Ypres (also known as Ieper) is a place with a haunting past. Visit this city that played such an important role in World War I, and look forward to being touched by seeing a generation of soldiers sacrificed in the fierce battles that took place here and in the surrounding area. It is believed that 300,000 soldiers were killed here on the front line, known as the Bulge. As you might expect, there are many war museums, memorials, military cemeteries and battlefields to visit, learn about and respectfully explore.
If you’re visiting Ypres, you should be prepared to visit many shady places, but the city also has a lot to offer. Surprisingly, much of the medieval buildings still exist or have been restored, and like many Belgian cities, the market square contains an impressive array of buildings. There is also delicious food, with special attention to traditional Flemish cuisine, and of course more beer.
No matter what you do in Ypres, your mind is not far from the devastation and losses of the First World War, the city will end up forever haunted by its past.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Ypres:
1. Be moved by Flanders Manor
The Flanders Regional Museum in Ypres is one of the city’s top attractions.
The museum explores all aspects of World War I, using a variety of media and sensory experiences, including video, sound and smell, to fully immerse visitors.
There’s even an interactive experience, including choosing wartime characters and tracking their trials and tribulations throughout the war.
2. Pay your respects at the Menin Gate Memorial
Another World War I-related landmark, Menin Gate commemorates the 55,000 soldiers who went missing in action during World War I.
The structure itself is a huge stone archway that crosses the city moat at the city’s east exit.
The names of British and Commonwealth soldiers lost in the war are engraved on the monument, chillingly.
3. Enter Belle’s Asylum
Belle Almshouse is a hidden chapel in Ypres that is easy to miss.
Don’t expect to see Notre Dame quite plain and unassuming, nestled among the other buildings on the Rijelstraat.
But inside the church there are hidden treasures.
The chapel is filled with fantastic artwork dating back to the Middle Ages.
The art is largely religious, but travelers will enjoy the satisfaction of stumbled upon this hidden gem.
4. Marvel at Lakenhalle
Lakenhalle is the most impressive building in Ypres and arguably the most impressive building in the entire country.
Located on the Grote Markt, it has been almost completely restored to its 14th century splendor.
Prominent features of the architectural design include the 70-meter-high bell tower and the large central window.
It is possible to climb the tower for an extra €2, which is charged when entering the Flandersfield Museum.
5. Eat some baked goods
Henk Bakery on Sint-Jakobstraat has become something of an icon.
It is well known to locals and tourists alike for its delicious breads, cakes and puddings, and is often enjoyed with hungry customers.
However, the prices of its wares don’t reflect the bakery’s popularity, and Henk Bakery is still great value, with its famous brood pudding for just 40 cents.
6. Watch the final posting ceremony
The touching Last Post ceremony takes place every night at 8pm.
Traffic through the Menin Gate was temporarily halted as the trumpeter blew the final whistle in memory of soldiers killed in World War I.
The tradition began in 1928 and changes every night with the presence of a different instrument or soldier, meaning the event is worth seeing multiple times.
The Gate is busy every night at the Last Post, so be there in time to make sure you have a good view.
7. Visit one of the city’s best art museums
The Stedelijk Museum in Leperleestraat is a small but impressive art museum.
The exhibits here feature mainly 19th-century art, but they change regularly and it’s unlikely that two visits will be the same.
The artwork is located on the third floor of a workhouse building dating from the mid-16th century.
The prices are high here, except for serious art lovers, with an entry fee of 15 euros for adults and half price for students.
8. Taste local food
Ypres is a great place to taste real Flemish feed, the best of which is definitely De Ruyffelaer in Gustave de Stuersstraat.
The restaurant is lovely and cozy inside and out, with a wood interior, a fireplace, art and a variety of antiques.
Flemish dishes include meat sauces, various game dishes and plenty of pork dishes (pork knuckles are excellent), all cooked in traditional Flemish methods, making the food as comfortable as its surroundings.
9. Tour the Flanders Fields
Ypres, or wipers as the British Army called them, was the scene of destruction and loss on an epic scale during the four years during the First World War.
In this area, it is thought that the British lost 35 soldiers for every metre they gained.
The organized tours offered here include not only the battlefield itself, but also museums and military cemeteries around the city.
Guided tours are designed to balance providing the tour with a wealth of information and facts, while maintaining respect and ultimately remembering the sacrifices made by those who lost their lives here.
10. Climb up the man-made mountain 60
Another historical site of great importance during the First World War is the man-made defensive position known as Hill 60. After reading about the number of lives lost here, you will be amazed at how small this mountain is.
During the First World War, the mountain was transferred between French, German and British troops.
There’s a small fee to explore Mount 60, but it’s worth it to walk the trenches and imagine what life must have been like for the soldiers in those years.
11. Walk along the walls of Vauban
You can join the Vauban Walls at the Menin Gate Memorial and continue along the canal, enjoying the tranquility and plenty of benches on the tree-lined paths.
Compared to the rest of Ypres, the walk is usually peaceful and a great place to escape the busy, hot streets in the middle of summer.
The city wall itself dates back to the 17th century and was used to fortify Ypres when it was just a village.
12. Eat some chocolate
After visiting the many gloomy war museums, battlefields and cemeteries you might need to cheer up, and if so, there’s no better place than Leonidas Chocolaterie.
Belgian chocolate is world-renowned for its quality, and Leonidas is a great example.
Chocolate makers are still active, and you can watch the chocolate being made, enjoy some free samples, and no doubt buy a tub of sweets to take home.
You can find Leonidas at Grote Markt.
13. Visit Kazematten Brewery
What’s better than world-class chocolate? World class beer of course! The Kazematten brewery is housed in a historic building dating from the 18th century, which was used for ammunition storage during the First World War.
It is now known for its premium beers and is open to the public every Saturday from 3pm to 5pm.
Tours begin every half hour and cost €10 per adult, including three beer tastings.
Private tours can only be arranged by appointment.
14. Wander the market square
Many of the above attractions can be found in the city’s market square, but are worth a visit on their own merits.
There are many spectacular buildings in the square, which should be seen during the day and after sunset for a spectacular effect.
The square is also home to excellent restaurants, bars and other events, including an ice skating rink and a Christmas market during the festive season.
Where to stay: The best hotels in Ypres, Belgium
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