10 Top-Rated Day Trips from Brussels
Basing yourself in Brussels while exploring the rest of Belgium is a great idea. Centrally placed, Brussels is in a prime position for further exploration of the countryside. It's a particularly convenient base for trips to locations in the middle and north of the country. Some of the most famous tourist attractions within easy reach are the historic battlefields of Waterloo and the towns and villages of the Flanders region, where you'll also find the moving battlefields of Ypres. For those who aren't keen on packing and unpacking constantly as they travel, staying in the capital and renting a car for a series of day trips is a smart option.
The little town of Waterloo in Brabant has become world famous through the historic battle of June 18, 1815 when the French army under Napoleon met the united armies of Britain, Hanover, the Netherlands, and Prussia. The battlefield is located to the south of Waterloo, mainly in the parish of Braine-l'Alleud, and now appears as a peaceful scene of pastures and fields of cereals. The Butte du Lion (also known as lion hill) rises above the former battlefield and is visible from afar. It was constructed between 1823 and 1826 on the place where the Prince of Orange received his fatal wounds. The hill was built up with 32,000 cubic meters of earth from the battlefield to a height of 40 meters. On the summit is a sculpture of a lion by Arthur-Louis van Geel, which weighs 28 tons and is more than four meters long. The lion stands with its right paw on a globe and looks to the south from where the French came. From the platform beneath the monument, up more than 226 steps, is a panoramic view of the battlefield.
Location: 18 kilometers south of Brussels
2 Royal Museum of Central Africa
The Musée Royal de l'Afrique Central is housed in a palatial building designed by the French architect Charles Girault. Completed in 1910, the project was yet another brainchild of King Léopold II. The museum's extremely comprehensive collection, deriving mainly from the former Belgian Congo, embraces the wildlife, archaeology, mineralogy, ethnography, and art of the people of Central Africa. The minerals section in particular, and also the collection of masks, carved wood, and ivory figures, are unique. Well stocked with fine old trees, the large and pleasant Tervuren Park extends south from the museum.
Address: Leuvensesteenweg 13, Tervuren
Once the capital of a largely autonomous Flanders, Aalst straddles the banks of the river Dender and is a rather laid back place famous for its thriving flower industry. Photographers won't want to miss the colorful spectacle of Aalst's flower market (Bloemenveilingshal), which is held every morning in Albrechtlaan. In the Grote Markt (main town square) the original Town Hall (Schepenhuis) is a particular highlight for history fiends. Begun in 1225 and now the oldest building of its kind in Belgium, this ancient sandstone edifice traces the entire evolution of Gothic architecture over three centuries. A short distance east of the Grote Markt is the Sint-Martinuskerk. The choir and ring of chapels in this church are the work of famous architects Herman and Dominic de Waghemakere who built Antwerp Cathedral. The interior is graced with a collection of outstanding artwork, including the painting St. Roch and the Plague Sufferers attributed to Peter Paul Rubens, which hangs in the chapel to the left of the right-hand aisle.
Location: 28 kilometers northwest from Brussels
If you're visiting Aalst, don't miss dropping in to Moorsel, five kilometers east. Here, you'll find a moated castle (waterkasteel), which dates from the Renaissance period and is constructed entirely of red brick. It was built in 1520 as a summer residence by Charles de Croy, Abbot of Affligem and later Cardinal of Tournai. Afterwards check out Moorsel's main church, the 13th-century Sint-Martinuskerk, which according to tradition, grew out of a 7th-century communion chapel dedicated to St. Gudula. The present church contains three Baroque altars by Jacob Ulner. The countryside here is extremely pretty, full of rolling farmland, so a drive in this area is a great way to experience Belgium's gorgeous landscapes.
Location: 32 kilometers northwest from Brussels
5 Botanic Garden Meise
Botanic Garden Meise, formerly known as the National Botanic Garden of Belgium, is in the suburb of Meise, 14 kilometers north of Brussels. It opened in 1958. The nurseries and hothouses are grouped around the 12th-century castle and lake of the Domaine Bouchard, where Leopold II's sister, the Empress Charlotte of Mexico, lived after fleeing the Mexican Revolution. More than 10,000 plants are arranged according to geographical origin. Among the highlights are the collection of water and wetland plants in the Victoria hothouse and the tropical and subtropical plants in the so-called Palais des Plantes.
Address: Domein van Bouchout, Meise
Oudenaarde (in French Audenarde) in the south of East Flanders, where the Flemish Ardennes gives way to the coastal moorland traversed by the Scheldt, is a quiet township, which possesses a considerable textile industry. For art lovers, Oudenaarde is, after Ghent, of great interest because of its impressive buildings in the Scheldt Gothic style and its magnificent Town Hall, built between 1526 and 1537 according to plans by the Brussels civic architect Hendrik van Pede on the site of the Courthouse (Schepenhuis), which had been pulled down. The architect followed the Late-Gothic city halls of Brussels and Leuven and introduced Renaissance elements. Once you've finished admiring the town hall, check out the lovely St. Walburga Church (Sint-Walburgakerk); the Bishop's Palace, built around 1600 and one of the finest Renaissance buildings in Belgium; and the Church of Our Lady of Pamele, distinctive for its tall narrow choir windows, the corner towers of the choir, and the octagonal crossing tower.
Location: 60 kilometers west from Brussels
7 Huizingen Domain
For nature-lovers, the drop-dead gorgeous landscaped gardens and miles of walking trails of the Huizingen Domain are an unbeatable day out. There is plenty of history here as well. The first castle built on this site dates from the 15th century, but the real extension of the area began in the mid-19th century when the domain was created into the park seen today. Those with children in tow will find plenty to keep the little ones happy here with a zoo, swimming pools, and plenty of playground facilities. Otherwise, it's simply a wonderful place for a stroll and a picnic.
Location: 15 kilometers south from Brussels
The little town of Ath (in Flemish Aat) was founded in the 12th century when Baldwin IV, Count of Hainaut, purchased the title to the area. Because of its strategic importance, he fortified it by building several castles. The 23-meter-high Burbant Tower (Tour de Burbant) is a relic of Baldwin IV's original stronghold, built in 1168. The walls are up to 3.7 meters thick leaving little room actually inside the tower. The rest of the castle was demolished in the 16th century. In the central city, the 12th-century Church of Saint-Julien is well worth a visit to see the sturdy tower with its four turrets and carillon of bells, while the Grand Place is home to the 17th-century town hall and a number of fine 18th-century houses.
Location: 58 kilometers southwest from Brussels
Hasselt is the lively capital of the province of Limburg. In the center, the busy Grote Markt is surrounded by several old patrician houses. Northeast from the grand place is the Gothic Saint Quentin Cathedral (Sint-Quintinuskathedraal) built in the 15th century on Roman foundations with an interior full of Gothic frescoes. A short walk from the Grote Markt is the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk, which was built between 1728 and 1740 and rebuilt true to the original in 1950-1952 following its bombardment in 1944. On the east side of the inner town, you'll find the Museum Stellingwerff-Waerdenhof, devoted to local and town history. The most outstanding exhibit is the oldest known monstrance in the world dating from 1286.
Location: 85 kilometers east from Brussels
10 Laarne Castle
Laarne castle lies 11 kilometers east of Ghent, and it's great to combine both on one day trip. The 11th-century pentagonal fortress was built to defend Ghent and rebuilt in the 17th century. Today, it has two inner courtyards and a large keep on the right-hand facade and is surrounded by a moat. The interior is furnished in the French and Antwerp styles; with exceptionally beautiful Brussels tapestries dating from the 16th century depicting the Emperor Maximilian hunting. On the first floor is a collection of silverwork, which comprises chiefly French and Belgian silver from the 15th to 18th centuries, including a plate designed by Rubens in 1628, which belonged to the Tsarina Catherine II.
Address: Eekhoekstraat 7, Laarne