At first glance, Belgium may seem like a European country that isn’t very attractive for tourism – especially when compared to Italy, France, Spain, or Portugal. However, this Western European country has several centuries of artistic and cultural traditions, which can still be observed and admired today.
As a small country, it’s very easy to explore all the destinations on this bucket list on a road trip through Belgium. Or, you can always choose to stay in places such as Brussels or Antwerp and visit the other cities and towns on day trips.
And a very interesting detail that I discovered when writing this bucket list is the fact that I selected seven cities where there are belfries and other monuments classified as UNESCO World Heritage (under the name of Belfries of Belgium and France)! These cities in question are Antwerp, Bruges, Ghent, Leuven, Mechelen, Tournai, and Mons.
So, do you want to know more about the 10 Best Places To Visit In Belgium (Besides Brussels)? Keep reading!
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Best Places to Visit in Belgium
One of the best places to visit in Belgium is, of course, the capital Brussels (in French, Bruxelles). The Belgian city is known not only for serving as the headquarters of the European Union but also for having some of the most beautiful monuments in Europe!
Some of these historic buildings are situated in the stunning Grand-Place, a central square in Brussels – which has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998! This is the case with the City Hall of Brussels, the Brussels City Museum, and the Museum of the Belgian Brewers (or the Belgian Beer Museum).
Apart from the Grand-Place, there’s a lot to discover in Brussels. For example, a few kilometers from the city center, you’ll find an iron structure that has become a postcard of Belgium: the Atomium. And right next door is Mini-Europe, a theme park with miniatures of European Union cities and buildings.
Back in the oldest part of the Belgian capital, be sure to visit the Royal Palace of Brussels and the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium – a group of six museums with an impressive collection of over 20,000 works of art, dating back to the 15th century until today!
Antwerp (in French, Anvers, and in Dutch, Antwerpen) is less than 50 km from Brussels and is also one of the best tourist destinations in Belgium. Located in the north of the country, this port city is famous for its art museums, its medieval architecture, and, of course, its Flemish culture.
Among the several dozen museums and art galleries scattered throughout the city, I highlight the Museum aan de Stroom (ie “Museum by the River”) or the Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp – if you prefer modern and contemporary art.
For lovers of Baroque painting, the best option is the Rubens House (a museum built in the former home and studio of the Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens). In this historic area of the city, it’s also essential to visit the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal (in other words, Cathedral of Our Lady) and the Grote Markt, the central square.
Bruges (in Dutch, Brugge) is probably the most touristic place in Belgium. This is because the canals that cross the city give it a “romantic” and picturesque vibe. Capital of the province of West Flanders (in the Flanders region), Bruges is located just over 50 km from another city on this bucket list: Ghent.
The so-called Venice of the North has a reasonably small historic center, but it was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000. Here, you’ll find architectural wonders such as the Market Square, the Belfry of Bruges, the Burg Square, the City Hall, and the Basilica of the Holy Blood.
The city of Ghent (in French, Gand, and in Dutch, Gent) is the capital of the province of East Flanders – also in the region of Flanders. As I mentioned earlier, it’s very close to Bruges, which justifies some of the similar characteristics of this and another Flemish city: Antwerp.
For example, Ghent is a port city, with several art museums and a distinctly medieval historical center. In addition, it has labyrinthine canals and religious buildings (Saint Bavo’s Cathedral, Belfry, and Saint Nicholas’ Church), whose architectural elements are reminiscent of those of the two “neighboring” cities.
Liège is a city in eastern Belgium, just a short distance from the borders of other European countries: the Netherlands and Germany. Located in the valley of the river Meuse, it has become an important municipality in Wallonia, the largest region in Belgium.
Currently, Liège is the main economic and cultural center in the province of the same name. In addition, the city integrates the Sillon industriel, an old primary network in Belgium, which crosses several localities and regions of the country.
Liège is particularly known for the Montagne de Bueren, an impressive staircase with 374 steps! And also for the artisan sweets (waffles, pancakes, chocolates, etc.), which you can enjoy in pastry shops like Une Gaufrette Saperlipopette.
Other mandatory stops are the Place du Marché and Place Saint-Lambert, as well as the Collégiale Saint-Jean l’Évangéliste and the Opéra Royal de Wallonie. Finally, Liège is a destination with several museums that you can visit:
- La Boverie, for Fine Arts
- Grand Curtius, for Archeology and Decorative Arts
- Trèsor de Liège, for Sacred Art
- Archéoforum, for Archeology
- Musée de la Vie Wallone, for Folklore
Read my Liège itinerary, one of the best places to visit in Belgium!
Leuven (in French, Louvain) is the capital of the province of Flemish Brabant, in the region of Flanders. It’s, in essence, a university city – which makes it one of Belgium’s most popular destinations among young adults for the many cafes, bars, and restaurants with terraces.
In the city’s central square stand two of the most fabulous buildings in Leuven: the City Hall and St. Peter’s Church. These monuments are perfect examples of the Brabantine Gothic style, characterized by the use of light-colored stones and the excessive ornamentation of façades, windows, towers, etc.
Did you know that Dinant is located just 20 kilometers from the French border? The Belgian city is part of the province of Namur, in the Wallonia region, and is bathed by the river Meuse – just like Liège. For this reason, the ancient medieval city developed along the banks of the river, giving it a “unique” look!
The landscape of this very picturesque Belgian destination is marked by two imposing buildings: the Citadelle de Dinant (a fortress built in 1815) and the Collégiale Notre-Dame de Dinant (a 13th-century Gothic cathedral with a bell tower in the shape of a bulb).
Mechelen (in French, Malines) is a perfect destination to include in your trip between Antwerp and Brussels (or vice versa), as it’s located 25 km from the first and 30-35 km from the capital of Belgium. And even though this city is quite small, there’s a lot to visit! Not to mention the international fame of this region’s vegetables, which you can prove by eating a vegetarian dish in one of the many traditional restaurants!
Interestingly, you’ll notice that the historic center of Mechelen is quite similar to other cities on this list: a central square (or Grote Markt) in medieval style, where the City Hall (or Stadhuis) is located; a stunning cathedral a few meters away (the Sint-Romboutskathedraal); and other monuments dotted around the surrounding streets, avenues, and squares.
As you may have realized, Tournai (in Dutch, Doornik) is one of the many UNESCO destinations on this bucket list of the best places to visit in Belgium. In fact, the Cathedral of Notre Dame of Tournai – which was declared a World Heritage Site in 2000 – is one of the most important churches in Belgium! Its construction began in the 12th century and the structure combines Romanesque, Gothic, and Baroque elements.
But… Did you know that most tourists visit Tournai on a day trip from Lille, due to its proximity to the French city? So, if you ever visit Tournai, go to Lille too! And whether you spend a day or more in this Belgian border city, don’t forget to visit the Belfry, the Museum of Fine Arts, and the Musée de la Tapisserie et des Arts Textiles.
Mons (in Dutch, Bergen) is the capital of the province of Hainaut, in the Wallonia region, and is located less than 60 km from Tournai. The city may be small, but it’s a great stop for those traveling by car or bus, as it’s at the intersection of two major European roads: the E19 (which connects Paris to Amsterdam) and the E42 (which connects Dunkirk, in France, to Aschaffenburg, in Germany).
Mons is another city in Belgium with a rich historical and cultural heritage. From the Belfry to the Grand-Place, with the Town Hall (or Hôtel de Ville). Not to mention the art museums! And if you have time, visit the Neolithic Flint Mines in Spinnes, which have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000 and are about 6 km from the historic center.
Map of the Best Places to Visit in Belgium
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More Posts about Belgium
10 Best Places To Visit In Belgium (Besides Brussels)
The Best Of Belgian Cuisine: What To Eat And Drink In Belgium
1 Day In Liège: The Perfect Liège Itinerary
What Photography Gear Do I Use?
- Camera Body: Fujifilm X-T4 Mirrorless
- Camera Lens: Fujinon XF 18-55 mm F2.8-4 R LM OIS
- Tripod: Manfrotto Compact Action
- Small Tripod: Manfrotto PIXI Mini
- Smartphone Adaptor: Manfrotto PIXI Clamp
- Memory Card: SanDisk 128GB Extreme PRO SDXC
This blog post uses stock photographs (Getty Images)