Day trip to Ypres and the World War I Battlefields in Belgium - Tyne Cot

Day Trip to Ypres and World War I Battlefields in Belgium

In Belgium, Europe by JurgaThis post may contain affiliate links, which means that we may receive a small commission, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. More info: Disclosure.

Does the name Ypres (Ieper) ring a bell to you? What about Flanders Fields – the World War I battlefields in Belgium? If it does, you are now probably seeing images of the ‘great’ war, of the trenches and poison gas, and of hundreds of thousands of young soldiers who lost their lives in the war…

If you are wondering how to visit Ypres and the WWI Battlefields in Belgium, then read on!

In this article, we are sharing our experience and tips for your visit to Ypres and the WWI battlefields. First, you can read about what to see and do in Ypres. In addition, you can find information about Tyne Cot and other famous Great War cemeteries near Ypres, as well as other WWI sites. At the bottom of this post, you can find our suggested self-drive 1 day itinerary and also organized day tours.

TIP: If you have no time to read the article and are looking for the best tour that visits Ypres and the battlefields, then check out this highly-rated day tour. It’s the best tour that’s available and ideal if you don’t have a car.

Our Day Trip to Ypres and World War I Battlefields

Why did we choose Ypres and the WWI battlefields for a family day trip?

This part of Europe has been a battlefield for so many armies throughout history, and Belgian schools do their utmost to ensure that future generations do not forget. So it was not a surprise that our 8-year-old son came home from school just before Christmas and told us what he had learned about the terrible battlefields in West Flanders where hundreds of thousands of soldiers from all over the world died in the mud. He learned about the use of poison gas, Yperite, life in the trenches and the fact that the soldiers were even eating their horses in order to survive in no-man’s-land.

We then realized that it was maybe time to bring him and his little brothers to the places he had heard and read about. In fact, we felt a bit ashamed, because it’s less than 2 hours from where we live and we hadn’t visited Ypres yet. While, in the meantime, tens of thousands of people come from all over the world to visit Ypres and the war battlefields every year…

So right after Christmas, we thought it was a good time to take some time for reflection and to go back in time a hundred years (or does that sound too serious now?) and we decided to make a day trip to Ypres and surroundings. 

We had a very interesting, moving and educational day and so I want to share our experience. Whether you live here or are visiting Belgium, Ypres and the WWI battlefields are certainly worth the trip!

World War I 100 years - Tyne Cot
World War I 100 years ‘celebration’
 

In Flanders Fields

Before I share practical information about visiting Ypres and the WWI Battlefields, I’d like to share this beautiful poem by John McCrae – ‘In Flanders Fields’.

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.

Tyne Cot memorial
Tyne Cot memorial
 

Tyne Cot Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery and Memorial

It was a cold December day and when we arrived in the tiny village of Zonnebeke the faint winter sun was there to welcome us.

It is here that some of the most infamous battles of WWI, the battle of Passchendaele (Passendale), took place in 1917, taking the lives of more than half a million soldiers.

Tyne Cot war cemetery is an obligatory stop when visiting the war battlefields in Belgium. It put us all in the ‘mood’ for the rest of that day: an impressive burial ground for almost 12,000 Commonwealth soldiers, most of whom the name/identity could never be established.

Our kids understood the meaning of a ‘world war’ after seeing headstones of soldiers from places as far away as Australia, New-Zealand, Canada, South-Africa or India in this tiny little village in Flanders.

The stone wall surrounding the cemetery makes-up the Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing. Walking around here and seeing the names of almost 35,000 missing Commonwealth soldiers who died here after 1917 is very moving.

World War I battlefields and Ypres day trip with kids - Tyne Cot
Tyne Cot
 

Practical information for visiting Tyne Cot:

  • Tyne Cot is located approx. 10km outside the city center of Ypres. Address: Vijfwegestraat, 8980 Zonnebeke
  • The Tyne Cot visitor’s center was closed during winter, but the cemetery can be visited anytime.

After visiting Tyne Cot, we drove to the center of Ypres, where we had a quick lunch. It wasn’t that easy to find something at a decent price and good quality in this tourist area in the low season, but there were a few restaurants open. I assume that there is more choice if you come here in the high tourist season.

After lunch, we visited the In Flanders Field Museum – it’s located right on the main town square of Ypres.

Common Wealth WWI graveyard Tyne Cot
Most graves at Tyne Cot cemetery were anonymous
 

Ypres – Ieper

When you are visiting the battlefields, make sure to also take the time to explore the small town center of Ypres. If you are not sure where to go, you can follow the signs on the pavement for a tourist route – see the picture below.

Don’t miss the Cloth Hall where In Flanders Fields Museum is located, the St Martin’s Cathedral, the Menin Gate Memorial and the Ramparts next to the canal! Read on for more information about these places!

Ypres tourist route signs
Follow these signs on the pavement to see the best of Ypres
Ypres Cloth Hall
Ypres Cloth Hall
Old town buildings in Ypres Belgium
Ypres is a beautiful town that is worth a visit in itself
St Martin Cathedral Ypres
St Martin Cathedral is also worth a visit
Beautiful old buildings in Ypres in Belgium
Beautiful old buildings in Ypres town center
 

In Flanders Fields Museum and the Bell Tower

The In Flanders Fields Museum is situated right on the main square of Ypres town, in the impressive Lakenhalle building, or Ypres Cloth Hall. This is definitely a must if you want to get a picture of life during the war! 

We steered the kids away from some of the videos and photographs that were too shocking in detail. On the other hand, our kids showed a huge interest in the stories told by children who survived the war, in the weapons, the clothes, and the various interactive displays.

For more information and practical information, check the official website of the In Flanders Fields museum.

In Flanders Fields Museum Ypres (Ieper) Belgium
In Flanders Fields Museum
Ypres Cloth Hall - Lakenhalle van Ieper
Ypres Cloth Hall – Lakenhalle van Ieper
Ypres destruction after WWI
This is how Ypres looked like after WWI
 

Inside the museum, you can also opt to climb the Bell Tower (Belfry). If you’re fit enough, make sure to do it! The views are great and in the distance, you can see the surroundings where all those battles of WWI took place.

Needless to say, we climbed the 231 steps of the Bell Tower (our kids can never resist a tower to climb!). From there, we had a fantastic view of the city, including the Menin Gate. It’s definitely worth the climb and the kids loved it!

Bell tower bells Ypres
Bell Tower bells
Ypres aerial view from the Bell Tower
View from the Bell Tower
On top of the Bell Tower in Ypres Belgium
On top of the Bell Tower
 

The Menin Gate and the Last Post

Another must-see landmark in Ypres, the Menin Gate, has the names of almost 55,000 missing Commonwealth soldiers who died in the area between 1914 and 1917. Hundreds of thousands of men passed through this gate on their way to the battlefields.

The size of the monument is very impressive. But it’s not before you see thousands of names on the endless walls that you really get a lump in your throat. There are flowers everywhere and many ‘We will not forget’ messages that people still leave here every day.

“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.”
– Laurence Binyon

Good to know: Every evening, at 8 PM, the Last Post is sounded at the Menin Gate. Following the Menin Gate Memorial opening in 1927, the people of Ypres wanted to express their gratitude towards those who had given their lives for Belgium’s freedom, and since that day for almost a century now, a daily ceremony is held at the Menin Gate. It’s a simple, but moving tribute.

The Last Post would certainly have been an unforgettable experience, but we also wanted to visit other places around Ypres, so we decided to leave this for a next visit. And indeed, a few months later, we returned to Ypres and listened to the Last Post. It’s so moving! If you can, wait for it.

The Menin Gate Ypres Belgium
The Menin Gate
Visiting the Menin Gate in Ypres with kids
The Menin Gate
Visiting the Menin Gate in Ypres Belgium
The Menin Gate contains the names of almost 55,000 missing soldiers
Thousands of names of the soldiers on the Menin Gate Wall in Ypres
Thousands of names of the soldiers on the Menin Gate Wall
 

The Ramparts of Ypres

If you have some time to discover Ypres more, it’s well worth walking on the walls surrounding the city.

The Ypres ramparts can be accessed via the Menin Gate. The official website of Ypres tourism has some more information about the Ramparts of Ypres.

The ramparts of Ypres Belgium
The ramparts of Ypres
 

Yorkshire Trench & Dug-Out

Our kids wanted to see the trenches, so we drove to the Yorkshire Trench & Dug-Out where we could walk through the restored trenches.

We had some difficulties finding the place in the middle of an industrial area. In fact, the whole place has only been discovered in 1997 with the creation of the industrial site. While the kids walked through the trenches we read the explanatory signs. It’s so eye-opening to learn about life during the war.

Practical info for visiting Yorkshire Trench & Dug-Out:

  • Yorkshire Trench & Dug-Out is not easy to find. It’s a very small place, amidst the industrial buildings, so drive slowly and look for a sign, on the left side if coming from Ypres. Address: Bargiestraat, 8904 Ieper
Day trip to Ypres and the war sites in Flanders Fields with kids - Yorkshire Trench and Dug-Out
Yorkshire Trench and Dug-Out
 

Langemark German War Cemetery

We continued our trip and went on to Langemark, where the first gas attacks took place, to visit the German war cemetery. More than 44,000 German soldiers are buried here, almost 25,000 of them in a mass grave.

If you come to meditate, this is a very good place to be. It was calm and quiet at the popular landmark like Tyne Cot, but this place was absolutely abandoned. The flat grave markers give this cemetery a distinct and modest look. The German graveyards are very different than the somewhat pompous Tyne Cot.

Practical info for visiting Langemark German war cemetery:

  • Address: Klerkenstraat 64, 8920 Poelkapelle
Langemark German war cemetery near Ypres Belgium
Langemark German War Cemetery is very different from Tyne Cot
Langemark German War Cemetery
Langemark German War Cemetery
 

Essex Farm Cemetery

One of the best known WWI sites in Ypres is the Essex Farm Cemetery. If you have the time, it’s definitely worth a visit too. You can read more about it here: Essex Farm.

Yser Tower – IJzertoren Diksmuide

The kids wanted to see the Yser Tower (IJzertoren) so we drove to the nearby town of Diksmuide. The Yser Tower is a peace monument and commemorates the soldiers killed on the Yser Front during WWI.

The Yser Tower, the highest peace monument in Europe, symbolizes the demand for peace. Words ‘No more war’ are written on the tower in the four languages of the fighting forces in the area during the First World War (Dutch, French, English, and German).

We knew it would be too late to visit the 22-floors museum (they close at 5 PM in winter), but we could at least make a walk around the peace site with the tower and the impressive Gate of Peace.

Gate of Peace at the Yser Tower in Diksmuide Belgium
Gate of Peace
Yser Tower Diksmuide Belgium
Yser Tower with words ‘No More War’
Yser Tower and the Gate of Peace in Diksmuide Belgium
Yser Tower and the Gate of Peace
 

Trench of Death, Diksmuide

You can also visit the Trench of Death near Diksmuide. It’s a larger site than the Yorkshire Trench & Dug-Out. We skipped this as it was already dark by the time we were in the area. From what I understand, it’s a much more popular site with longer trenches, so if you have time to do just one, try the Trench of Death.

Here you can find more info for visiting the Trench of Death.

Vladslo German War Cemetery

Our next stop was the Vladslo German war cemetery. It’s one of the many cemeteries in the area, with almost 26,000 soldiers buried there.

It is an impressive place, with each grave stone containing 20 names of soldiers. But it is especially known for the Grieving Parents statues by Käthe Kollwitz, whose son is buried in this cemetery.

It was getting pretty dark by now and walking amongst the graves of so many young men who lost their life here was a moving and unusual experience. Although it all happened a hundred years ago we could still feel the pain, the suffering and the death around us.

The grieving parents - Vladslo German war cemetery
The grieving parents
Vladslo German war cemetery
Vladslo German war cemetery
 

Suggested one day itinerary for Ypres and the World War I Battlefields in Belgium

Visiting Ypres and the war cemeteries was a unique experience, also for the children. We won’t quickly forget it!

If you are visiting Belgium, I highly recommend paying a visit to the WWI battlefields and Ypres.

If you have your own car and want to visit the most interesting WWI battlefields and cemeteries around Ypres in a day, I suggest the following itinerary:

Vladslo German war cemetery – the Trench of Death – Yser Tower and the Gate of Peace – Tyne Cot – Essex Farm or Langemark German War Cemetery – Ypres

Best Tours to Ypres & WWI Battlefields

If you don’t have a car, it’s best to book an organized tour to Ypres (see below). You can also take a train to Ypres and visit the sights in town, but it’s not easy to see any other sights if you don’t have transportation.

Ypres tour from Brussels. This might be a good day trip to consider if you are staying in Brussels for a few days. Here are two different tour options for visiting Ypres from Brussels: group tour and the private tour.

There are also organized tours to Ypres battlefields that leave from Bruges. Bruges is very close to Ypres, so this is something definitely worth doing if you are staying there for a few days. Check this highly rated tour to Ypres from Bruges. TIP: You can easily take a train to Bruges from any other city in Belgium and join this tour for a day – it starts and ends at the train station in Bruges.

 

Tips for Visiting Ypres and WWI Sites

  • Plan ahead what you want to see, read about the places you want to visit, and decide on your itinerary in advance. There is so much to do in the area! If you travel with kids, you may want to tell them some history so that they know what to expect and understand what they see. Ypres has an excellent website to help you prepare your trip.
  • If you are traveling by car, leave early in the morning, especially in winter. Or stay overnight and take your time to explore the area more in-depth. Here you can find the best deals for Ypres accommodation.
  • Take picnic lunch if you are visiting the cemeteries during the day. We went to Ypres for lunch but wasted so much time on this.
  • Dress warmly for the cemetery visits. There is a lot of wind in the area.

Books and Movies about the WWI

If you like history and want to know a bit more about World War I, here are some great book- and movie suggestions:

So, this is our guide to visiting the Flanders Fields and Ypres. If you are visiting Belgium and are not sure how to best plan your time, please check our suggested Belgium itinerary for 3 or 4 days. It covers all the musts!

If you found this post useful, don’t forget to bookmark it and share it with your friends. Are you on Pinterest? Pin this image!

Day trip to Ypres and the World War I battlefields in Belgium
 
Day trip to Ypres and the World War I battlefields in Belgium

Comments

  1. Thank you for the informative blog and the one day itinerary suggestion. It worked great and we had an interesting and smooth day in the Ypres area – all thanks to you! 🙂

    1. Author

      Glad to hear that you had a great time and enjoyed your visit to Ypres, Maarit. I really appreciate your kind feedback.

  2. I have visited ypres 3 times every time there is something i missed the time before.
    it is a very moveing place. i will be returning next year.
    thanks you

    Mick

    1. Author

      Agree with you, Mick. It’s a special place and there is a lot to visit in the region.
      Enjoy your 4th trip!

  3. Hi Jurga, it was great reading your blog. I am organising a tour for former, serving and military historians, next Oct. I am myself an ex cavalry officer from the Indian army, and living in the UK. Having gone through your blog, except for transportation to and back from the UK, would you have the time to help me with advice. Would be grateful and obliged. I organise tours to India which include the battlefields there in the east along the Burmese border

    1. Author

      Hi Paddy, I’m sorry but I can’t really help you with organizing a trip. I have as much practical information as possible on the blog, but really have no time to help hundreds of thousands of our readers with the practical side of planning their own trips.
      I’m sure you’ll figure it out. Planning a trip to Belgium is nothing compared to India 😉

  4. Hello Jurga – thank you for your thoughtful and insightful post. We are visiting the first week in June and had decided to stay in Ghent as a good launching pad to brugge, ypres, brussels. We want to spend a day in Ypres. I would like to take a tour to provide (1) a good concise history and (2) transport to the key sites. What would you recommend? Do I do separate tours in ypres and outside? should I just rent a car and do the outside ypres on my own? It is just my husband and me. Thank you for your advice. Jackie (NYC)

    1. Author

      Hi Jackie, generally, we recommend this organized tour. It visits Ypres and also some main places outside the town. The tour leaves from Bruges, but you can easily get there by train from Ghent. There are several trains per hour and it takes about 20-30min depending on which station/ train you take.
      If you rather rent a car, you can definitely visit all those places on your own, it just will require some preparation as there are so many cemeteries and places worth visiting. The tours know the best ones and they have perfected their itineraries to make sure you make the most of your time. We drove there from home and been to the area several times to later find out that we missed some interesting places… So I’d recommend going with a tour.

  5. We will be in Belgium in December 2019, in Bruges December 3-5 and Brussels December 5-9. We would really like to do one of the WW1 tours but can’t seem to find any that run in December other than very expensive private ones. Are you aware of any operators that run tours in December?

  6. Thank you so much for that great information!

  7. Hi Jurga,
    Thank you so much fofor your wonderful information! I am going to Brussels alone and have one day (Tuesday, June 5) to head out to Ypres. Your blog convinced me to take to time to do so!
    Anyway, do you know a tour that runs out there on a Tuesday (from Brussels), or a great guide in Ypres?
    Thank so ,UCB,
    Cindy

    1. Author

      Hi Cindy, there is a highly rated mini bus tour to Ypres that runs on Tuesdays. However, it doesn’t start in Brussels, but at the train station in Bruges. What you could do is take a train from Brussels to Bruges. The tour starts at 9AM. The train takes 1h10 from Brussels Central station and they are quite frequent (7:19AM, 7.25AM, 7.44AM (this is the schedule info for Tuesdays as it is today)). And – when the tour is over – you can still see some of beautiful town of Bruges before going back to Brussels in the evening. 😉
      There are more tours to Ypres, also from Brussels as listed in my article above, but at the moment this is the only one I found that goes on Tuesdays.
      Hope this helps.

  8. I am planning to visit this area the first week of June, and we were wondering if we only had the day, what should we see and how much time should be plan to spend? I wanted to see Tyne Cot and really need to know how close it is to the centre of Ypres? About six miles? (and is it a fairly ordinary drive?) Can we do the cemetery and go into town and see the Menin Gate and still feasibly have time go head to The Bluff/No Man’s Land (which is not mentioned in this post but we are anxious to see). We may only have a day here (or a little less) total. Thank you!

    1. Author

      Hi Stephanie, we did everything that is written in this post in about 6 hours (driving time to get there not included) with kids and also lunch that took us much too long, so yes, you can see all of this and much more in a day if you have a car.
      You can use Google Maps to find all the places and estimate driving times. Tyne Cot to Ypres centre is about 15-20min by car (+-8miles). It’s just simple one lane roads, nothing extraordinary, but it’s easier if you have either GPS or Google Maps to get around the area.
      Depends where you stay, the highways around Brussels can be busy so don’t leave too late, but once you pass Ghent it’s usually much more quiet. A better place to stay for this area would be Bruges since it’s nearby and you could easily combine your visit to the WWI battlefields with a visit to Bruges.

  9. It’s always important we remember the awful history (that, in reality, was not that long ago).

    A very moving post!

    Lloyd & Yaya x

    1. Author

      Thanks a lot for your comment, Lloyd and Yaya. It was a very moving experience indeed. One I can truly recommend to everyone!

  10. Goodness, what a place! Moving and evoking, nice for your boys to learn some of their history – if not a little sombre. This is a great guide for day trippers though, so concise and well laid out.

  11. Excellent post Jurga. Although I have taught all about WW1 in many history lessons over the years I have yet to visit. A very moving place to experience. I visited the cemetery in Singapore for those who were killed there in WW2 and that was pretty moving.

    Being able to get a sense of just how horrific it was in the trenches for so many young men and boys by actually walking along one must have been something to experience.

    Despite it being a 100 years ago I think it is important for us to remember. If only the lessons of the past were learnt by some world leaders today.

    1. Author

      It’s indeed good to be reminded of those things once in a while, Tracy, hoping that it will never happen again. Watching some of the videos at the museum was too much even for me, I was glad the kids didn’t understand English… Can’t even try to imagine the horrors those young people experienced in the trenches…

  12. Learning about our history and the horrible violence that humans are capable of is of most importance now than ever. You are fantastic parents for planning this trip and doing it in the way you did.

    Thank you for sharing.

    1. Author

      Thank you so much, Arianne. We’re trying to find the right balance between teaching the kids history and at the same time showing them that the world is a beautiful place with so many kind people wherever you go.

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