Choose from 13 Fun Things to Do in Flanders
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Moated Gravensteen Castle is a circular, gray fortress built in 1180 alongside a split in Ghent’s River Leie to symbolize the power of Philip of Alsace, who was the ruling Count of Flanders. Although a wooden castle had existed here for centuries, the new fortification was built to send out a clear message of his supreme power to his political enemies. Philip had been on several Crusades and clearly modelled the design of his new home on the austere crusader castles scattered around the Mediterranean Sea from Portugal to Greece. Its two-meter (six-foot) thick walls were made of Tournai limestone and fortified with battlements while the castle’s towers and turrets housed stables, a church and state apartments as well as a torture chamber to deal with anyone brave – or foolish – enough to cross Philip. Following extensive restoration in the late 19th century, today the torture chamber is a gruesome museum displaying guillotines, branding irons and thumbscrews; there’s also an armory crammed with crossbows, spears and chain mail. Events for families at the castle include jousting in the central courtyard and a festive market at Christmas.
Sint-Veerleplein 11. Admission €10 adults, €7.50 seniors, €6 ages 19–25, free for 18 and under. Open Apr–Oct daily 10am–6pm; Nov–Mar daily 9am–5pm.
Address: Sint-Veerleplein 11, Ghent 9000, Belgium
Hours: Open Apr–Oct daily 10am–6pm; Nov–Mar daily 9am–5pm
Admission: Adults: €10; Seniors: €7.50; Children: Free
From $ 53
Book-ending the square of Botermarkt with St Bavo’s Cathedral, the ornate UNESCO-listed Belfry and the Cloth Hall at its feet stand testament to the great wealth of Ghent in the 14th century; built with money from members of the wool and textiles guilds, they are in striking Brabant Gothic style. The Belfry is topped with a gilded copper dragon and holds a carillon of 54 bells that have rung for more than six centuries; take the elevator to the viewing gallery at 66 m (217 ft) above Sint-Baafsplein to see the bells and take in panoramic views of gabled facades, St Bavo’s Cathedral and the Gothic ornamentation of St Nicholas’ Church. A small museum displays models of the church, a few pieces of armor and the original dragon from atop the tower.
The Cloth Hall dates from 1425 and was built as the storehouse for textile produced in Ghent; every piece had to be inspected here for quality before it could be exported. The hall still has its original carved wooden ceiling and a Baroque extension added in 1741 served as the city’s prison until 1902. Like Graslei and Korenlei, the Belfry looks spectacular when floodlit at night.
Sint-Baafsplein. Admission €6 adults, €4.50 seniors, €2 students 19–26, free for age 18 and under. Open daily 10am–6pm.
Address: Emile Braunplein, Ghent 9000, Belgium
Hours: Daily 10am–6pm
Admission: Adults: €6
From $ 9
The Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres, Belgium is one of four Commonwealth memorials honoring missing soldiers of World War I. The remains of over 90,000 soldiers who fought in the Ypres Salient area have never been found or identified. The memorial holds the names of more than 54,000 Commonwealth soldiers who lost their lives in the Ypres Salient battlefields in Flanders and and who have no known grave. Throughout the war, nearly every British and Commonwealth regiment passed through the area where the memorial now sits, many of them never to return.
Every night at 8pm a ceremony is held under the gate. Most days, people start gathering around 7pm, traffic is stopped at 7:30pm for one hour, and buglers from the local volunteer fire department arrive a few minutes before 8pm. The buglers sound the “Last Post” bugle call which is followed by one minute of silence. On days when there is no extended ceremony, the buglers then play “Réveille” to end the ceremony. The tradition started on July 1, 1928, lasted for four months, and was reinstated in the spring of 1929 as a permanent ritual. The only exception was during the four years of German occupation during World War II. The daily tribute to the soldiers who lost their lives defending Ypres has become a part of life for those who live there.
The Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing is located on the east side of Ypres.
Address: Kavwekijnstraat 1, Ypres, Belgium
From $ 88
The Essex Farm Cemetery is a World War I burial site outside of Ypres, Belgium. There are 1,200 servicemen buried or commemorated here, including 103 unidentified soldiers. Essex Farm was an Advanced Dressing Station during the war, so many of the casualties handled there were laid to rest in this cemetery. Remains of some of the bunkers used for medical services can still be seen near the cemetery. There is also a memorial to the 49th West Riding Division.
John McCrae, a World War I soldier who fought in the Ypres Salient battlegrounds, wrote a poem called “In Flanders Fields” after a friend of his was killed. It is believed that he was in the area of the Essex Farm Advanced Dressing Station when he wrote it. In the poem, he talks about the poppies in Flanders fields, and his short but moving poem became well known. Because of this poem, the poppy has become a symbol of remembrance.
The Essex Farm Cemetery is located on the east side of the N369 Ieper-Boezinge Road, about a mile north of Ieper (Ypres).
Address: Ypres, Belgium
From $ 88
The Vladslo German War Cemetery is a burial ground located near the village of Vladslo, Belgium, which is about 16 miles north of Ypres and 25 miles southwest of Brugge. By the end of World War I, German soldiers were buried all over Belgium, from single or group sites in the woods to larger cemeteries with several thousand soldiers. In the years after the war, German officials worked with Belgian officials to gather and relocated many of the graves scattered throughout the country to give the soldiers a proper burial. This resumed after World War II, and in 1954 an agreement was made to have most of the fallen German soldiers from World War I moved to three different collecting cemeteries.
The cemetery in Vladslo is essentially a mass grave containing more than 25,000 graves from 61 locations. Each simple tombstone has the names, ranks, and dates of death for 20 deceased German soldiers. One of the soldiers buried here was Peter Kollwitz, the 18-year-old son of famous artist Käthe Kollwitz. Out of sorrow for her son, Kollwitz created two statues called “The Mourning Parents” which are located at the back of the cemetery.
The Vladslo German War Cemetery is located at Houtlandstraat 3 in Vladslo Diksmuide. The cemetery is open daily from sunrise to sunset. Entry is free.
Address: Houtlandstraat 3, Diksmuide, Belgium
From $ 88
The Trench of Death was one of the most dangerous locations of Belgian troops on the Western Front during World War I. It is a half-mile long network of revetments, saps and dug-outs near Diksmuide in Flanders, and it was only 55 yards from a German bunker. The Belgian Army was here to prevent the German troops from advancing toward France. As a result, soldiers in this trench were under almost constant attack from the opposing forces. Conditions were harsh and life for the Belgian soldiers was rigorous. Soldiers had to man the trenches for three days straight before getting three days of rest in a cantonment at the back of the combat zone. The Trench of Death was the heart of Belgian resistance until the successful Battle of Flanders which began on September 28, 1918.
Visiting the Trench of Death will give perspective on the size and conditions of the trenches. The visitor center uses maps, photographs, videos and war memorabilia to tell the story of life and death on the front lines. The exhibits explain how the Belgians kept fighting for four years and what kinds of weapons and equipment they used.
The Trench of Death is located at IJzerdijk 65 near Diksmuide. Opening hours are 10am to 4:30pm daily from March 1 to November 15 and 9:30am to 3:30pm Tuesdays and Fridays from November 16 to February 28, closed from December 25 to January 3. Entrance is free.
Address: IJzerdijk 65, Diksmuide, Belgium
From $ 88
Just outside the Belgian border with France stands a First World War cemetery built by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission containing the graves of 250 British and Australian soldiers who died on July 19, 1916, in the Battle of Fromelles - a diversionary battle, which only occured in order to draw the attention of the Germans away from the larger attacks elsewhere in Somme. It involved units of the Australian 5th Division and the British 61st Division, but alas, the Germans were well-prepared and the British Empire troops suffered great losses.
Dating back from just 2009, Pheasant Wood Military Cemetery was the first new Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery to be built in commemoration of World War I in over 50 years; the last such cemeteries having mostly been in remembrance of the Second World War. The reason for this somewhat unusual delay is that analysis of historical aerial photographs showed the presence of mass graves on the edge of Pheasant Wood, which were confirmed after excavation works in 2008. Over 250 British and Australian bodies from five mass graves and some 6,200 individual artifacts have since been successfully identified using DNA analysis.
Pheasant Wood Military Cemetery is located in Fremelles, 18 kilometers west of Lille in northern France. It can be reached by car in 20 minutes via routes E42 and D141. When arriving in Fromelles the cemetery is located on Rue de la Basse Ville opposite the church and civil cemetery. The cemetery has its own parking area.
Address: Rue de la Basse Ville, Fremelles, France
From $ 229
Hill 60 was a World War I battlefield in the Ypres Salent battlegrounds of Flanders named for its height at 60 meters (197 feet) above sea level. It was the site of intense fighting between British and German troops in April and May 1915. The British attack on April 17, 1915, began with the explosion of three mines which blew the top off the hill. Hundreds of soldiers died, and because of the continued fighting in this area, it was not possible to identify or even recover many of the bodies. Tunneling and mining operations were carried out here throughout the war by French, British, Australian and German troops. If tunnels caved in, soldiers who died underground were often left behind because of the difficulty of retrieving them. The remains of many soldiers from both sides of the war are still at this site.
At Hill 60 is a memorial to the 1st Australian Tunneling Company. Its plaque has bullet holes from World War II when this area was briefly fought over again. Near this memorial is the 14th Light Division Memorial. The site also holds the remains of several concrete bunkers which were used by both sides. Several other memorials and monuments are located at Hill 60 to honor soldiers who fought here during World War I.
Hill 60 is located on Zwarteleenstraat in Zillebeke, Belgium, three miles southeast of Ypres. It is open daily and admission is free.
Address: Zwarteleenstraat, Zillebeke, Belgium
Hours: Open daily.
From $ 88
The Battle of Passchendaele in summer and fall 1917 was one of the bloodiest and most futile of World War I; in just over 100 days more than half a million soldiers were killed and in that time Allied troops advanced on the Germans by a mere five miles (eight km) amid the trenches of the Ypres Salient in Flanders.
The museum dedicated to the fallen victims of the battle is found in a small chateau in the village of Zonnebeke, the scene of heavy fighting south of Bruges. It was opened in 2004 and the main exhibition follows the sorry story of the battle; a new display entitled ‘Remembrance’ focuses on the aftermath of the war for the soldiers, local civilians and the beleaguered Flanders landscape. Along with black-and-white images, weaponry, uniforms and heart-rending personal letters, the museum has a reconstructed dug out and a replica line of trenches constructed in the chateau grounds in 2013, where a series of lakeside memorial gardens are dedicated to all the nations who fought at Passchendaele.
Many people combine a visit to the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917 with visiting Tyn Cot, the biggest Commonwealth cemetery in the world with 12,000 graves, and attending the ‘Last Post’ ceremony in nearby Ypres, which was left in ruins after the Battle of Passchendaele. The ceremony takes place daily at 8pm at the Menin Gate memorial.
Berten Pilstraat 5A, Zonnebeke. Open daily 9am–6pm (last entrance at 4.30pm). Admission adults €8.5; students and younger than 18 €5. Bus number 94 from Ypres or drive along the N37 from Ypres to Zonnebeke.
Address: Berten Pilstraat 5A, Zonnebeke, Flanders, Belgium B-8980, Belgium
Hours: Open daily 9am–6pm (last entrance at 4.30pm)
Admission: Adults: €8.5; Students and Children: €5
From $ 229
The medieval quays of Graslei and Korenlei face each other across the canalized River Leie and originally formed part of Tusschen Brugghen, the city’s thriving harbour. Their banks are lined with a rare architectural treat – the loveliest gabled guild houses and warehouses in Belgium, built between the 1200s and 1600s by rich merchants and guilds whose wealth came from trade. The streets are united by St Michael’s Bridge, from where their gabled delights can be seen at best advantage, and although considerable restoration work has taken place, these distinctive townhouses have maintained their allure.
Graslei is lined by canal-side restaurants blessed with a graceful backdrop of gabled gild houses; the oldest is the Het Spijker (Stockpile House) at no. 10; other ornate façades once contained the guild houses of the stonemasons, the free boatmen and the grain measurers as well as the former customs house. Across the river from Graslei, Korenlei offers many surprises of its own, including imposing step-gabled, red-brick 16th-century houses. No. 9 is of particular interest for the gilded swans adorning the facade; in its time De Swaene has been both a brewery and a bordello. The pink-and-white Gildehuis van de Onvrije Schippers (Guild House of the Tied Boatmen) dates from 1739 and is a masterpiece of Flemish Baroque architecture.
By day, tour boats leave from the quays of Graslei and Korenlei; after dark the district morphs into party central and restaurants, cafés and bars sprout along the quaysides.
Graslei and Korenlei are accessible to all 24/7. Their gorgeous medieval architecture looks spectacular when floodlit at night.
Address: Ghent, Belgium
From $ 9
The In Flanders Field Museum is a World War I museum is located in a famous cloth hall in the center of Ypres, Belgium. The major theme of the museum is the consequences of war. Mirrors are used to inspire visitors to examine how we look at the past, how and why we remember, and how we view the nations involved in World War I. The museum encourages visitors to reflect on the major historical events as well as the personal stories of individuals. Visitors will learn about how the war affected the lives of thousands of people of different nationalities who were involved in the war. The museum also has a heavy focus on how the war affected West Flanders and the city of Ypres.
Visitors receive a poppy bracelet for a one euro deposit when they enter the museum. The bracelet has a microchip in it which tells the stories of four individuals, in the language you choose, as you walk through the exhibits in the museum. You can also climb 231 steps to the top of the bell tower for views of the city and the Ypres Salient battlefields.
The In Flanders Field Museum is located at Grote Markt 34. Opening hours are daily from 10am to 6pm April 1st to November 15th and Tuesday to Sunday 10am to 5pm November 16 to March 31. Admission is 9 euros for adults. The bell tower costs 2 euros.
Address: Grote Markt 34, Ypres, Belgium
Admission: Adults: 9 euros
From $ 88
Yser Tower is a memorial honoring the Flemish soldiers who died during World War I. It is the tallest peace monument in Europe and houses a museum and a chapel. At the start of the war, King Albert of Belgium urged the Flemish and Walloon populations to come together to fight under a united Belgian flag. Unfortunately the French-speaking Walloon officers expressed themselves in French, while most of the Flemish soldiers could not speak French, only Dutch. The soldiers' inability to understand orders led to many deaths, and by the end of the war, 70 percent of the fallen Belgian soldiers were Flemish.
The monument that stands today was built in 1965 and is 275 feet tall. The inscription “Never again war” is written on the tower in Dutch, French, English, and German. As a peace monument, Yser Tower commemorates the Flemish soldiers killed during World War I, but it has also become a beacon of the Flemish nationalist movement. The museum's permanent exhibit retraces the history of both World Wars and the time in between them, while two floors are dedicated to the history of Flanders. The film “Violence Never Brings Peace” plays continuously in the auditorium. The museum also has various temporary exhibits.
Yser Tower is located at Ijzerdijk 49 in Diksmuide. Opening hours are 9am to 6pm April through September and 9am to 5pm October through March. On weekends, the museum opens at 10am. Adult admission is 8 euros.
Address: Ijzerdijk 49, Diksmuide, Belgium
Admission: Adults: 8 euros
From $ 88
The Tyne Cot Cemetery, located near Zonnebeke, Belgium, is the largest Commonwealth military cemetery in the world. It contains the graves of nearly 12,000 soldiers who died between October 1914 and September 1918 while fighting in World War I. Unfortunately about 70% of the people buried there were never identified. The graves of the unknown soldiers are marked with tombstones that read “Known unto God.” In addition to these unknown soldiers, a list of nearly 35,000 names is on a wall at the back of the cemetery honoring soldiers who have no known grave and died between August 1917 and the end of the war.
Many of the fallen soldiers were buried in nearby battlefields or smaller cemeteries, but after the war ended, the graves were moved to the Tyne Cot Cemetery. A few remaining German blockhouse can still be seen at the cemetery, and they have been incorporated into the memorial as a way to honor the soldiers who died trying to capture them. On one of them, the Cross of Sacrifice, also called the Great Cross, was built at the suggestion of King George V who visited the cemetery in 1922. The cross can be seen through the entrance of the cemetery and is often photographed.
The Tyne Cot Cemetery is signposted from the N303/N37 Beselare-Passendale road near Zonnebeke. It is about 6 miles from Ypres and about 45 miles from both Brugge and Ghent.
Address: Zonnebeke, Belgium
From $ 88