First of all, allow me to explain what Flanders actually is. Many of you have probably heard of the region of Flanders before—Flanders Fields is a well-known destination.
Flanders is the northern Dutch-speaking part of Belgium. It is home to about 6.5 million people, or approximately 60% of Belgium’s population.
Historically, Flanders has been the rural and “poorer” part of Belgium. When Wallonia, the southern French-speaking part of the country, was getting rich from coal mining and steel industry, Flanders remained rural farmlands. Nowadays, however, Flanders has become the wealthier part due to cutting-edge technology and modern businesses.
Although most of Flanders was rural farmland, there have always been major cities as well, figurative islands of prosperity and wealth in a region of farms and fields. It’s those cities that are the biggest tourist attractions in Flanders nowadays.
5 Historic Cities in Flanders, Belgium
Brussels may not technically (politically) be a part of Flanders, but it is, in fact, located on Flemish soil. The capital of Belgium has its own government, but Brussels can be considered an essential city to visit while in Flanders. It’s also where most people arrive, whether they’re traveling by train or plane. Brussels has great accommodation and is home to the iconic Grand-Place, a majestic Town Hall, the eclectic Atomium, the Comic Book walk, and countless restaurants, cafés, museums and bars.
Antwerp is Belgium’s (and Flanders’) second-largest city. Located on the River Scheldt in the far north of the country, this ancient medieval city has a spectacular market square, breathtaking cathedral, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a few world-class museums and an imposing train station. Antwerp is also one world’s fashion capitals—and the number one diamond city in the world.
Less-known and less-visited, historic Ghent is one of Flanders’ “hidden” treasures. At one point in history it was the largest city in northern Europe after Paris, a status that is still visible in its overwhelmingly beautiful medieval architecture. The city is chock-full with old guild halls, waterfronts, churches, museums and cozy squares.
Besides Brussels, Bruges is the most-visited city in Flanders. This picture-perfect fairy-tale city is sometimes nicknamed “the Venice of the North” because of its many canals, bridges and historic buildings. Bruges is an absolute highlight in not only Flanders and Belgium, but in all of Europe as well.
Situated a quick train ride from Brussels, the city of Leuven is home to about 90,000 students, impressive architecture—the Town Hall is nothing less than jaw-dropping—and the world’s largest brewery. It’s a bustling and vibrant city that’s absolutely worth spending at least a day in. Old béguinages, churches, market squares and plenty of restaurants and bars are sure to keep you occupied for longer than you’d expect.
There are many more cities in Flanders that are well-worth visiting. Check out this post and this one for an overview!