The gabled guild houses and patrician mansions around the Grote Markt are occupied now mostly by restaurants, cafes, and hotels. At the western end of this main central square, Ypres's medieval wealth is reflected in its extravagant Gothic Lakenhalle (Cloth Hall). The original, constructed between 1250 and 1304 along the Ieperlee River, which has long since been banished underground, was blown to bits between 1914 and 1918 and reconstructed with painstaking care in subsequent decades, though the work wasn't finished until 1967. Gilded statues adorn the roof, and a statue of Our Lady of Thuyne, the patron of Ypres, stands over the main entrance, the Donkerpoort. Inside, the spacious first-floor halls where wool and cloth were once sold are now used for exhibits; the upper-floor storage space houses the In Flanders Fields Museum .
A Flemish Renaissance extension at the eastern end, the arcaded Nieuwerck (1624), houses Ypres's Stadhuis (Town Hall). Visit the council chamber and view its fine stained-glass window Monday to Friday from 8:30 to 11:45am when the council is not in session. Admission is free.
From the center of the Lakenhalle, the Belfort (Belfry), which has four corner turrets and a spire and encloses a 49-bell carillon, soars 70m (228 ft.). You get fine views over the town from here, provided you're willing and able to climb 264 interior steps to the upper gallery. Carillon concerts chime out on Saturday from 11am to noon and Sunday from 4 to 5pm.
The graceful spire of the 13th-century Gothic Sint-Martenskathedraal (St. Martin's Cathedral) in Sint-Maartensplein is a town landmark. Inside is the tomb of Flemish theologian Cornelius Jansen (1585-1638), a bishop of Ypres whose doctrine of predestination, Jansenism, rocked the Catholic Church and was condemned as heretical by the pope in 1642. Britain's armed forces donated the superb stained-glass rose window in honor of Belgium's King Albert I, the World War I "soldier king." Note the eight alabaster statues on the baptistery chapel screen. The cathedral is open to visitors daily from 8am to 8pm, except during services (when it's open to worshipers). Admission is free.
Behind St. Martin's, the Celtic cross Munster Memorial honors Irish soldiers killed in World War I. Across the way, British and Commonwealth veterans made the Anglican St. George's Memorial Church, Elverdingsestraat (tel. 057/21-56-85), dating from 1929, a shrine to the memory of their fallen comrades. Wall-mounted banners and pew kneelers decorated with colorful corps and regimental badges add an almost festive air to what might otherwise be a somber scene. The church is open daily from 9:30am to dusk (4pm in winter). Admission is free.
At Meensepoort (Menen Gate), on the famous marble arch of the Missing Memorial, are inscribed the names of 54,896 British troops who fell around Ypres between 1914 and August 15, 1917, and who have no known grave. Every evening at 8 o'clock, traffic through the gate is stopped while Ypres firefighters in dress uniform sound the plaintive notes of "The Last Post" on silver bugles donated by the British Legion, in a brief but moving ceremony that dates from 1928. Adjacent to this, the Australian Memorial honors the more than 43,000 Aussies killed in the Ypres salient.
The impressive 17th-century ramparts designed by the French military engineer Vauban, fronted by a moat that once surrounded the town, are among the few structures not demolished during World War I. You reach them via stairs at the Menen Gate and walk around a pleasant park to Rijselsepoort (Lille Gate). On nearby Rijselsestraat, no. 204 is a timber house from 1575; streets hereabouts are lined with reconstructed 17th-century facades.
In the Sint-Jansgodshuis, a reconstructed almshouse from 1270, the Stedelijk Museum (Municipal Museum), Ieperleestraat 31 (tel. 057/22-85-82), recounts the town's history through paintings, antique maps, and sculpture. A fine arts section has sculpture, silverware, porcelain, and more. The museum is open April to October Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 12:30pm and 2 to 6pm; hours November to March are Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 12:30pm and 2 to 5pm. Admission is 2.50€ ($4) for adults, 0.50€ (80¢) for children ages 7 to 15, and free for children 6 and under.
The Godshuis Belle Museum, Rijselsestraat 38 (tel. 057/22-85-84), in an almshouse from 1276, counts among its treasures the Virgin and Child by the anonymous Master of 1420. Other exhibits include religious paintings from the 16th to the 19th centuries, by artists such as Nicolaas Van de Velde and Gilles Lamoot. In addition, there's pewter, lace, and antique furniture. The museum is open April to October Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to noon and 2 to 6pm. Admission is 2.50€ ($4) for adults, 0.50€ (80¢) for children ages 7 to 15, and free for children 6 and under.
Flying Felines -- Every 3 years on the second Sunday in May, Ypres celebrates a colorful pageant, the Kattenstoet (Festival of the Cats), when the town jester throws hundreds of cats from the Belfry to the people below. The custom originated centuries ago, at a time when cats were considered a "familiar" of witches, and evolved into the tradition of today's lively carnival and procession. Outraged cat lovers can simmer down; these days the flying felines are fluffy toys. The next Kattenstoet is on May 10, 2009.
Especially for Kids -- If you're traveling with children, check out Bellewaerde Park, Meenseweg 497, Ieper-Zillebeke (tel. 057/46-86-86; www.bellewaerdepark.be). This theme park combines white-knuckle rides with a wildlife reserve, various recreated natural environments, and a zone called Pepinoland for the tiniest tots. Bellewaerde is set in what was once the wasteland of the World War I front lines. The park is open April to June daily from 10am to 6pm (7pm weekends), July daily from 10am to 7pm, August daily from 10am to 9pm, and September to mid-October weekends from 10am to 6pm. Admission is 27€ ($43) for adults, 24€ ($38) for children between 1m and 1.4m (3 ft., 3 in.-4 ft., 7 in.), and free for children under 1m (3 ft., 3 in).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.