14 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Mons (Bergen)
Mons (also known as Bergen in Flemish) stands on a ridge between the two rivers of Haine and Trouille and is an important junction town between Brussels and Paris. Its origins date back to the seventh century when a castle was built here, while a monastery dedicated to St. Waltrude was founded here a little later. Mons' hey-day was during the 13th and 15th centuries when it became the capital of the county of Hennegau, but the town suffered considerably during the wars of the 17th and 18th centuries and lost its prominence. Today, the town is home to considerable cultural and scientific institutions and a number of fascinating museums.
1 City Hall
Mons' City Hall (also called the Hôtel de Ville) presides impressively over the town's Grand Place in the central city, flanked by the ornately-decorated Toison d'Or House (1615) and the Chapel of St. George (1604). The facade was designed by Mattheus de Layens in 1458, while the rest of the city hall buildings, grouped around the courtyard, date from the 15th to 18th centuries. Look up to the left of the main entrance to see a bronze sculpture of a monkey with a polished head - stroking it is said to bring good fortune. Inside, the Salle des Commissions holds Brussels tapestries dating to 1707, and the Salle des Mariages has some gorgeous examples of wooden paneling. If you walk through the courtyard, you come to the Jardins du Mayeur, the Burgomaster's garden, which has a fountain representing a street urchin of Mons. Just to your left here is the old civic prison of 1512 with a torture chamber.
Address: Grand-Place, central Mons
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Mons
2 Bell Tower
The most famous landmark in Mons is the city's bell tower, which stands on the former castle hill above the town and is a UNESCO heritage listed site. The 87-meter-high tower was built in 1661 and is the only purely Baroque belfry in Belgium, with a carillon of 47 bells. It is well worth making the climb up to the top here where there is an observation platform. Once you've huffed and puffed your way up, you'll be rewarded with incredible views across the town and out to the countryside beyond.
Address: Ramp du Chateau, central Mons
3 Church of Sainte-Waudru
Just below Mons' castle hill with the scant remains of the old feudal castle is the Collegiate Church of Sainte-Waudru. Building began in 1450 to plans by Mattheus de Layens, and despite construction being interrupted several times, the church reveals a remarkable unity of style in Brabant Gothic. Inside, the first thing that will strike you are the pillars of the central nave, which stretch up into the vault of the roof without any capitals. Once you're through the main door, turn to the left to see the "Car d'Or," a processional carriage built in 1780 for the shrine of St. Waltrude. The gilded copper shrine (built in 1887) is near the High Altar and holds the body of the saint who died in 682 and was sewn up in a skin of a stag. Her head is kept in one of the chapels in a casket.
At various points around the church (in the transept, choir, and chapels 11, 14, 20, 24, and 28) you can see the surviving remnants of the church's choir screen, made by Jacques Dubroeucq of Mons between 1535 and 1548 and destroyed by the French in 1792. This is one of the most important of Renaissance works in Belgium with a strong Italian influence. Don't forget to visit the Treasury before you leave the church. It contains a number of valuable reliquaries including that of St. Vincent by the school of Hugo d'Oignies, as well as gold and silver work from Mons and the surrounding district.
Address: Rampe du Sainte-Waudru, central Mons
4 Civic Museums
The Jardins du Mayeur adjoining the City Hall have a former pawn shop at their end, which now contains the Musées du Centenaire (civic museums) housing three museums under one roof. The War Museum occupies two stories. The ground floor commemorates the First World War, especially the British regiments that stopped the Germans near Mons on August 23 and 24, 1914 who were proceeding in the direction of Paris. The museum on the third floor is dedicated to the Second World War and the liberation of Mons by American troops on September 2, 1944. The Ceramic Museum on the first floor has more than 3,500 exhibits from all important European faience and porcelain manufacturers dating from the 18th century to the present day, while the Numismatic Museum on the second floor holds almost 20,000 coins and medals from a variety of countries.
Address: Rue du 11 Novembre, central Mons
5 Musée de la Vie Montoise
The Musée de la Vie Montoise is a beautifully collated museum, which vividly describes the life of the people in Mons. It is housed in the old convent of Maison Jean Lescarts, built in 1632, and exhibits everyday objects from the local area that give visitors a good idea of life here across the ages. Just a few steps away is the Musée des Beaux Arts where there is a collection of pictures, primarily by French and Belgian artists from the 16th to 18th centuries, although no particularly famous artworks.
Address: Rue du 11 Novembre, central Mons
6 Le Lumeçon
On the Sunday after Whitsun a strange festival called Lumeçon takes place in Mons. Its origins come from a processional game associated with St. George, which dates from the 14th century. Participants (acting as St. George) leave the Church of Saint-Waudru at 12.30pm and walk in procession to the Grand Place carrying a nine-meter-long dragon known as 'Doudou.' Once they've reached the Grand Place, they act out a fight between St. George and the dragon. Finally, the saint is declared the winner by two pistol shots and the dead dragon is dragged into the courtyard of the city hall. If you happen to be in Belgium during this time of year, this festival is definitely worthy of a trip to Mons.
7 Collégiale Saint-Vincent
This mammoth church dedicated to St. Vincent was built in the style of Scheldt Romanesque with construction begun in 965 but only completed in the 13th century. Both bays of the choir contain the oldest cross-ribbed vault in Belgium (believed to date from the 11th century). The most impressive items are undoubtedly the sculpture, the Renaissance choir screen made of marble and stucco, and the Baroque choir stalls and pulpit. The great 19th-century Shrine of Saint Vincent stands in the choir, while the church's treasury is found in the Chapel of St. Hubert in the south wall. The old cemetery, not far from the church, is a public park with a Romanesque chapel that is now an archaeological museum.
Location: Soignies, 19 kilometers northeast of Mons
8 Château de Beloeil
The little town of Beloeil lies about 30 kilometers northwest of Mons and is home to Baroque château and park, which are reputed to be the finest of their kind in Belgium. Château de Beloeil was founded in the 13th century as a medieval fortress and transformed into a palace in the 17th and 18th centuries. It has been in the possession of the de Ligne family for seven hundred years. The main house burnt down in 1900 and was rebuilt in its present 18th-century style in 1920. Only the two free-standing wings and the entrance pavilions survive substantially unchanged from 1682.
Inside, the rooms of the château are superbly furnished with a wealth of period furniture belonging to the de Ligne family. Especially noteworthy is Prince Charles-Joseph's apartment with its series of paintings depicting episodes in his life, the Salle des Médailles with its valuable coin collection, and the library with more than 20,000 volumes (including an hour-book dated 1532 and said to have belonged to Charles V).
Address: Rue du Château 11, Beloeil
9 Beloeil Park
Belgium's "Little Versailles" was designed and laid out in the 18th century by Prince Claude Lamoral II, with the aid of the French architect Chevotet. A series of small hedged gardens, several with pools, are arranged in typical Rococo fashion around the 460-meter-long ornamental lake known as Le Grand Pièce d'Eau. The splendid five-kilometer Allée Grande Vue extends beyond the boundaries of the park itself. Some years ago, various attractions were added, using land on the west side of the estate. They include Park Minibel, a 1:25 scale reconstruction of some of Belgium's most famous sights and buildings, including Liége railroad station, Brussels Town Hall, and the Bruges belfry. A miniature train ferries tourists between here and the Château de Beloeil.
Address: Rue du Château, Beloeil
Between Charleroi and Mons, not far from the French border, Binche takes great pride in being the only town in Belgium to retain a substantial proportion of its medieval ramparts intact, including 27 towers. Throughout its long history, those who have held the fate of Binche in their hands have frequently been women - Joanna of Constantinople, Margaret of York, and especially Mary of Hungary under whom the town enjoyed its heyday. Apart from the 19th century when Binche had a thriving textile industry, the town has remained something of a backwater ever since. Each year the Carnival of Binche takes place, attracting an increasing number of visitors. This event was named one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.
Location: 17 kilometers southeast of Mons
11 La Louvière
About 12 kilometers north of Binche, the Canal du Centre passes by the industrial town of La Louvière. Although the town itself has little to offer in the way of tourist attractions, anyone with an interest in industrial archaeology should make a point of visiting, if only to see the four hydraulic barge lifts on the canal at Houdeng Goegnies and Bracquegnies on the outskirts. These steel monsters were constructed between 1888 and 1917 to overcome a height difference of 68 meters in the space of just seven kilometers. Afterwards, a detour west to the enormous, modern hydraulic-lift locks at Strépy-Thieu provides an interesting comparison with the old barge locks. The new locks overcome a difference in level of 73 meters.
Location: 23 kilometers east of Mons
12 Domaine de Mariemont
Near the village of Morlanwelz, about eight kilometers from Binche, the Domaine de Mariemont is named after Mary of Hungary who built a hunting lodge here in 1546. The ruins here now date from only 1831 and are the remnants of the palace that burnt down in the 1960s. A modern museum addition - built in 1975 - holds the park's art collection. The first floor of the museum contains extensive collections of Egyptian, Greek, and Roman antiquities as well as precious jade and lacquer work from China and Japan. On the lower ground floor are archaeological finds from Gallo-Roman and Merovingian times, although the most exciting section here is the extraordinary collection of Tournai porcelain with pieces representing four stylistic periods from between 1750 and 1799. The surrounding park is adorned with some very fine sculptures. These include several works by the Belgian sculptor Victor Rousseau, as well as Auguste Rodin's The Burghers of Calais.
Location: 34 kilometers east of Mons
Tournai is one of the oldest town in the country, and several attractive but mostly reconstructed buildings testify to the prosperity of this old princely residence and episcopal town. The Cathedrale Notre-Dame is the city's most grand and striking building and is a classic example of Romanesque architecture. Inside, the magnificent marble Renaissance rood screen separates the transepts and nave from the choir. It is one of the most important works of Cornelis Floris de Vriendt, made in the years 1570-1573. The cathedral treasury, housed in rooms to the right of the choir ambulatory, contains a number of pieces of the first order, the finest of which are two Late-Romanesque reliquary shrines.
The Grand Place (the main square) is lined by gabled houses most of which are restored and many housing museums. On the west side of the square is the belfry, the oldest bell-tower in Belgium. The first four stories were built in 1200 and completed in 1294 with the topmost story and the spire. Also on the square is the star-shaped building of the Musée des Beaux Arts, built in 1928 according to plans by Victor Horta. Its principal collection is that of the Tournai burgher Henry van Cutsem, and fine paintings of all epoques are displayed across 14 rooms.
Location: 49 kilometers northwest of Mons
The city of Charleroi lies at the heart of one of Europe's oldest industrial regions. This part of southern Belgium is almost synonymous with coal and steel production. As an industrial center, Charleroi doesn't have a plethora of sights, but the old town area does retain some historical architecture and a couple of excellent museums. The heart of Charleroi's upper town is the Place Charles II, dominated by the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall) and its towering 70-meter-high belfry with a carillon of 47 bells. Museum-goers should check out the Institut National du Verre, which contains the Glass Museum with a display of some exceptional examples of the glassmaker's art from antiquity to the present day; and the Archaeological Museum, which displays archaeological finds mainly from the Roman and Merovingian periods.
Location: 44 kilometers east of Mons