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Things to Do in Verdun

Northeast France isn't a regular tourist destination -- most visitors don't venture past Reims, with its gorgeous cathedral and Champagne culture. But just a bit farther east is a city worth visiting, one that is well-known among World War I buffs: Verdun.

Founded by the Celtic Gauls more than 2,000 years ago, Verdun is located on the River Meuse near the borders of Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany. It was the site of the longest and most brutal battle of World War I, the Battle of Verdun, which raged through most of 1916. The German and French sides suffered a combined 700,000 casualties, and although the French won, the victory was seen as a blight on the war because of the sheer number of soldiers wounded, lost or dead. The losses were ultimately deemed unnecessary.

The battlefield, which is only six square miles, can still be visited today. There are also several cemeteries and memorials in the area around Verdun where people from around the world can pay their respects to the fallen. The most visited is the Douaumont ossuary, a tribute to the soldiers who lost their lives. Although moving, the ossuary is not for the faint of heart; there are piles of actual human bones throughout the structure.

However, the museum itself is astounding, and both the monument and the cemetery of more than 16,000 graves are must-see attractions for those looking to gain perspective on the scale of what soldiers from both sides darkly nicknamed ""The Hell of Verdun.""
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Amneville Aquarium (Aquarium d'Amneville)

With 32 aquariums filled with exotic fish and marine creatures, an Amazon-inspired rain-forest zone, and an outdoor play area, Amneville Aquarium (Aquarium d'Amneville) is a popular family attraction. Its small size makes it a good option for even young children.

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Fleury-devant-Douaumont
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Fleury-devant-Douaumont is located in Lorraine, near the sadly infamous city of Verdun; locals know it as the “village that died for France.” Though easy to miss on the road to the Verdun Battlefield, Fleury remains a vivid reminder of the damages caused by World War I in provincial France. This portion of Lorraine was badly hit by the war, ravaged in such a way that the land was deemed uninhabitable, the area surrounding the commune being littered with explosives, corpses and poisonous gas – effectively ruining Fleury’s chances of being rebuilt into the thriving agricultural town it once was, as it would be difficult for farmers to work on such contaminated grounds. During the Battle of Verdun alone, Germans and the French successively captured the commune 16 times.

Along with several other villages in Lorraine, Fleury has since been unoccupied, with the official population being a heart-wrenching zero. Visitors can, however, visit the town, which is now more of a large wooded area, a veritable testimony to the First World War. The site is close to the Verdun memorial, and signs point to where streets and houses once sat. Only a small chapel from the 1930s remains on the exact spot where the town’s church once stood. Access is free and self-guided.

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Trench of the Bayonets (Tranchée des Baionnettes)
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1 Tour and Activity

The Trench of the Bayonets (Tranchée des Baionnettes) is a World War I memorial situated north of the Douaumont Ossuary. It pays homage to the Bayonet Trench soldiers who are thought to have been buried alive during an enemy bombardment on June 12th, 1916. According to the myth, in 1919, Colonel Collet, Commander of the 137 I.R., returned to the location where his unit had fought in 1916 only to find a dozen rifles still sticking out of the ground, some with their bayonets still intact, with a dead French soldier under each rifle. He built a small memorial on the site to honor the memory of his colleagues. The press picked up the story, which immediately captured the public’s imagination. The story, however moving, is believed to not be entirely historically accurate. Experts believe that survivors who wanted to memorialize the place where the attack occurred probably installed the bayonets and the rifles themselves after the bombardment.

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Fort de Vaux

Fort de Vaux is a series of forts situated in Vaux-devant-Damloup, near Verdun, that was built in the 1880s in order to house 150 soldiers. After Fort Douaumont, Fort de Vaux was unfortunately the second fort to fall to the Germans during the infamous Battle of Verdun in 1916, despite the fact that it was fully garrisoned. Enemies attacked repeatedly from June 2 to 7, initially to no avail as soldiers heroically refusing to evacuate. What was meant to happen eventually did happen, and the fort was handed over to the Germans only to be returned to the French in November of that same year. Today, many plaques commemorate the actions of the fort’s personnel during these attacks – including a carrier pigeon known as Cheramie, who helped carry messages at the request of Major Raynal, the commander of the fort during the Battle of Verdun. It is possible to visit the virtually untouched interior of Fort Vaux, which contains plenty of armories and even a pigeon loft. Visitors can also walk around the top of the Fort to learn more about the Battle of Verdun, and take in the scenery.

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