During my recent search for places related to life and work of Vincent van Gogh in Belgium, I ended up in one of the most unique Belgian towns I’ve ever visited – in Mons. Located in the French-speaking region of Wallonia, it’s a charming little town perfect for a lovely weekend in Belgium. I have spent two days there and here are some of the ideas for things to do and places to visit during a weekend in Mons.
One thing I really like about travelling in Europe is that every single small town has such a rich history. And unfortunately, it looks like the history of Mons is closely linked with wars. Even the name of the city is coming from its fortifications – from the first castle built on a hill there. The town was besieged many times throughout history. It’s also a place where some of the battles from the First and the Second World War occurred. It’s where the first battle fought by the British army during the WW1 happened. And where the first and the last British soldier died during the war.
However, today it’s a peaceful cute little town filled with some beautiful architecture. Buildings made of bricks and stone are giving the city that lovely historical charm. And it’s hard to imagine it had such a turbulent history.
How to get to Mons
Many trains are operating between Mons and Brussels daily. I’ve caught a train there, and within less than an hour, I was in Mons. The train station is right in the city centre, and the town is quite small, so it’s easy to get around on foot.
Tips before you visit Mons
# – Language: Mons is located in a Belgian region of Wallonia where the official language is French. However, many people speak Dutch and English there, as well.
# – Weather: Like in the rest of Belgium, weather could be a bit tricky in Mons, too. It’s raining quite often, and the temperature could change quickly. So, I would definitely recommend you to wear layers and bring an umbrella with you.
Weekend in Mons
Being a small town, Mons is a perfect location to spend a weekend in. There are also some interesting places to visit around, like the locations related to the life of Vincent van Gogh. Or sites associated with the First and the Second World War. It’s also close to the region of Borinage that used to be one of the centres of coal mining, so it could also be interesting to visit it. And, it’s surrounded by some beautiful nature. So you can rent a bicycle and explore more of it that way.
Saturday in Mons
After I arrived in Mons, I left my backpack in a hotel, which was conveniently located right next to the train station. And went to explore the city centre then.
It was already a lunchtime, so I decided to have something to eat first. I went to the charming little restaurant, MOMA Coffee Mons where I had a delicious bagel and a smoothie. I learned how the restaurant’s policy is that they are getting a certain amount of bagels each day, they are sure they will sell. And once they run out of the bagels, that’s it for a day. I was quite fascinated with their policy against food waste. And the fact that they chose to be green, rather than chasing a bigger profit.
# Mons Main Square
After a tasty start of my weekend in Mons, I went to its tourist office to get some ideas about the places to see in the city. I’ve had a chance to see some videos there of the annual festivities happening in Mons. And have learned about exhibitions and events happening in Mons in a moment.
*TIP: Tourist office is located at the main square (address: Grand-Place 27, Mons). It’s also a place where you can rent a bicycle and explore the town that way. For more info take a look here!
Mons’ main square is definitely the heart of the city. Surrounded by buildings dating from the 15th century onwards, it’s almost like walking through the history of architecture a bit.
It’s also a place where many celebrations and festivities are taking place. I was visiting just before the Easter, and they were building up the Ferris Wheel and were decorating the square.
*TIP: One of the most famous festivities in Mons is ‘Doudou festival‘. It’s celebrated since the Middle Ages when by the miracle, after the procession led by the shrine of Waltrude, the plague disappeared from Mons. The parade is organised annually on the Trinity Weekend, and it’s accompanied nowadays with the game of Saint George and a dragon.
# – Mons Town Hall
The most beautiful building on the square is its Town Hall. Although it was built in the Gothic style, it was never finished according to the original plan. The Renaissance tower on its roof was added in the 18th century. I especially loved its old wooden doors with a bronze handrail in the shape of the castle. There is also a small statue of a monkey on its front. It’s not entirely clear what it was used for, but the legend says that anyone rubs his head will have a year filled with luck.
Interior of the building is also beautiful. Rooms are decorated in a fashion of the time. I especially liked the one with the wall paintings showing the procession with Saint George and a dragon. And the view from the balcony to the main square was just amazing.
*TIP: Town Hall can be visited with a local guide only. So, if you would like to do that (and I really advise you to do so), get in touch with Mons Tourist office before your visit. I started my weekend in Mons by going on a guided city walk, and it was great getting to see some unusual places and learning about the Mons’ history that way.
Mons Town Hall has a lovely courtyard, as well. Its Gothic walls and windows could be even better seen over there. I could just imagine how beautiful that place must have been during the summer months.
# Belfry in Mons
After exploring the Mons’ main square, its city hall and a courtyard, I continued walking through some narrow streets, which at some points felt like tunnels. After wandering through the small passage, some steep steps and climbed its old Medieval walls, I came to the top of the hill where the castle of Mons once stood.
All that climbing was definitely worthy when I’ve seen a beautiful view of Mons from there. Some of the old city walls could still be seen on the hill. There is also a small model of the hill, so I got a better idea about how it looked like back in time.
Mons is home to one of the most unusual belfries in Belgium. When I first saw it from the train when I was arriving at Mons, I thought it was a church tower. The thing is, it’s the only belfry in Belgium built in a Baroque style. Created in the 17th century, it’s 87 metres high, and it has 49 bell carillon inside. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site today.
There was a big storm in Mons that afternoon. A thunderbolt has hit one of the trees on the hill where the belfry is, and it crashed. But, this is when I learned that when the weather is bad and stormy, that whole hill is getting closed down and no one can climb it. I think those things and local customs are giving such charm to these old cities…
# Wandering around the streets of Mons
After the rain stopped, I just strolled around the town. I loved getting lost in its cobbled streets and stumbling upon some beautiful buildings and small squares. I loved so much that combination of bright red bricks and dark local stone all the buildings were built of.
Mons is also a home to so many street art. Beautiful huge murals are all around the city. And they are giving a new young vibe and a great personality to it. My favourite was definitely, the one painted on a pavement in a pedestrian zone right in the city centre, showing a child walking on the rope.
After the whole day of exploring the town, I was tired, but happy and went to have dinner at my hotel.
*TIP: I stayed at the Van der Valk hotel in Mons and really loved it. I had dinner there as well, and its restaurant was just amazing. A big recommendation to anyone looking for a nice hotel to stay in Mons.
Sunday in Mons
After getting some good night sleep (I think that was the most comfortable bed I ever slept on), I woke up early to continue exploring a lovely town of Mons.
Saint Waltrude Collegiate Church
When arriving in Mons, one of the first churches one can see is an unusual Saint Waltrude Collegiate Church. It was built during the 15th century for the canonesses. They were ladies from wealthy noble families who lived there. A large Gothic church is absolutely an interesting place to visit. Statues created by Jacques de Broeucq at its apse are definitely one of its highlights. Another thing that shouldn’t be missed is Car d’Or, a carriage decorated in a style of Louis XIV. It’s still used today in the annual procession of Doudou.
An interesting object witnessing sometimes a cruel past is located just in front of the church. It’s sort of a pillory that was used for the punishment or public humiliation. People who committed some kind of a crime would be tied there and exposed to the public for their sins.
Just across the small square with a lovely garden from the Saint Waltrude Church, another cultural gem is located – Artotheque. Located in a former church, that beautiful bright red building is home to a museum, restoration and art research centre today. At its ground floor, there is a great exhibition explaining the history of Mons through interactive screens and many exciting exhibits. I really liked how the visitors have to participate in exploring the exhibition by looking into the drawers and researching the interactive displays.
Some other museums you could visit in Mons
For a rather small town, Mons has some really interesting museums. If you would like to visit some other museums besides the Artotheque, here are some exciting places to go:
# – BAM (Beaux-Arts Mons) – Modern art museum in Mons with a permanent exhibition showcasing the international art from the 1950s’ onwards. It regularly hosts different temporary exhibitions, too.
# – Doudou Museum – Museum entirely dedicated to the Mons’ tradition and celebration of Doudou.
# – Mons Memorial Museum – Being a place where some of the World War One and the World War Two battles happened, Mons Memorial Museum is exploring the history of these two wars and is presenting them to its visitors.
Lunch at Coco Mango
I already mentioned how I love food in Belgium. And not only its traditional food but also those new places that are experimenting with creating more of the unusual flavours in simple meals. Well, one of those restaurants is definitely Coco Mango in Mons. It’s centrally located, has a beautiful interior and some fantastic food. Well, what else do you need for lunch in Mons? I had a fantastic food there and am definitely recommending it as a place to go!
After a delicious lunch, it was the time to say goodbye to Mons. With its combination of historical buildings and amazing street art, Mons is a town with such a lovely charm and a great vibe. With many interesting things to see and do there, spending a weekend in Mons, could definitely be a good idea.
*Disclaimer: I was a guest of Visit Mons and Van der Valk Hotel, and my stay there was complimentary. Many thanks to them for organising such a pleasant visit for me. However, as always, all opinions are my own.