There’s no doubt about the enduring popularity of Brussels, with more than 16 million of us arriving each year to stay in the city. So once you’ve explored some of what makes Brussels glorious, from the beauties of Grand Place to the art of the chocolate maker and brewer, you might consider exploring further afield. Here are our suggestions for the best day trip destinations accessible from Brussels by rail. We’ve got everything from vibrant cities to coastal charms in this list, so whatever your travel preference, you’re sure to find a good time. Welcome to the best day trips from Brussels.
- 1 Taking The Train In Belgium For Your Day Trip From Brussels
- 2 Day Trip To Bruges
- 3 Day Trip To Ghent
- 4 Day Trip To Antwerp
- 5 Day Trip To Leuven
- 6 Day Trip To Knokke-Heist
- 7 Day Trip To Liege
- 8 Day Trip To Tournai
- 9 Day Trip To Dinant
- 10 Day Trip To Ypres
- 11 Day Trip To Ostend
- 12 Bonus Day Trip: Saint-Gilles In Brussels
- 13 Back After Your Day Trip From Brussels?
Taking The Train In Belgium For Your Day Trip From Brussels
Don’t worry if you’ve never taken a train in Belgium before. It’s an easy and understandable process. You’ll find details of routes, timetables and costs online at SNCB, the Belgian national rail service. This sets out the different types of train service running across the country, from local stopping trains to intercity and even international routes. SNCB’s website gives you the opportunity to search in several languages. You’ll be pleased to learn that the automated ticket machines at stations can be set to different languages. Counter staff at the main Belgian stations are also really helpful.
If you’re day tripping by train from Brussels, your starting point will likely be either Brussels Midi/Zuid, which serves most intercity destinations, or Brussels Central/Centraal, which is just 5 minutes walk from Grand Place. There are regular connections between the two, and you can reach either by use of the Brussels Metro, which has stations throughout the city.
Planning to travel further? Belgian trains are cheaper at weekends, so save your biggest day trips for Saturdays and Sundays if you want to keep costs down. For more about traveling across the country, check out our guide to taking the train in Belgium.
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Day Trip To Bruges
We’ve written before about the opportunity to see the big sights of this beautiful Flemish city in one day. Whatever time of year you visit, Bruges is atmospheric. Wander by – and take a boat trip on – its still and tranquil canals. You’ll get a new perspective on all that glorious architecture from the water.
What to see and do in a day in Bruges
A big-hitter in the list of possible day trips from Brussels, Bruges won’t disappoint. Start off with a city walk to get your bearings and see the main sites. There are self-guided tours online at Visit Bruges, and you can even opt to follow the path of scenes from the films In Bruges or The White Queen. Want a live guide? That’s feasible too; check out Legends Free Walking Tours.
Don’t forget to visit Grote Markt to see the heart of the city, plus the Belfort where you can hear its extensive carillion. The town hall or Stadhuis is, as in most Belgian cities, a fine place to look up and marvel at all the details of the building.
Then there’s time for a canal trip and a visit to one or more chocolatiers – or take a course and make your own. You can wander in the beguinhof, where communities of pious women lived. The Basilica of the Holy Blood is exquisite. For the evening, why not enjoy a leisurely dinner and a brew or two made within the city walls of Bruges for an insight in the the brewers’ art. And evenings are particularly spectacular canalside.
Read more: One Day in Bruges
Day Trip To Ghent
Less on the radar than Bruges, a day trip to Ghent will make you wonder how you’ve not visited this vibrant and charming city before. If you love history and meandering around a city, walkable and fascinating Ghent will charm you. In fact one day trip from Brussels won’t suffice; you’ll want to go back and stay.
What to see and do in a day in Ghent
From Sint Pieterstation, take the tram (line 1) into the city to arrive at the Gravensteen, Ghent’s Castle of the Counts. Here you’ll find the museum of “judicial implements” and the opportunity to see the city from a different angle. Just round the corner is the Graslei on the river Leie. Described as the prettiest quay in Europe – and let’s face it, the competition is hot – the Graslei is filled with guildhouses, merchant houses and plenty of places to enjoy a meal, a coffee or a beer.
Pop into the Waterhuis on de Beerkant (the Waterhouse on the Beer Canal) to sample Belgian beer, or t’Dropkoet next door for a jenever experience. Then walk onwards to the Vridagmarkt, full of interesting buildings, shops, cafes and bars. Turn right up the hill to see the Stadhuis and Belfort, then onwards to St Bavo’s Cathedral, home to Ghent’s most important historic artwork, Van Eyck’s The Mystic Lamb.
Ghent’s one of the world’s best cities for vegetarian eats, so don’t forget to call in at The Botanist or Plus+ to enjoy creative cuisine. For meat eaters, local dishes include stoverij (beef cooked in beer) and waterzooi (a chicken or fish creation in a creamy sauce). Make time for boat tripping on the canals and rivers. Visit on a summer weekend, and you can take a round trip to the artist’s village of Sint Marten in Latem, full of galleries and sculpture.
Read More: Things To Do In Glorious Ghent
Day Trip To Antwerp
One of the world’s busiest ports on the mighty River Scheldt, Antwerp has a charm and vibrancy all its own. Once you roll into Central Station, you’ll be in awe at just how beautiful this place is; in most other cities, a building of such splendor would be an attraction in its own right rather than a station.
What To See And Do In A Day In Antwerp
Once you’ve torn yourself away from the magnificence of the station, head off into the centre of Antwerp. You’ll see the monument to the painter Rubens in Grote Markt, along with the fountain which features the folk hero of the city, clutching a hand in Antwerp’s version of David and Goliath. In fact the hand features in a lot of Antwerp’s good eats, where it is replicated in speculaas and chocolate.
Down at the river you’ll find the beautiful castle, Het Steen. To see it at its best, visit it when it is lit for Christmas, making it truly magical. Then wander along to Elfte Gebod, a bar crammed with religious artefacts. Even if, like me, you’re in search of coffee rather than an excellent Belgian beer, you’ll find plenty to enjoy there. This will fortify you for Antwerp’s other attractions: the Diamond Quarter, the Fashion District and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Plantus Morenus museum, celebrating the world’s first printing press.
Read more: Awesome Things To Do In Antwerp and Antwerp’s Kerstmarkt
Day Trip To Leuven
A scant hour from Brussels by train, the university city of Leuven has plenty to recommend it as an easy day trip from Brussels. Home to what is said to be the longest bar in the world (actually a street with lots of bars side by side), Leuven is also host to big and small brewers alike. The city’s symbol, Fonske, is an eternal student pouring knowledge – or beer – into his head.
What To See And Do In One Day In Leuven
You should see the university library with its bell tower, home to one of the largest carrillions in the world. I was captivated by the exquisite Stadhuis, crammed with 236 statues. Time your visit well, and you can see Leuven from below via a tour of its underground passages.
Then there’s the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Sint Pieterskirk, its bell tower reduced in stature from the original plans due to movement of the ground below. Admire the fine Brabant architecture and the paintings by Dirk Bouts. The Groot Begijnhof, founded in 1234, once hosted a large community of pious women in 100 sandstone houses surrounded by gardens, canals and squares. Today it makes up some of the most beautiful student digs imagineable. After that, don’t forget to try out Oude Markt, where nearly every building is a bar, and the whole street a celebration.
Read More: One Day in Leuven
Day Trip To Knokke-Heist
The Belgian coastline may be tiny, but it’s very perfectly formed. Full of sandy dunes, biospheres and a sense of Belgian joie de vivre, you’ll find plenty of Belgians headed to the coast at the weekend for a day trip from Brussels. One of our favourite spots is Knokke-Heist, actually two separate towns on a polder at the Dutch end of the coastline. It’s the only place I know where the announcement of a delayed train back to Brussels has been a call for celebration. The beach towels came out, and the whole broad platform transformed itself into the largest picnic zone I’ve seen in Belgium. Or elsewhere for that matter.
What To See and Do In One Day In Do In Knokke
There’s always a sense of excitement as the train nears Knokke, with passengers looking forward to a day on the coast. When you leave the station, you’ll turn into a long street that works its way up to the sea front. This street is lined with small shops including a fine delicatessen, cafes, restaurants and places to pick up any beach attire you’ve forgotten.
Also here is the Zwin, a coastal nature reserve, which includes a protected bird sanctuary. I love the many statues and public artworks in Knokke. There’s a pink fountain, two large orange men shaking hands and the rabbit at the end of the boardwalk. Want to see it all? Here you can hire one of the most fabulous collections of bikes that I have ever seen, ranging from normal cycles through to multi-person family conveyances. Build up an appetite for a visit to one of the many fish restaurants in the town. And head back to Brussels full of chill, sea air and the feeling of contentment that comes from a dose of sea fever.
Read more: Taking the Belgium Coastal Tram
Day Trip To Liege
Time for the battle of the waffles. Do you prefer the smooth fluffy Brussels waffle or the taller, crunchier, almost caramelly Liege waffle? You can find out on your day trip from Brussels to Liege, the third biggest metropolitan area of Belgium.
What To See And Do In One Day In Liege
Originally settled by the Romans, like many other cities Liege grew wealthy in medieval times, its fortunes being generated by the trading guilds. Explore the enormous palace of the Prince-Bishops of Liege and the fine cathedral. You’ll want to enjoy time in the historic centre of the city – the Carre – and the elegant parks and boulevards along the River Meuse.
Feeling fit? There are 374 steps on the Montagne de Bueren, which leads from Hors-Chateau to the Citadel. The staircase is named after the man who defended Liege from an attack by Charles the Bold in the fifteenth century. Tackling this route should give you plenty of appetite for those Liege waffles. The Citadel itself forms the ancient fortifications of the city. Don’t forget to stop off at the Cite de Miroirs. Formerly an art deco swimming pool, this is now home to photography exhibitions. And the steep slopes of Liege will provide you with many fabulous spots to test out your lenses.
Read More: Visit Liege
Day Trip To Tournai
This is the only Belgian city to have ever been ruled by England – we blame King Henry VIII – albeit for a mere five years. Set on the River Scheldt, Tournai has a rich and deep history and is one of the most important cultural sites in Belgium. For an extra special trip, try to visit during the Folklore Festival, Carnival or the RAMDAM film festival.
What To See And Do In One Day In Tournai
The cathedral of Notre Dame is in mixed Romanesque and Gothic style, with its belfry considered to be one of the oldest in Belgium. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the cathedral you’ll find the Chasse de Notre-Dame flamade, which is a wonderfully ornate 12th century reliquary. It shows the wealth of the city in the Middle Ages.
Head riverside to the 13th century bridge over the Scheldt, the Pont des Trous. As you would expect, the main square – Grand Place – is glorious and filled with fountains. You can start your trip up the stairs of the belfry here. Then live out your best Game of Thrones fantasies exploring the old city gates and guildhouses. Don’t forget to head to rue Barre-St-Brice, where you’ll see two of the oldest private houses in Europe dating between 1175-1200. It’s a magical moment to imagine all the lives lived in these spaces.
Read more: Visit Tournai
Day Trip To Dinant
Looking for charm? A day in Dinant will provide that in copious quantities. This small, quirky and interesting city is set in a steep gorge on the banks of the River Meuse. Dinant stretches along the riverbank, making for an attractive spot to meander at your leisure. Legend has it that the Rocher Beyard, a separate chunk of rockface, was split by the hoof of the giant horse Beyard, taking the four sons of Aymon on their flight from Charlemagne.
What To See And Do In One Day In Dinant
The Citadel of Dinant is more than 100 metres above the river on the cliffs that surround the city. Fortifications have existed here since the fourth century, although the current Citadel dates from the early 19th century. Take the cable car in summer, or else hike the 408 steps hewn into the rock face for understandably spectacular views and a small museum.
Spot something rather bright along the river and on streets, squares and bridges? That’ll be the collection of saxophone sculptures, this being the birthplace of Adolphe Sax, whose house you can visit. There’s a fine collection of saxes on the Charles de Gaulle bridge, which also offers some lovely views of the city. Call in at the Gothic church of Notre Dame de Dinant with its onion dome and beautiful lantern.
Read more: 24 hours in Dinant – Things to See And Do
Day Trip To Ypres
Ypres (or Ieper in Dutch) is a friendly Flemish town with beautiful architecture and a past steeped in sadness, making this a more reflective day trip from Brussels. It was here that three major battles of the First World War were fought, most notably at Passchendale. Memorials and remembrance draw many visitors each year to this town and its surrounding villages.
What To See And Do In One Day In Ypres
I can’t forget my first visit to the Menin Gate. Hearing the Last Post sounded at 8pm serves as an expression of gratitude to those who gave their lives. It wasn’t until many years later that I came to walk through the Gate reading the names of the missing, many also remembered at Tyne Cot Cemetery on the slopes below Passchendale.
In Ypres itself, the original Lakenhall (Cloth Hall) was at the time of its completion in 1304 the largest building in Western Europe. Ypres was famed for its cloth trade, particularly for trading linen in England. The Lakenhall was destroyed in 1916 by shelling, and the rebuild was completed in 1967. It houses the In Flanders Fields Museum and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The belfry here has a 49 bell carrillion. On a lighter note – although maybe less so for cat lovers – the Kattenstoet parade is held every three years. A jester throws stuffed cat toys from the belfry to an eager crowd below, symbolising ridding the town of demons. Visit in the last weekend of August for the hardcore punk festival Ieperfest.
Read More: Visit Ypres
Day Trip To Ostend
This coastal city is unusual in having not just a deep harbour, but also plenty of sandy bathing beaches. When you walk out of the station at Ostend, you’re immediately plunged into a celebration of all that’s maritime. Firstly you walk through the small boat docks, including the brilliant tall ship moored up close. Then on weekends and holidays, you’re lingering at the long line of seafood stalls at the fish market. There’s a whole street of fish restaurants open every day too. Walk a little further and you can see the pier with sandy beaches to its left. There’s no doubt that this is a feelgood day trip from Brussels.
What to See And Do In One Day In Ostend
If you visit in winter, wrap up warm against the sea winds. It’ll be a day of hopping from restaurants to bars to shops. We loved that the funfair had prizes of bears suitably dressed for the day in raincoats and souwesters and pairs of stout Wellington boots. We’ve also had the pleasure of Ostend in brilliant sunshine, with plenty of time on the sand at Klein Strand and the pier, then fish salad for lunch and a cold kriek sipped at a fine bar.
In addition to the Klein Strand, you can venture a little further to the Groot Strand, more visited by locals. The Atlantic Wall Open Air Museum shows you the fortified wall and its coastal defence. Het Visserplein has markets and music festivals and you can visit the barquentine Mercator, the former training ship for Belgian naval officers. The Mu.Zee is the museum of modern art featuring works by local painters such as James Ensor. Ostend also has a massive street art scene including the festival The Crystal Ship.
Read more: Visit Ostend
Bonus Day Trip: Saint-Gilles In Brussels
A mere 15 minutes journey for the last of our day trips from Brussels, Saint-Gilles inhabits another world entirely, despite being a commune of the city. Once described as “where the world meets in Brussels” Saint Gilles wears many faces, all of them buzzing, vibrant, real and sometimes gritty. From the glories of Art Nouveau architecture to the last of Brussels’ city gates, there’s plenty to recommend in a trip to Saint-Gilles.
What to See And Do In One Day In Saint-Gilles
Firstly there’s the last city gate of Brussels: the Porte de Hal. This beautiful and imposing tower sits in a spot with magnificent views, and there’s a battlement walk to enjoy them. You can find the armour of the city’s past to explore there. Then there’s Horta, the city’s architect. His house and workshop is here, and you can see his Art Nouveau influence all over the city. Look up in Saint-Gilles and you’ll see many of those beautiful wrought-iron balconies that are the hallmark of that era.
And then there’s the fake, the beautiful Porteuse de l’Eau. This one isn’t actually Art Nouveau, but was built in the style to commemorate the porteuse, the girl who brought drinking water to the horses. Stop here for a coffee or a beer and admire the sheer beauty of the bar with its exquisite spiral staircase and stained glass. Speaking of bars, you can’t go wrong in exploring the area around the market. Here you’ll meet the locals: both the people and the brews. There’s something to be said for getting the feel of a place by simply watching its day unfold. And Saint-Gilles is a great spot to do exactly that.
Read more: One Day In Saint-Gilles, Brussels
Back After Your Day Trip From Brussels?
In addition to your day trips, I hope you’ve had time to get the flavour of Brussels well and truly into your heart. From the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Grand Place – surely one of the most atmospheric places I’ve had the pleasure to visit – to its elegant shopping and wide-ranging history, this is a city to celebrate.
Read More: The Very Best of Belgium
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10 thoughts on “The Very Best Day Trips From Brussels”
I’m really glad I came across this post, there are so many interesting things to see around Brussels. I think this area is underrated but still very interesting. I grew up in Paris and Brussels was almost too close to visit, I tended to go further afield. I will come back and see this region at some point!
Love the ease of basing yourself in one place and being able to see so many other options but I had no idea so many things were within such easy reach. It’s changed my whole idea of just doing an overnight in Brussels.
I love the pacing in this article. Every day trip has the perfect amount of information. With all of the beautiful choices, it’s so hard to make just one. The coastal tram sounds beautiful, especially during the summer.
I will always dream of living somewhere in Europe where fun day trips are only a train ride away! I am happy to see that when I do visit Brussels I’ll have plenty of day trip options to explore. Thanks for sharing these tips.
Okay, so I have to plan a lot of time when I come to Brussels. Not only does the city itself have a lot to offer, your 10 day tours into the surrounding area are really great and invite you to stay a while.
These are all such lovely day tripping destinations from Brussels. Each one as charming if not more than the other. We have not been to Belgium but have read a lot about its intrinsic beauty. Bruges is one place we would like to visit, it seems like a fairy tale town. The other place is Ghent, which reminds me of a poem in school called, “How they brought the good news from Ghent to Aix.
Thanks a lot for the detailed description of the day trips from Brussels. When I finally cross off Belgium from my bucket list, I’d love to start with Leuven and get to see the world heritage site of Sint Pieterskirk. I’ve heard a lot about Oude Markt; I’d love to try it out and get in that “celebration” space.
Brussels is high on my wishlist due to its wonderful architecture and also it is vibrant capital. I would love to go for Ghent for its inclination towards vegetarianism.
Some great ideas here – I’d love to visit Bruges and Ghent but there are lots more lesser known places on your list! Dinant looks especially charming.
I’ve had Bruges, Ghent, and Brussels on my bucket list for quite some time, but this is the first I’ve seen of Dinant. Wow! What a gorgeous city. I’d love to take the cable car, too!