Tournai is a lovely destination anyone interested in culture and history should put on their Belgium bucket list. The town is filled with history, beautiful sites and many excellent museums. However, it’s still an undiscovered gem. Easily reachable from London, Brussels or Amsterdam, here are some great things to do in Tournai that will help you plan your trip to that fantastic destination.

Tournai Travel Guide

Although there are numerous fun things to do in Tournai, especially for art enthusiasts and history buffs, that Belgian town is also home to many great restaurants, delicious local beer, and beautiful nature surrounding it. Located in the Belgian region of Wallonia, it’s in the French-speaking part of the country. First things first, let’s start with its short history.

Read more: What to see at the Hainaut Province of Belgium?

Brief Tournai history

Tournai was founded more than 2000 years ago. It’s one of the oldest cities in Belgium, but also the birthplace of France. It was ruled by many different rulers, including France, Spain, the Netherlands, and even Austria. And all of them left their mark on it.

It was the only Belgian town ruled by England during Henry VIII’s reign. The city experienced its Golden Age during the 14th and 15th centuries. However, from the 17th century onwards, it started losing significance and slowly declining.

The city was heavily bombed during the Second World War. However, it was rebuilt afterwards, and today, its glorious Golden Age can be seen on every corner.

Read more: Where to see the paintings of Pieter Bruegel the Elder in Belgium?

Things to do in Tournai

Start your visit at the Tournai Tourist Office

Address: Place Paul-Emile Janson 1

Tournai’s Tourist Office is a great starting point for your trip. You can watch two 20-minute-long movies there: one about the city’s history and the other about how the famous Tournai Cathedral was built. Both movies are fun and informative and a great introduction to the city.

TIP: The Tourist Office is where you’ll find brochures about the city in different languages. In them, you’ll find maps with self-guided tours leading you all around the city. I followed one of them, and it was a great way to learn more about some of the historical sites in Tournai. Check out some of their City Passes if you plan to visit more sites during your trip to Tournai.

Visit Tournai Cathedral & Treasury

Address: Place de l’Evêché 1

Across the street from the Tourist Office, you’ll find one of the most beautiful buildings in Tournai: its medieval Cathedral. The edifice is famous for its five towers, which give it a royal appearance. The building was primarily built in the Romanesque and Gothic styles. You can almost split it in half and see these two styles on each side.

A massive tornado hit the city in 1999 and jeopardised the building’s stability. The restoration works started shortly after it, and most of the building is still being renovated today.

The Cathedral’s Treasury is quite impressive, too. Tournai has been famous for its tapestry production throughout history. You can see some of the beautiful tapestries produced in this Belgian town at the Cathedral’s Treasury. The displayed medieval goldsmith work is also stunning. The most fascinating item on the show is Thomas Becket’s cloak. He stopped in Tournai on his way back to England just a few days before he was murdered in 1170.

Read more: 20 Most iconic churches in Europe

Climb the Belfry of Tournai

Address: Grand’Place 15

The Cathedral was the city’s religious symbol of power, while its opponent and the civic symbol of power was the belfry. Built in 1188, Tournai’s belfry is the oldest in Belgium. Climbing it and enjoying a great city view should be on your list of things to do in Tournai.

From the top, you can see the city’s numerous churches and towers. Some smaller rooms inside the belfry were used as dungeons for the city’s prisoners.

Explore Pont des Trous

Address: Quai Donat Casterman

The third symbol of Tournai is the Pont des Trous Bridge. Built in the late 13th century, it was entirely destroyed during the Second World War. Rebuilt after it, it’s a beautiful reminder of some past times and the significance of the river traffic in Tournai.

Visit Henry VIII’s Tower

Address: Parc Henri VIII

Tournai was under British rule for a few years, between 1513 and 1519, during the reign of King Henry VIII of England. He built a large tower in his new city to strengthen his power. Located close to the train station, the tower is currently being renovated.

Wander around the park next to the City Hall

Address: Rue de l’Enclos Saint-Martin 52

In the centre of Tournai, you’ll be surrounded by medieval architecture. However, while wandering around the park next to the city hall, you’ll feel like you’ve entered the Baroque and Classicist eras.

This beautiful park is a great place to pause during warm, sunny days. You’ll find a statue of the famous Tournai painter Louis Gallait at its centre. The majority of the Tournai museums are also located in that area.

Read more: Best museums in Tournai

Natural History Museum and Vivarium in Tournai

Address: Cour d’Honneur de l’Hôtel de ville, Rue Saint-Martin 52

For such a small town, Tournai is home to some fantastic museums. My favourite was the Natural History Museum. The museum is divided into two areas. The first one is home to skeletons and stuffed animals. The second part is dedicated to endangered animals from the Red List of Threatened Species. It’s a wonderful place to learn about the animal world. Be sure to put it on your list of the best things to do in Tournai!

Museum of Fine Arts in Tournai

Address: Rue de l’Enclos Saint-Martin 3

Next to it is another cultural institution you shouldn’t miss in Tournai. The Museum of Fine Arts in Tournai is the only museum in the world designed by the famous Belgian architect Victor Horta. The only two paintings by Manet in Belgium are there, as well. I also enjoyed learning more about some local Tournai painters, like Louis Gallait and Rogier van der Weyden, during my visit.

Read more: Ghent Altarpiece: The story behind the masterpiece

Tournai Market Square

Address: Grand-Place

The central square in Tournai is the Market Square or Grand-Place. It’s filled with vibrant cafes, restaurants, and small shops. You’ll also stumble upon some impressive historical buildings, like the Saint-Quentin Church and the old Cloth Hall.

TIP: The Market Square hosts a farmer’s market each Saturday. If you’re in Tournai over the weekend, be sure to visit it.

Saint Jacques Church & following the shells on the streets

Address: Rue du Louvre

In the past, Tournai was an important pilgrimage stop on the way to Santiago de Compostela. That’s why you’ll still see many bronze shells on its streets, marking the way to the pilgrimage church of Saint Jacques. It’s a medieval stone church with a dramatic dark interior. Definitely a place worth visiting.

Martine Statue in Tournai

Address: Placette aux Oignons 7500

Belgium is famous for its comic book scene. Each Belgian town is home to some famous comic book character, and Tournai is no exception. One of its very popular ones was created in Tournai. The bookshop Casterman Editions first published the Tintin and Martine comics, later gaining world fame.

You can find many editions of these comics at the Folklore Museum in Tournai. The city also paid tribute to one of its famous characters, Martine, by placing its statue in the city centre.

Stroll next to the River Scheldt

Address: River Scheldt

Besides visiting museums, one of my favourite things to do while travelling is exploring the everyday life of locals. I always look for the areas, cafes and restaurants where locals meet. In Tournai, it’s definitely a bank of the River Scheldt. It was renewed a few years ago, making it a lovely place for an afternoon walk. Numerous wooden benches beside the river are a lovely place to sit and watch the world pass by.

How to get to Tournai

The best way to visit Tournai is by train. It’s only fifteen minutes away from the Lille train station, so it’s easy to get there by train from London, Bruxelles, or even Amsterdam.

I travelled by train from Bruxelles, and it took me around 45 minutes to get to Tournai.

Where to stay in Tournai

Hotel Cathedrale

This is, without a doubt, a hotel with the best location in Tournai. It’s located only a few steps away from the Cathedral. Although you shouldn’t expect 5-star accommodation, its location pays for it. I stayed in it, and walking wherever I wanted from it was so easy.

Hotel Floreal Le Panoramique

If you plan to travel with a car, then this hotel is a place to go. Located just a few kilometres outside the city centre, it’s a wonderful place in the countryside, with a view of a forest and the city itself. It’s also a great place to go with kids because they have a huge playground in front of it. I had lunch there and enjoyed their fantastic restaurant.

What to eat in Tournai

Ahh, Belgian food… I could go to Belgium just to enjoy its food, beers and Belgian chocolates. Tournai has a great foodie scene, and there are numerous restaurants where you can get a great meal. I tried a local beer called Tournai and loved it so much that I brought some home.

TIP: One of my favourite restaurants in Tournai serving fantastic food was L’Ecurie d’Ennetières. That cute little restaurant is located in an old medieval house that used to be stable but has changed its purpose a few times. While there, you can also see a piece of a local tradition—the Giants. The processions of these large dolls are a popular folklore tradition in Belgium. UNESCO also recognises them as an important cultural heritage.

Where to buy souvenirs in Tournai

The best souvenirs from Belgium should always be edible. My favourites are chocolates and beer. If you want something more permanent, shop for books and souvenirs at the Tourist Office.

TIP: Le Moine Austère (address: Rue Dorez 8) is a place to buy Belgian beers.

One of the best-kept secrets in Belgium, Tournai is definitely a place worth visiting. With its stunning architecture, fascinating history, and great cuisine, it’s a great place to plan your next trip. This Tournai guide with the best things to do in Tournai will help you plan a perfect trip there.

I visited Tournai during a press trip organised by Visit Tournai. Many thanks to them and Hotel Cathedrale for arranging a wonderful trip for me. However, as always all opinions are my own. 

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