Elliot and I are history nerds, and like millions of people around the world, we are especially drawn to WWII history. I’ve read countless books about the heroics, atrocities, psychology, and politics of the war, and the two of us have seen Band of Brothers and The Pacific more times than we can count. Maybe it’s because I have a personal connection to the war, as my Gramps was a Marine stationed at a submarine base in Guantanamo Bay (ironically, he was super claustrophobic), or maybe it’s because there are so many stories of humanity at its best and worst, but I can’t seem to soak up enough information about The Greatest Generation. I guess it’s my way of remembering and honoring them. Now that we live in London, a city itself greatly impacted by the war, we have easier access to continental Europe than we did in the States. Elliot and I wanted to take a trip that visited WWII sites particularly meaningful to either the war or our own interests, so we decided to do a WWII “Road Trip” through France, Belgium, and Luxembourg, with a brief stop in Germany. This blog will be in two parts: Part I will detail the planning process and itinerary for those interested in doing a similar trip. I was unable to find any itineraries that weren’t part of group travel, so I’m paying it forward by sharing mine. Part II will be the narrative of our trip, and what we learned along the way. If you’re a regular follower of the blog (mom and mom-in-law, I’m looking in your direction), Part II will be in several forthcoming posts. A few notes before starting:
- The events we visited were for the year 2016. For those planning future trips, be sure to check out websites for specific dates/times.
- This is what we believe, based on our interests, is our ultimate WWII road trip. Yours may look slightly, or even very, different. Make the most of your trip by aligning stops with your interests.
- We’ve already been to Auschwitz, Paris, Amsterdam, Prague, and various places in Germany, so significant sites located there are not included in this itinerary. They’re definitely worth a visit though if you haven’t been.
Part I: Planning
This was a bear to plan, partly because there aren’t a lot of existing WWII road trip itineraries and partly because of the logistics involved. There are some group tours that focus on WWII sites, but I couldn’t find any that checked all of our “must do” boxes. So that meant I was doing the planning on my own.
Step 1: Brainstorm a list of all the places in Europe that you associate with WWII. Whatever jumps off the top of your head is probably what is the most meaningful to you, and therefore a must visit. If you’re stuck, Google is a big help. You’ll get a lot of information with key words that are pretty straightforward: If you’re interested in battle sites, search “WWII Battle Sites Europe”. If you want to visit American Cemeteries, search “American Cemeteries Europe”. And so on, and so forth. Be sure to keep your vacation time frame in mind. A few sites to get you started:
Step 2: Plot the sites on a map using a site like Map Customizer (Be forewarned that you’ll need to create an account) Step 3: From there, decide your mode(s) of transportation to each place, keeping in mind that you may need more than one option. I’d recommend London or Paris as a good starting point; WWII sites are plentiful there but not listed in this itinerary. Some sites to help:
- Airfare: Skyscanner (This is great because you can search “Everywhere”, and you’ll get a airfare price broken down by country.)
- Rail: Trainline or RailEurope are good places to start your train service search.
- Car Rental: If you don’t have a rewards card with a specific service, try Rentalcars.com to compare all of them.
- Rideshare: If public transportation doesn’t get you to where you want to go, but you don’t feel comfortable driving in Europe, try a Rideshare service like Blabla Car.
Step 4: Book your accommodations at sites like Booking.com or Hotels.com. Since you’ll be doing multiple bookings, you get better deals “buying in bulk”. Airbnb is a also a great option for affordable accommodation.
Step 5: Research time! Consider things like ticket prices, opening hours, parking fees, accessibility, and recommended restaurants in the area. The first few things can usually be found on the any major location’s website, but use Lonely Planet for recommendations on food and nearby attractions.
I strongly recommend going to Normandy on D-Day if you can. There are so many festivals and celebrations occurring, and all the towns/village people get decked out in 1940’s clothing/hairstyles while parading through the streets in refurbished military vehicles. You feel like you’ve gone back in time; it’s definitely a once in a lifetime experience. Here’s our planned itinerary; specific Norman towns and celebrations, as well as trip details, can be found in Part II. As an FYI there are a few non-WWII sites on there, including a stop at Epernay in the Champagne region. Because champagne. I’ve included websites, ticket prices, and addresses for not only the sites but restaurant recommendations as well. Link to pdf of the itinerary:
Leave any suggestions or thoughts in the comments!
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