There’s a host of fascinating WWII sites, memorials and museums which can be visited today and among the most high profile are Bletchley Park, Anne Frank’s House and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. Other popular sites tend to include the Cabinet War Rooms, the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin and the German Resistance Memorial Centre.
We’ve put together an experts guide to WW2 Historical Places, with our top ten places to visit as well as a full list of World War Two Sites, which shouldn’t be ignored.
What are the best Second World War Sites to Visit?
Bletchley Park is a country estate fifty miles north of London. In 1938 its changed from being a residential house to a vital British intelligence centre which was crucial to the outcome of the Second World War.
As Adolph Hitler’s campaign to invade Europe intensified, Bletchley Park was taken over by the government, who deemed it the perfect place to move the Government Code and Cypher School. Bletchley Park, known by the codename Station X, became the site where the British managed to decipher the machinations of the Enigma, the highly effective code encryption machines used by the Nazis.
Today, visitors can explore the history of Bletchley Park’s role during the war. With a brand new visitor centre, an interactive multimedia guide and an immersive introduction, visitors can have a fun and informative journey.
Anne Frank’s house was the site where German Jewish teenager and Holocaust victim Anne Frank, her family, the van Pels family and later a man called Fritz Pfeffer went into hiding from the Nazis during World War II.
Although known as Anne Frank’s House, the site was originally her father’s office building and all eight inhabitants lived in a secret annex in the attic hidden by a moveable bookcase. Tragically, the group’s whereabouts were eventually betrayed to the Nazis and, on 4 August 1944, they were arrested and imprisoned in concentration camps. Anne Frank died in Bergen-Belsen in March 1945, but her diary was later discovered by her father and published to worldwide acclaim.
Anne Frank’s House is now a museum allowing visitors to see the moving bookcase, walk through the cramped secret annex and gain a true appreciation of the hardship this group endured in their fight for survival.
The Anne Frank Museum has collected and exhibits many original letters, photos and objects belonging to the Frank family as well as to the van Pels and Fritz Pfeffer. Anne Frank’s original diary is also on display.
The Hiroshima Peace Memorial, also known as the A-Bomb Dome or the Genbaku Dome, in Hiroshima in Japan was the only building in the city which survived following the first ever explosion of an atomic bomb.
On 6 August 1945, US forces dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. It was the first ever use of the ‘A-bomb’. At the time, Japan was still at war with Allied forces in World War II and US President Harry S. Truman hoped that this action would cause the Japanese to surrender.
The atomic bomb devastated the city. The destruction was so great that what is now the Peace Memorial building was the only structure which remained. Its survival is all the more remarkable given its location just 500 feet or so from the centre of the explosion.
Originally constructed in 1915, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial building is a domed structure which served as an office building for businesses as well as the Japanese government during the war. Today, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial building forms part of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park which also includes a museum. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The Cabinet War Rooms are part of the underground bunker complex in London where Winston Churchill and his government operated during World War Two.
It was from the Cabinet War Rooms that Churchill, his cabinet and some 500 civil servants worked, and sometimes slept, throughout the War. The War Rooms were left untouched from 1945, when they were no longer needed, until the 1980s when they were restored and opened to the public. Not all rooms are open to the public and the complex is believed to have around 200 rooms in total.
Those which are open include the cabinet war room, where Churchill’s war cabinet met, Churchill’s office and his bedroom. This underground office block even included a canteen and a hospital. Visitors should allow at least 90 minutes to savour the atmosphere of this iconic Second World War site.
The Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, also known as the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, is an installation commemorating the genocide of the Jewish people perpetrated under Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.
The Holocaust was an attempt by Hitler to exterminate the Jews and any other people who he considered “racially inferior” in what he called the “Final Solution”.
The Memorial is a monument to the six million European Jews who died in the Holocaust. Made up of a vast dark granite maze and a subterranean information centre which has details about the victims, the Holocaust Memorial is a moving site.
HMS Belfast is a Royal Navy light cruiser ship that played a role in both World War II and the Korean War. It is now open to the public in London under the remit of the Imperial War Museum. Launched in March 1938, HMS Belfast was commissioned by the Royal Navy in 1939, not long before the outbreak of World War II.
During the war, HMS Belfast took part in the blockade on Germany, patrolling northern waters from the Scapa Flow naval base in Orkney. In fact the Belfast was one of the Navy’s most formidable vessels and certainly its largest. As such, she was designated the flagship of the Tenth Cruiser Squadron, which protected Arctic convoys travelling to the Soviet Union.
Some of the most important successes of HMS Belfast was its contribution to the sinking of the German battle cruiser Scharnhorst during the Battle of the North Cape in December 1943, its assistance in disabling the German’s last heavy surface unit, Tirpitz, in 1944 and its part in ‘Operation ‘Neptune’, the naval element of the Normandy Landings of D-Day, also in 1944.
The World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument in Oahu provides an all-encompassing insight into the conflict in the Pacific in the Second World War, from the attack on Pearl Harbor, to the US entry into World War II and beyond.
Visitors can see and experience several of the most important sites from this period, including the USS Arizona Memorial, Ford Island, USS Missouri, the USS Oklahoma Memorial and the Pacafic Aviation Museum.
Besides the site in Oahu, other branches of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument are located in the Aleutian Islands in Alaska and in Newell, California (Tule Lake Unit).
Yad Vashem in Jerusalem is a museum and a memorial of the Holocaust, in which over six million Jews, and at least five million from other ethnic groups, were murdered in an act of genocide perpetrated by the German National Socialist Party (the Nazis) under Adolph Hitler.
Beginning with the persecution of the Jews in Germany in 1933, the Nazis began a campaign in which Jews and other social and ethnic groups were taken into forced labour and extermination camps, suffering torture, intolerable conditions and mass executions.
Through exhibits including photographs, victims’ accounts, art installations and information panels, Yad Vashem offers a moving – and harrowing – account of the events of the Holocaust.
The German Resistance Memorial Centre is a monument and museum to those who fought against the National Socialist government led by Adolf Hitler – the Nazis – before and during World War II. In particular, it commemorates the attempted assassination of Hitler and subsequent attempted coup led by Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg on 20 July 1944, the so-called “July 20 Plot”.
The Centre is located in the former Bendler Block in Berlin’s Mitte district, once the diplomatic quarter. As the headquarters of the Army High Command under Nazi rule, this was both the site where the July 20 Plot was planned and where its members were executed by firing squad.
Today, the Memorial is located on a street formerly called Bendlerstrasse and now renamed “Stauffenbergstrasse”. The courtyard of the German Resistance Memorial Centre, where the executions took place, has a memorial statue. This bronze statue depicts a man with bound hands.
The museum explores the history of opposition to Nazi Germany, including the events in which National Socialism flourished and the attempts made to overthrow it.
The Kranji War Memorial is a monument in the northern Singapore region of Kranji in honour of the men and women who lost their lives defending Singapore from Japanese invasion during World War II.
Made up of twelve columns, representing the formation in which the military marches, a wing-shaped roof representing the air force and crowned with a wall which portrays the periscope in dedication to the navy, the Kranji War Memorial is a fitting commemoration of all three branches of the armies who fought for Singapore’s freedom. In fact, soldiers from numerous countries fought for this cause, including those from Britain, Sri Lanka, India, Australia, Canada, Malaya, New Zealand and the Netherlands.
The approximately 24,300 names inscribed on the columns of Kranji War Memorial are those of the soldiers from all of those countries whose bodies were never found together with the words “They died for all free men”. Kranji War Memorial is a beautiful yet haunting reminder of Singapore and neighbours the Kranji War Cemetery.