(Updated May 2022) While most people who visit Belgium are likely to spend most of their time in Brussels, there are many more top cities to visit that are just as incredible. Beyond Brussels, here are five must-see cities that are an easy day trip from the capital you’ll want to add to your itinerary.
Although a small country, Belgium offers an immense amount of diversity, from its dual languages of mostly French and Dutch, and a small contingent of German. But also its varied landscapes of rural to small towns and a mix of medieval and modern architecture, along with UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Street art, and its varied cuisine of beer, chocolate, waffles, and frites, all of which Belgium is so famous for, proves that Belgium offers a little bit of everything to those that decided to travel here.
5 Day Trips from Brussels
Antwerp lies in the Flemish region of Belgium and is the capital of the Antwerp province. As the second-largest city, Antwerp has embraced its commercial heritage and is known as the shopping capital of Belgium. Brussels to Antwerp is less than 50 minutes by train. The Antwerp central train station is one of the city’s top attractions, as well as, the town square lined with its incredible 16th and 17th century buildings.
Although Antwerp lacks the charm of other Belgium cities, it makes up for it when it comes to the large selection of restaurants, cafés, and accommodations. A popular attraction is the city’s museums- the Red Star Line museum, the Rubens House, Platin Moretus museum to name just a few.
Now for the reason why you go to Antwerp – the shopping. Here is a quick breakdown of the 6 main shopping zones in the city:
- Historic City Center – contains 2 inside shopping centers, the nicest being Stadsfeestzaal with its glass dome with gold leaf and the largest being the Grand Bazar.
- Meir – all the historical buildings in the traffic-free zone houses some of the major European chain stores.
- Station District – is located by the central train station and is closest to the city’s china town, including unique small boutiques and a kilometer-long row of diamond stores.
- Quartier Latin – is where you will find the luxury brands interspersed with some small boutiques, cafés, and restaurants.
- Fashion District – it is where up and coming and established fashion designers open their shops.
- Wilde Zee – is five traffic-free streets that flow into one another and where you will find exclusive specialty shops.
Ghent is the capital city of the East Flanders province located in the Flemish region of Belgium. It’s known as a port and university city and ranked 3rd, following Brussels and Antwerp in population size. Brussels to Ghent by train is only 40 minutes making this an easy day trip. Ghent is one of the best-preserved medieval cities full of beautiful historical buildings.
One of the most important landmarks in the city is the 800-year-old, Saint Bavo’s Cathedral. One of the best things to do is to go up the Belfry of Ghent – the tallest belfry in Belgium. Climb to the top of this 14th century tower for amazing views of the city.
Vrijdagmarkt is the main square in Ghent and was named after the popular Friday market that is held here every week. Ghent has so many beautiful buildings to admire. Here is a couple that is not to be missed. The Stadhuis or city hall from the 1600s and Saint Nicholas Church, the oldest building in Ghent.
Bruges is the capital and largest city of the province of West Flanders in the Flemish Region of Belgium. Bruges is a romantic waterborne city with a large network of canals and low-lying bridges. It’s often referred to as the ‘Venice of the North’ for that very reason. Brussels to Bruges is a 90-minute train ride and is oh so worth it!
When you first arrive, you will be in Burg Square, the city’s main square. Here you will find an incredible display of Gothic architecture in vibrant colours of orange and red brick buildings that line the market square. Most of the buildings are from the 15th century except one, the Stadhuis, or the city hall. This is Belgium’s oldest city hall, built in the 12th century.
Another must-see site is the Belfry of Bruges, which is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Climbing the steps of this impressive medieval bell tower is one of the top things to do in Bruges. Where else will you get to see the views of this beautiful city?
The top thing to do in Bruges is to take a boat tour, as there is no better way to take in the city. One of the best views from the boat is of Rozenhoedkaai or the Quay of the Rosary. Rozenhoedkaai is centred around where the Groenerei and Dijver canals meet, and it is one of the most beautiful sights in Bruges. Another amazing site is St. Salvator’s Cathedral which is Bruges’ main church and the oldest in the city. Inside the neo-gothic architecture, is an array of Flemish artwork that’s on display.
Leuven is the capital and largest city of the province of Flemish Brabant in the Flemish region. Brussels to Leuven is only 25 minutes by train or car. The most impressive and iconic building in this underrated city is the Stadhuis or city hall. This impressive 15th-century building with its turrets, Gothic stonework, and flags is one of the must-see sites in the city. Well actually you can’t miss it, as it sits on the main square called Grote Markt square.
Leuven is famous for two things – its university and its beer. Now, that doesn’t mean it’s a party city necessarily. Leuven University is the largest and oldest in Belgium. One of the most beautiful buildings to visit is Leuven’s Universiteitsbibliotheek, or the University Library. Built in renaissance style with a brick tower topped with a cupola the building is a must-see site in the city.
Leuven is also home to the most well-known Belgium beer, Stella Artois. To sample some beer head to Oude Markt, the square closest to the Grote Markt where it is said to have the longest line of consecutive bars, inns, and pubs in the world.
Dinant lies in Wallonia which is located in the province of Namur. This picturesque small city with the River Meuse running right through the middle of it is a worthwhile day trip. Brussels to Dinant by train is just under 2 hours or 75 minutes by car. Upon arrival, you will be mesmerized by the impressive city that appears to be squeezed between water and the incredible wall of limestone.
The Collegiale Notre Dame de Dinant is the top attraction here. This 13th-century Gothic cathedral features an iconic 16th-century pear-shaped bell tower. It’s truly an amazing structure and is perfectly back-dropped by the cliff behind it where the town’s citadel sits.
Guarding the city below is La Citadelle de Dinant, a fortress from the 11th century. One of the top things to do in Dinant is to ascend to the top. You can take the cable car, or better yet climb the 400 stone steps where you will be awarded amazing views.
Dinant is the birthplace of Adolphe Sax (1814-1894), the inventor of the saxophone. It’s fun to spot the saxophone monuments all over the city, especially the ones along with the Charles de Gaulle Brigid.
As a holidaymaker…
Belgium often gets overlooked by travellers, and it really shouldn’t. Make Brussels your home base, and plan your day trip visits to these equally beautiful places. That includes bordering Germany, the Netherlands, and France too!