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.
Flanders is the northern, Flemish-speaking region of Belgium, where the Christmas season stretches itself out over the whole of December. Christmas Markets in Flanders start appearing in late November and St Nicholas’s Day is celebrated on December 6 with church services and family feasting.
Although many people go to Ghent purely to see the spellbinding Mystic Lamb by Flemish Primitive artist Jan van Eyck in the Sint-Baafskathedraal (St Bavo’s Cathedral), there are some exceedingly good museums in this stylish Flemish city, which is fast on the up. Here are my recommendations for the five best museums in Ghent.
Pretty Bruges looks its romantic best during the festive season, when decorations twinkle along its cobbled streets, the canals are often flecked with snow and its great Gothic piazzas are adorned with gigantic Christmas firs. Bruges at Christmas plays host to one of Belgium’s most magical Christmas markets; between November 22 and January 2, 2014, the Grote Markt and Simon Stevinplein are given over to hundreds of cute wooden stalls selling local handicrafts and gourmet specialities.
Ghent is oft overlooked in the headlong rush to Bruges or Antwerp – and what’s more, there are plenty of free things to do in Ghent. Sandwiched between Brussels and Bruges in the Flanders region, this gorgeous mini-city was the center of northern Europe’s booming textiles trade in the 14th century and vied with Paris for political power. Today it a city of canals, cobbled streets, castles, art galleries, high-end stores and cathedrals – making a perfect weekend destination.