You'll Be Emotionally Moved By This Must-Visit European Destination For History Buffs

Belgium is an affluent European country known for its diamond industry and spectacular seasonal festivals. While many tourists are drawn to Brussels and Antwerp, there is a lesser-known city ideal for history lovers: Ypres. Located in Western Belgium, in the province of West Flanders, Ypres is about two hours away from Brussels, Belgium's capital. 

The town is undeniably picturesque. Nevertheless, the looming shadow of war remains. Ypres is part of Flanders Fields, which comprises World War I's (WWI) combat zone. During the "Great War," the Central and Allied Powers battled it out from 1914 until 1918, ending with the Allied victory.

Initially, Belgium did not want to be involved in this conflict, but that changed after Germany invaded the country in the summer of 1914. Ultimately, the war obliterated Ypres, the backdrop of the First Battle of Ypres, the Second Battle of Ypres, and the Third Battle of Ypres.

The 1915 Second Battle of Ypres is especially significant as it marked the beginning of German troops using chemical warfare against the Allied forces. In the same vein, more than 150,000 individuals lost their lives in the Third Battle of Ypres, states AP News.

Ypres was unrecognizable by the war's end and, in the following years, was promptly rebuilt. Although WWI ended more than 100 years ago, tourists visiting Ypres are constantly reminded that this devastating moment in time will never be forgotten.

Learn more about World War I at the In Flanders Field Museum

One of Ypres' essential attractions is the In Flanders Field Museum. The museum is housed in Ypres' Cloth Hall. It was built following World War I (WWI) and is a reconstruction. The original Cloth Hall was a Gothic-style structure that dated back to the 13th century. Tragically, it was a casualty of the war and was ruined in 1915. Having said that, the In Flanders Field Museum educates visitors on WWI and its effects on Belgium and Ypres.

One exhibit, "A Great War," provides context on what Europe was like before WWI and Ypres' eventual role in the conflict. Likewise, the devastation of the town and its reconstruction are explained. The museum also displays various relics, including weapons, uniforms, personal belongings, photos, and more.

Notably, the museum has an interactive component called "encounters." Visitors are assigned an individual who lived through the war and can follow their life through different kiosks using a scannable poppy bracelet.

The poppy and the museum's name are a nod to "In Flanders Field," a 1915 poem by John McCrae, a Canadian doctor who fought in WW1. In addition to these exhibits, the museum displays the names of the 600,000 individuals who died in Belgium due to the war via a projection.

Hours to the In Flanders Field Museum vary per season. Admission tickets can be purchased online, and prices are less than $15 for children and adults.

Pay your respect to World War I's fallen soldiers in Ypres

One should not leave Ypres without seeing the Menin Gate. This visceral landmark was completed in 1927 and serves as a memorial to unaccounted individuals who fought in World War I (WWI). The names of 54,000 soldiers from the United Kingdom and countries from the Commonwealth line the inside of the gateway's walls.

Every night since 1928, a ceremony known as the Last Post occurs at Menin Gate. At 8 p.m., buglers perform in remembrance of the lost serviceman. At the time of this writing, Menin Gate is being restored and has a completion date of 2025. Despite this, the Last Post, which is free to view, will still be performed.

In addition to the Menin Gate, tourists can visit the nearby Ypres Reservoir Cemetery. Founded in 1915, this is the final resting place of more than 2,000 soldiers who lost their lives in the war. This is not the only WWI-era cemetery in Ypres — others include the Sanctuary Wood Cemetery and the Ypres Town Cemetery.

Tourists who want to see where the fighting in Ypres took place can do so with the Flanders Battlefield Tours, a top-rated provider on Trip Advisor. Their Grand Tour makes several stops, including Pilckem Ridge, one site from the Third Battle of Ypres.

The Grand Tour is available from 1 to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. On Saturdays, it starts at 9 a.m. and ends at 1 p.m. The tour can be booked online and costs around $50 per person.