Day Trip to Bastogne: WWII History in Belgium

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A war movie projected on a wall surrounded by trees

For military history buffs, Bastogne, Belgium is hallowed ground. It was the site of the last major German offensive during WWII: Battle of the Bulge. Bastogne now has several important museums and monuments dedicated to that bloody battle. We recently visited Bastogne, and in this article, Mr. Poppin’ Smoke, a 30-yr Army veteran, explains what to see in this historic area.

As a military retiree, I like to visit historic war sites and walk the battlefields. We have been to Gettysburg, Little Big Horn, Normandy, and the Maginot Line in France, just to name a few.

I enjoyed these visits because in the Army, we conducted staff rides to battle sites where I saw firsthand the lay of the land from the perspective of the leaders. So, of course I wanted to see Bastogne, where the 101st Airborne Division stopped the German advance in the Ardennes Forest during what was later coined the Battle of the Bulge.

The opportunity to see Bastogne arose after we had flown Space-A from JB Andrews to Ramstein, Germany. We decided to spend a few days in the area before returning to our home in Spain. So, we rented a car and visited Luxembourg, then Bastogne.

Bastogne is in southern Belgium and makes an easy day trip from Ramstein. It is well worth a visit for any war buff. Here’s a summary of the most important WWII sites in Bastogne, plus our recommendations for how to plan your time.

Bastogne War Museum and Mardasson Memorial

An old military jeep in front of a museum display
One of the exhibits at the Bastogne War Museum

The Bastogne War Museum is the best place to start your tour of Bastogne. This museum does an excellent job of recounting the events of WWII leading up to Battle of the Bulge, plus the audio tour is very interesting and easy to follow.

The significance of the battle in Bastogne makes your visit all the more exciting. The Battle of the Bulge was the last major German offensive, and Germany’s defeat in and around this historic city helped bring the war to an end 5 months after the battle ended.

The admission price includes all activities in the museum, including the audio guide and movies, plus entry to Bois Jacques, the forest and foxholes made famous in the movie series, “Band of Brothers.” Details on that below, but save your ticket because it’s the only way you can enter Bois Jacques.

Adjacent to the museum is the Mardasson Memorial, a monument dedicated to the nearly 77,000 American soldiers killed, wounded, or missing during the Battle of the Bulge. The significance of the war monument is inscribed on its walls.

Birdseye view of a stone memorial and the surrounding fields
Part of the Mardasson Memorial and the Bastogne area (photo: T.W. van Urk, Shutterstock)

From the top of the stairs leading up to the monument, you will have a panoramic view of the surrounding area, all part of the historic battle fought in what is now a very picturesque region.

The lot adjacent to the museum has paid parking (it was 5 euro in 2023). Take a ticket when you enter the lot and pay the fee at the machine outside the museum before returning to your car.

You can purchase your tickets to the museum online to avoid waiting when you get there. We didn’t do that but only waited about 15 minutes on a Saturday morning mid-summer, which is likely among their busiest times of the year.

If you are a veteran, remember to bring your ID card. US military veterans receive a small discount on admission to the museum, but this discount is not noted on their website.

Bois Jacques

Shallow holes next to trees in a forest
Foxholes in Bois Jacques

The remnants of the Bois Jacques battlefield are in the town of Foy, a short drive from the Bastogne War Museum. You need your museum ticket to pass through the gate to enter the forest.

Use the WiFi at the entry to download the free app, “Bois Jacques Bastogne.” The app gives you an immersive experience that allows you to see the forest as it was in 1944.

There are six stations where you can use the app as you walk through Bois Jacques. The foxholes and the location of the forests are a good defensive position, and you can gain an appreciation of what Easy Company had to endure defending that piece of land.

Bastogne Barracks

Old military vehicles lines up next to each other
Trucks on display at the Bastogne Barracks (photo: U.S. Army, Pascal Demeuldre)

This museum is within the barracks that housed the Allied Headquarters during the Ardennes Offensive in 1944. It is the exact location where General McAuliffe wrote back to the senior German commander’s request for all American forces in the area to surrender with one simple word: “Nuts!”

There is an exhibition hall (currently closed for renovation) that houses many WWII vehicles used during the battle. While the exhibition hall is closed, many of the vehicles are on display outside so you can still enjoy seeing a piece of history from the Battle of the Bulge.

Please note that the Bastogne Barracks Museum has very limited hours. The facility opens at 1000 and closes at 1600 but the last entry is at 1500. So, plan on getting there early. Also, the museum is closed during much of the winter.

101st Airborne Museum

Within a five-minute drive from Bastogne Barracks is the 101st Airborne Museum. The building has a storied history, as it housed German soldiers during Germany’s occupation of Belgium. Nowadays you will find displays and dioramas depicting the lives of 101st Airborne Division soldiers during the Battle of the Bulge.

This museum will make you keenly aware of the day-to-day lives of soldiers during that freezing cold winter in 1944. Displays include the soldiers’ personal belongings and equipment. Most, if not all, of the equipment in this museum is from actual artifacts from the German and U.S. forces, much of it found on the battlefield.

Another unique feature of this museum is a bomb shelter simulation that allows visitors to experience reenactment of an air raid.

Plan Your Visit to Bastogne

If you want to visit all of the museums and monuments in the Bastogne area, you can rush through most of them in one day, but you will need to start at 0930 when the Bastogne War Museum opens. Plan to spend at least 2 hours going through the audio tour and watching the movies. The museum also has a café if you need to refuel.

From there you can walk outside to see the Mardasson Memorial and enjoy the scenery surrounding the museum. Bois Jacques is less than 3 miles away, and a visit takes 30 minutes or less.

Visit Bastogne Barracks next, keeping in mind that you must arrive before 15:00 and it closes at 1600.

You can end the day at the 101st Airborne Museum. As of this writing, it is open until 17:00 Tuesday – Sunday.

All of these locations are within a short drive from one another, so seeing them all in one day is possible if you start early and know your game plan.

Those are the main things to do in Bastogne, but if you want a more leisurely visit, stay overnight. It will allow you to enjoy the town’s cafes and explore some of the other lesser-known WWII monuments throughout the city.

Click here to search for hotels in Bastogne.

Have you visited Bastogne? Tell us about your experience in the comments!

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7 thoughts on “Day Trip to Bastogne: WWII History in Belgium”

  1. If you can make the trip in December (15-17 Dec 2023) the Bastogne March and “Nuts” Weekend is something to see. There are different length routes mapped out to march in and out of the battlefields and you will find live re-enactments throughout the forest and the 101 Airborne HQ and Bastogne Barracks. It gives you a true appreciation of what our troops went through to hold the line.

  2. I visited Bastogne in Feb 2019. As I sat in a crowded restaurant on McAuliffe Square I wondered how many of my surrounding patrons ever reflected on the events DEC 1944 – JAN 1945?
    R.A. Dryden, CDR, USN (ret)

  3. While stationed twice in Germany during the 1990’s I made several trips to Bastogne and the surrounding area. Did a march there as well, the Belgium people are some of the nicest in Europe. Don’t forget to go and pay your respects at the American Military cemetery in Luxembourg, General Patton’s final resting place with the troops.

  4. We visited in May 2023 and add that the Mardasson Memorial was still under renovation at that time. Access to the top of the structure (observation deck) was impossible at the time and there were no workers on site on that weekday. Your tip on the Museum ticket being essential to enter the Bois Jacques is invaluable. We had no idea and nearly wasted that leg, although there was a very quiet Peace Park, roughly a mile away, that we enjoyed with < a dozen others. Also there is a small chapel, in the village you pass enroute from Mardasson to Bois Jacques, used as a forward Aid Station…. It is not visable from the road, as it is behind a cow barn….

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