Unmissable Experiences in Belgium: Top 10 Amazing Locations to Visit during Your Travels!
Updated On: July 08, 2022
Belgium is a very multicultural country, home of the European Union, making it a vibrant and multilingual country. Located in Western Europe, Belgium borders the Netherlands to the North, to the East with Germany, to the southeast with Luxembourg and to the southwest with France.
Its three official languages are French, Flemish and German however English is widely spoken across the country. Brussels is the capital city of Belgium and the largest city in the country in terms of population. Other major cities include Ghent, Bruges, Antwerp, Leuven and Dinant. The country is divided into three different regions: Flanders in the north, Wallonia in the south and the Brussels-Capital region.
Belgium is renowned for its beautiful main cities, which are very historical and are definitely worth visiting.
In this article we will look at our top unmissable locations in Belgium as well as other things you can experience at each location.
Table of Contents:
- Ghent Boat Trip Adventure
- Take a Chocolate Making Class in Bruges
- Have a Pint in Europe’s Longest Bar
- Our Lady’s Cathedral Antwerp
- Real Life Fairy Tale Forest: Hallerbos
- Experience the Flower Carpet in Brussels
- Relax at Spa Ardennes
- Waterloo, A Historical Location
- Visit the World Smallest City
- Christmas Village in Liège
#1 Adventure in Ghent With A Boat Trip or Kayak
One of the best cities to visit in Belgium, you’ll find that the river Lys is one of the most popular attractions in Ghent. In the summer you can opt to take a boat tour to explore the city and learn more about the history of the main buildings of the city. Alternatively, you can even choose to explore it on board a kayak. If you want to know more about the history of the old city centre the boat tours are ideal. The information is provided in Flemish, French, English and German reflecting the multicultural nature of the country.
During the summer months, a temporary painting exhibition is set under one of the bridges that cross the river with an insightful photography exhibition documenting the history of Ghent.
Ghent is not only one of the most beautiful cities in Belgium, it is also a very accessible city, it is only 30 minutes away from Brussels central station by train. Trains run every 30 minutes and the cost of the train tickets range from €10 to €15. The centre of Ghent is very close to the station making the city centre walkable.
As Ghent is part of the Flemish region the most spoken language is Flemish. Ghent is the third-largest city in the country with a large student population and a strong reputation for its research programs. Ghent is a beautiful city to visit at any time of the year, the activities may change from one season to the another but no matter what season you visit, you can enjoy a relaxing stroll around this medieval city whilst drinking a hot chocolate or a cold beer.
Other Things to Do in Ghent
Just some steps away from the train station, Citadel Park is one of the most beautiful parks in Ghent. The park was created in 1875 however prior to its creation, the Dutch citadel of Ghent stood in the site and later the site was used as an infantry and artillery barracks. The Citadel Park has extensive green areas, a playground for children, pathways, a bandstand and a man-made waterfall.
The Castle of the Counts
One of the most popular and outstanding attractions in Ghent is the Castle of the Counts. It sits on one branch of the river Lys. The original castle was built in 1180 by the Count of Flanders Phillip of Alsace. Philip and his wife Elizabeth lived in the Castle from the years 1143 – 1191.
The medieval castle contains a moat and provides beautiful views of the city and the river. It is highly recommended to do the audio visit, as the story of the castle is told in a humorous way by a local comedian who takes you on a tour all around the castle even impersonating the Count of Flanders whilst telling you about his time living in the castle.
After being the residence of the Counts of Flanders, the castle was used as a court, as a prison and as a torture site from 1353 to 1491 and the castle still holds a small collection of torture equipment. After the castle was sold it then served as a factory and a cotton mill. The castle underwent some changes and repairs turning it into what it is now a Museum. If you want to know more about the castle and its mysterious past this is definitely a site you should see.
#2 Take a Chocolate Making Class Bruges
Famous for its confectionary, Bruges is one of the best cities in Belgium if you want to sign up to a Belgian Chocolate Making Workshop. You can find a workshop in almost any of the major cities in Belgium, including Brussels and Antwerp. You can even take courses online!
Or why not skip straight to eating the chocolate by visiting any one of the numerous chocolate shops scattered around the city!
Bruges is a very accessible city, the quickest access is via train and is situated only 1 hour away from the Central Station in Brussels with trains running every 25 minutes.
Bruges is a beautiful city to visit at any time of the year but most magical over the Christmas period, making a trip to Bruges an unforgettable one.
Other Things to do in Bruges
Belgium is famous for its culinary delights including delicious fries, chocolate and beer. Belgians are rightly proud of their culinary expertise and have even created some museums to celebrate this.
Potatoes are a staple part of the Belgian diet and it is common to find food chains that sell fries all over the country. As a result of their popularity, they have become a Belgian emblem and in Bruges, they even have their own Fries Museum. This museum is the only one of it’s kind in the world so is well worth visiting.
The museum provides information about the origin of potatoes, the different types and highlights the potatoes that are suitable for making fries. In the museum, you will also learn why fries are called French Fries and many other fascinating facts including how to pick and store potatoes at home and the ideal temperatures for storage as well as many useful recipes using potatoes.
So if you are interested in some fun facts about potatoes, this is a museum you must visit!
Romantic Boat Trips
If you want to discover the history of the main buildings and some interesting anecdotes, boat trips are the best option. The tours are carried out by friendly locals who will share with you many of the magical channels and beautiful buildings that surround the river and romantic bridges such as the Saint Boniface Bridge, the oldest bridge in Bruges. You can also admire the Church of our Lady, which is 115.5 meters high and is the second tallest of the world. The tourist guides will also recommend many nice bars and cafes where you can have a drink and enjoy spectacular views of the river and other nice buildings.
#3 Have a Beer in the Longest Bar in Europe
Leuven is 16 miles away from Brussels easily accessible by train and located in the Flemish region of Belgium. It has a big student population as the KU University is one of the largest universities in Belgium and the oldest Catholic University still in operation, founded in 1425. Leuven is also home of the headquarters of one of the world’s largest beer brewers, Stella Artois.
The Oude Markt
Famous for being the longest bar in Europe, the Oude Markt comprises of over 30 pubs and is guaranteed to be a great night out! As Leuven is a university city, there is always a lively crowd in the Oude Markt at weekends.
During July, ‘Beleuvenissen’ takes place in the Oude Markt, an open-air free concert that takes place every Friday of the month!
Other Things To Do While in Leuven
Leuven’s Town hall or Stadhuis
The town hall is one of the most iconic buildings in Leuven due to its striking Gothic architecture and prominent Belgian and European Union flags. The town hall provided a ceremonial function, operating as a wedding Hall and is very common to see married couples having their wedding pictures at the front of the building. It also contains a council hall and a foyer and there are regular guided tours in which you can learn the stories behind the 236 statues on the façade.
The Great Beguinage was listed as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1998. The site originated in the thirteenth century as a home for the community of unmarried religious women. Today the Beguinage consists of small gardens, parks with sandstone built houses and is currently used to house students and university staff. The site also includes a small river where you can regularly view geese.
The Botanical Garden
The garden was founded in 1738 by the University of Leuven before Belgium was its own independent nation. The main purpose was to grow herbs to use them in the medical field for university studies.
Nowadays the city of Leuven owns the gardens after buying the property in 1835. The garden covers an area of 2.2 hectares. In this garden, you will also find statues made of soil and many different species of plants. The garden which is free of charge is very popular amongst tourists and locals alike for its relaxing and calm atmosphere and beautiful nature.
Stella Artois Brewery
Leuven has 30 breweries, with over 300 breweries situated around the main cities in Belgium. Leuven is the self proclaimed ‘capital of beer’ with InBev’s Stella Artois factory being one of the most popular factory tours. Why not explore the history and making of Stella Artois by doing their factory tour, and enjoying a complementary beer afterwards.
KU Leuven is the oldest Catholic University in the World that is still operating, and if you’re a fan of architecture, the library is worth a visit. See for yourself below!
#4 Visit Our Lady’s Cathedral and the Statue of Nello and Patrasche in Antwerp
If you arrive in Antwerp by train you will witness the stunning architecture of Antwerp station. Antwerp, Belgium’s second-biggest city and biggest port is also famous for its diamond district houses. It has a reputation for being the fashion capital of Belgium and despite severe bombing during World War II, Antwerp retains a beautiful medieval centre, a vibrant entertainment, fashion and coffee shop culture and many beautiful architectural buildings.
Cathedral of Our Lady Antwerp
The Cathedral of Our Lady is a Roman Catholic cathedral. The cathedral holds paintings by Peter Paul Rubens, and by artists such as Otto van Veen, Jacob de Backer and Marten de Vos. The belfry of the cathedral is included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Outside of the Cathedral is a statue of a boy and a dog, Nello and Patrasche
!Nello and Patrasche are the main characters in the 1872 novel ‘A Dog of Flanders’. The story takes place in Hoboken and Antwerp. The Cathedral of Our Lady and various paintings by Rubens play an important role in the novel.” via VisitAntwerpen
Nello is a poor orphan child who befriends Patrache, an abandoned dog. They become inseperable and wander the town everyday, usually visiting the Cathedral. Unfortunately the two friends die together; however unusual for a Christmas tale, this story highlights the importance of friendship.
The statue was created to preserve the memory of the two friends who appear to have finally been embraced by the city, sleeping comfortably under the warmth of the pavement which forms a blanket around them.
This medieval building museum is the oldest printing press in the world, it has been a museum since 1876 and it holds some valuable manuscripts and a painting collection by some renowned artists. The museum is considered a UNESCO world heritage site. It also has a library and a bookshop. If you visit Antwerp, this museum is definitely worth a visit.
Ruben’s House, Antwerp
At the Rubens house, you can discover the life and work of Peter Paul Rubens, a brilliant and versatile artist and a world-famous baroque style painter.
In any city you decide to visit in Belgium, you can be sure that you will have a great experience learning about historical places and that you will have a great time. Definitely, all the cities in Belgium are magical and you will feel like you have been transported to a different world!
#5 Trail through Hallerbos Forest
Hallerbos or the Blue Forest is a must see for any nature lover. The enchanting forest will make you feel as though you’ve been transported to a real life fairy tale.
It is important to note that you must stay on the trail and leave the forest as you found it! No drones are permitted either
The blue flowers usually bloom in early to mid-April, and wither at the end of the month. Make sure to check the exact Bloom time before you go however as it can vary each year!
#6 Experience the Flower Carpet in Brussels
A UNESCO site in Belgium, the Grand Place is a 12th century marketplace, surrounded by wooden houses and market halls. The City Hall is the most eye-catching element of the square; a towering 15th century gothic building that pierces the skyline.
Every 2 years on the weekend of August 15th, the Flower Carpet offers visitors a wonderful experience,. From the Townhall’s balcony one can really appreciate the beauty of the spectacle. Colourful nature blooms in the heart of the city of Brussels, and with the scent of fresh flowers and especially composed music, this is an experience like no other. The flower used is the Begonia. Belgium is the world largest producer of the flower, 80% of total production belongs to Belgium.
The project is organised by non-profit organisation Tapis de Fleurs, who establish a theme and then set off to arrange nearly a million flowers in the 1,800 square metre area. Entrance to the Grand Place is free, but a panoramic view from the balcony of City Hall will cost you €6. If you are in Belgium on the August weekend that the Flower Carpet is on show, it is without a doubt one of the best things to do in Belgium.
Even if the Flower Carpet is not assembled when you are in Brussels, the Grand Place itself is well worth a visit!
Other buildings included in the UNESCO World Heritage List are Hôtel Tassel and Hôtel Slovay; designed by Victor Horta, they are examples of the Art Nouveau architectural style. This style of ‘New Art’ was omnipresent from the 1880′ up until the first world war. Many buildings in this style were destroyed during the two world wars, however Brussels still has over 500 buildings designed in this style.
Other things to do in Brussels:
Brussels is the capital of Belgium, and the largest city in Belgium in terms of population. Considering that, there is a near infinite amount of interesting things to do there.
The Atomium was originally built as a temporary attraction for the 1958 Brussels World Fair, however due to its immense popularity it has remained there ever since, and is now the most visited tourist attraction in Brussel’s with over 600,000 visitors each year.
The European Union headquarters or EU commission is located in Brussells, the European Parliament and European Council are also located nearby.
Because the EU headquarters is located there, Brussels is often called the ‘Capital of Europe’, it’s a diverse city a perfect blend of preserving tradition and culture while embracing modernity as a true multicultural city.
#7 Visit Spa town in Ardennes
Famous for its spring waters, 300 spring waters have made the town of Spa famous. Many people believed the waters had healing properties and it has always been a luxurious place in the past.
Historically, Spa was the first town in a modern sense where visitors could enjoy the water, hence why spas can now be found all over the world. Luxury hotels and casinos also entertained 18th century aristocrats in the town of Spa.
Today Spa is all about relaxation and general well being, a leisurely town for visitors to rejuvenate and take a break from the fast paced world around them. As well as music concerts, the Spa-Francorchamps Formula 1 motor-racing circuit takes place in the town, attracting even more visitors.
Waterloo is located in the municipalities of Braine-l’Alleud and Lasne. Waterloo is an important location in history, the Battle of Waterloo marked the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte. For any history lover Waterloo is a must see.
#9 The World’s Smallest City in Durbuy
Another one of the most historical places in Belgium, Durbuy is a fine contender for the smallest city in the World. A prosperous medieval town, Durbuy was elevated to city status in 1331 by John I, Count of Luxembourg. During the medieval period, some towns in the Low Countries (Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands) were granted city status, which allowed them access to certain privileges.
The reason for privileges being granted to towns is because feudal landlords were suffering financial problems, so they decided to allow towns to buy back ‘freedoms’ to ease their financial woes. Durbuy was one of these towns and so enjoyed the benefits of becoming a city, such as having a defensive barrier constructed around them and the ability to trade alongside other personal freedoms.
Today Durbuy is proud of its city status, and with only 400 inhabitants in the small town, they claim to be the smallest city in the world! Apart from this interesting fact, Durbuy is a popular destination, for its charming medieval architecture and beautiful greenery. Nature surrounds the town further adding to its charm.
#10 Christmas Village in Liège
There is no shortage of Christmas markets in Belgium, any city you go to will have their own Christmas market! Any city with a Christmas market are the best cities to visit in Belgium in Winter.
Other things to do in Liège
Montagne de Bueren
A feat of engineering, characteristic of the breakthroughs of the 19th century, the Montagne de Bueren allowed a direct link between the barracks and citadel in the city centre.’ The 374-step staircase is a free public landmark that can be visited at any time.
At the top of the staircase you can enjoy scenic views of Liège from one of the highest spots in the city. This is definitely an item on our bucket list of things to do in Belgium!
If you’re looking for more information, why not check out our article on Things to do in Belgium, where we discuss activities city by city as well as our top free things to do in Belgium. We also have a fun list of things you didn’t know about Belgium, so you can brush up on your knowledge of the country before you visit!
We hope you have enjoyed our list of the top experiences in Belgium, which one are you most eager to try?