A hundred years ago,the First Great War came to an end after an armistice was signed at the Treaty of Versailles. Millions of deaths later, the world refused to learn plunging itself into another Great War merely two decades after. Only this time it would be more dangerous, savage, and heart-wrenching. The death toll (sitting at nearly 70-80 million) more than tripled from the first Great War (roughly 20-22 million). I am often lost for words when asked to describe the pure barbarism on show during the deadly conflict. You won't find a single city in Europe where the memories of the battles aren't fresh. The wounds left behind by the wars can't be forgotten, they needs to be memorialized. From mind-boggling to inspirational, discover our list of war sites across Europe that you cannot miss out on.
Fort Douaumont, France
Built before the First World War the Fort acted as a shelter for the locals during the devastating Battle of Verdun in France. The battle which resulted in very minute change of territory but deaths in millions set the tone for the rest of the war. Fort Douaumont remains one of the most well preserved sites of the war. One can take a walk through its three levels and observe the guns, turrets and weaponry on display. The command posts and barrack rooms are also well intact.
The site is about a 4-hours journey from Paris by bus. A car journey is shorter taking 2.5 hours. Trains are also available if one prefers to travel by the rail.
Vimy Ridge, France
The Canadian National Vimy Memorial set at the highest point of Vimy Ridge is one of Canada's largest war memorials. The Battle of Vimy Ridge, part of the larger Allied offensive, marked an important occasion of the First Great War. The towering monument which can be seen from miles away is surrounded by a range of shell craters and trenches which have been reinforced. Not as well known as others, the Canadian army's telling contribution would provide as a great source of inspiration to other members of the Allied Forces.
The Vimy Ridge is about 175 kilometers from the French capital city of Paris and takes roughly 2-2.5 hours by car. You can also drive from Lille, which is about an hour away.
Possibly the most iconic WWII site, Auschwitz has a notorious past. Recognized as one of the Nazi's largest concentration camps the camp is a symbol of what humans are capable of inflicting on their fellow kind. Auschwitz oversaw over a million deaths during the second Great War. Converted into a museum the complex has several rules and precautions that one must be aware of before visiting. Check this link out to know more. Regarded by Hitler as the destination for the "Final Solution", Auschwitz will forever be a reminder to the world of the vicious Nazi legacy.
Located on the outskirts of the city of Oswiecim, Auschwitz is about 2 km from the train station with local buses providing transportation to the museum.
The Museum is open all year long, seven days a week, except January 1, December 25, and Easter Sunday. Here are the timings:
- 7:30 AM - 2:00 PM December
- 7:30 AM - 3:00 PM January, November
- 7:30 AM - 4:00 PM February
- 7:30 AM - 5:00 PM March, October
- 7:30 AM - 6:00 PM April, May, September
- 7:30 AM - 7:00 PM June, July, August
Livadia Palace, Yalta
As the German resistance crumbled across Europe, global leaders like Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin and F.D Roosevelt came together to discuss the post-war world at the Livadia Palace in Yalta in what would be known as the historic Yalta conference. Built in a Neo-Renaissance style, the meeting at palace between Roosevelt and Stalin marked the beginning of the arduous and proxy Cold War which would grab the world's attention for the next half century. Back in the day though, the palace was a summer retreat home to the last Russian tsar.
Located in the Crimea in Yalta, a disputed territory between Ukraine and Russia, the Livida Palace can be accessed by public transportation or a private car. The journey to Yalta from Ukrainian capital city, Kiev can be a long one with the night train being the cheapest alternative.
The Wolf's Lair, Poland
The birthplace of Hitler's Operation Barbarossa, the Wolf's Lair was the German Dictator's first headquarters on the Eastern Front. Built deep in the Masurian woods, the Nazis launched a blitzkrieg attack against the Russians pushing Stalin's men deep into its territory. Three security zones surrounded the Fuhrer's complex. The work to expand the lair was started in 1944, but the Red Army's (Russian forces) rapid advances meant that the developments at this lair were never completed.
There are no regular tours but companies like Intopoland can help you plan out your trip. The trip from Warsaw to Ketrzyn will take about four hours with the journey being about 250 kilometers.