The Top 10 Places in Belgium

The Beguinages, Bruges / photo: Tourist Office for Flanders, Belgium

Don’t let Belgium’s relatively small size fool you — this country probably has more to do per square mile than most other places on earth. And best of all for the traveler, it’s a comparatively easy place to get around and English is widely spoken.

The country is divided into two ethnic regions, Dutch-speaking Flanders to the north and French-speaking Wallonia to the south. Dividing them is an imaginary east-west line that bisects the country at Brussels, which is claimed by both. Although this is a major political conundrum for the Belgians, for the traveler it’s inconsequential.

Forget the politics and focus instead on the cornucopia of culture, historic places and beautiful towns and cities you’ll find everywhere. Visit Brussels, the self-proclaimed “Capital of Europe” that is the headquarters of the European Union and NATO. Surely wander around the magnificent Grande Place, but also see such great museums as the Magritte, dedicated to Belgium’s famous surrealist painter. Cruise the canals of popular Bruges and Ghent, but also be sure to visit such treasures as Liege, Spa (luring spa-goers since the 14th century) and historic Bastogne, made famous by the Battle of the Bulge in WWII.

As highly regarded as the masterpieces in its museums is Belgium’s well-deserved reputation for superb food and drink. This year, in fact, is the Year of Gastronomy in Brussels and Wallonia, although you’ll certainly eat well wherever you go. If you’re up north in Flanders in August, you can get a Taste of Antwerp at Belgium’s largest culinary festival.

Just remember that “If It’s Tuesday This Must Be Belgium” was a comedic spoof of American travelers, not a suggested itinerary for the rest of us. Here are the top places in Belgium as listed by the Belgian Tourist Office and the Tourist Office for Flanders, Belgium.

Brussels

Brussels is quickly gaining a reputation as one of Europe’s must-see destinations. With its central location in the heart of Europe, Brussels is easily accessible by air or high-speed rail from neighboring countries. It is an international metropolis – a mosaic of languages, cultures, and traditions – and the home of the European Union, NATO and hundreds of international organizations, English is widely spoken, making it a great place for even a novice French-speaker to get by without an issue.

Brussels is a classic European city with small town charm and cosmopolitan attractions. Among the most celebrated attractions are the Grand Place, Europe’s most beautiful medieval square lined with guild houses. Originally built in the 13th century, the square is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Every other year for two days (it will occur be in 2012) the Grand’Place is decked out in an amazing flower carpet, made up of 1 million begonias.

Just a short walk from the Grand Place is the Mannekin Pis, a small bronze statue of a little boy relieving himself. The statue, a great example of Belgium’s quirky sense of humor, is often given costumes to mark various occasions, anniversaries or events.

Antwerp

Known for its vibrant nightlife, its funky bars and restaurants and numerous festivals, Belgians see Antwerp as the “capital of cool.” The Antwerp Fashion Academy produced a group of avant-garde designers who made a big splash on the fashion scene in the 1980’s and became known as “The Antwerp Six”. Nowadays, the academy continues to churn out new, hot talent.

If shopping is not your thing, discover the compact center of Antwerp, which juxtaposes beautiful medieval buildings with modern architectural landmarks. Antwerp is also an art-loving city with which the name Rubens is eternally linked. More than 400 years after the birth of this brilliant painter, it is still possible to see the extent to which Rubens left his mark on the city. Funky nightlife, historical buildings, and the biggest diamond center in the world, Antwerp offers something for everybody.

Bruges

The historic center of Bruges is on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites and is teeming with places of interest. With the city center closed off to cars, all the stunning beauty and culture of this unforgettable city can be easily explored on foot, by boat along quiet canals, or by horse-drawn carriage on cobblestoned streets. Although Bruges is a small city, it is filled to the brim with architectural and artistic treasures, folklore, chocolate shops, lace boutiques and fine restaurants. Two popular places in the city are The Beguinages (on the UNESCO World Heritage list, it is the home of the nuns of the order of Saint Benedict) and the Halve Maan Brewery, a family-owned brewery and creator of the famous ‘Brugse Zot’ beer. Two economical was to visit the city are by using the discount Bruges City Card and by touring the countryside outside the city by bicycle.

Ghent

If you ask a Belgian where they like to travel within their own country, many will tell you about the friendly city of Ghent. With most of the town center closed to cars, they will probably also tell you that Belgium’s third largest city is best explored on two wheels or by boat along the elegant canals.

Ghent is an unassuming, un-touristy city filled with university students, linger-as-long-as-you-like cafes, well-priced restaurants and vibrant energy. It’s a city with great mustard, Stropke beer (which is Flemish for noose), and the ten-day Ghent Celebrations held every year in July where the inhabitants go all out with theater performances, concerts, singing, dancing, and drinking.

Under the watchful eye of Gravensteen Castle or Castle of the Counts, the city boasts an Opera House, 18 museums, 100 churches and over 400 historical buildings. The most visited site in Ghent is the famous and beautiful polyptych, the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb painted by the brothers Jan and Hubert van Eyck in 1432.

Liege

Liege, the largest French-speaking city in Belgium after Brussels, is a historical city situated along the Meuse River. In the fall of 2009, the city welcomed the opening of a stunning, new train station, which brings visitors to Liege from Brussels in 1 hour, Maastrict, Holland in 20 mins and Paris in 2 hours. Designed by the world-renowned architect Santiago Calatrava, it’s a prime example of Liege’s modern transformations.

Dating back to Charlemagne, Liege is a treasure trove of historical sites and celebrated collections. Sitting on the Meuse River is the Grand Curtius, home to the prestigious archaeology, decorative arts, religious and Mosan art museums, a glass museum as well as the famous weaponry museum. Travel back in time as you walk the Coteaux, a winding path of steps and courtyards leading up to the citadel of Liege with an incredible view. Just outside the city, visitors have easy access to the Blegny mines and the Henri Chapelle American Military cemetery, the largest in Belgium. The city will host the opening leg of the Tour de France this summer!

photo: Belgian Tourist Office

Spa

Less than an hour from Liege is the city of Spa, a picturesque Belgian town often referred to as the “Pearl of the Ardennes,” nestled in a wooded valley surrounded by rolling hills and countless rivers and springs. Having given its name to all spas, visitors from across Europe have traveled to Spa for its healing hot spring water treatments since the 14th century. For some travelers a trip to Spa must include a visit to the relaxing Thermes de Spa for any one of the many modern spa treatments.

Spa became a resort town in the 18th century because of its hot spring waters and is still home to the world first casino, built in 1763 to cater to visitors. Today, it hosts one of the most important and fun annual music festivals in Belgium’s French-speaking region, The Francopholies. Formula 1 racing fans may be familiar with Spa because it is home to the Spa-Francorchamps racetrack, the most scenic in the circuit, and host of the Grand Prix each year at the end of August.

photo: Archibald Ballantine

Namur

Namur, the capital of Belgium’s French-speaking region, sits along the Meuse River and is just 1-hour by car or train from Brussels. This impressive fortified town is surrounded by one of Europe’s largest ancient citadels, first built during the 3rd and 4th centuries, and later reconstructed during the 13th and 14th centuries. For shopaholics the city is popular for its many fabulous boutique shops.

Just outside of Namur, the towns of Dinant and Wepion offer a wonderful day trip to visitors with an explorer’s spirit. During the summer months, Wepion produces rich and flavorful strawberries and strawberry stands from local farmers line the streets selling the fresh fruit. Further down the road, is the city of Dinant, sandwiched between the Meuse River and its citadel, originally built in 1051. You can spend a day visiting the waterfalls of the Grotto of Dinant or the Sanctuary of Beauraing, then grab a table at one of the local café while taking in the views of the sparkling Meuse River.

photo: Belgian Tourist Office

Bastogne

In this town close to the Luxembourg border, thousands of American soldiers died fighting in WWII during the Battle of the Bulge. Their legacy lives on in the hearts and minds of locals and they take it upon themselves to remember the sacrifice those soldiers made for them and their town. On the Grand Place of Bastogne, there’s a Sherman Tank from the 11th US Armored Division.

Just outside town, is the Mardasson Memorial, built to honor the memory of the 76,890 American soldiers killed, wounded or missing in the battle from the 48 states, plus the then-territories of Alaska and Hawaii. Also located just outside Bastogne is the Wood of Peace. The 4,000 trees in the woods, planted for the 50th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, were dedicated to the American veterans who fought in the Ardennes, Belgian combatants and all the civilians and soldiers who died in the winter of 1944-45. Every veteran who returned to Bastogne in 1994 chose a tree, which will always bear his name. The Wood of Peace design, only visible from above, is laid out in the image of the UNICEF emblem: a mother and child, symbol of human tenderness.

Photo: Belgian Tourist Office

Mons

Located just 1 hour from Brussels, Mons is a city rich in history and tradition. The town hall building on the Grand Place of Mons, constructed between 1458 and 1477, has a Belfry, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Van Gogh also spent some time near Mons before moving on to Provence. His house, an authentic and preserved environment, now houses a permanent exhibition of reproductions and an audio-visual show in various languages, including English.

The most important event of the year, however, is the Ducasse de Mons or the Doudou, dating back to 1349 and the Fraternity of Saint George. Each June, the city of Mons is filled with visitors who come to witness the reenactment of Saint George slaying the Dragon. As the dragon swings its tail at the crowd, spectators try to grab the tail and pull out its hair and ribbons, both of which bring good luck. This popular festival is recognized by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. In 2015 Mons will be the European Capital of Culture.

photo: Tourist Office for Flanders, Belgium

Mechelen

Mechelen is a small and picturesque city that is big on charm and history. Once the capital of present-day Belgium and Holland, today it is a city thriving with quaint shops, car-free areas and amazingly pleasant little squares. But for some it is best known for its carillon school where students from all over the world come to learn to play church bells. One of the most pleasant experiences to have in Mechelen is to sit outside at a café sipping on a local beer while listening to the delightful bell music coming from the sky.

Mechelen has no less than 336 listed buildings and monuments including eight gothic and baroque churches from the 14th through the 17th century. It also has a Toy Museum and the Tivoli Children’s Farm for youngsters and, for those a bit older, the Anker, one of the oldest operating breweries in Belgium.

 

 

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Comments

  1. Ivona says

    I am going this summer to Belgium and Luxembourg. This article proves I made a good choice by picking Belgium. I cannot wait!

  2. tom says

    aha. ive lived in belgium for the last 5 years and havent noticed any of those things. i guess the grass is always greener on the other side.

    • Debbie says

      Vera – I would like to hear the other places in Belgium that are beautiful and historic. We are planning a visit, in a year or two.

      Debbie

  3. says

    If you want to discover the medieval cities in Belgium you have the choice for several city walking routes. A suggestion is the site for walking in Belgium: http://www.wandelroutes.org. The site is in Dutch, but a good part of it is also tranlated into English.

  4. Ashwani Khurana says

    I am landing with my 18 year old son in Brussels on wednesday 5th june & leave on Saturday 8th. I usually avoid big cities & like to travel self drive into upcountry resorts, spas or even naturist resorts if any. Am ok to do a 2/3 hours drive. Any suggestions??

    • Jim Ferri says

      You shouldn’t have any trouble driving about Belgium since the country is relatively small and flat and has excellent roads. The countryside is beautiful and easily accessible by car. Have you asked the Belgian and Flanders Tourist Offices for suggestions?

  5. Nathan says

    Driving there today, not been since the 80’s when I was five, I remember it having lots of horses and being very clean, looking forward to it

  6. Amelia says

    I’m doing a report on Belgium and one of the main topics was tourist attractions. Thank you so much for your help!!

  7. ismail says

    hi
    I would like to study in Belgium, could anyone tell me witch city in Belgium is cheaper and a good place for foreign student to study and live? thanks for any help

  8. Morgan says

    Hi Jim! My roommate and I are spending next semester in Flanders. This was very helpful to us, we do not know much about Belgium but we are excited! If you have any other suggestions for us, we would love to hear. Thanks!

    • Jim Ferri says

      Oh, how I envy you! You’ll love Flanders, Be sure to visit Bruges and Ghent, but also don’t miss Antwerp which has become a mecca of sort for fashion and designers. There’s also a new museum, the Red Star Line Museum, which has opened in Antwerp, and tells about emigration from that port to the USA. Get yourself to Brussels, also, at least for a weekend. If you like beer, chocolate, good food, culture or beautiful places you’ll be in heaven. Go to the Visit Flanders website for a lot of good info. Have a great time!

  9. syed md. nurul karim says

    Belgium a beautyful cpuntry in the world. I like Belgium. I am a Bangladeshi, in my childhool I was a great dream go to Europe. Basically Belgium is my favourite country, it is a nice country and paradise of world. So I need a visa for going to Belgium, please anybody can help me for get a visa for Belgium. Syed MD. Nurul Karim, cell- 008801811200142, email- smkarim4333@yahoo.com

  10. Jim Ferri says

    No reason to be sorry Diane. We all disagree about different places. I really enjoyed Belgium but understand that not everyone likes every place that I do. Have you ever been there? If so, it would certainly make for an interesting conversation with your sister-in-law.

  11. says

    The First World War centenary is the centenary of World War One which starts in 2014 and will last until 2018.
    The Westhoek area offers you wonderful cycling trails in the beautiful nature, cycle along little pathways, and visit the various battlefields.
    You can find free cycle maps (Ypres, Dikmsuide, …) on Fietsroute.org:
    http://www.fietsroute.org/indexuk.php

  12. says

    Taking a good beer, try some chocolate and enjoy themselves reading a comic. Performing these three simple actions have done more than enough for the three icons of Belgium which is known worldwide honors.

  13. Brenton says

    i just got back from a trip to belgium. i went to bruges, ghent and brussels. I recommend it absolutely! Bruges and Ghent were the best. lovley people, amazing beer, chocolate and of course beautiful medieval architecture. I loved it so much. Go to Belgium!!!

    • Jim Ferri says

      Hi Brenton,
      Belgium is wonderful, isn’t it? Yes, there’s great people, great food and great lots of things.

  14. eduarda says

    Hello! I’ve never been in Belgium before and this summer I’m going to Boom with 3 friends and we want to spend a few days in Belgium.. which places do you recommend us? We want to go to places near there because we are young people and we don’t want to spend a lot of money.. thanks!!

  15. Joana says

    I am from Belgium, I lived there during almost 23 years, but now I live in Australia with my fiance that I met when I was travelling with one of my friend around Australia. I booked my flight to Belgium few days ago to go visit my family and friends, and introduce my fiance to tthem. After almost 2 years without see all of them I am so excited, can’t wait ! And i can say, you guys made my day, writing all these nice comments about my country ! Thanks

  16. Nana says

    Hi ! My hubby is Belgian but we have been out of there for almost 10 yrs. now and have two kids 7 and 2 , can anyone recommend nice places to visit and show my very proud half Belgian boy around and in the same time have fun all of us ? thanks

  17. Natalia says

    Hi,

    Thank you very much for the info. I’m going to Belgium this weekend. This article helps me where I want to go!

    Cheers!

  18. Matt Y. says

    These comments are very good. It gives me a starting point for reference. I will be in Belgium in the next two weeks and will be spending at least 2 full days. Any suggestions on the main things to see in the shirt amount if time? We will be touring Amsterdam after Belgium.

    • Jim Ferri says

      In Brussels, Bruges, Ghent or any of the Belgian cities, you can see a tremendous amount just by walking. Everything is relatively close. At other times, in Brussels, for example, you’ll find public transportation to be good.

      • Debs says

        I love Belgium. My husband and I first went there for our 30th wedding anniversary and have been going back a couple of times a year for the last 3 years. Due to go again in July can’t wait. Such an amazing country. Brussels is brilliant and so central.

  19. Nara says

    I’ll be at Gent in september for 5 month scholarship studying. Thank you for all these comments, now i am sure that I have made they right choose

  20. Phil says

    Can’t believe Ypres (Ieper) isn’t in the 10. Hugely significant area wrt WW1 as has already been said. Also centre of one of the best car rallying events outside of the World Championship. The Market square being taken over as the service park for the event has a wonderful atmosphere.

  21. Mrs Aitch says

    My family and I are travelling to Belgium in a couple of weeks time by motorhome. We will start at the Belgium GP in Spa then hope to take in some of the wonderful cities and places I have read about. Has anyone got any suggestions about the best way of finding decent motorhome parks (I believe they are called Aires). We really need them for filling up and emptying water plus overnight stays when visiting Brussels, Bruge, Ghent etc and the WWII memorial sites. We are only there for a week, wish it was two after reading all your comments!

    • Jim Ferri says

      Hi Susie,
      The first thing you should do is contact Visit Belgium and the Tourist Office for Flanders. They should be a good source for that information, or they will be able to point you in the right direction. Have a wonderful trip!

  22. sarah n.k ssettimba says

    I visted almost all the historical places in Belgium this August 14 and I’m proud to attest to what has been written about all the beautiful medieval places that I saw. So graetful to my family in Wetteren that enabled the visit.

  23. Mohammad Ayub says

    In 1985 I tried from West Germany to get a visa for Belgium. I wanted to stay in Brussel for a week with friend who was had a Nationality of Belgium. But a visa was not granted. Because A bulk of immegrants from south eastern Asia were entering Europe. As such I was deprived of visiting Belgium.

    • Jim Ferri says

      Hi Neelam,
      Yes, it is a beautiful country, isn’t it? And easy to get around. I hope you get back there with your family.

  24. Jim Ferri says

    I’ve been visiting it sporadically for many years and have been to many different areas. Even though it’s a small country there’s still much for me to see!

  25. Punam.Nikam says

    Hi Jim,

    Last time when we visited Europe, we were not able to see Belgium, but this time its our first priority.
    Our travel is from Germany – Amsterdam – Belgium – Germany.
    Need your guidance, from which city to start with n end with, as after the last city we will be heading back to Frankfurt.
    And how many minimum days will be required for Belgium.

    Thanks
    Punam.Nikam.

  26. charity says

    im looking for a book about Belgium from restaurant to must sees not only in belguim but also in surrounding towns our family will be visiting for two weeks this summer

    • Jim Ferri says

      Hi Charity,
      I think your best guides for this will be the Michelin guides for restaurants and sightseeing.

  27. George says

    Check out Ghent and Bruges, amazing, beautiful places with many hidden treasures. Don’t forget to visit Amadeus for unforgettable ribs

  28. Glen says

    I’ve been to a few places in Belgium and my favourite by far was Ypres and its surrounding areas for my school WW1 trip (I live in Edinburgh). It gave me a new view on the war and the effects. The war memorials especially got to me and made me appreciate the loss people gave to protect their homelands. A great trip if you enjoy history, very disappointed not being on the list

  29. belgium says

    I live in belgium and i can tell u i like to live here.
    I live in a small town called kapelle-op-den-bos. If u have any questions ask me !

  30. Morgane says

    Je vis en Belgique et je n’y vois rien de beau dans se pays mais bon…. l’herbe est toujours plus verte ailleurs ! :)

  31. chunsen says

    Hi, I am malaysian, will go to Brussels this May for an education course for 2 days then take another 3 days tour around belgium (in the country or nearby country). After reading this article, I think I cant wait to visit Bruges and Ghent too. Can anyone help to estimate the time to spend in this two city? If i plan to take train to France for one night stay or Holland, which city (Paris or Amsterdam) I should not miss? Thanks

    • Jim Ferri says

      If you’re pressed for time (which you certainly seem to be) you should spend a minimum of one day in each City (Bruges and Ghent). As for the train and overnight, if it’s your first visit to the region I’d suggest you spend the night and a day in Paris. Have a good trip!

  32. Arran says

    Love Belgium – I like to go at least once every 3 months. Bruges is lovely and romantic.
    I have been to most places on this list and many more – my cousin and I walked from Bastogne to Ypres last year, 210 miles and I must say it’s the best way to experience a country. If driving through Belgium,or even mad enough to walk, you need to stop off at Dinant, you won’t be disappointed.

    • Jim Ferri says

      Wow, that’s quite a walk. Bit I agree that the best way to experience a country, its people and culture is on foot. I love Belgium also.

  33. says

    hi, I’ve seen those beautiful cities through internet, I would love to go and live in belgium to start a new life, but i don’t know how to go there because I’m from poor family so I don’t have money, I need someone who can help me please please thanks for your help

  34. susan says

    We are going to Nederland for just a week and we want to travel for just one day to Belgie Can you please tel me what is the best places to visit there

    • Jim Ferri says

      Only one day in Belgium doesn’t leave you enough time to see much of anything, but I understand. You’ll want to stay in the northern part of Belgium to keep your travel time to a minimum. I’d suggest Bruges or Ghent, the latter less crowded.

  35. says

    Good and detailed list! For those often visiting Belgium I’d also like to recommend Gent, it’s actually not that from from Bruges and I always combine those two!

  36. Jens says

    Hi all,

    I’m from Belgium. personal favorites:

    -Gent: Belgians biggest pearl, great atmosphere, people, stunning sites. Good beers and food.

    – Brussels: Less medival but a metropolitan city with beautiful sights and museum’s. Have a drink at Delirium café. Visit the Bozar, marollen in the morning.

    -Antwerp: Pretty sites, have a drink at Den Engel. Rubenshuis is a great museum. Good to shop and eat. Great for going out but also to walk around.

    -Mechelen: Small but great, Visit the highest church tower of Belgium with sights up to Antwerp and Brussels.

    -Leuven: I recently moved here. Pretty city as big as Mechelen with great city squares. Visit Ladeuze, Grote and oude markt.

    -Leige: only city on the fench side I really adore. Great glass and other art in the smaller streets. The old royal buildings look great.

    -Bruges: Very pretty as well. Boat rides are nice. Simular to Gent but much quieter. Great food and beers here too. Beers in every Belgian city are great haha.

    -Ieper: Great for world war fans. Also a nice city to walk through. Not to crowdy.

    Although I’m very familiar in the Flemish part. Haven’t been in the French speaking part often because I do love the bigger brighter cities. The French parts are a bit grayish. Dinant and Mons are okay. Originally I’m from the province named Limburg. Nothing much to see here in my opninion. Maybe you’ll appriciate Bokrijk. It’s very green in this province, good to do bicicle tours. Maybe some nice additions to the Belgian border are Maastricht (NL) and Lille (FR).

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