Top 10 Unknown Places in Belgium?
Top 10 Unknown Places in Belgium
1. Bueren Mountain
The so-called “Bueren Mountain” in Liege is a mammoth 374-step staircase built to commemorate the rebellion against occupying Burgundy in the 15th century. Six hundred Belgians died in the revolt, which was brutally suppressed. Since then, candles are placed on the steps every year on the first weekend of October, making for an unforgettable sight. Legend has it, though, that the staircase was built to stop people reaching the red-light district at the top. We like the official reason better.
A mere 50 km north, you’ll find Genk, a small city on the Dutch border. The city has a rich history, particularly in mining. Several huge sites were opened there during the industrial revolution after large reserves were found beneath the town. The largest of them was the “C-Mine” — a coal pit dating back to 1901. The mine provided employment for a lot of people in the town but was forced to close in 1986. Today, the site is a center for culture and progress — mobile app companies have offices next to children’s soft-play areas and medical research firms. You can visit the center to learn more about Genk’s industrial history, and actually take a trip down the mines (via virtual reality).
This roman settlement can be found in the east of Belgium, not far from the Dutch border. It claims to be the oldest town in Belgium, dating back to at least the 1st century when the city wall was built. Its strategic position at the junction of a number of roman roads made it a key trading post for centuries, until the town was razed to the ground by Louis XIV’s troops. Today, surviving buildings exhibit the change in European architecture over history, with stunning cathedrals standing alongside medieval gates. Just a stroll through the town center will reveal archeological sites and statues of ancient Belgian warriors. Of course, there is plenty more to do here, but just ambling round the narrow streets is a great way to spend a day in Tongeren — just an hour away from our communities in Brussels and Lueven.
In the southern half of Belgium (Wallonia) you can find the old French fortress town of Dinant. Located on the banks of the River Meuse, the town is dominated by the imposing citadel, which is perched on top of a sheer rock face towering above the buildings below. The French used it as a bastion during the wars with Spain, and, unfortunately, the town suffered destruction once again in the early years of the First World War. Today though, the view of Dinant from the river shows barely any open wounds. The quintessential Dinant photograph shows the colorful houses and strange looking church being utterly dominated by that Gibraltar-esque rock face, and the brooding citadel balancing on top. It’s a beautiful town to visit, and at just an hour’s drive from Brussels, it’s easily reachable in a day.
Up in Flanders, the city of Kortrijk (Courtray in English) deserves a day of your time, especially if you’re based in Gent or Brussels. Although it is Roman in origin (like many cities in this part of the world), Kortrijk is a beautiful example of an old medieval town. The city center is car-free, meaning you’re free to wander around and admire the architecture, including some UNESCO World Heritage Sites (The Belfry and Béguinage in the town center, both centuries old buildings, are recognized by the body). The city is one of the prettiest in Belgium, and certainly worth a daytrip
Famously mispronounced by British soldiers (“Wipers” being the most commonly used version), Ypres is a small town just a few kilometers from Kortrijk in Flanders. Ypres has always been a town scarred by war but what would follow in the First World War was on another level: the town was almost completely levelled, as both sides fought for its strategic position on the French border. The Menin Gate still stands at the eastern entrance to the town and inscribed on it are 54,000 names of soldiers who fell at Ypres and who have no known grave. For something different, head to the town’s medieval Cloth Hall (another UNESCO heritage site) or try out some incredible chocolate on sale in the shops around the center.
Antwerp is Belgium’s second biggest city, located in the Flemish half of the country. The town of Antwerp is of course popular, but on the opposite bank of the River Schledt is a fantastic area of the city worth exploring. Not far from the banks of the river, you can find grassy meadows and even a couple of beaches to relax on and admire the Antwerp skyline on a lazy afternoon
Right up on Belgium’s northeastern coast you will find the seaside town of Oostduinkerke, which is named after the more famous French town, Dunkerque, a few miles to the west. Those that like to be at the seaside will enjoy a visit to this quiet resort, especially if you can catch a display of the town’s industry. During the spring months and in September, you’ll see fishermen on horseback looking for shrimps. In years gone by, this practice was pretty common, but now Oostduinkerke is the last remaining vestige of this tradition. The horses are essentially used to trawl the shallows, with nets attached to their sides. UNESCO have recently added this tradition to its “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity” list, and you can see it in action during a select few days of the year (the tourism website has more information).
If you’re based in Gent you might already know about this next place on our list: Gravensteen is a spectacular, fairytale castle in the center of Gent, which was built in 1180 by the Count of Alsace. It has had a number of uses over the years, including stints as a royal residence, a prison, and even a courthouse. After falling into disrepair, the city of Gent bought the castle and started to restore it back to its former glory. Today, you can visit it for a small fee and learn more about its often-gruesome history. You can also climb up onto the roof and enjoy the view! It’s a fantastic day out if you’re based in Gent, or our communities in Brussels or Antwerp, a one-hour-drive away.
10. Place des Martyrs / Martelaarsplein
Thanks to Brussels’ increasing popularity among tourists and expats alike, there are not many unknown places left in the capital. After visiting the Grand Palace and the renowned “Manneken Pis”, you might want to find somewhere to relax for a couple of hours. Place des Martyrs or Martelaarsplein (depending on whether you speak Flemish or French) is dedicated to the dead of the so-called “September Days” revolution which instigated the split from the Netherlands in 1830. You can still visit the crypt from this violent time, which is marked by an imposing statue in the center of the square. Aside from the grim (but important) history though, the square is just a nice spot to sit with a good book on a sunny day. Beautiful architecture surrounds you on all four sides, with important buildings housing the Flemish Government among other official offices. Head down the narrow lanes and relax in this hidden corner of Brussels to get away from the hustle and bustle of life in the capital for an hour or so.