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Things to Do in Belgium - page 3

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Royal Galleries of Saint Hubert (Les Galeries St-Hubert)
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18 Tours and Activities

The Royal Saint Hubert Galleries are a series of shops and restaurants in Brussels that are covered by panes of glass. They were designed by the architect Jean-Pierre Cluysenaer in 1847 and are often referred to as the umbrella of Brussels. The galleries are divided into three different sections: the Galerie de la Reine, the Galerie du Roi and the Galerie des Princes. The glass roof helps protect visitors from rain or cold weather. In the past, visitors had to pay 25 cents on Thursdays and Sundays and 10 cents on other days just to access the galleries. Of course today it is free to visit, and over 6 million people visit each year.

The galleries have something for everyone. There are boutiques selling the latest fashions as well as more classic clothing. Accessories shops sell gloves, hats, umbrellas and more. Several jewelry stores are located here along with book stores, chocolate shops, and other specialty shops.

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Cinquantenaire Park (Parc du Cinquantenaire)
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A large public park, the Cinquantenaire Park (or "Parc du Cinquantenaire" as it is known in French) is dominated by buildings built for the 1880 National Exhibition which also celebrated fifty years of Belgian independence. The centerpiece of the park is a triumphal arch finished in 1905.

To the north of the arch is the Royal Military Museum. To the south are the Royal Museums for Art and History (these hold artifacts gathered from around the world), and AutoWorld, a vintage car museum with over 350 classic cars, one of the largest collections in Europe.

If you’re looking for an impressive place to lie under a tree the Cinquantenaire Park is especially lovely in the summer when it’s filled with locals making the most of the sunshine. Also in summer the area surrounding the arch is turned into a drive-in cinema. There’s discounted tickets for people driving vintage cars and a lawn reserved for people on bicycle or foot.

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Grand Sablon Square (Place du Grand Sablon)
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Sablon is a smart little quartier and one of the most charming in Brussels; it is an intricate maze of cobbled streets set around two delightful squares, and was once home to the aristocrats of Brussels. The whole area is packed with stylish restaurants, slick galleries and hip cafés; the bar terraces of the lovely Place du Grand Sablon in particular provide the perfect spot in which to enjoy a glass of Belgian beer after a day’s sightseeing.

This arcaded square is one of the most exclusive in Brussels and is lined with 15th- and 16th-century townhouses showcasing high-end antiques stores, organic delis and expensive restaurants. It’s hard to imagine that a weekly horse market was once held in Place du Grand Sablon and these days it’s better known for the weekend book and antique markets held under cheery red-and-green striped awnings.

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Groeningemuseum
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One of Belgium’s best fine art museums, the Groeningemuseum, holds a collection that covers around 600 years of Flemish and Belgian painting, from the 14th through the 20th century. Notable pieces include the 15th-century Flemish painter Jan van Eyck’s Madonna with Canon Van der Paele. This piece was completed in 1436 and features highly sophisticated techniques such as fine detailing and the use of multiple layers of oil and varnish to achieve texture and depth. This painting is regarded as one of Van Eyck’s most ambitious works.

Other works on display include Hans Memling’s Moreel's Triptych; Hieronymus Bosch’s The Last Judement, Gerard David’s Judgment of Cambyses, which depicts the corrupt Persian judge Sisamnes being flayed alive, and other pieces by early Flemish painter Rogier van der Weyden and the surrealists Magritte and Paul Delvaux.

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Ghent City Center
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Ghent is Belgium’s best-kept secret, a cosmopolitan university city of imposing churches, top-quality museums and some of the most beautiful medieval architecture in Europe. Add to this a vigorous cultural scene, packed late-night bars, restaurants and clubs, plus stylish hotels and this is a city not to be missed.

The city’s pedestrianized heart surrounds triangular Korenmarkt, which was the medieval market place, with most of the major sights – the ornate Stadhuis, St Bavo’s Cathedral, St Nicholas’ Church and the Belfry – within easy walking distance. Just northwest of Korenmarkt, the River Leie is canalized and bordered with the medieval quays of Graslei and Korenlei; it curls through Ghent on its way to join the River Schelde and a network of canals leading to the port. Close by, the austere Gravensteen Castle lies on a split in the Leie, and beyond that is Patershol, an enclave of narrow streets crammed with 17th-century artisanal cottages.

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Diamond District
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About 84 percent of the world’s uncut diamonds pass through Antwerp’s Diamond Quarter, an enclave of side streets just west of Central Station. Every year more than £32 billion in polished, cut diamonds pass through the four trading exchanges, regulated by the Antwerp World Diamond Centre and bringing massive wealth into the city. Although today the Diamond Quarter is also home to Indian, Lebanese, Russian and Chinese gem dealers, creating a vividly multicultural atmosphere, most of the city’s diamond trading is still run by the Hassidic Jewish community; more than 8,000 people are involved in the industry and there are even kosher banks exclusively dedicated to financing diamond deals. The nondescript shop fronts on the little tangle of streets centered on Hoveniersstraat hide diamond dealers, cutters – world-renowned for their skill – and polishers as well as kosher butchers, bakeries and synagogues.

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More Things to Do in Belgium

Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium

Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium

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Brussels has several top-class museums and the Royal Fine Arts Museum is foremost among them. The four main galleries are adjacent to each other in the place Royale; these comprise the Musée Old Masters, Musée Modern and the Musée Fin-de-Siècle, connected underground to the Musée Magritte.

The revamped, spacious galleries show off Belgian art from the 14th-century Flemish Primitives to the 20th-century Surrealists. Star turns in the Old Masters include Hans Memling, Hieronymus Bosch, Pieter Brueghel the Elder and Lucas Cranach. Next door, the modern art galleries are currently being re-organized, so a tiny percentage of collection’s treasures – such as Van Gogh or Delvaux – are on revolving display. Musée Magritte opened in 2009 and holds the world’s biggest collection of more than 200 works by the Belgian surrealist master René Magritte, including his seminal The Dominion of Light as well as sculptures, sketches, photos and musical scores.

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Museums of the Far East

Museums of the Far East

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King Leopold II wanted famous structures from around the world represented on his royal estate at Laeken, and architect Alexandre Marcel undertook the project with these two towers representing Japan and China. It is said that King Leopold was inspired by his visit to the 1900 Exhibition in Paris. The towers were completed in 1904, built entirely of wood, and connected by tunnel. The woodwork was completed by specialists from Shanghai and Yokohama, and on display are both Chinese and Japanese arts and artifacts dating back to the 17th century.

The area around both structures is surrounded by a lush garden, fit for picnics. The distinct cultural styles of both the Chinese pavilion and the Japanese pagoda makes them stand out amongst the rest of the city’s architecture. Standing tall in red and with adjacent wooden pavilions, the towers are unique parts of Brussels that are not to be missed.

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Butcher's Hall (Vleeshuis)

Butcher's Hall (Vleeshuis)

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Centered on Antwerp’s Grote Markt and the surrounding streets are some outstanding guild houses, built during the city’s 16th- and 17th-century Golden Age as trading was expanding and its citizens were getting seriously rich. Just north of the square stands the former Butcher’s Hall, a lovely Gothic structure built of alternating stripes of white sandstone and red brick by Flemish architect Herman de Waghemakere, completed in 1504 and adorned with gables and round towers at each corner. This handsome building was started life as the city’s meat market but during the struggles for power in northern Europe in the early 19th century, the French took over Antwerp and disbanded its guilds; the Butcher’s Hall became a storage depot and was largely forgotten until it was given new life as a museum in 1919. In 2006 a themed “Sounds of the City” permanent exhibition opened in its cavernous interior, highlighting the musical life of Antwerp.

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Horta Museum

Horta Museum

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The Horta Museum in Brussels, Belgium was once the home of the architect Victor Horta. Horta is considered the father of the Art Nouveau style of architecture, and his house is a fantastic example of this style. He built the house for his own use and lived there from 1901 to 1919. The interior designs are original, including the mosaics, stained glass windows, furniture, and wall paintings. The museum also has a collection of furniture designed by Victor Horta as well as old photographs, scale models of some of his other buildings, casts and plans explaining his work.

The museum consists of two buildings, Horta's house and his studio. He favored warm woods and wrought iron, and a tour through his home will reveal many interesting characteristics. Look for the shapes inspired by nature and art from Celtic and Asian cultures. Pay attention to the chairs, tables, lamps, door handles, banisters, and candelabras.

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Brabo Fountain

Brabo Fountain

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In pole position at the heart of Antwerp’s lovely, medieval Grote Markt, the Brabo Fountain stands in front of the ornate, pennant‐encrusted Stadhuis (Town Hall) and was created in 1887 by the renowned Flemish sculptor Jef Lambeaux. The flamboyant Baroque statue represents a legend concerning the origins of the city: more than 2,000 years ago Antwerp was a small settlement in the Roman Empire when a Russian ‘giant’ called Druon Antigoon settled on the banks of the River Scheldt and charged ships to sail up the river; if sailors refused to pay the toll, Druon Antigoon cut their hands off in revenge. A Roman soldier named Silvius Brabo – rumored to be a relative of Julius Caesar – refused to pay and subsequently killed the giant in a duel, cutting off his hand and throwing it into the Scheldt. The hand became a symbol of Antwerp’s freedom and still features on the city’s coat of arms; the bronze Brabo Fountain features Silvius Brabo atop a pedestal awash with mythical sea monster.

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Red Star Line Museum

Red Star Line Museum

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Between the late 19th century and World War II, the historic Red Star Line carried more than two million passengers across the Atlantic Ocean to start new lives in the United States, and this compelling museum was opened in September 2013 to tell the story of the migrants and showcase the backstory of the shipping company. Housed in the red-brick former company sheds, washrooms and waiting rooms in Eilandje, north of the city center, the museum buildings themselves are protected monuments. Here medical examinations took place, luggage was disinfected and would-be emigrants were assessed for suitability to enter the US. The museum’s permanent collections include a touching number of letters, faded photos and multimedia presentations of personal interviews, all displayed cleverly against a colorful, well-curated selection of posters, model ships and Red Star Line souvenirs; individuals seeking out family histories can do so in the Warehouse.

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Hard Rock Cafe Brussels

Hard Rock Cafe Brussels

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Blending the classic atmosphere of an American diner with the devil–may–care edge of rock ‘n’ roll, the Hard Rock Café is much more than just a café – it’s an international institution, and it was only a matter of time before the legendary restaurant made its way on to Belgian soil. Opening its doors in 2012, the Hard Rock Café Brussels has been enticing locals to swap their French fries and Belgian waffles for some all-American soul food ever since and there are few more atmospheric spots to tuck into a burger. Taking over a restored 16th-century building in the heart of the capital, fans of the Hard Rock Café will find all their favorites on the Brussels’ menu, from Bar-B-Que Ribs to Wildberry Smoothies, but of course, the Hard Rock Café has always been about more than just the food.

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Antwerp Zoo (Dierentuin)

Antwerp Zoo (Dierentuin)

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Occupying a 26-acre (10.5-hectare) site behind the city’s grandiose railway station, Antwerp Zoo was built in 1843 – when it was outside the city walls – in colorful Art Nouveau style; as well as being one of the oldest zoos in the world, it must be the only one where the elephants are housed in an Egyptian temple swathed in hieroglyphics.

Currently the zoo has more than 5,000 animals of around 950 species; family favorites such as lions, tigers, polar bears, zebras and gorillas, are housed among the spacious and colonnaded enclosures, themed habitats, Arctic pools, aquariums, reptile house, aviaries, winter gardens and petting zoo for toddlers. There are daily talks plus penguin and sea lion shows; elephant, seal and hippo feeding sessions; 3-D movies in the Planetarium; and plenty of eating options for families, from waffle stands to brasserie dining.

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Aquatopia

Aquatopia

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Right across the road from Antwerp’s other great family attraction, the zoo, Aquatopia is housed in a biscuit-colored Art Deco building and aims to educate and entertain kids on life in our oceans. With seven, maze-like themed marine habitats from rainforest to mangrove swamp, it provides a stimulating way to teach children about the amazing natural world beneath the sea. More than 10,000 fish and reptiles from over 250 species – from sea horses to sharks to iguanas – are housed in 40 aquariums with interactive presentations providing information on each tank; glass tunnels lead underwater so youngsters can get up close to the rays, eels and striking angel fish, enjoy the colors of the coral and watch turtles lumbering through the water.

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Het Zuid

Het Zuid

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Plantin-Moretus Museum

Plantin-Moretus Museum

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