Best cities to visit in Belgium

Although all of Belgium’s cities are worth visiting, there are some top picks that offer a combination of history, culture, architecture and things to do.

 Visitors will find buildings that have stood for nearly a thousand years in a variety of architectural styles, from the medieval stonework of Bruges Halle to the modern-day geometric forms of Antwerp’s Museum an de Stroom.

Belgium is home to dozens of notable historic churches, and the squares and parks of Belgium’s most beautiful cities are a photographer’s dream.

Belgium’s best cities are also known for their excellent museums, especially art museums, which house extensive collections of Old Flemish Masters. 

Regional history and folk museums can also be found in many places, giving tourists the chance to understand Belgium’s rich cultural history.

1. Antwerp

The Dutch-speaking city of Antwerp has long been known as a center for craftsmen and artists, as well as an active trading port. 

Visitors can explore the Old Town’s Grand Place  (  Grote Mark )  to see the  historic guild houses and Old Town Hall  (  Stadthuis )  , and just to the north is the ornate  Butcher’s Hall  (  Waleshuis  ). 

More historic buildings can be found nearby, including the Plantin-Moretus Museum  and the  Rubens House  (  Rubenshuis  ), whose collections are open to the public.

Antwerp’s museums are some of the best in Belgium, and the  Museum aan de Stroom (MAS)  has an amazing variety of exhibits that delve deep into both local and world history. 

The Royal  Museum of Fine Arts  , as well as  the Museum Meyer van den Berg  , focuses on fine art created by some of the city’s most famous artists, including Van Dyck, Rubens, and Jourdains. 

One of the city’s newest additions is the  Red Star Line Museum, housed in the steamship company’s former port building, which   looks back at the wave of mass immigration in the late 19th  and early  20th centuries.

Antwerp also has some great  family attractions  , both close to the impressive  Antwerp Central Station (  also known as  Middenstätte ).

A visit isn’t complete without a stop at Chocolate Nation  , where you can learn about Belgian chocolate and, of course, sample it to your heart’s content.

Nearby,  Antwerp Zoo  keeps kids occupied with more than 6,000 animals, while parents admire the spectacular architecture, from reproductions of ancient temples to Art Deco.

Tourists hoping to see church architecture and artwork have many options, the most famous of which is  St. Paul’s Church  (  Sint-Pauluskerk  ).

 This late Gothic church was built between 1517 and 1639 and featured paintings by Jordens, Van Dyck and Rubens. 

The Cathedral  of Our Lady of Antwerp  (  Onze Livwrovekathedrael  ), the country’s largest Gothic church, is located in the heart of the old town near the Grand Place, and  St. James’s Church  (  Sint-Jakbuskerk  ) is the city’s finest baroque church a few blocks away.

2. Ghent

Ghent’s old town is full of beautiful historic buildings, many of them guild houses and markets that  run along the Grasseli Canal. 

The oldest of these buildings  is the Romanesque Kornstapelhuis  , built around 1200.

 The House of the Masons  (Gildehuis der Metzellers) and  the House of the Free  Boatmen (Gildehuis der Vries Schippers) date  from  the early  16th century, and the Customs House  (Tollhuije) was built in 1682.

The Korenlei  Canal  is lined with more fine examples, most of which once served as private residences for the city’s merchant elite.

Ghent’s  old market area  sits along the canals, starting with the  Groot Vleishuis (meat market), an extraordinary medieval structure built in 1410. Next, you’ll  find the Vismarkt (fish market) built in 1689, and two blocks away the  Korenmarkt  (wheat market) sits at the head of the old market square which is now home to numerous cafes and restaurants.

 Nearby, tourists can also visit the city’s old  town hall  (  Stadhuis  ), which is known for its diverse architectural styles from centuries of connections.

The city is also home to some spectacular churches, notably  St. Bavo’s Cathedral  (  Sint-Bafskatedral ), which  illustrates the architectural style with its  Romanesque crypt, 13th    century High Gothic choir, and 16th  – century cathedral. Late Gothic nave and tower.

Another outstanding Gothic structure is  St. Michael’s Church  , built in the 15th century of Belgian sandstone. 

Nearby is the St. Michael’s Bridge  (  Sint-Michelsbrug )   , a perfect spot for selfies with the city skyline in the background.

Tourists who want to learn more about Ghent’s history and Flemish folk life should  visit the Museum Volkskunde, which has houses and workshops reconstructed around 1900. 

Museum of Ghent (STAM),  housed in a former Cistercian monastery. Bijloke  , has more exhibits exploring the city’s heritage.

3. Brussels

The economic and political center of the country, Brussels is very different from other Belgian cities.

 In fact,  its role as the capital of the European Union  has provided an influx of culture from across the continent, and perhaps that’s why the city’s selection of restaurants and cafes is so varied and plentiful.

First-time visitors usually make the old town’s  Grand Place  (  Grote Markt  ) their first stop, home to the historic  guild houses  (  Gildehuizen), then  walk along the rue de l’Etove to the city’s most famous landmark, the  Mannequin Piece.

 Tourists can spend the day enjoying the nearby attractions  of the Royal Palace  (  Koningsplein ), the official residence of the Belgian royal family  .

At the very foot of the palace, visitors  can explore the Coudenberg Palace archaeological site  , where the original palace foundations and ancient streets have been exposed and are now open to the public.

the Museum of Ancient Art  ( Musée  d’art Ancien  ) and the  Museum of Modern Art  (  Musée d’art Modern  ); Magritte  Museum; and the  BELvue Museum  , which explores the country’s history.

Just below the palace is a beautiful park, however Brussels’ most famous public space  is the Parc du Cinquantenaire  , established in 1880. 

 At the rear of the park is the  Palais du Cinquantenaire , the Belgian Army Museum and the Museum of Military History  , as well as  the Royal Art and History Museum  . The administrative buildings of the European Union are at the opposite end of the park.

4. Bruges

The distinctly medieval old town of Bruges is one of the most romantic places in Belgium, full of narrow cobbled streets and sleepy canals.

 Bruges’ main squares, the  Markt  and the  Burg Square  (also known simply as ”  The Burg  “), are located in the heart of the historic district. With many historic buildings and landmarks, this is the ideal area to start a day of sightseeing.

The Markt’s most famous feature is the  Belfry  (  Belfort van Brugge  ), a medieval bell tower with a carillon of 47 bells that   sits atop  the Halle .

Ambitious tourists who want a panoramic view of the city can climb the 366 steps to the top.

 Other historic buildings on the  Market Square are the 15th   century  Huis Bouchoute  and the  Provincial Hof  , a fine example of Gothic architecture.

 As the name suggests, visitors will find a variety of shops in and around the Markt, as well as cute cafes.

Just one block away  is Burg Square  , the pedestrian area that houses the  Town Hall  (  Stadhuis  ), a Gothic structure built between 1376 and 1420. The Burg is  also home to the Basilica of the Holy Blood  , famous for housing a chalice.

It is called the blood of Jesus. Another beautiful building here is the  Liberty of Bruges, a former law court and  current home of the Bruges Tourist Office.

The Groningen Museum  (  Stadelijk Museum voor Schoen Kunst  ) is one of the best museums in the city, with an impressive collection of paintings by the Old Flemish Masters. 

A small collection of Hans Memling’s works  can be found in the Memling Museum, which is housed in Bruges’ oldest building, the 12th  -century  Sint-Genspital  (St.  John’s Hospital  ).

 In the old hospital, visitors can see displays of centuries-old medical equipment and other artifacts that chronicle the history of the site.

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