Belgian Battlefields – How to Explore Flanders Fields in Two Days

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.

– Colonel John McCrae

The Ypres Salient was a part of the Belgian section of the western front during World War 1, which stretched from the North Sea coast to the Swiss Alps.

The area is covered in history. It’s an ideal region to explore if you’ve got a day or two to spare and, of course, if you’re interested in war history. Keep in mind that you will need a car or (motor)bike to follow this itinerary, or you can choose to go on an excursion from one of Belgium’s major cities.

Visiting Flanders Fields in Two Days

Day One

The route to follow:

Visiting Flanders Fields in Two Days - Day One

An ideal base for exploring the region is Ypres, or Ieper in Flemish. The best way to start is by visiting the In Flanders Fields Museum‘, which is located in the impressive Cloth Hall. It is one of the best history museums I have been to in my entire life. It’s absolutely brilliant and I highly recommend it if you want to get an idea of the things that happened here.

Belfry and Cloth Hall, Ypres

The next place to visit is the Trench of Death, near the city of Diksmuide and next to the Yser river. This was an important part of the Belgian section of the western front and is a symbol of the fierce resistance by the Belgian army. It was the most feared place at the front line amongst Belgian soldiers. Here, the Belgian and German armies were barely a few dozen meters apart: at the end of the trench you can still see the remains of a German bunker,  just a stone’s throw away. The entrance to the trenches is free; it really is a must-do.

Trench of Death, Flanders

Poppies in the Trench of Death, Flanders Fields

Trench of Death, Flanders Fields

As you drive towards and back from the Trench, you pass the Yser Tower. It’s a memorial tower along the Yser river and also a symbol of Flemish emancipation. At 84 meters tall, it’s the highest peace monument in Europe. ‘Nooit meer Oorlog’ (Never again War) is written on the tower in the four languages of the armies in the region during the First World War, being Dutch, French, English and German.An elevator can take you to the top of the building, which offers great views of the town of Diksmuide, the former battlefields and the Yser river. The stairs down will take you through a museum about war, peace and Flemish emancipation.

An elevator can take you to the top of the building, which offers great views of the town of Diksmuide, the former battlefields and the Yser river. The stairs down will take you through a museum about war, peace and Flemish emancipation.

Yser Tower, Flanders Fields

The fields of Flanders

Yser River, Flanders

Now, it’s time to visit some of the most well-known war cemeteries in the area. It’s impossible to visit all of them though (there literally are hundreds).

It’s a good idea to head to the German ones first. They are the most sombre and depressing of the cemeteries. They kind of have a dark atmosphere about them. They’re incredibly humbling and make you want to whisper instead of talking out loud.

The first one to go to is the Vladslo Soldatenfriedhof. This German cemetery contains the remains of 25,644 soldiers. Each stone in the cemetery holds the name of twenty soldiers, with only the name, rank and date of death specified. At the back of the cemetery stands the statue ‘The Grieving Parents’, made by a famous German sculptress in memory of her son, who is also buried here.

The Grieving Parents at Vladslo Soldatenfriedhof

On the way back to Ypres, you will pass a Belgian war cemetery and the second and biggest German war cemetery.

Belgian Military Cemetery

The second German war cemetery, Langemark Soldatenfriedhof, really is a mass grave. More than 44,000 German soldiers are buried here, including over 3,000 schoolboys who were sent to their death in the First Battle of Ypres. The big oak trees among the graves contribute to the dramatic, sombre feeling that takes hold of you as you’re walking around.

Langemark Soldatenfriedhof

The town of Langemark was the scene of the first gas attacks by the Germans, which was the beginning of the Second Battle of Ypres.

Make sure you get back to Ypres before 7.30pm, so you can make it to the Menin Gate in time for the Last Post ceremony. Buglers of the local Last Post association have been playing the Last Post every evening at 8.00pm sharp since 1928, in memory of the British soldiers who gave their lives for the Belgian people.

Last Post Ceremony, Ypres, Belgium

The Menin Gate is a war memorial dedicated to British and Commonwealth soldiers who were killed in the Ypres Salient, but whose bodies were never found. Its massive Hall of Memory contains the names of 54,896 soldiers. As huge as it is, it turned out to be too small to contain all the names. The rest of the names were inscribed on the wall surrounding the famous Tyne Cot War Cemetery.

Menin Gate, Ypres

Names on the Menin Gate, Ypres

Day Two

The route to follow:

Visiting Flanders Fields in Two Days - Day Two

On the way towards Tyne Cot, you pass by the Canadian Forces Memorial. A Canadian soldier stands guard over the dead, arms reversed.

Canadian Forces Memorial

The Tyne Cot War Cemetery lies on British soil. The setting is absolutely stunning. It lies on a small hill and overlooks the surrounding countryside.

This made the area an important strategic point for both sides during the war. It was captured by Australian and New Zealand divisions and two days later they started a cemetery for British and Canadian war dead. The cemetery was recaptured by the Germans, but finally liberated by Belgian forces.

Tyne Cot War Cemetery

Tyne Cot War Cemetery, Flanders

Tyne Cot War Cemetery names

It’s an impressive place and you could easily spend a couple of hours there. It’s enormous: it is the largest cemetery for Commonwealth forces in the world. It’s located near Passchendaele, famous for its battle.

Next, there are some more (smaller) British war cemeteries worth visiting: the very little Polygon Wood Cemetery and Buttes New British Cemetery. They both are located next to Polygon Wood, which was at the front line during the entire war and of which only a few tree trunks were left in the end.

Polygon Wood Cemetery

Buttes New British Cemetery

Another spot worth paying a visit is Hill 62. It was one of the very few hills around Ypres occupied by allied forces. Numerous fierce battles were fought here. At the top of the hill is a Canadian monument and a little café. In the woods behind the café you can visit some remains of trenches and tunnels if you please.

View from Hill 62

If you’ve got some time left, there are several other places to go to in the area: hills, cemeteries, museums, mine craters,…

If you don’t, head back to Ypres and take a walk around and through the city. It’s a beautiful city, which had to be completely rebuilt after the Great War. It now is an exact replica of the old medieval city.

Beautiful houses on Ypres' town square

Street in Ypres

Don’t forget to check out my post about Waterloo, another famous Belgian battlefield!

Belgium Travel Guides

22 thoughts on “Belgian Battlefields – How to Explore Flanders Fields in Two Days

  • Great post! We were just in Ypres and went to see my great great uncle who was killed in WWI at either Hill 60 or Mt Sorrel (not sure which) and we saw his grave at Railway Dugouts Cemetery. All quite a strange and moving experience. Happy posting!

    • There are sooo many, small and big, cemeteries around Ypres, aren’t there? I can imagine seeing your great great uncle’s grave was a very touching moment…

      Did you visit the Flanders Fields museum too? It really impressed me.

  • Do you think this tour would work out with a bicycle? I went to Verdun about 3 years ago, rented a bike and rode from the town out to the battlefield each day for 3 days. I thought it was a great way to do it and the traffic was not bad at all. Have you any thoughts on how heavy the traffic might be on this route?
    Thank you.

    • A bicycle would be a great way to do this. The bike paths in Belgium are fantastic and I’m sure there even is something like a WW1 cycling route or something. Traffic won’t be bad in that part of the country, and the road all have bike paths on the sides, usually sheltered by trees or hedges.

  • Kittie Aldakkour

    May 26, 2014 at 17:47 Reply

    We are living in Germany now (from Texas) and I want to see Flanders Fields when the poppies are blooming. I found this site while trying to find information on some of the grave statues I photographed in the Waldenfriedhof, Stuttgart. There is a large WWI and WWII section in that cemetery. My dad fought in WWII… so I have always been interested in the history. Thanks for your site it will be helpful when I visit Flanders.

    • I am glad that you found the blog post helpful, Kittie. My grandfather was in the Belgian resistance during WWII.

  • Thankyou for this information. We were planning a day trip to Ypres, but now we plan to stay for two nights and make sure we are not rushed

    • Tracey, two days is an absolute minimum if you want to get a sense of the area and visited a few monuments, battlefields and museums.

  • Hi Bram,

    I’m a Canadian journalist looking to do a documentary about Flanders Fields. Are you currently in Belgium? Are you yourself Canadian or do you know any passionate Canadians who might be interested in participating in this documentary.

    Cheers,

    Allison Tanner

    • Hi Allison! I am not a Canadian, I’m from Belgian, but I’m currently living in Vermont. Unfortunately I don’t think I’m able to help you with your questions. I’m sorry!

  • When is the best time of year to visit the sites so we can see the poppy’s in bloom?

    • I think that summer (July and August) are the best months to see the poppies bloom, if I’m not mistaken.

  • Thanks for sharing this itinerary. We didn’t have a car when we visited and took a day tour from Quasimodo out of Bruges which was quite informative.

  • Thank you for this overview. We are in Belgium for two months, and I think we will visit Ypres tomorrow.

  • We are Canadians living in the Netherlands for one year, and decided to see some of this region while en route to Bruges for a vacation. Yours was the best website we found for information about this area! We have 2 children, and visited the In Flanders Field museum, and the Trench of Death. Both were amazing, and I wouldn’t have found out about them without your website. Thank you!

    • Wow, thank you Allison. I’m really happy my website was of such great help to you. That’s exactly what it’s here for! 🙂

  • I live in Canada’s smallest province, Prince Edward Island. I know that you are in the U.S. but wondered if there was any way to actually arrange with someone to get a real but dried poppy from Flanders, Belgium. I live in the City of Charlottetown where we have Canada’s first Legion Branch. I would love to preserve it and present it to the Royal Canadian Legion as this is the 100th Anniversary of John McCrae’s poem “In Flanders Field”.

    • Hi Dana. Thank you for commenting. Unfortunately, I really don’t know how you would go about getting a dried poppy send over to Canada. Maybe you could email the Flanders Fields museum or some of the local tourist boards? They might have useful contact. I apologize for not being of any more help to you.

    • Hi Dana ,
      I’m from Flanders and perhaps i could help you out with a dried poppy . Have to look in to it , not sure when they bloom and how to preserve them in a nice way . But if this means a lot to you , i can give it a try . Grts , Rik

  • Hello Bram,

    Great post. I’ve found it very helpful.

    I plan to visit the area in September and am thinking of doing a two-day tour with a group. Do you have any advice on which tour groups are good – or even which to avoid?

    Winsome Byrne

    • Hi Winsome,

      I’m glad you thought it was useful! However, I don’t personally have any experience with local tours in the area. I suggest you simply do some research online; there should be plenty of reviews.

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