Experience history where history was made
Vimy Ridge and the WWI Battlefields are an important part of Canada’s history.
Thousands of Canadians visit Flanders and the Vimy Ridge Memorial to commemorate Canada’s military victory pivotal battles that profoundly impacted the country’s emerging identity. If you are considering leading a trip, a battlefield tour combined with a selection of European capital cities is a tour that will be sure to generate excitement.
Click below to sample a designed set of inspiring itineraries that can be customized to your unique educational travel needs.
Day 1: Belgium: Ypres & Sanctuary Wood
Ypres is the site of one of the most significant battles fought by Canadian soldiers during the Great War. It was in this small town in Flanders where German forces first used mustard gas, and the St. Julian Memorial marks the spot where Canadians first encountered this terrible new weapon of war.
Totally destroyed during the WW1, Ypres commemorates the terrible tole on human life at the Menin Gate. Designed as a war memorial to those soldiers who fell and have no known grave, since 1928 the Menin Gate hosts an incredibly evocative ceremony every night at 8 pm where traffic comes to a standstill and the local fire brigade sounds the Last Post as a tribute to and honour to all British Empire soldiers who fought and died defending Ypres.
Not to be missed is the Sanctuary Wood Museum (Hill 62), one of the last sites on the Ypres Salient where original trenches and tunnels can be experienced. Students can get a sense of the living conditions that soliders had to endure as they waited to “go over the top” and rush the German trench line.
Not far away is the Canadian Hill 62 (Sanctuary Wood)Memorial, that commemorates the successful Canadian battle, but also the 8,430 casualties suffered in the process.
Sites visited: St. Julian Memorial, Ypres, Menin Gate, Last Post Ceremony, Sanctuary Wood Museum, Canadian Hill 62 Memorial
Day 2: Belgium & France: Ypres to Vimy
Passchaendale is synonymous with the horror of war and for good reason. Today’s programme will start with a visit to In Flanders Fields Museum, located in the landmark Cloth Hall in the heart of Ypres. Virtually destroyed by artillery fire in the war, the Cloth Hall was reconstructed with German reparation funds and today houses the museum dedicated to exploring and exposing the horrors or war.
Afterwards, leave the town of Ypres and travel the short distance to Passchaendale, scene of one of the most terrible and futile battles of WW1. In 16 days of fighting during the Second Battle of Passchendaele, Canada had 15,654 casualties with over 4,000 dead.
The Canadian Passchendaele Memorial commemorates the heroic fighting and is a reminder of our country’s significant loss. In the afternoon, travel south through the same French countryside that experienced destruction during both World Wars to Vimy Ridge and the town of Arras.
Enroute if time permits, stop at the Louvre Museum in Lens, the only outpost of Le Louvre and home to many important works of art from Antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the Modern Era. Of particular note is Delacroix’s famous painting of “Liberty Leading the People”, the allegorical representation of France’s fight for freedom from oppression.
Sites Visited: Flanders Fields Museum, Canadian Passchendaele Memorial, Louvre Lens
Day 3: France: Vimy Ridge, the Canadian National War Memorials
Vimy Ridge holds a solemn importance in Canadian military history and played a pivotal role in the development of the Canadian identity in the early 20th century. The Vimy Ridge Monument is the most iconic war memorial in all of France; the land was gifted by the French people in gratitude and perpetuity to Canada for the country’s heroic sacrifice and 10,602 casualties suffered over 4 days of fighting in April 1917. Canadian troops proved themselves to be a formidable and effective fighting force with a stunning victory under demanding circumstances. It’s for this reason that Vimy Ridge was chosen as the site for Canada’s most important memorial.
Visit the Vimy Interpretive Centre and followed by a guided tour of the underground tunnels and front line trenches will provide a context in which to understand the military feat of the Canadian troops. Return to Arras for lunch and take a trip beneath the city via the Wellington Quarry. A veritable underground city that housed thousands of allied troops in 1917, the Quarry was dug to connect with an existing labyrinth of 10th Century tunnels 10 meters below the city.
Later, visit the Beaumont Hammel Newfoundland Memorial commemorating the extraordinary bravery of the Newfoundland Regiment during the Battle of the Somme and is the largest memorial on the Western Front. Tragically, in 30 minutes of fighting the regiment was wiped out. Transferred to Canada when Newfoundland became part of the country in 1949, the Beaumont Hammel site together with Vimy Ridge are the only two National Historic Sites of Canada located outside Canada.
Sites Visited: Wellington Quarry, Vimy Ridge Memorial, Beaumont Hammel Memorial
Day 4, France: WW1 to WW2
Depart the WW1 battlefields this morning and drive southwest to Normandy and the incredible D-Day landing beaches. Enroute visit Dieppe and Omaha Beach. The Dieppe Raid was one of the most devastating and bloody chapters in Canadian military history, with Canadian casualties numbering 3,362. Learn how the Germans successfully defended the beaches and the impact the Dieppe Raid had on the Allied Forces’ future landing operations.
Visit the incredibly moving Canadian cemetery, created by the occupying German forces with the headstones of the deceased placed back-to-back in the German tradition, a unique layout unlike any other Commonwealth War Grave. Continue along the coast to the Arromanches Museum, where on June 6, 1944 the area became internationally significant as the site for the WW2 D-Day Landings. See an exposition that highlights the engineering feats and the heroic bravery of the Allied soldiers. Visit the innovative Juno Beach Centre and the Canadian and American cemeteries at Courseulles-Sur-Mer.
Late in the afternoon, travel the short distance to the medieval city of Caen, which was founded by William the Conqueror in 1060 and where he built the impressive Abbey, Cathedral and Castle. Caen was pivotal in the Battle of Normandy in 1944, when much of the town was destroyed before being liberated by British and Canadian forces. The Caen Memorial commemorates WW2 and its aftermath the Cold War with educational exhibits.
Sites visited: Dieppe & Omaha Beach, Arromanches Museum, Juno Beach Centre, Canadian dan American Cemeteries, Memorial de Caen/ Musee Memorial de la Bataille de Normandie
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Pre and Post Battlefield Tour Options:
Option 1: London
Day 1: London
London has a history spanning over two thousand years and boasts a vibrant cosmopolitan atmosphere that never stops. Before checking into the hotel, a scenic bus tour will take you past many of the city’s principal sites including Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, Regent Street, Buckingham Palace, Westminster, and Big Ben. This evening, head by tube to vibrant Covent Garden and Leicester Square before enjoying a West End play.
Overnight: Central London
Sites Visited: Bus tour of central London, Covent Garden, West End Play
Day 2: London
Located on the banks of the Thames River, the mighty Tower of London was established by William the Conqueror in 1066 and has been the scene of many of Britain’s most dramatic moments. Used as a palace, prison, royal mint, zoo, and museum, the Tower now houses one of the foremost collections of armour in the world and the Crown Jewels. Bombed during the First and Second World Wars, the Tower sustained a direct hit during the Blitz in 1940. Cross the iconic Tower Bridge to the South Bank and walk the short distance to where HMS Belfast is moored. Originally a Royal Navy Light Cruiser, the Belfast was launched in 1936 and saw heavy action during WW2. Explore the decks and discover stories of life at sea during the war. This afternoon, visit the Imperial War Museum where collections span the history of Britain and the Commonwealth since WW1. Recently reopened after a massive redevelopment to celebrate the centenary of the outbreak of WW1, the galleries include armaments, vehicles, aircraft, original film, and many important objects like the 140 year old Canadian Red Ensign that was carried by our troops at Vimy Ridge and is the oldest known Canadian flag in existence.
Overnight: Central London
Sites Visited: Tower of London, London Bridge, HMS Belfast, Imperial War Museum London
Day 3: London
This morning explore one of the wold’s greatest repositories of history and culture: the British Museum. Important pieces include the Elgin Marbles from the Acropolis in Athens, the Rosetta Stone, important collections of artifacts from ancient Egypt, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus (one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World), and much more. The Churchill War Rooms is the bunker built to shelter Winston Churchill and his government during the Blitz. Walk through the historic rooms and experience the secret life that happened underground and ensured Britain’s government was able to function despite the constant threat of bombardment. An exhibit is dedicated to the fascinating life and legacy of Winston Churchill, one of the Second World War’s most important figures. Later, stroll past 10 Downing Street, Horse Guard’s Parade, and into scenic St. James Park before emerging in front of Buckingham Palace. The rest of the day is at leisure to explore London.
Sites visited: British Museum, Churchill War Museums
*Depending on arrival and departure times (air or rail) , it is possible to condense the above into two full days by dropping the British Museum and HMS Belfast
Option 1: Paris
(2 days + Versailles)
Day 1: Paris
Today’s program takes us on a guided walking tour of the Rive Gauche, long considered to be the centre for Parisian creativity and arts. Historically, its main artery was the Rue St. Jacques, which follows the ancient underlying Gallo-Roman road. Stroll along St. Michel and St. Germain boulevards, see the Sorbonne University and the Pantheon, a monument housing the tombs of the giants of French philosophy and literature: Hugo, Voltaire, Zola and Rousseau. Cross the Petit Pont, arrive at Ile de la Cite and behold the magnificent cathedral of Notre Dame, a spectacular example of Gothic architecture, and deservedly famous since the Middle Ages. Complete the walking tour at The Louvre. Once a former fortress, this massive Renaissance royal palace was transformed by the Revolution into a people’s museum that houses a remarkable collection of more than 35,000 paintings, drawings, and sculptures. Today, The Louvre is the most visited art museum in the world. The tour will highlight masterpieces from Ancient Greece and Rome and paintings by Leonardo da Vinci (the Mona Lisa), Raphael and Rembrandt.
Sites Visited: Left Bank, Pantheon, Notre Dame, The Louvre
Day 2: Paris
This morning, visit Montmartre, a district long famed for it’s lively arts and bohemian atmosphere, which is beautifully anchored by the landmark Sacre Coeur Cathedral, one of the city’s most beautiful churches. Travel across town to visit Pari’s iconic landmark: the Eiffel Tower! Enjoy the panoramic vistas of beautiful Paris from the observation deck. At the base of the tower board a Bateaux Mouchesfor a guided cruise along the Seine river
Sites Visited: Montmartre, Sacre Coeur Cathedral, Eiffel Tower, Bateaux Mouches river cruise
Day 3: Paris – Versailles – Normandy (or vice versa)
Either travelling to or from Normandy, enroute discover the Chateau de Versailles, universally regarded as one of the masterpieces of French baroque architecture and the former playground and residence of the French nobility. Pass from the magnificent Grands Appartements of Louis XIV to the graceful Petits Appartements of Louis XV and Louis XVI. The highlight will be the spectacular Hall of Mirrors that was designed to overwhelm royal visitors and display the wealth and prestige of the French Monarchy. Weather permitting, explore the surrounding Park with its statues, ornamental ponds, and “follies”.
Overnight: Either Paris or Normandy
Sites Visited Enroute: Versailles
Option 3: Amsterdam
Day 1: Amsterdam
Arrive in Amsterdam, the “Venice of the North” and capital city of The Netherlands. Built on a series on interconnecting islands separated by almost 50 miles of canals and 1000 bridges, Amsterdam boast a rich history firmly rooted in the concept of freedom from oppression. Enjoy a guided walking tour including Dam Square, Royal Palace, New Church and Waterloo Square. Pass by Rembrandt’s House, the restored 17th Century house where the greatest of the Dutch Masters lived and worked for 20 years. Nearby is the Dutch Resistance Museum, a fascinating museum detailing the WW2 Dutch Resistance where visitors are confronted with the terrible choices Dutch citizens had to face under Nazi occupation. The Van Gogh Museum is one of Holland’s premiere art galleries celebrating the famous Impressionist who was born in Holland in 1853.
Sites Visited: Walking tour of historic city centre, Dutch Resistance Museum, Van Gogh Museum
Day 2: Amsterdam
One of Amsterdam’s most famous residents was Anne Frank. This morning, climb the hidden staircase behind the bookcase at the Anne Frank House & Museum and experience what life was like for Anne and her family and friends during the two years they hid from the Nazis. Since Amsterdam is built on water, one of the best ways to experience the city is on a canal boat tour. Embark on a river boat for a fascinating journey along the canals and soak up Amsterdam’s unique architecture and culture. After disembarking visit the Rijksmuseum, the National Museum of the Netherlands. The collection contains over 2,000 paintings form the Dutch Golden Age including masterpieces by Rembrandt and Vermeer.
Sites visited: Anne Frank House, canal tour, Rijksmuseum
Day 3: Depart Amsterdam
Depart Amsterdam for Canada or Ypres in Belgium.
Option 4: Brussels
Day 1: Brussels
Belgium’s capital is a city of contrasts with enormous diversity and places of interest. Grand Place, Brussels’ principal square, is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is considered to be one of Europe’s most beautiful central plazas. Lined with ornate baroque and gothic guild houses, the Grand Place’s most notable features are the impressive Town Hall, which dates back to the 13th century. In close proximity is Manneken Pis, the famous bronze sculpture of a boy peeing in a fountain! Not to be missed is the Chocolate Museum located in a 17th century merchant’s house, where you will learn about chocolate making techniques and sample world class Belgian truffles! Another unique attraction is the Coudenberg Palace and archeological site. The former palace of Emperor Charles V was the most magnificent royal building in Europe. Tragically destroyed by fire in 1731, Coudenberg was never rebuilt and the site was gradually transformed into the city’s Place Royale and forgotten until the 1980s. Today, visitors can walk through the former royal cellars, stroll along the Rue Isabella, and visit the Hoogstraeten House – all underground the bustling modern city and park above! Entrance to the Coudenberg Palace is via BelVue, a small museum presenting the history of Belgium from the 1830 revolution through the colonization of Congo to the modern era.
Sites visited: Walking tour, Chocolate Museum, Coudenberg Palace, BelVue Museum
Day 2: Brussels (NATO)
This morning, take a guided tour of NATO headquarters courtesy of the Canadian Mission to NATO. This afternoon, take the Metro system and ascend the Atomium. Built in 1958 for the the World’s Fair, the Atomium is both sculpture, architecture, and museum all rolled into one amazing landmark. Modelled after a crystallized molecule of iron magnified 150 thousand million times, escalators whisk you to the various exposition spheres offering spectacular views of the city. Below the Atomium is “Mini-Europe”, a park that recreates in miniature the most beautiful towns and sites on the continent.
Sites visited: NATO Headquarters, Atomium
Day 3: Brussels Departure
Depart Brussels for Canada or Ypres.
Option 4: Munich
(2 days + 1 day travel via train from Normandy or other optional city)
Day 1: Munich
Munich, Bavaria’s capital city is world-famous for Oktoberfest, world class art galleries, and storybook castles including Mad King Ludwig’s Newschwannstein. It also holds the dubious distinction of being the capital of the Nazi movement in the 1930s. Allied Supreme Commander General Eisenhower called Munich “the cradle of the Nazi beast”. It was there that Kristallnacht occurred, the heinous anti-Semitic pogrom that set the stage for the Holocaust. While much of central Munich was ultimately bombed during WW2, ironically many of the Nazi era buildings survived and still stand today. On a walking tour of the city’s principal sites, the guide will carefully point out the buildings with a more ominous history and the memorials to the many victims of Nazisim. On a lighter note, see the 43-bell glockenspiel in historic Marienplatz Square and visit the Deutsches Museum, the world’s largest museum of science and technology. Natural sciences, energy, transport, communication, and musical instruments are just some of the exhibits that draw millions of visitors to the museum every year. Like every visitor to Munich, enjoy a typical meal at a Munich Beer Garden (minus the beer!) and enjoy typical Bavarian music and an Oom Pah Pah band!
Sites visited: Walking tour of Munich with WW2 highlights, Deutsches Museum
Day 2: Munich and Dachau
Experience two extremes in Munich’s history. This morning, visit Nymphenburg Palace, an Italian inspired summer home for the Bavarian Monarch. The lavish park and baroque “schloss” bear a passing resemblance to Versailles; the interiors, however, retain many of the priceless works of art, porcelain and furniture because unlike Versailles, Nymphenburg is still the home to the Prince of Wittelsbach, the Duke of Bavaria. Less than 15 km away from the ornate palace is Dachau Concentration Camp and Memorial Site. Established in 1933 just weeks after Hitler was appointed Chancellor, Dachau served as a model for all later concentration camps and served as a “school of violence” for the SS. The permanent exhibition focuses of the fate of the prisoners and chronicles their path to the camp and then either death or liberation.
Sites visited: Nymphenburg Palace, Dachau Concentration Camp
Day 3: Depart Munich
Depart Munich for the return flight to Canada.