Aalst is a relatively small city tucked away on the banks of the River Dendre.
It is often passed through as people travel between the neighbouring cities of Ghent and Brussels but it should not just be overlooked.
The highlights within the city include some great museums and art galleries, stunning gothic architecture and, of course, its annual carnival.
Aside from these attractions the city has all the charm and sophistication of other Belgian cities whilst remaining less crowded and less expensive.
If you do decide to spend a few days giving the city of Aalst a chance be sure to check out this list of the 15 Best Things to do in Aalst:
1. The Netwerk Contemporary Art Centre
The Netwerk Contemporary Art Centre is one of the finest and most active art institutions in the East Flanders area.
Inside the centre, visitors have access to a wide range of exhibitions, informative lectures on various art subjects and even concerts.
The modern looking building is actually a former tobacco building.
Throughout the year, the venue hosts many artistic events and is a great place for travellers to appreciate a great selection of contemporary art.
2. The Station
The Station in Aalst was built and opened in 1853 although it has been closed since 1957. The building itself looks more like a fortress than a train station and the architect, JP Cluysenaer was apparently inspired by the buildings in Amsterdam.
Nowadays, you will find a traditional Fritkot, in front of the station which serves traditional and tasty Belgian fries.
3. Castle Terlinden
The beautiful looking Caste Terlinden was built in the 16th Century and soon after received the nickname “The Damned Castle” due to its location with the city’s gallows.
The castle is now owned by the city of Aalst and is used for offices.
The exterior of the building, as well as the two acre grounds surrounding it, are open to the public and worth checking out during your time in the city.
4. Borse van Amsterdam
This impressive building on the Grote Markt was built on the 17th Century and now houses a very classy and highly popular restaurant.
Pop by in daylight to appreciate the grandness of the building but return in the evening for a meal within.
Make sure you book ahead as this place is very popular.
5. Belforten Van De Arbeid
This former city hall is one of the oldest buildings of its kind in the whole of Belgium and the Netherlands.
It has been awarded UNESCO World Heritage site status and should not be missed on a visit to Aalst and is even worth considering a visit from further afield.
On the tower itself you will find the Latin words ‘nec spe, nec metu’ which translate to “not with hope, not with fear”. This was the motto of King Phillip II of Spain.
6. St Martin’s Church
The construction of this impressive church began way back in 1480 but the building was never actually completed to its original plans.
Building began on the church after an attack by nearby Ghent with the most recent renovations taking place in 2007. The interior of the building has plenty worth seeing including marvellous woodwork, paintings by Rubens and of course stained glass windows.
7. Jesuit Church
When you ask for directions to the Jesuit Church in Aalst, you will no doubt be directed towards the Church of St Martin but this is another one worth your time.
The church is located on Pont Street and is recognisable by its Baroque façade.
The most fascinating thing inside the church is without a doubt its crypt which contains 23 Jesuit graves.
8. Aalst Carnival
The Aalst Carnival, which takes place every year in the days leading up to Ash Wednesday.
It lasts for three days and is a vibrant, colourful celebration suitable for all ages.
The carnival has its origins in the middle ages but the carnival as it happens today seemed to begin in the early 20th Century.
Expect some epic parade floats of various shapes, sizes and themes.
9. Historic museum
Housed in the former city hospital, a plain but charming building behind St Martin’s Church, this city museum gives visitors all they need to know about the history of Aalst throughout the years.
Inside the buildings, you will find famous paintings, archaeological objects from various ages and exhibits on notable past residents.
If all of this doesn’t sound too exciting, then just take a stroll around the building itself and the surrounding courtyard.
10. Meet Priest Daens
Priest Daens is known in Aalst folklore as a bit of a hero.
He was seen as being on the working man’s side when the Catholic Church, as a rule, was not.
Daens lived between the years of 1839 and 1907 and was seen as the introducer of socialism into Aalst, he even had a film made based on his life called Daens, which was nominated for an Oscar.
He is now honoured by a statue in the Werfplein which is worth visiting if his story appeals to you.
11. Shopping in the Pieter van Aalst Gallery
Aalst is gaining a good reputation as a shopping city.
Lining its streets, you can find many boutique and original shops selling all sorts of items as well as more well-known shops from all over Europe.
A highlight of a shopping trip in Aalst is the shopping gallery known as Pieter van Aalst which has many nice shops within.
12. Dirk Martens statue
Another statue paying homage to a former resident of Aalst is the Dirk Martens statue.
The statue is entirely made from Bronze and can be found right in front of the Belfry tower.
Dirk Martens is best known for being an editor and publisher in the 16th Century and is believed to have produced some incredibly important pieces of work.
13. The old Courtyard
The old courtyard also known as oud-schepenhuis is the oldest surviving court house in the Low Countries, although residents of Mechelen may well tell you different.
Parts of the building that can be seen today date back to the early 13th Century.
The building is listed on the Unesco World Heritage Sites list.
14. Saturday Market
Aside from visiting the best fries huts and pubs, you can also do as locals do by visiting the Saturday market.
It’s a great way to shop as the locals do and also an entertaining way to stock up on anything you need.
Expect to see stalls stocking anything from fresh fruit and veg to lady’s stockings.
If you speak Dutch, it is interesting to listen to the market traders speaking as the dialect here is very different from that spoken in the Netherlands or other parts of Belgium.