The Pas-de-Calais Department in northern France is known for its historical sites, in large part because this area has been fought over for many centuries. From the Romans and their attempts to take Britannia to the 20th century and the two World Wars, as well as the various battles between England and France over the centuries in between. This summer Sarah and her family spent a week on the ‘Côte d’Opale’ visiting monuments and memorials of World War I and World War II as well as a few other Medieval sites of particular interest to children.

Calais town hall behind a highly decorated garden.
The garden at the Town Hall in Calais is a great place to take kids.

This northernmost area of France is often seen as nothing more than a point of arrival for countless British holidaymakers disembarking from the frequent ferries and Eurotunnel trains. Most if not all of Calais passes by in a blur as they drive through on their way to the more popular regions in central or Southern France. So many interesting historical sites are missed in this dash for the south. As a family with a keen interest in history we decided to give the area a try.

We chose as our base self-catering accommodation in the seaside town of Wissant, just a 20 minute drive from Calais along the Côte d’Opale (Opal Coast, in English, doesn’t quite have the same ring). This seemed a good place from which to explore the Medieval sites and World War memorials, and so getting to know more of this highly contested area and its history.

Which are the best Historical sites to visit with kids in Pas-de-Calais?

There really are just so many sites in the region that it is hard to choose which ones to visit, particularly as we only had a week available. To start with I considered choosing one time period and focusing on those sites, if only to help narrow down the choices. As I was so keen to see as much as I could, that plan was swiftly abandoned. One of the main reasons this approach did not work is because the sites are spread out and often off the beaten track - reaching them required a few long journeys. I felt it better to concentrate on a greater range of sites that were closer together to reduce the number of hours spent in the car.

Because of the specific history of the region, a lot of the sites are war and military focused, so it helps if your children have some prior knowledge of the two World Wars. Many of these sites are in bunkers and underground, which does add a sense of drama and make them fascinating to explore. They are a stark and concrete reminders of brutality rather than sites of great beauty. Along side these military sites there are also a great many cemeteries and memorials to the fallen, which I suppose do have a kind of melancholic aesthetic appeal. Visiting these with children depends very much on the individual as to what they get out of them.

Whatever the merits of our strategy, the following are the seven best historical sites in Calais for kids, as decided by my two.

i. Tour de l'Horloge, Guînes

Without doubt our favourite historical site in the region is La Tour de l’Horloge Museum. A lovely little museum in the sleepy little town of Guînes, that is right next to the clock tower built in 1763 on the much older site of a wooden Viking watch tower. The area is perhaps more famous for the meeting at the 'Cloth of Gold', where Henry VIII and Francis I met in an ostentatious display of wealth and fortune in 1520 in an attempt to improve Anglo-French relations.

The outside of the museum La Tour de l'Horloge.

The Tour de l'Horloge Museum in Guines is a fantastic place for kids.

When we entered the museum and were told that we were allowed to touch everything in the museum, my son’s face was a picture of delight. He ran in and got involved straight away. The first area focuses on the medieval history of the area, with spices to smell from the Hypocras wine that was the preferred drink at the Field of the Cloth of Gold. There are displays of the food that would have been eaten at the banquets and plenty of costumes to try on, with swords to wield and chainmail to try to lift. We did brass rubbings, attempted to make our own chainmail and investigated all of the drawers and displays. There is a games room full of medieval wooden games, which kept us entertained for a long time, while families of all ages were getting stuck in and playing together.

A man and a boy in a medieval knights helmet play fighting with full size swords.
Families playing medieval wooden games inside the museum.

Sword fighting and medieval games at this child orientated museum.

After a while we were all called through to another room, where we sat down in a Viking longship and watched a film about the Vikings in this region of France and why the Viking watch tower was built on this site. The boat jolted and moved as we sailed across the sea, learning about the Vikings in both English and French.

After the film we all headed upstairs to an area that focused on the meeting at the Field of the Cloth of Gold, with costumes, heavy swords to lift and a copy of that famous painting. Then it’s back to the entrance which also has a small shop, where you can buy the Hypocras wine. Try it, we bought a bottle and it’s very tasty.

It’s a small museum but it was great fun for all of us and I highly recommend a visit here. The teenager even smiled as she explored and played the games, which is high praise from her.

The stone monument to the Field of Cloth of Gold in a field.

The stone block to mark the Field of the Cloth of Gold doesn't quite live up to the imagery of the wealth and flamboyance that would have been on this site at the time.

On a side note, the actual Field of the Cloth of Gold is just a few minutes drive away. However, it is just a stone block by the side of a road, with invisible engravings, no parking, and a view over standard fields that look the same as every other field in the region. It is really not worth the effort, especially as you get beeped at if you try to park near it!

Visiting The Tour de l'Horloge

Opening Times
1st April - 11th November - Sunday - Friday 14h00 - 18h00
July and August - open daily from 10h00 - 18h30

Ticket Prices
Adult: €6.5
Child: (4-12 yrs) €4,
Children under 4: free
Family ticket: €20

The staff speak good English, with English translations available on all signage and interpretation boards as well as the film.

The site is wheelchair and pushchair friendly.

Parking is available behind the museum or in town.

Official Website

ii. Éperlecques Blockhaus

Our second favourite site was the Blockhouse at Éperlecques. Situated in a leafy green forest near Saint-Omer, this was built by the Germans in World War II as a V2 launching facility.

Wooden train carriages in the forest at Eperlecques
A man and a boy standing inside a wooden train carriage which has footprints on the floor.

The wooden train carriages where we listened to audio of a harrowing journey to Buchenwald in 1943.

The visit starts as you leave the reception area with a sign on the door (in all languages) telling you to go to the train, stand in a carriage and close your eyes. Entering the forest, we found the train, two wooden cattle carriages on a track. We got inside, stood on the assigned footprints, pressed the button for audio and closed our eyes.

There followed the awful soundtrack of people being herded aboard a train, a journey in a packed carriage, babies crying, and finally arriving at your destination to be greeted by the sound of vicious dogs barking. It was a journey to Buchenwald and for such a basic effect, it was incredibly poignant. Simple enough to not be distressing for the kids, but an easy way for them to gain some small understanding of the horror.

A concrete sentry box, a sign and an old vehicle all in a forest.

The forest is filled with World War II items from the area, such as this German sentry box and gun.

The rest of the site is a walk through the beautiful forest, following a path that takes you past sentry boxes, military vehicles, a pocket submarine, a satellite, beach defences and so much more, all emerging from the verdant background. Where there are benches, you can press a button to get an audio recording in several languages to tell you more about what you are looking at, which I thought was cleverly done and caters for everyone.

The area around you is pockmarked with craters from the bombing, now softened by the growth of the forest over them. There are shells embedded in the ground, this aged and rusted weaponry looking so benign peeking through the greenery.

A huge square concrete bunker against a blue sky.

Halfway through you turn a corner and suddenly see the actual blockhouse - a huge monstrous concrete box towering above both you and the forest. Twisted metal sticks out of the concrete walls high above, the ground has caved in around the base so that a sign saying ‘Eingang’ is far below you, which helps you to realize the sheer size and impressiveness of this hideous structure.

Two children looking at the ruins of a large concrete blockhouse.

Suveying the ruins and rubble of this still imposing structure.

An old crane next to the remains of the concrete bunker.

The crane looking ready for action and as if its just waiting for it's operator to come back from a break.

The site was heavily bombed by the Allies and much of it is still rubble, with rusted barbed wire dotted around, a narrow gauge train still on its tracks with sacks of now solid concrete onboard and nearby an abandoned crane where you can peer in and still smell the oil. Pools of stagnant water lie at the base of the blockhouse, some now have water lilies, as nature sprouts through the cracks and gaps to reclaim the land.

A memorial has been created out of the concrete sacks, to the mainly Belgian prisoners who were transported here on cattle trains and forced to work on its construction.

Two kids sitting on benches waiting for a film to start inside a dark concrete room.

Waiting for the film to start inside the cold and bleak Blockhouse.

It is extremely compelling. With more audio points around to tell you in detail about the construction, the rockets and more, you sit on the benches in quiet awe looking at it. You can go inside too, through the 7ft thick steel doors and watch a film, again in several languages, see the places where the rockets were stored and listen to the drip of water, feel the cold dankness and continue to be amazed by the sheer size of the structure. The site ends with a V2 rocket and a V1 rocket on its launching pad, both horrific reminders of why the bunker was built.

Two rockets next the the huge concrete bunker at Eperlecques.

The V1 rocket on its launchpad, with a V2 rocket behind it, showing the sheer size and scale of these awful weapons.

We all really enjoyed it, it was visually stunning with its contrast of concrete and forest, the impressions of death in such a beautiful place. Both kids enjoyed it, impressed by the size and the rubble and the areas to explore, they couldn’t help but be fascinated. I also found it a good opener for talking to the kids about how Nazi Germany must have seemed invincible at the time, with these imposing concrete structures sprouting up across the country and colonising the once beautiful countryside, only 20 years after World War I. Even now, 80 years on and in a state of decay, they are imposing, imperial and ominous.

Visiting The Blockhaus at Éperlecques

Opening Times
March - October - every day except Tuesday morning
March - 14h00 - last entry at 15h30
April, May, June, September - 10h00 - last entry at 16h30
July and August - 10h00 - last entry at 17h30
October - 10h00 - last entry at 15h30

Ticket Prices
Adult: €10
Child (8-14 yrs): €6.50
Children under 8: free
Family ticket: €30

English translations available on all signage and interpretation boards as well as the films and audio. Visit when it opens to have the place mostly to yourselves so you can select the English version for the audio and films without having to wait too long.

The site is pushchair and wheelchair accessible.

Free parking is available on site.

Official Website

iii. Carrière Wellington, Arras

Our next favourite site was the Carrière Wellington (Wellington Quarry). This is a World War I site underneath the town, located in the chalk quarries that date back to the Middle Ages.

A tour group looking at a film through a gap in rock tunnels.

Wearing our tin hats, we watched short films and listened to audio guides telling us about the soldiers' time in the tunnels in 1917.

During World War I, the tunnels were excavated by New Zealand and British miners and extended to house troops before the major assault on the western front at Arras, protecting them from the constant bombardment and enabling them to reach the front lines in secrecy. The tunnels housed up to 20,000 men and were equipped with light, water, latrines, a hospital and a small railway. It was a dangerous task and many died in the process. At 05h30 on 9th April 1917, after eight days hidden in the tunnels, thousands of men poured out of the exits and stormed the German trenches. The final death toll was catastrophic.

A model of solidiers inside the tunnels of Arras

A model shows how life would have been for the soldiers as they sat underground and waitied to launch their attack.

The tour starts in the small exhibition area, where you receive your audio guides, don your tin hats and then descend in a glass lift with the guide. The tour lasts about an hour and is excellently done, with a mixture of the audio guide, in your own language, and the tour guide who presents in both French and English.

There are short films shown on the walls of the tunnels, and small displays showing you how the soldiers lived during their time underground. It is really quite harrowing, walking through those dimly lit tunnels, still with the original electricity installed at the time, with pencil drawings on the walls drawn by the soldiers, listening to recordings of their letters home written from here, and hearing recordings of the songs they sang.

A pile of rocks in front of a picture of WW1 soldiers in a tunnel.

A small memorial to the men who died in the Battle of Arras.

Steps cut into rock leading up to an exit.

One of the exits up which led straight onto the front line.

What brought the biggest lump to my throat was seeing the uneven rock hewn steps they used to ascend to the front line and emerge blinking in the daylight after so long underground, many of them to be brutally killed. Although the battle of Arras was initially a success, the Allies failed to capitalise on their gains, with 4000 men a day dying for 39 days. The offensive was finally called off, meaning so many died in vain. The tour ends with a ten minute film outlining what happened during the battle and it is impossible to leave without a tear in the eye.

It was very moving, educational and definitely worth a visit, particularly for children to get them to really understand and to bring the text books to life. The horrors of war can seem so distant to them, this really brought it all into immediate focus.

The tunnels of Arras are also on the GCSE 'Medicine Through the Ages' History syllabus, making it an ideal place to take secondary school age children. I’m not sure my teenager fully appreciated the educational benefits to her exams next year, but she couldn’t help but absorb the knowledge and tragedy of that softly lit and uncomfortable place.

A wall of black and white photos of New Zealand tunnellers in World War I.

Visiting The Carrière Wellington

Opening Times
Every day, all year except for 25 Dec, 1 Jan, 6 - 24 Jan
Open 10h00 - 12h30 and 13h30 - 18h00

All visits are guided tours will last approx 1 hour.

In busy periods, it is a good idea to book your ticket online in advance, as tours can only hold up to 17 people

Ticket Prices
Adult: €7.20
Child and student: €3.50

English audioguides available and English on all signage and interpretation boards. Staff speak excellent English.

The site is wheelchair accessible. I wouldn't advise taking children of pushchair age.

Free parking is available on site.

Official Website

iv. The CWGC Experience, Arras

Just a short drive from the Wellington Quarry, is the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) Experience. This is a brand new museum where people can learn about the CWGC, how it operates, the work they do and why it is so important. All of us found it really interesting, kids included. It is a very serene and uncluttered space, managing to combine education with an air of dignity and gravitas.

The exterior of the CWGC building

Newly opened, the CWGC Experience is a great place to learn more about what they do.

You can see the craftspeople at work, watching them through windows, and really appreciate all that goes into keeping the cemeteries so immaculate. I found it fascinating and was particularly interested in how they identify remains to at least get a rough idea of who someone was. For example, a scrap of uniform or a pair of boots can help narrow down the regiment, a whistle can identify an officer, who used them to signal the command to go over the top in World War I.

The audioguides really add an extra dimension to the explanations and are well worth listening to as you go round the clearly marked route.

A soldiers boot from World War 1 in a glass case.

Every nation wore different boots - these are British. However, many soldiers would swap boots so they can't solely be relied on for identification.

Road signs showing the way to various CWGC cemeteries from around the world.

The CWGC look after all aspects of the cemeteries, from signs, gates, planting and more.

Their sense of pride in the work they do, which is matched in the truly flawless cemeteries, really shone through: it was moving and actually a very positive experience to see such care taken in honouring the war dead.

Visiting The CWGC Experience

Opening Times
Open February - November
Weekdays 10h00 - 16h00 except for public holidays

Entry is free.

Staff speak English and all interpretation boards and audio guides are available in English.

The site is wheelchair and pushchair accessible.

There is free parking on site except for buses.

Official Website

v. Mimoyecques Fortress

The so-called fortress of Mimoyecques is an underground fortress, built by the Nazis to house V3 canons aimed at London, which if completed would have been able to fire 600 rounds a minute. Fortunately it never was, and was heavily bombed by the Allies before it could unleash what would have been utter devastation on the capital.

It’s easy to find, a small turn off the main road but clearly signposted, with plenty of free parking. There doesn't initially seem to be much there, just a tunnel entrance in a hillside and a small reception building where you can buy tickets.

the tunnel entrance in a cliffside with peopke walking towards it.

The cold air coming from the bunker really hits you as you approach the tunnel entrance.

The walk towards the tunnel is remarkable; the cold air creeps up on you the closer you get, a really palpable sensation of bitter chill emanating out on what was the hottest day of the year when we visited. It felt like a sense of raw menace reaching out.

At the tunnel entrance the kids enjoyed playing with the echoes, then we went deeper and deeper as it got darker and darker with pale electric lights guiding the way. The rock walls are dark and damp, there are huge landslides with tumbles of rock, concrete and assorted debris still in the rubble.

A rockfall inside the Mimoyecques bunker.

A rockfall filled with debris and twisted metal from one of the Allied bombing raids on the bunker.

You follow the arrows through the tunnels, stopping to read the detailed interpretation boards at various locations, all of which have English translations. The water slowly drips down the walls, many of which have what looked like bullet holes and explosion damage on the walls. It is dismal and foreboding, and very cold. Some areas have been fenced off, and we couldn’t help peering through the railings into the darkness and wondering what was down there.

two children at the end of a dark tunnel reading information boards.

Looking at the displays and trying not to notice the cold in one of the tunnels.

The bunker is actually closed for many months of the year, as a rare species of bat lives there and needs protection during their breeding season. In one area we saw three bats hanging from the ceiling, and kept imagining that we could hear the rustle of more in the gloom beyond us.

The creepy factor alone made the bunker enjoyable for the children in particular, although there wasn’t much down there beyond information boards to educate them, and kids rarely waste their time on anything that isn’t interactive or audio visual these days. I liked the fact that the site hadn’t been tampered with much beyond making it safe, it felt raw and immediate and the power of the Nazi regime echoed in the walls of that massive underground bunker.

A long dark tunnel with silhouettes of people walking out into the light.

Walking back out into the golden sunshine was a warm and welcome relief. We spent some time in the reception area eating ice cream and reading more about the bats and other species that have made the bunker and its environs their home.

A small building next to a tunnel in the cliff.

The reception area has a small display about the local wildlife. Unfortunately it isn't possible to explore the land above the tunnel entrance.

Visiting Mimoyecques Fortress

Opening Times
Open February - November
Weekdays 10h00 - 16h00 except for public holidays

Entry is free.

Staff speak English and all interpretation boards and audio guides are available in English.

There is free parking on site except for buses.

The site is wheelchair and pushchair accessible.

Official Website

vi. La Coupole

La Coupole received a mixed vote from my lot, as the adults really liked it and it would have been higher up our list due to its excellent museum. A massive Nazi concrete dome built above tunnels and storage areas designed to launch V2 rockets at England, it now houses a planetarium and a large museum dedicated to World War II. The size of the place is visually dramatic with a huge black dome rising through the trees on the side of a hill. Bombed repeatedly by the Allies in 1944, fortunately it was never able to achieve its menacing potential.

The outside of the visitor centre and the concrete dome at La Coupole.

The concrete dome is now home to a museum and a planetarium

We started our visit in the 3D planetarium, which has a variety of shows on during the day. We chose the one targeted at kids. All shows start with a 15 minute presentation from one of the staff which is a basic facts about the solar system, with some great 3D effects. Audio guides were provided which gave us English translations for all of it. The kids show was a cartoon for younger children - the start of it looked good but I must confess that lying down in the dark on a comfy chair, both my husband and I soon found our eyes closing and we nodded off for the rest of it. I think it must be an age thing.

People walking down a dark tunnel with wet walls and floor.

Feeling the cold in one of the dark storage tunnels.

After the film we went into the dome itself, first exploring the tunnels and then heading into the museum. We were given another audio guide for this part of the visit, which very cleverly started up automatically based on where you were standing, so there was no need to select which button to press. The museum was large and very in depth with some truly harrowing artefacts.

The tiny coffin filled with bones and ashes from the bottom of one of the crematoriums at Mauthausen concentration camp was heartbreaking, as was the Memorial Wall, filled with images of the faces of locals who were all killed by the Nazis. Under each one it said what had happened to them, such as shot, or disappeared at Auschwitz. Many of the photos showed them smiling in happier times, unaware of the fate that would befall them.

The kids did get bored after a while, so we left them sitting down while we looked at the rest of it. It was well laid out and interesting, although I’ll admit that the bits about the weaponry were of less interest to me.

A wall of black and white photos of faces.

The harrowing Memorial Wall of residents of the region who were killed by the Nazis, many of them at concentration camps.

A wall full of bulletholes with writing on it.

A replica of the Execution Wall in the Citadelle at Lille where so many members of the French Resistance were killed.

Visiting La Coupole

Opening Times
September - June - open every day from 09h00 - 18h00
July - August - open every day from 10h00 - 19h00
Except for 25 Dec, 1 Jan and 7-20 Jan

Ticket Prices
Adults: €15
Children (aged 3-16): €10.50
Family tickets are available

Staff speak English and all interpretation boards and audio guides are available in English.

There is free parking on site and a cafe that serves basic snacks.

The site is fully wheelchair and pushchair accessible.

vii. Museum 1939-45, Calais

The Museum Memoire 1939-45 in the Parc St. Pierre, Calais is in a German concrete bunker, mostly hidden by the greenery of the park and decorated on the outside with colourful artwork which does help to lessen the bleakness. It is what I think of as an old style museum, slightly ramshackle with old fashioned displays and random exhibits, which are my very favourite sort of museum.

The outside of a bunker decorated with art works.

The longest German bunker in France is softened up with decoration and the greenery of the Parc St. Pierre.

As it is in a low level bunker, it is one long corridor with 24 rooms leading off it, each room having a different theme. You work your way down the right hand side rooms before returning up the left. The artefacts they have are really interesting and many of them were ones that you don't tend to see elsewhere. An audio guide explains everything in English as you explore.

There were some excellent models, which my son enjoyed looking at, and I really liked the room focusing on women in the resistance. There were many uniforms, all being worn by identical mannequins which was both disconcerting and amusing. I was fascinated by the French and German posters, as they’re not the ones you normally get to see in the UK.

A boy looking at a display case in the Calais Museum.

Listening to the audio guide and reading the displays in the Calais Museum.

It was a great little museum, and all of us except the teenager enjoyed it. She moved from chair to chair and stared at her phone for most of it, but then that can be teenagers for you.

While you are visiting the Calais Museum, pop over the road to the Town Hall. Built in the late 19th century and repaired after damage in World War II, this had an amazing garden, with a trail for kids and all sorts to look at and enjoy. The garden also has Rodin's famous statue, 'The Burghers of Calais'. It is free to wander around and is well worth a quick visit with kids.

Rodin's statue outside Calais Town Hall.

Rodin's 'The Burghers of Calais', completed in 1889, commemorates Calais being held under siege by the English in 1346, and the sacrifice the Burghers were prepared to make.

Visiting Musee 39-45

Opening Times
May - September 10h00 - 18h00
Closed all of December and January
French School holidays except Tuesday and Sunday, 11h00 - 17h00

Ticket Prices
Adults: €8
Children (aged up to 14): €6
Family tickets are available

Audio guides are available in English.

Parking is in the nearby streets - we found a free place right opposite it on a Sunday.

The site is fully wheelchair and pushchair accessible.

Official Website

2. Memorials and Cemeteries

The whole region has an absolute plethora of these, having been the location for so much fighting in both world wars. It's impossible to drive down a road without seeing some, and much as I wanted to stop at them all, time just does not allow for it. We visited quite a few and these are my recommendations based on the kids preferences.

A boy looking through a type of telescope over fields against a blue sky.

The timescope at the Monument to Fraternisation.

Hundreds of crosses in a grassy cemetery with a French flag flying above them.

The graves of over 11,000 French soldiers at La Targette cemetery, right next to the monument.

The best one we thought for kids is the Monument to Fraternisation, on the road from Arras. This fairly recent monument, right next to a vast French World War I cemetery, is dedicated to the moments when the soldiers from all sides would talk, interact and defy their superiors by getting along, in the brief lulls between killing each other. The most famous of these is the games of football during the unofficial Christmas truce of 1914, but there were other smaller moments where infantry soldiers would barter for cigarettes, have chats and cease fire so people could bury their dead. The monument is based on the words of a French soldier, Louis Barthas, who wrote in his war diaries that

"Who knows! Perhaps one day on this corner of Artois will be erected a monument to commemorate this surge of fraternity between men who had the horror of war and who were forced to kill each other despite their will."

The monument has a virtual reality timescope, which you can move around to see what the land would have looked like during the war, the mud, the craters, the destruction, and then see the local places which have been left as reminders of the barbarity of the war. This extra element made it ideal for children, as its interactive nature meant they could engage with it. I also found that overlooking the massive French cemetery, it was impossible not to be confronted with the damage done by the war and the children couldn't help but gain some understanding.

The two white marble columns of the Vimy Ridge Memorial against a blue sky.

The stunning Vimy Ridge Memorial is at the highest point of the ridge where so many men died in 1917.

Three people walking on a path through a forest with sun shining through the trees.

The forest has grown up on the remains of the trenches and bomb craters and is still sealed off in case of unexploded bombs.

The next best monument to take the kids is Vimy Ridge, the glorious sky reaching memorial to the Canadians who fought and died as part of the Battle of Arras. Located in a beautiful pine forest, on ground still pockmarked by craters and collapsed trenches, this brilliant white memorial can't fail to move and inspire. With far-reaching views, that include the UNESCO protected slagheaps of the area, this appealed to my son particularly as there were plenty of signs telling people not to wander off the main paths due to the risk from unexploded ordinance, which added a frisson of danger for him. There are preserved trenches on site; we visited too late in the day but if you are going, pre-book a visit to the trenches to really get a close-up view of the battle.

White graves in a circular pattern with trees and blue sky.

The beautiful Cabaret-Rouge Allied cemetery.

A square stone plinth with crosses fading into the distance behind it.

The sombre German war cemetery at Neuville

Scenic shot of beach with hills behind and high up a tall obelisk.

Dover Patrol Monument behind the beaches and hills of Wissant

Other cemeteries worth visiting include:

Cabaret-Rouge, an Allied cemetery laid out in a circular pattern, this contains the graves of nearly 7,000 soldiers from both of the World Wars. I loved this cemetery, it was utterly beautiful.

Neuville-St Vaast German War Cemetery is the largest German cemetery in France containing nearly 45,000 burials from World War 1. Discreetly tucked away off the main road, the iron crosses, each one representing four men, are intermingled with stone gravestones from the Jewish soldiers who fought alongside them.

The Dover Patrol Monument, high on the top of the Cap Blanc Nez, is a memorial to the 2,000 members of the Patrol who protected the English Channel during World War I. A short walk with some amazing scenery over a pretty landscape, beaches and in the distance, the White Cliffs of Dover, this is worth a visit.

3. More things to do in Pas-de-Calais with kids

i. Beaches Along the Côte d'Opale

There are miles and miles of golden, sandy beaches, which become very popular in the summer. In front of popular seaside resorts, such as Le Touquet, the beaches get quite crowded. Factories on the edge of towns give many beaches a somewhat industrialised atmosphere, whereas a bit further out factories give way to sand dunes. You will find the usual cafes, shops and deckchairs, and you can have a good day out if your family are beach people. Bear in mind that parking can be chaotic at the more popular sites, so get there early if you do not want to walk for miles.

The beach front at Boulogne showing cafes and shops.

The beachfront at Boulogne-sur-Mer is right behind the aquarium where there is a huge golden sandy beach.

ii. NAUSICAA Aquarium, Boulogne-sur-Mer

Europe's biggest aquarium is located in Bolougne-sur-Mer on the coast, and gave us some light relief from all of the history. It is easy to find, but bear in mind that you must park in a nearby underground car park rather than on site. It was packed the day of our visit, but still easy to park and get around. The aquarium is divided into four different exhibitions, the largest of which includes the largest tank in Europe, which was really impressive.

There are other smaller tanks, a touch pool full of flat fish, sealions, penguins and other exhibitions, including one about life on board a scientific research ship, which had a moving ship's bridge in high seas, which kept me entertained for a while. It has several cafes and it was easy to spend at least 3-4 hours here. Information is available in English throughout. It's not cheap however, and we also had to pay an additional €6 for parking in their underground car park.

Right behind the aquarium is a huge sandy beach, slightly ruined by the industrial complex next to it, but complete with the requiste cafes and shops.

Silhouettes of people in front of a large aquarium.

The biggest aquarium in Europe is incredibly impressive.

Lots of people leaning over a large tank trying to touch the fish

The touch pool draws the crowds all wanting to touch a flat fish.


Opening Times
Every day including public holidays 9h30 - 18h30
July and August 09h30 - 20h00
Closed 25 Dec and 6 Jan - 24 Jan

Ticket Prices
Adults: €25.90
Children: €19.50
Under 3's go free
Family tickets are available, and 7% can be saved on the above prices by booking online at least a day in advance

Audio guides are available in English and cost an extra €3.

Parking is underground at 86 Rue de Folkestone and can cost up to €10 depending on season and length of visit.

The site is fully wheelchair and pushchair accessible.

There are several cafes on site as well as a restaurant.

Official Website

iii. Amusement Parks and Sporting Activities

We didn't visit any of these, as they all seemed to cater for younger children rather than older ones, and were quite a drive from where we were staying, but Dennlys Parc in Saint-Omer looks great for children aged 3-12. In nearby Belgium is Bellewaerde, a theme park and zoo which caters for older children and gets good reviews, but was a bit too far to drive for us.

As the coast can be so windy, this area is great for windsurfing, sand-yachting and kite surfing and paddleboarding on the beaches. We didn't try any ourselves, but saw several small scale activity schools operating on the beaches.

Opalaventure is an adventure park with tree top courses for all ages, which also rents out all-terrain electric scooters.

A surboard on a beach in a pink sunset.

Wind sports are very popular on the Opal Coast, which also has some stunning sunsets.

4. Travel to and Around the Calais Region

If you are planning a historical holiday in the region, a vehicle really is a must to reach the out of the way places and to stop at the cemeteries and memorials that take your interest. Relying on public transport, if possible, would seriously limit how much you would be able to do in a day.

How to get to Pas-de-Calais


The Pas-de-Calais Department has two airports, Calais-Dunkirk and Le Touquet. Neither are commercial airports, but is its possible to charter small planes from small airports in the south of England. For example, it is possible to charter a flight from Lydd Airport in Kent to Le Touquet. Interestingly, but perhaps not that surprisingly, these airports have interesting histories, relating to the two World Wars. Both have hire car facilities where you can rent a vehicle for the duration of your stay.


The Calais-Fréthun, on the outskirts of Calais, is an international railway station with direct connections to Brussels, Lille, London and Paris. A number of the major car rental companies have offices here.

A DFDS ferry leaving Dover port.
A plate of food

Why sit in your car on the Channel Tunnel when you can sail across the sea with great views and good food?


If travelling from the UK, there is the Channel Tunnel or multiple ferry crossings on offer. Taking a car on the Tunnel isn't much fun, and the ferries are far more enjoyable, giving you the opportunity to stretch your legs, have a bite to eat and admire the views. We travelled with DFDS who do vehicle only crossings and found both journeys to be incredibly easy and straightforward. With the added extra of access to the Premium Lounge, we were well away from the masses and enjoyed two very peaceful journeys with some lovely food, prosecco and chocolates. What mattered most for the kids though, was the charging points on offer, and they stretched out on the comfy sofas, plugged in to their own little worlds.

DFDS sail from Dover to Calais and Dunkirk, with prices starting at £25. Priority boarding is an extra £10 per car, and access to the Premium Lounge is an extra £12 per person.


The roads in France are really good and far less busy than we are used to in the UK. Beware of speed limits and the multitude of cameras on the roads, (as we learnt to our cost when a €45 fine landed on my doormat this morning) and bear in mind that many roads have tolls, which can be expensive and add up with all the driving you will be doing when exploring the region. Sat Nav is great to get you in the approximate area of where you are going, but use Google Maps once you are close by, as Sat Nav can often take you to the wrong end of quite a large area.

5. Where to Stay with kids in Pas-de-Calais

One thing I cannot stress enough is if you are planning on taking your kids on a historical holiday to Pas-de-Calais you will need a place that provides your children with some light relief in the evenings and other down times. I most definitely advise that you chose somewhere that has a pool (or hot tub), a games room or at the very least, a large garden with outdoor toys. Also, be sure to check whether the accommodation offers English TV channels that aren't just news channels, and preferably one that has a DVD player or other entertainment system. WiFi is an absolute must for older children; those YouTube videos will eat up your data. Think ahead and consider how your children will let off steam after a day of often, rather heavy, war history.

Self-Catering Accommodation

Self-catering accommodation and gîtes in France vary enormously. Some offer a very well equipped, luxurious home-away-from-home environment. At the other end, some gîtes are very basic in what they provide for their guests. And of course the quality can be just as variable. Before making your choice ensure the website includes lots of photographs (both exterior and interior spaces), as well as details of what is in the house for your use. Be warned, linen and towels are not always provided. Such accommodations may be cheaper, but you will have to fill your car to bursting with everything you need for a comfortable holiday. This won't be easy with four of you and your luggage already in there!

For self-catering accommodation situated within a town, ensure it has off-road parking or at least a dedicated parking space on the road. This is particularly essential if the house is near a popular attraction such as by the beach. We stayed in Wissant, which is very popular with the locals, and after a day out exploring we often came back to find that cars were parked on every pavement for miles around. This meant that we had to drive up and down in heavy traffic for ages, eventually having to park well away from where we were staying and lug all our stuff back to the house. has a good selection of Self-Catering Accommodation in Pas-de-Calais, in all styles and locations, and to suit all budgets.

Hotels and B&Bs

Hotels and Bed and Breakfasts can be harder for a family of four as you can end up all living on top of each other. These do, however, often come with the advantage of a good breakfast and a bar, reliable WiFi, and even a pool and parking. Without a kitchen you are forced to eat out all of the time. Many hotels have their own restaurants or are near places that have fast food restaurants and smaller cafes and bistrots, and at least you don't have to cook.

If I were choosing a hotel, the Novotel Thalassa Le Touquet, directly on the beachfront, looks ideal for a family, as well as some crucial facilities it has a saltwater pool, WiFi throughout and a restaurant onsite.

See a Full List of Accommodation Options in Pas-de-Calais on >>

Lots of cars in traffic jam and parked on pavement.

Staying by the sea? Always chose holiday accommodation with dedicated parking to avoid the inevitable traffic jams and hunting for a parking space!

6. Essential Tips for taking kids to Pas-de-Calais

Most importantly, chose your accommodation wisely and with your kids in mind. See the 'Where to Stay' section above.

Visiting bunkers can be cold work! I didn't mind it at all and was happy in a t-shirt, but the rest of the family needed fleeces, so ensure you've got some with you, even on the hottest of days.

Take mosquito repellent and After-Bite with you.

Not all French restaurants offer kids meals. Whereas French kids may tuck heartily into a plate of Moules, yours are unlikely to. Where these are available, they are more often very basic. Prepare for fast food, ready meals and baguettes to keep you all going.

Unlike many other countries, not all French attractions have cafes or restaurants. Often what you have is a vending machined with limited options. You will need to do a bit more food related planning for your day out than usual.

I find France to be quite expensive. Entrance fees, food and tolls soon add up, particularly for a family of four.

This area of France was heavily bombed in both wars and lost much of its beautiful architecture, which has been replaced with concrete buildings and identikit houses. There are some areas of great beauty, but the majority of it will not look how you may very well be imagining it. While there are towns that have been sensitively reconstructed, such as Arras or Béthune, this is sadly not the case everywhere.

Calais has a large shopping mall out of town, Cité Europe, with plenty of free parking. Lots of shops, places to eat and a huge Carrefour supermarket, this is a good place to pick up supplies.

7. Is Calais a good place for a historical holiday with kids?

After a week exploring the region with our kids, who are very used to historical sites by now, I have to say that unless your child is really seriously into either Medieval or World War History, this is probably not the best place to spend a full week. Some of the sites were great and I am glad to have visited them, but there is a lot of driving involved to get around, and not that many other activities available for kids who aren't into beaches. Unless you can counteract it with a fabulous place to stay, it can be quite heavy going for children.

We saw a number of groups of adults on motorbikes, and it is my impression that Calais is much more suited to adults or couples. A day of visiting war sites followed by a beer or two is perfect for many, myself included, but not for kids. If you are heading to France with kids, I do recommend a stop in the area, perhaps even spend a couple of days here. Choose a few interesting sites from my list to visit, before heading off to the beauty of inland or the Mediterranean Coast.

If staying for a week you really do need a car as sites are spread out