Things to Do in Belgium - page 5
Best known as the site of the 1944 Siege of Bastogne, this quiet Belgian town in the Ardennes is where encircled United States soldiers managed to turn the tide for the Battle of the Bulge, despite difficult conditions and heavy casualties. Today, Bastogne memorializes these events through monuments and museums.
The Dodengang (Trench of Death) was one of the most dangerous locations of Belgian troops on the Western Front during World War I. It is a half-mile long network of revetments, saps and dug-outs near Diksmuide in Flanders, and it was only 55 yards from a German bunker. The Belgian Army was here to prevent the German troops from advancing toward France. As a result, soldiers in this trench were under almost constant attack from the opposing forces. Conditions were harsh and life for the Belgian soldiers was rigorous. Soldiers had to man the trenches for three days straight before getting three days of rest in a cantonment at the back of the combat zone. The Trench of Death was the heart of Belgian resistance until the successful Battle of Flanders which began on September 28, 1918.
Visiting the Dodengang will give perspective on the size and conditions of the trenches. The visitor center uses maps, photographs, videos and war memorabilia to tell the story of life and death on the front lines. The exhibits explain how the Belgians kept fighting for four years and what kinds of weapons and equipment they used.
Yser Tower is a memorial honoring the Flemish soldiers who died during World War I. It is the tallest peace monument in Europe and houses a museum and a chapel. At the start of the war, King Albert of Belgium urged the Flemish and Walloon populations to come together to fight under a united Belgian flag. Unfortunately the French-speaking Walloon officers expressed themselves in French, while most of the Flemish soldiers could not speak French, only Dutch. The soldiers' inability to understand orders led to many deaths, and by the end of the war, 70 percent of the fallen Belgian soldiers were Flemish.
The monument that stands today was built in 1965 and is 275 feet tall. The inscription “Never again war” is written on the tower in Dutch, French, English, and German. As a peace monument, Yser Tower commemorates the Flemish soldiers killed during World War I, but it has also become a beacon of the Flemish nationalist movement. The museum's permanent exhibit retraces the history of both World Wars and the time in between them, while two floors are dedicated to the history of Flanders. The film “Violence Never Brings Peace” plays continuously in the auditorium. The museum also has various temporary exhibits.
The Halle Gate (Porte de Hal), is what remains of the city’s second fortified wall, making it one of the most historic structures in Brussels. Built to defend the capital city in 1381, it guarded the interior with a medieval drawbridge and moat. Though many of the other structures from this time period have since been destroyed, the Porte de Hal was used as a prison, thereby still standing and recalling an earlier age. The stonework and style of the gate’s tower still looks like it was lifted straight from the Middle Ages.
The museum goes into detail about the city’s fortification, history, and folklore. Various weapons and armor are on display, including the parade armor of the Archduke Albert of Austria. Here visitors can learn in depth about the trade guilds and battles that make up the history of Brussels. Three stories up a winding staircase take you to the Battlement, with panoramic views of the city.
With its maze of cobbled streets and squares, striking old buildings, and network of scenic canals, the UNESCO-listed Historic Centre of Bruges is undeniably picturesque. A boat trip down the romantic canals of Bruges is at the top of the bucket list for many Belgium visitors, and there’s no better way to experience this beautiful city than from the water.
The Kantcentrum, or Lace Center, is a lace museum and learning center in Brugge, Belgium. It is located in the Apostoline Sisters' former lace school, which is a renovated building from 1899. The building is part of the estate of the Adornes family who were originally from Genoa, Italy in the 14th century. The Lace Center museum explores the origins of lace and its early developments. Different displays show basic techniques and movements, types of lace and their geographic origins, the lace industry's history and what the industry is like today, and lace teaching in Brugge. The traditions of lace are honored here along with more contemporary forms.
While visiting the museum, you can also watch the center's bobbing lace-making demonstrations. Visitors can also explore different techniques and aesthetics, as well as learn about the lace industry itself, in an interactive way. Touch screens allow visitors to see the differences between handmade laces, bobbin lace, needle lace, and machine lace. The touch screens also explain how the different types of movements and stitches in bobbin lace-making work. The Lace Center also teaches courses and workshops throughout the year.
The Lion’s Mound (Butte du Lion) is an artificial hill commemorating the location where Prince William II of the Netherlands was wounded during the infamous battle of Waterloo against the Napoleonic armies. The prince’s father, King William I of the Netherlands, ordered construction in 1820; workers used earth taken straight from the historic battlefield, a symbol of the Allied victory and a tribute to Prince William’s sacrifice. The hill was later on surmounted by an imposing 31 tons, 15 feet high and 15 feet wide Medici-like lion statue (standing male lion with ball under one paw looking to the side), which stands upon a stone-block pedestal. Also known as Leeuw van Waterloo (Lion of Waterloo), the lion was not picked by coincidence; not only does it symbolizes courage, it is also the heraldic beast on the personal coat of arms of the Netherlands monarchs. The sphere under the lion’s right front paw signifies victory of global European peace. For a long time visitors were led to believe that the lion was cast from brass melted down from cannons abandoned on the battlefield; this was, however, inaccurate, as the lion is cast out of nine different pieces iron. The view from atop the hill offers splendid panoramas of the battlefield, and gives visitors a better idea of how the battle was carried and how the cavalry and infantry were deployed. The mound’s shape and lion sculpture became such an icon of Waterloo that they are now represented on the municipality’s coat of arms.
The Hooge Crater Museum, outside of Ypres, has life-sized representations of war scenes on display to help visitors better understand the history of World War I, especially in Flanders. The scenes include German bunkers, British trenches, and full scale horses with cavalry troops on their backs. Other displays include an extensive collection of weapons, uniforms, photographs, and other military artifacts.
The crater was formed on July 19, 1915. Around this time of the war, the German troops had an excellent overview of the British front line in the Ypres Salient area. The British troops tried to eliminate this with a targeted attack. They exploded more than 3,700 pounds of dynamite in a tunnel, which formed a crater that was later called the Hooge Crater. Today the crater is filled with water.
Furfooz Park (Parc de Furfooz) is a nature park in the southern part of the Walloon region of Belgium. It is a great place to explore some of the archaeological and geological wonders of Belgium. There are several nature walks through the park, including a 2.5 mile family walk. The paths in the park are suitable for people of all ages. The park covers an area of more than 120 acres of grassy fields and forest, and it is home to a group of sheep. Other wildlife native to Belgium can be found at the park as well interesting plant life.
The park has been occupied by humans for thousands of years, and in Roman times, baths and a fortress were built here. Today you can see the ruins of these sites, as well as a replica of the baths that was rebuilt in 1958. Visitors can also learn about the archaeological heritage of the area by exploring cave markings and other items found here.
‘Ganda’ was the ancient name for Ghent and the present-day marina at Portus Ganda marks the spot where the city first began to grow. Located east of Ghent’s triumvirate of landmark spires, the marina is one of four in Ghent and sits on the confluence of the Leie and Scheldt rivers. Once covered over to ease traffic, the Lower Scheldt was reopened to restore the city’s original waterways and at the same time several new pedestrianized piazzas and promenades were created; Portus Ganda opened in 2005 and is now a buzzing little spot with yachts bobbing alongside riverside boardwalks packed with restaurants and bars. A bridge scattered with benches unites the two sides of the river and the newly reopened and much-modernized Van Eyck swimming pool is close by on Veermanplein.
More Things to Do in Belgium
In the midst of Antwerp’s Diamond District is Diamondland, one of the city’s largest showrooms and home to an exclusive collection of diamond jewelry. Here visitors can learn more about the process involved in creating diamonds, and travelers planning on proposing can browse hundreds of diamond engagement rings.
Located just east of Ypres, Sanctuary Wood stands as a stark reminder of the horrors of World War I in the Ypres Salient. Initially a place of refuge for Allied soldiers to rest and recuperate, by 1917 the woods were bang on the Front Line and trenches had been built for the troops to live in and fight from. At the end of the war, the farmer who owned the land returned and decided to preserve a length of tunnels and trenches – one of the few sections that were not ploughed over and returned to farming land – in which bullet holes are still clearly visible, along with the tree stumps blasted during shelling and the inadequate corrugated iron shelters for the soldiers. A small museum stands nearby, displaying munitions and weapons removed from the trenches, a British Army cooking wagon, and some graphic 3D images of life in the trenches. As the inevitable tragic result of the fierce battles around Ypres, several war cemeteries are nearby, including Sanctuary Wood Cemetery, designed by Sir Edwin Luytens and immaculately kept with 2,000 war graves standing in neat rows, and the Hill 62 Memorial honoring the Canadian participation in defending Ypres.
Known for its wondrous landscaping, the 135-acre (55-hectare) Pairi Daiza zoo is set in beautifully manicured botanical gardens. Its name fittingly means 'paradise' in Persian.
Located on the grounds of the ancient Cistercian abbey of Cambron, the zoo was established in 1993 with just a small bird garden. Today, the site houses more than 5,000 animals in several geographically themed zones, including the Chinese and Indonesian gardens, a rose garden surrounding the abbey ruins and the Andalusian garden, with its Moorish patios and terraces.
The animals, from lions and giraffes to a fantastic array of birds such as flamingos and raptors, have spacious accommodations. Steam-train rides, playgrounds, daily birds-of-prey shows and all manner of cafés and restaurants add to the family fun among the aquariums, aviaries and tropical greenhouses. And Pairi Daiza is still a work in progress, with many more attractions slowly being added.
The Hougoumont Farm encampment was scene of some of the heaviest fighting in the Battle of Waterloo of June 1815. Fought by the English, Dutch and Prussians against the French, under the leadership of the Duke of Wellington and Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte respectively, it raged for four days and more than 12,000 soldiers died, with a further 35,000 wounded. Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo ended France’s military domination of Europe.
The Waterloo battle site is south of Brussels in Wallonia and today visits encompass the Wellington Museum in the duke’s former HQ, and Napoleon’s command central at an inn called La Belle Alliance, now also a museum. There are several monuments to the war dead scattered around the battlefield, including Lion Hill, built in honor of King William II of the Netherlands, who died in the fighting; the new high-tech Waterloo Visitor Center sits at the foot of this manmade mound.
Hougoumont Farm stood 500 yards (460 m) away from Wellington’s frontline and played a pivotal role at Waterloo; the struggle ended in victory for the Scottish Coldstream Guards, although many troops died as French battalions were prevented from storming the farm. Reopened for the bicentenary of the battle in 2015 after extensive restoration works, the farm buildings are once more pristine and a new memorial stands outside the barns, representing two of Wellington’s soldiers battling to close the gates and preventing the French from overrunning the property.
One of Bruges’ top family-friendly attractions, Boudewijn Theme Park and Dolfinarium is known for its dolphin, seal, and sea lion shows. In addition to marine mammals performing tricks, the park also has 20 outdoor attractions, including a roller coaster and pirate ship, as well as 10 indoor attractions suitable for a rainy day.
Situated in Brussels’s expansive Parc Cinquantenaire, the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History features a number of military-related pieces. Come to browse old armor, armored tanks, and aircraft, or to do some research in the library, complete with military files and photographs and a collection of trench maps.
Formerly known as the Art & Design Atomium Museum but now simply called "The ADAM," this museum focuses on design from the 1950s through the present, with a particular emphasis on plastic design. Here visitors will find a variety of permanent installations and exhibitions, along with a rotation of temporary exhibits and other programs.
Housed inside the Schaerbeek Railway Station, Train World is an interactive museum dedicated to all things train related. Here you'll find vintage trains and steam engines that visitors can board; educational railroad exhibitions and ephemera, many with an interactive spin; and rail-related art.
Situated in the resort town of Blankenberge, SEA LIFE® is an indoor/outdoor aquarium featuring a variety of oceanic exhibits, an outdoor section with play areas for kids, and a seal-rescue center. Here visitors can learn about marine life through feedings, talks, and interactive experiences at the on-site touch tank.
Visit Beelwarde, on the outskirts of Ypres, to experience an amusement park with a twist. Along with rides for visitors of all ages, the park is home to all sorts of animals, and it doubles as a natural parkland for visitors who want to hike, picnic, or just stretch out and relax.
Situated in Wavre, within day-tripping distance of Brussels, Walibi Belgium is a sprawling amusement park that was previously a Six Flags. Find all sorts of thrill rides, from roller coasters to water rides, along with plenty of kid-friendly attractions, many of which aren't restricted by height.
A massive water park featuring attractions for visitors young and old, Plopsaqua is conveniently
located in the popular summer getaway of De Panne—between the beach and the railway station. Don a suit and explore the waterslides, pools, and other features, many of which are suitable for toddlers or those who prefer not to swim.
Housed in the Brasserie Cantillon, the only remaining traditional lambic brewery in Brussels, the Brussels Gueuze Museum is a great place to learn about Belgium’s celebrated brewing traditions firsthand. Here, visitors can see the insides of a working brewery that has changed little over the last century.
- Things to do in Brussels
- Things to do in Bruges
- Things to do in Ghent
- Things to do in Zaventem
- Things to do in Antwerp
- Things to do in Ypres
- Things to do in Liège
- Things to do in Netherlands
- Things to do in Luxembourg
- Things to do in Flanders
- Things to do in Lille
- Things to do in Dordrecht
- Things to do in Nord-Pas de Calais
- Things to do in South Holland
- Things to do in Champagne