Things to Do in Belgium - page 5
The Battle of Passchendaele in summer and fall 1917 was one of the bloodiest and most futile of World War I; in just over 100 days more than half a million soldiers were killed and in that time Allied troops advanced on the Germans by a mere five miles (eight km) amid the trenches of the Ypres Salient in Flanders.
The museum dedicated to the fallen victims of the battle is found in a small chateau in the village of Zonnebeke, the scene of heavy fighting south of Bruges. It was opened in 2004 and the main exhibition follows the sorry story of the battle; a new display entitled ‘Remembrance’ focuses on the aftermath of the war for the soldiers, local civilians and the beleaguered Flanders landscape. Along with black-and-white images, weaponry, uniforms and heart-rending personal letters, the museum has a reconstructed dug out and a replica line of trenches constructed in the chateau grounds in 2013.
One of the city’s most striking landmarks, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart was built to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Belgian independence. King Leopold II laid the first stone of the Roman Catholic basilica and parish in 1905. World War I delayed construction and it took nearly 60 years to complete. Today the Art Deco style monument with its red brick and distinctive green dome holds two museums and is one of the five largest churches in the world.
Visitors can marvel at the size and design of the basilica from the outside or climb the interior for some of the best views of Brussels and the Flemish Brabant countryside. Walking out onto the platform near the top of the basilica dome grants panoramic views almost 80 meters up from the ground. There are also eight bright stained glass windows depicting the life of Jesus that were designed by Belgian painter Anto Carte.
Bruges is often referred to as the Venice of the north due to its many canals. Though the city is located inland, it is close enough to the coast that several floods resulted in the formation of these waterways. This gave Bruges access to the sea, and the city became an important trading center. By the Middle Ages, the canals had to be enlarged so the cargo ships could reach the city. However, as the main connections to the sea began to silt up, Bruges began to decline as a trade center.
Today commercial ships no longer sail through the waterways of Bruges. Instead the canals are used only by tourist boats. Five families, each with four boats, have exclusive access to provide tours along the canals. Bruges has had a strong connection with the water for centuries, and taking a boat tour on the canals is one of the best ways to learn about this connection and the city's history while taking in the sights.
The Cinquantenaire District in Brussels is the area of the city surrounding the Cinquantenaire Park. The park itself was built to commemorate 50 years of Belgium's independence. Dominating the park is the Triumphal Arch and three museums. The museums located here are Autoworld, which showcases the evolution of the automobile throughout history; the Royal Museum of Art and History, which contains a wide range of art and artifacts from pre-history forward; and the Belgian Army Museum and Museum of Military History, which examines the development of military technology throughout history along with the major campaigns fought on Belgian soil. In the summer, the park hosts concerts, festivals, drive-in movies, and it is the starting point of the Brussels marathon. This district, also known as the European District, is the heart of the European Union. The buildings that house the European Parliament, the European Commission, and the Council of Ministers can be found in this area.
The sleepy Ardennes town of Bastogne made history back in 1944 as the site of World War II’s notorious Battle of the Bulge, when the heroic efforts of besieged American soldiers managed to hold off German forces, despite freezing conditions, heavy fire and their being outnumbered 5 to 1. More than 70 years on, Bastogne hasn’t forgotten its valiant fight, and the town’s poignant monuments, war cemeteries, battle-field memorials and museums have drawn visitors from all around the globe. Roads converge on the town from every direction (a trait that made it vitally important for war efforts), making Bastogne a convenient day trip away from nearly anywhere in the Ardennes.
Just a short drive outside of Brussels, this village offers some of the area’s best luxury shopping with access to 95 designer shops. The area’s traditional Limburg style of architecture is reflected in the form of the buildings, and the location in the quiet countryside carries over into the village. Conceived as a historical mining village, it is now filled with high-end boutiques containing both local Belgian brands such as Essentiel, Olivier Strelli, and Sarah Pacini, and internationally known labels such as Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana. Prices are often significantly lower than similar nearby shops.
Of course it is important to refuel after a long day of shopping, and the village has both traditional Belgian treats such as waffles and moules frites in addition to Italian cuisine at the center’s outdoor Gastronomia Cellini. Just be sure to bring enough strength to carry multiple shopping bags.
More Things to Do in Belgium
One of Belgium’s most famous beers and exported all around the world, Stella Artois has been brewed in the Belgian town of Leuven since 1926, when it was originally launched as a Christmas beer.
Today, touring the Stella Artois Brewery in Leuven has become a popular pastime for beer lovers and visitors can go behind-the-scenes, learning how the careful blend of malted barley, hops and water is achieved and watching the high-speed bottling process, before sampling a pint of Stella Artois and shopping for souvenirs at the Stella gift shop. The brewery has a history dating back six centuries, with its namesake Sebastian Artois taking over as master brewer in 1708, and is now run by the world’s biggest brewing company, Anheuser-Busch InBev, producing not only Stella Artois, but other iconic brands like Leffe and Hoegaarden.
Belgium has produced more comic-strip creators than any other country, and one of the world’s favorite comic characters flowed from the pen of Georges Remi, who breathed life into Tintin and his trusty terrier Snowy in 1927 under the name Hergé.
Tintin’s outlandish adventures are published in over 70 languages, and more than 200 million copies of all 24 titles have been sold around the world. Hergé is now commemorated at his own museum just outside Brussels.
The building itself was designed by French architect Christian de Portzamparc and the architecture is all part of the attraction -- a sparkling white, minimalist and box-like contemporary affair. One exterior wall of the building comprises a massive image of Tintin, while another bears Hergé’s distinctive signature.
Things to do near Belgium
- Things to do in Brussels
- Things to do in Bruges
- Things to do in Ghent
- Things to do in Zaventem
- Things to do in Antwerp
- Things to do in Ypres
- Things to do in Liège
- Things to do in Netherlands
- Things to do in Luxembourg
- Things to do in Flanders
- Things to do in Lille
- Things to do in Dordrecht
- Things to do in Nord-Pas de Calais
- Things to do in South Holland
- Things to do in Champagne