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10 must-visit World War II sites in Europe

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This Memorial Day, our thoughts turn to those who laid down their lives in conflicts at home and abroad. This year also marks the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings in France, inviting us to reflect on the soldiers who joined the Allied forces of World War II. We take a closer look at the World War II battlefields, memorials and historical sites across Europe, reminding us of the sacrifices made in defence of freedom and democracy. Join us on a tour through 10 must-visit World War II sites in Europe that educate and inspire reflection and remembrance. 

The Dunkirk beaches, Normandy, France 

A tour of World War II battlefields in Europe should start on the coast of Normandy, France. In May 1940, the small town of Dunkirk saw one of the most remarkable rescue missions in military history. As German forces advanced through France, Allied troops were trapped and surrounded near Dunkirk, with no viable land route for retreat. Operation Dynamo mobilised a flotilla of naval vessels, fishing trawlers and humble civilian boats that braved relentless air and artillery bombardment from the Luftwaffe, to evacuate over 338,000 Allied troops to safety across the English Channel.

Walk along the sands and picture thousands of Allied soldiers waiting anxiously to be rescued; reflect on the courage and solidarity of ordinary citizens and military personnel, who collaborated to save their fellow countrymen in the darkest hours of war. For a deeper understanding, the Dunkirk War Museum has immersive exhibits, personal accounts, and military artefacts that chronicle the evacuation and its impact. 

Lighthouse on Dunkirk's pier in France, must-visit World War II site

The D-Day beaches, Normandy, France

Four years later, Normandy would again play a defining role in World War II history. On the morning of June 6, 1944, thousands of Allied troops stormed the beaches of Normandy in a daring amphibious landing on five beaches: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword. It was a watershed moment in World War II, marking the beginning of the end of Nazi occupation in Europe and changing the course of history. 

The D-Day landings remain the largest seaborne invasion in history, and in 2024 we commemorate the event’s 80th anniversary. Visitors will stand on Omaha Beach and remember and pay their respects at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, where rows of white marble crosses and stars of David stand in silent commemoration. A memorial wall inscribed with the names of the missing reminds visitors of the profound human cost of war. Nearby, you can explore remnants of German fortifications at the Pointe du Hoc, site of a daring Ranger assault to neutralise German artillery positions. 

Utah Beach in Normandy, France

Paris, France

Under Nazi occupation during World War II, Paris played a pivotal role as the operational centre of the French Resistance. The Resistance was the name given to a diverse array of men, women and groups who risked everything to undermine the occupation by collaborating with Allied forces. 

Across the city, memorials, museums and plaques remember the efforts of the Resistance, including the Musée de l’Armée, with its showcase of weapons, uniforms, and the personal effects used by resistance fighters during the occupation. In the heart of Paris, stroll along Rue de Rivoli, now an attractive street full of shops, elegant cafés and arcades, but once the scene of numerous acts of sabotage and espionage against German forces, clandestine meetings, and distribution of underground publications. While primarily dedicated to commemorating victims of the Holocaust, Le Mémorial de la Shoah also pays tribute to those who resisted Nazi persecution in France. 

The Army Museum in Paris, France

Auschwitz-Birkenau, Poland

The name Auschwitz-Birkenau is now synonymous with the Nazi atrocities committed during the Holocaust. It was initially a concentration camp for political prisoners but became the largest and most notorious complex of extermination camps and the epicentre of the Holocaust. Here, over 1.1 million people were systematically murdered, the majority of whom were Jews. 

The site in Poland consisted of several sub-camps, which are today preserved as a memorial and museum to the memory of the dead. Visitors can explore the barracks, gas chambers and crematoria, and learn about the horrific conditions endured by prisoners and the scale of the genocide. Guided tours, exhibits and educational programmes provide visitors with historical context and personal testimonies, promoting awareness and understanding of the Holocaust. 

World War II memorial, Auschwitz, in Poland, famous World War II site

The Warsaw Ghetto, Poland 

In November 1940, the Nazis displaced over 400,000 Jews from Warsaw and neighbouring areas into a small area of the city, surrounded by walls and barbed wire. The Warsaw Ghetto isolated Jews from the rest of society, while subjecting them to overcrowding, starvation and forced labour. Despite the extreme deprivation, in April 1943 the Jewish residents launched a courageous revolt using smuggled weapons and makeshift explosives, in what has become known as the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

Although ultimately quashed, the uprising and subsequent battle served as a symbol of defiance and resistance against tyranny and oppression. Today the Pomnik Bohaterów Getta and POLIN Museum are among the World War II memorial sites paying tribute to the victims and heroes of the ghetto, ensuring that their stories are never forgotten.

Warsaw Poland, Warsaw Ghetto

The Churchill War Rooms, London, England

Not all World War II combat took place on the battlefield, but was carefully orchestrated in towns and cities away from the fighting. Step inside the reinforced bunker beneath the streets of London, England, and enter the nerve centre of British government operations during World War II. As war raged across Europe, the British prime minister, Winston Churchill, and his cabinet planned strategies and made vital decisions from the relative safety of this small underground bunker. 

The Churchill War Rooms have been preserved to appear as they did during the war, with maps, charts and the telephones used to receive intelligence briefings. Visit Churchill’s bedroom, a small room with a simple bed and desk, where he would occasionally rest during the long hours spent underground. Personal accounts, artefacts, and archival materials recreate the wartime atmosphere and help visitors to learn more about the leadership of Winston Churchill. 

Churchill War Museum, London, England, interesting must-visit World War II site

Bletchley Park, England

A Victorian Gothic mansion surrounded by groups of unassuming wooden huts is another unlikely battlefield, but Bletchley Park was the secret heart of British codebreaking operations during World War II. Here some of the UK’s best mathematicians worked in secret to develop ground-breaking methods and technologies to break German Enigma ciphers and decrypt enemy communications. The intelligence enabled Allied forces to anticipate enemy movements, intercept supply convoys and thwart military operations, playing a crucial role in shortening the war by around two years and ultimately securing an Allied victory. 

Shrouded in secrecy for decades, Bletchley Park is now a fascinating museum, where you can explore the huts, exhibitions and interactive displays. It’s also home to Colossus, the world’s first programmable digital electronic computer, developed in 1944 by the codebreakers to assist in the decryption of the new German Lorenz cipher. It represented a revolutionary leap forward in computing technology and laid the groundwork for the modern digital age.

Bletchley Park in England

Arnhem Bridge, Netherlands 

On September 17, 1944, thousands of British and Polish paratroopers descended from the skies over a lone bridge spanning the lower Rhine River in the Netherlands. The largest airborne operation in the history of warfare was part of Operation Market Garden, an ambitious plan to seize key bridges to allow Allied forces to bypass German defences and advance into the heart of Germany. The battle for Arnhem Bridge was a desperate and protracted struggle that ultimately failed, earning Arnhem the infamous moniker ‘A Bridge Too Far’, immortalised in the book and film of the same name. 

The current bridge, along with nearby memorials and museums, attracts visitors from around the world seeking to learn more about this pivotal moment in World War II history. Discover more at the Airborne Museum Hartenstein, located in the former headquarters of the British 1st Airborne Division.

Open Air Museum in Arnhem, Netherlands

Anne Frank House, Amsterdam, Netherlands

On May 10, 1940, the Nazis invaded the Netherlands and life for its Jews slowly deteriorated. In July 1942, Otto Frank took his wife and two daughters into hiding in a secret annexe in the back of his company’s offices, where they remained for over two years before they were discovered. During this time, the young Anne Frank, just 13 years old, kept a vivid and personal account of life under occupation in her diary. The Anne Frank House is one of World War II’s most historic sites, an evocative museum preserving the secret annexe where Anne hid from Nazi persecution. 

You can explore the cramped quarters where the Franks lived in concealment and try to imagine what daily life was like for them. The museum’s exhibits delve into the broader historical context of anti-Semitism and Nazi persecution, highlighting the importance of remembrance and education in combating prejudice and intolerance.

Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, Netherlands

Holocaust Memorial, Berlin, Germany

Of all the World War II history sites in Germany, the Holocaust Memorial is perhaps the most haunting – a striking tribute to the six million Jewish lives lost during one of humanity’s darkest chapters. Visitors navigate the maze-like pathways between a sombre expanse of 2,711 concrete slabs, encouraging reflection on the scale of the tragedy and the individual lives lost. The site’s central location in the heart of Berlin serves as a powerful symbol of Germany’s commitment to confronting its wartime past.

An Information Centre offers a deeper understanding of the Holocaust through exhibits, photographs, documents and personal testimonies, and interactive displays provide historical context and explore the stories of victims and survivors.

The Holocaust Museum in Berlin, Germany, must-visit World War II site

Make it happen

If you’re looking to plan your next historic vacation, get in touch with our local experts in your desired destination, and start creating your tailor-made itinerary. 

  1. France
  2. Poland
  3. England
  4. Netherlands

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