The Ardennes is the name given to a region of Belgium in the south that extends into Luxembourg, France and Germany. This southern region is totally different from the busy, industrial north.
The things available to do in this region are as varied as you might imagine and include some great museums, plenty of beer and even the world’s smallest city. Given the rolling hills and the lush green scenery, it will not surprise you that The Ardennes has become a popular spot for travellers who love the outdoors. There is also plenty beneath the rolling hills such as mines and grottos that make for spectacular day trips.
While some of the cities within The Ardennes may not be as visually appealing as the surrounding countryside, most of them offer plenty of interesting attractions and hidden history that will make you glad you visited. The war museums in Bastogne are interesting and very well done and, as you may expect, there are churches and art galore.
Food and drink lovers will also be happy in The Ardennes region and will no doubt be familiar with the world famous paté that is named after the area. Other popular culinary treats also revolve around the pig including ham and cured meats. There are plenty of good restaurants both inside and outside of the cities. Do your research in order to stick to your budget and avoid disappointment. Beer is without a doubt the prominent drink in the region and there are many historical breweries and abbeys in the area that are bound to excite anyone with an interest in the history of the drink.
Lets explore the best things to do in The Ardennes:
1. Explore the Grand Curtius Museum
The Grand Curtius building in Liege certainly lives up to its name and is instantly recognisable by its impressive red brick exterior.
Inside, the building has been impressively and carefully renovated but also houses a museum exploring the history of art from inception to modern day.
Understandably, the museum is initially quite overwhelming and you will need to throw a couple of hours at it in order to see, and take in, all of the information.
For those looking for even more immersion, there are also audio guides and temporary exhibitions.
2. Drink at the Abbey Notre Dame
There may be lots of good beer abbeys in Belgium but none are quite as visually impressive as the Abbey Notre Dame in Orval.
After being almost fully reconstructed in the 18th Century, the abbey was reduced once more to ruins by French soldiers resulting in the ruins that you can visit today.
Also available to look around is a pharmacy, museum and herb garden all based on 18th Century monastic life.
3. View art in Liege
This is a fine example of not judging a book by its cover.
From outside, the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Liège looks like a concrete block; very uninspiring and not at all representative of what it contains within.
The gallery within is cleverly designed and contains a wealth of masterpieces from medieval times to more recent surrealist and industrial pieces.
4. Hike in Rochehaut
Beautiful rolling green hills, a winding river and dense forest make up the stunning scenery in Rochehaut.
Hiking in the area is very rewarding, matching terrain for all levels of fitness with great views.
Try to end your hike in the peaceful little hamlet of Frahan-sur-Semois which can be reached via a steep trail and a footbridge.
Do your research on the best routes before walking in the area.
5. Step back in time to World War 2
The war museum in Bastogne is very immersive and evocative, using audio guides with actors to truly set the scene of the war.
As you would expect, the museum covers the build up to the war as well as the key events of the war itself.
Alongside this, you will find an exhibit on the more local aspect of the war as in the Battle of the Bulge and the defence of Bastogne.
The museum is a good mix of reading, listening and watching snippets of TV and will keep you interested.
6. Descend into the Blegny Mine
Throughout Europe you will find many mines and underground tourist attractions but Blegny is without a doubt one of the best and most memorable.
Simply put on your hard hat and descend into the mine to experience what life would have been like for a Belgian miner just decades ago.
The audio guide is great for non-French speakers but the French guides are much better and for more entertaining than their recorded counterparts.
7. Admire the Liege-Guillemins Station
The Liege-Guillemins station is an impressive futuristic looking structure that will satisfy any fans of architecture.
The building was designed in 2009 by Santiago Calatrava and, although it was over budget and not on time, it is certainly an achievement of modern architecture.
8. See a Barouqe church
The Eglise St Loup in Namur is an impressive work of Baroque architecture.
It was once described as both “sinister and gallant marvel” and will certainly peak your curiosity.
The magnificent architecture includes stone arches, statues and a mind boggling ceiling.
Currently, volunteers are in charge of opening the museum so opening times can vary.
9. Siege the Chateau De Bouillon
This impressive castle can be found in Bouillon and is one of the best examples of a Fuedal castle still standing in Belgium.
The castle dates back to the tenth century and is a joy to explore with plenty of dark, dank passageways and creepy looking dungeons.
The audio guide is worth paying for as it adds plenty of background information.
Daytime entry to the castle includes a chance to see the popular open air bird show with bird of prey including hawks and owls.
10. Go deeper underground in Rochefort
Even if you visited the Blegny Mine it is worth visiting the Grotte de Lorette in Rochefort.
Descend the 626 precarious steps down into the abyss and witness the darkness of the cave and its fascinating formations.
Tour groups within the caves are relatively small and give a personal feel.
The lighting within the caves is spot on and allows you to picture the depth of the main cave (an impressive 65m) without ruining the underground atmosphere.
The climax of the tour is an impressive lightshow in the main cave.
11. Undertake a self-guided beer tour
Pre-packaged excursions for beer tours of the Ardennes can cost an absolute fortune but planning one yourself is much more rewarding, fun and definitely more cost-effective.
There are so many top notch breweries in the Ardennes that you will be hard pressed to visit even half of them but spend some time planning and try to include Orval, Chimay and Achouffe.
After visiting a few of these world class breweries you will be much wiser about the process of making beer and will have enjoyed plenty of good beers along the way.
12. Relax in the beautiful Gardens of Annevoie
Les Jardins D’Annevoie can be found just outside the city of Namur and provide a great place for lovers of all things green to chill out.
Not only are the gardens beautiful, they are also seen as a historically important place and are listed as an important part of Wallonian heritage.
The gardens, as well as the accompanying manor house, date back to the 18th Century and each can be explored by visitors.
13. Visit the Old Town of Durbuy
East of Namur, you will find the picturesque city of Durbuy.
The attraction of Durbuy is obvious as soon as you see it; beautiful stone buildings, lush surrounding terrain and not too many people.
Durbuy claims to be the smallest city in the world and is home to around 69 people per km2 (London has about 4,500 per km2). This charming little city is not short of things to do however.
Activities in Durbuy include a sightseeing train, a 14th Century brewery and enjoying the spectacular views from the Belvedere.
14. View the Liege Cathedral
Equally as impressive as the Liege-Guillemins station but very different in style is the Liege Cathedral.
The cathedral was built in the 17th Century and looks fantastic when illuminated at night time.
It may not be one of the most iconic cathedrals in Europe but it is certainly the best in The Ardennes and well worth visiting if you are travelling in the area.
15. See bears and wolves
No, not in the wild but in an impressive wildlife park instead.
Forestia in Theux combines two attractions in one; an animal park home to deer, bears, boars and wolves alongside an exciting high wire style obstacle course in the trees which will challenge those of all ages.
The tree climbing activities are suitable for all ages but maybe not for those afraid of heights!