The towns are all within an hour and a half drive from Brussels and are perfect for a day trip.
Belgium has a rich history when it comes to architecture, war, and art – with many of their cultural destinations embodying these themes. However, there are a few must-sees that can’t be missed. These five cultural destinations are the perfect starting point to dip your toe into all that Belgium has to offer.
Since Brussels is small enough to visit most of their sites in a day, it was important to discuss the touristic landmarks that all the cities in Belgium provide. The towns are all within an hour and a half drive from Brussels and are perfect for a day trip as well as a reminder of the history behind this European country.
Brussels: Grand Place and Manneken Pis
One can’t go to Belgium and not see the Grand Place and the infamous Manneken Pis. The Grand Place is the central square of Brussels and is well recognized for the guild houses that surround it. The City Hall is built around the Grand Place – showcasing the beautiful architecture of Brussels. But that isn’t all that the Grand Place has on show. The Grand Place also holds multiple cultural events including the famed flower carpet, flower markets, concerts and Christmas trees during the festive season.
Of course, the center of Brussels is also famous for Manneken Pis. Easily found on one of the side streets leading out of Grand Place – between Rue du Chêne/Eikstraat and Rue de l’Étuve/Stoofstraat. Manneken Pis literally translates to little man pee – which is exactly what the bronze statue/fountain is shown to do. Initially, the statue and fountain were said to be vital to water distribution in Belgium.
What is equally interesting about Manneken Pis are the many legends behind him. The most popular being about Duke Godfrey III of Leuven. Legend states that in 1142, the troops of the two-year-old lord put him in a basket and hung him from a tree to encourage them during a battle. The young Lord then proceeded to urinate on the troops they were battling. Winning them the battle.
Ypres: Battlefields of Flanders
The Battlefields of Flanders are an important part of Belgium’s history. The fields are located in Ypres, which is part of the Flanders region in North Belgium. Ypres was the location of some of the most critical Belgian battles during World War I. Ypres is chock full of history and cultural importance. The location has multiple war cemeteries and war sites. Some locations still showcase the old war trenches and provide tours and lessons on the exact history of each battle. The battlefields and cemeteries are enlightening experiences that show the magnitude of the Great War.
Brugge: Old Town Center
Brugge is another perfect day trip from Brussels- it is the ideal stop to enjoy a quaint Belgian town. Brugge itself is an architecture lovers dream with style that reminds one of the medieval era- which was when Brugge was deemed a commercial metropolis. A lot of the current facades of the buildings in old town Brugge are Neo-Gothic due to renovations in the 19th century.
Today, Brugge is still recognized as a cultural capital in Europe and certainly has retained a lot of its historic architecture. With open streets, old building facades and canals, the historic center of Brugge is a perfect spot for a relaxed day trip to experience the magnificent architecture and the cute cafes and restaurants Brugge has on show.
Waterloo: Memorial 1815
Belgium is also home to one of the most historic war sites – Waterloo. That’s right, the Waterloo where Napoleon was famously defeated in 1815 by the Duke of Wellington and his army. Also, the title for the great ABBA song. Waterloo is recognized for its great importance since it changed the course of European history.
Today, Memorial 1815 in Waterloo explains precisely what happened during the battle and recognizes the lives lost. The Memorial itself has a museum as well as a panorama painting of the battle that is 110 meters long. One of the most exciting parts of the Memorial is the Lion’s Mound. The Lion’s Mound is 40 meters high and has 226 steps – providing views of the battlefield. The mound was erected in 1826 under orders of William I, who was King of the Netherlands at the time, the mound was meant to commemorate the spot where his son, Prince of Orange, was wounded during the battle. The Lion at the top of the mound was meant to symbolize the victory of the monarchy, according to Memorial 1815’s official site.
The last of the top five cultural destinations is in Antwerp. Antwerp is another commercial metropolis in Europe and has plenty to offer. However, one of the most interesting parts of Antwerp is the Rubenshuis – showcasing the art and home of Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens. The Rubenshuis is a beautiful piece of property that allows visitors to tour the house, garden, courtyard, and studio of the famed artist. The Rubenshuis was home to Rubens and his family for years. The museum on the property also houses a variety of art pieces from Rubens himself and his peers- making this the perfect stop for both a history and art lesson.
Belgium is full of different cultural destinations and landmarks that are deeply linked to the history of the country. These five sites are the perfect launching point to understand Belgian culture through some of the things they are most recognized for- architecture, war history, and art.