Belgium is home to numerous medieval cities full of cathedrals, palaces, and abbeys as well as beautiful forested hills and famous historical sites. Brugge and Ghent are some of the best places to immerse yourself in an ancient town as both have been beautifully preserved over the centuries. If modern cities are more your thing, then Brussels and Antwerp are where it’s at, with the former being known for art deco architecture and grand squares, and the latter being a shopping destination for the well-to-do.
1.Royal Palace of Brussels
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The Royal Palace of Brussels is the official palace of the king and queen of Belgium and is located in the center of Brussels. Unlike royalty from many other nations, the royal family does not use the palace as their primary residence. Rather, the family lives in Royal Palace of Laeken just outside the city. The palace has a formidable presence on a long square called the Paleizenplein, which separates it from the nearby Brussels Park. The palace houses a significant part of the royal collection, including silverware, fine crystal, and furniture that belonged to Napoleon, King Louis Phillipe, and Leopold I and II. Each summer the palace opens its doors to visitors, who are given access to certain rooms.
Rue Brederode 16, B-1000 Bruxelles, Belgium, Phone: +32-25-51-20-20
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Atomium is a 335-foot-tall building in Brussels that was built on the occasion of the Expo 58, the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair, and has become a symbol of the city. The iconic structure is designed in the shape of a unit cell of an iron crystal and features nine 60-foot spheres made from stainless steel. The spheres are connected with tubes that also connect each sphere to the center. Today, the building is a museum that features a permanent exhibition dedicated to Expo 58 on two of its levels and temporary exhibits related to architecture and design on three levels. The top of the building houses the Panoramic Restaurant, which serves a selection of gourmet dishes accompanied by stunning views.
Square de l'Atomium, 1020 Bruxelles, Belgium
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Autoworld is a vintage car museum located at Cinquantenaire Park in the city center of Brussels. The museum’s holdings include more than 250 vintage automobiles from Europe and the United States. The cars date from the late 19th century up through the 1970s. Some of the most interesting cars in the collection include Minervas, a 1928 Bentley, a 1930 Cord, and limousines which were formerly used by the Belgian royal family. Throughout the year, Autoworld hosts a variety of special exhibitions related to specific makes and styles of vehicles. They also have space available as well as dedicated event planning staff for those who wish to host private events at their venue.
1000 Brussels, Belgium, Phone: +32-27-36-41-65
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The Curtius Museum is an archeology and decorative arts museum situated on the banks of the Meuse River in the town of Liege. It was originally built at the turn of 17th century as a private mansion home for Jean Curtius, an industrialist who also supplied munitions to the Spanish army. The home’s striking facade features alternating levels of red brick and light-colored natural stone. The museum houses collections that were formerly held in four separate museums, the Museum of Weaponry, the Museum of Decorative Arts, the Museum of Archeology, and the Museum of Religious Art and Mosan Art.
Quai de Maestricht 13, 4000 Liège, Belgium, Phone: +32-42-21-94-04
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The Grote Markt, or Grand Place, is the city square of central Brussels. The site is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is considered one of the most beautiful places on the planet. The square is surrounded by lavish guildhalls, the city’s town hall, and the large Breadhouse building, which now houses the Museum of the City of Brussels. Most of the buildings date from the late 17th century and provide evidence of the social and cultural lifestyle during that time period. Throughout history, many historical events happened in the square, including the burning of the first Protestant martyrs by the Inquisition, the beheading of the counts of Egmont and Horn, and significant events in the War of the League of Augsburg. Today a variety of festivals and cultural events are arranged on the Grand Place each year.
1000 Brussels, Belgium, Phone: +32-25-13-89-40
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Gravensteen is a castle in Ghent that dates to the Middle Ages. In Dutch, the name of the castle means “castle of the counts.” It was built in 1180 by count Philip of Alsace, who modeled the castle after the castles of crusaders he encountered during the Second Crusade. The castle was built on the site of a former wooden castle. It was used as the seat of the Counts of Flanders and, once abandoned, was used as a prison and then a courthouse before eventually being left to decay. The castle was partially restored around the turn of the 20th century and visitors can now travel through it and climb to the top. A small museum inside has a variety of traditional torture devices on display.
Sint-Veerleplein 11, 9000 Gent, Belgium, Phone: +32-92-25-93-06
The Groeningemuseum is a city museum in Bruges located on the site of the medieval Eekhout Abbey. The museum houses paintings from six centuries of Belgian and Flemish painters. The museum is most well-known for its significant collection of Flemish Primitive paintings, which include works by Jan van Eyck, Hugo van der Goes, Hans Memling, and Gerard David. The museum also has several masterpieces from the Renaissance and baroque periods and works from the neoclassical and realist periods of the 18th and 19th centuries as well as some more modern pieces. The Groeningemuseum is known around the world and often hosts prestigious and well-received traveling exhibits.
Dijver 12, 8000 Brugge, Belgium, Phone: +32-50-44-87-11
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© Horta Museum
The Horta Museum comprises a pair of turn-of-the century art nouveau building that was the private home and studio of artist Victor Horta. The buildings were built right around the turn of the 20th century and reflect the height of the art nouveau movement. Today, the site is preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The interior still features many of the original mosaics, stained-glass pieces, and decorations. Many furniture pieces, art objects, and utensils designed by Horta are on display throughout the museum as are many documents related to Horta, his life, and time. Occasional temporary exhibits are sometimes on display that explain other aspects of Horta’s life and art.
Rue Américaine 25, 1060 Bruxelles, Belgium, Phone: 0-25-43-04-90
9.In Flanders Fields Museum
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The In Flanders’ Fields Museum is a museum dedicated to World War 1 located in the town of Ypres in the city center’s market square. The name of the museum stems from the famous poem written by John McCrae. The museum tells the story of the invasion of Belgium, outlines a timeline of the war’s events, and emphasizes the remembrance of the war. The museum pays special attention to how the war affected the lives of individuals as well as the consequences of war and how and why we remember. The museum shop sells a variety of First World War-related products, including books, post cards, maps, and gifts.
Grote Markt 34, 8900 Ypres, Belgium, Phone: +32-57-23-92-20
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Manneken Pis is a small bronze sculpture that depicts a young naked boy urinating into a fountain. The sculpture has become an iconic landmark of the city of Brussels and is known around the world. It was designed by Hieronymus Duquesnoy the Elder and was put into place in the early 1600s. The statue is dressed in costumes several times a week according to a published schedule and the sculpture’s wardrobe includes several hundred outfits. Many of the outfits can be seen on exhibit at the nearby City Museum. At times, the statue is even hooked up to a keg of beer and used to fill cups of beer, which are served to passersby.
1000 Brussels, Belgium
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Mini-Europe is a miniature park at the foot of the Atomium in Bruparck, Brussels. The park features miniature reproductions of monuments from throughout the European Union. Approximately 350 buildings from around 80 cities are presented on a 1:25 scale. There are several live action features. such as cable cars, trains, mills, and even a miniature Mount Vesuvius that erupts. Guided tours of the park provide details of each monument. After touring the park, be sure to check out the “Spirit of Europe” exhibition for multimedia games that give an overview of the EU. The European Tavern offers snacks, drinks, ice cream, and more around the halfway point of your tour.
12.Museum aan de Stroom
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Museum aan de Stroom is the largest museum in Antwerp. It is located on the banks of the Scheldt river and is a stunning example of postmodern art deco architecture. The museum is home to nearly half a million objects. The various exhibits are largely focused around the many sides of Antwerp. Some of the featured themes are Power, Life and Death, Metropolis, and the city’s place as an international port. Many of the exhibits have QR codes that provide website information in five languages, making the museum highly accessible to the international community. Exclusive museum gifts and souvenirs are available at the gift shop or online.
Hanzestedenplaats 1, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgium, Phone: +32-33-38-44-00
13.Museum Mayer van den Bergh
© Museum Mayer van den Bergh
The Museum Mayer van den Bergh is a museum located in Antwerp. It features the collection of the late Fritz Mayer van den Bergh, who was a local art collector and is the museum’s namesake. The main focuses of the museum are Renaissance and Gothic works from Belgium and the Netherlands, including masterpieces by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, Master Heinrich of Constanch, and Pieter Huys. Other interesting works are a portrait of Fritz Mayer van den Bergh by Jozef Janssens and a 1,400-page illustrated manuscript from the 15th or early 16th century. Visitors can purchase a combination ticket to combine their visit with the nearby Rubens House.
Lange Gasthuisstraat 19, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgium, Phone: +32-33-38-81-88
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Antwerp Zoo lies right in the city center of Antwerp, conveniently located right beside the Antwerpen-Centraal train station. It was opened in 1843, making it the oldest zoological park in the country. Many of the zoo’s impressive historic buildings date to the 19th and early 20th centuries. The zoo is home to more than 7,000 animals representing approximately 950 species. Some of the most popular exhibits are Vriesland, home to several species of penguins, an Egyptian temple-themed exhibit with Asian elephants and Baringo giraffes, an impressive monkey house, Nocturama, a cat house, and the Antwerp Zoo Aquarium.
Koningin Astridplein 20-26, 2018 Antwerpen, Belgium, Phone: +32-32-24-89-10
15.Musical Instrument Museum
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The Musical Instruments Museum is a music museum in downtown Brussels. The museum is a component of the Royal Museums for Art and History and is known around the world for its collection. The museum has more than 8,000 instruments with a distinctive focus on Belgian musical history. Exhibits include a display related to Brussels’ role in making recorders and one on instrument inventor Adolphe Sax. There are also displays showcasing European musical traditions as well as musical instruments from around the world, including the world’s only remaining copy of the luthéal, an instrument which was used by Ravel. Visitors who tour the museum receive headphones to listen to 200 musical tracts from many of the instruments on display. The museum information is in both French and Dutch but English is not provided.
Rue Montagne de la Cour 2, 1000 Bruxelles, Belgium, Phone: +32-25-45-01-30
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Pairi Daiza is a privately owned zoological park and botanical garden in the town of Brugelette. The zoo is a large animal theme park that is home to more than 4,000 animals. Some of the exhibits include Algoa Bay, which houses the zoo’s harbor seals and penguins, the Cathedral Aviary, which is one of the largest birdhouses in all of Europe, and La Terre du Froid, which translates as World of Cold and is home to reindeer, American bison, raccoons, a train museum, and a Russian-themed restaurant. Perhaps the most popular residents are a pair of pandas that have been on a 15-year loan from China since 2014. A steam train circles the zoo’s two large lakes and provides a look at many of the most popular exhibits, including hippos, bison, and elephants.
Domaine de Cambron, B-7940 Brugelette, Belgium, Phone: +32-68-25-08-50
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The Plantin-Moretus Museum is a printing museum in Antwerp that focuses mainly on the works of 16th-century printers Jan Moretus and Christophe Plantin. The museum is housed in their former residence and site of their former printing establishment, the Plantin Press, which is located at the Vrijdagmarkt in Antwerp. The site is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Some interesting items in the collection include the Biblia Polyglotta, which is a 16th-century bible in five languages, paintings, and drawings by Peter Paul Rubens and Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, which is a geographical book made by Rembert Dodoens.
Vrijdagmarkt 22-23, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgium, Phone: +32-32-21-14-50
18.Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium
© Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium
The Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium is a collection of several art museums in Brussels. The museums are located on the Coudenberg in downtown and are associated with the Royal Museum, and the collection comprises the Museum of Ancient Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Magritte Museum, the Fin de Siecle Museum, the Constantin Meunier Museum, and the Antoine Wiertz Museum. Two of the museums are located in the main building of the Royal Museum, one is attached to it, and two museums are located a few kilometers away. Altogether the museums house more than 20,000 pieces of art dating from the early 15th century to today. The collection features a large number of Flemish paintings, including significant pieces by Bruegal and other artists.
Rue de la Régence 3, 1000 Bruxelles, Belgium, Phone: +32-25-08-32-11
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19.Basilica of the Holy Blood
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The Basilica of the Holy Blood is a Roman Catholic basilica in Bruges. The church was built in the 12th century to be the chapel of the residence of the Count of Flanders. The church is home to a venerated church relic of the Holy Blood that was supposedly collected by Joseph of Arimathea and brought to Belgium from the Holy Land by Thierry of Alsace, who was the Count of Flanders. The basilica comprises an upper and lower chapel, which each have distinctive architectural features. The lower chapel is a dark Romanesque structure dedicated to St. Basil the Great that still retains much of its original 12th-century construction. The upper chapel houses the venerated relic and was renovated in the more modern Gothic style.
Burg 13, 8000 Brugge, Belgium, Phone: +32-50-33-67-92
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20.Belgian Comic Strip Center
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The Belgian Comic Strip Center is a museum in Brussels that is devoted to Belgian comics. The museum’s permanent exhibit showcases a chronological history of Belgian comics. The exhibit covers the years 1929–1958 and pays special attention to the magazines of Tintin and Spirou. Each room is dedicated to a specific artist and their work. On the ground floor, the museum has a restaurant, a comic store, and a library and study center. The museum also has an auditorium and a special room dedicated to animation. Some of the more famous artists whose works appear in the museum are Hergé, creator of The Adventures of Tintin, Marc Sleen who created The Adventures of Nero, and Peyo who did The Smurfs.
Rue des Sables 20, 1000 Bruxelles, Belgium, Phone: +32-22-19-19-80
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21.Cathedral of Our Lady
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The Cathedral of Our Lady is a Roman Catholic cathedral in Antwerp. It is the see of the Diocese of Antwerp. The cathedral dominates the skyline of the city and was the tallest building in the region for many centuries. Construction began in 1352 and the building was designed by Jean Amel de Boulogne and Herman De Waghemakere. Many of the original interior features have been plundered and badly damaged over time. However, some significant art treasures still remain, including 34 beautiful stained-glass windows and three large paintings from the artist Rubens. The bronze tomb of Isabella of Bourbon is also preserved inside the cathedral.
Groenplaats 21, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgium, Phone: +32-32-13-99-51
22.Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula
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The Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula is a Roman Catholic Church in Brussels. The Gothic cathedral shares the status of co-cathedral of the Archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussles with St. Rumbold’s Cathedral in Mechelen. The stone for the cathedral’s construction was sourced from the nearby Gobertange quarry. The top of the towers has a laying-nest for peregrine falcons, which favor it as a nesting spot. At times, it’s possible to see the falcons flying and swooping around cathedral’s gargoyles. The cathedral, onsite archeological site, Romanesque crypt, and treasury are open for visitors. Some sections require an appointment in advance and others are closed during liturgical services. Guided tours are also available, which sometimes include visits to the towers.
Place Sainte-Gudule, 1000 Bruxelles, Belgium, Phone: +32-22-17-83-45
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The Rubenshuis is the former studio and residence of artist Peter Paul Rubens. The home is located in Antwerp and today operates as a museum that houses paintings and other pieces of art by Rubens and his contemporaries, including ten masterpieces as well as a variety of period furnishings. In addition to the permanent collection, the museum often hosts interesting temporary collections. The home itself is worth seeing and features an elegant courtyard, portico, and a garden reconstructed from Rubens’ time. The museum is set to open a new interactive visitors center with more fully developed visitors’ services and exhibits in 2019.
Wapper 9-11, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgium, Phone: +32-32-01-15-55
24.St. Bavo’s Cathedral
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St. Bavo’s Cathedral is a Gothic cathedral in Ghent, named for Saint Bavo of Ghent, and is the seat of Ghent’s Roman Catholic diocese. The cathedral was built where the wooden Chapel of St. John the Baptist used to stand, and some evidence of the original building can be found in the cathedral’s crypt. The cathedral has four organs, including one organ case that dates from the 18th century. There are a number of significant pieces of art on display, including a painting by Peter Paul Rubens titled Saint Bavo enters the Convent at Ghent. Visitors to Ghent can enter the cathedral and experience the impressive art, furnishings, and architectural features for themselves.
Sint-Baafsplein, 9000 Gent, Belgium, Phone: +32-92-69-20-45
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Zeebrugge is a village on the Belgian coast along the North Sea. The village is significant as a major modern port as well as a seafront resort that is popular among tourists for its seafront resort, hotels, cafes, marina, and beachfront. The village has a semi-famous wholesale fish market that is one of the biggest of its kind in all of Europe. Zeebrugge is also an important crossroads with passenger ferry service to the United Kingdom as well as a shipping headquarters for many products. Many European cruise ships stop in Zeebrugge, so the city sees seasonal influxes of cruise passengers as well as locals and international tourists who come to while the days away relaxing on beautiful beaches or dining at quaint cafes.
25 Best Things to Do in Belgium
- Royal Palace of Brussels, Photo: Courtesy of Sergii Figurnyi - Fotolia.com
- Atomium, Photo: Courtesy of Niccolo` Podesta` - Fotolia.com
- Autoworld, Photo: Courtesy of leopold - Fotolia.com
- Curtius Museum, Photo: Courtesy of bbsferrari - Fotolia.com
- Grand Place, Photo: Courtesy of andrii lutsyk - Fotolia.com
- Gravensteen, Photo: Courtesy of anatoliil - Fotolia.com
- Groeningemuseum, Photo: Groeningemuseum
- Horta Museum, Photo: Horta Museum
- In Flanders Fields Museum, Photo: In Flanders Fields Museum
- Manneken Pis, Photo: Courtesy of alekosa - Fotolia.com
- Mini-Europe, Photo: Courtesy of nemez210769 - Fotolia.com
- Museum aan de Stroom, Photo: Courtesy of siraanamwong - Fotolia.com
- Museum Mayer van den Bergh, Photo: Museum Mayer van den Bergh
- Antwerp Zoo, Photo: Courtesy of Nicky Jacobs - Fotolia.com
- Musical Instrument Museum, Photo: Courtesy of haylden - Fotolia.com
- Pairi Daiza, Photo: Courtesy of Kisa Markiza - Fotolia.com
- Plantin-Moretus Museum, Photo: Courtesy of Bruno Bernier - Fotolia.com
- Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Photo: Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium
- Basilica of the Holy Blood, Photo: Courtesy of Jose Ignacio Soto - Fotolia.com
- Belgian Comic Strip Center, Photo: Belgian Comic Strip Center
- Cathedral of Our Lady, Photo: Courtesy of Tupungato - Fotolia.com
- Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula, Photo: Courtesy of Sergii Figurnyi - Fotolia.com
- Rubenshuis, Photo: Courtesy of GeniusMinus - Fotolia.com
- St. Bavo’s Cathedral, Photo: Courtesy of Mikhail Markovskiy - Fotolia.com
- Zeebrugge, Photo: Courtesy of solon99 - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of Horváth Botond - Fotolia.com