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Getting to know Belgium

Although Belgium is a relatively small country, it has a lot to see and do. The capital city of Brussels is home to a wide range of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, from the medieval guildhalls that surround the stunning Grand Place to the Art Nouveau townhouses designed by Victor Horta in the early twentieth century.

There are thousands of visitors to Bruges every year because of its perfectly preserved medieval streets and calm canals. Ghent and Mechelen, two other Dutch cities, are particularly rich in medieval architecture.

This small country has hosted many of Europe’s most significant events, including the World Cup and the Olympics.

The Canals of Bruges and the Belfry

A network of waterways that linked Bruges to the Zwin Estuary and the North Sea was built up as the city grew around the Reie River, which was the city’s original home base.

Sailing and walking the canals of Bruges are two of the most popular activities in the country.

On the tourism website, you can download a walking tour map that will take you through the inner canals, where you’ll see stunning views of charming bridges and glimpses into secret gardens. Alternatively, you can embark on a canal cruise by boat, departing from any of the city’s five piers.

These two landmarks, Bruges’ belfry, and Halle are among Belgium’s most recognizable landmarks.

Visiting this magnificent medieval building, which served as the town’s main market hall and has been preserved, gives visitors a true sense of the architectural strength of the Middle Ages.

Brussels' Grand Place

Guildhalls and other grand structures from Belgian vernacular architecture line the perimeter of the Large Place, also known as De Grote Markt.

One side is dominated by the magnificent medieval town hall, a masterpiece of Gothic architecture.

It has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its outstanding late-seventeenth-century architecture. The 75-by-24-meter Flower Carpet, made of over 700,000 cut begonias, fills the center of the square on alternate years, drawing tourists and residents alike.

Gravensteen and the Old Town of Ghent

In the Middle Ages, the Crusaders built large castles like this one in Syria, which inspired the Counts of Flanders to build their own fortresses.

In Europe, Gravensteen is one of the best examples of a moated fortress that has been preserved.

The river Lieve flows through the heart of Ghent’s old town, and its powerful and impressively thick and high walls rise above the rooftops of the surrounding streets.

The wide arched halls and rooms of the castle house medieval artifacts, but the castle’s architecture is the real star here. The best way to see Ghent’s charming stone-paved streets is to take the stairwell up to the roof.

The Flanders Battlefields

The Battlefields of Flanders around Ypres, where the First World War was fought, attract a large number of tourists to Belgium.

As well as historical significance, the battlefields are a popular pilgrimage site. Kilometers of preserved trenches surround Ypres, and the area is littered with massive graves honoring the hundreds of soldiers who lost their lives in this battle.

Two of Langemark’s most poignant reminders of WWI’s terrible violence are the British Tyne Cot Cemetery and the German War Cemetery.

Saint Bavo Cathedral in Ghent

Ghent’s most popular tourist attraction is this magnificent cathedral, with its soaring Gothic choir and Romanesque crypt, which represents the best of Belgian religious architecture.

In addition to the beautiful stained-glass windows and the imposing structure, the Altar of Ghent, a Flemish masterpiece, is what attracts most visitors to the cathedral.

Visit the cathedral’s massive crypt, which contains historic graves and beautiful wall paintings, after you’ve seen the artwork.

Bruges' Basilica of the Holy Blood

When in Bruges, make sure to visit this church. Because of the priceless relic that is kept there, as well as the building’s blend of Romanesque and late Gothic styles, the Basilica of the Holy Blood deserves special mention.

Supposedly containing a drop of Jesus Christ’s blood brought back to Belgium after the Second Crusade, the church’s eponymous vial is kept in its upper chapel.

Although the church’s interior isn’t filled with holy relics, a visit to see the 16th-century goldwork is more than enough of a reason to stop by.

The valley of Meuse

Located in the south of Brussels, is one of the best places to get a sense of rural Belgium.

The Meuse River offers one of Belgium’s most scenic rafting experiences, thanks to its mix of lush forest and towering rocky castle and fortress ruins, as well as small seaside settlements backed by limestone cliffs.

The towns of Namur and Dinant can help you plan your river journey. This region is accessible from both of these small towns.

There are numerous hiking and cycling trails in the Meuse Valley for visitors who want to add a little adventure to their vacation.

Mons' historic town

Central to the city is the Grand Place, a large square dotted with historically significant structures from the 15th to the 18th centuries that still maintain a sense of symmetry. The Toison d’Or House (1615) and the Chapel of St. George are two notable examples of early Baroque architecture (1604).

Many other sights and sounds can be found throughout the historic center, in addition to the Grand Place.

Both the UNESCO-listed bell tower and the Church of Sainte-Waudru, which is packed with religious and artistic treasures, are major attractions in the town.

Mechelen's Old Town

Mechelen’s old town area, with its many gabled buildings and excellent old buildings, is a great place to get a sense of medieval Belgium. If you want to get a feel for medieval Belgium, look no further than this city’s lesser-known monuments.

On either side of the Grote Markt, you’ll find the impressive Sint-Rombouts Cathedral, with its soaring clock tower, as well as the Town Hall and Lakenhall.

Guild house architecture can be found throughout the city center, away from the city’s main plaza, and history buffs will want to see it.

Valley of Semois

The Semois Valley provides a welcome respite from the urban sprawl of Belgium’s cities and villages.

The Semois River meanders through farmland in the southern part of the country, framed by gently undulating forest-covered hills. It’s a great place to go hiking in Belgium, as well as to take a riverboat ride through the twists and turns of the river. There are a number of lodging options available in the region, including mid-range guesthouses and camping, in villages like Membre, Laforet, and Alle.