Get off the tourist trail: Alternative cities to visit in Belgium

If you’re a sucker for Brussels and Bruges, you’ll love these lesser-known cities to visit in Belgium. All the style without the crowds, get off the beaten track and experience the breweries of Leuven, the stunning architecture of historic Ypres, and the freshest fish and frites in Ostend.

Leuven

If you like beer, bikes and music then Leuven is about to become your new go-to holiday destination. Located just 16 miles east of Brussels, this stunning town is home to the world’s largest brewer, and the birthplace of Stella Artois. Take a tour of the brewery before checking out the local beer joints, one of which claims to stock 3000 different types of amber nectar.

Cycling along Leuven streets
Photo by Stephane Mignon

Time your trip for August and experience Marktrock, a free music festival showcasing local talent, and featuring everything from punk rock to k-pop. Alternatively, seeing as you’re a fan of getting off the beaten track, December is the month for the city’s international Cyclocross. The cross country run for cyclists has taken place every year since 2011, so kick back with a Stella and watch the greats battle it out to get over that muddy, muddy finish line.

Ypres

The “city of peace” just under an hour from Ostend is well known for being the site of some of the most horrific battles of World War One. Much of the historic architecture was flattened in the fighting, meaning that most of the buildings are in fact rebuilt to match their historic predecessors. However this only adds to the character of the city, whose stunning streets steeped in history make it one of the most beautiful cities to visit in Belgium.

Menin Gate in Ypres
Photo by Visit Flanders

Visit the touching Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing, a stunning commemoration to those killed during the Great War and whose bodies were never identified. The incredible Cloth Hall in the centre of the city is one of the buildings that was largely reconstructed after being destroyed in the war. It is now home to the In Flanders’ Museum, whose primary aim is to demonstrate the futility of war.

Ostend

This beautiful city by the sea is home to small shopping streets, a breathtaking beach and some of the freshest fish and frites you’ll ever eat. Ostend is a hub of art and culture, making it the perfect stopover on your way on or off the ferry. Murals cover walls throughout the city, and the intricate Sint-Petrus en Sint-Paulus  church is a stunning feat of Neo-Gothic architecture.

Footprints on Ostend beach
Photo by Bryan Ledgard

Just ten minutes’ drive along the coast out of Ostend and you’ll come to the Atlantic Wall Open Air Museum. The incredible military collection is housed in one of the best preserved trenches from the World Wars. Alternatively, take a break in the lush greenery of Leopoldpark, where the statue of the Dikke Mathile (Fat Matilda) lazes over the lake.

Inspired? Start planning your trip to these Belgian cities with our handy travel guide.