There’s no shortage of captivating places to visit in Belgium. Contemplating a free day in Flanders perhaps, or hoping to hire a bicycle in Bruges? Take note of these beautiful – and historically significant – Belgium attractions.
The Grand Place – Brussels
Home to the European Union and the epicentre of international business, politics and policy, Brussels has the undeserved reputation of being somewhat boring and bureaucratic.
In fact, the opposite is true. Anything but stuffy, the city’s architecture, museums, cafés and jazz clubs draw visitors from across the world. And at the heart of it all, is De Grote Markt – Brussels’s central square.
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998, the square is dominated by the imposing Town Hall. Standing 96-metres tall and capped by a statue of Saint Michael slaying a demon, the Town Hall is flanked by centuries-old guildhalls and buildings. It is Belgium’s most photographed attraction.
We suggest visiting in August. Every second year, Belgian volunteers gather at the Grand Place to weave a ‘flower carpet’ out of colourful begonias, dahlias, grass and bark. Alternatively, plan a visit in December when the square is transformed into one of Europe’s most popular Christmas markets.
Basilica of the Holy Blood – Bruges
Visitors to Bruges often get swept up in the romance of the town’s canals and bridges, medieval architecture, lace shops and chocolatiers. But one of the most historically significant places to visit in Belgium, is the Basilica of the Holy Blood.
The Basilica’s beautiful Romanesque and neo-Gothic architecture hides one of the world’s most sacred (and mysterious) relics. This is a vial said to contain a drop of holy blood from Jesus Christ, brought back to Belgium after the Second Crusade (1147–1150).
But, it’s the chapel’s ornate façade, stained glass windows and impressive murals that delight visitors and pilgrims alike. Learn more about the legend behind the relic, while soaking up the peaceful atmosphere of the Basilica itself.
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Battlefield of Waterloo
History buffs will adore a visit to the battlefield of Waterloo. Located just 10 miles (16 kilometres) south of Brussels, visitors can walk the historic site before making their way up Lion’s Mound, where an enormous cast-iron lion keeps watch over the battlefield below.
Also worthwhile, is a visit to the Wellington Museum, where the Duke of Wellington spent a few nights before his famous victory over Napoleon Bonaparte on the 18th of June 1815.
Gravensteen Castle – Ghent
The 11th-century Gravensteen Castle is one of Europe’s oldest surviving examples of a moated fortress. Gravensteen’s impressive walls, complete with turrets and arrow slits, are the stuff of fantasy and legend.
Climb its staircase for sweeping views of the countryside below. Then, wander into town in search of gestreken mastellen (sweet, cinnamon pastries), cuberdons (cone-shaped Belgian candy), or frietjes (Belgium frites, usually served with mayonnaise).
If you’re lucky enough, you might find yourself in Ghent in July. If so, be sure to catch the Ghentse Feesten, a 10-day celebration of music, art and culture.
Rubenshuis – Antwerp
Visitors to Belgium’s second-largest city will discover a lively, creative hub filled with coffee bars, restaurants, boutiques, galleries and museums. The Grote Markt’s 16th-century Stadhuis (Town Hall), lavishly decorated guild houses and Brabo Fountain, make for fantastic photographs. But it’s Antwerp’s Rubenshuis which makes this list of significant places to visit in Belgium.
For art lovers, a visit to Rubens House gives a rare glimpse into the life, work and art of Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), arguably one of the world’s greatest baroque artists.
Flanders Fields – Ypres
Flanders Fields, captured poignantly in the First World War poem, “In Flanders Fields”, refers to battlefields located between West Flanders and East Flanders in northern Belgium. Visitors can visit the In Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres to learn more about the battles fought on the Flanders front – and the 600,000 men who lost their lives there.
Another important landmark, the Menin Gate is a memorial to the thousands of soldiers who went missing in action during the First World War.
Perhaps one of the most haunting war memorials in the world, the stone walls of Menin Gate are engraved with the names of 55,000 allied soldiers lost on the battlefields. Make your way there at nightfall, where buglers have been playing the Last Post at 8pm every night since 1928.
Just south of Ypres lies the village of Ploegsteert, and the site of one of the most unlikely sporting events in history. Known as the ‘Christmas Truce of 1914’, an impromptu ceasefire broke out when exhausted troops from both sides celebrated Christmas by playing soccer, singing carols and exchanging alcohol, tobacco and food – across the frontline.
The smallest city in the world – Durbuy
Move over Bruges, Durbuy’s cobbled streets, medieval square, timber frame houses and location on the banks of the Ourthe River, make it one of the most magical Belgium attractions. Durbuy enjoys its status as “the smallest city in the world”. Dating back to 1331, the town was elevated to the rank of city by the King of Bohemia.
Even though this no longer holds true, it’s still a fabulously fun reason to visit. Enjoy Durbuy’s local beer and wander around the topiary garden. Geology nerds should consider a trip to Durbuy’s famous limestone caves.
Other places to visit in Belgium
Chock-full of historical attractions, it’s almost impossible to create an exhaustive list of places to visit in Belgium. But if you’re planning a trip in the near future, make sure these Belgium attractions are on your itinerary:
St. Peter’s Church – Leuven
St. Bavo’s Cathedral – Ghent
The Belfry Tower – Bruges
Saint-Michel Cathedral – Brussels
Graslei Canal – Ghent