Famed for its many beautiful architectures, Tournai, Belgium was captured by King Henry VIII, leaving this city with the unique label as the only one in Belgium that was once under British rule. Located along the River Escault, Tournai is one of the oldest cities in Belgium. Read on to learn more about the best things to do in this historic city!
1. Visit the city’s UNESCO #1 World Heritage Site
The Cathedral of Our Lady is one of the most striking architectural marvels you’ll encounter in Tournai, offering a mix of Romanesque and Gothic designs. Construction first started in 1141, when the city had been granted the seat of a bishop. The cathedral has 700-year-old murals and paintings like The Raising of the Cross by renowned artist Peter Paul Rubens. But the centerpiece is the Shrine of Our Lady, a beautiful gold-sculpted reliquary created by Nicholas of Verdun in 1205.
Cathedral of Our Lady
Address: Place de l'Evêché 1, 7500 Tournai, Belgium
Website: Cathedral of Our Lady (in French)
2. Tour the Museum of Natural History of Tournai
Built in 1828, the Museum of Natural History of Tournai is the first that was made accessible to the public. Famous figures like Leopold I and Bartholomew Du Mortier. Much of its interiors are preserved from its original 19th-century architecture. The museum is split into two key areas: naturalized animals and live animals. The naturalized animals section features exhibits from all the world, from the giant tortoise of Aldabra to the Asian lion. The live animal exhibits are housed in a vivarium that is home to Chinese alligators, venomous frogs and other reptiles and invertebrates.
Museum of Natural History of Tournai
Address: Cour d'Honneur de l'Hôtel de ville, Rue Saint-Martin 52, 7500 Doornik, Belgium
Website: Museum of Natural History of Tournai
3. Visit the city’s UNESCO #2 World Heritage Site
One of a set in Belgium and France registered on the UNESCO World Heritage List, the Belfry of Tournai is Belgium’s oldest, standing at 72 meters (240 feet) in height and taking 257 steps to reach the top. The tower, which is of medieval origin, has four towerlets, each of which has a soldier statue and a dragon icon around it. There are panels detailing how the belfry served the city throughout history. Visitors can also see the bell ringer’s rooms and his accompanying bells.
Belfry of Tournai
Address: Grand'Place 15, 7500 Tournai, Belgium
Website: Belfry of Tournai
4. Attend the annual International Folklore Festival
Editor's Note: There's no photo available at the time of writing
Should you be planning to be in Tournai, be sure to check the dates for the annual International Folklore Festival. Every year, there are colorful displays of Belgian culture and heritage, celebrated through song, dance, and huge parade floats. Highlights include throwing pichous – a delicious sugar biscuit – from the top of the belfry and the ceremonial burning of the Carnival King.
International Folklore Festival
Address: Rue du Bas follet 31/2, 7500 Tournai
Website: International Folklore Festival
5. Appreciate fine art
Built by art nouveau architect Victor Horta, the Museum of Fine Arts’ first exhibits were all thanks to Henri Van Cutsem, a rich art collector who offered his collections to the city in 1904. Among some of the collection the museum holds today are paintings from the 15th century to 17th and 18th-century masterpieces from artists like Peter Paul Rubens, Jean-Antoine Watteau, and Jacob Jordaens.
Museum of Fine Arts
Address: Rue de l'Enclos Saint-Martin 3, 7500 Tournai, Belgium
Website: Museum of Fine Arts (in French)
6. See Europe’s oldest house
The oldest houses in Europe can be found in Tournai’s rue Barre-St-Brice. With its gables, stone columns, these Romanesque houses represent the last of middle-class residences that lived between AD 1175 to AD 1200. These days, despite their age, they mostly host a Protestant church and art gallery respectively. Less than 10 minutes’ walk away is rue des Jésuites, which houses a Gothic house from the 13th century.
Europe’s oldest houses
Address: rue Barre-St-Brice, Tournai, Belgium
7. Learn how you came to be
Ever wondered how you came to be? The Museum of Archaeology covers more than two million years of human history, from mankind’s origins to the kinds of environments our ancestors had to face. Visitors will learn more through displays and scale models showing the evolution of survival, including flint tools, pottery and metal-working techniques that led to producing more efficient weapons and hunting tools.
Museum of Archaeology
Address: Rue des Carmes 8, 7500 Tournai, Belgium
Website: Museum of Archaeology
8. Climb to the top
Head to Tournai’s higher point at Mont-Saint-Aubert. Standing at an altitude of 147 meters (490 feet), the point offers magnificent views of the Scheldt valley and the city of Tournai. Mont-Saint-Aubert is popular on the weekends with hikers and families. It is the starting point of many hiking trails. There are also several restaurants and a playground, which is ideal for families to relax. The place is also known as Mont de la Trinité, which is the same name as the medieval pilgrimage that was popular in the 14th century.
Address: Mont-Saint-Aubert, 7542 Tournai, Belgium
9. Walk along Tournai’s most prestigious medieval architecture
You will immediately recognize this from postcards from the city center’s many souvenir stores. Pont des Trous is a reinforced water gate on the Scheldt river and is one of the oldest existing medieval bridges in Europe. It has three distinct spikes, with its origins dating to as far back as the 13th century – the left tower in 1281 and the right tower in 1302.
Pont des Trous
Address: Pont des Trous, Quai Donat Casterman, 7500 Tournai, Belgium
10. Get one for the gram
In the 17th century, people lived right next to the River Scheldt. Today, there are plenty of cafes, bistros, and bars lining the river. Due to its relaxing and laidback atmosphere, it is a favorite among locals aplenty for an intimate meal or some after-work drinks. As with most riverside places, the Scheldt quayside looks beautiful at night and would make quite the pretty picture.
Address: Scheldt River
Full of history
The city’s two UNESCO World Heritage Sites should already cement itself as one of the top historical destinations on a continent already oozing lots history, art and culture. Even if you’ve already visited the more well known European cities like, you’ll still find lots in Tournai that will impress.
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