918 while fighting in World War I. Unfortunately about 70% of the people buried there were never identified. The graves of the unknown soldiers are marked with tombstones that read “Known unto God.” In addition to these unknown soldiers, a list of nearly 35,000 names is on a wall at the back of the cemetery honoring soldiers who have no known grave and died between August 1917 and the end of the war.

Many of the fallen soldiers were buried in nearby battlefields or smaller cemeteries, but after the war ended, the graves were moved to the Tyne Cot Cemetery. A few remaining German blockhouse can still be seen at the cemetery, and they have been incorporated into the memorial as a way to honor the soldiers who died trying to capture them. On one of them, the Cross of Sacrifice, also called the Great Cross, was built at the suggestion of King George V who visited the cemetery in 1922. The cross can be seen through the entrance of the cemetery and is often photographed.

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Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917
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The Battle of Passchendaele in summer and fall 1917 was one of the bloodiest and most futile of World War I; in just over 100 days more than half a million soldiers were killed and in that time Allied troops advanced on the Germans by a mere five miles (eight km) amid the trenches of the Ypres Salient in Flanders.

The museum dedicated to the fallen victims of the battle is found in a small chateau in the village of Zonnebeke, the scene of heavy fighting south of Bruges. It was opened in 2004 and the main exhibition follows the sorry story of the battle; a new display entitled ‘Remembrance’ focuses on the aftermath of the war for the soldiers, local civilians and the beleaguered Flanders landscape. Along with black-and-white images, weaponry, uniforms and heart-rending personal letters, the museum has a reconstructed dug out and a replica line of trenches constructed in the chateau grounds in 2013, where a series of lakeside memorial gardens are dedicated to all the nations who fought at Passchendaele.

Many people combine a visit to the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917 with visiting Tyn Cot, the biggest Commonwealth cemetery in the world with 12,000 graves, and attending the ‘Last Post’ ceremony in nearby Ypres, which was left in ruins after the Battle of Passchendaele. The ceremony takes place daily at 8pm at the Menin Gate memorial.

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Hooge Crater Museum

The Hooge Crater Museum, outside of Ypres, has life-sized representations of war scenes on display to help visitors better understand the history of World War I, especially in Flanders. The scenes include German bunkers, British trenches, and full scale horses with cavalry troops on their backs. Other displays include an extensive collection of weapons, uniforms, photographs, and other military artifacts.

The crater was formed on July 19, 1915. Around this time of the war, the German troops had an excellent overview of the British front line in the Ypres Salient area. The British troops tried to eliminate this with a targeted attack. They exploded more than 3,700 pounds of dynamite in a tunnel, which formed a crater that was later called the Hooge Crater. Today the crater is filled with water.

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Sanctuary Wood

Located just east of Ypres, Sanctuary Wood stands as a stark reminder of the horrors of World War I in the Ypres Salient. Initially a place of refuge for Allied soldiers to rest and recuperate, by 1917 the woods were bang on the Front Line and trenches had been built for the troops to live in and fight from. At the end of the war, the farmer who owned the land returned and decided to preserve a length of tunnels and trenches – one of the few sections that were not ploughed over and returned to farming land – in which bullet holes are still clearly visible, along with the tree stumps blasted during shelling and the inadequate corrugated iron shelters for the soldiers. A small museum stands nearby, displaying munitions and weapons removed from the trenches, a British Army cooking wagon, and some graphic 3D images of life in the trenches. As the inevitable tragic result of the fierce battles around Ypres, several war cemeteries are nearby, including Sanctuary Wood Cemetery, designed by Sir Edwin Luytens and immaculately kept with 2,000 war graves standing in neat rows, and the Hill 62 Memorial honoring the Canadian participation in defending Ypres.

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Bellewaerde

Visit Beelwarde, on the outskirts of Ypres, to experience an amusement park with a twist. Along with rides for visitors of all ages, the park is home to all sorts of animals, and it doubles as a natural parkland for visitors who want to hike, picnic, or just stretch out and relax.

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