From a sun-baked desert in Turkey to a grassy field in Vietnam, a visit to a battlefield is like standing on pivot point of history. Whether you’re walking in the footsteps of ancient infantry or following the path of a more modern conflict, a tour can give you a more intimate appreciation for how individual soldiers helped to shape the fates of empires and nations. We’ve collected five battlefields across the globe that you can tour to gain a deeper understanding of wars from ancient Egypt to the 20th century.
USA: Yorktown, Virginia
As every Hamilton fan knows, the Battle of Yorktown (1781) is where the world turned upside down and the scrappy American colonists decisively overthrew the British monarchy. Today, it’s a grassy park with well-marked paths dotted with period canons and informative signs. Run by the National Park Service, the park has talks by rangers who can help you understand the nuances of the battle.
On a self-guided tour, you can see where General Washington had his headquarters and the white farmhouse where Lord Cornwallis surrendered to American and French forces. You’ll also learn about the area’s role in the American Civil War, eight decades later. There’s also a museum that includes illuminating exhibits like parts of Washington’s tent and an early copy of the Declaration of Independence.
The park is just a short drive from both Colonial Williamsburg and from the recreated Jamestown Settlement — together, the three make up what’s known as America’s Historic Triangle.
Turkey: Gallipoli & Troy
The strategic importance of the Dardanelles Strait means that it’s been the site of two monumental battles, separated by more than three millennia — the disastrous Battle of Gallipoli, during World War I, and the (possibly fabled) sacking of Troy, at the end of the (probably non-mythical) Trojan War. Thanks to their geographic proximity, it’s easy to visit both sites in one day on a private tour when you’re visiting Turkey.
On the Gallipoli Peninsula, as you wander through the beach cemetery and visit Hellespont Memorial, a private guide can help you untangle the complexities of this crucial campaign, which lasted nearly a year. You’ll hear about Winston Churchill’s disastrous plan and the Anzac forces who fought and died here. Additionally, you can gain an understanding of how this battle helped shape the national identities of Turkey, Australia, and New Zealand as separate from their respective empires.
Then, taking the ferry across the strait, you’ll visit the archaeological site of ancient Troy. It’s actually nine different cities built atop one another, which make up one of the richest archaeological sites in the Mediterranean basin. Explore the different architectural styles of each layer and learn how Victorian explorers wildly misinterpreted the results of the initial dig. You’ll also hear how later, professional excavations have helped to clarify the picture of the late Bronze Age peoples that lived here.
Suggested itinerary: It’s easy to include both sites on this history-themed tour of Turkey, which also includes private visits to the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia.
Vietnam: Khe Sanh
The conflict that ravaged Vietnam in the middle decades of the 20th century is such a complicated, multi-layered war that it’s hard to even know what to call it: Americans say the Vietnam War, the Vietnamese say the American War, and the British refer to it as the Second Indochina War. You can also glimpse that complexity on a guided tour along the former DMZ.
Led by a private guide who can illuminate the Vietnamese experience of the war, you’ll follow Highway 9 as it twists its way inland from the small town of Dong Ha. The tour includes several stops, including the tunnels built by villagers in Vinh Moc, to protect themselves from bombardment. But, for many, the most poignant stop is at the now-overgrown Khe Sanh Combat Base, site of a bitterly fought siege that lasted for more than two months in 1968. Broadcast into the US public’s living room on nightly news dispatches, this was the most widely publicized battle of the war.
It’s hard to reconcile those chaotic newsreels with the peaceful green fields that you can see today. Your guide can help you understand the role that the base played in the war and put into perspective the casualties inflicted on both sides.
Suggested itinerary: You can explore Khe Sanh and other facets of the war on this classic Vietnam itinerary.
Like the Dardanelles, Meggido’s location has made it a vital tactical location for millennia. In fact, Megiddo itself is what’s called a tel, a local word for a mound created by hundreds of generations building in the same spot. Archeological excavations have unearthed at least 25 layers of habitation between the Neolithic and 500 BC, so it’s no surprise that this has been the site of many important battles. The earliest that we know of was in the 15th century BC, when Pharaoh Thutmose III put down a rebel coalition of vassal states, while the most recent was in 1948, when Jewish and Arab forces clashed here.
The site is best known, however, as the site of the Biblical battle that that brought Judah under the rule of the Egyptian empire. And, of course, in the Bible’s book of Revelations, it’s said to be the site of the final battle — it’s from here that English gets the word Armageddon.
A private tour can give you a chance to explore the Bronze, Copper, and Iron Age peoples who created the tel and the empires whose fates turned on the battles fought here. You’ll also stop at two other ancient sites: Nazareth and Zippori, a national park that protects the remains of a once-prosperous Roman city.
Suggested itinerary: Your specialist can include this tour, as well as other experiences that focus on ancient history, in this trip to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
The former capital of the state of Mewar, Chittorgarh commands a sweeping view from its position atop one of the highest cliffs in Rajasthan. The largest fort complex in India, this sprawling collection of towers, palaces, and temples plays a starring — if tragic — role in the local mythology.
When Sultan Alu-ud-Din, from Delhi, crushed the Rajputs in 1303, it’s said that the soldiers donned saffron martyr’s robes and chose to fight to the death rather than surrender. And that, rather than face capture, the women of the fort committed suicide by flinging themselves, en masse, upon huge funeral pyres — an act known as jauhar. Local lore also states that the women of the fort again committed jauhur in 1535, when the Sultan of Gujarat besieged the fort, and again thirty years later, Emperor Akbar.
There’s debate among scholars about whether these stories are fact and fiction, but there’s no doubt that the idea looms large in the local imagination. You can explore the restored fort on a private tour, which makes a convenient stop on the drive between Jaipur and Udaipur.
Suggested itinerary: A stop at Chittorgarh fits well into this classic Rajasthan itinerary, which also includes a visit to the Taj Mahal.
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