Travel Guides Crafted by Experienced Archaeologists & Historians

Belgium Travel Guide

Belgium is known for its history and heritage, art and architecture, and its beautiful countryside and cuisine. Today, a country at the political heart of Europe Belgium has frequently been at the heart of historic events and traditions in Europe. Belgium has its fair share of UNESCO designated World Heritage, both tangible sites to visit and intangible traditions to experience. From Bruges and Brussels in the north to Liège and Charleroi in the south, in Belguim’s cities of art you will be able to explore some of Europe’s best loved painters.

Reasons to Visit Belgium

Laughing Gargoyle figure decorating medieval Town Hall in Brussels, Belgium. Gargoyles in gothic tradition used to divert rain water from building walls

Gothic Architecture,

Romantic Castles Of Europe . Poeke Castle In Belgium

Castles,

Menin Gate Ypres

World War Memorials,

Belgian Waffles

… and Belgian Waffles.

About Our Belgium Travel Guide

Interesting Things to Know About Belgium

Belgium is divided into two halves according to language. The northern half, Flanders, speaks Flemish, a dialect of Dutch. The southern half, Wallonia, speaks French. Belgium’s capital city, Brussels, is enclosed within Flanders but is also largely French-speaking. Helping to provide a sense of unity in this divided country is Brussels’ status as the headquarters of the European Union.

A testament to Belgium’s prehistoric heritage, the country is home to the largest known Neolithic flint mine in Northwest Europe. Located at Spiennes, the mines spread across an area of over 100 hectares. The flint mines are now recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, although many of them have yet to be excavated by archaeologists. Also on the UNESCO list are more recent coal mines, such as Bois-du-Luc and Grand-Hornu, symbols of the industrial revolution.

Belgium ultimately takes its name from the Belgae, a confederation of communities who lived in this region of Northwest Europe during the Iron Age. As the Belgae were absorbed into the Roman Empire, their name was used as the basis for the Roman province of Gallia Belgica (Belgic Gaul) and, millennia later, was appropriated again for the new Belgian state.
Belgium became an independent nation-state in 1831 as a result of the Belgian Revolution. Motivated largely by religious motives, the revolutionaries were predominantly Roman Catholic and desired  independence from the Protestant monarchy of the Netherlands. They established Belgium as a kingdom, with the country retaining its constitutional monarchy to this day.
Europe’s first skyscraper, the Boerentoren or ‘Farmer’s Tower’, was built in Antwerp between 1928 and 1931. Designed in the art deco style, it reached a height of 96 metres. A harbinger of the architectural changes that would later sweep through many of Europe’s cities, it remained Belgium’s tallest building until 1960 and today is regarded as a prominent Antwerp landmark.

Historic Towns & Cities in Belgium

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Antwerp

Known as the fashion and diamond centre of Belgium, Antwerp has a rich artistic heritage. Rubenshuis, the home of Peter Paul Rubens now exhibits a number of his masterpieces. Stunning artworks are also on display in the Cathedral of Our Lady houses, while the Plantin-Moretus Museum offers insights into early printing. For a more contemporary experience, stroll along the Scheldt River and take in the city’s vibrant fashion district.

Bruges

With the many canals lined with picturesque medieval houses, it is little wonder that Bruges is known as the ‘Venice of the North’. Cruise along these canals or wander along the charming cobblestone streets, discovering historic sites such as the Belfry of Bruges and the Basilica of the Holy Blood. In the Groeningemuseum you will discover an exceptional collection of Flemish and Belgian art.

Brussels

Belgium’s vibrant capital, Brussels, blends modernity with history. Compare the UNESCO listed Grand Place, and its ornate medieval guildhalls, with the Atomium – an icon of mid-century innovation. Choose between Grand Masters in the Royal Museums of Art and History or Magritte’s surreal images at the Magritte Museum. Why not both? Savour Belgian chocolate and waffles, but don’t miss the Belgian Comic Strip Centre for a playful cultural journey.

Ghent

Ghent is a modern dynamic university city, but it also has a rich medieval history. Visit the medieval Gravensteen Castle and the Saint Bavo’s Cathedral, home to the extraordinary Ghent Altarpiece. For a more contemporary experience explore the vibrant street art scene and the STAM museum. Stroll along the picturesque Graslei and Korenlei, both historic quays with a lively atmosphere.

Liège

Although Liège has a strong industrial past, it still offers visitors to Belgium unique cultural experiences. For a magnificent fine arts collection, head to La Boverie – a Louvre partner. The Renaissance Curtius Museum has an extraordinary collection of art and artefacts from the city’s history. For a local culinary tradition, try the boulets à la Liégeoise (Liège meatballs). If you are in town on Sunday head to the bustling La Batte, a market that has its origins in the 16th century.

Archaeology & History Sites in Belgium

Basilica of the Holy Blood

For those interested in holy relics, this basilica in Bruges is the place to go. The 12th century church takes its name from its possession of a vial that is reputed to contain a cloth stained with the blood of Christ. The relic was brought to Belgium from the Holy Land by Thierry of Alsace, Count of Flanders, who used this building as his personal chapel. Besides the relic, the Romanesque and Neo-Gothic styles of this magnificent structure are sure to impress. The cathedral itself is free to visit, although there is a charge to enter the accompanying museum.

Flemish Béguinages

Beguinages were something unique to the Low Countries during the spiritual revival movement that began in the 13th century. Convent-like religious complexes, they were used to house the unmarried or widowed female beguines who, along with their male counterparts, the beghards, were spiritual lay persons that had devoted themselves to an ascetic life. Since 1998, UNESCO has given 13 different beguinages across Flanders the status of World Heritage Sites. Most remain inhabited but can be viewed freely from outside.

Grand Place, Brussels

Considered by many to be one of the most beautiful city squares in Europe, Brussels’ Grand Place exudes eloquence. Most of the guildhalls and other buildings that surround the square date to the late 17th century when, after a French bombardment left it almost completely in ruins, the square was rebuilt in a Gothic and Baroque style. With so many things to do when visiting Brussels, one place that simply cannot be missed is this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Gravensteen

Perhaps the most beautiful and impressive castle in the country, Gravensteen, or the ‘Castle of the Counts’, is a picturesque medieval castle in the centre of Ghent. Complete with moat, keep, and ramparts it is the quintessential medieval castle and the most intact of its kind in Flanders. Replacing an earlier timber fortification, the surviving castle was largely built in 1180 by Philip of Alsace as a statement of power over the rebellious people in Ghent. Today, the castle remains as a testament to the rich history of the Belgian people.

Lifts on the Canal du Centre

For a unique look at the emerging industrial landscape of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, this UNESCO World Heritage site is the place to go. Designed by English engineers, this system of hydraulic boat lifts was built to connect the Meuse and Scheldt river networks, which problematically sat at very different elevations. Of the four remaining lifts, the one at Houdeng-Goegnies, finished in 1888, is the oldest and perhaps the most impressive. Today’s visitors can still enjoy a boat trip through this fascinating structure.

Manneken Pis

Only a five-minute walk from the Grand Place in Brussels, this quaint 17th century bronze statue attracts tourists from around the world. Depicting a cherub-like young boy unabashedly urinating into the basin of the fountain, it shows that the city of Brussels not only has a long and rich history but is also not without a sense of humour. It is worth a stop while exploring the city on a walking tour. Throughout the year, the statue can often be found dressed in different outfits.

Memorial of the Battle of Waterloo

Get up close with one of history’s most famous battlefields at the Waterloo Memorial. Sited at the location where an alliance of British, Dutch, and German forces defeated Napoleonic France, the Museum sits adjacent to the Lion’s Mound: a 43 m (141 ft) high manmade hill constructed by King William I of the Netherlands to commemorate the victory. The Dutch King’s son, William II, had fought in the battle and King William I thought this to be a fitting tribute. Other attractions include a stunning panoramic mural of the battle and an immersive 4D movie.

Rubenshuis

Peter Paul Rubens, one of the world’s greatest artists, lived and created many of this works in the Italian-style villa in the centre of Antwerp. The Rubens House is now closed for renovation. And a new six-story building and garden is currently under construction. The new Rubensian Palace is planned to open in 2024. While the renovated historic Rubens House and Kolveniershof will only be ready in 2030, at the earliest.

Schmerling Caves

It is not for nothing that Schmerling Caves have been on the list of Cultural Heritage sites of Wallonia since 1978 and classified as Exceptional Cultural Heritage of Wallonia since 2013. The caves were the location of the historic discovery of the first ever Neanderthal fossil, Engis 2, back in 1829 by Philippe-Charles Schmerling. This find, along with numerous other hominin remains and the remains of a human from the Neolithic period (in the Curtius Museum), make this a valuable contribution to our understandings of Europe’s prehistory.

Scladina Cave

The Scladina child, discovered in this cave in 1993, is 127,000 years old – making it one of the oldest Neanderthals to have ever been found. This child, along with countless other individuals excavated from the site, have helped archaeologists enormously in understanding the genetic relationship between Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis. Accompanied by a museum devoted to the finds, Scladina Cave is the only early prehistoric excavation site in Belgium to be open to the public all year round.

Museums & Art Galleries in Belgium

Archéoforum

Step beneath the city streets of Liège and enter the Archéoforum, a museum that encompasses one of Europe’s largest urban archaeological sites. The museum guides visitors through the heritage of the city, from its earliest evidence for human habitation in the Neolithic period through to the construction of the (since destroyed) Saint Lambert’s Cathedral in the Middle Ages. Perhaps the star exhibit, however, is the beautifully preserved remains of a Gallo-Roman villa built in the 1st century AD. Excavation still continues at the Archéoforum, giving visitors an insight into the archaeological process.

Gallo-Roman Museum

Dedicated to the archaeology of the region, the Gallo-Roman Museum in Tongeren has won numerous awards including the 2011 European Museum of the year. The museum focuses on the region’s prehistory and early history, starting from the Stone Age Neanderthals and proceeding through to the introduction of Christianity during the Roman era. With educational films, lifelike synthetic figures, and more than 2,000 objects to observe, the Gallo-Roman Museum allows you to take a trip through time and witness history first hand.

Grand Curtius

A 17th century Mosan Renaissance palace built for a wealthy arms dealer Jean de Corte is now one of the finest history museums in the historic heart of Liège. The Grand Curtius was opened in 2009 following extensive renovations, and the coming together of a number of disparate city collections, these include local archaeology, religious and decorative arts, as well as arms and weaponry. A highlight to the collection is the assemblage of Engis fossils, hominin remains found in nearby Schmerling Caves.

In Flanders Fields Museum

Named after John McCrae’s famous war poem, the In Flanders Fields Museum focuses its attention on the devastation wrought by the First World War. Particular emphasis is placed on the war’s impact in Belgium, where over 600,000 people were killed during the conflict. Located in the historic cloth hall in Ypres, the museum outlines how the city was devastated by artillery bombardment and chemical warfare. Ypres itself was a place of enormous significance as it hosted five separate battles and was one of the locations for the Christmas Truce of 1914.

Musée L - Musée Universitaire de Louvain

For a more contemporary take on archaeology and all things human visit the Musée L. Their eclectic collection of over 20,000 objects not only houses work by great artists like Dürer, Rodin and Picasso but also boasts Greek, Roman and Etruscan artefacts, an African ethnographic collection from the Congo, and a clinical anthropology collection which opened in 2013. The museum’s stated aim is to take an interdisciplinary approach to establish a dialogue between art and science, between cultures, between eras and between objects.

Plantin-Moretus Museum

Dedicated to the works of the 16th century printers Christophe Plantin and his son-in-law Jan Moretus, and the history of the invention and spread of Typography in Europe. One of a few museums designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this is a status that it has had since 2005. For over three hundred years, Plantin’s family owned and operated this printing establishment in Antwerp. It now houses an impressive collection of old books, illustrated manuscripts, and old drawings, as well as the two oldest printing presses in the world.

Royal Museum of Mariemont

Anyone interested in the wonders of the ancient world will find much to enjoy at the Royal Museum of Mariemont. Originally accumulated as the private collection of the wealthy industrialist Raoul Warocqué, the museum opened to the public in the early 20th century. Today, the museum houses a diverse assortment of antiquities from Greece, Rome, Egypt, the Near East, East Asia, and Pre-Columbian America. Also displayed are artefacts from the local Haine Valley, focusing on protohistory to the 7th century AD, as well as a vast collection of Tournai porcelain.