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So many people breeze through Belgium in just a couple of days, using it as a stepping stone between France and the Netherlands. This is madness! Belgium is an incredible destination, filled with fascinating cities, tonnes of museums, and some of the best beer in the world.
Doesn’t that make you want to slow down and spend more time here?
Everybody’s heard of Brussels and Bruges, but there are actually quite a few Belgian cities that are worth visiting – and a few hidden gems that are well off the beaten tourist track! So to help you plan your trip to Belgium, here are 12 of the very best cities to visit in Belgium!
Ghent, the capital of Oost-Vlaanderen, was my favourite city in Belgium! You’ll get both the old and the new in Ghent and, since so many visitors to Belgium only head to Bruges and Brussels, you’ll find the crowds aren’t quite as intense here.
I’ve written a full itinerary for Ghent, but in short the very best thing to do in Ghent is to visit the Gravensteen Castle.
This 10th-century castle offers a crash course on the history of Ghent. The castle looks every bit the imposing mediaeval castle, complete with a moat, and you’re able to explore it with a hilarious audio guide that will have you in stitches the entire visit! Entry tickets cost €12.00.
Other top attractions in Ghent include Saint Bavo’s Cathedral, the Ghent Belfry, and St Michael’s Bridge. Aside from sightseeing, though, you definitely should do some drinking in Ghent! It’s got a tonne of unique pubs and bars, and you’ll fall in love with Belgian beer if you haven’t already.
I recommend visiting t’Galgenhuis, the smallest pub in Ghent, which feels like you’re walking into a tiny house! Getting a seat here is hard, but if you head up the narrow staircase there’s a tiny balcony area overlooking the main part of the pub that’s more likely to have space.
You also shouldn’t leave Ghent without exchanging your shoe for a 1.2-litre glass of beer at Dulle Griet bar! You pay around €10 for the beer and give your shoe as a deposit that you’ll return the glass without running off with it or breaking it!
In the Wallonia region of Belgium you’ll find the gorgeous city of Dinant, which is perched on the banks of the River Meuse. Surrounded by steep mountains, the view of central Dinant from across the river is truly one of the most beautiful sights in Belgium.
The Citadel of Dinant is the most popular place to visit in the city. You can access this hilltop fortress by cable car from central Dinant, and from the top you’ll get stunning views over the Meuse Valley.
The citadel has been standing for hundreds of years, but nowadays it documents the history of Dinant and the citadel itself. It costs €11 for the cable car and entry to the citadel, or €18 with a river cruise as well.
As well as the Citadel, you should definitely visit the Collégiale Notre-Dame whilst you’re in Dinant. This building is right below the citadel, and its onion-like dome is one of the most recognisable landmarks in Dinant. The church itself was constructed in the 13th and 14th centuries and has had to be repaired numerous times over the years after damage from battles in the area.
Dinant is also a great base to visit the Château de Vêves, which is in the nearby village of Celles. The current version of this picturesque Château was built in the 15th century, but different iterations have stood in its position since the 7th century.
Many people say the inside of the castle is not worth the steep entry price, but you’ll definitely be satisfied with just exploring it from the outside.
As Belgium’s capital city, it’s no surprise that Brussels features on this list of the best cities to visit in Belgium! The capital has always been known for its cosmopolitan lifestyle, from winding streets full of shops to leafy parks where you can find yourself lost among children playing football or running through tree-enclosed paths.
Perhaps more well-known, though, is Brussels’ role as the European Union’s headquarters. Among the many shiny buildings though, you’ll find plenty of more historic sights to see in Brussels, and its history dates back to the Celtic times.
Long ago Brussels was an important base for mediaeval European royalty. Nowadays, you can learn all about that at one of the city’s world-class museums. The city has over 80 museums, so if you’re a museum buff Brussels really is the best city in Belgium for you to visit!
Special shout-outs go to the Belvue Museum, which showcases the history of Belgium, and the Museum of the City of Brussels, which, you guessed it, teaches about the history of Brussels.
The historic centre of Brussels is a must-see, with its Grand Place being the absolute highlight. It’s busy at all times of day and is the heart of Brussels’ tourist area. Another top attraction in Brussels is the bizarre Manneken Pis, a small fountain where the water runs out of a statue of a boy. It looks like he’s… well… you know!
It’d be a crime to visit Brussels without having some Belgian beer at Delirium Cafe, which has countless beers on offer for you to try. You also have to try a Brussels Waffle in Brussels! There are two types in Belgium, the Brussels Waffle and the Liege Waffle, with the Brussels option being the larger but lighter option.
The coastal city of Ostend is a city of fun and adventure, and it’s also one of the most underrated cities in Belgium! It’s no surprise that the best time to visit here is summer, but there are things to do here all year round. Whether you’re looking to just relax by the seaside or explore the largest botanical garden on Earth, Ostend has it all!
It goes without saying that the main attraction here is the beach. Belgium isn’t known for having amazing beaches, but if you’re just looking to relax on the sand Ostend definitely gets the job done.
There are five different beaches in Ostend: Oosterstrand, Klein Strand, Groot Strand, Sportstrand, Mariakerke beach and Raversijde.
As well as the beaches it’s worth venturing to the Atlantic Wall Open Air Museum whilst you’re in Ostend. It has one of the best-preserved remnants of the Atlantic Wall which was used in WW2, and the museum also documents Belgium’s role in World War II. Tickets cost €6.
Ostend is known for its mussels and shrimp, and you can’t go far wrong by visiting Bij Moustache, Belgium’s smallest fish shop! It’s famous for its shrimp croquettes, but it offers a whole range of different seafood that you can order to go and then eat on the beach!
Every year in August, the TAZ Festival, also known as “Theatre by the Sea ” takes place at Ostend. It showcases theatre, modern dance and ballet performances as well acoustic music performed by under-the-radar performers. If you’re creative you’ll probably love the festival!
The small city of Namur is the capital of the Wallonia region of southern Belgium. Located just 60km southeast of Brussels, this small city is the perfect choice for a day trip from Brussels.
The best way to get to know the city is on a boat tour, where you’ll sail past the historic centre of Namur, the Confluence and the Namur Citadel. Tours last around 50 minutes and cost €8 per person.
The Citadel of Namur is the most famous landmark in the city, as well as one of the most impressive fortresses in Europe. It dates back to Roman times and then became home to the Counts of Namur in the Middle Ages. It was the perfect location for them since it sits high on a rock overlooking two rivers, and it’s a great place to visit nowadays as it gives you epic views over the city.
If you’re looking for more history, head on over to the Hôtel de Gaiffier d’Hestroy. This listed 18th-century mansion houses the Provincial Museum of Ancient Arts of Namur and exhibits art from around Belgium, Europe and Asia.
Carrying on with the art theme, it’s also worth visiting the Musée Provincial Félicien Rops, which is dedicated to displaying the works of this 19th-century artist.
Bruges is one of the highlights of Belgiums’ Flanders Region and one of the best Belgian cities. It’s incredibly popular with tourists in Belgium because of its mediaeval old town and gorgeous canals.
Bruges really is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever visited! The beauty of its canals has actually led to Bruges being named the “Venice Of The North”.
The best way to get to know Bruges is definitely on this boat tour, which leads you around the winding canals of Bruges, sailing past many of the city’s highlights and a few hidden spots.
If you’re planning on visiting Bruges, you should check out my one day Bruges itinerary which covers some of the very best things to do and places to see in Bruges. The highlight of my trip to Bruges was definitely taking a brewery tour of De Halve Maan Brewery. Learning about the history of beer making in Bruges was fascinating, and tasting the beer was even better!
You can’t head to Bruges without visiting the iconic Burg Square and Bruges City Hall. This area of Bruges is probably the most beautiful, and you won’t be able to resist taking photos of it from every angle! Around the square you’ll find plenty of Belgian chocolate and waffle shops, and, although the chocolate is pretty expensive, I can personally vouch that it’s worth it!
If you’re a foodie, head straight to Antwerp! This Dutch-speaking city has been the home of the world’s best chocolate, beer and waffles since the 15th century.
It also has a bustling market scene, with the city playing host to an array of international food markets. As well as the markets, you’ll also find plenty of restaurants serving up traditional Belgian dishes as well as international food.
In terms of sightseeing, you need to visit the Grand Place (Grote Markt), home to some amazing architecture and buildings from centuries past that still stand today. You should also visit the Rubens House, a museum in the former mansion home of the esteemed painter Rubens.
To learn more about the city of Antwerp, don’t miss paying a visit to the Museum aan de Stroom. It’s the biggest museum in Antwerp, and its collection ranges from maritime artefacts showcasing the city’s port history to art and cultural exhibitions focusing on Antwerp’s role in the world.
A popular way to visit Antwerp is on this combined day trip from Brussels, which enables you to visit both Antwerp and Ghent in one jam-packed day. I think both cities are definitely worth one full day each, but if you don’t have time for that this is the next best option!
Just 25km east of Brussels, Leuven is one of the best cities in Belgium to visit on a day trip from the capital. The city’s history dates back to the Middle Ages, which you’ll see reflected in the city’s historic architecture.
The 15th-century Town Hall, which is the city’s favourite building, is the best photo opportunity in the city, and easily one of its most beautiful buildings. You can visit the Town Hall on a guided tour, which costs just €4.
Leuven is a university city, and a special one at that – it is home to the oldest university in Belgium! The star attraction of the university is the University Library and Bell Tower.
The original building was unfortunately completely destroyed in WW1, but it was rebuilt in 1927. The Bell Tower features an astounding 63 bells, but chances are that the reason you ventured up to the Bell Tower wasn’t for the bells, but for the wonderful views it offers over the city of Leuven.
Aside from the university, Leuven is famous for Stella Artois – and you can tour its brewery in Leuven every Saturday! The tour costs €12, and if you’re a Stella Artois fan you should head to the many bars that line the Market Square after your tour which is the best place to enjoy a glass of the local beer.
The small city of Mechelen is definitely one of the most underrated cities in Belgium. You’ll find it nestled between Brussels and Antwerp, making it one of the best-located cities in the Flanders region of Belgium! Not many international tourists visit here, so it’s the perfect place to head to if you want to get off the classic Belgium tourist trail.
The first stop on your trip through Mechelen should be the Grote Markt, a charming market square lined with landmarks like City Hall and many cute cafes. It looks like the perfect storybook historic centre, and you’ll definitely want to stay here a while snapping photos and maybe enjoying a Belgian waffle!
Another great place to visit in Mechelen is the huge St Rumbold’s Tower. This 15th-century cathedral is 97 metres tall, and you’ll have to climb over 500 steps to get to the top! From the top, though, you’ll get marvellous views of this historic city. If it’s a clear day, you might even be able to spot Brussels and Antwerp in the distance!
Although nowadays Mechelen is a lovely place to spend the day, in WW2 it was the Belgian centre for deportation to Auschwitz concentration camp. The Kazerne Dossin memorial, museum, and historical centre on the holocaust and human rights, is one of the most important places to visit in Mechelen, and you’ll learn a lot here.
You’ll find Kortrijk in West Flanders, and it’s another hidden gem city to add to your Belgium itinerary. It’s near the French border, making it a great stop if you’re on your way from Belgium to Paris or elsewhere in France.
The Broel Towers (two towers on either side of the River Leie) and the most famous attractions in the city, were once part of the old city walls. They date back to 1385, and the paved terrace in front of the towers is the best place to admire them and snap a few photos.
One of the prettiest places to visit in the city is the Kortrijk Beguinage, which dates back to 1238 and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998. It contains forty Baroque houses, and was home to Kortrijk’s beguines, religious women who decided to still live within the community rather than somewhere like a convent.
Nobody lives there anymore, but it’s a very quaint and beautiful area to explore.
If you’re not feeling like a day of historical attractions, it’s time to hit the shops! Yup, if you’re looking for a new shopping destination, Kortrijk should be at the top of your list. The city has an outdoor pedestrian street with plenty to offer no matter what style of clothing you’re into. As well as plenty of independent shops you’ll find the K Mall, which houses all major brands.
Charleroi is a city in Belgium that many people overlook when they are travelling through the country. Most visitors just fly into Charleroi airport and then head straight to Brussels. However, Charleroi is worth a short stop if you’re in the area.
Unlike many of the cities on this list, Charleroi is not very pretty at all, but what it lacks in beauty it makes up for with its interesting museums.
The best place to head to is the former coal mine Bois du Cazier, which was the site of Belgium’s worst mining disaster and is now an interactive museum. The museum is a memorial to those that perished in the disaster. It also features a mining/steelmaking exhibition where you can learn about how steel was made.
Other top museums include the Charleroi Photography Museum, the Glass Museum, and BPS22, an art gallery in a former industrial space.
The L’Atelier de La Manufacture Urbaine is a great place to go if you enjoy beer tasting and cocktails. I recommend getting one of each, but their food menu isn’t very extensive so eat beforehand!
The vibe here really does make it stand out; friendly service combined with old-fashioned charm makes for an enjoyable experience unlike any other bar in town. That’s why the locals keep coming back again and again.
If you’re interested in modern history, there is no better city to visit in Belgium than Ypres (also called Ieper). This charming city was completely destroyed during WW1, but its delightful Market Square and Cloth Hall were painstakingly restored shortly after. You’d never be able to tell that it wasn’t all original!
As the gateway to Flanders, where the bulk of the fighting of WW1 took place, Ypres’ attractions all centre around WW1 history. You can’t miss visiting the In Flanders Fields Museum – it’s one of the best museums in Belgium!
This interactive museum documents the history of the fighting in Belgium and in particular Flanders, and also unflinchingly shows us the horrors of the war.
Another one of the best activities in Ypres is attending the Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate. You can read my full guide to this, but in short, this ceremony takes place every single night to commemorate those who never returned from the battlefields of Flanders during WW1. It’s an incredibly moving and special event, and I highly recommend it.
Ypres is the perfect place to base yourself if you want to explore some of the many war cemeteries and battlefields, and you can explore these by either joining a guided tour like this one, hiring a car, or renting a bike in Ypres.
I adored my first trip to Belgium, and I couldn’t get over how great its cities are! My favourite of those I visited was Ghent, but I’m desperate to return to Belgium to check more off my list!
What do you think is the best city to visit in Belgium?