Brussels, much like the whole of Belgium, is quite well-known and yet not given much thought by travelers visiting Europe. That’s their loss though as Brussels is a superb destination thanks to its history, culture, and food. While it’s possible to spend several days in Brussels sightseeing, there are also loads of other great destinations right nearby. By taking a day trip, you can turn your Brussels trip into something much more.
One of the nice things about planning a day trip from Brussels is that you’re not restricted to sights just in Belgium. Several of Belgium’s neighboring countries are easily reached, meaning you can experience a whole different country just for the day if you like. To make your life easier, we’ve collected ten of the best day trips from Brussels, showcasing all that Belgium and this part of Europe has going for it. So without further ado here are the best places to visit from Brussels.
How to Get Around
Although you can make many of these day trips with public transport, consider renting a car for the day to give yourself more flexibility and independence. With your own four wheels, you control your time and schedule; depending on how many people are in your group, renting a car might even work out to be cheaper than other forms of transportation. You can compare car rental deals and find the lowest prices at Rentalcars.com, an aggregation site that searches and displays prices and availability from hundreds of car rental companies so that you can get the best possible car for your budget.
Don’t want to drive or deal with the hassle of public transport? No worries! We’ve listed the best tour for each day trip (where available).
After the nation’s capital, Bruges is definitely the most popular tourist destination in Belgium. No surprise then that it’s also the most popular among Brussels day trips, as it can be easily visited in one day. Begin your visit here on the Markt, Bruges’ main square, where you can admire the towering Belfry of Bruges along with plenty of other striking buildings. A short walk away lies the gilded facade of the Basilica of the Holy Blood, where it’s said a holy relic with the blood of Christ is kept. Of course, the big draw of visiting Bruges is the city’s pretty network of canals. Whether you walk, cycle alongside them, or relax on the ever-popular canal cruises, they’re a definite highlight of the city. There are plenty of opportunities to dig into local chocolates and beers, but don’t spend so long indulging that you miss the peaceful houses of the Bruges Beguinage.
Getting there: To travel from Brussels to Bruges is an hour long journey on one of the frequent trains. If you want to have a tour guide show you the city’s sights though, you’ll want to take a guided tour.
Another one of the best places to visit in Belgium is the city of Antwerp in the north of Belgium. Visiting this port city, you’ll want to begin in Antwerp’s main square, looking up at the City Hall and Brabo Fountain. Here you’re surrounded by the city’s Renaissance architecture including the Cathedral of Our Lady, an immense Gothic building. You’ll find works of art by Peter Paul Rubens inside the cathedral, as well as inside the historic Rubens House where the artist lived. Antwerp is quite famous for its trade of heritage diamonds, with countless jewelers located in the city’s Diamond District. The Antwerp Railway Station is a another sight not to miss due to the eclectic design of its main hall. And finally, don’t leave Antwerp without seeing the high-tech Museum aan de Stroom or the new Port Authority building nearby.
Getting there: Very frequent trains travel from Brussels to Antwerp, with the trip taking roughly 45 minutes. You can also get there on a guided tour.
From Belgium it’s easy to hop across the border into France and visit the lovely city of Lille. You’ll want to begin your visit with Place du Theatre as this important square puts you right in the middle of Lille’s most striking landmarks. While both the CCI Grand Lille building and Opera House are both quite distinguished, La Vieille Bourse is a magnificent renaissance sight. Around the other side of this building lies the Place Charles de Gaulle with the massive Colonne de la Déesse memorial in the middle. Next, walk through the charming streets of Vieux Lille to see the incredible interior of the Notre Dame de la Treille Cathedral. Over near the Place de la Republique you can see the imposing Porte de Paris arch, and the Palais des Beaux Arts which is full of incredible fine art.
Getting there: In less than 40 minutes you can take the train from Brussels to Lille, making it an incredibly easy place to visit for the day.
Often underrated, the city of Ghent is a captivating destination. Start your visit outside St Bavo’s Cathedral, a great big Gothic landmark that sets the tone for your walk through Ghent. Moving through the city’s historic center, you’ll pass the elegant Ghent Belfry and the unusual City Pavilion to find Ghent’s Town Hall. From there, it’s not far to the wonderfully scenic waterfront of the Leie river. Along both sides of this river you’ll find gorgeous traditional buildings and river boats gently drifting past. With a short walk through the narrow streets of Patershol you’ll eventually reach Gravensteen castle where you can get fantastic city views from its great big stone towers.
Getting there: There are very frequent trains that make the journey from Ghent to Brussels in 30 minutes. However, if you want to be shown around and also combine a trip to Bruges, a guided tour is the way to go.
Luxembourg, one of the smallest countries in Europe, is an easy day trip from Brussels. The country’s main city is called Luxembourg City and is where you’ll want to spend your day. Start in the city’s Old Town and the beautiful Place Guillaume square, from there walk over to the historic Notre-Dame Cathedral. Nearby you’ll find the magnificent Palace of the Grand Duke, the official residence of Grand Duke of Luxembourg. For the best views of the city head to the Chemin de la Corniche promenade where you see the city’s medieval fortifications which run by the Alzette River. Other sights like the MUDAM modern-art museum and the Bock Casemates help make Luxembourg one of the best side trips from Brussels.
Getting there: To reach Luxembourg by train takes almost 3 hours each way from Brussels making it quite a long day trip. A better option with less travel time is to visit with an organized tour.
Since the Netherlands and Belgium are so close together, some travelers take the opportunity to head up to Amsterdam on one of the day tours from Brussels. When you arrive, takes a stroll past the beautiful houses along Damrak to see all the pretty houses by the water there. When you reach Dam Square you’ll be surrounded by major city landmarks, including the Royal Palace of Amsterdam. From there it’s time to see Amsterdam’s famous canals, crossing small bridges as you go. As you walk, aim for the Anne Frank House which is more than just a commemoration of a young life lost, but a moving memorial to all that the Holocaust destroyed. Keep in mind that tickets to Anne Frank House sell out fast and can only be purchased online on the official website. Other local experiences include a walk through the Red Light District, a visit to the city’s marijuana-friendly coffee shops, or a walk through to neighborhoods like Jordaan or Leidseplein.
Getting there: You can reach Amsterdam from Brussels by intercity train, with the journey taking under 2 hours. Alternatively, you can go with a guided tour and not have to worry about transport and finding your way once you arrive.
Few destinations in Belgium are so focused on one period of the country’s history like the city of Ypres. While it’s a city with a past that stretches back into the Middle Ages, today Ypres is most known for being an important battlefield during the First World War. Learn all about the history of World War I and the effect that the war had on the city at the interactive Flanders Fields Museum. While you could easily spend much of your day here, there are other sights in Ypres to see. Once you’ve admired the exterior of the giant Cloth Hall which hosts the museum, venture over to the imposing Menin Gate memorial where the names of those who died fighting in Ypres are inscribed on its walls. From there, take a walk through the park along the old city fortifications which encircle the historic center.
Getting there: The train journey from Brussels to Ypres takes just under 2 hours, with hourly connections.
It may not receive as much attention as other cities in Flanders, the Dutch-speaking northern portion of Belgium, but the university city of Leuven is a great place to spend a day. Just a short trip from Brussels, you’ll soon find yourself surrounded by incredible architecture on Leuven’s main square. Take in the beauty of the city’s Town Hall and Tafelrond before heading into the equally impressive St Pieters Church. Once you’ve wandered around the Old Town a little, visit the University Library for its magnificent reading hall, informative museum, and superb tower views. Across town, soak in the calm vibes of the village-like houses of the Groot Begijnhof neighborhood. Reward yourself after a day sightseeing with a tour and some taste testing at the Stella Artois Brewery, home of the famous Belgian beer.
Getting there: Leuven really is incredibly close and an easy train trip from Brussels, taking just 25 minutes.
Visitors to Belgium spend a lot of time exploring the region of Flanders, but the southern region of Wallonia is also home to many interesting places. Take for example the city of Tournai, a city close to the French border bursting with attractions. Start outside the city’s iconic and world heritage Notre Dame Cathedral, known for its distinctive five towers and wonderful rose window. Nearby, the splendid Belfry of Tournai is another UNESCO recognized landmark that defines Tournai’s cityscape. Next, it’s just a short walk over to the Grand Place, lined with many captivating buildings like the city’s Cloth Hall and the St Quentin Church. Another historic landmark not to miss is the Pont des Trous bridge by the Scheldt River, and the Museum of Fine Arts which has a fantastic collection of pieces.
Getting there: Hourly trains travel from Brussels to Tournai, taking just over an hour to reach the city.
Although it may be one of the smaller cities of the Wallonia region, Dinant quickly impresses those who visit. Sitting along the Meuse River, Dinant is an easily walkable destination and solid candidate for a day trip. Standing by the riverfront on the Charles de Gaulle Bridge it’s hard to miss the immense Citadel of Dinant sitting on the cliffs over the river. Up at the fortress you’ll be able to see the museum inside as well as the stunning views from the citadel’s walls. Back down in the city, the Notre Dame de Dinant is a pretty Gothic church with a pear-shaped bell tower. Another curiosity in town is the Maison Adolphe Sax, home to the man who invented the saxophone.
Getting there: Visiting Dinant from Brussels is quite easy as it’s only a 1 ½ hour train ride with regular departures. To combine visits to Dinant and Luxembourg however, you’ll want to take an organized tour to handle the transport.
As you can see there are many things to see in Belgium outside of Brussels. These are just some of the places you can visit from Brussels with a day or two to spare. Whether you choose to explore the regions of Flanders and Wallonia or head to a neighboring country, you won’t be disappointed in what you find.
Martin Seebach says
The riverside bar service to floaters near Dinant amazed me. While living in Brussels we would spend an occasional Sunday driving over to Germany or France to get rid of accumulated change by filling up the gas tank or having a drink. Lovely city, wonder people and excellent beer.