Centrally located Brussels is a wonderful place to use as a hub for exploring many beautiful and historic towns and villages in both Belgium and further afield in Holland, France and Germany. Bustling and vibrant cities like Amsterdam, Antwerp, Luxembourg and Paris beckon culture enthusiasts with a vast choice of world-class museums and art galleries. No trip to Belgium would be complete without visiting wonderful Bruges, but there are several other equally inviting day trip destinations like Dinant, Ghent, Cologne, Utrecht and Leuven competing for your time. When you need a brief escape from history, art and culture you can head to the Eifel National Park, the Sonian Forest or the Hoge Kempen National Park to reconnect with nature.
Conveniently located less than one hour from Brussels, Antwerp is an exciting city with many attractions on offer for visitors. Architecture enthusiasts will enjoy the juxtaposition of historic old buildings in Medieval Antwerp alongside modern buildings like the Port House. If you love museums you have come to the right place – you can visit Rubens House, MAS Museum aan de Stroom and the wonderful Chocolate Nation Museum. Walking Antwerp is a great way to explore this vibrant city, and you can choose from several self-guided walking tours according to your interests. A few of the most popular include the Jewish Community Walk, the Diamond District Walk or the Baroque Electrifies Walk.
Famous for its’ narrow 17th century buildings which balance precariously over picturesque canals, Amsterdam has a host of wonderful attractions for day trippers. Many visitors begin their exploration in the famous Museum Quarter where you can visit the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum and the new and exciting MOCO Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. Taking a Canal Tour is a great way to see the city from a different perspective, or you can rent a bicycle and explore like a local. City highlights include the Anne Frank House Museum and learning about Amsterdam’s diamond history on a tour of GASSAN Diamonds. You can reach Amsterdam in less than three hours by road or rail from Brussels.
Fabulous Bruges welcomes thousands of visitors on a daily basis, offering a great mix of historic sites and great shopping, as well as a unique atmosphere. Everywhere you look you will find beautiful historic buildings like the Belfort (Belfry and Carillon), the Provincial Palace, the Kruispoort Gate (1297-1304) and the beautiful City Hall. Taking a sight-seeing boat trip under the many low bridges is an essential part of any visit to Bruges, as is visiting a plethora of Belgian chocolate shops, eating crisp Belgian Waffles or feasting on fresh mussels and frites. Sipping a great Belgian beer at one of the pavement cafes on the main square is a wonderful way to soak up the atmosphere.
Located just 36km from Brussels, Charleroi is an often-overlooked city which has several attractions for day-trippers. The city was established by the Spanish as far back as 1666 and is named after King Charles II of Spain. The city boasts a few interesting Museums including the Glass Museum and the Museum of Industry (which are housed in a former coal mine), the Museum of Fine Art (located in the art-deco Town Hall) and the Photography Museum. You can also visit the beautiful 17th century Cartier Castle and St. Christopher’s Church. For a change of pace you can do some shopping at the Rive Gauche Mall.
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Located across the border in Germany, Cologne can be reached in less than two hours from Brussels and offers many attractions for day visitors. The city is delightful to explore on foot – you can join a guided walking tour or explore at your own pace – just stop by the ServiceCenter, which is located right by the famous Cologne Cathedral, for maps and info. Highlights of your visit should include walking through the historic Old Town, taking a scenic boat trip on the Rhine and visiting some of the city’s interesting museums. To soak up some atmosphere you can enjoy some great German food and beer at one of the many pavement cafes.
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Located in the southern Wallonia region of Belgium, the small town of Dinant is a wonderful destination for a day trip. Compact and very picturesque, the town lies along the banks of the River Meuse and can easily be explored on foot or by taking a leisurely river cruise. The foremost city landmark is the imposing 13th century Collegiate Church of Our Lady, which is topped by a 16th century pear-shaped bell tower. Other highlights of your visit should include the Citadelle de Dinant fortress (which you can reach via a scenic cable car) and the colorful Charles de Gaulle Bridge which features several saxophone statues honoring Adolf Sax (who founded the saxophone),who was born in Dinant.
Offering a perfect destination for a fun day out, Ghent is a bustling city which boasts a good mix of culture, art, history and modern living. Ghent offers avid shoppers a wide variety of great shopping areas including the car-free Ghent Central and trendy Dok Nord. If you want to explore the cultural side of the city you can visit STAM-Ghent City Museum, the imposing Castle of the Counts (which showcases an impressive collection of macabre torture instruments), Museum of Fine Arts Ghent and the fascinating Dr. Guislain Museum of Psychiatry. Foodies love Ghent - enjoy a great Belgian beer at a river-side cafe, visit one of the city’s trendy food markets or partake in a gastronomic feast in a gourmet restaurant.
Hasselt is located just one hour east of Brussels and has all the right ingredients for a great family day trip. A visit to the beautiful Japanese Garden is a must for all nature lovers, while visitors with children can spend a few hours at Plopsa Indoor, a huge indoor amusement park with rides and lots of fun activities for little visitors. You can explore the city on foot along the Historic City Walk or the popular Taste Route. Highlights for art lovers include the Street Art Walking or Cycling Route, the eclectic Villa Verbeelding and the Z33 House for Contemporary Art. Hasselt also offers excellent shopping and dining as well as several outdoor activities including Hot Air Ballooning, Rope Courses and cycling.
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Leuven is located just 30min east of Brussels, where it offers a fun day out. The town is famous for its breweries and one of the best known, Stella Artois, offers very popular tours and tastings. You can also join a variety of beer tours on foot or by bicycle. Leuven is also famous for its’ many impressive historic buildings which include the Town Hall, St. Peter’s Church and Park Abbey. History lovers will enjoy visiting Groot Begijnhof, a collection of about twelve streets of beautifully restored historic buildings. The M-Museum Leuven boasts an impressive collection of art and the beautiful Oude Markt is the perfect place to soak up some atmosphere.
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Liege was once famous for being an important industrial hub during the early 19th century but has slowly evolved into a modern and bustling cultural center. You can reach Liege from Brussels in about an hour on the high-speed ICE train and spend a day exploring the city on foot or by bicycle. Architecture enthusiasts can admire a good mix of building styles including medieval, Victorian, art-nouveau and art-deco along with some 1960’s brutalist examples. City attractions include the Archeoforum (an archeological site showcases a succession of ruins), BAL (Museum of Walloon Art), the 17th century Curtius Palace and the Public Transport Museum. Families should not miss the Aquarium, Science Museum and Zoo, all of which are conveniently housed in the same building.
Luxembourg City is the vibrant capital of a small country (by the same name) located adjacent to the south-eastern corner of Belgium. The city is bursting at the seams with noteworthy attractions and joining a guided tour is a good way to learn about both the historic and modern elements of the city. Several tours are available on foot, Segway or bicycle – choose from the UNESCO Tour of the Old City, art tours, architecture tours or a variety of tours especially for families. Top attractions for day trippers include the Grand Ducal Palace, the extraordinary Casemates Tunnel System, Vianden Castle, the Grand Duke Jean Museum of Modern Art and the beautiful Walls of the Corniche.
Luxembourg City, Luxembourg
Located across the border in Holland, Maastricht is another interesting city for day trippers to consider. As one of the oldest cities in Holland, Maastricht boasts a beautiful historic inner city for visitors to explore on foot. Here you will find attractions like the het Vrijthof square in the center of Old Town, where you can visit the St. Servatius Basillica and soak up some atmosphere at a pavement café. One of the city’s most popular guided tours will take you deep into the amazing underground St. Peter’s Caves which stretch for over 80km and were used as a refuge during various wars and sieges. Maastricht is also a great place for shoppers and foodies to spend a few hours.
A wonderful mix of history, art and culture awaits day trippers in Namur, which is located an hour south-east of Brussels. At the heart of this ancient city you can find the defensive Citadel of Namur, along with its’ 7km of underground tunnels. The city also has a rich religious heritage to explore including visits to the Cathedral of St. Aubain, the Church of St. Jacques and the Saint Loup Church. Architectural gems include the Town Mansion of Groesbeeck du Croix (which is now home to the Museum of Decorative Arts), the 1388 Belfry and the Arsenal. A guided city tour by foot or bicycle is the best way to see all the highlights in a day.
14.Paris Mountain State Park
Many visitors to Brussels do not realize that all the wonders of Paris are just 90min away by train. If you are up for a day of unparalleled arts, culture and food just jump aboard the inter-city train and head across the border into France. Get your bearings by travelling up to the top of the famous Eiffel Tower before heading to the Louvre Museum, the Rodin Museum, the Museum d’ Orsay or the Museum of Modern Art in the fascinating Pompidou Center for a sensory overload of some of the world’s best art. Round off a stimulating day by enjoying crepes or fruit-filled pastries and champagne at a pavement café along the famous Avenue des Champs Elysee.
Your day trip to vibrant Rotterdam starts with a 90min train journey from Brussels. On arrival you will find yourself admiring the iconic Rotterdam Central Station, one of the many post-war architectural gems which draw countless architecture geeks to the city. Highlights of an Architecture Tour will include the innovative Markthal, the famous Cube Houses of Blaakse Bos and the UNESCO Heritage Van Nel Factory. Art enthusiast should head to the city’s top art museums at Boijmans van Beuningen and the Kunsthal Rotterdam. To enjoy the wonderful city atmosphere you can head to the vibrant waterfront to eat, drink and watch the world go by.
Tournai is located 70min southwest of Brussels, close to the French border. At the heart of the city you will find the beautiful UNESCO World Heritage site of the Notre Dame Cathedral, parts of which date back to the 12th century. The interior of the cathedral boasts several art works and is essential viewing for art and history buffs. Other must-see attractions include the 12th century Belfry of Tournai, the Pont des Trous Bridge, the Cloth Hall and the Saint-Jacques Church. Families can visit the Natural History Museum and Vivarium and have outdoor fun at Ecopark Adventures. First-time visitors will benefit from joining a guided walking tour of the historic center of the city.
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Utrecht is located across the border in Holland, where it offers day trippers an attractive car-free city center which is easily explored on foot. For a different perspective on the city you can go on a scenic boat tour of the many canals and waterways which are lined with cafes and taverns housed in wharf cellars. There is plenty to do with children starting with the Miffy Museum, the Railway Museum and the Utrecht Castle Tour. Utrecht is built around the DOM (Holland’s highest church tower) and under the Dom you can visit DOMunder, a unique archaeological site which showcases 2000 years of local history.
You can relive one of the most famous battles of all time when you visit the Waterloo Battlefield Memorial Site, located 45min from Brussels. In the Memorial Museum you can learn all about the battle as you watch a 3D film and browse the interesting exhibits. Try to plan your visit in summer when you can watch battle re-enactments, cavalry displays, cannon demonstrations and much more (daily in summer and Thursday to Sundays in April/May and Sept/Oct). Guided tours of the site are available from April to October and you can watch a moving multimedia experience at any time of the year.
Waterloo Battlefield, Belgium
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The Flanders town of Ypres is a must-see destination for anyone interested in World War I history. The historic old town was almost completely destroyed during WWI but has been beautifully reconstructed and there are many interesting historic buildings to admire. The In Flanders Fields Museum is a must-visit attraction located in the former Cloth Hall. Follow up by visiting the Lenin Gate Memorial to the Missing – if you are still in town around 8pm you can witness the buglers sounding the Last Post, a very poignant experience. History apart, Ypres is a very attractive town to visit and boasts a great brewery for beer lovers and a theme park for families.
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20.Hoge Kempen National Park
Hoge Kempen is Belgium’s only national park and offers outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers an extensive outdoor recreational area. You can reach the national park by car in around 90min from central Brussels and spend a great day getting back to nature. The park covers 60 square kilometers of forests, heaths and dunes where you can go hiking, biking, walking and wildlife watching. There are five park entrances, each of which has a parking area, cafeteria and information kiosk. In total, the park boasts over 200km of maintained hiking and biking trails and ranger-led nature walks are available every day from each of the five entrances.
Hoge Kempen National Park, Winterslagstraat 87, B 3600, Genk, Belgium, Phone: +32-89-65-56-65
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21.Valleys of the Burdinale and Mehaigne Nature Park
Encompassing 23 villages in the Burdinale and Mehaigne Valleys, this Nature Park offers visitors a pleasing landscape where they can practice eco-tourism, feed their inner foodie and get back to nature. Activities in the area (which covers over 11,000 hectares) include walking and hiking as well as 230km of challenging cycling trails. The entire valley is involved in producing local delicacies, some of which you can taste at the La Ferme de Vieux Tulleul Snail Farm, the Burdinne Terroir Market, the Hannut Brewery and Huy annual Wine and Gastronomy Fair (February) In fact, there is one or another food or beverage fair just about every month.
Valleys of the Burdinale and Mehaigne Nature Park, Burdinne, Belgium
22.Nature Reserve Het Zwin
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Nestled between the dunes on the border between Flanders and the Netherlands, Het Zwin Nature Reserve extends along the coastline for 2.5km. The reserve protects and showcases an essential salt-flat and marsh habitat which attracts thousands of migratory birds as well as hundreds of resident birds and other wildlife. Visitors can explore this unique bird paradise at their own pace for join one of the regular guided walks on offer. After you have visited the reserve you can go swimming or enjoy a variety of water sports at the nearby blue-flag beaches of Cadzand. You can reach Het Zwin by car in about 90min from central Brussels.
Het Zwin Nature Reserve, Cadzand, Belgium
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Belgium’s primary green lung, the massive Sonian Forest covers over 5,000 hectares, 40% of which lie close to Brussels. Many of the stately beech and oak trees in the forest are over 200 years old and form a wonderfully shaded cathedral-like canopy over the extensive hiking and biking trails. People come from near and far to enjoy a day out surrounded by this natural beauty. If you are not into walking or hiking you can just enjoy a picnic or do some bird watching. The forest is also home to three lakes where you can try your hand at fishing. Facilities include restrooms, a picnic area and playgrounds for younger visitors.
Sonian Forest, Brussels, Belgium
24.Eifel Nature Park (aka Hones Venn Eifel)
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Nestled within the boundaries of the larger Hones Venn Eifel Nature Park, which straddles the German/Belgian border, the Eifel National Park is a large wildlife sanctuary which offers unsurpassed outdoor recreation. The landscape is composed of crystal-clear lakes, dense forests and rolling hills intersected by a vast network of hiking and biking trails which will lead you to waterfalls, gorges, extinct volcanoes and many other natural wonders. If you are not into hiking or cycling you can drive the scenic Volcano Route, go cruising on Lake Rur or visit the 13th century Monschau Castle. The entire National Park is dotted with charming towns and villages waiting to be explored.
Eifel National Park, Urftseestr 34, 54937 Schleiden-Gemund, Germany, Phone: +49-2-44-49-51-00
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24 Best Weekend Getaways and Day Trips from Brussels
- Antwerp, Photo: Freesurf/stock.adobe.com
- Amsterdam, Photo: XtravaganT/stock.adobe.com
- Bruges, Photo: emperorcosar/stock.adobe.com
- Charleroi, Photo: ANADEL/stock.adobe.com
- Cologne, Photo: Ruslan Kudrin/stock.adobe.com
- Dinant, Photo: Sergey Novikov/stock.adobe.com
- Ghent, Photo: JORGE/stock.adobe.com
- Hasselt, Photo: MaratYakhin/stock.adobe.com
- Leuven, Photo: Renáta Sedmáková/stock.adobe.com
- Liege, Photo: Flaviu Boerescu/stock.adobe.com
- Luxembourg, Photo: jobipro/stock.adobe.com
- Maastricht, Photo: venemama/stock.adobe.com
- Namur, Photo: bbsferrari/stock.adobe.com
- Paris Mountain State Park, Photo: Mistervlad/stock.adobe.com
- Rotterdam, Photo: pigprox/stock.adobe.com
- Tournai, Photo: oslobis/stock.adobe.com
- Utrecht, Photo: Freesurf/stock.adobe.com
- Waterloo, Photo: JeanLuc/stock.adobe.com
- Ypres, Photo: milosk50/stock.adobe.com
- Hoge Kempen National Park, Photo: Sonny/stock.adobe.com
- Valleys of the Burdinale and Mehaigne Nature Park, Photo: gianpinox/stock.adobe.com
- Nature Reserve Het Zwin, Photo: The World Traveller/stock.adobe.com
- Sonian Forest, Photo: jessicahyde/stock.adobe.com
- Eifel Nature Park (aka Hones Venn Eifel), Photo: Gottfried Carls/stock.adobe.com
- Cover Photo: Mistervlad/stock.adobe.com