Many Belgian cities are close to the Netherlands. Therefore, crossing border to Belgium, next to Germany, from the Netherlands is very easy. Every year, I visit one or two of its cities because of short travel time and due to many beautiful places to experience. From our hometown in Wageningen, which is in the middle of the Netherlands, it only takes two hours by car to reach Antwerp Belgium. Imagine if you are even coming from the South of the Netherlands such as in Tilburg, Zeeland, or Eindhoven. Going to Belgium will only take minutes to reach some of its beautiful destinations either by train, bus, or car.
If you are asking yourself why you should go to Belgium, there are many reasons to think of. Belgium boasts many scenic towns in lakes and magnificent architectures that were built many centuries back (mostly from medieval period). Belgium is also popular for foodies. Think of the Belgian waffles, Belgian chocolates, Belgian frites (or fries), Belgian beers, and typical Belgian cuisines such as stoofvlees (Belgian beef stew), chicons au gratin (Belgian endives au gratin in bechamel sauce with cheese), and beef steak with fries. Belgium has also very well-connected train connections and therefore it is easy to hop on in one city to another. Of course, Belgium is a well-diverse country. People living in the northern part of Belgium mostly speaks Dutch while those living in the South speaks French. Since the European Parliament is also situated in Brussels, Belgium and due to the presence of many international universities,
the country is highly internationalized!
In this blog, I will discuss about the different Belgian cities that are close to the Netherlands. The enumeration of the Belgian cities may give choices of which Belgian cities to visit when crossing border to Belgium from the Netherlands. I begin with the cities from the Northwest going to the Northeast of Belgium.
Belgian cities close to the Netherlands
1. Bruges Belgium
Bruges (or Brugge in Dutch) is the main city in the Northwest of Belgium. It is located just around 50 kms from Zeeland, and therefore one of the Belgian cities close to the Netherlands in the west. It takes around 40-50 minutes to reach Brugge from Zeeland, especially if you are having a vacation in Vakantie Park such as the Marina Beach Vakantie Park. Bruges boasts many gothic and medieval architectures in the city and has many canals making the city popular for its title “Venice of the North”. The cobblestone streets of Bruges will take you to the city center and every corner of Bruges is worth taking photos. Being in Bruges gives a romantic feeling, yet it can be too touristic. Some of the highlights of Bruges include the Market Square, climbing the 83 meters Belfry of Bruges, and touring the Historium
Bruges. There are also plenty of restaurants, shops, and museums to visit when in Bruges. If you are interested to know more about Bruges, you can check my blog about Bruges Belgium: Nine family activities during travel.
2. Ghent Belgium
Ghent is around 20 minutes by train ride or 50 minutes to an hour drive from Bruges. From the Southern part of Zeeland, the Netherlands, it takes around 40 minutes by car to reach Ghent. This port and university city was one of the largest and richest cities in the Northern Europe during the 1300s. If you are more of a student, you might prefer to go to Ghent since it has plenty of night life and events catered to the student’s crowd. Bruges can be quiet in the night after the day tourists leave the city. Also, compared to Bruges, Ghent might be less touristic and less popular than Bruges. The modern and religiously inspired arts is also something to look for when in Ghent. Some of the tourists’ attractions in Ghent include the St. Bavo’s cathedral, UNESCO World Heritage Belfry Tower, Gravenstein castle, to name a few. For a more detailed lists of things to do in Ghent for one day, you can check my blog Ghent Belgium one
3. Antwerp Belgium
Antwerp is the largest city and second to the largest metropolitan population in Belgium, next to Brussels. From Ghent it takes an hour train ride to Antwerp or more than an hour and a quarter ride by car. From the Dutch cities such as Breda and Roosendaal, it takes 50 minutes to reach Antwerp by car. Like Bruges and Ghent, Antwerp is also an interesting city since it is rich in history, culture, and of course the diamonds! The moment you step to Antwerp Centraal Station, which is awarded as the most beautiful train station in the world by the British magazine Marshable, you’ll feel the grandeous richness, history, and tourism in Antwerp. As you walk through the city of Antwerp, you’ll find many diamond shops and hear some famous stories of Nello and Patrasche in the Dog of Flanders and the giant Antigoon, whose hand was chopped off and was threwn into the Scheldt river of Antwerp. As you further walk along Antwerp, you will also see the largest port in the world, which is the Port of Antwerp. If you are also a fan of ballet and opera, then Antwerp is also a place to visit. Interested to know more about Antwerp? Check out my blog: Antwerp Belgium: Seven reasons to visit.
4. Mechelen Belgium
Mechelen is a small town located in between Antwerp and Brussels. It only takes 15 minutes by train or 30 minutes by car from Antwerp to Mechelen, and 35 minutes by train or 45 minutes by car from Brussels to Mechelen. Unlike Bruges, Ghent, Antwerp, and Brussels, Mechelen is smaller and a less popular touristic destination. This, however, makes Mechelen charming and a hidden Flemish gem to discover by tourists. You can easily tour Mechelen in a day to discover many 16 ths century old architectures, such as the Gothic and baroque churches and the famous St. Rumbold’s tower; to taste the world renowed Gouden Carolus beer, or to uncover the sufferings and deaths of many Belgian Jews and Romani during the German occupation of Belgium in World War II. To know more about Mechelen and places to see in a day, you can check my blog: Mechelen Belgium one day itinerary.
5. Brussels Belgium
Brussels is the capital and the most densely populated area of Belgium. From Antwerp it takes only 40 minutes by train or one hour by car to reach Brussels. From Amsterdam the Netherlands, it takes only less than 2 hours by train going to Brussels. Unlike the Dutch speaking northern Belgian cities, majority of the population in Brussels are French speaking since this city is already close to France. At the same time, Brussels gives a more international environment since the seat of the European Parliament is in the city. Brussels is a historically rich city that combines both old and modern architecture. Some places that give the old façade of Brussels include the Grand Palace, the Cityhall, Manneken pis, and St. Michael and St. Gudula cathedral. The modern architecture of Brussels include the Atomium Brussels, Brussels Parliament, and Le Toisen d’Or (which is found between the gates of Porte de Namur and Place Louise. If you plan to go on Brussels, I have written a blog about Brussels Belgium one day itinerary.
6. Leuven Belgium
Leuven is located in the east side of Brussels (around 35 minutes by train and less than an hour by car) and is close to the Southeastern part of the Netherlands, such as Maastricht (around an hour and 10 minutes’ drive). This city has been famous for its oldest university in the Lowland country, namely the KU Leuven. This university is built in 1425 and is the largest university in Belgium. Leuven is famous as a birthplace of the famous Big Bang Theory. Like its many Belgium cities counterparts, Leuven is also famous for breweries and historic architecture. The world’s largest beer brewer, Anheuser-Busch Inbev is in Leuven. Stella- Artois is one of the famous beer products of Leuven. The iconic Gothic-style town hall is also a symbol of Leuven. It features stunning turrets, stone works and flags, and the added 235 statues during the 19 th century.
7. Hasselt Belgium
From Leuven, it takes 45 minutes by car or 40 minutes by train going to Hasselt Belgium. If coming from Maastricht, the Netherlands, it only takes 35 minutes by car drive to go to Hasselt. This Belgian Limburg capital is very tourist friendly due to mostly car-free city center, sociable, and history rich countryside. Some of the beautiful places that it boasts include the more than 200-year-old Herkenrode Abbey, the old-city center and Sint-Quintinuskathedraal, and the largest Japanese garden in Europe.
8. Liege (Luik in Dutch) Belgium
Liege is also one of the Belgian cities that is close to the Netherlands (in the southeast side). It is a 30-minutes’ drive from Maastricht, the Netherlands and 40-minutes from Hasselt Belgium. This city is the third most populous city, next to Brussels and Antwerp, in Belgium. Liege is one of the famous riverports in the Western part of Europe and has one of the largest rail centers in Belgium. This city is famous for the Stairs of Mount Beuren (Montagne de Beuren) – a steep 374 steps stair case roughly leading from river basin to the highest point of Liege; the Coteaux de la Citadelle – a historic walking area where you can also view the St. Barthelemy church; and the Gare de Liege-Guillemins – a very modernly designed train station created by Santiago Calatrava, the mastermind behind this architectural masterpiece that reminds him of Valencia Spain.