Belgium: Where to Celebrate National Day
With three explicit regions (Brussels-Capital, Flemish, Walloon), community and linguistic groups (Dutch, French, German), Belgium has a somewhat complicated relationship with federalism and nationalism. But despite (or often because of) Belgium’s strong regionalistic sentiments, the one parliamentary state, one democratic constitutional monarchy experiment endures.
It is a complex marriage, however, and, indeed, a very expensive one. No other politcal system on the continent, in fact, costs more as a percentage of G.D.P. Nonetheless, Belgium soldiers on and, occasional grumbles of secessionism aside, makes a good show of it every July 21 for la fête nationale.
With that and above and beyond Brussels, of course, discover where to celebrate National Day in beautiful Belgium this year.
What National Day in Belgium is all about. Lawn of Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, Brussels – Photo credit
Antwerp’s Diamond District shimmers with extra effervescence for National Day and the Astoria Hotel is a fine perch from which to observe it all unfold. Revelers meander about the old town and, sooner or later, find themselves in front of the austere City Hall and Grote Markt.
Where to stay: Astoria Antwerp Hotel
The capital of Hainaut province is a Wallonia jewel with a tidy, handsome city plan full of red brick and stone. A UNESCO World Heritage belfry tower keeps watch over it all. While the big civic festival is the week-long Ducasse de Mons, which starts 57 days after Easter on Trinity Sunday, National Day is a wonderful time to gather in the pretty main square.
Where to stay: Mercure Mons Hotel
Three magnificent spires tower over Ghent, the fine capital of East Flanders, and punctuate a singular medieval skyline. The city of the Ghent Altarpiece, Gravensteen and three UNESCO World Heritage béguinages makes a dramatic backdrop for National Day.
Where to stay: Sandton Grand Hotel Reylof Ghent
One can level the same charge at Bruges. The “Venice of the North” and capital of West Flanders has a spectacular World Heritage historic core, which duly hosts the bulk of National Day fun.
Where to stay: Prinsenhof Hotel Bruges
Liège may be the economic showcase for Wallonia but the city of 200,000 is also a cultural hub. Folklore festivals dot the calendar, from Chrismas markets in December to the rowdy 15 août. And while Wallonia and the French Community of Belgium both celebrate a distinct “national” day on September 27, make a beeline for the lively Outre-Meuse quarter on July 21 just the same.
Where to stay: Crowne Plaza Hotel Liège
Charleroi has a big metro area but on July 21 Carolos in the festive spirit celebrate National Day in Place Charles II.
Where to stay: Leonardo Hotel Charleroi City Center
The confluence of the Sambre and Meuse rivers marks the spot on National Day in the aristocratic, compact capital of Namur province.
Where to stay: Le Chateau de Namur
The capital of Flemish Brabant, pop. 100,000, is just 25 km from Brussels and well worth a side trip on National Day to see the extraordinary Town Hall illuminate.
Where to stay: Park Inn By Radisson Leuven Hotel
The oldest city in Belgium is a choice spot to celebrate National Day. Tournai’s old town is a vital cultural site, with la Grand-Place and UNESCO World Heritage Notre-Dame Cathedral as must-see landmarks. Tip: with Lille close by in France, visitors may prefer to stay in the big city and cross over the border.
Where to stay: Suite Novotel Lille Europe
The de facto E.U. capital and capital of Belgium is one of the most cosmopolitan urban pivots on the continent and envelops a metro populace of close to 2 million people. The best spots to enjoy National Day events include Parc de Bruxelles (concerts), Place des Palais (military procession and fireworks), Place Royale, Place du Musée and Rue de la Régence (parade). The nonpareil Grand-Place hops with patriotic energy on July 21 as well.
Where to stay: Aloft Brussels Schuman Hotel