Where else to start than the capital of Belgium (and of Europe)? If you know one Belgian monument, chances are it is the Atomium. The 102-metre steel construction with 9 spheres was built for the 1958 World Exhibition. Originally, the Atomium was to be dismantled after the exhibition, but it ended up becoming a tourist attraction.
Speaking of attractions: would you believe that a small statue of a boy peeing is known all over the world? Manneken Pis is only 58 cm tall, but extremely popular with tourists. On 23 days in the year he is dressed in a different costume, so he has already worn more than 900 outfits, including a football jersey during the World Cup. These costumes are kept in the Brussels City Museum on the Grand-Place.
In the province of West Flanders, you’ll find that the capital, Bruges, is a city full of history. The authentic medieval urban structure has been preserved and large parts of the historical patrimony have remained virtually intact. So, it only makes sense that UNESCO has recognised the entire city centre as a World Heritage Site. Be very sure to visit the Belfry and the Beguinage.
When you stroll around in the city centre, you will see the city’s canals meandering everywhere. These small canals connect the city centre with the sea and thus form the arteries of the city. Take a boat trip and discover how the city's architecture is completely adapted to the water. It’s for a very good reason that Bruges is sometimes called the Venice of the North.
On to the next province! Ghent is the capital of East Flanders and one of the oldest cities in our country. It is small enough to retain its charm, and yet it has a bustling centre of culture and commerce. At times, Ghent is quite reminiscent of Bruges, because here too the water is never far away and you will find a lot of medieval and classical architecture.
Some tips? Your must-see list should certainly include a visit to the Gravensteen. The only surviving medieval moated castle with an almost intact defence system in Flanders, Gravensteen gives you a complete picture of medieval culture in the 12th century. And definitely visit St. Bavo's Cathedral and the Belfry (Ghent’s own, different from the one in Bruges). Moreover, art lovers will find what they are looking for in the S.M.A.K. and MSK, among other fantastic museums.
In addition to IMPACT’s head office, the Limburg capital also has great shopping streets and museums. Visit the Jenever Museum, where you will learn everything about the history and production process of this renowned regional product. Of course, your visit will also include the necessary tastings. Then, take a stroll through the Japanese Garden or admire the many statues in the city.
If you drive a little further by car, you will arrive in Bokrijk. This open air museum has been around since 1958. On an area of more than 60 hectares, you will find about 140 buildings and numerous items that give you a good idea of how our ancestors lived. Or take a bicycle and go ‘Cycling through Water’, an architectural project that has been awarded prizes from all over the world.
We end our brief tour through Flanders in the metropolis of Antwerp – known worldwide for its port and the accompanying Port Authority Building. But the City Hall on the Grote Markt is a gem as well. The oldest preserved building in Antwerp is Het Steen. Over the centuries, it has served in many roles, including as a fortress and a prison.
Since 2011, the MAS (Museum aan de Stroom) has been located on Eilandje, the hip harbour district. Furthermore, Antwerp’s Central Station is one of Europe's most beautiful train stations. A stone's throw from the Central Station, you will find the Antwerp Zoo, one of the oldest and most famous zoos in Europe.
There is, of course, more than just Flanders. In Wallonia, the French-speaking part of Belgium, there are many interesting places to visit. Be delighted by the many citadels, such as those of Namur or Dinant. Delve into the war years in, for example, the War Museum in Bastogne. Or spend a day in Liège, where you should certainly visit Saint Paul's Cathedral and the futuristic Liège-Guillemins Station.
And of all things, don’t miss out on the Ardennes. For many Belgians, this is the perfect place to spend a weekend in their own country – with a kayak trip as an activity, for example – and certainly in the winter months it’s the place for beautiful walks and winter sports. In the heart of the Ardennes, you will find Durbuy – the self-proclaimed smallest city in the world – with a beautiful centre full of cosy restaurants, pubs and special shops.
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