Why visit the Vimy Ridge Memorial in France?
When you think of day trips from Paris, it is likely that you imagine strolling the gardens of Versailles or admiring Mont St-Michel.
I too did those things (and loved them) but my favourite day trip turned out to be the Vimy Ridge Memorial.
One of the reasons that I started this blog was because when I was smack dab in the middle of the Seine River on spotty wifi, I wished that there was information out there to help us navigate this kind of thing. (If you are interested in my other reasons, check out my About Me page here.)
So back to the original question – is this a good day trip from Paris?
If you have lived through a part of the last century, this historic spot is not to miss.
Here’s why you need to put Vimy Ridge at the top of your list.
A History Lesson in 3 Bullet Points (pun intended):
- The Battle of Vimy Ridge is one of the most recognized battles of the First World War, from April 9-12th, 1917.
- The names of 11 000 Canadian soldiers, whose bodies were never located after the war, are engraved in the limestone.
- This monument is located on lands granted by France to the Canadian people! Yes, you can visit Canada in France!
The NEW Vimy Ridge Memorial
The Vimy Ridge site is stunning. They have completely outdone themselves in the preservation of the lands and honoring the people that were laid to rest there.
The first monument was unveiled in 1936, and consisted of an ornately carved wooden cross. You can now find the original marker in the museum that was built in 2017 for the 100th anniversary of Vimy Ridge.
While there are many neat things to explore on site (the museum, the tunnels, the cemetery), it is obvious that the main attraction is the giant limestone Memorial itself.
The lone domineering feature high up on the hill, the Vimy Ridge Memorial overlooks the Douai Plains of Northern France.
You could spend an hour walking around the Memorial itself admiring the artistic touches, reading the names of fallen soldiers, and posing on the stone steps.
After the Memorial, head down to the Visitor’s Center to learn more about the war and explore the original trenches.
While it is not an exact replica (no mud or guns in sight!), the paths are carefully marked out and the concrete sandbags give it an authentic feel.
One reason why I encourage a trip to the Vimy Ridge Memorial is because it is FREE.
Not only is it free to enter onto the site, but they also offer tours for free as well!
Tours run every 45 minutes or so, so it is likely that you can just hop onto the next available one.
Tours are available in both French and English, but the language offered will depend on the preference of the majority of the people in that tour.
They will take you down into the tunnels underneath the site, which really opens your eyes to the conditions that the soldiers had to endure. All of the tour guides were Canadian students on a summer job and were super friendly and helpful.
How to get to the Vimy Ridge Memorial
It is much easier to get to Vimy Ridge if you are already in Paris, so please save yourself some trouble and make Gare du Nord your starting point.
The ticket office for the suburbs (and international destinations) is on the main level concourse. You will probably see Eurostar and SNCF trains as the platforms are right there.
You want a train to Arras. You can book tickets ahead of time online, but you may still have to wait in the line to pick up your tickets. It is actually cheaper to buy tickets online in advance, so keep in mind that the closer to the travel date you are, the more expensive the train tickets will be.
We took the high-speed train (TGV…very cool) and it was only 50 minutes from Paris to Arras.
If you don’t speak French, then there are some things you will need to remember to do.
When traveling by train to Arras, you need to validate your train ticket on the platform in Gare du Nord. There is a waist-height scanner where you scan your ticket.
This step is easy to miss! If I wasn’t able to read what it said on the turnstile, I would not have done this. It seems like you just pay, pick up your ticket and go.
Nope! You must validate your ticket before you get on the train as the conductors will come around to check to see if you’ve scanned it (i.e. activated it) after the train is in motion. The conductors were friendly on the train (we were obviously tourists) and smiled at us, checked our tickets, and continued on their way.
- It is easy to grab a taxi from the train station in Arras. The taxi drivers are used to taking tourists to the Vimy Ridge Memorial site, and even though ours didn’t speak English, he knew what Vimy Ridge was and even said “Bienvenue au Canada” (Welcome to Canada) upon arrival.
- I would budget 40-50 euros for the taxi round trip.
- Arrange with your driver to come back at a predetermined time that afternoon. Unlike the train station, there will not be taxis hovering around waiting to take you back. The Vimy Ridge site is not busy and there will not be very many people there at one time.
I would also suggest:
I would tip your taxi driver well on the way there. Then there is a higher chance of him coming back at the arranged time that afternoon.
If you have ever taken a cruise, you know that the motto is…..DON’T MISS THE BOAT. I would say this also applies to the high-speed train.
AND DON’T FORGET THIS
- Vimy Ridge is free to enter and there are even organized tours that you can take for free as well.
- Vimy Ridge is huge. You could spend the whole day there. There is a museum to visit, trenches to explore, monuments to see and cemeteries to ponder in. There is quite a bit of walking involved, so be sure to wear comfortable shoes.
- There are no food/drink stations on site, so come prepared with your own food and drink. Lots of beautiful sights to see – you could have your own picnic on the lawn…just be sure to stay on the path and watch out for those undetonated landmines!
I traveled here in 2017. As always, be sure to check your country’s travel advisories before booking any trips or excursions. You can check out the Canadian opinion here.