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Things to Do in Belgium - page 2

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Central Station
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Antwerp’s main railway station, nicknamedSpoorwegkathedraal (Railway Cathedral) by locals, features glass-and-iron vaulted ceilings, an ornate central dome, and hundreds of gilded flourishes. An extensive restoration of the station was completed in 2009, when a shopping mall and two further platforms were added to the complex.

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Belfry of Bruges (Belfort van Brugge)
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Dominating the city skyline from all angles, the striking, 83-meter high Belfry (Belfort) is one of Bruges’ most iconic landmarks, standing proud over the central Market Square. Dating back to 1240, the historic bell tower has undergone a number of changes over the years, damaged by fire in the late 13th-century and hit by lightning twice. Today, the Belfort is both a UNESCO World heritage site and one of the city’s top tourist attractions.

A popular pastime for visitors is climbing the 366 spiraling steps to the top of the 83-meter-high tower, from where the panoramic views look out over the entire city and it’s possible to peek inside the carillon with its 47 bells and impressive clockwork mechanism. Along the way, a number of small rooms are also open to the public, including the old treasury, where the city’s rights and charters were once kept, and an exhibition on the tower’s bells.

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St. Nicholas’ Church (Sint-Nik­laas­kerk)
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Owner of the oldest of the three great spires that dominate the pedestrianized heart of Ghent, the St. Nicholas’ Church (Sint-Nik­laas­kerk) was constructed between the 13th and 15th centuries in an eye-catching mixture of Romanesque and Flemish Gothic architectural styles. Built of Tournai limestone, its lovely exterior is adorned with flying buttresses and spiky spires as well as an imposing central tower; all this grandeur was paid for by Ghent’s wealthy medieval merchants to signal their wealth to the rival Flanders trading cities of Bruges and Antwerp. It’s probably more beautiful inside than out, but nevertheless all eyes lead to the Baroque high altar with its twisted side columns, floodlit through stained-glass windows high above. The church is currently under restoration but faint traces of fresco can still be seen on the supporting pillars of the nave. For the best view of St Nicholas’s flying buttresses, head for the viewing platform of the Belfry a few steps away.

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Basilica of the Holy Blood (Heilig-Bloedbasiliek)
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Standing next to city hall on Burg Square, the Basilica of the Holy Blood (Heilig-Bloedbasiliek) is a highlight of Bruges’ historical center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The church dates back to the 12th century and houses one of the city’s most sacred relics: a vial believed to contain the blood of Jesus Christ.

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Bruges City Hall (Stadhuis van Brugge)
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Bruges City Hall (Stadhuis van Brugge) is Belgium’s oldest building and arguably Bruges’ most beautiful. Constructed between 1376 and 1420, the flamboyant, Gothic-style building was one of the first grand town halls in the Low Countries. The city has been governed from this building for more than 700 years.

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Grand Sablon Square (Place du Grand Sablon)
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Located just a 10-minute walk from Brussel’s bustling Grand Place, Grand Sablon Square (Place du Grand Sablon) is a historic square at the heart of the Sablon quarter. It feels a world away from the busy city center, with striking medieval townhouses, stylish restaurants, terrace cafés, and a lively antiques market.

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Vladslo German War Cemetery
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The Vladslo German War Cemetery is a burial ground located near the village of Vladslo, Belgium, which is about 16 miles north of Ypres and 25 miles southwest of Brugge. By the end of World War I, German soldiers were buried all over Belgium, from single or group sites in the woods to larger cemeteries with several thousand soldiers. In the years after the war, German officials worked with Belgian officials to gather and relocated many of the graves scattered throughout the country to give the soldiers a proper burial. This resumed after World War II, and in 1954 an agreement was made to have most of the fallen German soldiers from World War I moved to three different collecting cemeteries.

The cemetery in Vladslo is essentially a mass grave containing more than 25,000 graves from 61 locations. Each simple tombstone has the names, ranks, and dates of death for 20 deceased German soldiers. One of the soldiers buried here was Peter Kollwitz, the 18-year-old son of famous artist Käthe Kollwitz. Out of sorrow for her son, Kollwitz created two statues called “The Mourning Parents” which are located at the back of the cemetery.

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Brussels Royal Palace (Palais Royal de Bruxelles)
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Dating back to the 18th century and fronted by the idyllic Parc de Bruxelles (Brussels Park), the Royal Palace of Brussels (or Palais Royal Bruxelles) might no longer be the official residence of Belgium’s royal family, but it remains one of the capital’s most magnificent landmarks and the site of various royal and state events.

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Butcher's Hall (Vleeshuis)
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A candy-striped confection of white sandstone and red brick, the 14th-century Gothic Butcher's Hall (Vleeshuis) originally served as a meat market but now fulfills the more refined role of music museum. Today, you can admire exquisite antique musical instruments such as Delftware mandolins at Museum Vleeshuis.

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Het Zuid
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Radically transformed by the opening of the Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp in 1987, the former industrial zone of Het Zuid is now fashionable, replete with independent boutiques, cozy cafés, and craft-beer breweries. Its location a short walk along the river from Grand Market Place makes it easily accessible from central Antwerp.

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More Things to Do in Belgium

Duvelorium

Duvelorium

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Located inside the Historium Brugge building in the center of Bruges, the Duvelorium Grand Beer Café offers a relaxing space to have a drink and a bite following a Historium tour. Belgian-beer aficionados will want to spend some time at the bar, which is open to the general public and offers excellent people watching and Market Square views.

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De Koninck Antwerp City Brewery

De Koninck Antwerp City Brewery

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Immerse yourself in the art and science of Belgian beer manufacturing at Antwerp’s De Koninck brewery. Take a stroll over the pedestrian bridge that looks down over the brewing hall—and don’t forget to taste some of the finished product.

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De Halve Maan Brewery

De Halve Maan Brewery

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The only brewery still working in Bruges’ city center, Brouwerij De Halve Maan has been operated by the same family since 1856. It’s believed, however, to have been in operation for much longer: The first recorded mention of the brewery dates from 1546, when Bruges was home to more than 30 breweries.

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Choco-Story, the Chocolate Museum

Choco-Story, the Chocolate Museum

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A museum devoted to all things chocolate Bruges’ Choco-Story is a must-visit for anyone with a sweet tooth. Learn how Belgian chocolate is made—and then sample some freshly made treats before you leave.

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Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917

Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917

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The Battle of Passchendaele in summer and fall 1917 was one of the bloodiest and most futile of World War I; in just over 100 days more than half a million soldiers were killed and in that time Allied troops advanced on the Germans by a mere five miles (eight km) amid the trenches of the Ypres Salient in Flanders.

The museum dedicated to the fallen victims of the battle is found in a small chateau in the village of Zonnebeke, the scene of heavy fighting south of Bruges. It was opened in 2004 and the main exhibition follows the sorry story of the battle; a new display entitled ‘Remembrance’ focuses on the aftermath of the war for the soldiers, local civilians and the beleaguered Flanders landscape. Along with black-and-white images, weaponry, uniforms and heart-rending personal letters, the museum has a reconstructed dug out and a replica line of trenches constructed in the chateau grounds in 2013, where a series of lakeside memorial gardens are dedicated to all the nations who fought at Passchendaele.

Many people combine a visit to the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917 with visiting Tyn Cot, the biggest Commonwealth cemetery in the world with 12,000 graves, and attending the ‘Last Post’ ceremony in nearby Ypres, which was left in ruins after the Battle of Passchendaele. The ceremony takes place daily at 8pm at the Menin Gate memorial.

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Diamond District

Diamond District

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About 84 percent of the world’s uncut diamonds pass through Antwerp’s Diamond Quarter, an enclave of side streets just west of Central Station. Every year more than £32 billion in polished, cut diamonds pass through the four trading exchanges, regulated by the Antwerp World Diamond Centre and bringing massive wealth into the city. Although today the Diamond Quarter is also home to Indian, Lebanese, Russian and Chinese gem dealers, creating a vividly multicultural atmosphere, most of the city’s diamond trading is still run by the Hassidic Jewish community; more than 8,000 people are involved in the industry and there are even kosher banks exclusively dedicated to financing diamond deals. The nondescript shop fronts on the little tangle of streets centered on Hoveniersstraat hide diamond dealers, cutters – world-renowned for their skill – and polishers as well as kosher butchers, bakeries and synagogues. Some of the biggest, glossiest salesrooms offer tours of their workshops and expert advice on buying; the free ‘Antwerp Loves Diamonds’ map is available from the tourist information offices in Grote Markt and in Central Station, while the Antwerp Diamond Bus runs hop-on, hop-off services around all the areas of the city associated with the trade.

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Sint-Janshospitaal (Saint John's Hospital)

Sint-Janshospitaal (Saint John's Hospital)

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Sint-Janshospitaal (Saint John's Hospital) is one of the oldest surviving hospital buildings in Europe. The hospital cared for pilgrims, travellers, and the sick for more than 800 years. The old infirmary cared for patients from the 12th century to the middle of the 19th century when the hospital moved to a nearby red brick building, where patients were treated until 1978.

Visitors may tour the chapel and the medieval wards where monks and nuns performed their charitable work, and explore the hospital’s impressive collection of artwork, vintage medical instruments, and archives. Also worth a visit are the pharmacy and its herb garden, the Diksmuide attic, the old dormitory, and the custodian’s room. Sint­Janshospitaal owns six works by the artist Hans Memling (one of the most important Flemish Primitive painters, who lived and worked in Bruges in the 15th century), as well as many religious sculptures and paintings that depict what life in the hospital was like throughout the centuries. The museum, which is now located in the old infirmary, teaches the curious visitor more about hospital life in the past and how the wards would have looked then.

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Autoworld

Autoworld

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Autoworld houses over 250 incredible vehicles of various origins and covers the history of the automobile while demonstrating the evolution and development of cars over more than a century. The displays include automobiles that are basically horse drawn carriages from the time when the horse was replaced with a steering wheel and an engine. There are exclusive sports cars from the 1960s and a Bugatti from 1928. The museum even has motorcycles and exhibits about the development of the garage. A separate room houses horse carriages, including one used by Napoleon the Third's wedding in 1853.

The cars on display here are all of European or US origin. They are arranged in chronological order so visitors can start from the origins of the automobile and work their way through the different developments throughout history. There is also an evolutionary time line of cars from the late 1800s to the 2000s including a blank spot for the future. The time line highlights the most popular makes and models in Europe during each decade. The gift shop sells postcards, key chains, and miniature model cars for every make you can imagine.

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Rubens House (Rubenshuis)

Rubens House (Rubenshuis)

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Forming the backbone of Antwerp’s artistic heritage, Rubens House (Rubenshuis) is a top draw for travelers. The former home of Flemish master Peter Paul Rubens, who lived in Antwerp for most of his life, is decorated with marble Roman busts and antique furniture that reflect the sumptuous lifestyle enjoyed by Antwerp’s most illustrious son.

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St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral

St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral

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Named for the patron saints of Brussels, the St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral is a cocathedral of the local Catholic archdiocese and one of the most beautiful churches in the city. It stands upon the ruins of an 11th-century Romanesque chapel, the remains of which can be viewed for a nominal fee.

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Ghent City Center

Ghent City Center

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Ghent is Belgium’s best-kept secret, a cosmopolitan university city of imposing churches, top-quality museums and some of the most beautiful medieval architecture in Europe. Add to this a vigorous cultural scene, packed late-night bars, restaurants and clubs, plus stylish hotels and this is a city not to be missed.

The city’s pedestrianized heart surrounds triangular Korenmarkt, which was the medieval market place, with most of the major sights – the ornate Stadhuis, St Bavo’s Cathedral, St Nicholas’ Church and the Belfry – within easy walking distance. Just northwest of Korenmarkt, the River Leie is canalized and bordered with the medieval quays of Graslei and Korenlei; it curls through Ghent on its way to join the River Schelde and a network of canals leading to the port. Close by, the austere Gravensteen Castle lies on a split in the Leie, and beyond that is Patershol, an enclave of narrow streets crammed with 17th-century artisanal cottages. Now delightfully revamped, the district is currently scene of Ghent’s hottest nightlife. Ghent’s other focal square is Vrijdagmarkt, which is huge, tree lined and surrounded by ancient guild houses – now mostly shops and restaurants – where markets spring up most weekends. In the south of the city, Citadelpark is the location of two excellent art galleries.

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European Parliament

European Parliament

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Brussels is the administrative heart of the European Union and the Espace Léopold buildings are where parliament meets throughout the year to debate and discuss the future of Europe. The main building of the European Parliament complex is the Paul-Henri Spaak building, an impressive glass structure with a distinctive arched roof, it’s been nicknamed "Caprice des Dieux" (whim of the gods) after a similarly shaped French cheese.

The hemicycle is where parliament debates; it seats the 736 Members of the parliament, numerous translators and a gallery for the general public. The semicircular shape is designed to encourage consensus among the political parties.

There are a number of interesting works of art on public view including May Claerhout’s sculptureEuropa,which has become a favorite among tourists.

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Horta Museum

Horta Museum

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Set in the private home and studio of the late Victor Horta—a pioneer of the art nouveau movement—Brussels’ Horta Museum (Musée Horta) is a fascinating window into the early-20th-century architect’s work. Marvel at the two buildings’ interiors, facades, and furniture exemplifying Horta’s love of fluid curves and organic forms.

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Palace of Justice (Palais de Justice)

Palace of Justice (Palais de Justice)

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The Palace of Justice is believed to be the largest building constructed in the 19th century. It’s covers 260,000 square feet (24,000 square meters) and dominates the Sablon area.

It was built on an area known as Gallows Hill overlooking the working-class parts of the city. Around 3,000 houses were demolished to make way for the building that is larger than St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. This angered locals and the word "architect" became a derogatory term.

The style of the imposing grey building is described as Assyro-Babylonian. It’s dominated by columns and a large glittering golden dome. The courts were commissioned by Leopold II and designed by Joseph Poelaert, and ended up costing 45 million Belgian francs to build.

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