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Historical cities in Belgium which are worth a visit

It isn’t easy these days to come up with a travel plan that satisfies our feeling of wanderlust, yet sometimes it is right there in front of us. Belgium is one of those places which is often overlooked while it has a very rich history that will certainly keep you busy for a few days or longer. To get the most out of your precious time, I suggest you visit some of the below cities first, as they offer an array of historical sights, on top of all the rest which can be found in these places like amazing restaurants, shopping, atmosphere and so on…. Antwerp Talking of the perfect example, this city has it all. Situated next to the Scheldt, it is the diamond capital of the world, and has one of the biggest and most important ports in Europa. But all of that doesn’t mean there is little history to find, on the contrary. This was the home of famous painters like Rubens, of which you can still visit his house and find art pieces in several museums. If you visit the famous cathedral you will also find works of him hanging there. A lot of time and care has been given to historical buildings and the new exchange Handelsbeurs is one of those buildings that deserved to be restored in all its glory, not to mention preserving the first exchange in the world (dating back to 1531) was something that didn’t need to be questioned. Today, the building once again shows the wealth it brought to the city centuries ago, and how it became an example for all the other exchanges in the world. Another great place to see is the Grote Markt where you can see the famous town hall and guild houses all around. Belgium has many of these, though the one in Antwerp certainly is up there with the best. Been chosen the most beautiful train station in the world, the central station is yet another sight not to be missed. it might even be a great place to start you journey if this is your arrival point in the city. Finally I suggest you also visit the Cathedral of our Lady Ghent This might be one of the most underrated cities in Belgium as often it is overlooked by tourist who visit the more commercial Bruges and the capital Brussels. However, by doing so they are missing out on some of the finest historical landmarks in the country and everyone who has visited Ghent will confirm that it has a great vibe and the perfect mix of old and new. One of the main attractions here is the castle of the counts. This fortress dates back to the Roman occupation and went through different turbulent periods before it was restored, partly for the World Expo in 1913 which took place in Ghent but also to become once again the main tourist attraction. If the Flemish primitives are high up your list, you must see the Ghent Altarpiece, or better known as ‘The adoration of the Mystic Lamb’ by the Van Eyck brothers. It is truly a masterpiece completed in 1432 and world-renowned. The 18 panels tell you all kinds of stories from the Bible, but it is the craftsmanship that makes this piece stand out. After admiring this incredible gem you might want to sit down on one of the many squares to enjoy some Belgian beers on a terrace. Yet, keep going a bit longer and make sure you don’t miss a visit to the Belfry, a recognised Unesco World heritage site and one of the main symbols of Ghent can be found on the top of its tower. It’s the dragon that protects the city since 1377. Climb up the tower and enjoy the views over this historical city before you start enjoying all the culinary delights that are on offer here.  Bruges Probably the most well known historic city in Belgium, and the movie ‘In Bruges’ with Colin Farrell surely didn’t help to keep this medieval city under the radar. The Beguinage became a Unesco World heritage site in 1998, followed by the Belfry in 1999 to which UNESCO declared the whole historical city centre as a heritage site in 2000. Walking in the historical centre is like walking back in time. Old houses, small streets, horse and carriages, small boats on the canals which run through the city, giving it the nickname ‘Venice of the north’,…. If you want to avoid the massive groups of tourists snapping pictures all the time and blocking your view at every corner of the street, I suggest you visit outside the busy summer months. Another great way to avoid the crowds is to visit one of the many museums which you find dotted in and around Bruges. One of my favourite ones is the Groeningemuseum. Here you will see some of the masterpieces the Flemish primitives made, centuries ago. If that isn’t your thing, I suggest you pop into the Chocolate museum, cause who doesn’t like chocolate and the history of it? Just make sure you take your time to discover the city, as it is one those places where you can find hidden gems which you can’t find in travel guides just by strolling around. Mechelen Last but by all means certainly not least, Mechelen is absolutely worth a visit. While the other cities might be more known to the broader public, often because they are more frequently visited by foreign travel groups, Mechelen is the hidden gem that is often overlooked. Located halfway between Brussels and Antwerp, this city does have a very rich history of which there is still a lot preserved. It was one of the big cloth trading hubs in the Middle Ages, making it a very prosperous city that even became the capital of the Low Lands for a while. Another relatively unknown fact is that the first railway in Europe was running between Brussels and Mechelen. Who would have thought? But, there is a lot more to this city and Mechelen also has several sites that are protected by Unesco. The most famous is the St-Rumbold’s Tower. You can climb the 97 meter high tower to enjoy an amazing view over the city and on a clear day even further. Of course, there many other sites and experiences which you need to add to your list, but the one thing that certainly can’t be missed is a visit to the Anker Brewery. Belgium is known worldwide for its beer and this is the perfect placebo get a closer look at how they create this golden nectar. Either way, plenty of place to see and endless experiences to do. Don’t miss it! Have you been to any of these cities, or do you know any other historic place which certainly deserves some attention, let me know.

Kristof Eyckmans

Kristof Eyckmans is a travel writer from Antwerp, Belgium. He’s been living all across the globe and while he loves wildlife and nature, he can still enjoy a good urban jungle.

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  1. Like most Brits my first experience of Belgium came from a trip to Bruges. I went at Christmas which must be one of the very best times to visit. Bruges is such a beautiful place that it left me wanting much more of Belgium and over the years I’ve done short trips to Antwerp and Ghent which I’ve also enjoyed.

  2. You’re right Belgium really is under-rated. I’m just glad that you didn’t include Brussels in your selection. It has got its highlights but I think it gets weighed down by all the bureaucracy of the EU, too many men wandering around in suits. As long as you keep away from Brussels, Belgium’s historic cities are well worth a visit.

    1. I didn’t want to include Brussels as it is one of the cities in Belgium which is already very often visited. But is surely has a lot of history too, and mostly in places where you don’t really see those suits ?

  3. Is it that Belgium hasn’t got as much history as France, Germany, Spain and even Portugal? Maybe that’s why it gets a bit neglected when we are planning our travels. Though when you look at these pictures it’s got a lot to offer for a small country.

    1. Belgium has without a doubt an equal amount (if not more) of history. But it is a small country and doesn’t have any major Cory which attracts millions of tourists like Paris, Barcelona or Berlin. But that is the beauty of it all, as I always prefer the less touristy places

  4. I agree, most people would rather visit famous countries in Europe such as Spain, Germany, United Kingdom, and France. They would often miss great opportunities in visiting neighboring countries, which are also interesting and at the same time filled with amazing tourist destinations and sceneries. It’s sad that most people would overlook a certain country because it’s not as popular or they don’t know anything about it. I myself is guilty of that. But this pandemic has really opened my eyes to exploring new and unfamiliar things. I’ve always known Belgium for their premium chocolates and diamonds, of course. Their culture and history is very interesting as well, like most of the countries in Europe. Their architecture is awesome, very intricate, like that Ghent Altarpiece that just takes your breath away and it will also take you back in time. You can really feel the old world vibe of the place and you’ll easily fall in love with every bit of it. It really looks something out of a fairy tale, if I do say so myself. When I encounter amazing images like this, as well as that idyllic Bruges picture, makes me wish I can travel as I please right now.

  5. I never knew that there was a movie filmed in Bruges. I’m a big fan of the city so I’m guessing that it will be full of beautiful lingering shots of the city.

    I’ve only been there on business and not really had the time to explore properly. My wife hasn’t been to Bruges at all, watching it might persuade her that we ought to travel when we can.

    1. In Bruges sounds like a rom-com so I Googled the film only to find out that it was about two hit-men and one is given a contract to kill the other one. Definitely not a rom-com then.

  6. These historical cities located in Belgium are filled with breathtaking architectural buildings that I wouldn’t get tired of walking around these areas. The common feature of these structures are noticeable both in the facade and interior design especially in its windows. As a fan of historical buildings, I definitely think Belgium is worth visiting because of the rich history told by these architectural masterpieces. Tourists will be able to know more about the culture of Belgium and travel back to the past. I hope the government will be able to protect these sites more promote and attract tourists that can appreciate its beauty.

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