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The top 5 most beautiful cities in Belgium that you must include on your itinerary

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Must visit cities in Belgium

Belgium is a very small European country but it packs an enormous punch.  I’d only been to Belgium once before, and it was relatively fleeting.  We had been in a Kombi and were making our way back towards Calais to catch the ferry to England.  There were enormous strikes going on at the port and significant delays were inevitable.  After 12 weeks of driving through Europe, we needed to get back to London to start our new jobs.  So Belgium was the loser that time around as we really couldn’t stick around.

This time we were back in our motorhome (albeit a whole lot more luxurious than the Kombi)  and spending some quality time in Belgium seemed like a good plan.

Starting in the south, we navigated our way through 11 amazing cities, all of which I loved.  But, I loved some more than others.  By the time I crossed the border and made my way back to France, I had a definitive list of my top 5 most beautiful cities in Belgium.

You won’t see any of the big names here, like Brussels and Antwerp.  These are the small towns, the ones that most people haven’t heard of, but the ones that you’ll be so disappointed if you miss.  They are also some of the most under-rated cities in all of Europe.

This is a quick summary of these towns.  For a more detailed understanding of what they have to offer, keep reading all the linked articles that I have placed under each town.

Leuven

Leuven sits in the shadows of the larger city of Brussels, trying to keep the secret of this beautiful town to itself.  It’s a university town, hence its reputation for having the longest bar in Europe!

It’s an incredibly easy city to get around.  Leave the cars on the outside of town and take a bike in.

For more details on this beautiful town, check out this article: Why Leuven is a must visit town.

Getting there

Leuven is 29km outside of Brussels.  Regular trains connect Brussels to Leuven on a journey that takes approximately 13 minutes.

Leuven Town Hall - top 5 beautiful cities in Belgium

Leuven University Library - top 5 beautiful cities in Belgium
University Library in the Town Square

Leuven - top 5 beautiful cities in Belgium

Mechelen

Closeby to Leuven, you could visit the two towns in the one day if time was an issue.   It has one of the most beautiful old-world bequinages and one of the oldest (still operating) breweries right in the heart of the city.  With its beautiful Gothic churches, Grote Markt and plenty of great places to eat, it’s a must visit city.

Getting there

Mechelen is 31 km outside of Brussels and only 25km from Leuven.  Driving between both cities is easy enough.  The back roads are the most scenic, but they are also typical of regional Belgian roads (terrible!) so the drive is a little slower than normal.  Trains run regularly and take around 30 minutes.

Mechelen Bequinage - top 5 beautiful cities in belgium
The Bequinage streets in Mechelen are just beautiful to walk through.
Mechelen Bequinage - top 5 beautiful cities in belgium
Bequinage
Mechelen Bequinage - top 5 beautiful cities in belgium
Visit the Het Anker Brewery right in the city

Dinant

If you didn’t know that Dinant was the home of Adolphe Sax, the inventor of the saxophone, you would instantly make the connection upon arrival.  The sax is celebrated all throughout this beautiful riverside city.  With an incredible abbey, a citadel overlooking the city and underground caves full of all sorts of interesting natural structures, it’s definitely a city that is worthy of your time.

Explore what the city has to offer in Dinant: the first of many beautiful Belgian towns

Getting there

Dinant is 97 km from Brussels and whilst trains run here, taking about 1 hour 30 minutes, it’s probably best as part of a road trip.  We drove from Dinant to Leuven, then Mechelen.

The town saxophones - Dinant- top 5 beautiful cities in belgium

along the river in Dinant - 5 best cities in Belgium
Along the river Meuse
Grotte la Merveilleuse Dinant - 5 best cities in Belgium
Grotte la Merveilleuse

Ieper

Ieper (or Ypres) is the city to visit if you are interested in exploring the history of the world wars.  Ieper was a prominent city during these times and was actually destroyed several times over itself.  Today, it is the home of some of the more significant memorials and cemeteries honouring those who served and those who fell.

Known for its architecture, especially the magnificent Cloth Hall, (itself a casualty of World War I), the town square showcases many beautiful Gothic buildings.

It also features the only daily service of the Last Post.  Every evening at 8 pm, the Menin Gate is filled to overflowing with visitors coming to show their respect to those who served and continue to serve in world conflict.

Getting there

Ieper is closest to the French border.  If you don’t have a car, Ieper is only 32km from Lille Eurostar Terminal, making this a possible transit option.  Or, it is 72km from Bruges, where trains connect the cities in one hour 30 minutes.

Ieper Cloth Hall - top 5 beautiful cities in Belgium
The magnificent Cloth Hall
Menin Gate Ieper - top 5 beautiful citiies in Belgium
The Menin Gate – a must see event

Ghent

I often think that Ghent is my “save the best till last” city, but that’s probably not fair to the others above, which I absolutely loved too.  But, Ghent is special.  A little larger than the other cities I’ve mentioned, it has a bit more of a city feel, without being too big.  It’s the replica of Bruges, without all the hype.  It is probably Belgium’s most underrated city of them all.

Built on the canals, it has a cosmopolitan feel about it, especially in summer. The waterways are lined with people enjoying the outdoors, sunning themselves on decks whilst drinking the ever-present (and ever so good) Belgian beers.

The Graslei waterfront area was one of my favourite places, as was the Beguinage and the Granvensteen Castle.

If you are looking to visit Ghent, check out Why you should visit Ghent: Belgium

Getting there

Ghent is 64km outside of Brussel or 47km from Bruges.  Parking is easy in Ghent as is catching a train from either of the two larger cities.

Graslei in Ghent
The Graslei waterfront

Graslei in Ghent

Gravensteen Castle Ghent Belgium
Gravensteen Castle

These cities are made for visiting when you are on a road trip, but of course, there are other ways too. As you can see from the map below, they are all relatively close to one another, or close to other major cities such as Brussels.

One thing is clear, however, you get there, be sure to include these top 5 beautiful cities in Belgium into your itinerary.

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44 thoughts on “The top 5 most beautiful cities in Belgium that you must include on your itinerary”

  1. What a chance I get to see this list when I am back there to accomplish what I didn’t do (where I didn’t go) in my 2012 trip…
    Thanks a bunch ??

  2. My father,long death, lived in Zichem near Diest,a small town with probably the most beautiful convent of the world, rescued Canadian airplain pilots whose plane was shot down by the Germans in wwoii.
    After about 40 jears the pilot vitited his rescuers to thank them.So if ever you got the money and the time you should visit these small towns and places witch are all beautifil and interesting.

  3. I traveled to Leper to run the Flanders Field Marathon and I thought the town, the people and the history were simply amazing. Being Canadian, this part of the world holds a special place in our hearts. Planning to visit other parts of Belgium in 2018.

  4. Hi Ken and Lorna. Thank you so much. We really loved travelling around in these parts of Belgium and would easily return there. I hope you got to see the detailed info I had on all these cities too.

  5. Just wanted to thank you for all the great information! We will be spending 2 weeks in Mechelen and exploring around Belgium and we can hardly wait to experience all the wonderful things we’ve read about.

  6. Wow Belgium looks really beautiful. I am particularly interested to visit Dinant because of the underground caves. The stalactites and stalagmites formation fascinate me.

  7. Rob+Ann @TravelLatte(.net)

    Great list! Been wondering where to go besides Ghent and Bruges, and now we know! Thanks for sharing.

  8. I have heard so much of Bruges but man, this list is fantastic. I especially like how you said Ghent is the exact replica of Bruges minus the hype. I will definitely put that on my must-do list. Its a good piece of trivia to know where the saxaphone was born!

  9. That’s a very intuitive comment MArcelle. Because of it’s proximity to The Netherlands and also the general Dutch influence (ie the Flanders part of Belgium speak Flemish which is heavily influenced by the dutch)…it can look like it’s part of that country sometimes. Just don’t tell the Belgians 🙂

  10. I was in Leuven this past spring and I really loved it. It’s so laid back and easy to explore, it’s a great getaway for people from my country and yet not too crowded!

  11. I’ve only been to Ieper out of these, but I agree, the cities are so beautiful! Ieper was a real eye-opener to me, with all of the wartime history.

  12. Great list – so detailed and informative! Never been to Belgium, so I hope to be able to visit these cities one day when I get there.

  13. I have been to Ghent only from this list, though I agree that cities in Belgium are some of the most beautiful in the world! We spent a bit of time in Brussels and just fell in love with the city 🙂

  14. My boyfriend just spend some time in Ghent! He loved it, and found the architecture of the castle and cathedral’s really mind blowing. Hopefully we’ll go back together to see more!

  15. Grey World Nomads

    I’m surprised that these towns look so similar to the Netherlands. I love the Netherlands and so, I really have to get to know Belgium, too. That little town along the river Meuse is just stunningly beautiful.

  16. Great to see more about a country I haven’t visited. They all look like great cities to explore but I like the look of Dinant on the river. Thanks for sharing.

  17. Well, I’ve only heard of and been to one on the list (Ghent). Guess I’ll need to head back to Belgium to explore some more. Leuven looks like a place I would like. The architecture looks amazing there! Thanks for introducing me to a few new towns to check out!

  18. I loved Ghent too. It was quirky in a very good way. I loved their total disdain of the rest of Belgium, as they are from Flanders. We stayed at an amazing B&B with a quirky owner who sent us to all of the locals only cafes. Loved it, but would like to see Dinant too now, as well as a lot more of this amazing country.

  19. I could have written the 10 best list but I just wanted to focus on my fave small towns. Loved Antwerp too, and Bruges, and Bastogne, and……the list goes on. I agree that it’s undervalued. So funny that you booked two trips….there are probably worse mistakes to make 🙂

  20. I accidentally booked 2 trips to Belgium instead of 1 once- it’s a long story! But it meant I got to explore twice lol. I visited Brugges, Brussels and Leuven on my first visit, and Antwerp on my second trip. So many more places to see! Would love to go back again since it’s probably one of the most underrated countries in Europe! I’m sure you’ll agree that the beer, chocolate and “moules&frites” make it all the more special 🙂

  21. Sandhya (Sandy)

    Loved Ghent & the that little street with loads of graffiti. But I also found Bruges utterly welcoming. Had seen it in the film ‘In Bruges’ and was curious to see it live. Finally did. 🙂

  22. How cool is that! I honestly loved this city. It was freezing cold and raining when I visited there, but we still rode our bikes around. We couldn’t visit the Stella Artois brewery as they were only doing tours on Saturday and we were there mid week. But, I did buy some antique Stella glasses to bring home with me. We named our labrador Stella after this beer, so we are quite fond of it 🙂 We did Antwerp also, but it’s not in my list of small and beautiful cities.

  23. Wow, I am so happy that you started with the city of Leuven – I studied my Master’s in KUL. The town is super pretty, boasts the Stella Artois Brewery and the amazing city hall.

    I have been to Ghent and I did not enjoy it so much, but it was super cold and rainy.

    Never been to the other cities, but they seem pretty.

    A must-visit is Antwerp but it is quite bigger than all these.

  24. Laura @ Grassroots Nomad

    I would love to go to Dinant – it is so cool that the guy who invented the sax was from there and that the town honours him like that. The art is so cool!

  25. Adonis Villanueva

    What an awesome list! I wish I’ve had this resource when I was in Belgium in 2003! Now, I’m definitely considering going back to check out these cities 🙂

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