Even though Belgium is a small country, there is plenty to do there. We have all heard about Brussels and Bruges, and maybe some of you have even explored more and visited the cities of Ghent and Antwerp, but here are five cities you probably haven't heard of.
Aalst is a city located about 19 miles (30 km) from Brussels in the west of Flanders. The city is most famous for its carnival festivities. Every year in February during three days (and nights) events are on to celebrate carnival including a massive street parade with floats and people dressed up in colorful costumes. If you are not a fan of carnival, you can still visit and admire the 15th century belfry, which is the oldest in Belgium and has a carillon with 52 beautiful bells.
Tongeren, located in the southeastern corner of the Flemish region, is the oldest town in Belgium. This is because Tongeren was actually the administrative center under Roman rule. You will find several historic buildings in this city, for example the majestic Tongeren Basilica (or Onze-Lieve-Vrouw Basiliek) built in the 13th century and the Béguinage, founded in 1257 which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Make a stop at the statue of Ambiorix, a Belgian national hero because of his resistance against Julius Caesar.
Located conveniently about an hour's drive from Brussels airport and close to the German and Dutch border, this is one of my favorite cities in Belgium. With Cologne only an hour and a half away and Amsterdam 2-hours away, this is a good hub to visit multiple countries on one trip. The center of Hasselt is mostly car-free making it enjoyable to walk around in and explore. The Grote Markt, the central market square, is the place to sit back, relax at one of the many restaurants and people watch. Fashionita's will not be disappointed as there are plenty of shops and boutiques in which you can while away the afternoon. Or visit the Modemuseum, where you can see exhibitions of fashion from the past, now and even predictions for the future.
Only half an hour from Brussels you will find a gem that is often overlooked. The city of Leuven, a vibrant university city, has probably one of the most detailed city halls you will ever see. There is plenty of history to be discovered such as Saint Peter`s Church, which is the oldest church in Leuven or the Grand Beguinage, a well preserved and completely restored historical quarter of the city. From all that walking around you will get thirsty, but not to worry as you will be spoiled for choice at the Oude Markt, also called the longest bar in Europe.
Namur, located in southern Belgium, is the capital of Wallonia, the French-speaking part of Belgium and is just an hour from Brussels. Here you will be able to have a sample of history, shopping and nature. The main landmark is the citadel, a fortress in the city originally from the Roman era, but one that has been rebuilt a few times since. Namur is rich in boutiques to shop till your hearts content as well, adding a modern edge to your visit. If you are a nature lover, Namur is a logical stop to visit the Ardennes, a region of forests and rolling hills.
Which city would you visit first on your grand tour of Belgium?