Ypres (also known as Ieper) is a place with a haunting past. Expect to be moved when visiting this city that played such an important role in the First World War and saw the loss of a generation of soldiers during the fierce battles that took place here and in the surrounding areas. It is believed that 300,000 soldiers lost their lives on the front line here known as the Salient. As you would expect there are plenty of war museums, memorials, military cemeteries and battlefields to tour, learn about and respectfully explore.
If you are visiting Ypres, you should be prepared to visit many sombre places but there is also plenty of charm in the city to appreciate too. Surprisingly much of the medieval architecture remains or has been restored and like many Belgian cities, the market square contains an impressive array of architecture. There is also good food, with particular attention paid to traditional Flemish cuisine and of course more beer.
No matter what you do in the city of Ypres, your thoughts will not be far from the devastation and loss of World War 1 and the city will ultimately always be haunted by its past.
Lets explore the best things to do in Ypres:
1. Be moved by Flanders Fields
The in-Flanders Fields museum in Ypres is one of the city’s top attractions.
The museum, which explores all aspects of WW1 uses various media and sensory experiences including videos, sounds and smells to fully immerse visitors.
There are even interactive experiences including selecting a war time persona and following their trials and tribulations throughout the war.
2. Pay your respects at the Menin Gate Memorial
Another landmark relating back to the First World War, the Menin Gate is a memorial to the 55,000 soldiers who went missing in action during the First World War.
The structure itself is a colossal stone archway that crosses the city moat at the eastern exit of the city.
The names of the British and Commonwealth soldiers who went missing during the war are all inscribed on the monument and make for a chilling sight.
3. Pop into the Belle Almshouse
The Belle Almshouse is a tiny chapel that is tucked away in Ypres and is very easy to miss.
Do not expect to see the Notre Dame is rather plain and unassuming and is nestled between other buildings on Rijelstraat.
Inside the church however there is hidden treasure.
The chapel is full of fantastic artwork dating back as far as medieval times.
The art is mainly religious but travellers will enjoy the satisfaction of stumbling upon this hidden gem.
4. Marvel at the Lakenhalle
The Lakenhalle is the most impressive building in Ypres and arguably the most impressive in the entire country.
It is located in the Grote Markt and has been restored almost entirely to its 14th Century glory.
The stand out features of the buildings design include the whopping 70-meter-high belfry tower and the large central windows.
It is possible to climb the tower but it will cost you an extra 2 Euros, charged upon entrance to the Flanders Fields museum.
5. Eat some baked goods
The Henk Bakery on Sint-Jakobstraat has become something of an icon.
It is known by locals and tourists alike for its great bread, cakes and puddings and will regularly be heaving with hungry customers.
The price of its goods does not reflect the bakery’s popularity however and the Henk Bakery still offers great value with a serving of its famous broodpudding costing only 40 cents.
6. Watch the Last Post ceremony
The moving Last Post ceremony takes place daily at 8pm.
Traffic passing through the Menin Gate temporarily comes to a halt as buglers sound the Last Post in remembrance of the soldiers who lost their lives in the First World War.
The tradition started back in 1928 and still changes each evening with different instruments or soldiers being present meaning that it is worthwhile to watch the event more than one time.
The Gate gets busy around the time of the Last Post every evening so be there in good time to ensure yourself a decent view.
7. Visit one of the city’s best art museums
The Stedelijk Museum, located on Leperleestraat, is a small but impressive art museum.
The exhibits here feature art from the 19th Century mainly but they are regularly changing and it is unlikely that two visits will ever be the same.
The artwork is housed over three floors in the almshouse building which dates back to the mid-16th Century.
The price here is steep for anyone other than serious art enthusiasts with an adult entry costing 15 Euros, students can get in for half that.
8. Enjoy some local cuisine
Ypres is a great place to taste true Flemish fodder and the best of the best is surely De Ruyffelaer on Gustave de Stuersstraat.
The restaurant is cutesy and cosy both inside and out with a wood clad interior and fire place complemented by artwork and various antiques.
Flemish dishes include pâté, various game and plenty of pork dishes (the pork knuckle is excellent) all cooked in traditional Flemish methods and resulting in food as comforting as the surroundings.
9. Tour the Flanders Battlefield
Ypres, or Wipers as it was known by the British Army, was the scene of destruction and loss on an epic scale for four years throughout the First World War.
In this area, it is thought that 35 men were lost for every metre gained by the British Army.
The organised tours available here include not only the battlefields themselves but also the museums and military cemeteries around the city.
The tour guides aim to balance giving tour groups plenty of information and facts whilst remaining respectful and ultimately remembering the sacrifice made by those who lost their lives here.
10. Climb the man-made Hill 60
Another historic site that was of great importance during the First World War is the man-made defensive position referred to as Hill 60. What will surprise you about the hill after reading about the amount of lives lost here is how small it is.
During the First World War the hill transferred between the French, Germans and British troops.
There is a small fee for exploring hill 60 but it is well worth paying in order to walk in the trenches and imagine what life must have been like for the soldiers during those years.
11. Walk along the Vauban Ramparts
You can join the Vauban Ramparts at the Menin Gate Memorial and continue along the canal, enjoying peaceful surroundings and plenty of benches along the tree-lined path.
The walk is generally calm compared to other places in Ypres and is a great place to escape the busy hot, streets in the height of summer.
The ramparts themselves date back to the 17th Century and were used to fortify Ypres when it was just a village.
12. Eat some chocolate
After visiting many sombre war museums, battlefields and graveyards you could well need cheering up, if so there is no better place than the Leonidas Chocolaterie.
Belgian chocolate is known throughout the world for its quality and Leonidas is a great example.
The chocolatiers are still active and you can watch the process of making the chocolates, enjoy some free samples and no doubt buy bucket loads of the sweet stuff to take home with you.
You can find Leonidas on the Grote Markt.
13. Tour the Kazematten Brewery
What could be better than world-class chocolate? World class beer of course! The Kazematten brewery is housed in a historic building which dates back to the 18th Century and was used for ammunition storage during the First World War.
It is now known for its great beers and is open to the public every Saturday from 3pm – 5pm.
Tours begin every half an hour, cost ten euros per adult and include three beer tastings.
Private tours can be arranged by appointment only.
14. Walk around the Market Square
Many of the above-mentioned attractions can be found in the city’s market square but it is worth a visit on its own merits.
The square is home to many spectacular looking buildings that should be seen in daylight and after sunset for spectacular effect.
The square is also home to great restaurants, pubs and other things to do including an ice rink and Christmas markets during the festive months.