15 Cities in Belgium That Are Truly Worth Visiting

15 Cities in Belgium That Are Truly Worth Visiting

Belgium is so much more than just Brussels and Bruges. Check out the lesser-known cities in Belgium such as Aalst, Ghent, Lier and Durbuy.

Squeezed in between the Netherlands, Germany and France, Belgium  is a western European country that tends to be skipped by tourists. Many visitors just stop in Brussels, the capital, on their way from, say, Paris to Amsterdam. That’s a huge shame because Belgium has so much more to offer.

This is the country of food, a country which main export products are waffles, beer, chocolate, Brussels sprouts, endives and fries. It’s not common knowledge, but Belgium – not France – is actually where the “French” fries where invented. In addition to world-class food, this small country of eleven million inhabitants is dotted with absolutely gorgeous medieval cities, covered with flat farmlands that are surrounded and crisscrossed by excellent bicycle paths, and home to dense forests and ancient castles.

It’s the old cities, however, that attract most visitors. And rightly so!

1. Brussels

Image Credits: Juan Rubiano

Brussels, capital of Belgium and the European Union and seat of the United Nations, is so much more than just a centre of politics. Belgium’s largest city has several magnificent museums, downright spectacular architecture and some very specific and world-class attractions. Things that should not be missed are the Atomium, Manneken Pis, the Town Houses designed by Victor Horta, and the mind-blowingly beautiful Grand-Place.

Also read: Atomium Gives Visitors a Splendid Bird’s Eye View of Brussels

2. Leuven

Image Credits: Hühnerauge

A short distance from Brussels lies Leuven, a relatively unknown city that, in fact, has quite a lot to offer. It is home to two UNESCO World Heritage Sites (the béguinage and St. Peter’s Church), one of the oldest universities in the world, and the headquarters of the world’s largest beer brewery (AB InBev).


3. Ypres

Image Credits: grotevriendelijkereus

This medieval city had to be reconstructed completely after the Second World War. As it happened, Ypres had the misfortune of being located one of the most violent and battle-struck sections of the entire western front. No less than three major battles took place in and around the city, leaving almost nothing standing. Nowadays, it’s a beautiful city and the centre of World War II heritage in Belgium. This is the place to start any visit to Flanders Fields.


4. Bruges

Image Credits: Jiuguang Wang

The entire city center of fairy-tale-like Bruges is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This city is one of the best preserved medieval cities on the planet, consisting of several canals, guild houses, a striking belfry and town square, and several museums. Not only is this a highlight in Belgium, it’s also a major sight in Europe.


5. Aalst

Image Credits: Daniel Mesas Atero

Home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the location of an event that’s UNESCO Cultural World Heritage, Aalst may be unknown, but is well-worth visiting. The belfry and town hall are among the most spectacular medieval buildings in the country, while Aalst Carnaval is a three-day event featuring parades, music shows and street entertainment.


6. Ghent

Image Credits: Tom Roeleveld

Arguably Belgium’s best hidden secret, Ghent is a marvelous medieval city – at one point it was the largest city in northern Europe, second only to Paris. It’s a city that’s full with breathtaking medieval architecture, including churches, cathedrals, a belfry, and ornate guild houses and warehouses.


Also read: Belgium: The Place for the Arts and Culture

7. Tongeren


Tongeren is the oldest city in Belgium, founded by the Romans in the first century BC. The city’s main attraction is the fantastic Gallo-Roman Museum, which exhibits artefacts and ruins dating back to Roman times and showcasing the life of common people in the area during that time. Another highlight is the imposing medieval Basilica of Our Lady that stands right next to the museum.


8. Lier

Image Credits: grotevriendelijkereus

Once a prosperous city in northern Belgium, Lier is now a peaceful and rather quiet historic city, filled with a few interesting landmarks. The belfry and town hall that stand proudly in the middle of the town square are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as is the béguinage, consisting of stone row houses and cobbled streets. Two other highlights are old city walls and the Zimmer Tower with its astronomical clock.


9. Antwerp

Image Credits: Claudio.Ar

Antwerp is the second largest city in Belgium and possibly the most vibrant. This is the country’s hub of commerce, finance, shopping and fashion. Antwerp is, in fact, one of the world’s top 10 fashion capitals, leaving behind cities like Milan and Tokyo. Additionally, this is also the diamond capital of the world – more than 70% of the world’s rough diamonds pass through Antwerp every year. If that’s not enough, the city also has historic architecture and art museums, a jaw-dropping train station, and is home to one of the oldest zoos on earth.


10. Durbuy

Image Credits: zoetnet

Durbuy has a population of no more than 11,000, yet it’s officially a city. It takes advantage of that to advertise itself as ‘the smallest city in the world’. This quaint place in the Ardennes forests is made up of stone houses, cobbled streets, a castle, and a plethora of restaurants and craft shops.


11. Namur

Image Credits: photophilde

Namur’s main attraction is the enormous citadel that’s perched atop a cliff at the confluence of the Sambre and Meuse Rivers. This vast fortress was once one of the most powerful strongholds in Europe; now it’s a free public park, offering great panoramic views of the city.


12. Ostend

Image Credits: Wolfgang Staudt

The main city on the Belgian North Sea coast, Ostend features one of Europe’s largest and most beautiful casinos, the Royal Galleries of Ostend, the James Ensor House, a wonderfully wide sandy beach and a vibrant nightlife.


13. Mons

Image Credits: Ana

Together with Plzen in the Czech Republic, Mons in southern Belgium is the European Capital of Culture in 2015. It’s a strikingly beautiful city, boasting brilliant medieval architecture, a gorgeous town square, a belfry and several museums.


14. Mechelen

Image Credits: Luc Mercelis

A former city of major political and religious importance, Mechelen is located about halfway between Antwerp and Brussels. Popular attractions include the massive St. Rumbold’s Cathedral, one of the oldest town halls in Belgium, a large zoo, two béguinages and a couple of interesting museums.


15. Dinant

Image Credits: Jiuguang Wang

Stretched out on the banks of the Meuse River, Dinant is an incredibly picturesque city and has a lot going for it. The Citadel of Dinant that dominates the city from atop a sheer cliff behind the city center is definitely the most impressive attraction, but there’s more. This is the place where Leffe, one of Belgium’s most well-known abbey beers, was first brewed. It’s also the birthplace of Adolphe Sax, the inventor of the saxophone. Other attractions are a few caves that can be visited and the beautiful Collegiate Church.


Also Read: 12 Amazingly Affordable European Countries that Don’t Use the Euro

About Author

Bram Reusen

Bram is a freelance writer, translator and travel photographer. He was born and grew up in a small town in Belgium and currently lives in a small town in Vermont, USA. He likes to try different travel styles and he has backpacked across Australia, cycled from Belgium to the North Cape and back, spent three months immersing himself in the Irish culture, hiked across England, climbed numerous mountains in New England, and visited many a handful of European cities. Besides writing and traveling, Bram spends his days reading, working out and trying to live a healthy life.


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