Nine Essential Places In France For War History Enthusiasts To Visit

The top countries in Europe offer a variety of post-war sites to see, whether your interest lies in World War II, World War I or one of the many historic wars that have taken place on the continent. France is a great destination for anyone already living on the European continent, or those who are taking a short trip to Europe in the fall. However, don’t just stick with the normal tourist sites.

Check out some of the best war-related sites to see when you visit France below.

Arc de Triomphe

The Arc de Triomphe is situated right in the heart of Paris. It’s also one of the most iconic Parisian landmarks and is one that’s probably on your travel bucket list already. It was built in 1806 by Napoleon, to commemorate the French soldiers who had fallen during the Napoleonic Wars.

Completed in 1836, its design includes various military victories, soldiers’ names and various artistic touches. The arch is also the site of the French Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, honoring those who fell in both world wars. If you have friends, families or other traveling companions who don’t quite share your love for war history, this is one site that you’ll easily be able to drag them along to, as the beautiful surroundings and easy location make it a great spot to visit.

The Arc de Triomphe, seen aerially in the 1920s. U.S. Army Air Service/Collier's New Encyclopedia, 1921, v. 4, frontispiece/Wikipedia/Public Domain
The Arc de Triomphe, seen aerially in the 1920s.


Schoenenbourg Maginot Line Fort

The Schoenenbourg Maginot Line fort was one of several forts built on the border of Germany and France. The partially underground forts were meant to protect the French from German invasions after World War I. This particular fort out of the entire series of Maginot forts was the largest and was created and designed to be entirely usable during extreme disasters.

A modern photo of Schoenenbourg. ignis/Own Work/Wikipedia/CC BY-SA 3.0
A modern photo of Schoenenbourg. By ignis – CC BY-SA 3.0

With its own water source, plenty of food stocks, weapons and a small medic station, it was a totally fortified bunker that could support parties for an extended amount of time. Visitors can explore the fort for themselves, and all its underground twists and turns. It’s said that to see it all takes about two hours.

Somme Battlefields

The River Somme, which follows the general line of the months-long Battle of the Somme. Donarreiskoffer/Own Work/Wikipedia/CC BY-SA 3.0
The River Somme, which follows the general line of the months-long Battle of the Somme. Donarreiskoffer – CC BY-SA 3.0

While seemingly beautiful, the Somme Battlefields are the sites of major loss and destruction. During the battles, the plan was, the British would destroy German trenches, and then British and French troops would cross no man’s land to capture the German soldiers.

Unfortunately, the Germans were alerted to their efforts, and were prepared, and suffered very little damage to their trenches. An exceptional number of Allie casualties occurred, with more than one million on both sides killed or wounded over the months-long endeavor. Today, you can visit the large area on your own, or you can take a tour. There are even cycling tours in the area that will show you the history of the region.

Vel D’Hiv Monument

The Vel de Hiv
The Vel D’Hiv Monument. Leonieke Aalders – CC BY-SA 3.0

During the early days of World War II, the French police herded up Jewish families and held them in the Velodrome, which was at one time an indoor cycling track. There, more than 13,000 French Jews endured horrific living conditions, with no bathrooms, water or food, before being sent to various concentration camps.

The memorial stands for those who suffered at the hands of the French government, which has since issues an official apology for their actions during the war.


Rubble and everyday items still remain in Oradour-Sur-Glane. User:Dna-Dennis/Own Work/Wikipedia/Public Domain
Rubble and everyday items still remain in Oradour-Sur-Glane.

This French village also suffered during World War II, as many villages did, but to an extreme extent.

The Nazis committed heinous crimes in this western French location, killing a large majority of the population in 1944. In addition to much of the village being completely destroyed, more than 600 individuals were killed at the hands of the German soldiers.

After the war, the village was rebuilt a few miles away, but the original site still stands, untouched and legally protected, as a remembrance of the horrors of war.

Musee de la Reddition

The signing of unconditional German surrender in France. Roosevelt, Franklin D. (Franklin Delano), 1882-1945/National Archives and Records Administration/Wikipedia/Public Domain
The signing of unconditional German surrender in France.

It was here that the Germans met with Allied troops to end World War II. On May 7, 1945, German high officers signed a document committing to unconditional surrender.

The document was signed in the Map Room, and that same room has been preserved behind glass, in perfect condition for visitors to see, when they also take a look at the museum.


D-Day, the invasion of Normandy, June, 1944. Archives Normandie 1939-45/National Archives USA/Wikipedia/Public Domain
D-Day, the invasion of Normandy, June 1944.

Of course, the most important war site to visit when traveling to France is Normandy. This all-important destination was where the war turned its course, and the Allies began to gain considerable forward ground.

Just about any individual in the modern world can tell you what happened on D-Day, when the Allied forces landed successfully on the beaches. Today, there are a handful of memorials there on the beaches that you can visit and learn more about the day and surroundings as you pay your respects.

The German and American Cemeteries in Normandy

The American cemetery in Normandy. Bjarki Sigursveinsson/Own Work/Wikipedia/Public Domain
The American cemetery in Normandy.

Both Germany and the United States have cemeteries in Normandy. The American cemetery in Coleville-Sur-Mer is graced with bright, white crosses and views of the sea – a somber, yet beautiful place to remember the fallen. However, a short distance away is the German cemetery at La Cambe, where rows of dark, flat grave markers solemnly mark the fallen, and a mass grave mound at the center of the cemetery drives the point home.

The significant differences between the two spots are saddening, but a necessary reality of war and the contrasting sides.

Memorial of the Martyrs of the Deportation

The Memorial to the Martyrs of the Deportation in Paris, France, as viewed from the outside. Tangopaso/Own Work/Wikipedia/Public Domain
The Memorial to the Martyrs of the Deportation in Paris, France, as viewed from the outside.

Near Notre Dame, this memorial in Paris honors those who more than 200,000 French citizens who were hauled off to the Nazi concentration camps during World War II.

The dark, underground, yet beautifully designed monument features a haunting inscription – forgive, but never forget.

Holly Godbey

Holly Godbey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE