After living in Haarlem and Amsterdam during the last six years, my favourite weekend trips from the Netherlands are still to Flanders. That charming region of Belgium has it all: cute historic towns, wonderful artists, a fantastic chocolate production, delicious food and some amazing beers. After exploring it extensively during the last few years, here are my recommendations for some perfect weekend trips to Flanders.
Weekend trips to Flanders
Flanders is a region of Belgium located in the northern part of the country. It’s famous for its charming architecture, world-famous art and numerous wonderful chocolate shops. Painters like P. P. Rubens, Jan van Eyck or Pieter Bruegel lived and worked there.
Once you’ll stroll through its cobbled streets, surrounded by architecture that looks like it hasn’t changed since the Middle Ages, all while being blown away by the smell of fresh Belgian waffles from the near-by bakery, weekend trips to Flanders will become your regular thing, too. Trust me!
How to get to Flanders?
Flanders is well connected with neighbouring countries. The largest airport is located in Brussels. From there you can quickly get anywhere in Flanders by train.
If you’re travelling to Flanders from the Netherlands, it’s easy to get there by train, too. NS International often has some great promotions, so your weekend in Flanders won’t cost you a fortune.
Flanders could also be a great place to travel to in the post-Covid 19 time because you can easily get there by car. I travelled to many places in Flanders from Amsterdam and Haarlem. It’s between two and four hours long trip, depending on what’s your destination.
Things to know before your weekend trip to Flanders
Language – People in Flanders speak Flemish, which is a version of Dutch. However, the majority of its citizens also speaks French, because it’s another official language in Belgium. And I never had any problem with communicating in English.
Street Art & Design – Flanders is home to some beautiful historic architecture and cultural heritage. But, a huge part of its charm lays in its fantastic street art you’ll find on so many buildings in Flanders. That combination of traditional and modern is something I find so beautiful in Belgium.
Comic Books – Belgium has the most comic book authors per capita in the world. If you like comic books, be sure to plan a visit to some of the book shops or specialised stores which sell them. There is even a Comics Art Museum located in Brussels where you can learn more about Tintin, the Smurfs and other Belgian comics.
Restaurants – Food in Flanders is delicious, and I often plan a weekend trip to Flanders only to enjoy in its incredible cuisine. Belgians love to eat outside, so if you’d like to have dinner at a restaurant during your weekend in Flanders, make a reservation in advance.
Belgian Chocolate – Ooooh, Belgian chocolate. OK, maybe the real reason for my love to Flanders lays in its amazing chocolate. You’ll find some of the lovely small chocolate shops on each main city square in Flanders. My biggest advice here is – leave enough space in your bag for some chocolates to bring back home with you. Well, we all have our priorities.
During the late Middle Ages Flanders was one of the wealthiest regions in Europe. That’s why you’ll find numerous amazing historic buildings there. And some of its cities like Bruges or Ghent, look like they didn’t change since the 15th century.
However, Flanders was home to some of the most famous European painters because of that wealth, too. Jan van Eyck lived in Bruges and Ghent and has brought the Renaissance to northern Europe. His most famous masterpiece, the Ghent Altarpiece, could still be seen at Saint Bavo Cathedral in that Flemish town. 2020 and 2021 are dedicated to this Flemish master, and many exciting events and exhibitions are organised to celebrate him, especially in Ghent.
Pieter Bruegel worked there too, and many of his paintings could be seen in museums of Brussels and Antwerp. The later is also where one of the most important Baroque painters, Peter Paul Rubens, lived and worked. His house and studio can still be visited there.
Watch my video about Jan van Eyck and some locations linked to him in Ghent:
Best weekend destinations in Flanders
There are so many amazing places to visit in Flanders. Probably the hardest thing with planning your trip there is to decide where to spend your weekend in Flanders.
To make things a bit easier for you, I made a list of some of my favourite places to visit there. If you’d like to read more, check out the links to my blog posts with more info about those Flemish towns.
If I could choose a city to live in Flanders, it would definitely be Antwerp. It has just the right size, beautiful architecture, excellent foodie scene and a perfect combination of historic town with some great urban vibe.
It was a place where famous painter Peter Paul Rubens lived, and you can still see many of his paintings in the city museums and churches. Antwerp Cathedral is a beautiful Medieval church, and you shouldn’t miss it during your weekend trip to Flanders.
Antwerp is also the fashion capital of Belgium. And besides the Fashion Museum MoMu, you’ll find many small designer shops around the city.
Mechelen is Flanders’ hidden gem and probably one of my favourite weekend destinations in Flanders. Located right between Brussels and Antwerp, it’s a great location for a quiet weekend trip to Flanders filled with art and culture.
Most of the city centre is a pedestrian zone, so you can easily walk around the city. The area of the Large Beguinage, with its cobbled streets and buildings under the UNESCO protection, is especially lovely to stroll around.
Mechelen was the capital of the Low Countries (roughly the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg today) during the 16th century. There are many nice museums you could visit while there. If you only choose to visit one, Hof van Busleyden Museum, located in a magnificent Renaissance palace, should definitely be on your list.
Ghent is a beautiful Belgian town with an amazing old Medieval architecture that looks like it hasn’t changed for centuries. However, it’s not a city-museum, but a lively town, filled with many small cafes, restaurants and some great shops. Because of that fantastic mix, Ghent is definitely one of my favourite Belgian cities.
During the 13th century, it was the second biggest town north of Alps. Just after Paris. And some of its most beautiful Medieval buildings, like the Cathedral of Saint Bavo, Belfry and Saint Nicholas Church were built during that time. Gravensteen Castle also located in the city centre, was home to counts of Flanders, and built during the 12th century.
Today, Ghent is a vibrant student town. It’s home to some fantastic street art, especially in the Graffiti street. Many of its restaurants are participating in the city initiative of Vegetarian Thursdays. All of that is bringing a great urban vibe in this old Medieval town.
Probably one of the most famous Flemish towns, Bruges deserves its fame by every right. Its Medieval city centre is well preserved, and you can feel its glorious past on every step.
Besides wandering around its cobbled streets, a great way to explore it is on some of the canal cruises. It was home to a famous painter Jan van Eyck and some other Flemish masters. The best places to see their work are Groeningemuseum, Sint-Janshospitaal and Gruuthusemuseum.
Church of Our Lady is where you can see Michelangelo’s ‘Virgin with Child’. It’s the only statue created by the famous master that left Italy during his life.
Bruges is a small town, perfect for strolling around, getting lost in its small streets, trying some of the best Belgian waffles and enjoying in its serenity.
With its cobbled streets, beautiful gabled houses and the old historic centre, Ypres looks like any other Flemish town. However, I started to look at it with a different pair of eyes, once I learned it was almost completely destroyed during the First World War. And everything I could see around myself in Ypres was rebuilt after it.
A great museum to learn about its past is Yper Museum. And the one where you can learn more about the First World War in Ypres is In Flanders Fields.
Ypres was a place where some of the deadliest battles were fought during the war. To honour all the soldiers who were lost, and don’t have a grave, the monumental Menin Gate was built right in the city centre. Each evening at 8 PM a special ceremony The Last Post is held there.
Located some thirty kilometres from Brussels, Leuven is a charming town perfect for a weekend trip to Flanders. Its most remarkable building is Leuven’s City Hall. Built back in the 15th century, its facade is decorated with statues of many Leuven’s famous citizens.
Leuven is a student town, and it’s University Library is definitely worth a visit. You’ll have a fantastic view of the old town from its tower.
It’s also home to one of the largest beguinages in Belgium. Groot Begijnhof looks like a Medieval village inside the town. It was founded back in the 13th century as a home to unmarried religious women. The site was purchased and restored by the University of Leuven in the 1960s and after the last beguinage sister died in 1988, became home to visiting professors and students. I stayed in it during my visit to Leuven, and am definitely recommending you to do the same.
From art and culture to delicious food and great beer, Flanders has it all. With so many charming little towns you could visit during your weekend trips to Flanders, I hope this weekend guide to Flanders will make your choice at least a bit easier.
Have you been to Flanders? What’s your favourite place there? Let me know in the comments below.