Between fairytale medieval towns and bustling city travels, here’s your guide to the very best day trips from Brussels if you want to escape the city for the day!
Brussels is the capital city of Belgium, a tiny country sandwiched between France, the Netherlands, and Germany. Though often overlooked in lieu of its more famous capital neighbours, Brussels has a fair amount to offer visitors, including a wonderful foodie scene, plenty of wonderful Christmas markets in the winter, and plenty of hidden gems.
In general, Brussels is also much cheaper to stay in than many other Western European capital cities, meaning that it’s a great place to base yourself for day trips within the region.
Pretty and quirky, the underrated city of Mechelen is easily one of Belgium’s best-kept secrets. And not just because the impressive 13th-century St. Rumbold’s Cathedral features work by Van Dyck or because Mechelen’s local beer, Golden Carolus, has won countless international awards.
Instead, other highlights of Mechelen include enjoying the main square, the Grote Markt, as well as its weekly market, and experience the beguines of the city. Beguinages can be found across the Netherlands and Belgium and were historically where Religious women would live.
To get from Brussels to Mechelen, you need only hop on a train at Brussel-Centraal station. Trains only take sixteen minutes and should only set you back a few euros. If you prefer to see multiple things in one day and want all of the public transport details taken care of for you, consider booking this Antwerp & Mechelen Guided Bus Trip from Brussels.
It was a sunny day when I first visited the picture perfect city of Leuven, an easy day trip from Brussels that is as beautiful as it is charming. Leuven is predominantly a student city and boasts a population of around 100,000 residents.
Some of the best things to do in the picturesque town includes seeking out hidden gems, drinking a beer at the ‘longest bar in the world’ (a square that’s home to dozens of bars), and heading to one of the city’s two beguines. Leuven also happens to be home to the oldest botanical garden in the Belgium.
There are regular trains departing from Brussels-Centraal towards Leuven on a regular basis. The tickets costs around €5 each way and the journey time is between twenty to thirty minutes depending on which train you hop on.
For those who wish all of the transportation details to be taken care of, as well as who want to learn more about the city, consider booking thisMedieval Leuven Walking Tour from Brussels.
Bruges. The name alone probably conjures up visions of fairytale canals, gingerbread houses, and quirky bars serving plenty of Belgian beer. Easily one of the most famous small and quaint cities in Europe, the city of Bruges is easily the most famous of day trips from Brussels.
As well as being home to a plethora of off the beaten path activities, other highlights of Bruges include meandering through the city’s many cobbled lanes, and taking a boat tour along one of Bruges’ historic city canals.
As Bruges is located on the Western side of Belgium, not far from the coastline and the sea, it’s further away to get to from Brussels than some of the other destinations on this list.
The easiest way to get from Brussels to Bruges is to take a direct train from Brussels-Centraal to Bruges. The journey time takes around an hour. Alternatively, you can book a guided tour from Brussels to Bruges such as this Bruges Full-Day Guided Tour from Brussels.
The charming trendy and cool city of Ghent is often overlooked in famous of its more famous neighbour, that of Bruges. However, that doesn’t mean that you should personally miss out on this beautiful city if you get the chance to visit.
Thanks to a fantastic beer scene, a wealth of charming viewpoints, plenty of hidden gems and a surprising vegan scene, Ghent is an off the beaten path day trip with highlights such as historic canals, an old town to walk through and some beautiful churches.
Alternatively, if you’re short on time but still wish to visit Ghent, then you can see both Ghent and Bruges in one day as they are on the same train line. While you could easily organise this yourself, you could also instead book this Ghent and Bruges Day-Tour from Brussels and have all of the details taken care of for you.
Known as ‘Anvers’ in French and ‘Antwerpen’ in Flemish (a type of Dutch), Antwerp is easily one of the best and most beautiful places to visit in Belgium. Traditionally, the port city has best been associated with the diamond trade, though today much of the city’s industry is dominated by tourism.
The busy and bustling port city of Antwerp is the second largest city in Belgium and is stark in contrast to its larger neighbour, the capital of Belgium, Brussels, meaning that it’s a must-see if you want to see more that the country has to offer during your trip to the European country.
Otherwise, you should know that thanks to the city’s major transportation links, it’s easy to get on a train from Brussels to Antwerp. Trains run regularly throughout the day and the travel time is roughly 40 minutes each way.
The other option is to book a guided tour from Brussels to Antwerp like this one, meaning that transportation details between the cities will be taken care of on your behalf.
For those who don’t mind going a little further afield during their time in Belgium, Brussels to Paris can easily be travelled over the course of a day. The fastest train times between the two capital cities is around an hour and a half.
As the capital of France, it’s clear that there’s no shortage of things to do in Paris. From discovering off the beaten path locations to figuring out whether or not the Mona Lisa is actually smiling, you’ll never run out of cool and interesting activities.
I would personally recommend that you don’t see Paris over the course of a day as a day trip from Brussels and instead opt to stay longer so that you can really soak in the magic of the French capital.
If you’re short on time and really want to squeeze in a trip, be sure to set aside a full day, leaving early and arriving back in Brussels late so as to maximise your exploration time.
Located on the border between Germany, the Netherlands, and of course, Belgium itself, Liège is one of the largest cities in Belgium and is the biggest French speaking settlement in the country.
Located along the River Meuse, the city is famed for its eponymous waffles, which are characterised by their big sugar chunks and unique shape. Other highlights of Liège include climbing up the 374 stairs of the Montagne de Bueren to enjoy a view onto the old town below and enjoying the architecture of the the Liège-Guillemins train station.
Simply charming, the French-speaking Belgian town of Namur is one place that you most certainly won’t want to miss off your Belgian bucket list. Located around an hour away from Brussels by train (and the journey time is around the same should you opt to take a car), visitors who love history and medieval architecture will be well rewarded should they opt to take a day trip to Namur.
Some of the top highlights of Namur include enjoying the town’s rich and vibrant beer scene, strolling through the old town, and being amazed by the citadel of Namur. Indeed, the citadel is one of the best-preserved medieval castles in Europe, and today it’s still possible to stroll along the fortifications and learn about the past of Namur within the castle’s walls.
Though less of a Belgium hidden gem these days than just a few years ago (but still a little off the beaten path nonetheless), Dinant still remains a must-see for those who are looking to enjoy the best that the country has to offer and is one of Belgium’s best-kept secrets.
Located alongside the banks of the River Meuse, the same river which wends its way through French settlements such as Verdun and Charleville-Mézières, this colourful town has something to offer for every budget.
After all, between boutique stays and sampling the local cuisine, there are plenty of attractions worth checking out. All in all, some of the best things to do in Dinant include touring the Renaissance Castle of Freÿr, marvelling at the views from the Dinant Citadel, and being amazed by the Grotte La Merveilleuse.
Those also interested in seeing Luxembourg during their trip might consider booking this Luxembourg & Dinant: Full-Day Sightseeing Tour from Brussels which allows visitors to enjoy both Dinant and Luxembourg city in a single day. Find more details here.
The city of Tournai can be found in Western Belgium, not far from the border with France. Tournai is perhaps best-known for its striking Cathedral of Notre Dame, which dates back to the Middle Ages and boasts five towers, as well as a rose window.
Elsewhere in the city, there’s plenty of fun activities, including plenty of things to do in Tournai with a historical twist. From discovering the museum of fine arts to ascending the belfry to get a bird’s eye view of the city, Tournai is best explored over the course of a day.
Luckily, Tournai is also fairly accessible to reach via public transportation, making it a candidate for one of the best day trips from Brussels. From Brussels, visitors simply need to hop on a train at Brussels-Centraal and the journey time is approximately an hour each way.
One of the more off the beaten path day trips you can take from Brussels is to Hasselt, which is famous for its cherry blossoms and so is best-visited during the spring. Hasselt is also home to plenty of fashion boutiques, street art, and local Belgian cuisine.
Though the exact time that the cherry blossoms bloom each year varies depending on the weather conditions, the blossoms typically flower at the end of March towards the beginning of April.
The journey from Brussels to Hasselt takes around an hour on the train. Direct trains depart from Brussels-Centraal station on a regular basis throughout the day and costs about €15 each way.
Though a little further away than some of the other destinations on this list, London is easier to reach than ever thanks to the Eurostar service between Brussels and the UK capital city (read my Standard Premier review here).
With this being said, I would personally opt to spend longer in London than simply a day as there is literally so much to see and do in the UK capital. Of course, London needs little introduction and it’s fair to say that the city has plenty to entice and entertain even the most discerning of travellers.
As well as plenty of museums and galleries, London offers a mouthwatering food scene and boasts restaurants which serve cuisine from all over the world. Even on a rainy day in London there’s no shortage of fun and budget things to do.
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