Did you ever visit Flanders? If not this is one for the bucket list! Already been? Then it might be time to revisit some of those great places! Here are some of our favourite places to help you decide what to do when you are in Flanders!
Flanders is the Dutch-speaking northern half of Belgium, consisting of 5 of Belgium’s 10 provinces. The 5 provinces that together are known as Flanders are (from east to west): Limburg, Antwerp, Flemish Brabant, East Flanders, and West Flanders.
Wondering how best to experience Flanders? Flanders is great for hikers, cyclists and kayakers/canoers alike! But there is no denying that Flanders is a true paradise for cyclists of all levels! Did you know that there’s a cycling race called The Tour of Flanders that takes place in this region every spring? Hard core cycling enthusiasts can challenge themselves by trying the official route (or parts of it) that starts in Antwerp and ends in Oudenaarde in East Flanders. Even if you are not a hard core cycling enthusiast but still like to take in the sights around you from your bike you can still find loads of routes that will be perfect for you and make your own tour of Flanders! There are beautiful routes in every province of varying lengths and difficulty, so biking here is for every level and every age. You can bring your own bike or rent one to just explore the area, or you can choose some themed cycling routes, like city routes, beer-tours, a WW1-tour, nature-tours and many more depending on the province. You can also make your own route to make sure you see all the great sights!
If you don’t love to bike, then don’t worry - Flanders also has a great network of beautiful walking trails from which you can explore nature and cities alike. Some places also have designated horse trails so if you just love horseback riding then you can also get some great outdoor experiences here! Are you crazy about water sports? Then you can also experience many places in Flanders from a river, stream or even canals! There are many waterways around the region from which you can take in many of the beautiful sights as well.
The Hoge Kempen National Park is Flanders’ (and Belgium’s) own National Park, and is definitely worth a visit! It is located in the east of Limburg so it’s a perfect starting or ending point of your trip if you are discovering Flanders from east to west or vice versa. There are five main gateways through which you can enter the park every day of the year. The park can be experienced by bike, foot or even horseback as there are great signposted trail networks for all three - so choose whichever way suits you best.
The landscapes found in Hoge Kempen vary from extensive heathlands that will mesmerize you with their beautiful colours in summer, to evergreen pine forests, ponds, streams and marshes in which you will discover a wealth of animal species. If you want to get even closer to nature by kicking off your shoes then a barefoot path might be for you! If you enter the park from Lieteberg you can’t miss it!
The Meuse River forms the border between Flanders and The Netherlands, and is of course in the east - almost the easternmost point of Flanders. So when you are in Limburg visiting the Hoge Kempen, don’t rob yourself of a day in the nature park that surrounds the Meuse. The Rivierpark Maasvallei extends across the border and can be visited on the Belgian and the Dutch side. There are many paved cycling paths far away from car traffic so you can enjoy the views and the sounds of the park! By bike you can cover more ground but by foot you can have a closer look, so it’s up to you what you prefer - we know you will enjoy this one no matter what!
The river is not only beautiful, it’s surrounding landscapes is also home to a great variety of plant and animal species. Especially many birds enjoy the habitat that the river creates, making this park the perfect spot for birdwatching. You will also find several endangered species here - both animals and plants - so tread carefully and respect the animals, it’s their home you are visiting ;). You can spice up your nature trip by passing through some very cultural and historic villages in the areas around the park.
If you are already in love with Hoge Kempen and Rivierpark Maasvallei, then read more about them and our recommendations for Limburg!
Bathing houses at sunset at the Belgian coast in West Flanders
In West Flanders you will find Belgium’s entire coastline of about 67 km. The sandy beaches and long dunes provide a great landscape for beautiful walks all year round. During summer you can also enjoy the sunny days at the beach and cool off with a nice dip in the North Sea. The North Sea is also great for different kinds of surfing, like kite- and windsurfing, so if you are a bit of an adrenaline junkie, this is also for you! If it’s not warm enough for a beach day, a stroll along the promenade, shopping at the local stores and eating at a local restaurant or café is also great!
Ostend - also known as the ‘City by the Sea’ is the best known coastal city with long stretching sandy beaches for you to enjoy. If you want to explore more of the coast you can easily do your own coastal-town-tour. The coast tram takes you along the coast and you can get off at all the charming coastal villages and find your favourite one!
Tyne Cot Cemetery in Zonnebeke from WWI
Many places in Flanders you can experience the cultural and historic heritage from previous centuries. But if you are just a tiny bit interested in history, then you can explore some of its traces in West-Flanders - a great activity to combine with your coastal tour! In the area close to the French-Belgian border you will be able to step right into the battlefields of World War 1. In the city of Ypres you can visit the museum In Flanders Fields where you can learn all there is to know about the battles in and around Ypres. Among the actual fields in Flanders you can explore the traces of history at one of the many monuments, memorials, or cemeteries that ensures the lives lost at the battles will never be forgotten.
After stepping back into some of the darkest times of our history you might need to recover a bit. Not far from Ypres, in Poperinge you can find Talbot House, a guesthouse where British soldiers used to come on their way to and from the front. It was - and still is, a place of recreation and rest. Just like the soldiers came here to relax and leave the worries of the war behind them, you can too experience the uplifting, warm and friendly ambiance at the Talbot House, that will soon make you forget why you needed it in the first place. Today the guesthouse is still running, but is also a museum so you can get a tour or have a look by yourself to feel the relaxing ambiance.
Ardennes is a region that stretches across the southernmost part of Belgium, the north of Luxemburg, parts of France and Germany. This region is known for its rough and hilly terrain covered by large forests. But this is not in Flanders, you might think. And you are right. But Flemish Ardennes takes its name from the Ardennes region, as it is also a hilly region but in the south of the East Flanders province. This region has many great outdoor activities and parts of the Tour of Flanders cycling race also take place in this region.
Apart from the Tour of Flanders route you can also experience the highest point in East Flanders of 150 meters above sea level where you can enjoy a great panorama view of the surroundings! The biggest forest in the region: Kluisbos in which you will be able to cross the Belgian Dutch-French language border is also worth a visit. The forest floor is particularly wonderful in spring as it transforms into a purple carpet of bluebell flowers. Historical cities like Oudenaarde and Ename are also found in this region. Like the rest of Flander, Flemish Ardennes is a hikers paradise. In 2018 and 2020 the Muziekbos was voted the most beautiful walking route in all East Flanders so do make sure to get all the way to the south too!
Brussels city hall and Grand Place
In Flanders there is never far from city to nature, so you can easily combine a city trip with time in the great outdoors. In Flanders you can visit one or more of the great, charming, cultural and historic cities while still being close to nature. Or vice versa; stay in nature close to one of the cities in Flanders. So if you want the best of both worlds then Flanders is perfect for you!
Brussels is the capital of Belgium - and Europe some will say, as the European Parliament lies here. Even though Brussels is not technically a part of the Flanders region - but is its own individual region - it does lie enclosed by the province of Flemish Brabant and is therefore easy to visit on your tour of Flanders. In the vibrant heart of Europe you will of course find plenty of museums, beautiful buildings, grand plazas and everything you can possibly want in a city. But what you might not know is that you can easily combine your visit to the buzzing city with a nature escape as well. On the outskirts of Brussels you will find amazing nature in which you can disconnect after a day in the city. You can visit the great Sonian forest - a historic forest, of which parts can be dated back thousands of years and are under UNESCO protection. What better place to reconnect with nature? It is easy to visit Brussels from anywhere in Flanders, so find the best spot where you can relax after a day in the city!
Close to the coast in the north of West Flanders you will find the city of Bruges. The historic city center is also a UNESCO World Heritage site that should not be skipped on your way to or from the coast! You can not avoid feeling the cultural heritage of the city when you walk through the streets with their beautiful architecture, local boutiques, and of course chocolate shops. Most of the city is car-free, so it’s great to experience by foot or bike. And soon after leaving the city you will again be surrounded by nature.
Find a great place to stay from where you can easily visit all of West Flanders!
On the route between the Bruges and the Flemish Ardennes is East Flanders capital city, Ghent. Another historic city full of cultural heritage and beautiful architecture. Just like Bruges, most of Ghent is car-free, but the city has a great cycling network and public transport that can take you where you want to go, if you want to give your feet a break. Another historic city in East Flanders is Oudenaarde, which is the finishing point of The Tour of Flanders cycling race and it is therefore a distinct experience to visit this city. In both these cities you will find one of the 56 Belfries that are in Belgium and France - all UNESCO sites, so make sure to put that on your list when you pass through these historic cities.
Do you need a stopover in East Flanders to relax and enjoy nature? We have gathered the best spots for you!
From Flemish Ardennes you can easily cross over to Flemish Brabant, a province with quite some historical cities and sites. Although a vibrant university city, the province capital Leuven also has many historic buildings and sites like the Great Beguinage which is yet another UNESCO World Heritage site. After visiting the city you can relax while experiencing the beer culture in the Old Market building and top off the day with spending some time among the beautiful flowers and greenery in the extensive botanical garden. Other small yet still very historic cities in the province count Aarschot, Dienst and Tienen, so you can easily get lost in history here. Another very historic, cultural and religious site that is worth a visit in this area is in Scherpenheuvel-Zichem where you will find a beautiful baroque basilica that has been a christian pilgrimage destination for around 600 years! Not far from the basilica is the Averbode Abbey which is another great historic site from the 12th century.
North of Flemish Brabant is the province of Antwerp. In the north of the province, close to the Dutch-Belgian border lies the province capital which is also called Antwerp. The river Schelde runs next to the city and ends in the North Sea, making the port in Antwerp of great importance in Europe. Antwerp is also known as the world’s Diamond Capital due to its large diamond district which you can also pay a visit. The vibrant city is a great mix of modern and historic so you are guaranteed not to be bored here. Right in the middle between the city of Antwerp and Brussels you will find the slightly smaller but still relatively large city Mechelen. The city is yet another historic gem particularly famous for its historical art, so this is a good one if you are into arts!
Ending in the east of Flanders you will reach Limburg, with Hasselt being the province capital. The capital is also home to some historic buildings, but is more well known for its Jenever (a cousin to gin produced in Belgium, The Netherlands, and in two districts and France and Germany). So this is a good place to try some Jenever! In the northern half of Limburg the soils were never very fertile and coal-mining was important in cities like Genk and Beringen. Today coal-mining has stopped, but you can still feel the coal-mining heritage in these old industrial cities. In Genk you can also find the Bokrijk open air museum where you can escape city-life and enjoy the peaceful nature. Sint-Truiden’s city center is rich in culture, history and charm. And as this city lies in the south of Limburg in the fruit-region, you can walk or bike through the beautifully blossoming orchards in spring, and in summer you can have a taste of the fresh and sweet local fruits - cherries especially are a local delicacy to try!
When in Flanders don’t forget to try the Belgian chocolate and beer! In several cities you will be able to do a chocolate walking tour that will take you to some chocolate factories so you can see the process and try the delicious outcome. You can also find cycling routes that will take you on a beer-tour past different breweries. There are also many other regional products you can try!
Have a taste of East Flanders and try a “mastel” or “Saint Hubert bread” which it is also called. It looks like a donut-shaped bun and you can find this in any bakery in the province! In Antwerp the Antwerpse Handjes are a sweet local snack to try - usually made from sand dough, almonds and chocolate, these little hand-shaped biscuits (or chocolate) will melt on your tongue. The hand-shape actually symbolises the Antwerp trademark and folklore.
Praline chocolate is another local treat that you should try on your tour of Flanders. If you want to try a Flemish dish Stoverij is a classic meat stew that will fill you up nicely. If you are looking for a snack maybe some Belgium fries will be the right choice, or maybe a Belgian waffle? You will find plenty of local foods, so don’t stick to what you know on the menu but ask the waiter for local dishes, and take your tastebuds on a culinary tour of Flanders.
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