Ypres (Dutch: Ieper, both pronounced "eeper") is a friendly town of 35,000 inhabitants in Flanders endowed with wonderful architecture and a troubled past. Ypres is best known as the site of three major battles of the First World War, the most famous being the Battle of Passchendaele from July—November 1917. The many memorials and cemeteries of the fallen in and around Ypres draw thousands of visitors each year. The belfry of Ypres is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Town name and languages
The official Dutch name for the city is Ieper - this is the version of the name you will see most commonly in and around the Flemish-speaking town. Most native English speakers, however, will know the town by its French name Ypres, as popularised in media and history texts during and immediately after the First World War.
The town of Ypres formed the centre of the so-called "Ypres Salient" during most of the First World War—an area of Allied (British and Belgian)-held land surrounded on three sides by the German front line that formed the northernmost section of the Western Front. Holding Ypres was vital for the Allies in their bid to prevent the Germans gaining control of all the Channel ports, vital for the transport and supply of the British Expeditionary Force. As a result, the city became the focus of several major battles to break in and out of the Salient and was subjected to fairly continuous bombardment by German artillery for most of the war. By 1918, little remained of the town but shattered ruins surrounded by muddy shell-pocked fields.
After the First World War, most of central Ypres was rebuilt with German reparations (war debt) money. This was a lengthy process: the famous Cloth Hall was not completed until the 1960s.
Ypres has its own 1 Train Station. From there, you can easily walk to the city center. But the station is poorly served, causing slow connections to most other towns a bit further away.
Ypres has bus lines towards neighbouring towns.
Ypres is easily reachable by car - highway to Kortrijk, then follow directions for Ieper (A19).
From the ports of Calais or Dunkirk, take the A16 East, turning off at junction 28 (A25 towards Lille). Get off at Junction 13 and follow the signs for Ypres (Ieper).
Ypres isn't big, so it's perfectly traversable by car. You can park at the main square, in front of the cloth hall for a small fee (except during the weekly or other market), or freely near to the train station. A car also allows you to visit places further on such as the various cemeteries.
Although it's a nice region to cycle, the distances are often too far when you have a specific destination outside the city centre.
Ypres city centre is best approached on foot.
For visiting the war graves and memorials, one could use a car or cycle. Take the guided "Battle field tour" - bus, or buy an audio tour on the internet - same sites, but a lot cheaper if you have your own transport
The attractions of Ypres are divided between the town center and several villages in the surrounding countryside - most of the battlefields and cemeteries are in the latter. For these, a car, bike or an arranged tour would be best.
Landmarks and memorials
- 1 Menin Gate Memorial (Menenpoort). Dedicated on 24 July 1927 as a memorial to the missing British and Commonwealth soldiers who fell in Belgium during World War One. Has a Last Post Ceremony each night at 20:00 as a way for the Ypres citizens to express their gratitude towards those who died for Belgium's freedom.
- This memorial contains huge panels inside and out into which are carved the names of the 54,896 officers and men of the British Empire forces who died in the Ypres Salient area and who have no known graves. The names recorded on the gate's panels are those of men who died in the area between the outbreak of the war in 1914 and 15 August 1917. The names of a further 34,984 of the missing - those who died between 16 August 1917 and the end of the war, are recorded on carved panels at Tyne Cot Cemetery, on the slopes just below Passchendaele.
- The first Cloth Hall was built around 1200 as a center of Flemish wealth, and completely destroyed by German artillery shelling in 1916. The Cloth Hall was rebuilt in 1962 as the symbol of a resurgent city. Contains the In Flanders Fields Museum (see below).
- 2 In Flanders Fields Museum (in the Ypres Cloth Hall, in the center). Apr-Sept: daily 10:00-18:00, Oct-Mar: Tu-Su 10:00—17:00, last entry 1 hr before closing. This museum gives an excellent overview of World War I. It is more like an experience that takes you right into the daily life during the war. The experience is very moving, and it's a must-see for everyone coming to Ypres, young and old. Allow at least 2 hr for a full museum visit. When the weather is good enough, the belfry tower is also available for visit for additional cost, giving you a great overview over the front region.
- City fortification. Ypres has been a rather military city from its foundation on, being always on the boundary of some country. The oldest city walls, dating from 1385, were mostly destroyed for expansion. The city walls that guard the south and east of the city were created by the French architect Vauban in the 16th century. The walls are star-shaped, and made from thick dirt moats, allowing to hold back the heaviest artillery from that age to World War I onwards. Planted with trees, they form a green belt around the city centre.
- Casemates (Kazematten) (a bit south of the Menin gate, with entrances to the inner-city). The Casemates were bomb-free shelters under the city fortifications. They were also built by Vauban, and they even remained functional as armoury until World War I. One of them contains a pub, another one contains a brewery, and the rest are used for temporary expositions.
- 3 Ramparts Cemetery, Rijselstraat. Military cemetery in the town of Ypres with 198 Commonwealth soldiers buried next to the Lille Gate (Rijselpoort).
- 4 Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917. Feb-Nov: daily 09:00-17:00. Museum in a beautiful setting, telling the story of the Great War in chronological order. Lots of information on the different battles and a large selection of authentic artifacts on display. The big bonus of the museum in a reconstructed dug-out which lets you to experience what life under Flanders Fields must have been at the time. €5, groups €3.
- 5 Tyne Cot Commonwealth Cemetery. The largest Commonwealth Wargraves Commission cemetery in the world, situated to the south of the village of Passendale. There are also many more smaller Commonwealth cemeteries dotted around the region as well. free.
- 6 Vladso German Cemetery. One of the most important German cemetery from the First World War lies in the village of Vladslo, north of Ypres and close to the city of Diksmuide. In one of the few oak-tree woods in the area lie hundreds of square black stones with the names of the buried soldiers. The peace treaty of Versailles denied the losers of the war the use of white stone. The stones lie in rigid lines in the grass under the trees. No flowers decorate the burial grounds. Includes a statue by Käthe Kollwitz called "The Grieving Parents".
- 7 Langemark German Cemetery. The cemetery, which evolved from a small group of graves from 1915, has seen numerous changes and extensions. It was dedicated in 1932. Today, visitors find a mass grave near the entrance. This comrades' grave contains 24,917 servicemen, including the Ace Werner Voss. Between the oak trees, next to this mass grave, are another 10,143 soldiers (including 2 British soldiers killed in 1918). The 3,000 school students who were killed during the First Battle of Ypres are buried in a third part of the cemetery. At the rear of the cemetery is a sculpture of four mourning figures by Professor Emil Krieger. The group was added in 1956, and is said to stand guard over the fallen. The cemetery is maintained by the German War Graves Commission, the Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge.
- 8 Hill 60, Zwarteleenstraat. A well-preserved World War I battle site that changed sides repeatedly. There area covered in craters. There was also a large amount of tunneling during the war which adds to the uneven terrain. The memorial to the 1st Australian Tunneling Co contains bullet holes from World War II. free.
- 9 Museum Godshuis Belle. Located in the chapel of a former almshouse, it contains a small Ypres art collection. Admission included with ticket to In Flanders Field Museum.
- Wonderful countryside with many routes for walking and cycling.
- Ypres Ballooning. Daily hot air balloon flights over battlefields around Ypres. The best way to see the impact of the war from the sky. See the large number of bomb craters (now lakes), cemeteries, and trenches.
- 1 Bellewaerde theme park, Meenseweg 497, ☏ . Bellewaerde was established in 1954 as a zoo and safari park. The park evolved into a theme park. Bellewaerde attracts 850,000-900,000 visitors a year and is one of the main theme parks in Flanders.
- Kattenstoet. A parade in Ypres devoted to the cat. It is held every third year on the second Sunday of May. This "Festival of the Cats" commemorates an Ypres tradition from the Middle Ages in which cats were thrown from the belfry tower of the Cloth Hall to the town square below. Symbolically reviving this practice for the parade festivities, a jester tosses stuffed toy cats from the Cloth Hall belfry down to the crowd, which awaits with outstretched arms to catch one. The throwing of the cats from the belfry is followed by a mock witch burning.
- Lovely shops and cafes selling Belgian chocolates and beer.
- Things from the World War I period in dedicated shops, for example near the Menin Gate.
The marketplace has several restaurants, pubs and places to sit outside during the summer.
Tuesdays usually host music night outside, organised by "'t Klein Stadhuis" next to the cloth halls and the city hall.
- 1 Frituur De Leet, Vandenpeereboomplein 43, ☏ . Tu-Su 11:30-14:30 and 17:30-23:00, M closed. Belgian fries and other fast food.
The region around Ypres has many small B&Bs, and in the city centre, there are also several hotels.
- 1 Ambrosia Hotel Ieper (Ambrosia b&b Ypres), D'Hondtstraat 54, ☏ . Small hotel (10 rooms). Cooked and/or continental breakfast and free internet.
- 2 Cherry Blossom B&B (between Ypres and Poperinge). English family-run B&B. Motorcyclists and children are welcome. Evening meals and packed lunches by arrangement. Tea and coffee making facilities/TV in all rooms. Small collection of artifacts to view.
- 3 B&B Fresco, Kunstenlaan 38 (10 min walking distance up from the station), ☏ . Check-in: flexible, check-out: flexible. English, French, German, and Flemish spoken. The hosts are very friendly. Wifi, terrace, privatised floor with fridge, big comfortable rooms, nice bathroom with bath foams, hearty breakfast (default breakfast with meat, vegetarian on demand including a platter of speciality cheese). Doubles €50.
- 4 Varlet Farm. Bed and breakfast, on the former Passchendaele battlefield, named by British soldiers of the Great War. It was taken by the Royal Naval Division on October 1917. Close to all major memorials. Maps, guidebook, and tour guide available. 7 rooms. Small groups up to 18 people. Private collection on the farm showing artifacts dug up in the fields.
Ypres is generally very safe. Pickpockets are rare, and violence is very rare. Do watch out in the streets where there's busy traffic.
- Kortrijk is the closest city reachable by rail. Kortrijk is a nice provincial city offering history or shopping and has important rail connections to Brussels, Ghent, Bruges, Antwerp, Lille.
- When you travel by car, it's also easy to reach the other towns that have an importance in World War I, such as Nieuwpoort, Diksmuide, Poperinge and Menin.
- The Belgian coast isn't far away, with sand beaches and picturesque towns a bit further from the beach. Those towns include Veurne, Koksijde and Nieuwpoort.