Being home to the EU’s capital and holding a specific position in Western history, Belgium makes an important piece of the rich European identity mosaic. It has magnificent medieval towns that were once the first seeds of urbanization: they expanded rapidly while getting economically stronger during the Middle Ages. It’s a country that changed the course of the global art history by introducing the world to the technique of oil painting in the 15th century. It continued to nurture great art, making an eternal imprint in the world of the modern art, too – does the name Rene Magritte sound familiar? This is just the tip of the iceberg. Here are the five stunning Belgian cities you should put on your bucket-list.
Discover Leuven, Belgium’s beer capital
In addition to being home to one of the oldest existing catholic universities, Leuven is also renowned for a number of excellent beers. The popular lager beer Stella Artois originates from here. The Oude Markt is a perfect place to relax and take a sip of your favorite brew while enjoying the view made of baroque facades. Leuven’s architecture is simply stunning with the Gothic style being the predominant one.
The City Hall is the most representative example of the style and you can explore its interior for only €4 including an audio guide. To learn more about the history of education in Belgium, visit the University of Leuven, founded in 1425. One of the most incredible Renaissance thinkers, Desiderius Erasmus, lectured there. Also, the red brick Grand Beguinage is a must-see landmark listed on the UNESCO heritage list.
Explore Dinant, where history and nature interweave
Lying by the sparkling Meuse River, Dinant’s most prominent landmark is the citadel located on the high rock. It is accessible, that is – if you’re daring enough to climb the 408 steps for a wonderful view from the top. Given the fact this town dates all the way back to the 10th century, there are prison rooms and medieval torture ones that will help you get a fuller understanding of history.
When it comes to natural heritage, Dinant is an absolute winner. Join a guided tour through the surreal natural wonders – The Grotto of Dinant and The Caves of Han. History lovers should visit The Bayard rocks: on that exact place, the British succeeded in pushing back the German troops during World War II. If you want to soak in all the scenery in a different way, you can hop on one of the tourist cruises (costing €7.50 for adults, 45 min boat trip).
Enjoy Ghent, for a less touristy experience
Ghent is a no-fuss medieval town, a true architecture gem with just the right amount of cozy and vibrant. Most of its architecture dates back to the 15th century and you can explore it on your own, on foot or by cycling. Because of the stunning scenery on the canalside (Graslei and Korenlei), many travelers decide to go on a barge travel adventure in order to get to know the city from a different point of view. Boat is actually a great way to approach the otherwise inaccessible areas. Once you’ve tried out this perspective, consider climbing the Ghent Belfry for a beautiful panoramic view and great photo opportunities. Two more must-see sights for you: The Castle of the Counts and The Cathedral of Saint Bavo. Within the castle, you can also visit the torture and arms museum. The Cathedral of Saint Bavo holds the famous polyptych “The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb”. While entrance to the church is free, you need to pay €4 to see this masterpiece.
If you are curious about the city, here’s a great guide to what to see in Ghent!
Visit Bruges, Venice of the North
If you take a walk by the Dijver Canal, you’ll see that Bruges’ title as the Venice of the North is well deserved. To explore the city’s history, consider taking the Legend of Bruges free walking tour: an experienced local guide will show you the most important city sights while underlining a tight and complex connection between fiction, urban legends, and real historical events. The city center has two main sites: Halle with the belfry and the Basilica of the Holy Blood. Entrance fee for the basilica is only €2 while the exterior and interior are equally stunning. It is believed that a drop of Christ’s blood is preserved here in a crystal. Another church you don’t want to miss is the Church of Our Lady where you can find the famous Michelangelo’s sculpting masterpiece, Madonna with a child. To admire the works of master painters such as Hieronymus Bosch and Jan van Eyck, visit the Groeninge Museum.
Want more? Here’s a great guide to spending a weekend in Bruges!
Get lost in Antwerp, the fashion capital
Antwerp is known as the world’s diamond capital and a fashion capital, as well. About 80% of the world’s total rough diamonds are traded here per year! Visit the Diamond Museum to find out more about the process of treating and shaping diamonds. Gourmands will be glad to hear Antwerp is the city of Belgian tasteful and locally processed food, with quite a few wallet-friendly places. You can also shop at the food stands and try frites, waffles, chocolates, and other bites considered to be Belgian trademarks. Animal lovers will enjoy visiting Antwerp’s zoo, with over 6000 animals housed there. For a quick Rubens tour, visit the artist’s tomb at the Baroque St. James Church and the architectural patchwork of his peculiar home in Antwerp.
In addition to all of this, Belgium is a great land of high-quality beers, exquisite chocolate and waffles, which makes it a finger licking destination for all the gourmands out there. As you can see, there is a lot to explore. Pack your bags and head off to a Belgian adventure!
About the author: Nicole Noel is an avid traveler passionate about yoga and healthy living. She always seeks new adventures and enjoys sharing her experiences with others. You can find her on Twitter and FB!