If you’re planning to visit the country of Belgium and it’s your first time in the country, you may be overwhelmed by the number of new experiences that await you. Belgium has a rich and storied history. The land is filled with interesting landmarks with a story behind them. Also, they’re tourist-friendly and offer many different sightseeing tours and fun things to do to help make your time there memorable. Here are some of the more popular attractions, along with things to do that will make your visit stand out in your memory for years to come. Our guide to the 20 best things to do in Belgium for first-timers points out some of the experiences you won’t want to miss out on.
20. Visit the Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp
The Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp is one of the city’s major attractions. Construction of the building began in the year 1352 and the first stage was completed in 1521. The building belongs to the Diocese of Antwerp of the Roman Catholic Church. It’s a gothic style structure designed by architects Jan and Pieter Appelmans. The Cathedral of Our Lady is a Roman Catholic cathedral in Antwerp, Belgium. Today’s see of the Diocese of Antwerp started in 1352 and, although the first stage of construction was ended in 1521, has never been ‘completed’. In Gothic style, its architects were Jan and Pieter Appelmans. The church tower was used as a watchtower, standing 123 meters in the air. It’s the tallest in the Benelux. Tourists may visit the inside and view the Baroque paintings of Peter Paul Rubens.
19. See the Waterloo Museum
Visit the Waterloo Battlefield at Route du Lion 1815, 1420 Braine-l’Alleud, Belgium. This is the historic site where the Battle of Waterloo took place in the year 1815 concluding the Napoleonic Wars. There is a hill with 226 steps that leads to the La Butte du Lion, the famed statue of a lion. It’s worth your time to tour the Wellington Museum and the Roman Catholic Church of St. Joseph to tie the experience altogether. The battlefield hosts an underground museum and visitor center with multimedia exhibits of the infamous battle.
18. Tour Cloth Hall in Ypres
The Cloth Hall in Ypres is a historic site of great significance. Its history goes back to the middle ages when it was one of the largest commercial structures in the world. It was the area when the cloth was sold and distributed in a huge marketplace. The building was finished in the 13th century but destroyed during World War I. It was reconstructed to its previous specifications and now stands completely restored.
17. Visit Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Tournai
The Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Tournai is a 12th-century building that features some of the most exquisite beauty in Romanesque architecture. It is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site. You’ll marvel at the five towers of the cathedral that reach 83 meters skyward. The interior features windows made of stained glass and paintings by world-famous artists Rubens and Jacob Jordaens.
16. Visit the Antwerp Zoo
When you’re in the city of Antwerp, the Antwerp Zoo is another popular attraction. The zoo has been in operation since 1843. It is one of the most famous, and oldest zoos in the world. It’s a large venue that features lovely gardens, numerous exhibits, and amazing animal sculpture. This is an excellent place to visit if you’re there with children. Plan on spending an entire afternoon if you want to see everything.
15. Visit the Basilique de Koekelberg
The Basilica of the Sacred Heart is one of Belgium’s largest Roman Catholic churches. It’s also among the largest in the world. If you’re a fan of unique and impressive architecture this is a site you will want to get pictures of. It’s styled in an art deco, offers exceptional views of the city. The church is not far from the entrance of the city and admission prices are low.
14. Book a canal tour in Bruges
The best way to get a thorough tour of Bruges is to take a canal trip down the major arterials. Several tour guides are offering this service. Most take about a half-hour and they take you through the waterways to secret gardens, gorgeous bridges, and some of the most ornate medieval buildings in the ancient city. The fares are usually quite low, costing around $9 per person.
13. Tour Parc du Cinquantenaire
When you’re in Brussels, one of the best ways to spend a few hours in the afternoon is a visit to Parc du Cinquantenaire. It’s often referred to as Jubelpark. It’s a park that features a museum complex that has been in operation since 1880. It’s a large venue of more than 30 hectares. Here you’ll find the Auto World Museum, the Army Museum, an art museum, spectacular gardens, and much more.
12. See Manneken Pis & Jeanneken Pis
These are two of the most famous works of art in Brussels. They are among the most popular tourist attractions. They’re two sculptures featuring male and female children in a simple use form, peeing. This is one of the few times that it’s okay to be naked and to pee in public.
11. Visit the Belfry of Namur
The Belfry of Namur is a historic building near the center of the city. It is a 14th-century structure that was a part of the wall fortifications of the city. It remains after the church of Namur was burned to the ground during a battle fought in `745. The tower served as the belfry of the city, protecting the main gates with a tower for lookouts and a bell to sound the warning of danger to the people of Namur.
10. Basilica of Our Lady and City Tower Tongeren
The Basilica of Our Lady and City Tower Tongeren reaches 64 meters into the sky as one of the tallest structures in the city. The structure was completed in the middle of the 16th century in a Gothic style. It’s one of the most beautiful structures in all of Belgium. Archeological excavations beneath the basilica have revealed many significant archaeological artifacts. The Treasury of the building is the home of one of Belgium’s more comprehensive collections of religious art.
9. Leuven UNESCO Belfry at the St. Peter’s Church
Saint Peter’s Church was originally built in the year 1505. It’s situated across from the Gothic town hall of Leuven. This popular attraction is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Construction on the church has not yet been completed, but what is finished is nothing short of breathtaking.
8. Visit the Atomium
The Atomium was built for the 1958 World’s Fair. Although it doesn’t have the centuries-old history of many of the structures and attractions in Belgium, it is a spectacular site to visit. The steel Atomium is 335 feet in height, made of steel. At the top, you can enjoy a gourmet meal at the restaurant. You’ll have some spectacular views from your table. At the base of the structure is a miniature park of all of the monuments in Europe including 350 1:25 scale buildings from 80 cities.
7. Take a street tour of Bruges
After you’ve cruised through the waterways of Bruges, get up close and personal with the city and take a tour of it by land. While you’re at it walk across some of the ancient bridges and visit the 13th century Grote Mrkt, also known as Market Square. If you’re there at the right time you might also be able to catch a concert on a Sunday. You can also get some magnificent views of the city if you climb the 366 steps to the top. Also, visit the 14th century Town Hall while you’re there. Nearby you’ll find the Basilica of the Holy Blood, home to a relic reported to contain the blood of Jesus. There are also several other artifacts from the Crusades in the 12th-century structure. You should plan on spending at least 2 days to get the most out of your visit to Bruges. This medieval city is well preserved and has so many unique neighborhoods to tour. The beguinage is a medieval neighborhood for women who are not nuns but prefer a religious community in a convent like setting.
6. Visit the city of Ghent
If you like Bruges, then you’re going to love the city of Ghent. It is an ancient town that features an old section with a series of three medieval towers, respectively, Het Belfort van Gent, Nt. Nicholas’ Church, and St. Bavo’s Cathedral. The latter features the tallest belfry in all of Belgium. This city is only a 30-minute drive outside of Bruges. While you’re in Ghent, you must also visit the working port of Gralei Quay. It dates all the way back to the fifth century. There are still well-preserved houses that go back to the middle ages in Graslei Quay. Here you will also find a variety of waterfront cafes and places for tourists to gather and take photographs.
5. Tour the Royal Museums of Fine Arts
The Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium is a unique group of art museums that are located in Brussels Belgium. Here you’ll find a collection of more than 20,000 paintings, drawings, and sculptures that date back to the 15th century with pieces completed by famous artists to the present. Some of the greatest works of Belgian and Flemish artists are featured in the museums. You’ll find the network of museums at Rue de la Régence 3, 1000 Bruxelles, Belgium.
4. Tour the Castle of Geraard de Duvel
The Castle of Geraard de Duvel is located in the city of Ghent. Geraard was also known as Gerald the Devil. This is not a tour for the faint of heart, however. You’ll find a display of some of the most grisly torture instruments in the world. This is a walled castle that was constructed in the 13th century, made of stone. It’s at the center of the city of Ghent. The tower house is on the banks of the Reep stream. The castle has since served as an armory, an episcopal seminary, and a monastery. It was sectioned off in the year 1623 with sections used as a male orphanage, other portions for a madhouse, and another section designated for use as a prison. The Belgian state acquired it in the 19th century and restored it fully by 1908. It is currently used to house state archives. It’s open occasionally for exhibitions at its cellars.
3. Gravensteen Castle
The Gravensteen Castle is a medieval castle located in the city of Ghent. The castle was originally completed in the year 1180 and served as the residence of the Counts of Flanders up until the year 1353. It was then converted into a mint, a cotton factory, and also used as a court and a prison.
2. Tour the Middelheim Open-Air Museum
The Middelheim Open Air Sculpture Museum is located at Middelheimlaan 61, 2020 Antwerpen. This is a 30-acre park that is a feature of the larger Middelheim Nachtegalen Park in Antwerp. The Museum has an extensive collection of 400 works of art in an open-air display you are free to walk through.
1. Explore the Meuse Valley trails
The Meuse Valley is situated south of Brussels. This is a scenic area that you can explore through the networks of hiking trails in the area or by taking river cruises. You’ll marvel at the ruins of fortresses, hilltop castles, and small waterfront towns to the front of limestone cliffs. The cities of Dinant and Namur are in this area and they are the homes of numerous tour guides who are happy to take you through the wonders of the serene back areas of the Meuse Valley.