Exploring UNESCO in Flanders and Brussels
The region of Flanders is blessed with one of the most unique cultures in the world. Beer brewed by our monks is famous across the globe, our historic beguinages once provided enclosed communities for women and our artisans have created works of art that transcend time. Join us as we share the most significant UNESCO World Heritage sites of Flanders and Brussels: medieval cities, historic belfries and printing houses that showcase our extraordinary cultural heritage.
Divine peace and quiet in Flemish beguinages
Beguinages were communities that once functioned as enclosed villages for widows and women who could live in a semi-monastic institution. Residents, known as beguines, would live quiet lives, supporting themselves through manual labour – often in the cloth trade.
Established in the 13th century, this tradition was a way of life for more than 800 years until the last beguine died in 2013. Since then, the peace and quiet of the beguinages has endured. Nowadays, a visit to the beguinages is like travelling through time to see the most picturesque houses in a typical Flemish style.
You can find these beautiful former communities in every Flemish art city: Antwerp, Bruges, Ghent, Leuven and Mechelen. If you want to explore off the beaten track, don’t overlook the historic beguinages of Sint-Truiden, Turnhout, Kortrijk and Dendermonde.
The Grand Place in Brussels: an enormous work of art
When you enter the Grand Place in Brussels along the cobbled, narrow streets, you feel like you've walked into a work of art. You might wonder if this kaleidoscope of astonishing architecture is the work of one genius? However harmonious the surrounds might appear, the Grand Place mixes countless architectural styles to create a timeless feel.
Position yourself on the cobblestones and turn around: the imposing Gothic Town Hall and the elegant, restored guildhalls will pass before your eyes. If you start to feel a little dizzy, position yourself in one of the cafés on the square to drink in this elaborate backdrop at your leisure.
Historic Bruges catapults you to the Middle Ages
A fairy-tale city. That's how the historic centre of Bruges is described from the United States to Japan. The medieval city, with its traditional buildings and cobbled streets appears to be frozen in time. No wonder that the entire city centre is UNESCO World Heritage listed.
Along the enchanting canals that thread through Bruges, you'll go from one surprise to the next. Cross the charming little bridge at the Church of Our Lady, or gaze up at the majestic belfry.
Belgian belfries: the heart of the community
UNESCO entered all belfries in Flanders, Wallonia and Northern France together on the World Heritage list. Their symbolic value is significant: the towers have stood for the power, influence and wealth of the cities since the Middle Ages.
A visit will see you enjoy a myriad of architectural styles, ranging from Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque. The tower of the Town Hall in Brussels is absent since this is included together with the Grand Place.
Horta’s architectural marvels in Brussels
The great architect Victor Horta was one of the earliest innovators of the Art Nouveau style. Four of his monumental town houses in Brussels are listed by UNESCO World Heritage for their remarkable contribution to pioneering architecture.
Discover how Horta decorated his bathroom, gaze downstairs along the staggering stairwell, or let your fingers glide over the intricate ironwork ...
Hotel Tassel, Hotel Solvay and the Horta Museum can be easily explored on foot. However, a visit to Hotel van Eetvelde requires more time. Thankfully, you can take a breather in the Cinquantenaire Park along the way.
The hidden jewel: Stoclet Palace
Just like Horta’s work, the Stoclet Palace (1911) in Brussels is a total work of art. The mansion is a masterpiece of austere geometry and resplendent luxury.
Architect Joseph Hoffmann of Vienna built the pioneering Art Nouveau home for art lover Adolphe Stoclet, and works by the Austrian painter Gustav Klimt still hang in the house. Unfortunately, you cannot visit the palace as it is private property. However, you can admire the exterior. Just walk along the Tervurenlaan, between the Cinquantenaire Park and the Woluwe Park.
Plantin-Moretus Museum: a powerhouse of printing
Christoffel Plantijn was a celebrity during the 16th century for his work as an influential book printer and publisher. His former residence and printing office the Plantin-Moretus Museum is the only UNESCO World Heritage listed museum in the world.
On your visit, you can inspect the old printing presses, explore the marvellous library and even see an authentic Rubens painting. This prolific printing house was once at the heart of the European printing movement, and helped to spread typography across the globe.
After your visit, you’re perfectly located within a stone's throw of the Scheldt River to explore, the Groenplaats and the lively Fashion District around the Nationalestraat.
Drink our most precious possession: beer
In Flanders and Brussels you can find protected UNESCO heritage that you can actually taste. Our Belgian beers were added to UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2016. When you drink an authentic brew in Flanders, you’re drinking in a tradition that dates back centuries. Deep red, golden blond or dark brown; there’s approximately 1,500 types of beer produced in Belgium using many different fermentation techniques.
However, it’s our beer culture that’s almost more important than the beer itself. It unites people day in, day out. At home, at parties and festivals, and in thousands of lively cafés. You'll always find something to your taste which brings you together with the people in your life.
Can’t get enough of the UNESCO marvels in Flanders and Brussels? Then be sure to discover these seven heritage gems. They aren't on the World Heritage list yet, but they definitely deserve a spot.
Story created on 17 July 2017