Belgium is famously renowned for three things. Its world-class chocolates, delicious waffles, and its fantastic quenching beer. But that isn’t really what Belgium is all about.
Though relatively small, Belgium is a favorite European destination. There’s plenty to see and do besides guzzling beer and munching chocolates, though we like to do that too. Belgium has so much more to offer in tourism – intriguing tourist sites and attractions, breathtaking landscapes, and plenty of vacay activities all year round.
Curled up between France and Germany, this tiny country has a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years. You’ll find scores of ancient buildings ideally reserved to maintain their former glory. From ancient fairy-tale castles and gothic cathedrals to suspended in-time battlefields and wistful chocolate shops, you’ll be spoiled for choice when it comes to crafting up your itinerary.
Furthermore, Belgium has an excellent transport system, and the closeness of its major towns makes it easy to design weekend getaways and short road trips.
So, where do we begin with all the wonderful and exciting sites to choose from? If you are touring for the first time, make sure you don’t miss out on the key highlights when visiting this laid backcountry. We came up with an insightful list to help you plan your ultimate visit to Belgium.
So we start bigly and conclude with a little bit of chill time.
Top 10 Things to see and Do in Belgium
You cannot compile a list of the best places to see in Belgium without Brussels and its architecture. What makes Brussel unique is its breathtaking architecture. For starters, at the heart of this fantastic city is the renowned Grand Place, one of the most visited sites in Europe.
While exploring this UNESCO World Heritage Site, you’ll notice the amazingly serene streets. It’s hardly crowded and just so cozy walking around the well-manicured parks and sidewalks. Take a stroll through these medieval gold-trimmed baroque town buildings or sip coffee while relaxing in one of the various terrace cafes in the main square. Take out your phone or camera for some picture-perfect moments.
Visit the famous Brussel town hall located in Grand Place, a gothic site that dates back to the 15th century. Once you had enough of the Grand Place, check out The majestic Royal palace of Brussel and explore the Atomium, Brussel’s most futuristic architectural landmark. Join other tourists, or take a private tour to the top for some city’s panoramic views.
Another must-do activity while in Belgium is hopping into a boat for a wild boat ride. The best place for this is in Bruges. From Brussel, take a one-hour drive down to Bruges, a town that takes you back to ancient times. Encircled by a vast network of canals, this scenic town is the perfect spot for a boat ride. Once you get to Bruges, head straight to one of the designated boat landing stages, or go for an exclusive gondola ride. Relax as the gondola guide takes you through one of the most thrilling experiences. Take photos of the surrounding medieval buildings as you enjoy the ultimate Belgian Gondola canal experience.
After the boat ride, sample some of the chocolate brands in one of the numerous chocolate shops or visit the choco –story Chocolate Museum. If you are hungry, enjoy a plate of Moules Frites at Poules Moules, a local restaurant in Bruges.
Other notable places to check out in Bruges include Groeninge Museum, Basilica of the Holy Blood, and De Halve Maan Brewery.
Ghent competes with Brussels and Antwerp for must-see metropolitan destinations in Belgium. It once was a mighty city, but it lagged behind the scenes with modernity over the years.
Ghent lies cozily between Scheldt and Leie and the old town chocolate box area – where visitors throng in droves during summer to explore the beautifully laid rows of Flemish townhouses along the Graslei docks. Visitors can’t also get enough of the Gothic medley rising off the bulwarks from the Gravensteen castle.
Here, you won’t get enough of the famous Belgian beer from the riverside pubs, nor the delicious Moules Frites platters along the narrow alleyways.
Find your way through the populated streets as you mingle with jolly folks to and from work. There’s not ever a gloomy moment in Ghent!
Former European Culture Capital of Culture and home to the refined historic center in Belgium, Mons has it all. From European styled Luxembourgish townhouses uniformly draped over the southern hilly parts bordering France to the elaborate stunning landscapes of the Grand Place, Mons is romantic. The appealing Grand Place square, with ornate facades of a picturesque town hall of Belgium’s UNESCO World Heritage Site, The Baroque belfry.
Mons is also home to the former iconic Dutch post- entertainer Vincent Van Gogh. Visit during the much-anticipated spring Ducasse festivities. You’ll catch the stunning display of religious traditions, complete with scriptural performances, ancient battle plays, horse parades, and so much more.
Other attractions include The Silex Museum, The Artotheque Museum, Strépy-Thieu Boat, just to name a few.
5. Notre Dame Cathedral in Tournai
One of the key takeaways of the French-speaking town of Tournai is to explore the Gothic style Notre-Dame Cathedral. The five towered Neoclassical and early gothic piece of art is one of the world’s most magnificent religious structures.
Built between the 12th -13th century, the architectural masterpiece is home to Our Lady’s Shrine. Spend your day exploring through the five towered building.
Art lovers enjoy the beautiful artworks (by Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens) decorating the cathedral walls. Once you have had enough of the cathedral, climb up the nearby Belfry Bell Tower for some picture-perfect views of Tournai city or visit the Notre Dame Cathedral, a Museum of Fine Arts.
6. Waterloo Museum
History buffs can’t get enough of Waterloo. This is where the famous Emperor Napoleon met his match and was defeated by Duke of Wellington in Waterloo’s iconic battle. Belgium has a deep military history: It participated in both World War I and World War II and the famous Napoleonic Wars.
Spend your day sightseeing in the countryside where Waterloo’s battle once raged the beautiful landscape of green vegetation. Don’t forget to check out the Lion’s Mound, an elevated hill capped by a cast-iron lion overlooking the battlefield.
If you still have time, explore the Wellington Museum or take a battlefield tour of Napoleon’s Last Headquarter. Other notable historical attractions include a nearby Memorial Waterloo 1815 Museum, Bastogne War Museum, and the Flanders Field, World War I’s famous battlegrounds.
7. Peter’s Church, Leuven
With its sharp-pointed arcaded windows and wood pillars, St Peter’s Church is an accurate representation of Belgium’ss finest examples of Brabant Gothic architecture. The church lies right at Leuven’s heart, on the city’s main square next to Grote Market Square. The first church dates back to 986 but was destroyed in a fire later in 1176. It was replaced by the present Romanesque architecture church in 1425, which took nearly 55 years to complete.
The church later suffered severe destruction in both world wars I & II. In 1998, golden automation, which occasionally rings a bell, was added. The same year, a museum of paintings and sculptures was opened with notable works of the famed images of Dirk Bouts – the Martyrdom of St Erasmus (1465) and the last supper (1468).
The most striking sculpture is the giant, elaborate 1742 oak pulpit carved by Jacob Bergé. One side of the pulpit has the betrayal of Jesus by Simon Peter, complete with a chiseled crow in full crow. The other side displays the 12th-century bishop Norbert of Xanten falling off a horse.
Historians will fall in love with the church’s beautiful architecture. At the same time, inside, you will be treated to an extra treat of beautiful Flemish paintings that bring to life major biblical scenes. Another particular painting you should not miss is the Carved Baroque painting showcasing the last supper.
8. A Visit To Aqualibi Water Park
Tired of the history and architecture, you can try something different that’s probably more fun. You can visit Aqualibi, an indoor water park. This action-packed Park is an exciting place to cool off with your family after a long and tiring tour.
The place is packed with loads of activities to keep kids entertained for a few days – not forget the adults! Your kids will have fun riding the high-speed water slides or gliding down the bondless wild water channel.
Meanwhile, adults can cool off and unwind in the wistful Jacuzzis and whirlpools. If the kids are not old enough, they can have fun splashing around at Kiddie Bay, a kids zone that’s full of cascades, fountains, and water slides.
9. Semois Valley
If you love nature, then head down to The Semois Valley for the much-needed countryside scenery after all that historical stroll through Belgium Cities. Pacing through the densely wooded Ardenne region in Belgium, The Semois valley is the ideal spot for a day-long hiking trip! Stroll through the valley, with beautiful picture-perfect views of the Semois River, the Frahan ridges, and Rochehaut.
Some of the notable attractions that you will come across while strolling this historical land include Bouillon Fortified Castle. The hiking paths pass through two incredible villages of Laforet and Gros fays, where you will have a chance to interact with the locals and sample some Belgium traditional cuisine.
If you love fairy-tales, then a tour to Namur is a must. Tucked away in Wallonia, a French-speaking province in Belgium, the town features an array of whimsical castles opened to the public.
Did you know that there are over 3000 castles scattered all over Belgium? Four hundred hundred of these are in Wallonia Province. One particular castle you must not miss is the Castle of Veves, with its creepy dungeons and six-pointed towers dating back to 1400. Wedged on a hilltop overlooking the quaint village of Celles, this castle looks like something taken straight from a bedtime storybook.
From here, you can roam around the lovely gardens of the Castle of Annevoie. This castle is famous for the thousands of visitors thronging each year to play with the fountains and bathe in the waterfall. Another must-see castle is the Castle and Garden of Freyr, named after the Viking goddess of beauty. This castle is a sight to behold. Some of the things that attract tourists here include the 300-year-old orange trees and a garden packed with a 7 km hedged maze -try not to get lost in it!
For sure, you can’t explore all these castles all at once! But if you still have time, check out the Castle of Lavaux-Saint- Anne, surrounded by a series of domes containing three museums and a selection of stuffed animals.
A Final Word
Belgium is tiny, no doubt, but as a country, it’s packed with UNESCO acclaimed sites that will make you want to prolong your stay there. There’s so much to see and experience in a country that has seen both world wars. Whether you are interested in ancient or modern history, Belgium offers a huge chunk of European history within a small area. It is sometimes overlooked with people wanting to see Italy, Germany, Switzerland and Austria. But take some time and we are sure you will fall in love with Belgium.