Belgium’s capital city, Brussels, is a charming and vibrant metropolis with a rich history and culture. But sometimes, you just need to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and explore the hidden gems that Belgium has to offer. Luckily, Brussels is perfectly located to serve as a base for exploring the country’s many attractions. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the best day trips from Brussels.
Bruges: The Venice of the North
Bruges is a beautiful and historic city located in the northwest of Belgium. Its medieval architecture and romantic canals are a sight to behold, and it’s no wonder that the city’s historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. During the Middle Ages, Bruges was a major center of trade, which contributed to its prosperity and cultural significance.
One of the reasons Bruges is often called the “Venice of the North” is because of its picturesque canals and bridges. Exploring the city by boat is a unique and romantic experience that offers visitors a different perspective on the city’s architecture and charm.
Bruges is also famous for its chocolate, which is sold in many shops throughout the city. Belgian chocolates are renowned worldwide for their quality and taste, and visitors should definitely try some while in Bruges. In addition to chocolate, the city is also known for its beer culture. With many local breweries and a variety of bars serving traditional Belgian beers, there’s something for every beer lover in Bruges.
Bruges also has a rich cultural heritage, with many museums offering insight into the city’s history and art. The Groeningemuseum, for example, houses a collection of Flemish paintings from the 15th to the 20th century. Visitors can learn about the city’s past and immerse themselves in its culture.
As a walkable city, visitors can easily explore the city’s attractions by foot. Many of the city’s attractions are located close together, making it easy to see a lot in a short amount of time.
Top things to do in Bruges
Bruges counts so many tourist attractions that it’s impossible to see or do everything on one day. That means you have plenty of choice of things to do in Bruges. Below is a list of the “essentials”, but make sure to check the complete Bruges Travel guide as well to get the most out of your visit.
- Take a boat tour: One of the best ways to experience the beauty of Bruges is by taking a boat tour of its canals
- Visit the Belfry: Climb the 366 steps to the top of the Belfry for stunning views of the city.
- Try some chocolate: Belgium is known for its chocolate, and Bruges has some of the best chocolatiers in the country.
- Visit the Groeningemuseum: This museum has an impressive collection of Flemish art, including works by Jan van Eyck and Hans Memling.
Plan your day trip from Brussels to Bruges
Bruges is only an hour away from Brussels by train. Depending on the traffic, the journey takes about 1h20 by car. Alternatively you can take one of the many guided organised tours from Brussels to Bruges.
When it’s your first time in Belgium or if you haven’t visited Bruges before, then I would highly recommend this as the best day trip from Brussels.
Ghent: A Medieval Gem
Ghent, located in the Flemish Region of Belgium, is the third largest city in the country after Brussels and Antwerp. The city has a rich medieval history and architecture, with many historic buildings and landmarks dating back to the Middle Ages. It is home to several UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the Belfry and Cloth Hall, the St. Bavo’s Cathedral, and the Gravensteen castle.
The city is also home to a number of museums and galleries, including the Museum of Fine Arts, the Design Museum, and the SMAK Contemporary Art Museum.
Ghent is also known for its delicious cuisine, including Belgian waffles, chocolate, and beer. You can also find local specialties such as “Gentse waterzooi,” a creamy stew made with chicken or fish and vegetables.
With a large student population, Ghent has a lively and youthful atmosphere, especially around the historic university quarter. Cycling is a popular way to get around. There are over 400 kilometers of bike paths and a number of scenic routes that take you through the city’s historic center, along its canals and rivers.
Plan your day trip from Brussels to Ghent
Ghent is only 40 minutes from Brussels by train. Depending on the traffic, the journey takes about 45mins by car
If you’re unsure if you should visit Ghent or Bruges, I’ve written a whole blogpost about it. But the good news is, you don’t have to choose if you don’t want to. Ghent is located on the route to Bruges, making it very convenient to visit both cities in one day. However if possible, I would advise just spend a whole day in each city, since they have both lots to offer.
Top things to do in Ghent
- Visit Gravensteen Castle: This impressive castle was built in the 12th century and offers great views of the city.
- Take a boat tour: See the city from a different perspective by taking a boat tour through the canals.
- Take a stroll along the Graslei: This picturesque street is lined with beautiful buildings and is perfect for a leisurely stroll.
- Visit St. Bavo’s Cathedral: This stunning cathedral has a rich history and is home to several important works of art.
- Try some local beer: Ghent is home to several breweries, so be sure to sample some of the local beers.
Antwerp: Art, Architecture & Diamonds
Antwerp is a city with a rich history and a lot to offer travelers. As the second largest city in Belgium, it is located in the northern part of the country and has a lot of cultural and economic significance. During the Renaissance, Antwerp was one of the most important ports in Europe, and this is reflected in the city’s architecture and artistic heritage.
Speaking of art, Antwerp was home to some of the most famous artists of the time, including Rubens, Van Dyck, and Jordaens, whose works can be seen in museums and churches throughout the city. In addition to art, Antwerp is also known for its diamond industry, and the Antwerp Diamond District is the largest diamond trading center in the world.
Another aspect of Antwerp that draws visitors is its vibrant fashion scene. The Antwerp Fashion Academy has produced many internationally renowned fashion designers. The city itself is home to many chic boutiques and trendy clothing stores. If you love fashion and shopping, make sure to visit the Meier street.
No visit to Antwerp would be complete without indulging in some of the city’s famous treats, such as chocolate, beer, and waffles. Whether you’re looking for a quick snack or a gourmet meal, Antwerp has something to offer everyone. Therefor it’s no surprise that Antwerp is in the top 3 of best day trips from Brussels.
Plan your day trip from Brussels to Antwerp
Antwerp is only 40 minutes from Brussels by train. Depending on the traffic, the journey takes about 50mins by car. Alternatively you can also take an organised day trip from Brussels to Antwerp.
Best things to do in Antwerp
- Explore the historic center: Antwerp’s historic center is filled with charming streets, beautiful architecture, and plenty of shops and restaurants.
- Visit the Cathedral of Our Lady: This stunning Gothic cathedral is home to several works of art by famous painters like Peter Paul Rubens.
- Visit the MAS Museum: This museum tells the story of Antwerp’s history and culture, and offers panoramic views of the city from its rooftop terrace.
- Visit the Diamond District: Antwerp is one of the world’s largest diamond trading centers, and you can visit the Diamond District to learn more about the trade and maybe even purchase some diamonds of your own.
Mechelen: Hidden History
Located halfway between Brussels and Antwerp, Mechelen is a hidden gem that’s often overlooked by tourists. However, the city has a rich history and culture. Visitors can admire the city’s stunning Gothic and Renaissance architecture, including the impressive tower of St. Rumbold’s Cathedral.
During the 16th century, Mechelen served as the capital of the Netherlands and was an important center for politics and religion. Today, travelers can visit the former palace of the Archbishop of Mechelen, which now houses the Kazerne Dossin Memorial and Museum, dedicated to the history of the Holocaust in Belgium.
The city has a vibrant cultural scene, with plenty of art galleries, museums, and theaters to explore.
Personally I think that the Mechelen Market square belongs to the most beautiful market squares in Belgium.
Plan your daytrip from Brussels to Mechelen
Mechelen is located approximately 30 minutes from Brussels by train. It’s on the route to Antwerp, so you can conveniently combine a visit to both cities in one day. It’s also a great option for a half day trip from Brussels.
Best things to do in Mechelen
- Visit St. Rumbold’s Cathedral: This stunning cathedral has a 97-meter-high tower that offers great views of the city.
- Visit the Toy Museum: This museum has an impressive collection of antique toys and games.
- Visit the Palace of Margaret of Austria: This impressive palace was built in the 16th century.
- Take a stroll through the Groot Begijnhof: This charming neighborhood was once home to a community of beguines. Nowadays it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Leuven: Beer, History and Culture
Leuven, Belgium is a historic university town that boasts one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in Europe, founded in 1425. Visitors can marvel at the beautiful Gothic-style buildings, such as the Town Hall and St. Peter’s Church, which date back to the 15th century.
One of Leuven’s main draws is its famous beer culture, with several local breweries producing some of the best Belgian beers. Stella Artois and Hoegaarden are the most famous ones. Did you know the “old market” square is nicknamed “the longest bar in the world”? It’s a great place to taste one of the many delicious Belgian beers. Leuven is also known for its vibrant nightlife, with many bars, pubs, and clubs.
The town has a rich cultural heritage, and visitors can explore many museums, galleries, and exhibitions showcasing the town’s history and traditions. Leuven is also a very bike-friendly town, with many dedicated bike lanes and paths, making it easy for visitors to explore the town and its surroundings on two wheels. Visitors can also explore the oldest botanical garden in Belgium, the Kruidtuin, which is open to the public and is a popular spot for picnics and relaxation.
Plan your day trip to Leuven
Leuven is located at 30 mins from Brussels by train. Together with Mechelen it’s the closest day trip destination from Brussels. In my opinion, Leuven is a great destination for a short day trip from Brussels.
Best things to do in Leuven
- Visit the Town Hall: This stunning Gothic building dates back to the 15th century and is home to several important works of art.
- Visit the University Library: This impressive library has a collection of over 4 million books and manuscripts. From the tower you have a beautiful panoramic view over the city.
- Take a stroll through the Begijnhof: This charming neighborhood was once home to a community of beguines and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Dinant: Cliffs, Castles and Caves
Located in the heart of the Ardennes region, Dinant is a small town with plenty of charm and natural beauty.
Dinant is a small but fascinating town located in the beautiful Ardennes region in Belgium. The town is steeped in history and boasts several architectural wonders, such as the imposing Citadel. Built in the 11th century, the fortress sits atop a steep rock overlooking the town and offers panoramic views of the Meuse River and the surrounding area.
The most famous figure associated with Dinant is Adolphe Sax, the inventor of the saxophone. Sax was born in Dinant in 1814, and the town honors him with a statue and a museum dedicated to his life and work. The museum displays a vast collection of instruments and personal belongings, giving visitors an insight into Sax’s life and work.
The town is also famous for its colorful saxophones that can be found all over the city. These saxophones are painted in different styles and designs by local artists, adding a touch of whimsy to the town’s already charming atmosphere.
Dinant is surrounded by stunning natural scenery, with the picturesque Meuse River and the imposing Rocher Bayard providing the perfect backdrop for exploration. The Rocher Bayard is a massive limestone rock formation that stands over 50 meters tall, and the area is ideal for hiking, biking, and exploring.
Plan your day trip from Brussels to Dinant
Dinant is located approx. 2hours from Brussels by train. First, take the train from Brussels to Namur, then switch to the IC train to Dinant.
Personally I would recommend a day trip to Dinant only from spring until autumn. However I would avoid going to Dinant when the weather is bad, or during winter.
Top things to do in Dinant
- Take a cable car up to the Citadel: The Citadel of Dinant is a fortress perched on a cliff overlooking the town. You can take a cable car to the top and enjoy stunning views of the Meuse Valley whilst taking a tour of the citadel.
- Visit the Collegiate Church of Notre-Dame: This impressive church dates back to the 13th century and is a remarkable piece of architecture.
Liège: The Burning City
Liege, located in the French-speaking Wallonia region of Belgium, boasts a rich history dating back to the Roman era. Many medieval buildings and landmarks still stand today, making Liege a popular tourist destination. One of the city’s most famous attractions is the Montagne de Bueren. This steep staircase with 374 steps leads to a hilltop overlooking the city.
In addition to its historical sites, Liege is known for its lively street markets. The Outremeuse neighborhood’s Sunday morning market is a great place to find fresh produce and antiques. Religious architecture enthusiasts can also enjoy visiting several beautiful churches and cathedrals, such as Saint Paul’s Cathedral and Saint Bartholomew’s Church.
Plan your day trip from Brussels to Liege
Liege is less then an hour from Brussels by train. It’s a great destination for a day trip from Brussels, as the city has a lots to discover.
Top things to do in Liège
- Take a stroll through the city centre:
- Climb the Montagne de Bueren: This staircase has 374 steps and offers great views of the city.
- Try some local cuisine: Liège is known for its delicious waffles, so be sure to sample some while you’re there. They are completely different then the Brussels waffles. Up to you to decide which one tastes best!
Ypres: In Flanders Fields
Ypres is a Flemish city in Belgium that holds great historical significance, particularly for its role in World War I. During the war, the city was completely destroyed, but it was later rebuilt in its original medieval style. Today, Ypres is a popular destination for tourists who come to pay their respects to the soldiers who lost their lives during the war.
One of the most famous landmarks in Ypres is the Menin Gate Memorial, which serves as a tribute to the British and Commonwealth soldiers who died in the Ypres Salient. Every evening at 8 pm, a moving Last Post ceremony is held at the memorial to commemorate the fallen soldiers.
Another popular attraction in Ypres is the Market Square, which boasts a picturesque setting surrounded by historic buildings, cafes, and restaurants. The Cloth Hall, located on the square, is a UNESCO World Heritage site that houses the In Flanders Fields Museum. The museum tells the story of the war in the Ypres Salient and is a must-see for visitors.
In addition to the Menin Gate Memorial and the Market Square, Ypres is surrounded by several war cemeteries, including the Tyne Cot Cemetery, which is the largest Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery in the world.
Top things to do in Ypres
- Visit the In Flanders Fields Museum:
This museum is dedicated to the history of World War I and houses several important artifacts.
- Visit the Cloth Hall:
This impressive building dates back to the 13th century and is home to the In Flanders Fields Museum.
- Take a stroll through the Menin Gate:
This memorial honors the soldiers who died in World War I and is inscribed with the names of over 54,000 soldiers.
Oostende: The Queen of the Belgian Seaside Resorts
Oostende is a charming seaside town with plenty of things to see and do. Here are some of the top things to see and do in Oostende:
- Take a stroll along the promenade:
The promenade in Oostende is lined with shops, restaurants, and cafes and is perfect for a leisurely stroll.
- Visit the Mu.ZEE:
This museum has an impressive collection of modern and contemporary art.
- Visit the Fort Napoleon:
This impressive fortress dates back to the 19th century.
- Try some local seafood:
Oostende is known for its delicious seafood, so be sure to sample some while you’re there.
Useful tips for planning your day trips from Brussels
All the above-mentioned day trips from Brussels can be done by train. Travelers who plan on making several day trips or who travel in groups should look out for a ten-journey rail pass. These passes can be shared and are valid for ten journeys at a fixed price. Another great way to save money on your rail pass is to plan your day trip on the weekend. From Friday 7 PM until Sunday, all return passes are 50% off. Travelers under 26 should look into the youth passes or holiday passes for extra-cheap travel. Read all about it on the “Belgian Railways” page.
Belgium has so much to offer, and these day trips from Brussels are just a small sample of the country’s many attractions. Whether you’re interested in history, culture, or nature, there’s something for everyone. So, take a break from the city and explore the hidden gems of Belgium on one of these fantastic day trips from Brussels.