If we include Brussels as a part of Flanders, there are no less than seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Flanders, the Dutch-speaking northern region of Belgium. I’ve visited five of them so far. (I plan to visit the rest over the course of this coming summer.)
5 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Flanders
Grand-Place in Brussels
The Grand-Place is the heart of Brussels, capital of Belgium, and arguably one of the most stunning urban squares on the planet. This marvelous square is surrounded by Baroque and Gothic gold-leaf guild houses, the Breadhouse, which houses the Brussels City Museum, and the gorgeous Town Hall. It’s the best place to start exploring the city, either by car or on foot, and the best place to relax afterwards, in one of the many restaurants and cafés that line it.
With a handful of exceptions in the Netherlands, France and England, the vast majority of béguinages in the world are found in Flanders. A social system invented several centuries ago, a béguinage used to be a separate community of single women – women whose spouses died in war, unmarried women and religious women. The community was essentially self-sufficient and provided almost completely independent lives to those women, something that was pretty much unique in Europe until very recently. Nowadays, there are seventeen béguinages left in Flanders, all of them part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site known as ‘Flemish Béguinages’.
Historic City Center of Bruges
Bruges, as a remarkably well-preserved medieval city, deserves its place on the list of World Heritage Sites of UNESCO. The entire city center looks like it could come straight out of a fairy tale, consisting of the most picturesque canals, crow-step-gabled row houses, impressive churches and a towering belfry. It’s a breathtaking city and should be on any travel itinerary in Western Europe.
Major Town Houses of the Architect Victor Horta
Four of Victor Horta’s town houses in Brussels were declared World Heritage by UNESCO in 2000 – Hôtel Tassel, Hôtel van Eetvelde, Hôtel Solvay and Maison & Atelier Horta. Victor Horta, a Brussels resident, was one of the first influential Art Nouveau architects and was a pioneer of the architectural style that emerged in the late 19th century. The four beautiful houses are found in the historic center of Brussels.
Belfries of Belgium and France
Belfries are towers typical to the Western European region that comprises northern France, Belgium and the southern Netherlands. The UNESCO World Heritage Site ‘Belfries of Belgium and France’ includes all belfries in Belgium and northern France. In Flanders alone, there are 25 belfries that are considered world heritage. Although they’re only one World Heritage Site, those belfries are dotted across the region, found in 25 different cities. The most spectacular ones can be seen in Bruges, Aalst, Ypres, Mechelen and Antwerp.