Belgium is an absolute masterpiece of the European Low Countries; it may be small with a big heart. Belgium is the current headquarters of the European Union and has played an important part in European and world history. Yet, this nation hosts everything from lively European parliaments to sombering war memorials in the south to the Flemish diamond cities and the North Sea coast between its borders.
Here, we look at all of the best spots to visit in Belgium, including the vibrant city, the untamed Ardennes, the culturally rich Mons, and so much more!
Belgium is recognized for its waffles, chocolate, beer, and the Red Devils, its national football team. In addition, NATO’s headquarters and the EU Commission and European Parliament are located in Belgium. As a result, Brussels is frequently referred to as the EU’s capital.
It’s also a fantastic tourist attraction. It is only a few hours distant from the Netherlands, France, Luxembourg, Germany, and the United Kingdom. So Belgium is easily included in a European tour.
Brussels, Belgium’s capital, is a must-see on every vacation to the country. Brussels is a fascinating city with a rich history and diverse activities.
Military history fans will find enough to enjoy, from distant Flanders battlefields to numerous outstanding museums dedicated to Belgium’s role in World Wars. Our list of the best locations to visit in Belgium includes this.
Due to its ancient architecture and romantic atmosphere, Bruges is one of Belgium’s most visited cities. Its old town is a magical maze of twisting cobblestone streets lined with the towering apses of Low Country mansions. Soaring belfries with Gothic sculptures and twisted gargoyles tower above the Grote Markt. Chip vendors sell double-fried cones of Belgian Frites next to omnipresent Irish pubs, and charming gondolas float up and down the canals.
One of Bruges’ most appealing features is its canals, and no trip to the city is complete without a gorgeous canal boat excursion. Tourists can get a new perspective of the city from the water; landlubbers can also wander along the canals to watch the boats pass by, and the local tourism office offers free walking tours. The homes along the Dijver Canal, some of which are now museums, are particularly noteworthy.
Burg Square and Markt Square, the historic center’s two principal squares, are located in the city’s heart. The Halle and its 83-meter belfry are the most striking edifice on Markt Square, which is bordered by several remarkable buildings. The belfry has 47 bells and a viewing deck for anyone daring enough to climb the 366 steps to the top.
The Basilica of the Holy Blood in Burg Square is a must-see for ecclesiastic architecture enthusiasts. In addition, the historic Town Hall and the tourist office, the former Law Courts, are both located within the Burg.
Many interesting towns and tourist attractions are within a short drive of Bruges. The Schipdonkkanaal’s pathways are charming for a walk or pedal bike ride, and canal boat cruises are also offered. Damme is a tiny town with a distinctive Flemish atmosphere and various historical structures.
Bruges is close to the shore, making it easy to visit the seaside and beach towns of Knokke and Ostend. Knokke is primarily known for the luxury resort village of Knokke-Heist, but it is also a mecca for art lovers, with 85 galleries and various public art pieces. Along with the beaches of Ostend, tourists can visit the De Plate Museum of Local History and the Museum of Fine Art.
Upper Meuse Valley
The Meuse River divides the country in two, E42 from Liege to Namur, and then E42 from Namur to Dinant. The valley is recognized for its picturesque tiny towns, stunning limestone cliffs, and lush forests with route networks.
Namur is located in the valley’s center and is home to various historical sites and a prominent university. The Namur Citadel, perched on a rocky protrusion above the town, is a fascinating destination to see and a great vantage point for panoramic views of the valley.
The best tourist attractions in town are the Rue de Fer and central Old Town, where visitors will discover several good museums, boutiques, and cafés. Namur also has historic buildings, such as the 18th-century Cathedral of Saint Aubain and the Church of Notre Dame with its ecclesiastical Treasury, including various rare religious artifacts.
The village of Floreffe, west of Namur, is home to a beautiful 12th-century abbey, previously the Premonstratensian Abbey, which currently serves as a seminary. The abbey church is a great place to see and still has some of its original characteristics.
Fosses-la-Ville, the next town over, also has a 12th-century monastery. Unfortunately, a small portion of the original structure remains, but the tomb, choir, and tower are still worth seeing.
Franc-Waret Castle is a lovely 17th-century fortified mansion. The castle’s interior features a variety of antique furnishings, artwork, and rare items, and the gardens are meticulously maintained to seem as they did during the castle’s heyday.
Memorials and Battlefields of Flanders
Tourists who want to see the notable battlefields, memorials, and conflict-related landmarks should begin their journey in Ypres, where some of the most severe trench warfare occurred during WWI. The Flanders Fields Museum, housed in Ypres’ old Lakenhalle on the Grote Markt, provides a fair overview of the area’s involvement and history and artifacts from the conflicts.
Several military cemeteries may be found in the Ypres area, including Tyne Cot Cemetery, the largest of the British cemeteries in Flanders. It is a tribute to over 35,000 soldiers and the final burial place for around 12,000 service members, located about 12 kilometers from Ypres.
A tiny memorial dedicated to Canadian soldiers killed in the first German gas attack in 1915 can be found nearby. A cemetery for German soldiers in the adjacent town of Langemark contains approximately 45,000 burials of the startlingly young men who died here in 1914.
Additional sites can be found in and around the village of Kemmel, which was a hotbed of combat. In the Kemmelberg area, tourists will discover multiple war graves and a water-filled crater made by the British blasting local mines. The crater is now known as Lone Tree Crater, and the water body is known as Pool of Peace.
Antwerp has earned its reputation as Belgium’s second city by being calm, confident, and classically provocative. Then there’s Het Zuid, Antwerp’s sleepless modern edge, where bohemian coffee shops rub shoulders with antique emporiums, fixie riders pass graffiti artists, and the famed MUHKA art museum showcases cutting-edge avant-garde.
Antwerp, a port city noted for its industry and creative influences, offers many cultural and historical places to see. The Grand Place (Grote Markt) in the heart of the old town is home to most of the city’s most important structures. The 16th-century Town Hall, the Butcher’s Hall, and Rubens’ House may all be found in this region.
Those arriving by train at the beautiful Central Station (Middenstatie) will be greeted with a treat at Chocolate Nation, the world’s largest Belgian chocolate museum, which is located right next door. This popular family attraction is conveniently located near the Antwerp Zoo. The zoo, which opened in 1843, is notable for its stunning Art Deco building and themed animal enclosures and its population of over 950 species.
Antwerp is also recognized for its fantastic museums, covering a wide range of subjects. The Red Star Line Museum, which concentrates on emigration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the Museum aan de Stroom (MAS), which includes displays about local history and objects from throughout the world, are worth visiting for history buffs. The Royal Museum of Fine Arts, like the Mayer van den Bergh Museum, is an excellent fine arts museum.
Canals, Castles, and Cathedrals of Ghent
The city of Ghent is the residence of several of Belgium’s most stunning medieval buildings. The most attractive is the spectacular Saint Michael’s Church, built of Belgian sandstone in the Gothic style. Sint-Michielsbrug (Saint Michael’s Bridge) is located next to this church, and the two combined form one of the city’s most famous features.
Tourists who wish to experience the romantic ambiance of a medieval town without the crowds of Bruges might go to Ghent, which is a close competitor in terms of architectural and historical value.
The Koornstapelhuis dates from the early 13th century, the Gildehuis der Metselaars (House of the Masons), which was erected in 1527, and the Tolhuisje (Customs House), which was established in 1682, are all located along the Graseli Canal and the Korenlei Canal.
The majestic Gravensteen is moated by diverted waters of the Lieve River in the heart of Ghent’s Old Town. Built-in the late 12th century, this huge medieval fortification has all the grandeur and iconic characteristics of a fairy-tale castle.
It now houses a museum with items from the building’s various functions, including a royal residence and a textile mill. Tourists can also go to Laarne Castle, about 11 kilometers from Ghent. Built-in the 11th century, this pentagonal fortification also displays historical exhibits.
Dinant is a renowned tourist destination in the upper Meuse Valley and is located 28 kilometers south of Namur. It boasts a beautiful citadel with fantastic views of the city. Since the 11th century, the city’s limestone cliffs have been guarded, and travelers can now see the battlements and the ancient barracks, kitchens, and dungeons. Visitors can take the tram from the Collégiale Notre-Dame De Dinant to the citadel.
The 16th-century Collegiate Church of Notre Dame, with its 100-meter onion dome and peculiar location on the side of the cliffs, is another of Dinant’s prominent features.
The Grotte la Merveilleuse, a large limestone cave system that may be explored, and the Rocher Bayard, an excellent limestone pillar, are two more popular tourist attractions.
Boating on the Meuse River is a famous sport in Dinant, and the Meuse Bridge is an excellent site for photography. In addition, the town is well-known as the birthplace of Adolphe Sax, the inventor of the first saxophone, and visitors may visit his former home, which is now a museum, and see various monuments honoring him.
The Hoge Kempen National Park
Belgium’s only National Park! It is the spot to go if you want to get some fresh air in your lungs.
The entrances are great places to explore the National Park and everything it offers. Belgium’s lone National Park is a mosaic of natural splendor that perfectly encapsulates Eastern Flanders’ wild hinterland. The park spans 60 square kilometers in the gorgeous Limburg region and is home to rolling heath and undulating hills, foggy pine forests, and mirror-like lakes. All sprinkled with herds of wild deer and sweeping lavender and thistle blossoms. With almost 200 kilometers of meandering hiking trails and innumerable bridal pathways and biking tracks, it’s no surprise that this one has become a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts passing through the Low Countries.
Nature speaks for itself on the Mechelse Heide: gorgeous heathland as far as the eye can see! In Pietersheim, explore the moated castle or the children’s farm with a playground to relive the regal past. In Kattevennen, you can relax and let the 360° projections in the Cosmodrome carry you away, while a barefoot trip in Lieteberg will never leave you cold.
With its dark green forests, broad heathland, and shimmering fens, the National Park encourages you to go for a hike. There are 82 loops to choose from, which begin at the entrances.
It’s no surprise that Leuven is on the rise, with its 800-year-old university and the famous Grand Béguinage district (a UNESCO-attested area of cobblestone streets, beautiful red-brick buildings, and pretty Flemish facades). Yes, travelers are more eager than ever to explore the elegant streets around the Grote Markt beneath the filigreed Gothic spires of one eye-watering City Hall. In contrast, others will come for the beer – this is the home of the sprawling InBev brewery (one of the world’s largest) and countless specialist craft bars touting ancient Trappist ales and Belgian abbey beers to boot!
Leuven, 30 kilometers east of Brussels, stands on the Dijle River and is home to one of the country’s most renowned universities. On the university campus and around the city, visitors may witness many magnificent specimens of Gothic and other architectural styles, beginning with Leuven’s City Hall, which has 236 figures on its beautiful exterior.
St. Peter’s Church (Sint-Pieterskerk), a superb cathedral built in the Brabant Gothic style that houses the Museum of Religious Art, is located just across the Grote Markt. Along the Naamsestraat are some of the university’s most historic buildings.
Leuven has some excellent tourist sites for nature enthusiasts outside the old city core. The Leuven Botanical Garden Kruidtuin, which was founded in 1738 as a therapeutic plant garden for the university’s medical students, currently houses a diverse range of plants.
The borough of Kessel-Lo, about four kilometers from the city center, is home to an extensive natural park with free swimming and paddle boating in the lakes, a petting zoo, and other attractions.
Without including Belgium’s enormous, action-packed, and indescribably thrilling capital city, no list of the country’s top must-see sights would be complete. Brussels is the beating heart of modern European politics, attracting legislators from Estonia to Portugal. Still, it’s also home to the famed Grand Place market square, where a palimpsest of Gothic, Baroque, fin de siècle, and Beaux-Arts styles collide amid the apses and spires. Hidden alleys surround this historic plaza, concealing Belgian beer bars, famous chocolatiers, hole-in-the-walls touting waffles, and stacks of double-cooked Belgian Frites, fine art museums, regal parks with soaring monuments like the Cinquantenaire.
Brussels, Belgium’s capital and seat of the Belgian Royal Family and the European Union’s core headquarters. Brussels is noted for its range of restaurants and cafés that represent numerous gourmet heritages, thanks to the city’s diverse population.
The principal square, the Grand Place, is located in the middle of the Old Town (Grote Markt). In addition, the majestic Brussels Town Hall and the city’s numerous medieval Guild Houses are located here (Gildehuizeb).
The iconic Mannekin Pis statue is located nearby on the Rue de l’Etuve. The majestic Saint-Michel Cathedral, built-in 1225 and includes twin towers and exquisite stained-glass windows, is also close.
The Palais Royale, the royal family’s traditional house, overlooks the historic city center (Koningsplein). The excavated Coudenberg Palace Archaeological Site is located on the palace grounds. The Mont des Arts, adjacent to the palace, is home to various museums, including the Belgian Royal Museum of Fine Arts, which has an ancient and modern art wing.
There are other state museums on the grounds of the large Parc du Cinquantenaire, which is located near the European Union Headquarters. Museum of Military History, The Belgian Army Museum, and the Royal Art and History Museum are all located here.
Mons, the proud former European Capital of Culture and home to possibly Belgium’s most magnificent old center, lies draped over the southwestern hillsides just a stone’s throw from the French border. The activity centers on the enticing Grand Place square, where one beautiful town hall stands in the shadow of Belgium’s lone Baroque belfry (a UNESCO World Heritage Site to boot). The town also houses the former home of the totemic Dutch post-impressionist Vincent Van Gogh. The famous Ducasse festivities in the spring feature biblical re-enactments of pitched fights between St George and the dragon and horse parades.
On the route between Paris and Brussels, Mons is located close to the French border, between the Trouille and Haine rivers. The Grand-Place de Mons is located in the city’s heart and features several ancient buildings and several shops, cafés, and restaurants.
Hôtel de Ville de Mons dominates the city’s main square, with buildings ranging from the 15th to the 18th centuries flanking the other four sides of the enormous courtyard.
El Caitau is located just a few blocks from the central plaza at the top of a hill. This UNESCO-listed bell tower rises 87 meters tall and has a carillon of 47 bells. Tourists can climb to the observation deck at the top for panoramic city views. The Brabant Gothic Collegiate Church of Sainte-Waudru, built in the 15th century, is at the foot of the hill.
Mons also has several good museums, with the Mons Memorial Museum, formerly known as the War Museum, being a must-see for history lovers. The museum houses nearly 5,000 relics from the country’s participation and occupation during both World Wars and interactive exhibitions.
The Musée de la Vie Montoise is another beautiful historical museum that focuses on local history and culture. In addition, the paintings at the Musée des Beaux-Arts (Fine Arts Museum) and the unique collections at the Decorative Arts Museum Francois Duesberg will appeal to art lovers.
This delightful small town in the heart of Liege province is home to row upon row of regal facades and La Belle Époque architectural treasures. It is responsible for lending the prefix spa to sites known for their boiling mineral springs worldwide. It has been praised for its therapeutic waters since the 14th century, and visitors continue to throng the brand-new Thermes baths, which overlook the downtown streets where Dumas, Victor Hugo, and the legendary Hercule Poirot once flitted between Parisian-style cafes and babbling fountains.
Although Spa is not technically a city, this village near Liege is still worth visiting. The Belgian town, known for its curative thermal waters since the 14th century, is nestled in a valley surrounded by native vegetation, rolling hills, and several river springs. The Spa is a major tourist destination in Belgium, known for its natural mineral springs and the manufacturing of “Spa” mineral water, distributed worldwide. The annual Belgian Grand Prix is held at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, which is located just south of the adjacent municipality of Francorchamps.
From magnificent natural surroundings to historic landmarks and cultural attractions, tourists will find a surprising variety of things to do in Belgium. Families will find plenty of family-friendly activities and the ancient port town. At the same time, couples will love the medieval air of historical towns like Bruges and Ghent.