Charming Belgian Cities: Discovering History, Culture, and Cuisine

Belgium is a small country, but it’s full of rich history, stunning architecture, and picturesque landscapes. And nowhere is this more evident than in its cities. From the bustling capital of Brussels to the quaint town of Ypres, each city offers a unique experience that will make your visit even more memorable.

In this post, we’ll take a closer look at some of Belgium’s most fascinating cities, including their top attractions, hidden gems, and cultural highlights. Whether you’re a history buff, a foodie, or an art lover, there’s something for everyone in these Belgian cities. So pack your bags and let’s explore!


Brussels, capital of Belgium
Brussels, capital of Belgium

Strategically located in Central Belgium between Paris and London, Brussels is like a regal old lady with a wry sense of humor. As the capital of Belgium and the European Union, the city of 1,190,022 residents is home to masterful architecture, a multicultural atmosphere, a little peeing statue, and a Comic Strip dedicated to the many cartoon characters created here. 

With its rich history, Brussels was founded in 979 AD making it older than Belgium itself. Experience all the highlights in Brussels, by enjoying the city’s architectural history at the Grand Palace, a mishmash of several styles including Gothic, baroque, art nouveau, and neo-classical. On the far end of the archaeological spectrum,  you’ll find the Atomium, a 100-meter-tall model of an iron atom located in Heysel Park. 

Brussels’ Royal Palace is open for tours in the summer months. Don’t miss the room with its ceiling covered in an oddly-beautiful mosaic of beetles’ wings.  

Visit the European Parliament and learn how it functions at its Visitors’ Center. Then enjoy Brussels’ lighter side at the Manneken Pis, a statue of a little boy peeing since the 17th century, and keep an eye out for comic book characters like the Smurfs and Tintin peeking from more than 40 different frescoes.


Antwerp city hall
Antwerp city hall

As Belgium’s second-largest city (population of 459,805), Antwerp is a prominent port city in Northern Belgium. Known for its vibrant arts and culture scene, tourists flock to Antwerp for its galleries, museums, hip coffee shops, and vintage clothing stores. The city has been a designer lovers’ haven since dominating London’s Fashion Week in 1986. 

One of the city’s most notable sights,  the Cathedral of Our Lady can be seen from almost anywhere in town. Completed in 1521, it’s known for its elegant stained glass windows and collection of Ruben’s paintings. Art aficionados will also want to visit Ruben’s House, the former home of Baroque artist Peter Paul Ruben who lived between 1577 and 1640. There is also a great statue of him in one of the squares too!

History buffs shouldn’t miss the MAS (Museum aan de Stroom) with its 10 floors of exhibits, paintings, and sculptures. Also of note is the Antwerp Central Station. Astounding both inside and out, it’s one of the world’s most beautiful train stations. 

Antwerp is also known as the Diamond Capital of the World and has been since the 15th century when Belgian Lodewyk van Berken invented a diamond polishing tool called the scaif. In the Diamond District, you’ll find a plethora of shops that sell diamonds and other jewelry.  


Located in Northwestern Belgium, Bruges is a rather small city with a population of 118,053. Burges has survived over 500 years of wars and invasions, yet its 15th-century architecture is still intact making it a UNESCO World Heritage site. The picturesque Canals of Bruges earned it the moniker “Venice of the North.” 

One of the first things you’ll want to do in Bruges is to take a romantic canal boat tour that passes underneath the Bonifacius Bridge and the 18th-century Nepomucenus Bridge. Afterward, stroll around the magnificent Markt, a medieval masterpiece complete with neo-Gothic facades, step-gabled guild houses, and horse and carriage rides. 

For the best views of the city, climb the 366 steps of the 13th-century Belfry of Bruges where you’ll enjoy views of red-tiled rooftops and Zeebrugge in the distance. 

The Basilica of the Holy Blood is another must-see in Bruges. The well-preserved Roman Catholic basilica is said to house a relic of the Holy Blood brought from the Holy Land by the Count of Flanders. It was built between 1134 and 1157 and renovated in the 16th and 19th centuries. 


Ghent, Belgium
Ghent, Belgium

Ghent is Belgium’s third-largest city with 262,219 residents. The port city in the northwestern region of the country is where the Leie and Scheldt rivers converge. 

Ghent emerged in the mid-7th and was one of Europe’s most important cities from the 11th to 16th centuries. Today, the city is visited for its historic center, medieval architecture, and picturesque canals. It’s also a lively university city with great food and beer. 

Gravensteen Castle (Castle of the Counts) is one of Ghent’s top attractions and one of Belgium’s top castles. Built way back in 1180, it now houses the Arms Museum and the Museum of Judicial Objects. The displays of weapons of warfare and items used as torture and punishment will send chills down your spine. 

St. Bavos Cahtedral is another 11th-century icon worth a visit. The cathedral houses the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, a historic altarpiece painted in 1432. 

Standing 91 meters tall, you can’t miss the iconic Ghent Belfry. It’s Belgium’s tallest belfry and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Climb to the top for stunning views and to see the copper dragon standing guard since the 14th century. 

Don’t miss a stroll along Graslei and Korenlei, quays along the Leie River featuring medieval architecture. 


With a population of 197,885, Liège is the largest city in Eastern Belgium’s region of Wallonia. The city of Liege is usually visited for its picturesque location on the Meuse River, mixed architectural styles, and lively cultural scene. Thanks to mining and the metallurgical industry, Liège was an important city during Europe’s 19th-century Industrial Revolution. It remains a progressive city today.

Be sure to visit the Grand Curtius (Museum) where you can explore 7,000 years of history and art housed in 16th and 18th-century buildings. The collection includes old armor, glassware, decorative arts, religious artifacts, and more. 

One of the more contemporary buildings to admire is the Liège-Guillemins Railway Station. Made of steel, concrete, and glass, it was built in 2009 by the architect that designed the Opera House and City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia. 

One of the city’s most defining landmarks, Montagne de Bueren’s set of 374 steps with a gradient of 30 percent will offer you panoramic views worth the climb. The steps were built in 1881 so soldiers in the citadel could get to the center of town quickly. St. Paul’s Cathedral is another important landmark. Standing proudly on Place de la Cathédrale, it was founded in 971 AD. 


Mechelen is a small city (population 38,193) in Central Belgium. Easily accessible, it’s an up-and-coming tourist destination popular for its charming streets, historic center, and UNESCO World Heritage Sites centered around religion. 

St. Rumbold’s Cathedral is a UNESCO site dedicated to Romuald, the 11th-century founder of the Camaldolese order. Dating from the 13th-15th centuries, it features a 98-meter-high tower and impressive stained glass windows. Known as the Mechelen Belfry,  500 steps leading to the top offer sweeping views of Mechelen. Work was halted on the tower around 1520. Had the original plans been followed, it would have been the tallest in Europe. 

Every Saturday, Grote Markt, the central square in Mechelen comes alive with stalls and shoppers. St. Rumbold’s Tower and the Town Hall are nearby. The houses around the square feature 16th-century Renaissance and 18th-century rococo architecture. 

Visit the Kazerne Dossin to learn the dark story of more than 25,000 people deported from Mechelen to Auschwitz during World War II. The barracks have been well-preserved, and you can pay your respects at the memorial and explore this site’s history at a museum. 


Namur, Belgium
Namur, Belgium

Namur is strategically located at the junction of the Sambre and Meuse rivers in Southern Belgium. As the Walloon capital, the city has a population of around 110,939 and is visited for its historical sites and scenic river setting. 

This historic Citadel of Namur is the city’s main attraction. The impressive fortress was originally built during the Roman era. It has been rebuilt several times, and what you see today is mostly from the 19th century. The steep climb up to the citadel’s ramparts will afford you stunning views of the river below. 

The stately St. Aubin’s Cathedral is a magnificent work of architecture not to be missed. Dating back to 1751-1767, the classically domed building was built on the site of a once 11th-century church. The cathedral holds many treasures including a 12th-century ivory altar of the Counts of Namur and the crown of Phillipe the Nobel of Namur said to bear the thorns of the passion of Christ’s crown. 

Leave the children behind and tour the Felician Rops Museum. Felician Rops was a Belgian artist who created erotic artwork in the 19th century. Take them instead to see the Jambes Bridge, 

another archeological wonder in Namur. The elliptical arch bridge was erected in the 16th century.  


Hasselt, Belgium
Hasselt, Belgium

Northeastern Belgium’s city of Hasselt is the capital of Limburg province and home to around 69,222 residents. Visitors to Hasselt enjoy its relaxed atmosphere, culinary traditions, and diverse architecture. The city is pedestrian-friendly and rich in history. 

Hasselt’s St. Quentin’ Cathedral has a long architectural history. A church has been on the site since the 8th century. The current tower contains the remnants of an 11th-century Romanesque church. The cathedral took on a Gothic look between the 13th and 15th centuries when the current early-Gothic tower was completed around 1250. The final restoration, including its stained glass windows, was completed in the 19th century. 

The Jenever Museum pays homage to the juniper-flavored spirit that is part of the city’s history. You’ll discover a trove of artifacts as you tour the museum and enjoy a sample of Jenever in the tasting room. 

The Z33 House for Contemporary Art is a complex of many buildings, some of which are UNESCO protected. The center is known for interweaving art, design, and architecture with social issues.  

Pay a relaxing visit to Hasselt’s Japanese Garden and wander among the plants, flowers, and koi pond. You can also attend a tea demonstration or Japanese flower arranging classes. 


Pope's College in Leuven
Pope’s College in Leuven

Located in Central Belgium, Leuven is a historic university town with a lively student population and a total population of 508,613. The university’s 25,000 students help create a vibrant cultural scene while tourists are interested in the University’s architecture and other historic buildings. 

A lot of people who visit Leuven come to see the Renaissance-style University Library and Bell Tower topped with a cupola. While you can only visit at certain times during the school term, you can climb to the top of the tower year-round. Another architectural wonder in Leuven is St. Peter’s church, a fine example of Brabant Gothic architecture  in the middle of the Grote Markt

M-Museum Leuven is the city’s top museum. The state-of-the-art building houses art from the 15th to 18th centuries along with contemporary pieces and works by prominent artists from around the world. 

A popular spot for everyone, the Oude Markt is comprised of several lively bars that stretch across Oude Markt Square. You’ll enjoy a variety of music from rock to reggae along with a variety of eats representing cuisine from around the world. 


Ypres, Belgium
Ypres, Belgium

Western Belgium’s city of Ypres, population 36,646,  has a significant World War I history and somber memorials. Its haunting past creates a tranquil atmosphere amid the remains of carefully restored medieval architecture. 

One of the city’s top attractions, in-Flanders Fields Museum uses a variety of media and sensory experiences for visitors to learn about every aspect of WWI. Another WWI landmark, Menin Gate Memorial is a somber place where you can pay your respects to 55,000 soldiers who went missing in action. 

Be sure to visit St. Martin’s Cathedral originally built in the 13th century. Its tower and south entrance were added in the 15th century. Sadly, the church was completely destroyed during the war and rebuilt in 1922.  Inside you’ll find a few treasures that survived the war including a brass font from around 1600 and the tombs of Bishop Jansenius, Count Robrecht of Bethune, and 

Georgius Chamberlain, sixth bishop of Ypres. 

Attracting visitors since the 14th century, the stately Cloth Hall with its colossal belfry signifies the city’s position as a medieval trade hub. It was destroyed by German artillery in 1915 but restored to grand Gothic architecture after the war.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the most beautiful city in Belgium?

Many people claim that the most beautiful city in Belgium is Bruge. It is known as the “Venice of the North” with countless canals, historic buildings and a medieval charm that is hard to beat.

What is the richest city in Belgium?

The richest city in Belgium is Antwerp. With a bustling port that is one of Europe’s largest, generous diamond trade, and countless large companies, Antwerp’s GDP is the highest in Belgium.

What are Belgium’s 4 major cities?

Four of Belgium’s major cities by population are: Brussels, Antwerp, Charleroi and Ghent.

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