While we were in Brussels, we took a day trip to the Waterloo Battlefield. T. is a big Napoleonic history buff, so this was a favourite for him.
As you may know, 2015 was the 200th anniversary of the Battle. There has been huge investment in a new museum and various commemorations, culminating in a series of large scale reenactments in the summer, with thousands of participants and spectators. However, we visited in December on a week day and we had the whole place practically to ourselves.
A note on getting there: Waterloo is not particularly easy to get to on public transport. The site is very much set up for visitors to come by car and by coach. There’s either the W bus from Brussels Gare du Midi (takes an hour or more through Uccle) or the train to Braine l’Alleud and then the W bus going in the other direction. Either way, you end up at a seemingly random traffic intersection where you’ll have to pick your way to the start of the shiny, new, 200th anniversary footpath and entry road.
On the plus side, the Lion Mound is clearly visible above the trees and the bus drivers are helpful, so you’ll know you’re in the right place!
The Panorama and the Lion Mound are the oldest parts of the memorials at Waterloo. The Panorama dates to 1912 and has a famous immersive oil painting/mural with 3D elements and sound effects.
The Lion Mound was completed in 1826 and famously commemorates the Prince of Orange, William II of the Netherlands, who was wounded in the Battle. The views from the top are perfect for taking in the shape of the battlefield and the key sites.
The new underground museum was incredibly good and overwhelmingly detailed. I’m sure even the most dedicated military history buff would learn something new. For me, the political, philosophical and economic contexts were more interesting, as well as plenty of human history about the soldiers etc. We liked the interpretation information, which seemed to be working hard to take a neutral/historical standpoint.
Apart from traditional exhibits, like artefacts and mannequins, there were loads of hi-tech and interactive elements. For example, the audio devices (which we didn’t really use) have various historical figures acting as virtual tour guides to choose between and the highlight of the museum is a 3D movie experience on a 180° screen, which was thrilling – make sure to save time for it at the end.
Eventually we moved on to Hougoumont Farm. A shuttle is provided for the short hop, but we opted to walk as we were running out of time before closing.
We found the video installation, into which we were hustled at Hougoumont, a bit disappointing. It was very loud and bombastic, taking place in a darkened barn and involving a lot of moving parts (which we could see breaking down before long). It seemed very long and unfortunately, by the time it was over, it was almost too dark to see the memorial to the British soldiers who fought and died in the Battle.
In hindsight, I think we should have gone to Hougoumont first and the museum later on, but of course in the summer, it wouldn’t have mattered so much.
Hopefully these notes could be of use to anyone planning a trip to Waterloo this year. There’s also a good Telegraph article about all the various sites you can visit in the area here: LINK. and here’s the website for the Memorial complex itself: LINK. Incidentally, we got a combined ticket – which included entry to the vintage Panorama, the Lion’s Mound, the new Memorial 1815 and Hougoumont Farm – for 16 Euro. There’s a 19 Euro ticket which includes a couple of other museums in the area – I think you’d need a car to see them all in a day!
This month, I’m again attempting to blog every day to turn this corner of the internet into a sort of advent calendar. Posts will be tagged ChristmasCountdown2015 or you can look at the calendar in the sidebar ⇒