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Things to Do in Flanders - page 2

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Butcher's Hall (Vleeshuis)
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A candy-striped confection of white sandstone and red brick, the 14th-century Gothic Butcher's Hall (Vleeshuis) originally served as a meat market but now fulfills the more refined role of music museum. Today, you can admire exquisite antique musical instruments such as Delftware mandolins at Museum Vleeshuis.

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Plantin-Moretus Museum
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In the 16th century Antwerp – along with Paris – was one of the leading lights of the Northern Renaissance; among the brightest stars on the city’s stage at that time was Christophe Plantin, who established a printing workshop in his imposing townhouse in 1555. As well as contributing one of the most popular fonts still in use today, Plantin developed one of the busiest and most advanced publishing houses in northern Europe, now a UNESCO World Heritage-listed museum of print and early book publishing.

After Plantin’s death in 1589, his son-in-law Jan Moretus took over the printing empire and it remained active until 1867. Today the museum is laid out as if the compositors had just downed tools; the period workshops and rooms showcase printing presses dating back to the 16th century, graphic anatomical drawings featuring dissections, a vast collection of prints by Antwerp masters dating from the 16th and 17th centuries, and a library of 30,000 rare volumes. The artist Peter Paul Rubens, another local boy made good, illustrated many of the books published by the Plantin workshop and painted some of the family portraits displayed in the museum but the masterpiece of the collection is undoubtedly the priceless 36-line Gutenberg Bible dating from 1455.

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Antwerp Zoo (Dierentuin)
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Occupying a 26-acre (10.5-hectare) site behind the city’s grandiose railway station, Antwerp Zoo was built in 1843 – when it was outside the city walls – in colorful Art Nouveau style; as well as being one of the oldest zoos in the world, it must be the only one where the elephants are housed in an Egyptian temple swathed in hieroglyphics.

Currently the zoo has more than 5,000 animals of around 950 species; family favorites such as lions, tigers, polar bears, zebras and gorillas, are housed among the spacious and colonnaded enclosures, themed habitats, Arctic pools, aquariums, reptile house, aviaries, winter gardens and petting zoo for toddlers. There are daily talks plus penguin and sea lion shows; elephant, seal and hippo feeding sessions; 3-D movies in the Planetarium; and plenty of eating options for families, from waffle stands to brasserie dining.

Despite its early foundation, this is one of the more forward-thinking of European zoos, running successful conservation and breeding programs and looking to run sustainably on its own resources. Recent breeding successes have included rare Malayan tapirs, endangered okapi and Eurasian black vultures, while fresh additions at the zoo are the spectacular Reef Aquarium and the restored Flemish Garden, where two cute koala bears have taken up residence as part of an international breeding initiative. A new Savannah habitat is also being planned.

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Vladslo German War Cemetery
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The Vladslo German War Cemetery is a burial ground located near the village of Vladslo, Belgium, which is about 16 miles north of Ypres and 25 miles southwest of Brugge. By the end of World War I, German soldiers were buried all over Belgium, from single or group sites in the woods to larger cemeteries with several thousand soldiers. In the years after the war, German officials worked with Belgian officials to gather and relocated many of the graves scattered throughout the country to give the soldiers a proper burial. This resumed after World War II, and in 1954 an agreement was made to have most of the fallen German soldiers from World War I moved to three different collecting cemeteries.

The cemetery in Vladslo is essentially a mass grave containing more than 25,000 graves from 61 locations. Each simple tombstone has the names, ranks, and dates of death for 20 deceased German soldiers. One of the soldiers buried here was Peter Kollwitz, the 18-year-old son of famous artist Käthe Kollwitz. Out of sorrow for her son, Kollwitz created two statues called “The Mourning Parents” which are located at the back of the cemetery.

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Ghent City Center
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Ghent is Belgium’s best-kept secret, a cosmopolitan university city of imposing churches, top-quality museums and some of the most beautiful medieval architecture in Europe. Add to this a vigorous cultural scene, packed late-night bars, restaurants and clubs, plus stylish hotels and this is a city not to be missed.

The city’s pedestrianized heart surrounds triangular Korenmarkt, which was the medieval market place, with most of the major sights – the ornate Stadhuis, St Bavo’s Cathedral, St Nicholas’ Church and the Belfry – within easy walking distance. Just northwest of Korenmarkt, the River Leie is canalized and bordered with the medieval quays of Graslei and Korenlei; it curls through Ghent on its way to join the River Schelde and a network of canals leading to the port. Close by, the austere Gravensteen Castle lies on a split in the Leie, and beyond that is Patershol, an enclave of narrow streets crammed with 17th-century artisanal cottages. Now delightfully revamped, the district is currently scene of Ghent’s hottest nightlife. Ghent’s other focal square is Vrijdagmarkt, which is huge, tree lined and surrounded by ancient guild houses – now mostly shops and restaurants – where markets spring up most weekends. In the south of the city, Citadelpark is the location of two excellent art galleries.

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Maasmechelen Village
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Just a short drive outside of Brussels, this village offers some of the area’s best luxury shopping with access to 95 designer shops. The area’s traditional Limburg style of architecture is reflected in the form of the buildings, and the location in the quiet countryside carries over into the village. Conceived as a historical mining village, it is now filled with high-end boutiques containing both local Belgian brands such as Essentiel, Olivier Strelli, and Sarah Pacini, and internationally known labels such as Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana. Prices are often significantly lower than similar nearby shops.

Of course it is important to refuel after a long day of shopping, and the village has both traditional Belgian treats such as waffles and moules frites in addition to Italian cuisine at the center’s outdoor Gastronomia Cellini. Just be sure to bring enough strength to carry multiple shopping bags.

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Red Star Line Museum
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Between the late 19th century and World War II, the historic Red Star Line carried more than two million passengers across the Atlantic Ocean to start new lives in the United States, and this compelling museum was opened in September 2013 to tell the story of the migrants and showcase the backstory of the shipping company. Housed in the red-brick former company sheds, washrooms and waiting rooms in Eilandje, north of the city center, the museum buildings themselves are protected monuments. Here medical examinations took place, luggage was disinfected and would-be emigrants were assessed for suitability to enter the US. The museum’s permanent collections include a touching number of letters, faded photos and multimedia presentations of personal interviews, all displayed cleverly against a colorful, well-curated selection of posters, model ships and Red Star Line souvenirs; individuals seeking out family histories can do so in the Warehouse, where the shipping line’s records are computerized and available to all. The newly built lookout tower replaced an earlier chimney that was pulled down in 1936; it haspanoramic views across the waters of the River Scheldt and surrounding quays.

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Brabo Fountain
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In pole position at the heart of Antwerp’s lovely, medieval Grote Markt, the Brabo Fountainstands in front of the ornate, pennant‐encrusted Stadhuis (Town Hall) and was created in 1887by the renowned Flemish sculptor Jef Lambeaux. The flamboyant Baroque statue represents alegend concerning the origins of the city: more than 2,000 years ago Antwerp was a smallsettlement in the Roman Empire when a Russian ‘giant’ called Druon Antigoon settled on thebanks of the River Scheldt and charged ships to sail up the river; if sailors refused to pay the toll, Druon Antigoon cut their hands off in revenge. A Roman soldier named Silvius Brabo –rumored to be a relative of Julius Caesar – refused to pay and subsequently killed the giant in aduel, cutting off his hand and throwing it into the Scheldt. The hand became a symbol ofAntwerp’s freedom and still features on the city’s coat of arms; the bronze Brabo Fountainfeatures Silvius Brabo atop a pedestal awash with mythical sea monster, his body twisted in theact of throwing the hand into the river.

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Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917
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The Battle of Passchendaele in summer and fall 1917 was one of the bloodiest and most futile of World War I; in just over 100 days more than half a million soldiers were killed and in that time Allied troops advanced on the Germans by a mere five miles (eight km) amid the trenches of the Ypres Salient in Flanders.

The museum dedicated to the fallen victims of the battle is found in a small chateau in the village of Zonnebeke, the scene of heavy fighting south of Bruges. It was opened in 2004 and the main exhibition follows the sorry story of the battle; a new display entitled ‘Remembrance’ focuses on the aftermath of the war for the soldiers, local civilians and the beleaguered Flanders landscape. Along with black-and-white images, weaponry, uniforms and heart-rending personal letters, the museum has a reconstructed dug out and a replica line of trenches constructed in the chateau grounds in 2013, where a series of lakeside memorial gardens are dedicated to all the nations who fought at Passchendaele.

Many people combine a visit to the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917 with visiting Tyn Cot, the biggest Commonwealth cemetery in the world with 12,000 graves, and attending the ‘Last Post’ ceremony in nearby Ypres, which was left in ruins after the Battle of Passchendaele. The ceremony takes place daily at 8pm at the Menin Gate memorial.

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FoMu (FotoMuseum)
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Found in a former waterside warehouse in the on‐trend area of Zuid south of Antwerp city center, FoMu first opened in 1986 but moved to its current home in 2004. Its clean, white lines are perfect for presenting a series of temporary photographic exhibitions sourced from its own collections, which are among the most important in Europe. Treasures in the collection include images by Henri Cartier‐Bresson and Man Ray, while recent shows have included the hard‐hitting pictures of photographic journalists Broomberg & Chanarin, who examine racial tensions and colonialism in their work. Daily movie screenings curated by Cinema Zuid are held on the premises as well as workshops and lectures.

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More Things to Do in Flanders

Aquatopia

Aquatopia

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Right across the road from Antwerp’s other great family attraction, the zoo, Aquatopia is housed in a biscuit-colored Art Deco building and aims to educate and entertain kids on life in our oceans. With seven, maze-like themed marine habitats from rainforest to mangrove swamp, it provides a stimulating way to teach children about the amazing natural world beneath the sea. More than 10,000 fish and reptiles from over 250 species – from sea horses to sharks to iguanas – are housed in 40 aquariums with interactive presentations providing information on each tank; glass tunnels lead underwater so youngsters can get up close to the rays, eels and striking angel fish, enjoy the colors of the coral and watch turtles lumbering through the water.

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Essex Farm Cemetery

Essex Farm Cemetery

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The Essex Farm Cemetery is a World War I burial site outside of Ypres, Belgium. There are 1,200 servicemen buried or commemorated here, including 103 unidentified soldiers. Essex Farm was an Advanced Dressing Station during the war, so many of the casualties handled there were laid to rest in this cemetery. Remains of some of the bunkers used for medical services can still be seen near the cemetery. There is also a memorial to the 49th West Riding Division.

John McCrae, a World War I soldier who fought in the Ypres Salient battlegrounds, wrote a poem called “In Flanders Fields” after a friend of his was killed. It is believed that he was in the area of the Essex Farm Advanced Dressing Station when he wrote it. In the poem, he talks about the poppies in Flanders fields, and his short but moving poem became well known. Because of this poem, the poppy has become a symbol of remembrance.

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Bruges Beer Museum (Brugs Biermuseum)

Bruges Beer Museum (Brugs Biermuseum)

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There are more than 600 beers brewed in Belgium, from fruit and white beers to Trappist ales brewed by monks, strongdubbels and yeasty lambics. The Flanders region has been known for its specialty beers since the Middle Ages and the Bruges Beer Museum (Brugs Biermuseum), sandwiched between the Markt and Burg in medieval Bruges, provides a high-tech overview of the development of the Flemish brewing industry. The museum opened in 2014 and its tours are cleverly guided by iPad, educating visitors on the many different varieties of Belgian beer, their fermentation and brewing methods. All ingredients can be tasted along the way and interactive touch screens offer beer challenges, explain provenances and suggest food pairings; for kids there is a special tour that involves finding and rescuing an 850-year-old bear.

All tours of the museum end up in the tasting room, for panoramic views over the medieval architecture of Markt as well as the chance to taste three of 16 draught beers accompanied by cheeses to mop up the alcohol. Soft drinks are available for all visitors younger than 16.

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Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp (M HKA)

Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp (M HKA)

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Opened in 1987 in the now-fashionable Zuid neighborhood, the Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp (M HKA)contributed to the rejuvenation of the formerly dilapidated district. Transformed into a cutting-edge gallery by architect Michel Grandsard, the museum exhibits more than 4,750 multimedia works by some of Flanders’ foremost contemporary artists.

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Diamond District

Diamond District

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About 84 percent of the world’s uncut diamonds pass through Antwerp’s Diamond Quarter, an enclave of side streets just west of Central Station. Every year more than £32 billion in polished, cut diamonds pass through the four trading exchanges, regulated by the Antwerp World Diamond Centre and bringing massive wealth into the city. Although today the Diamond Quarter is also home to Indian, Lebanese, Russian and Chinese gem dealers, creating a vividly multicultural atmosphere, most of the city’s diamond trading is still run by the Hassidic Jewish community; more than 8,000 people are involved in the industry and there are even kosher banks exclusively dedicated to financing diamond deals. The nondescript shop fronts on the little tangle of streets centered on Hoveniersstraat hide diamond dealers, cutters – world-renowned for their skill – and polishers as well as kosher butchers, bakeries and synagogues. Some of the biggest, glossiest salesrooms offer tours of their workshops and expert advice on buying; the free ‘Antwerp Loves Diamonds’ map is available from the tourist information offices in Grote Markt and in Central Station, while the Antwerp Diamond Bus runs hop-on, hop-off services around all the areas of the city associated with the trade.

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Hill 60

Hill 60

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Hill 60 was a World War I battlefield in the Ypres Salent battlegrounds of Flanders named for its height at 60 meters (197 feet) above sea level. It was the site of intense fighting between British and German troops in April and May 1915. The British attack on April 17, 1915, began with the explosion of three mines which blew the top off the hill. Hundreds of soldiers died, and because of the continued fighting in this area, it was not possible to identify or even recover many of the bodies. Tunneling and mining operations were carried out here throughout the war by French, British, Australian and German troops. If tunnels caved in, soldiers who died underground were often left behind because of the difficulty of retrieving them. The remains of many soldiers from both sides of the war are still at this site.

At Hill 60 is a memorial to the 1st Australian Tunneling Company. Its plaque has bullet holes from World War II when this area was briefly fought over again. Near this memorial is the 14th Light Division Memorial. The site also holds the remains of several concrete bunkers which were used by both sides. Several other memorials and monuments are located at Hill 60 to honor soldiers who fought here during World War I.

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Het Zuid

Het Zuid

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Radically transformed by the opening of the Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp in 1987, the former industrial zone of Het Zuid is now fashionable, replete with independent boutiques, cozy cafés, and craft-beer breweries. Its location a short walk along the river from Grand Market Place makes it easily accessible from central Antwerp.

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ModeMuseum (MoMu)

ModeMuseum (MoMu)

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Ever since the now-iconic ‘Antwerp Six’ (Walter Van Beirendonck, Dries van Noten, Dirk van Saene, Dirk Bikkembergs, Marina Yee, Ann Demeulemeester and Martin Margiela) took the international catwalks by storm back in the 1980s, the city of Antwerp has firmly cemented its place on the global fashion radar. Since then, Antwerp's Royal Academy of Fine Arts (Hogeschool) has become one of the world’s leading design schools and the city has become synonymous with cutting-edge fashion.

It’s fitting then, that Antwerp’s hugely popular Mode Museum (MoMu) should put the spotlight on the fashion industry, showcasing a vast permanent collection of over 25,000 fashion-related items. The clothing, fabrics and textiles include pieces from as far back as the 16th century, intricate lacework and embroidery, tools for artisan textile processing and ethnic costumes, alongside a library of over 15,000 fashion books, catalogue and magazines. Even the museum’s location is on-trend, housed in the same building as the Flanders Fashion Institute, the Brasserie National and the Hogeschool’s fashion department.

Please note: The ModeMuseum (MoMu) is currently closed for renovation. The reopening is scheduled for fall 2020.

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Rubens House (Rubenshuis)

Rubens House (Rubenshuis)

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Forming the backbone of Antwerp’s artistic heritage, Rubens House (Rubenshuis) is a top draw for travelers. The former home of Flemish master Peter Paul Rubens, who lived in Antwerp for most of his life, is decorated with marble Roman busts and antique furniture that reflect the sumptuous lifestyle enjoyed by Antwerp’s most illustrious son.

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Historium Brugge

Historium Brugge

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Historium Brugge lets you travel back in time and experience Bruges as it was during its Golden Age. Through multimedia and special effects, medieval history comes alive in this interactive museum—one of the city’s most popular attractions—as you explore themed rooms with an audio guide, climb a Gothic tower, and peruse historical exhibits.

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Tyne Cot Cemetery

Tyne Cot Cemetery

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The Tyne Cot Cemetery, located near Zonnebeke, Belgium, is the largest Commonwealth military cemetery in the world. It contains the graves of nearly 12,000 soldiers who died between October 1914 and September 1918 while fighting in World War I. Unfortunately about 70% of the people buried there were never identified. The graves of the unknown soldiers are marked with tombstones that read “Known unto God.” In addition to these unknown soldiers, a list of nearly 35,000 names is on a wall at the back of the cemetery honoring soldiers who have no known grave and died between August 1917 and the end of the war.

Many of the fallen soldiers were buried in nearby battlefields or smaller cemeteries, but after the war ended, the graves were moved to the Tyne Cot Cemetery. A few remaining German blockhouse can still be seen at the cemetery, and they have been incorporated into the memorial as a way to honor the soldiers who died trying to capture them. On one of them, the Cross of Sacrifice, also called the Great Cross, was built at the suggestion of King George V who visited the cemetery in 1922. The cross can be seen through the entrance of the cemetery and is often photographed.

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Groeningemuseum

Groeningemuseum

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Set back from a main street in a small park behind a medieval gate, the Groeningemuseum is one of the finest art museums in the country. It holds a collection that covers around 600 years of Flemish and Belgian painting, from the 14th through the 20th century, with 11 rooms arranged in chronological order.

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Old St. John Site (Site Oud Sint-Jan)

Old St. John Site (Site Oud Sint-Jan)

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A historic event center that's used for everything from business meetings to private functions, the Old St. John Site (Site Oud Sint-Jan) is also a tourist attraction. Along with a variety of temporary exhibitions held by XPO Center Bruges, the site attracts visitors with a permanent exhibition featuring hundreds of works by Picasso.

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Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp (KMSKA)

Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp (KMSKA)

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Famous for one of the world’s largest collections of work by Flemish baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens, the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp(KMSKA) showcases art by Flemish masters such as van Dyck and Jordaens. The acclaimed gallery, which opened in 1890, exhibits 15th-century masterpieces beside more-modern works by Titian, Modigliani, and Rodin.

Please note: The Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp is currently closed for renovation. The reopening is scheduled for 2020.However, most of the art can still be viewed at different venues throughout the city.

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