20 Beautiful places in Belgium for your bucketlist

 In Belgium, Blog, Go exploring, Uncategorized

“Where is Belgium?”, a Google query with a surprising amount of hits. Many a traveller overlooks Belgium in favour of the more well-know European countries: France, Italy, Spain even Norway. A true pity, because the Kingdom of Belgium has a lot to offer. I urge you to defer judgement, at least until you have looked over these 20 beautiful places in Belgium.

Whether you fancy visiting cities, villages, unique locations or are curious about the abbeys in Belgium, this articles has you covered. Scroll further down for some practical information for visiting the country and even an overview of accommodations in Belgium you might want to check out.

All that is left to do is book your tickets!


Most beautiful places in Belgium


5 of the most beautiful cities in Belgium

There is nothing like a European medieval city in my humble opinion. Walking around old town, grabbing a coffee on the – inevitably – magnificent main square, and getting lost in the myriad of little alleys is the scenography of many a Hollywood blockbuster.

All of this and more awaits you in the most beautiful cities in Belgium. The country has a long history of trade; a surprisingly voracious appetite for food and will lure you in one cobblestoned street at a time.

Mechelen - Grote Markt Mechelen
Main Square Mechelen

Mechelen

Mechelen is a beautiful little city located between Brussels and Antwerp, right in the heart of Belgium. Often overlooked for the more touristy cities of Bruges and Brussels, the city is a hidden gem of Belgium.

The inhabitants of the city are called “Moon-Extinguishers” after a legend that dates back to the 17th century which includes mist, too much alcohol and the appearance of a full moon. Their pride and glory is an impressive – although unfinished – Saint Rumbolds Cathedral that towers over the city.

This Flemish town is authentic, down-to-earth and has a wealth of lunch and dinner options you will want to try. One of the most beautiful cities in Belgium in my opinion, although I might be biased as it happens to be the place I call home.

 

Brussels Itinerary - Grand Place Brussel
Grand Place Brussels Credit: walkerssk(wikicommons)

Brussels

One simply cannot describe all the beautiful places in Belgium and leave the nation’s capital – Brussels- off the list. Brussels is one of the most underrated capitals in Europe, it is easy to see why – tourist traps galore and a serious lack of sunshine. Granted, all these things are true but the city has a lot to offer both when there is sunshine and rain (Don’t believe me? Have a look!).

There are a few very noteworthy things to see in Brussels: The Grand Place (UNESCO Classified) with its lavish gold gabled guild houses; The Victor Horta designed Art Nouveau houses; 80 artworks hung across various metro stations and remnants of the 1958 expo (the Atomium).

Brussels is very walkable, as the city is not very large (certainly not compared to other European capitals) you could spend one day (try this itinerary) and explore the highlights. Personally I would recommend to stay at least a weekend in Brussels to get a feel of all the different quartiers (neighborhoods) and find some of the hidden gems the city has on offer.

If your trip to Belgium is short and you want to get in as many monuments in Belgium as possible, my suggestion would be to use Brussels as a hub and embark on a set of daytrips. There are plenty of national parks, castles and other beautiful cities in Belgium that are easily accessible from Brussels

Beautiful places in Belgium - Dinant
Downtown Dinant

Dinant

Dinant is the capital of the Namur province in the South of Belgium. You might have spotted pictures online of the colourful buildings that line the Meuse river with the dramatic limestone backdrop.

The ancient city is guarded by the imposing Dinant Citadel, which stands proudly on top of the limestone wall at the edge of the Meuse river. The bottom of the limestone wall is guarded by the Collégiale Notre Dame de Dinant church. Both the citadel and the church are open to visits!

Be sure to be back in time for sunset because the sun sets behind the citadel and – if you are lucky with the weather – illuminates the colourful houses with a warm orange glow. This spectacle is why Dinant is coined as one of the most beautiful places in Belgium.

If you are into adventure, then Dinant is the ideal hub to foray into the Ardennes from with plenty of opportunities for hiking, kayaking and an adventure park. If you are visiting Belgium and using Brussels as your pied-à-terre for the duration of your trip, try and squeeze in Dinant as a daytrip!

Hidden Places Belgium - COGELS OSYLEI Antwerp
The Cogels Osylei in all it's glory

Antwerp

Antwerp is a buzzing city  in the North of Belgium with a population of roughly 520.000 people, making it one of the largest cities in the country. The city is known as the fashion capital of the country and the diamond capital of the world! Expect to find world class shopping and an unrivalled culinary scene.

You might be surprised to learn that this cosmopolitan city also houses a few of the prettiest hidden gems in Belgium – Antwerp has a beautiful neighbourhood chock full of fin-de-ciècle townhouses.

The dandy neighbourhood of Zurenborg is the place to be for young couples these days, this was also the case in the late 19th beginning of the 20th century when the Elite of Antwerp chose the outskirts of town to build their lavish mansions. The result is row after row of jaw-dropping houses in a seemingly random mixture of styles (Art Nouveau, Neo Gothic, Tudor and even Neoclassical) that line the streets.

Take a leisurely troll down the Cogels Osylei, Velodroomstraat, Transvaalstraat, Draakplaats and all the little streets in between. Watch where you put your feet on the cobblestones and most of all do not forget to look up at the amazing architecture.

Beautiful Places in Belgium - Bruges
Bruges by night source: Usplash (@avermote)

Bruges

Bruges has long been one of the most important commercial and cultural cities in Europe, mainly due to it’s direct link with the sea. The city flourished in the 15th century, when merchants poured large amounts of their hard earned pennies into building up their homes and establishments. Much of this architecture has remained in tact, making the historic centre of of the most beautiful cities in Belgium to see.

The city itself is a veritable open air museum, walk through the cobblestone streets or take a river cruise on the canals. Spending one day in Bruges is a rare blend of romantic and educational!

Bruges tends to get very (no really, very!) busy with tourists. Try visiting Bruges either in shoulder season or early in the morning. Alternatively you could spend the night in Bruges, as many people visit Bruges during the day it tends to be relatively empty after 20.00.

5 of the most beautiful towns in Belgium

Hidden away on the outskirts of the country – known to primarily locals – you can find some truly beautiful towns in Belgium. Although usually small in size, they are sure to capture your heart and give you a better insight into the essence of this little Kingdom.

Day trip from Brussels - De Haan
Belle Epoque building in De Haan

De Haan

When you think about most beautiful places in Belgium, the coastline might be the last place you consider. It is true that the lack of pristine white sandy beaches and 30° water might deter you, don’t rule the coast out just yet – at least not all of it. Steer away from the larger cities with their below average restaurants and cookie cutter, utterly uninspiring apartment rises.

Instead opt for the lesser known town of De Haan, with a mere 12.000 inhabitants it is considered one of the hidden gems in Belgium. It has some of the country’s stateliest Belle Epoque mansions (be sure to check out the Town Hall and the Hotel Savoyarde). It is located a comfortable 5km away from the nearest town of Wenduine. De Haan is the perfect place if you are looking for some comfortable and relaxed walks, or simply to get away from busy city life.

Beautiful places in Belgium - Durbuy
The cobblestones of Durbuy (Source: flickr @rene-lapoutre)

Durbuy

Durbuy is a little town located in the East of Belgium and is known as the “smallest city in the world”. If medieval villages with cobblestones are your jam, you are going to love Durbuy. The village is located in the Ourthe valley, with rolling hills forming the perfect backdrop for the town. It truly is one of the most beautiful places in Belgium!

Surprisingly, Durbuy is also an important hub for outdoor activities in Belgium. The Ourthe provides a great spot for kayak (prices start at €10), alternatively lace up your shoes and go on one of the many hikes (both beginners and advanced).

Most beautiful towns in Belgium - La Roche en Ardenne
La Roche en Ardenne from above source: larochenardenne.be

La Roche-en Ardenne

La Roche- en Ardenne is located in the South of Belgium, in the heart of the Luxemburg province. The little town is one of the most accessible locations in the Ardennes making it a very busy place in summer. Locals & tourists flock to La Roche-en Ardenne to partake in a variety of different outdoor activities that are available: Hiking, kayaking,  rafting and mountain biking are but a few!

The little village of La Roche-en Ardenne is also a very popular spot for teambuilding events. It is not unusual for companies in Belgium to treat their employees to a day/a weekend out outdoor door activities in the Ardennes.

Most beautiful towns Belgium - Torgny
The quaint little town of Torgny

Torgny

Torgny is a little village located in the Luxemburg province in the South of Belgium. It has consecutively won the award for most beautiful town in Belgium for the last couple of years and it is not hard to see why. Stepping foot in Torgny, one could easily mistake it for one of the villages in the Provence in France. This is due to the abundance of limestone houses, impressive array of flowers and vineyards. Yes you read that right, vineyards in Belgium! The village enjoys a micro-climate which allows it to cultivate vineyards.

The little town is very small, many a local has never heard of Torgny! One of the cutest hidden gems in Belgium. Be sure to check out the Michelin star restaurants in town: La Grappe d’Or.

Beautiful places in Belgium
Mainsquare of Ieper/Ypres Credit: Reisroutes.be

Ypres

Ypres is a little town located in the Western part of Belgium in a province aptly named West Flanders. During the Middle Ages Ypres was most well-known for the textile industry, a remnant of which can still be seen today in the form of the beautiful cloth hall that stands on the main square.

What makes Ypres one of the most beautiful places in Belgium is its history. During WWI, Ypres held a strategic position: The allies used Ypres as a base to break through German ranks, the Germans in turn bombarded Ypres through much of the war.

Many millions of lives were lost on both sides and the city was raised to the ground. Extensive rebuilds were undertaken after the war, and many historical buildings were built exactely according to the original plans. These buildings can still be seen today!

You can learn all about the importance of Ypres during WWI in the In Flanders Fields Museum

5 Unique places to visit in Belgium

Aside from beautiful cities and towns, there are a few other very unique places to  visit in Belgium. For example, did you know Belgium has over 3000 castles? For the size of the country, that is a feat and a half!

What is not included in this portion is all the 40 unique hikes you can do in Belgium. So perhaps packing hiking shoes to visit Belgium is not a bad idea!

Beautiful places in Belgium Abbaye Vilers La Ville
Inside the ruins of the Abbey of Villers la ville (Source: flickr @claudio)

Ruins of Abbey of Villers-la-Ville

The ruins of the Villers-la-Ville abbey are located in the Walloon Brabant province of Belgium, about 30 minutes away from Charleroi. The impressive abbey was built around the 12th century and thoroughly renovated around the 18th century. The rebuild was sadly short lived as the abbey was ransacked during the French revolution and left in ruins.

These days nature is doing it’s best to reclaim the grounds, turning the site into a mix of ancient craftmanship and lush vegetation to create an almost fairy-tale like ambience. The abbey is not traditionally on the itinerary for most tourists when visiting, even many locals have not been yet. It is one of the few true hidden gems in Belgium!

What makes the abbey one of the most beautiful places to visit in Belgium is the central nave of the monastic church which is still nearly completely in tact! Visits to the abbey can be undertaken daily for a price of €9.

Unique places to visit in Belgium - Hallerbos
Springtime in Hallerbos (Source: Hallerbos.be)

Hallerbos

The Hallerbos or Blue Forest is a vast forest area in Halle, not far from Brussels. There are plenty of hikes and leisurely strolls to be done amongst the ancient giant Sequoia trees in the forest. The real reason Hallerbos is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Belgium is thanks to the purple carpet of bluebells that blossom every spring (March-April depending on the weather).

The beautiful bluebells only bloom for a couple of weeks and are popular amongst the locals. If you do wish to enjoy in peace and quiet you might want to set your alarm a little earlier and go in the morning.

Always be respectful of nature and never step on the bluebells. Over the years many tourists have tried taking pictures to the detriment of the flowers, causing flowers to be trampled.

 

Most beautiful places to visit in Belgium - Bokrijk
Picturesque Bokrijk (Source: visitflanders.com)

Bokrijk

The open-air museum of Bokrijk is located in the province of Limburg, between Hasselt and Genk in an enormous 550 hectare park. The museum is made up of  a collection of 148 historical buildings depicting the history of rural life in Flanders across the centuries. Walk around the park and see if you can find them all! The park is free to visit and really is one of the most unique places to visit in Belgium – even the kids will love it!

In recent years, the province of Limburg added a very cool bridge across one of the large ponds giving you the impression of biking through water – without becoming wet!

One day trips from Brussels - De Schorre Boom
De smallest troll - Nora

Provincial Domain De Schorre: Troll Hunting

Talk about a super cool activity to do in Belgium, go troll hunting in the Provincial Domain De Schorre. The name might ring a bell for some of you, it is the location where the iconic music festival Tomorrowland is held each year. Granted, the music festival is great too but that is not what makes this location one of the most beautiful places in Belgium. To find out why, you will need go deep into the thick of the forest, cross the rolling planes and wade through a few little ponds to find… 7 giant (handmade) wooden trolls.

The trolls are the creation of Thomas Sabo  who wanted to tell a story about 7 friends trying to help mankind build a more beautiful future. Walk around the domain and go on a veritable treasure hunt to find all 7 of the trolls. Some of them are hidden in plain sight, while others are a bit harder to find. At the entrance of the domain there is a map with indications as to where you can find your new friends.

Should your visit coincide with rain, be sure to pack a pair of walking shoes or gumboots because the walk can get a very muddy at times. De Schorre is a very short drive from Mechelen, so why not pop into town and grab a drink there!

Beautiful Places in Belgium - Borrekens Castle
The magnificent Borrekens Castle

Borrekens Castle

You might not know this, but there are over 3000 castles in Belgium! It stands to reason that at least one of them gets a mention alongside all the beautiful places in Belgium. The honor goes to Borrekens Castle – a fairytale castle complete with turrets, a moat and a drawbridge.

Surrounding the castle is a lush forest, where locals come for leisurely walks on the weekends. The castle itself is still privately owned to this day. Unlike many of the castles in Belgium, this castle is still inhabited by the noble Borrekens family. It underwent major renovations in the 19Th centry, transforming it to this romantic take on the Neo-Gothic style that was prevalent back in the day. It truly is one of the most unique places to visit in Belgium!

Hidden in the North of Belgium, surrounded by lush forest is one of the most beautiful castles the country holds – Borrekens Castle. What makes this castle idyllic (aside from the obvious fact it is a castle in the forest) is that to this day it is still lived in by the noble family Borrekens who acquired the castle through marriage in the late 19th century. The original castles dates back to 12th century and was built on this location to defend the trade route between Cologne and the dukedom of Brabant. Over the various centuries the castle changed hands and with it underwent continuous renovation. The castle you see today, dates back largely to the 19th century and is Neo-Gothic in style with a touch of Romanticism – which was all the rage back in the day. Visiting the castle is not possible, however the park surrounding it is open to the public all year long. This truly is one of the most unique places in Belgium to visit, so don’t miss it!

5 of the most beautiful abbeys in Belgium

Belgium beer is a synonym for quality all over the world and has put the country on the map. But did you know that there is a type of Belgian beer called Abbey Beers & Trappist Beers?

The name Abbey Beers is a denominator for beers that have a link to an existing or dissolved Norbertine or Benedictine abbey. Trappist Beers are part of the Abbey Beer family, however they are brewed within the walls of a Trappist monastery (by the so called ‘Belgian beer monks’).

What does this have to do with beautiful places in Belgium you might ask? Simple, the imposing nature of the abbeys and the culture of brewing abbey beers provide you an extra insight into the richness of the Belgian culture – one very much worth exploring!

Beer Abbeys in Belgium - Orval
Abbey of Orval Source: Wikimedia Commons Jean Pol Grandmont

Orval Abbey

It took the reconstruction of the old abbey to construct the current day Orval brewery, back in 1931. The Belgian Trappist Beer that is brewed here bears the name of the abbey and is sold worldwide!

Orval beer is a Trappist beer. That means the beer is brewed on site, by the monks of the abbey. The good news is that Orval is one of the abbeys in Belgium that you can visit yearlong. As for the brewery, this is open on select days each year be sure to keep an eye out on the website for more information.

Beautiful Places in Belgium - Maredsous
Castle at Maredsous Source: Wikicommons @luct

The Abbey of Maredsous

The neo- Gothic Abbey of Maredsous dates back to 1872 and is the home of Benedictine monks. The Abbey and the vast grounds surrounding it can be visited (both with and without guide). The Abbey has been preserved beautifully, truly making it well worth the visit.

Your visit also includes a tour of the Maredsous cheese factory to show visitors the production process of the famous Maredsous cheeses. Other activities include a nature walk, indulging in a Maredsous beer and cheese platter in the spacious cafeteria or enjoying a drink on the beautiful terrace.

The Maredsous beer is an abbey beer, it is no longer produced in the abbey itself. But do not let that deter you from trying it on site, preferably with a nice piece of cheese!

Abbeys in Belgium - Abbaye de scourmont
Abbey of Scourmont (source www.scourmont.be)

Abbey of Our Lady of Scourmont – Chimay

The Abbey of our Lady of Scourmont has been around since 1850. The monks established the abbey at the same times as the on-site brewery and cheese farm. Both of which are still active to this day and produce Chimay beer and Chimay cheese (named after the region).

In fact, the Chimay beer was one of the first to receive the Trappist Label. You got it, this is one of the abbeys in Belgium that still produces its very own beer. A visit to the abbey and a beer tasting can be done with Chimay Experience. The visit and beer tasting take around 40 minutes!

A little further down from the abbey you will find the Chimay Castle, which is also well worth a visit if you have the time. The unrivalled combination of the abbey, the Trappist beer brewery and the castle make Chimay one of the richest cultural and beautiful places in Belgium to pay a visit.

 

Most beautiful places in Belgium -Sint Sixtusabdij Westvleteren
Sint Sixtusabdij Westvleteren Source: Skindles Guesthouse

Abbey of Saint Sixtus – Westvleteren

Chances are you have heard of the Trappist beer of Westvleteren before. The Westvleteren XII is consistently ranked among the top beers in the world. The beer is brewed in very small batches by 10 monks, within the abbey grounds. Despite ever growing demand, the monks have made the choice to keep to litters brewed small and not to sell in retail chains. The beer can only be purchased upon appointment: Be sure to check out their website for more information. All of this has added to the mystic of the Westvleteren brand, making it a much coveted Belgian beer.

The abbey itself is not open for visitors, but the cafeteria on site is! You can try one of the famous Westvleteren beers accompanied with some delicious Paterkeskees (Monks Cheese).

 

Abbeys in Belgium - Abbey of Trappists Westmalle
Abbey of Trappists Westmalle Source: trappistwestmalle.be

Abbey of Our Lady of the Holy Heart of Westmalle

This abbey in Belgium is the home to monks who belong to the the community of the Order of Cistercians. The monls devout their lives to prayer, contemplation and work. This work includes the brewing of the world renowned Triple Beer: Westmalle!

The history of the brewery of Westmalle goes back to 1836, when the monks were allowed to drink beer during their meals.  What started out as a simple brewery, brewing beer for their own use has now turned into the largest Trapist brewery of Belgium.

The abbey itself is not open to visitors, however there is a nice walk around the abbey, which provides you with a 360° view of the abbey itself. As for the Westmalle beer, you can try it in the café across the street from the Abbey. The café also has a documentary showcasing the brewing process of the beer.


Visiting Belgium: The practical details


What to eat in Belgium - Belgium Chocolate
Delicious Belgian Chocolate! Credit Tamas Pap (Unsplash)

When to visit Belgium

Belgium has a maritime climate making summers cool and winters very moderate. Over the last few years climate change has caused the average summer temperatures to creep up, sometimes reaching 35+ degrees for a few weeks at a time.

Now what about that rain? If you ask any Belgian, they will tell you it rains pretty much all the time. While it is true that Belgium has a higher than average rainfall per year, it most certainly does not rain all year long. The driest months of the year are April to September.

In short, if you are ok with a little crisp weather then April to June are the best months to visit. If you like traveling when it is a little warmer, aim for July to October.

What to eat in Belgium

Visiting Belgium without trying one of the Belgian specialities would be a real shame! The little kingdom of Belgium has plenty to offer you! While the traditional dishes might not be very vegetarian-friendly, most restaurants offer at least a handful of vegetarian options on the menu. Vegetarian and vegan restaurants in Belgium are widely available too should you wish to try those out

Here are but a few of the Belgian specialities you want to try when visiting!

  • Chocolate
  • (Trappist) Beer
  • Flemish Carbonade (meat-based)
  • Stoemp
  • Mussles & Fries (fish-based)
  • Tomate aux crevettes  (fish-based)
  • Vol-au-vent (meat-based)
  • Waterzooi (fish-based)
  • Speculoos
  • Cuberdon

Official language in Belgium

Officially Belgium has three languages: Dutch, French, German.
Each of the languages is spoken in a different region. Flanders (North of Belgium) speaks Dutch, Wallonia (South of Belgium) speaks French. German is spoken by a very small community in the East of Belgium.

The capital of Brussels is bilingual (French and Dutch) though in practice French is much more widely spoken.

Locals usually have a very good proficiency in English, especially if they happen to be working in the tourism industry.


Accommodations in Belgium


Accommodations in Belgium - Martin's Patershof Mechelen
Martin's Patershof Mechelen

Accomodations in the North of Belgium

  • MechelenMartin’s Patershof: The most unique hotel in the city, an old church that has been expertly converted to a cozy luxury hotel. Conveniently located in the centre of the city (5 min walk from the main square).
  • Antwerp: Bontanic Sanctuary Antwerpen: An original 12th century monastery that has been rebuilt to house luxury accommodations and a spa. The hotel has a gym and pool on site and the restaurant offers delicious Belgian meals.
  • Hasselt: B&B Amuse-Couche: Fancy staying in a former jenever factory? This historic location has been completely renovated and now houses a boutique B&B with 4 impressive rooms.
  • Bruges: Relais Bourgondisch Cruyce, voted the most romantic hotel in Europe. A extraordinary waterfront residence with half-timbered façade and stained glass windows in the historic centre.

Accomodations in Brussels

  • The Hotel Brussels: A sustainable hotel with the highest public views over the city. The hotel produces green energy and only uses locally sourced food. The location is right on the main shopping artery of the City: Boulevard de Waterloo

Accomodations in the South of Belgium

  • Spa: Manoire de Lébioles: Stay in a historical grand manor dating back to 1905. The manor has on-site spa & world class restaurant and is located a convenient 5 minutes from the city of Spa.
  • La Roche-en Ardenne: B&B Le Marronnier: A B&B full of character. Located in an old 16th century building which was fully renovated to cater to old the modern day needs. Great location, in the vicinity of hiking trails, mountain biking routes and even a spot to fish!
  • Durbuy: Hotel Sanglier: This beautiful 4-star hotel is located in the historic city centre of the Durbuy. Try their wellness centre or indulge in a tasty meal in the well known restaurant on site.

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