Visiting Vimy without a guide
Updated: Feb 14, 2019
While I was a guide at Vimy, many visitors commented that they found it challenging to plan their trip to Vimy on their own and were surprised by the facilities, (or lack thereof) once they had arrived on site. So here I share with you my tips on how to visit Vimy on your own without a private battlefield guide so that you can make the most of your time.
Where is Vimy Ridge?
Vimy Ridge is only a 15 minute drive north of Arras, in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France. Arras is served by the TGV (high-speed train) out of Paris Gare du Nord and approximately 1.5 - 2 hours drive from Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport. See our "How to Get to Arras" page for more information.
DO NOT TAKE A TRAIN TO THE TOWN OF VIMY. There is no public transport or taxis available from the train station in Vimy to the Vimy Memorial site.
If you arrive in Arras by train, you can take a taxi from the train station to the Vimy memorial; all the taxi drivers know where it is. Expect to pay between 40 - 50 Euro for a return trip. You can arrange a time for pick up from the site with the taxi directly or the guide in the Visitor's Centre can call a taxi for you when you are ready to leave.
If you choose to explore by bicycle, you must not ride your bicycle on site. Do not carry your bicycle onto the memorial with you. Bike racks are located in the parking areas, ensure lock your bike up.
If you like to explore on your own, or if you want to visit Beaumont-Hamel and the Somme (40 minutes south of Arras) in the same day, I recommend you rent a car. To avoid the stress of navigating Paris traffic, I recommend you rent a car from Paris CDG as it is much easier to get to the A1 autoroute that leads to Arras. There are a number of car rental companies in immediate proximity to the Arras train station as well, so you can also take the train to Arras and rent a car from there.
Parking for cars and coaches is available next to the Visitor's Centre, on the D55E and adjacent to the memorial. There is limited parking at the cemeteries also.
Parking at the Visitor's Centre and cemeteries is available during operating hours only and is locked when the site is closed. Last entry is 30 minutes before closing.
Parking adjacent to the memorial and on the D55E is available outside of operating hours.
How much time do I need?
I recommend you allow yourself at least 3 hours to have a proper visit. The site is 117 hectares in total and if you use public transportation to get to Vimy you will need to walk quite a lot to see everything. If it is your first visit, you may need to add some time to get over the awe of the place because trust me, you will be awed. I'm still awed after 4 years!
When to visit
Between the very end of January to beginning of December is the best as most visitor services are available.
Opening hours and other visitor information is available on Veteran's Affairs Canada's website; note there is a annual closure from December to end of January where visitor services are not available on site.
The preserved trenches are accessible outside of site hours, however the tunnel, Visitor's Centre and washrooms are not. The Visitor's centre parking lot closes when the Visitor's Centre closes with last entry 30 minutes before closing.
Please note that large group reservations, ceremonies and other special events may alter the availability of visitor services. I recommend you arrive sooner than later in the day and enquire about a free tour immediately upon arrival.
The new Visitor's Centre was opened to the public in April 2017 and contains new washroom facilities, a permanent exhibit, temporary exhibit hall, a small gift boutique* and snack/beverage vending machines. There are also 2 iPads available with limited internet access if you need to find a soldier's personnel record or locate a grave, cemetery or other memorial.
*While Visa and Mastercard are now accepted for gift purchases, I recommend that you have cash in euros on you in case the internet goes down and the vending machines only take euro coins.
Upon arrival at the Visitor's Centre you will be greeted by one of the student guides. They can tell you're Canadian by your red & white / maple leaf attire, so when they ask where you are from, tell them your actual town and province / territory.
Note that due to security regulations in France there is no baggage storage available on site. You will need to carry what you bring with you.
Free Guided Tours
Enquire at the Visitor's Centre about taking one of the free guided tours offered by the Canadian Student guides. This is the first thing you should do upon arrival as you may have to wait for a while for a tour in the language of your choice. Reservations are not accepted for tours. All tours are available in either French or English and are on a first-come first-served basis. A limited amount of tickets are available for each tour and must be redeemed to the guide at the beginning of the tour.
Once you have your ticket, you can meet your guide at the specified time outside at the Canadian flagpole.
Visiting the tunnels is not recommended for anyone who is uncomfortable in enclosed spaces or for those with limited mobility. The tunnel is between 8 - 10 m underground and is accessible by stairs only; the ground is uneven and can be slippery. Visitors who are unable to descend into the tunnels can join the tour for the trench portion only, (ticket not required).
Note that the tunnel and trenches may be closed without warning for visitor safety reasons.
The Vimy Memorial itself is located above the Visitor's Centre on Hill 145. Parking is available adjacent to the memorial or is about 10-minute walk uphill from the Visitor's Centre. Ensure to have one of the self-guided brochures with you for an explanation of the sculptures and symbolism on the memorial, (available in the Visitor's Centre or online). I recommend that you take the path that leads to the left from the parking lot and descend the slope to approach the monument from the front.
Two Commonwealth cemeteries are also located on site; Givenchy Road Cemetery is the smaller of the two and contains the grave of one of Canada's youngest soldiers, 16 year-old Private F D Aish. Canadian Cemetery No. 2 started off as a battlefield cemetery before becoming a collection cemetery later in the war and includes a number of headstones commemorating graves that were lost due to the fighting in the area. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission takes care of on-site gardening and maintains all the Commonwealth cemeteries and most monuments.
The sheep who graze the battlefield are provided by a local shepard and can been seen grazing the battlefield from spring to fall.
Taking Photos and Video
As long as you are not taking photos or video for professional or commercial use, you are more than welcome to take photos and video on site and during your tour, however if you wish to take photos or video of the guides, you must have their permission.
Any images captured for professional or commercial use must be approved by Veteran's Affairs Canada before they are published. Professionals should contact the administration in advance to ensure the appropriate forms and permissions are in place for the shoot.
Eating & Drinking
There are vending machines with limited selection of snacks as well hot and cold beverages in the Visitor's Centre.
Picnic tables are available next to the Visitor's Centre and is the designated picnic area. Note that there is no cover here so be sure to plan for weather contingencies. Food and beverages are not allowed on the site itself. Alcohol is not allowed in the parking areas or on site.
If you have a car, you can find refreshment in the nearby villages such as Neuville St Vaast, Givenchy-en-Goehelle or Souchez. Lunch time in the area is between 12 pm - 2 pm; finding a meal before or afterwards can be a challenge.
The Visitor's Centre is accessible by wheelchair and the path to the monument is smoothly paved. The pathways around the trenches have been paved, making it easier for those in a wheelchair to visit them.
The steps of the monument are quite high, can be slippery and in certain lighting, hard to see. It is a good idea to have sunglasses with you as the white stone reflects the light and can be blinding on sunny days.
Access in and out of the tunnel is by stairs only; and quite a lot as you descend 8 m underground. If you a very keen to go underground, I recommend that you instead visit the Wellington Quarry in Arras, which is fully accessible and also fascinating.
Commemorative ceremonies are held at the Vimy Memorial on April 9 and for Remembrance Day in November which can be attended by the public. Visit the Veteran's Affairs' website for more information.
See the post about etiquette before you go...