Between quirky castles, secret sculptures, and cities which weren’t yet on your radar but totally ought to be, Belgium has no shortage of hidden gems you’ll soon fall in love with. Visit the country and you’ll soon discover that there’s a lot more than simply the beer! Here’s your ultimate help guide to the best-kept secret spots in Belgium that you simply must visit!
Why you must visit Belgium on your next Europe trip
Off the beaten path regardless of its geographical position between the countries of Germany, France, and also the Netherlands, Belgium is a delightful country which boasts exports such as Katherine hepburn, French fries (yes, really!), and Hercule Poirot but is missed by many travellers towards more famous destinations for example Amsterdam, Paris, and London!
However, basically could give you only one Europe travel tip, it might be to not result in the mistake of missing this stunning country off your European itinerary. In the end, Belgium is usually cheaper than its neighbouring countries but offers just as much when it comes to its fantastic foodie scene, world-famous chocolates, fantastic beer, mind-blowing architecture, and much, a lot more!
You should also know prior to going that thanks to its tiny little nature, making your way around Belgium by bus or train couldn’t be easier (I personally use this website to compare the best prices and times for buses/ planes & trains). Otherwise, continue reading to uncover the most unique and unusual things to do in Belgium…
The underrated town of Mechelen
Situated somewhere between the capital town of Brussels and Antwerp, the city of Mechelen is often overlooked towards more popular destinations. However, scratch underneath the surface and you’ll soon find a beautiful Belgium settlement that’s more than worth your time and effort while in the country and certainly probably the most unusual places to go to.
After all, asides from the ornate 13th-century St. Rumbold’s Cathedral, there’s lots of more highlights which the city provides. While Noen provides the best coffee around, the best food (especially for those who enjoy seafood-inspired cuisine) is to be found at Vismarkt, a former fish market turned square where all kinds of restaurants are available!
Secret small and great Beguinages, Leuven
Before visiting Leuven, I had no clue as to what I should expect. It had been an unusually warm spring day and I was visiting with some friends in tow. In no time, we discovered that there’s something for everybody with regards to enjoying the better of Leuven; from the better of foodie experiences to hidden gems to historical excursions, Leuven is indeed a gem worth discovering.
However, if there have been a couple of Leuven’s attractions that impressed more than any other, it was the beguinages. In the end, through the low countries (i.e. Belgium and also the Netherlands), there's a plethora of ‘Beguinages’ (begijnhofs in Dutch) that are typically almshouses which would have once housed those in society who needed it most.
Today, the town of Leuven is exclusive in that it boasts two teams of almshouses; the ‘Grand’ beguinage is now owned and operated by the university, though it’s been in existence since the 13th-century. The other beguinage is the smaller and secluded Klein Begijnhof and includes a single street populated by pretty brick houses, all lying within the shadow from the Keizersberg Abbey.
The sugar capital of scotland- Tienen
If you’ve ever enjoyed a sugar cube alongside your fresh coffee or warming cup of tea, then without doubt it will probably have been processed within the tiny town of Tienen, a little city not far from Leuven. From the beaten path and in the heart of Flemish Brabant in Flanders, this settlement used to be in the centre of Roman ceramics and glass-making,
Visit today and you’ll soon realize that there is little more to do in Tienen than seeing the primary churches, soaking up the ambience, and sampling some of the local cuisine (traditional Flemish cuisine includes many meat-heavy staples for example stews, meatballs, and mussels).
Much of town every day life is focused around the central square, which itself is centred around Sint-Germanuskerk, an amazing Romanesque church topped with a UNESCO belfry and dating back the 13th-century. During July and August, carillon concerts occur every Wednesday.
MAS Museum Rooftop, Antwerp
For people who wish to experience among the best views that Antwerp provides, there is perhaps no better spot to enjoy compared to free-to-visit MAS Museum rooftop. Easily among the best-kept strategies of Antwerp, this terrace offers 360-degree panoramic views of the city. You can even find small camera holes in the surrounding glass which allow you to take picture-perfect photos in the top!
Swap a shoe for any beer, Ghent
Hands down, one of the most unusual things you can do in Belgium would be to hand your shoe (either feet are fine!) over, in addition to some cash, in exchange for a beer! Welcome to Dulle Griet, one of the quirkiest pubs in Belgium. Step inside during opening hours (the Ghent bar is open every day of the week) and you can expect to find a hot ambience, lots of beer, and some pretty decor.
Dulle Griet are available along
Kasteel van Arenberg, Leuven
Situated on the fringes of Leuven and today operating as a University Campus, the stunning Kasteel van Arenberg gives visitors an easy glimpse into the world of Belgium castles, ch^ateaux, and fortifications. In the end, Kasteel van Arenberg can be reached on foot in just a twenty-minute walk from Leuven’s historic city centre.
Though the brick Castle van Arenberg are only able to be admired from its exterior (and you can, of course, wander through the open central courtyard), the nearby parkland is free of charge to go to and provides the perfect spot to enjoy picnics throughout the summer months.
Liège-Guillemins railway station, Liège
Situated close to the borders with Germany and the Netherlands and located within the Wallonia region of Belgium, a stop may not be the very first thing which springs to mind when it comes to the very best of Belgium’s hidden gems.
However, step inside this feat of modern engineering around the fringes of Liège, the third-largest city in Belgium, and you’ll soon realize that there’s much more to this transport hub than meets the eye. Utilized by over 15,000 people every day, the station spans 160 metres in length and stands at 32 metres high. An incredible mixture of steel, glass, and white concrete, this Belgium hotspot is a must-visit for any keen architectural photographer.
The off the beaten path city of Hasselt
Though less frequented than many of the other large towns and cities in Belgium, Hasselt a lot more than deserves a place on your Belgium bucket list. In the end, every year in the springtime, a plethora of blossom trees bloom, including the ever-so-pretty cherry blossom.
During this time around, a cherry blossom festival is held (full details here) and visitors and locals alike are treated to the chance to sit together or have a picnic with friends beneath a stunning canopy of pink blooms. Otherwise, some of the best things you can do in Hasselt incorporate a medieval town centre and several museums, including one dedicated solely to Jenever!
Vlaeykensgang, a secret street in Antwerp
Known as Antwerpen in Flemish and Anvers in French, the beautiful port city of Antwerp is usually overlooked towards more famous Belgian destinations for example Bruges or Brussels. However, scratch beneath the surface of this sprawling settlement and you’ll soon discover lots of great finds worth seeing.
One of my favourites is steps from the cathedral and its entryway is tucked away in plain sight. The key alleyway of Vlaeykensgang dates all the way to the 16th-century and includes tiny, leaning brick houses, quaint courtyard, or even a hidden restaurant; ‘t Hofke is a charming and romantic night out venue in which you choose the ambience instead of the food!
Enjoy lunch inside a former church in Ghent [CLOSED]
Though the city of Ghent is by no means a concealed gem of Belgium, there’s a lot more to find out should you opt to dig beneath the the surface of this delightful settlement. In the end, did you know that in the Holy Grocery store, an old church turned food court, you are able to sip on cocktails, snack on takeaway, or enjoy romantic date nights? Please note that, by 2020, the Holy Grocery store in Ghent is permanently closed.
Reading Between your Lines, Limburg
Set deep in the heart of the Limburg countryside, a place best-known for its flowering fruit trees and rolling green hills, Reading Between the Lines is an excellent secret spot which will charm architecture enthusiasts and nature lovers alike.
Best reached for those who have access to a car (transport links in the area are restricted), then you’ll soon discover that among the best secrets spots in Belgium is that of this unusual sculpture. Inspired through the pretty stone chapel that can be spied within the distance behind cellular phone, the skill piece was installed by the pair this year, together with art museum Z33.
Black tower, St. Catherine's Church
Of all the secret spots in Belgium, there’s an abundance of hidden gems to find out when it comes to the main city town of Brussels. Situated in the shadow of the 19th-century built St. Catherine's Church, Black Tower is really a medieval turret that looks like it has been plucked straight out of a fairytale. Surrounded by incredibly modern apartment blocks, the 'Tour Noire' as it is so-called in French is the sole surviving tower from the 13th-century fortifications that once encircled Brussels.
Abbaye de Villers
Nestled deep in the middle of the Walloon-Brabant countryside, the former Cistercian Abbaye de Villiers can be found in the town of Villers-la-Ville. Founded mid-way through the 12th-century, the Abbey ended up being an essential seat of power in the area before eventually being abandoned after the 18th-century.
Today, the romantic ruins of the Abbey could be visited within the French-speaking region of Wallonia as well as be seen like a day trip from Brussels. While an automobile will give you more flexibility with your schedule, using the train from Brussels to Villers-la-Ville will deposit you simply a couple of kilometres away from the abbey. Check for more information about visiting Abbaye de Villers.
Photo by Karen from Wanderlustingk.com
The picturesque town of Dinant
Though less of a Belgium hidden gem nowadays than just a few years ago, Dinant still remains a must-see for those who are looking to enjoy the better if the nation provides. Located alongside banks from the River Meuse, the same river which wends its way through French settlements such as Verdun and Charleville-Mézières, this colourful town has something to provide for every budget.
After all, between boutique stays and sampling the neighborhood cuisine, there are many attractions worth checking out. Overall, the best things you can do in Dinant include touring the Renaissance Castle of Fre”yr, marvelling in the views in the Dinant Citadel, and being astonished by the Grotte La Merveilleuse. Check here for more information about visiting Dinant!
The fishing town of Nieuwpoort, Northern Belgium
Tucked away in the Northern part of Belgium, the charming town of Nieuwpoor is easily among the country’s best-kept secrets. Boasting highlights like a beach filled with marina, other activities to do in Nieuwpoort include a beach walk promenade, beach sailing, and the Nature reserve of De IJzermonding.
The Prehistoric Flint Mines in Spiennes
Situated just six kilometres from the capital of scotland- Mons, the flint mines of Spiennes are classed like a UNESCO world heritage site because of their unique nature and sheer historical importance. As one of the oldest and largest historic mines in the entirety of Europe, you may be interested to understand that you can visit (though only 5500 people are permitted to visit every year so be sure to book well ahead of time!) Check further information on how to visit the mines here.