A few months ago I blogged about Belgium’s preparations for the centenary of WWI, and mentioned the sights I’d like to visit in Flanders to commemorate the occasion. Now I’ve had the chance to put those plans into action, as I’m heading over to Belgium this month to see things for myself, with some help from the team at Visit Flanders. I’ll be covering WWI, but also seeing other historical talking points such as museums and beguinages (more on those later).
Day 1 – Brussels
Today I’ll arrive in Brussels by mid-afternoon, checking into my accommodation, which goes by the simple name of The Hotel. With great reviews on TripAdvisor, a fashionable streak and a four star rating, it looks like the perfect base for the days ahead.
Unfortunately, most museums in Brussels are closed on a Monday, so I’ll make use of the time by hitting some of the vintage shops nearby, swapping relics behind glass for relics I can actually take home! These shops are close to the main square and cover everything from bargain jewellery to pricier designer pieces.
Day 2 – Ypres via Bruges
It’s an early start on the second day, with a train ride to Bruges to meet Quasimodo Tours for a one day battlefield bus trip around Flanders, covering areas such as Passchendaele and Ypres, and finishing up with the emotional Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate. This is a lot to fit into one day, however I’m looking forward to taking on the challenge.
You can also take on longer itineraries for a purely battlefield-based holiday, but I wanted to cover other aspects of Belgium, too, which meant finding a shorter tour with a brilliant list of stopping points. Hopefully I’ve made the right decision with this compromise, but I’ll keep you posted!
Day 3 – Brussels
Now it’s time to explore some of the 100 museums that Brussels is famous for, and what better place to start than at the Magritte Museum? Confusingly, there are two in the city, with one being Magritte’s former house and the other being a purpose-built museum with over 200 artworks. I’ll be comparing the two during the morning, before visiting the Museum of Musical Instruments over lunch, and grabbing a bite to eat from its restaurant which overlooks the rooftops.
After lunch I’ll then head over to the University for its Medicine Museum, home to some incredibly accurate anatomical wax models. Regular readers (and those who have scrutinised the ‘Bio’ section) will know that anything anatomical is right up my street, and I’ve already enjoyed trips to similar museums in Edinburgh and London, so it’s great to find an addition to this list.
Day 4 – Mechelen
Just a short train ride away, Mechelen is home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site, called St. Rumbold’s Tower, and the Palaces of the Margarets, once home to two royal 16th century figures named Margaret – one from Austria, the other from York. I’ll be sure to see all of these major tourist attractions during the day, as well as the Grote Markt, which is the real focal point of the city. You can see right across the Grote Markt and the surrounding streets from St. Rumbold’s Tower, so I’ll aim to get some good panoramic shots using this vantage point, then Instagram my lunch at a historic cafe serving 350 types of beer.
Another place to get out my camera is the Large Beguinage, a town-within-a-town that has survived since the late 16th century. The Mechelen Tourist Board has some great information about the history of beguinages, which were set up to house surplus women and children from the time of the Crusades, without them necessarily having to be taken in by religious organisations. These communities were self-sufficient, with their own sources of food and healthcare (feminism in action, surely), and it’ll be fascinating to see the buildings up close.
Day 5 – Leuven
For the final day, it’s time to learn more about beer culture with a trip to Leuven, known for its annual beer festival and for having the longest bar in the world. Before I reach Leuven I will stop off to visit Brussels’ Resistance Museum, which is open from 9am, then I’ll hop on the train and be in a whole new city within minutes. Once I arrive, it’s time to compare two more beguinages, one of which dates back to the 14th century, and feel as though I’ve really stepped back in time.
Next up is a brewery visit – it’d be rude not to get in touch with the beer history of Belgium, right? I’ve picked the Domus Brewery over the more well-known Stella Artois, as I really want to get a feel for local beer culture from a more independent perspective. Once I’ve learned about the history of brewing, and bought some souvenirs to try back at home, there’ll be just enough time to roam the streets surrounding the Grote Markt before catching the train back to Brussels and then hopping on the Eurostar once again.
As you can see, my itinerary’s pretty packed, but it should give me a good grounding in the best that this part of Belgium has to offer tourists. If you’ve been to any of the places mentioned, I’d love to know what you thought of them, and it would be great to hear your tips.
Disclaimer: This trip is being planned with the assistance of Visit Flanders, who will be providing accommodation and city passes. I have devised the itinerary myself and will be reporting back honestly on the blog about my experiences.