Despite its small size, Belgium has a lot to offer with many pretty cities and towns that are within a few minutes or hours by train or car from its capital. If you are in Brussels and want to explore more of Belgium, it is very easy to go on a day trip to one of the nearby towns and be back in Brussels that same evening.
Here, I’ve listed some of those beautiful little towns that all have their own specificity and authentic beauty and that will allow you to see another side of Belgium, through cobbled streets, stunning cathedrals or cute rivers. They are small enough that you can visit them in a day – though some of them may benefit from a longer visit – and close enough that you won’t spend too much time on the road.
How to get around
The public transport system in Belgium allows you to travel to many cities very easily by train, so most of these day trips from Brussels don’t require you to rent a car and can be easily reached by train, though some of them are less accessible. To check out train tickets and times, I usually use the Trainline website, which is very user-friendly.
Renting a car is also an option for some of these day trips that are less easily reachable by train, or when the train ride is just too long. You can rent a car with one of the “traditional” car rental companies, but I like to use the Get Around app, as it is much cheaper and easier, especially for a day trip.
You can also find tours that will take you from Brussels to one or more of these places on platforms like Get Your Guide. You won’t have the same flexibility but it might be more worry-free!
Day trip ideas in Belgium
Belgium is a bilingual country, where they speak both French and Dutch, so most of the cities have two spellings. I have included both here: Dutch first, followed by French. Depending on the region, the main language will be one or the other (I’ve specified that as well), but English is also widely spoken and understood!
- Brugge / Bruges
- Ghent / Gand
- Antwerp / Anvers
- Leuven / Louvain
- Mechelen / Malines
- De Haan / Le Coq
Brugge / Bruges
The beautiful town of Bruges is probably the #1 choice of visitors coming to Belgium, so it had to be in this list. Its small canals, winding cobbled streets and beautiful buildings are absolutely worth visiting! Depending on what you want to see there, you can either stay a few hours, a whole day or even more.
Some things to do in Bruges:
- visit the Market square (Markt) with its stunning Belfry tower
- go on a boat trip along the canals
- check out the intricate architecture of the City Hall, especially the Holy Blood chapel
- walk around the quiet houses of the Beguinage (Beginjhof)
- admire the paintings of Flemish primitives at the Groeninge museum
By train: a bit more than one hour with a direct train.
By car: around 1 hour and 30 minutes. You might also have to register your car if you enter the city with a foreign license plate.
Ghent / Gand
Another tourists’ favourites, that locals also love, is the charming town of Ghent. Often overlooked because it is less famous than Bruges, Ghent is absolutely worth the visit and can offer a much more enjoyable experience as you usually won’t have to fight the crowds of tourists. Called the “Gem of Belgium”, it has many stunning buildings, cute streets and an interesting medieval history. Again, you could spend there just a few hours to walk around, a whole day or even longer.
Some things to do in Ghent:
- visit the medieval Castle of the Counts
- take stunning pictures of the town architecture from St Michael’s Bridge
- admire St Bavo’s cathedral and the famous altarpiece by Van Eyck, The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb
- check out the beautiful houses from the quays
- take a boat trip along the canals
By train: a bit more than 30 minutes with a direct train.
By car: around 45 minutes with the car. You might also have to register your car if you enter the city with a foreign license plate.
Antwerp / Anvers
Antwerp is the second largest city in Belgium and it is mostly famous for its trendy and artistic scene, its stunning train station and its beautiful buildings. Just like the previous cities, you can spend just a few hours there or several days if you want a more in-depth look.
Some things to do in Antwerp
- admire the Central station, that is said to be among the most beautiful in the world
- visit the Cathedral of Our Lady
- do some shopping
- walk around the main square (Grote Markt)
- visit its historic zoo
By train: around 40 minutes with a direct train, and you’ll arrive straight into the beautiful central station!
By car: around 40 minutes, depending on traffic.
Leuven / Louvain
Mostly famous for its renowned university, the city of Leuven is just as architecturally beautiful as the others on this list. Thanks to the number of students living there, it is an active and vibrant city, but it is still small enough that you can visit it easily on a day trip from Brussels.
Some things to do in Leuven
- admire the stunning town hall and the nearby St Peter’s Church
- visit the university buildings and library
- get a beer or coffee in the Oude Markt
- visit the Groot Begijnhof (or the Klein Begijnhof)
By train: around 25 minutes with a direct train. There are also buses going there, but they take much longer, so in terms of public transportation, the train is really the best option!
By car: around 30 minutes, depending on traffic.
Mechelen / Malines
Definitely not as famous as the other cities mentioned above, Mechelen is a charming town often overlooked by tourists despite its cute streets and houses and beautiful architecture. Its centre is quite small so it’s absolutely perfect for a day trip from Brussels, and you’ll manage to avoid the crowds of tourists that all go to Bruges or Ghent.
Some things to do in Mechelen
- Visit the medieval Beguinage (Begijnhof)
- Walk around its main square to see the town hall and belfry
- Have a drink or lunch along the Vismarkt
- Climb up the St Rumbold’s tower
By train: around 25 minutes with a direct train.
By car: around 35 minutes or more, depending on traffic.
De Haan / Le Coq
Located on the Belgian coast, De Haan is a charming little seaside village with a beautiful beach and gorgeous and picturesque houses. It can become quite crowded in the summer (but not nearly as much as Ostend), but it can also be enjoyed in the winter thanks to its scenic beach.
Some things to do in De Haan
- Get lost in the pretty streets to admire the stunning houses and cottages.
- Check out the statue of Albert Einstein, who lived in De Haan for a few months in 1933.
- Stroll along the beach and stop for ice cream (weather permitting!).
- Take the longest tram line in the world to visit other Belgian seaside towns.
Reaching De Haan
By train: a bit over 2 hours, taking first a train then the Belgium coast tram.
By car: around 1 hour and 30 minutes.
Dinant is a picturesque town is located by the river Meuse and its small size makes it absolutely perfect for a day trip. It has an interesting history because of its strategic location and is also the birthplace of Adolphe Sax, the inventor of the saxophone. It is very close to another town called Namur, so you can combine a visit of the two!
Some things to do in Dinant
- Go up the cliff and visit the Citadel and learn about the town’s history.
- Check out the beautiful cathedral Notre-Dame-de-Dinant.
- Visit the house of Adolphe Sax.
- Go on a boat cruise or walk along the river for beautiful views over the town.
By train: a bit less than 2 hours with a direct train.
By car: around 1 hour and 20 minutes, depending on traffic.
Durbuy is another little gem in the French-speaking region of Belgium, Flanders. Its pretty cottages and cute cobblestoned streets are perfect for a nice stroll. It is not as close to Brussels as other towns on this list, and it is also surrounded by nature, so there are many things that you can do if you stay longer in the area too!
Some things to do in Durbuy
- Walk around the old town and its quaint stone houses.
- Visit the Durbuy castle
- Go on a walk along the river Ourthe
- Try outdoors activities such as hiking, kayaking, climbing or ziplining.
By train: around 2 hours with at least one connexion.
By car: around 1 hour and 30 minutes, depending on traffic.
Going on a day trip from Brussels is the perfect solution to see some towns that don’t necessarily require more than a day to be visited but are still worth a visit. It also allows you to discover more parts of this beautiful country in a short amount of time.
Have you ever been to any of these places?
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