Welcome to Belgium! A country brimming over with medieval cities, each featuring a grand belfry. Those medieval cities were built between the 11th and 17th centuries, showcasing Roman, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque styles of architecture. For such a small country, it ranks high on architectural gems.

In fact, 13 places are designated as UNESCO World Heritage sites. Places recognized for their natural, historic, and cultural significance were selected by representatives of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a way to preserve and protect for future generations. So, let’s learn more about some of the best ones to visit while in Belgium. 

Best UNESCO Sites in Belgium

The Belfries of Belgium

Under the category of The Belfries of Belgium and France, one of the 13 sites listed, there are a whopping 33 belfries that have been inscribed. They form part of Belgium’s cities’ architecture, acting as a symbol. Belfries are large towers in the central part of the city representing the influence of a council, or the people, rather than the church. They are often decorated ornately reflecting the culture and history of that time.  

Belfry in Ghent

tall belfry tower

Contributed by: Cecilie of Worldwide Walkers

The Belfry of Ghent is one of Belgium’s most beautiful bell towers. What makes it extra special is its height. At 91 metres, it’s the tallest belfry in the country. It also has significant historical value dating back to the Middle Ages. The construction began in 1313 and finished in 1380.

The Belfry of Ghent served many purposes over the centuries. It held the town records and acted as the city’s watchtower. It still remains the city’s most important and impressive landmark. Visit it and you’ll learn about its history. And the best part, take the elevator to the top for amazing 360 views over the city. 

Belfry in Leuven

white buildings

Contributed by Antoine and Marielle of Offbeat Escapades

From an architectural and cultural point of view, Leuven is one of the best cities in Flanders to visit. It holds two UNESCO World Heritage Sites – the Flemish Béguinages (called Groot Begijnhof) and the Belfry at St. Peter’s Church. 

Located just across Leuven’s iconic Town Hall in Grote Markt, St. Peter’s Church was initially meant to have three towers that would reach 170 metres. It would have been the tallest building in the world during the early 1500s. However, the construction was stopped and today the towers are only slightly taller than the roof of the church. The church is also the setting for “The Last Supper” – an art masterpiece by Flemish Master, Dieric Bouts. Six centuries later, it continues to hang here for all to see. 

Belfry in Mechelen

tall belfry tower

Contributed by Lucy of Family Hotel Expert

St. Rumbold’s Cathedral, and its belfry, can be seen from almost everywhere in Mechelen. Taking more than 300 years to build, it was finally finished in 1520. Climb the 538 steps for fantastic views, not only of Mechelen but on a clear day, to Brussels and Antwerp. Mechelen is a perfect holiday destination for families, as well as a couple’s weekend getaway.  

The Belfry is at the centre of one of the most legendary tales about this city. It’s where the townsfolk got their name as ‘moon extinguishers’. In 1687, a resident emerging from a local bar believed he saw St Rumbold’s Cathedral on fire. Only it was actually the moon shining on the tower. He raised the alarm and the residents rushed to take buckets of water to the Cathedral to put out the fire. 

Historic City of Bruges

colourful row of buildings on market square

Contributed by Lyubomira from Bulgarian On The Go

The beautiful city of Bruges is a wonderful mix of medieval and gothic architecture dating back to the 12th and 15th centuries. Its historic centre, together with the Belfry, has been named a UNESCO World Heritage site due to the well preserved medieval heritage.   Bruges was a major trading port in Europe, as well as, an important hub of art and architecture during the Renaissance period. The Belfry of Bruges, built in 1240, is worth the climb up the 366 steps to enjoy a panoramic view of the city.  Bruges keeps its religious and cultural traditions alive. One of the most famous celebrations is the Procession of the Holy Blood, which takes place every spring on Ascension day, 40 days after Easter. 

Grand-Place in Brussels

flower carpet on market square

Contributed by Nichola of Global Mouse Travels

Stepping into the Grand Place in Brussels you will immediately see why this impressive central square is named one of Europe’s finest. The Grand Place, or Grote Markt, is surrounded by opulent buildings, edifices and museums. 

Dating back to the 10th century, the square has been the very heart of the Belgian capital for commerce and city life for hundreds of years. The gilded townhomes and the Town Hall still stand proud on the edge of this bustling square. The square is packed with history and is a wonderful place to explore as a family. It ranks as one of the best things to do in Brussels with kids.

Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998, the Grote Markt hosts many of the city’s best festivals. From the Belgian Beer Weekend to the biennial Flower Carpet where the entire square is covered in over a million begonias set in colourful designs. 

Art Nouveau Town Homes in Brussels

tall curved windows with wood details

Contributed by me

Brussels is well-known for its Art Nouveau architecture. Well-known architect Victor Horta is credited with designing the first Art Nouveau building in the world. More than 1,000 buildings, from private homes to public spaces, were built in this style in Brussels between 1890 and 1910. Unfortunately, only about half of them remain today making them the hidden gems of Brussels. 

There are four major townhouses considered to be classic Art Nouveau architectural work. Hôtel Tassel (1893), Hôtel Solvay (1894), Hôtel van Eetvelde (1895), and Horta House (1901) all designed by architect Victor Horta. As such, they were added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2000. Why not take your own Art Nouveau walking tour to see these, and others throughout the city.  

Plantin-Moretus Museum in Antwerp

red brick building with gardens

Contributed by Paul of Anywhere We Roam

Christophe Plantin was born into a poor family in France and moved to Antwerp in the middle of the 16th century where he started a successful publishing business. He went on to become one of the most influential figures in Antwerp society. As a deft diplomat, he achieved something relatively unheard of in his time – the printing of scientific books.

His former mansion and printing plant is today the Plantin Moretus house. It’s a sumptuous atmospheric look inside the world of Antwerp’s high society. Early scientific books are on display in all their dusty leather-bound glory alongside the original typesets that were used to print them.

The architectural value of the building and the importance of the archives on display, from what was once the most prolific publishing house in the 16th century, earned the museum a UNESCO World Heritage listing in 2005. Strolling around the lavish mansion and looking at the artifacts, including paintings by Rubens, is one of the best things to do in Antwerp.

While most people who visit Belgium are likely to spend most of their time in Brussels, there are many more wonderful cities to visit that are just as spectacular. Beyond Brussels, here are 5 others that make for an amazing day trip that you don’t want to miss. 

UNESCO World Heritage Sites by Country

If you found this article interesting, maybe you would like to read more like these in other destinations.  

As a holidaymaker…

Although a small country, Belgium offers an immense amount of diversity as you can see through its designated UNESCO World Heritage sites. 

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  1. Belgium is a place I could happily visit again and again. It would be amazing to visit at the time of the flower festival at the grand place in Brussels, but that square is beautiful anytime. Loved visiting Bruges but really need to get to Ghent

  2. Ive only spent 2 days in Belgium but Bruges might be one of my favorite cities in the entire world. It was the first trip I took with my now fiance and I think we fell in love with it on day one!

    1. I’m so glad you fell in love with it so fast. But yes, you’ll need to spend more time there, 2 days are definitely not long enough.

  3. Whenever I saw images of colorful buildings in Europe like in Bruges, I always wonder if it’s the original colors. If it’s not, whether the impact would be the same. I’m intrigued to see the inside of the Art Nouveau townhomes though.

    1. You’ll have to go during the Art Nouvou tour, this allows you to go inside these now private homes and see the details of this period.

  4. I had actually never heard of a belfry before, but I love how prevalent they are in Belgium! The one on St. Rumbold’s Cathedral is especially stunning, and impressive that it’s still in such good condition given its age. I also didn’t know that Belgium was where Art Nouveau began. All four hotels you mention have absolutely gorgeous interiors. For some reason, the style reminds me a bit of Da Vinci sketches! It’s really got a kind of engineering or inventor’s vibe!

  5. Belgium is so beautiful! I’ve been to a few of these but am sad I missed out on the UNESCO site in Antwerp. The Belfry in Leuven looks super cool, so will have to add that to the itinerary the next time I go to Belgium.

    1. Hopefully you get the chance to go, especially Antwerp and then see the amazing train station while there.

  6. Id love to revisit Belgium and check out some of your suggestions. I’ve only been to Bruges on your list and absolutely loved it there. I’m curious to visit the church that was the setting for “The Last Supper”. It’s such a masterpiece !!

    1. Thanks Candy, it really is a fascinating country that flies under the radar. Hopefully you are able to return and see more.

  7. Wonderful compilation! I have seen all of them except the one in Antwerp. Those Belfries are part of one UNESCO heritage group. Brugges was the best for me, I really want to get back there again.

    1. I’m so glad you agree that these sites are worth seeing. While in Antwerp, be sure to visit the train station. It is incredible.

  8. Belgium is such a beautiful country, while I have only been to Brussels! The next time around I’m exploring all these sites, heard so much about Bruges and the Belfry tower in Ghent. It’s fascinating to see the rich diaspora of prominent buildings in Brussals from their Parliament to the Grand Palace!

  9. Wow! I have visited Belgium a couple of times but have to admit that I didn’t realise how beautiful the architecture was. I loved Bruges & was blown away when I saw the square in Brussels but beyond that you have now given me lots of inspiration to return. Great post!

  10. I only passed briefly through Brussels/Belgium many years ago and I am so sorry that we couldn’t explore more. Thanks for sharing these interesting historical facts and photos about the UNESCO sites in Belgium.

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