Much of Europe’s history has been sculpted by the harrowing events of World War II, and touring the sites can be an unforgettable, albeit emotional, experience. From notorious battlefields and concentration camps to poignant memorials, here are some of the most significant WWII sites across Europe.
The Normandy coast witnessed the largest seaborne military operation in history when US troops stormed Omaha Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Today visitors can pay their respects at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial and the Caen Memorial (Mémorial de Caen), dedicated to the Allied forces who lost their lives helping to liberate the citizens of France. Other notable sites in the area include the Sainte-Mère Church and Airborne Museum, site of a huge paratrooper operation, and Pointe du Hoc, a German battery also stormed by US soldiers on D-Day.
Poland was home to two of the Third Reich’s most notorious and tragic concentration and extermination camps, Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau. The Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum occupies the former grounds, where visitors can enter the camp’s prisoner barracks and gas chambers, climb the watchtowers where Nazi officers once stood, and watch footage from the camp’s liberation.
Germany stood at the center of World War II in Europe, and today numerous sites remain and memorialize lives lost. Berlin-based travelers can explore Sachsenhausen, one of the first Nazi concentration camps established during the war, while those in Munich can tour the somber Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site on a half-day trip. As the capital city of Hitler’s Germany, Berlin has many significant sites within the city limits, including Nazi bunkers, resistance monuments, anti-aircraft installations, and the Neue Synagogue in the former Jewish quarter.
As a Nazi-occupied city, Prague has plenty of World War II history to explore. Walking tours of the historic city visit buildings that the Nazis and the KGB used, as well as sites of protests and uprisings like Wenceslas Square and National Avenue. Outside the city, the Terezin Concentration Camp stands as a memorial to the largest concentration camp in the Czech Republic.
One of the most famous figures from World War II was a young girl whose story of hiding in an annex in Amsterdam has captivated readers ever since its publication in 1947. The Anne Frank House pays tribute to the wartime diarist while giving visitors a glimpse into her life inside the Secret Annex.