America, France and the Great War: 10 Places to See World War I History in France
Leah Walker August 30, 2018

On June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was assassinated in Sarajevo. This event, along with Germany’s concern over the French and British Colonial expansion and the desire for more of Europe’s coastline, led to the start of the Great War. When the conflict ended on November 11, 1918, about 100 countries were involved, truly making it a World War.

laces to See World War I History in France Uncle Sam
A Frenchman dresses as Uncle Sam on Memorial Day in France.

It wasn’t until April 6, 1917 that President Woodrow Wilson entered the United States into the war, a decision that made him weep. It was the sinking of American supply ships bound for Europe by German U-boats, as well as an intercepted message from Germany asking Mexico to start a conflict with the United States in exchange for Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona after the war, that led to American involvement. Although the United States was only a part of the war for less than two years, two million soldiers were deployed primarily to eastern France.

Places to See World War I History in France

Places to See World War I History in France Verdun
The battlefield of Verdun is forever changed due to the heavy shelling.

With the centenary of the ending of World War I being recognized on November 11, 2018, I’ve been honored to take two Great War-themed trips to eastern France. Not only did I discover a history that isn’t widely known or studied in the United States, but I also was able to learn more about the Franco-German history. Whether you’re a historian, curious, or interested in honoring those that fought for freedom, here are some of the most poignant places to places to see World War I history in France.

Oise Department

laces to See World War I History in France Foch Statue
A statue of Marshal Foch stands outside of the Armistice Memorial Museum.

Armistice Memorial Museum

Walking through the towering trees and lush greenery of the Forest of Compiegne puts many travelers at peace. It seems symbolic that this is the location where Marshal Foch, Sir Rosslyn Wemyss, and General Weygand met with German forces to end World War I, on Nov. 11, 1918. Among the trees and symbolic monuments is an unassuming white building, which houses the Armistice Memorial Museum. Inside, visitors will find a replica of the railway carriage where Marshal Foch, his officers, and Germans signed the Armistice to end the war, as well as authentic World War I artifacts, like newspaper articles and photographs.

Oise Tourisme

Stay in the Oise Department

laces to See World War I History in France Tiara Château Hôtel Mont Royal
Tiara Château Hôtel Mont Royal is a peaceful retreat between Paris and Chantilly.

Tiara Château Hôtel Mont Royal is a beautiful five-star château located in the heart of the Chantilly Forest. It was originally built by Fernand Halphen. Elegant, tranquil, and picturesque, it’s hard to believe this place is only 35-minutes from Paris and ten minutes from Charles de Gaulle Airport.

Places to See World War I History in France Saint-Jean-aux-Bois
Auberge A La Bonne Idée is located in the cute village of Saint-Jean-aux-Bois.

Auberge A La Bonne Idée is located between Compiègne and Pierrefonds in the cutest village of Saint-Jean-aux-Bois. You won’t believe that this hotel only has three stars; its 18 rooms and five suites are home-like perfection. It also has a Michelin-starred restaurant for your dining pleasure.

Aisne Department

Places to See World War I History in France Aisne-Marne American Cemetery
Aisne-Marne American Cemetery is a place of honor and remembrance.

Aisne-Marne American Cemetery

At the foot of Belleau Wood sits the nearly 43-acre Aisne-Marne American Cemetery. The headstones, situated in curves facing the memorial chapel, honor the 2,289 soldiers who died — mostly in in this area and the Marne Valley — during the summer of 1918. The overlooking chapel, with stained glass windows, sculptures, and inscribed with the 1,060 names of those who went missing, serves as a beautiful yet somber reminder of the severity of the Battle of Belleau Wood.

Places to See World War I History in France Chateau-Thierry American Monument
Chateau-Thierry American Monument memorializes American efforts in World War I.

Chateau-Thierry American Monument

Also known as Le Monument Américain à Cote 204, the Chateau-Thierry American Monument sits at 204 meters above sea level, overlooking the majestic Marne Valley. This location is where American forces took control of the hill after the July 1918 attacks. The monument, including sculptures representing France and the United States and a map showing the movement of the troops during the Aisne-Marne battle, serves as a commemoration of the victories and sacrifices of the French and Americans offensives.

Places to See World War I History in France Franco-American Museum
The Franco-American Museum began with a small collection from Anne Morgan.

Musée FrancoAméricain de Blérancourt

Château de Blérancourt is the home of the Franco-American Museum. Founded after WWI by Anne Morgan {JP’s daughter}, the museum houses memories of not only World War I, but the centuries of Franco-American friendship, including films and photographs from the Anne Morgan collection. The Franco-American Museum was under renovation for several years, but it was reopened to the public on July 4, 2017. It now serves as a place to better understand the relationship between France and America before, during, and after World War I.

Aisne Tourisme

Stay in the Aisne Department

Places to See World War I History in France Château de Fère
Château de Fère is a page ripped from a fairy tale. 

Château de Fère is part of Small Luxury Hotels with 29 rooms and suites. Set in a forest, serenity, nature, and luxury is all around. And you certainly can’t miss crossing the rock suspension bridge to see ruins of Château de Fère-en-Tardenois, which is located only steps from the hotel.

Meuse Department

Places to See World War I History in France Musée Romagne 14-18
Musée Romagne 14-18 is a testament that one man can make a difference.

Musée Romagne 14-18

The Musee Romagne 14-18 is a museum less focused on the French battles of World War I and more dedicated to the day-to-day lives of soldiers and those remaining in the civilian communities. This museum shows visitors how soldiers passed time on a daily basis in their encampments away from battle and how women and children at the homefront kept communities functioning. The Musee Romagne 14-18 dedicates 260 square meters to the lives of the ordinary French soldier, as well as those at home, during WWI.

Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery

Places to See World War I History in France Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery
The final resting place of those who died in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive

A staggering 14,246 bodies of military dead are buried at the 130.5-acre Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery. Most of the soldiers buried here sacrificed their lives during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive of WWI. The dizzying rows of headstones lead to a chapel atop the ridge — its windows covered in stained glass and adorned with the American unit insignia.

Flags of the allied nations sit behind the altar, and the chapel contains memorial loggias on both sides. On one panel of the western loggia is a map of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. The others are inscribed with the names of the 954 missing. The renovated visitor center reopened in late 2016, and now offers interpretive exhibits, films, interactive displays, and photographs to introduce visitors the importance of this offensive during WWI.

Montfaucon American Monument

Places to See World War I History in France Montfaucon American Monument
Climb the 234 steps to the top of Montfaucon American Monument.

Just seven miles south of the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery is the WWI Montfaucon American Monument. This towering monument is made of one granite doric column topped with a statue symbolizing liberty. The monument stands 61 meters above the ruins of a former village where the American First Army forced the enemy to retreat during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive from Sept. 26, 1918, to Nov. 11, 1918. Visitors can view the engraved map of operations on the walls of the foyer before climbing the 234 steps to the top of the memorial to take in the awe-inspiring views of the battlefield.

Mémorial de Verdun

Places to See World War I History in France Mémorial de Verdun
Mémorial de Verdun pays tribute to those who fought in the 300-day battle.

The Memorial de Verdun sits on the massive battlefield and destroyed village where the 300-day-long Battle of Verdun took place in 1916. The memorial serves as a place to commemorate the nearly 700,000 casualties, including French and German soldiers and innocent civilians, of the roughly one-year-long Battle of Verdun. The military museum on site displays a number of French and German rifles, artillery, uniforms, vehicles, and other equipment used during the battle.

Ossuaire de Douaumont

Places to See World War I History in France Ossuaire de Douaumont
Ossuaire de Douaumont is one of the most somber World War I memorials.

This is where the military remains of the French and German soldiers lost during the Battle of Verdun are found. Ossuary de Douaumont shows the scale of casualties and violence associated with the Battle of Verdun in a hair-raising way — with piles of skeletal remains separated by regions of the 20-square-kilometre space where this tragic battle took place. Many of the piles are accompanied by bricks displaying the soldiers’ names, but tens of thousands of the soldiers remain unnamed. The hill sloping downward in front of the monument is filled with 16,142 graves, making it the largest single French military cemetery of WWI.

Comité Départemental du Tourisme de la Meuse

Stay in the Meuse Department

Located in the town of Verdun look to Les Jardins du Mess. The four-star hotel overlooks the Meuse River and Cathedral of Notre Dame de Verdun. Although the 40-room hotel is housed in a 19th century building, the interior is modern in design.

Places to See World War I History in France Château des Monthairons
Just outside of Verdun is Château des Monthairons.

Outside of Verdun is Château des Monthairons. Meadows and forests, as well as the Meuse River on its eastern border, surround this castle dating to 1859. Family owned and operated, Château des Monthairons features traditional décor.

Seine-et-Marne Department

Le Musée de la Grande Guerre

Historian Jean-Pierre Verney collected documents and artifacts from World War I for more than 50 years. It wasn’t until 2005, when the French town of Meaux bought his unprecedented collection, that a museum was constructed to showcase Verney’s more than 50,000 items. Le Musee de la Grande Guerre, or the Great War Museum, is where you can see Verney’s diverse collection of WWI items, from military plans to full uniforms, heavy machinery, and weaponry. The Great War Museum has added to the collection, now totaling more than 65,000 items, to make this the largest collection of artifacts from 1914-1918 in Europe.

Seine-et-Marne Tourisme

Places to See World War I History in France
Pennsylvania Memorial at Varennes in Argonne

A hundred years have passed since the Great War ended, though time should never erase the memory of those who fought and died. The atrocities faced were not conceivable at the time. This war was the first time chemical weapons were used, as well as submarines and tanks. It seems as if nothing was learned from the millions lost, as the Great War served as the pre-cursor for World War II. Visiting the sites where both wars took place is a somber reminder that we should not only remember, but also study history, lest it repeat itself.

10 Places to See World War I History in France

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Leah Walker

Leah's a luxury travel and food writer who has as many stories as she does shoes. She documents her experiences whether that's in the lap of luxury or riding through a swamp in an airboat. Leah freelances and has contributor/editor roles with The Daily Meal, USA Today 10 Best, Bonjour Paris, France Today, Luxe Beat Magazine, Four Seasons Magazine, Forbes Travel Guide, and is a travel and wine ambassador for Atout France USA. Leah's lived in Paris for three years, and was recently awarded another four with a Passeport Talent visa renewal. Though, her talent for speaking French is abysmal.

10 Comments

  1. When I was in my teens I used to do a social care project at school that involved visiting elderly people in their homes. My ‘customers’ were a Mr and Mrs Lewin. He’d been in the first world war trenches – he signed up at the age of 12 and pretended he was older (I think you had to be 14!!!). Of course he was old (in his seventies) and not very well – he had a persistent cough from sulphur gas poisoning. But he told us some fabulous stories – about the French brothels, the mud which got into their puttees and a lot more. I’d love to see the beautiful but poignant landscapes and village pictures you have shared. I really do need to make the effort to get there (I am only just across the channel, in the UK). It’s fascinating hearing an American perspective too.

  2. This area is virtually unknown to most Americans and history unfortunately – all the memorials are really impressive along with those amazing stays at those 5 star hotels – I would love to do this itinerary Leah.

  3. To be honest I’m not a huge history buff but a lot of these places seem interesting to visit. Auberge a la Bonne idee looks like such a cute town I’d love to check it out!

  4. I visited a few of these sites a while ago, but the one that really got to me was the Canadian memorial and the tunnels at Vimy Ridge, The battleground is still intact as well. I have also been to Belleau Wood and seeing all the gravestones there just reinforced my opinion about how senseless war is.

  5. I studied a lot of world history in school and it has always been my wish to go and see all these places that I learned about. What a great roundup and source for inspiration for planning my own itinerary.

  6. World War history would be a super interesting theme for a trip! Tiara Château Hôtel Mont Royal looks like a beautiful place to stay—it looks like it is so far out in the country and it does seem hard to believe it’s so close to Paris! Franco-American Museum sounds really interesting, too. It’s neat that it not only discusses the war, but also the relationship of the two countries before, during and after. It’s crazy to think that the Great War ended 100 years ago. Perfect timing for a trip exploring some of these regions! Thanks for the suggestions!

  7. Tiara Château Hôtel Mont Royal is a 10-minutes from Charles de Gaulle airport? That is amazing. It looks absolutely adorable. All the sights you have included in this post are fascinating. I would love to visit each of them.

  8. Going to Europe this summer and had plans to visit World War 2 historacl sites, as 2019 will be the 75th anniversary of D Day. But I am going to have to add World War 1 sites as well, great history to see and great article. Thank you!

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