Belgium is one of the most densely populated and smallest European countries. Located in Western Europe, Belgium is known for its magnificent medieval towns, well-preserved Renaissance architecture, excellent beer, and for being the headquarters of the NATO and the European Union. Here are the best places to visit in Belgium.
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Antwerp is a spectacularly beautiful medieval city on the River Scheldt. The second largest city in Belgium, it has the largest port in the world. In Antwerp, history, art, the diamond trade, architecture, fashion, and centuries-old trades weave an intricate web that make for a memorable visit. Start your trip by exploring the centuries-old Diamond District, then visit old Grote Markt, a beautiful Renaissance square in the Old Town. Don’t miss Rubens House, a 17th-century building housing some of the most precious paintings by Antwerp’s favorite painter son. Stroll through the massive riverside fortress and feel the power at the Cathedral of Our Lady. Enjoy the narrow cobblestoned medieval streets lined up with fashionable boutiques or quaint sidewalk cafes. Take the kids to the Antwerp Zoo, Comic Station, and the petting farm De Schranshoeve, while you taste famous Belgian beers at the Antwerp Brewery.
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Close to the borders of France and Luxembourg, Arlon grew on the crossroads of many invaders in history – there were Gaulish, Celtic, and Roman settlements in the area at different times, and all left fascinating traces of their cultures, making a visit to Arlon a trip to ancient times. The best place to learn more about the city’s history is at the Archaeological Museum of Arlon. The city center is densely populated and full of tourists exploring the narrow cobblestoned streets and quaint small shops, while the beautiful St Donatus’ church, one of many in Arlon, offers the possibility to climb its tower and see the surrounding lush green fields and dense forests. Visit Marche Bio market to see what grows in the area and treat yourself to local gourmet delights such as pâté gaumais and maitrank.
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Starting in 13th-century Western Europe, women who wanted to dedicate their entire lives to God without completely withdrawing from the world founded the béguinages, which were communities created to meet their physical and spiritual needs. They themselves were called the Béguines. The Flemish béguinages are fascinating architectural complexes that consist of churches, houses, ancillary buildings, gardens, and green spaces. There are 13 Flemish béguinages, enclosed by tall walls or surrounded by protective ditches, but with gates that are open to the outside world during the day. One of the most famous is Princely Beguinage Ten Wijngaerde in Bruges, which has fascinating architecture, famous gardens, and small museum that tells the story of this interesting movement.
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Bruges is a fairytale-like ancient city crisscrossed by canals lined with colorful centuries-old buildings and narrow cobblestoned streets, with a sky pierced by dozens of church spires. Start your visit at the Burg Square in the city’s ancient center, with its magnificent 14th-century city hall, the 16th-century Basilica of the Holy Blood, and a 13th-century belfry including an 83-meter-tall tower that will give you incomparable panoramic views of the city. If you come in the spring, you will be enchanted by a sea of yellow daffodils in the gardens of the ancient Princely Beguinage Ten Wijngaerde sanctuary. If you are travelling with kids, take them to the Boudewijn Seapark to see the dolphins and to the Choco-Story, a chocolate museum where they can not only learn all about famous Belgian chocolates but taste some as well.
5.Places to Visit in Belgium: Brussels
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Stretched along the River Senne, Brussels is the capital of both Belgium and of Europe. Thus, it offers a fascinating mix of a modern European political and diplomatic center and a medieval city famous for its grand 17th-century buildings and beautiful, colorful, and fragrant flower markets. The heart of the city is Brussels Old Town, lined with incredible architecture, including the early 15th-century Hôtel de Ville and the elegant 17th-century Gildehuizen, with their intricate gables, ornate stonework, pilasters, balustrades, and gold decoration. Don’t miss the city landmark, the sculpture of the little boy known the Manneken Pis. The Atomium, also known as “Brussels’ Eiffel Tower,” offers great views of the city. Enjoy the majesty of the Saint-Michel Cathedral and take the kids to see the very different side of Brussels at the Belgian Comic Strip Center.
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De Haan is a lovely seaside village in northern Belgium known for its 11-kilometer-long beach lined with a popular promenade full of restaurants, cafes, and bars. When you get tired of enjoying the sun on the fine white sand, take a stroll through the streets of the Concessie district to see the city’s other face, with its magnificent and elegant Belle Époque buildings. The grand town hall is located in one of these, a former luxury hotel. Visit Villa Savoyarde, the home of Albert Einstein for several months in 1933. Just outside the town are massive sand dunes crossed by numerous hiking and biking trails. On top of one of the highest dune is Spioenkop, a tiny white pavilion with a red roof that offers spectacular views of the whole area. The kids will love the two very popular amusement parks of La Potinière and the Astridpark. Visit the massive De Grote Schamele Weecke 14th-century barn to learn about the traditional way of life in this area.
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Once a grimy, insignificant, coal-mining backwater, Genk is today a surprisingly green city featuring a garden-city design, quiet park-filled suburbs, and marshland nature reserves, with Hoge Kempen National Park nearby. While the last coal mine closed in 1988, the miners and their families from all over Europe remained, making both Genk and its gastronomic offerings very diverse indeed. Learn about the city’s past at the Bokrijk indoor-outdoor museum with some fascinating 18th-century buildings, churches, and farms. Learn about coal mining in Genk first-hand by visiting one of the old coal mines such as André Dumont. Take a hike or a bike ride through beautiful Hoge Kempen National Park. Explore the unique outdoor museum of sundials, the only one of the kind in the world, at the Genk Sundial Park.
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Ghent is a medieval river port city in northwest Belgium. Once an important, affluent city-state at the confluence of the rivers Scheldt and Leie, today Ghent is a lively university town and cultural center with beautifully preserved medieval architecture at its center. The most famous is the 12th-century castle Gravensteen and the row of intricate guildhalls in the Leie river harbor. Visit the magnificent Catedral de San Bavón (Sint-Baafskathedraal), stroll over St Michael's Bridge, which offers expansive views of the surrounding Graslei and Korenlei neighborhoods, and explore the old Fish Market, the Castle of the Counts, and St Michael’s Church. Just 15 minutes by bus is Bourgoyen-Ossemeersen Nature Reserve, a completely different world full of peace and quiet, a heaven for birds and hikers.
9.High Fens – Eifel Nature Park
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High Fens-Eifel Natura Park is a 959-square-mile park shared between Germany and Belgium that is pretty much left to nature. The natural landscape is home to an incredible diversity of flora and fauna, upland moor, reservoirs, deep valleys, forested mountainsides, and 1,000-year-old caves. The park has been restored and re-colonized by rare species of plants and animals that originally lived in the habitat. Visitors might be able to see the starling-sized dipper, roe deer, fox, wildcats and, in the spring, the rare violet copper butterfly, which lives in the daffodil-filled glades by the river. The park is intersected by many trails and the staff offer guided tours. Things to Do in Belgium
10.Hoge Kempen National Park
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Hoge Kempen National Park, the only one in Belgium, is located between Genk and the Meuse River Valley. The park covers over 5,000 acres and is the largest nature and woodland reserve in Flanders. It consists of large pine woods, purple flowering heathland, and big lakes that formed when water filled former sand and gravel pits. The highest spot in the park is 100 meters high, offering breathtaking views of the otherwise flat landscape. The park is home to many rare animals such as roe deer, the swallowtail butterfly, the slippery snake, the European beewolf, which is actually a wasp, and the antlion. There are large boulders and stones that were scattered about by the last ice age, creating a wild atmosphere.
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Knokke-Heist is a small Belgian coastal town close to the Netherlands’ border, on the edge of the famous Zwin Nature Park. It’s known for its lovely sandy beach and the surrounding salt marshes and mudflats, which are a bird watchers’ paradise. The most commonly seen birds are storks and oystercatchers. The For Freedom Museum describes the history of the area during the Second World War with a number of exhibits, including original vehicles and uniforms. Another fantastic museum is Sincfala: Museum van de Zwinstreek, which features the life in the coastal regions of Belgium. Kids will enjoy a boat tour with Knokke Boat Duinbergen and mini golf at the River Woods beach club.
12.Places to Visit in Belgium: Kortrijk
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Kortrijk is a beautiful medieval town in Flanders, western Belgium, between the Leie River and the Leie-Scheldt Canal. Since being established in the 7th century as the Roman settlement, it has had a very turbulent history. Its most significant landmark is the 12th-century Church of Notre Dame, with the 14th-century statue of St. Catherine and the famous Anthony Van Dyck’s Elevation of the Cross. The Broelbrug Bridge, built in the early 15th century and featuring the two huge Broel Towers, offers a memorable entrance into the town and provides a striking contrast to the intricate Gothic St. Martin Church and the 16th-century town hall in the town center. Kortrijk has a number of lovely windmills, which kids will simply love checking out.
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La Roche-en-Ardenne is located about 70 kilometers from Liege on the banks of the River Ourthe. This charming little town is surrounded by dense forests and has a fairytale medieval castle at its heart. The Deister Belvedere, on the promontory above the river, offers superb views of the town and the river valley. There are two beautiful bridges crossing the river, while the wooded riverside is wonderful for slow, relaxing walks. Kids will love exploring the ruins of the 9th-century castle of La Roche-en-Ardenne, built high on a rocky escarpment. The Museum of the Battle of the Ardennes features the history of the area in the Second World War. There is a nice animal park on the Deister plateau, with red deer, pheasants, wild sheep, wild boar, wolves, and many farm animals.
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Leuven is a lively university city located about 16 miles from Brussels, Belgium, best known for its breweries and the oldest university in the country. Its most striking icon is the 15th-century town hall, or Stadhuis, located in a central square, with its tall elegant spires and 235 statues of biblical characters, saints, and local notables. On the other side of the square is the Gothic St. Peter’s Church with a Last Supper painted by Dieric Bouts. Oude Markt is a vibrant square full of bars and cafes, while the St Pieterskerk Treasury is home to a number of significant examples of Dutch artwork. Take a tour of the Stella Artois brewery and taste some of the best world beers. If you are lucky enough to come during the Leuven Beer Festival, between 22nd April and 22nd May, you will be able to sample more Belgian beers than anywhere else in the world.
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Situated at the crossroads between Paris, Amsterdam, and Cologne, the third largest river port in Europe, Liege, is located on the banks of the Meuse River, a cultural and commercial hub of the Belgium’s French-speaking Walloon region. Liege has a beautiful medieval old town with landmarks such as the Romanesque Collegiate Church of St. Bartholomew. The Grand Curtius Museum of Archeology is located in a 17th-century mansion, and the Opera Royal de Wallonie has been around since 1820. Take the stairs to the Montagne de Bueren in the heart of the city to enjoy a breathtaking view of the whole area. Take a stroll through the Coteaux de la Citadelle, where very little is left of the ancient fort although the views are spectacular. Have a picnic at the beautifully maintained green spaces of the Parc de la Boverie.
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Malmedy is a small francophone town in the Belgian province of Liege. It is snuggled in the Warche Valley on the edge of the High Fens plateau and originally formed in 648 around an existing Benedictine monastery. The Baugnez 44 Historical Centre features the history of Malmedy during the Second World War, including the famous Malmedy Massacre. Malmundarium is another must-see museum covering the history, culture, and way of life in the area. Visit the beautiful Cathedral Saints-Pierre, built in 1775, and take the kids to the Parc des Tanneries for a game of mini golf. There are also a few playgrounds. All around Malmedy there are hiking and biking trails that will take you out of the valley and offer spectacular views of the area as you walk through flowering fields and past rare plants and trees.
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Mechelen is a city on the banks of the Dijle River, a few miles from Brussels, between Brussels and Antwerp. Mechelen’s most iconic site is the 13th-century St. Rumbold’s Cathedral, with a spectacular altar and a masterpiece by Anthony van Dyck. Next to the cathedral is St. Rumbold’s Tower, with panoramic views of the city and its surrounds. Take a stroll along the Dijlepad, a wooden walkway along the river, and see the city from a very different angle. Take the kids to the Planckendael Zoo, or for a stroll through the beautiful, spacious Vrijbroekpark. Visit Kazerne Dossin, a museum and memorial to WWII prisoners who were held in its barracks.
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Mons is a vibrant city in the Belgium’s Walloon Region, where medieval architecture, art, and modern technology create a unique vibe that gave the city well-deserved title of the Culture Capital of Europe in 2015. At the heart of the city is the Grand Place, a vast cobblestoned square lined with elegant buildings from different eras as well as quaint cafes and restaurants. Visit the beautiful centuries-old Town Hall and the nearby 17th-century baroque belfry. Next to the belfry is magnificent Parc Château with the 11th-century Saint-Calixte Chapel. Pay your respects at the St Symphorien Military Cemetery, visit the exquisite collection of beautiful objects at the Francois Duesberg Museum, and explore the Grand-Hornu, galleries of contemporary art, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
19.Places to Visit in Belgium: Namur
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The capital city of the Belgian region of Wallonia, Namur is located at the confluence of two rivers: Meuse and Sambre. High above the city is a medieval citadel, once Europe’s mightiest fortress, with beautiful gardens, spectacular views of the rivers and the city, and a charming bronze statue of a huge turtle. Stroll through the enchanting Rue de Fer in the city center and enjoy the magnificent architecture of the 17th-century Hôtel de Gaiffier d'Hestroy with its Museum of Ancient Art. The Cathedral of Saint Aubain and the Diocesan Museum as well as the cathedral treasury are located on the Place Saint Aubain. The baroque St. Loup Church is famous for its marble columns and a beautifully carved ceiling.
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Ostend is the largest city on the Belgian coast, located in the Belgian province of West Flanders and Belgian’s favorite vacation destination. Originally a small fishing village, Ostend gained some importance in the 18th century because of its port’s strategic location on the Atlantic coast. Ostend is famous for its wide esplanade, which runs parallel to the lovely sandy beach. Near the beach, in Raversijde, is a part of the fortified Atlantic Wall, open to the public as the Atlantic Wall Open Air Museum. The best way to explore the city is by walking through the narrow streets around Het Vissersplein. Enjoy local produce at the picturesque local markets and admire the magnificent architecture of the Gothic Church of St Petrus and St Paulus. Take the kids to see beautiful horses racing at the Hippodrome Wellington. Vissersplein is a popular, touristy car-free zone with cafes and brasseries, perfect for watching people while having a drink.
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Rochefort is a charming city in the Belgian province of Namur, at the foot of the Ardennes. Rochefort is famous for its extensive cave system. It is an easy place to explore since almost all attractions are lined up on the main street, which changes its name from Rue de Behogne to Place Roi Albert 1er and Rue Jacquet. From the imposing church fronted with a number of statues, the street slowly rises, passing by the tourist office and the lovely private castle Château Comtal. Along the way you will pass a number of shops and cafes where you can taste Rochefort’s world-renowned Trappist beer, brewed in Abbaye de St-Rémy at the outskirts of the city.
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Spa is a town in eastern Belgium in a valley in the Ardennes mountains, 22 miles from Liege. The town is famous for its mineral springs and the word “spa” comes from here. It is a major tourist destination, not only because of the mineral springs but also for the annual Belgian Grand Prix, which is held in the nearby village of Francorchamps. The mineral water Spa also comes from here and is exported all over the world. The Musée de la Ville d’Eaux, located in the Villa Royale, features a collection of unique decorative wooden boxes and has several exhibits about the town's history. One of the city’s landmarks is the Rhenish-Romanesque stone Church of Notre Dame and St. Remacle. There is new modern thermal center, Thermes de Spa, located on top of the hill overlooking the town.
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Tournai is one of the oldest cities in Belgium, located on the River Escault, 10 km from the French border. Tournai is famous for the immense Cathedral of Notre-Dame, with five imposing towers and a lovely rose-shaped window. The Grand Place in the city center is a spacious triangular square surrounded by restaurants and bars. The square is dominated by the magnificent 12th-century Belfry of Tournai, which offers views of the entire area. Across the belfry is the lovely Romanesque St. Quentin’s Church, and just behind it is the imposing medieval tower known as the Red Fort. Tournai has two fascinating museums – the Museum of Natural History and the Museum of Folklore. Ecopark Adventures offers different levels of zip lining adventures as well as a view of the beautiful surrounding nature.
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Ypres is a small town in West Flanders in Belgium that was founded in the 10th century and was one of Belgium's most important and prosperous towns during the Middle Ages. Ypres is best known today for some of the bloodiest battles of the First World War. The town was almost completely destroyed in the bombardment but has since been rebuilt according to the original plans, including many important buildings such as the Gothic St. Martin's Cathedral and its tall spire. Start your exploration at the central Grote Markt square with its huge Lakenhalle (cloth hall), which was originally built in the 13th century, destroyed in the First World War, and completely reconstructed. Pay your respects at the many cemeteries and battlefield sites, which are today pilgrimage sites. Pass through the beautiful Menin Gate, a memorial to the First World War. The names of the 54,896 dead British soldiers are inscribed under its arches. Visit the Merghelynck Museum housed in a 1774 private residence, with a beautiful Louis XV and Louis XVI interior, which surprisingly survived the First World War. Across the street is the 13th-century Steenhuis, the only old stone building still standing in Ypres.
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The Zwin is a nature reserve on the border between Belgium and the Netherlands on the North Sea coast. Most of the reserve is in fact the entrance to a former tidal inlet, which used to connect the North Sea with the Bruges and Sluis ports in the Middle Ages. The nature reserve was established in 1952, with its bigger part, 158 hectares, in Belgium and only 33 hectares in the Netherlands. The reserve is known for its large diversity of salt-resistant plants, including sea lavender, and a huge number of bird species, making it a heaven for bird watchers. The reserve has a small zoo that is a home to a number of important domestic birds. It is one of the rare places in Belgium to have a significant white stork population.
25 Best Places to Visit in Belgium
- Antwerp, Photo: Courtesy of sabino.parente - Fotolia.com
- Arlon, Photo: Courtesy of suziwheatley - Fotolia.com
- Beguinage, Photo: Courtesy of oslobis - Fotolia.com
- Bruges, Photo: Courtesy of cristianbalate - Fotolia.com
- Places to Visit in Belgium: Brussels, Photo: Courtesy of Alexi Tauzin - Fotolia.com
- De Haan, Photo: Courtesy of dihetbo - Fotolia.com
- Genk, Photo: Courtesy of sorayaanthonijs - Fotolia.com
- Ghent, Photo: Courtesy of Kisa Markiza - Fotolia.com
- High Fens – Eifel Nature Park, Photo: Courtesy of Daniel Keuck - Fotolia.com
- Hoge Kempen National Park, Photo: Courtesy of bjorn999 - Fotolia.com
- Knokke-Heist, Photo: Courtesy of eyewave - Fotolia.com
- Places to Visit in Belgium: Kortrijk, Photo: Courtesy of dbrnjhrj - Fotolia.com
- La Roche-en-Ardenne, Photo: Courtesy of bbsferrari - Fotolia.com
- Leuven, Photo: Courtesy of Evan Frank - Fotolia.com
- Liege, Photo: Courtesy of Eagle2308 - Fotolia.com
- Malmedy, Photo: Courtesy of dudlajzov - Fotolia.com
- Mechelen, Photo: Courtesy of Bram - Fotolia.com
- Mons, Photo: Courtesy of Anibal Trejo - Fotolia.com
- Places to Visit in Belgium: Namur, Photo: Courtesy of Aleksey Stemmer - Fotolia.com
- Ostend, Photo: Courtesy of krizanovskii - Fotolia.com
- Rochefort, Photo: Courtesy of Sergey Novikov - Fotolia.com
- Spa, Photo: Courtesy of Christian Mu¨ller - Fotolia.com
- Tournai, Photo: Courtesy of Anibal Trejo - Fotolia.com
- Ypres, Photo: Courtesy of teesixb - Fotolia.com
- Zwin, Photo: Courtesy of aniad - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of Kisa_Markiza - Fotolia.com