From relaxing spa breaks to Trappist brewery tours, and everything in between, here are some of the best weekend breaks to be had in Belgium.
Given that Belgium is a small but well-connected country, planning a leisurely weekend away is never a difficult task. Whether you fancy dipping your toes in the North Sea, hiking through national parks, or visiting historic landmarks, there’s a mini-break to suit all interests in Belgium. Furthermore, the country boasts a plethora of unexplored gems to discover outside of the usual popular hotspots. So the next time you fancy escaping for the weekend, why not check out what else Belgium has to offer.
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1. Pamper yourself in the original Spa town
Located in the heart of the Ardennes region in southeast Belgium, Spa is the ideal place to unwind and recharge your batteries. The eponymous town is famous for its numerous thermal springs, which were discovered by the Romans in the 14th century. Word quickly spread of the spring’s healing powers and people from all over came to drink and bathe in its legendary waters, hoping to heal their various ailments. The springs eventually developed into the magnificent therapy and relaxation center, Thermes de Spa. Today, this is one of Belgium’s most popular tourist destinations.
Aside from enjoying thermal baths, visitors can book a variety of beauty and wellness treatments within the 800-square-meter spa. These include massages and facials, saunas and steam baths, and various exercise classes. Although nowadays, the spa is more of a luxury retreat than a space for healing, it certainly makes for a relaxing weekend away. Unsurprisingly, there are hundreds of hotels and B&Bs dotted around the town, enabling guests to stay for a long weekend. Discover more spas in Belgium.
2. Visit the battlefields in Waterloo and Ypres
A top weekend break in Belgium for military history buffs is undoubtedly Waterloo and Ypres; the sites of two of the bloodiest and most important battles in European history. The 1815 Battle of Waterloo was one of the last in Europe to be fought with sword, cannon, and musket. It was here that the Duke of Wellington defeated Emperor Napoleon I. The victory marked the end of two decades of conflict and helped shape the future of Europe for the next century. Today, you will find a range of historical attractions that commemorate the battle in the town of Waterloo. Among them are the Lion’s Mound historical monument, Napoleon’s Last Headquarters, and the Wellington Museum. If you visit in June, you might even witness the re-enactment of the battle on the original site.
Meanwhile, about a 1.5-hour-drive from Waterloo, the city of Ypres is home to the internationally renowned In Flanders Fields Museum. Here, visitors can learn about the experiences of WWI soldiers in the West Flanders front region. They can continue learning about the war and the role Ypres played in it by visiting one of the war cemeteries, the Trench of Death, and the Yser Tower, on the city’s outskirts. If you happen to be in the city center at 20.00, you will also catch the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate Memorial. Held every evening since 1928, this moving tribute commemorates the British soldiers who sacrificed their lives for the Belgian people. Discover more museums in Belgium.
3. Hit the ski slopes in the Ardennes
If you love to ski, then a visit to one of Belgium’s 12 ski resorts is sure to top your list of fun Belgium weekend breaks. As soon as the temperature dips and the snow falls, the eastern region near the Belgian-German border turns into a winter paradise for snow sports. Belgium’s ski slopes are ideal for alpine and cross-country skiing and tobogganing. They boast some stunning trails that pass through picturesque summits and forests blanketed with snow. The Ardennes is particularly popular among skiing enthusiasts, thanks to its natural contours which create three alpine pistes. The highest point in the region, Baraque de Fraiture, extends up to 650m and further north, Mont des Brumes attracts thrill-seekers who dare to tackle its 1,000m-long alpine ski slope; one of the longest in Belgium.
Meanwhile, Ovifat is a perfect destination for beginners and professional skiers. There are three downhill skiing tracks in the resort that are suited to a range of ski levels. While several resorts specialize in cross-country skiing, the standout is the High Fens. This is the largest nature reserve in Belgium and home to Signal de Botrange; the highest point in Belgium, at 694m. During winter, all the water sources freeze over and become covered in snow; creating one of the country’s best trails for cross-country skiing. You don’t have to bring your own equipment, either, as there are many places to rent gear near or within the resorts. And once you’ve had your adrenaline fix, you can relax with a cup of hot chocolate or gluhwein at the cozy chateaus located at the end of each trail.
4. Dip your toes in the North Sea at Ostend
If you like to be beside the seaside, the Belgian coastline offers a vast array of fun beach activities, quaint seaside resorts, and surprising attractions. Ostend, for instance, is rated among the fifty most beautiful beaches in Europe. Once known as the ‘Queen of Seaside Resorts’, it is also a thriving cosmopolitan city. Here you will find crowded shopping streets, numerous restaurants and bars, and top museums and cultural attractions; not to mention the famous Ostend Casino. The city is also home to the only remaining intact Napoleonic fortress in Europe, Fort Napoleon. You can enjoy Ostend’s top attractions during a tour of the city on the miniature train or by horse-drawn carriage.
Further along the coast, the more upmarket resort of Knokke-Heist boasts numerous swanky seaside homes and designer shops and restaurants. If you prefer nature-spotting, however, the Zwin Nature Park on the North Sea coast boasts 128 hectares of natural beauty. The area is home to ducks, geese, waders, and gulls who sometimes come here to nest. A great way to explore the enchanting Belgian coastline is by taking the Kusttram (coastal tram). This runs from De Panne on the French border to Knokke-Heist, which is close to the Dutch border. Trams run through Ostend every 10 minutes during the summer and make almost 70 stops along the entire stretch of coastline; calling in at 15 towns en route. There are many beautiful sights to see along this coastal hop-on hop-off tour.
5. Stroll around Bruges, the Venice of the North
If you haven’t managed to make it to Venice, don’t worry. After all, Belgium boasts its own version of the picturesque city on the water just an hour or so from Brussels. Bruges (or Brugge in Dutch) is often dubbed the ‘Venice of the North’, owing to its extensive network of canals built around the beautiful medieval city. Whether you wander the city on foot or take a canal boat tour, there is plenty to fill your weekend. If you have a sweet tooth, you will no doubt love exploring the city’s many chocolate shops. You can even learn how to make your own delicious pralines at the mouth-watering Choco-Story chocolate museum. Beer lovers, meanwhile, can sample some of the country’s finest brews at the De Halve Maan brewery.
But Bruges isn’t only worth visiting for its chocolate and beer. It is also a celebrated UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to several magnificent religious and historic landmarks. These include the imposing belfry tower and the Basilica of the Holy Blood. The latter houses a preserved relic that is said to contain the blood of Jesus Christ. Every year on Ascension Day, the relic is carried through the streets in a huge Catholic procession; this has also received UNESCO protected status. The 83-meter-high belfry tower is also well worth a visit. And if you live to eat, Bruges is also home to a huge array of Michelin-star restaurants; making it the perfect Belgium weekend break for foodies.
6. Step back in time in Belgium’s oldest city, Tongeren
If you crave a dose of history, then why not transport yourself back to Belgium’s historic Roman roots in the country’s oldest city, Tongeren. Fortified walls dating back to the 1st century and a Roman archaeological site from the 4th century greet you as you enter the ancient city. As you walk the paved paths, medieval defense towers lead you to the market square. Here, you will discover a three-meter bronze statue of legendary Gallic chieftain Ambiorix. As history goes, the wild-eyed warrior led his tribe to a roaring victory against Julius Caesar’s legions around 54 BC.
Our Lady Basilica is another of the city’s main attractions. This was built in the 13th-century Gothic style and houses some of the richest archaeological finds in Flanders. You can also discover artifacts, including valuable objects from the Iron Age, at the Gallo-Roman Museum near the city center. And if you enjoy shopping, make sure to swing by the huge antique market every Sunday in the main square. Starting from 07.00, more than 350 exhibitors and about 40 antique shops display their best merchandise for visitors seeking unique shabby chic finds.
7. Visit Durbuy, the smallest city in the world
Famous for touting itself as the ‘smallest city in the world,’ Durbuy attracts hordes of tourists with that tagline alone. Nestled in the heart of the Ardennes, just 1.5 hours from Brussels, the quaint little hamlet resembles something from the pages of a fairytale. Surrounded by emerald green hills and overlooking the banks of the Ourthe River, it is one of Belgium’s most picturesque cities. As you stroll along the narrow cobblestone streets in the old town, you will discover rows of medieval stone houses. Some of these have been turned into cafés, bars, fancy boutiques, and artisanal shops for Wallonian specialties. These sell local products such as jam, tea, and local brews Marckloff and Durboyse.
Ironically, Durbuy is also the site of the largest topiary park in the world. The 10,000-square-meter park is dedicated to the art of clipping trees into ornamental shapes. Therefore, you will discover more than 250 elaborately-made sculptures in the shape of dogs, mazes, elephants, and more. The park is open all year round except for the Christmas holidays to mid-February. Meanwhile, sitting atop a hill overlooking the Ourthe River, Durbuy Castle is a stunning sight to behold. You can hop on the tourist road train and visit the castle and many other landmarks in the area; including the topiary park, a traditional Marckloff brewery, and the Confiturerie Saint-Amour jam factory. If you’re looking to stretch your legs, however, Durbuy is the perfect base for outdoor activities. After sightseeing, you can cycle along the Ourthe River or enjoy the water by kayak, canoe, or raft.
8. Explore the beautiful countryside in the Ardennes
Located in the south of Belgium, the Ardennes covers the three provinces of Namur, Luxembourg, and Liège. It is an area of outstanding beauty that is sure to top any nature lover’s list of the best Belgium weekend breaks. The gentle but rugged countryside of the region is full of heritage, history, and charm. However, it also serves as an ideal location for experiencing the great outdoors; whether it be by walking, climbing, cycling, horse riding, fishing, canoeing, or even kayaking. That said, the region can get quite touristy during the summertime and school holidays. Therefore, you might want to avoid visiting during peak season.
The city of Dinant in Namur is a particularly spectacular day trip from Brussels. Not only is this the birthplace of saxophone inventor Adolphe Sax, but it is also the location of one of Belgium’s wackiest festivals; the International Bathtub Regatta. If you visit in August, you might witness a fleet of floating bathtubs sailing down the River Meuse during the six-day festival. Besides this, there are a number of other popular attractions to enjoy, including the Collegiate Church Notre-Dame and La Merveilleuse; an enchanting cave that you can explore with a guide. If you fancy some nature, however, you can always enjoy a range of outdoor activities in Belgium’s largest forest, La Grande Foret de Saint-Hubert. This is the perfect spot for hiking, cycling, and spotting wildlife.
9. Go hiking the High Fens
The High Fens (or Hautes Fagnes in French) is one of the most beautiful regions in Belgium. Stretching north of Malmedy to the Eupen peaks near the German border, the upraised plateau is Belgium’s first nature park and largest reserve. The 11,123-acre area is a hiker’s paradise with its high elevation and unique topography of raised bogs, moorland, thick forests, and hills covered with vibrant foliage. There is much to discover in the region all year round and the reserve is great for cross-country skiers during winter. The Natural Park Hautes Fagnes also unveils the High Fens’ many riches. You can explore the area through expositions, educational eco-activities, scooter rides, audio trips, and guided walks.
The High Fens becomes truly exceptional in spring, summer, and fall due to its astonishing flora and fauna. Part of the park, however, remains closed during the spring because of the breeding season of the endangered black grouse. To fill up a whole weekend, nature lovers can revel in hiking the park’s different marked trails. These take you on a tour around secluded marshlands, forests, meadows, rivers, and gushing waterfalls. You can also enjoy the vast scenery by renting a mountain or electrical bike at the Ardennes; this borders the High Fens in the south. Afterward, you can relax at the dozens of cafés and terraces in the charming nearby towns of Spa, Malmedy, and Stavelot. Unsurprisingly, there are various holiday cottages in the area should you choose to stay locally.
10. Take a tour of the breweries in Chimay
Beer is, of course, synonymous with Belgium and sacred to the country’s Trappist monks. In fact, six of the 14 monasteries in the world that produce authentic Trappist brews are based in Belgium. However, most of these are produced in limited quantities and are only available within the region they are produced in. Therefore, if you have a palette for fine beers, a weekend tour to these breweries is a must. A pilgrimage will take you across the country from Westvleteren, Chimay, Orval, Rochefort, and Westmalle to Achel. However, seclusion is paramount for the strict Cistercian order monks. Therefore, only some of the abbeys are open to the public.
An ideal weekend beer tour would start at Chimay in the south of Belgium. Here you will find the Abbey of Notre-Dame de Scourmont, which is famous for brewing three widely distributed ales; Chimay Rouge, Chimay Bleue, and Chimay Blanche. While neither the abbey nor the bottling plant is open to the public, you can still visit the gardens, cemetery, and church. You can also learn about and taste the brews for a small fee at the Espace Chimay. The Abbey of Notre-Dame de Saint-Rémy in Rochefort is also worth visiting. Meanwhile, an hour south through the Ardennes, the Abbey of Notre-Dame d’Orval is home to the much-lauded Orval and Petite Orval Trappist beer. Even though you cannot visit the famous brewery and the abbey itself, the ruins of the ancient site are a major tourist attraction. You can find other monastic breweries in Achel, Westmalle, and Westvleteren.