As the capital of the Flemish-speaking Oost-Vlaanderen (East Flanders) province, Ghent is an important university city, inland port and industrial center. The River Leie winds through the city center on its way to join the River Schelde and a network of canals that were built to lead to the port. The interconnecting canals of Ghent are often compared to Venice’s — but without the crowds.
In days gone by, Ghent was considered the poor relation of Bruges — but times have changed. Tourists are welcomed here with warmth, and Ghent is also a university city, an inland port and an industrial city. It has the gritty edge missing in Bruges; less pampered but with some of the most spectacular medieval architecture in Europe. Add to that museums and artwork and this is a city on the up and up. But where to start? Right here, with the ten best sights in Ghent.
Leuven is the main town in the Flemish region of Brabant and is famous for its brewing and gloriously ornate town hall. Visiting Leuven from Brussels is easy as it is a simple 25-kilometer/15.5 mile drive from Belgium’s capital city.
The bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo will take place June 18–21, 2015, amid great celebration, including a series of costumed enactments of the famous battle.
Historic Mons (Bergen in Flemish) is the capital of French-speaking Wallonia in the southwest of Belgium abutting the French border. 2015 brings exciting times to this handsome little city as it takes on the mantle of European Capital of Culture.
There are around 180 breweries in Belgium, brewing some 700 beers; along with Brussels, Ghent and Antwerp, Bruges was historically a center of brewing and that tradition still continues today in the city. Opened in early 2015 in homage to the national drink, the Bruges Beer Museum has pole position in the pedestrianized town center.
Among the Commonwealth soldiers who fought in Europe during World War One, more than 60,000 Canadian expeditionary forces fell in the trenches of Flanders and northern France. Visiting the Canadian battlefields from Brussels makes for a thought-provoking trip back in time.
Belgium’s best-loved surrealist artist was René Magritte, who lived and painted in suburban Jette, northwest of Brussels city center; he was extraordinarily prolific during a career that began in 1916 and ended with his death in 1967. Many of his most famous works are on display in the spectacular Musée Magritte just off Place Royale, which is the best place to see the works of Magritte in Brussels.
Funky Antwerp is blessed with glorious medieval architecture, splendid cathedrals, fine shopping and a tasty Flemish gastronomic tradition. This wealthy, vibrant city also offers intriguing museums; here is my choice of the five best museums in Antwerp.
The lovely and compact heart of Bruges looks like something out of a medieval fairytale when dressed in its Christmas finery; while the city plays host to one of Belgium’s most magical Christmas markets, the Bruges Snow and Ice Festival is the highlight of the city’s yuletide entertainment.