In 1331 the Count of Luxembourg John of Bohemia granted city privileges to this little settlement on a meander in the Ourthe River.
That’s quite a comical idea today, as Durbuy is no bigger than an average village.
In fact this may actually be the smallest city in the world.
One thing for sure is that Durbuy is uncommonly pretty, nestled in a rocky valley and coursed by twisting cobblestone streets with stone houses from the 17th and 18th centuries.
After you discover the old town, there’s lots to see and do around Durbuy, with castles, Neolithic monuments and caves all at your fingertips.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Durbuy, Belgium:
1. Durbuy Vieille Ville
Durbuy is so dinky that it won’t take long to see everything on foot, but you’ll want to go slow and enjoy the atmosphere on these quaint cobblestone streets.
Almost every house is built from local limestone rubble with slate roofs, and many have an exposed timber frame.
Rue Jean de Bohême, Rue Alphonse Éloy, Rue des Récollets, Rue des Récollectines and Rue de la Prévôté are all a joy to discover.
At Place aux Foires and the Rocher à la Falize you can see how the town was enclosed by a now vestigial meander in the Ourthe.
Don’t be put off by the tourist train departing from Parc Roi Baudouin and scuttling around Durbuy’s streets.
This is the only way to get up to a belvedere with what might be the best panorama of the town and the Ourthe Valley.
2. Rocher de la Falize
Perhaps the most remarkable of the many monuments crammed into Durbuy is a natural one.
At the very top of the town is a giant 300-million-year-old mass of limestone.
The Rocher de la Falize is all the more mesmerising for the arch-like fold, known as an anticline, in the stratified limestone layers.
This curve is caused by the weight of new layers of rock combined with the constant movement of the earth’s crust.
One of the pioneers of modern geology, Jean Baptiste Julien d’Omalius d’Halloy described the rock in his seminal Journal des Mines (1807). The Chemin Touristique promenade curves around the rock, and at the base of that arch is a little pond with a water fountain, a remnant of the old meander in the Ourthe.
3. Village de Wéris
Wéris lies within the Durbuy municipality, a ten-minute drive southeast from the city proper through rolling farms and woodland.
There are a few reasons to make the journey, but one of the main ones is that this is designated one of Wallonia’s most beautiful villages (Les Plus Beaux Villages de Wallonie). Defining Wéris’ silhouette for as long as 1,000 years is the Romanesque Église Sainte-Walburge, which we’ll talk about in more detail later.
On a plateau, ensconced in meadows and pasture, the village has a tight knot of little lanes flanked by extremely pretty houses of limestone and sandstone, many with timber frames.
4. Wéris Megaliths
Wéris is also celebrated for the many Neolithic monuments just west of the village.
Hewn from conglomerate, these are stretched out in a rough line, some eight kilometres long.
The monuments date from around 5,000 BCE, and include dolmens (chamber tombs) and menhirs (standing stones) with a concentration that is unheard of anywhere else in Belgium.
There are numerous menhirs visible next to the road, especially to the southwest of the village.
But the two main dolmens are labelled Wéris I, to the northwest, and Wéris II to the southwest.
The former is the larger of the two, though had been looted centuries ago.
An excavation of the latter yielded lots of interesting finds, like the bones of four humans, shards of pottery and flint tools.
Charcoal and animal bones suggested that a ritual funerary meal had taken place here.
5. Musée des Mégalithes de Wéris
Back in the village of Wéris you can get some context about the 5,000-year-old monuments strewn across the area.
The museum was set up in 1994 and explains the changes in agriculture and animal husbandry that took place around 3000 BCE and helped give rise to these menhirs and dolmens.
There are dioramas depicting a settlement from the period, as well as a nomadic camp and a megalith under construction.
A 12-minute movie shows this Neolithic heritage in a new light, and there are brochures, maps and books to help you plan your next move.
6. Halle aux Blés
A sight to behold on your walk around Durbuy is this half-timbered market hall sitting in a picture-perfect row of old houses.
The Halle aux Blés (corn exchange) was mentioned as early as 1380 and gained its current appearance in the 1530s.
It’s a magnificent testament to Durbuy’s prosperity at the time on the back of a burgeoning steel industry.
In 1976 the building was classified “Exceptional Heritage of Wallonia”. Since the 2000s the Halle aux Blés has hosted Durbuy’s Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art.
Go in to see what’s on, but also to check out a model that shows what the hall looked like in its market days before it lost its rear half in 1639.
7. Le Labyrinthe
Every year from July to October, an 11-hectare cornfield in nearby Barvaux-sur-Ourthe is turned into a vast maze.
The first season was 1997, and since then Le Labyrinthe has a new theme with each year.
The 2019 edition was based on the much-loved novella Le Petit Prince, and previous iterations have taken inspiration from Aladdin, Peter Pan, Tintin and Tarzan.
Bringing an extra layer of fun, the maze has a small cast of costumed actors.
Over the years Le Labyrinthe has grown into a fully-fledged theme park, with additional problems to be solved in the dark using codes in the maze of many doors.
There’s also a littler maze for kids aged three to eight and a maze where you can learn about biodiversity.
8. Château des Comtes d’Ursel
One of the sights that lends such gravitas to Durbuy’s townscape is the château dominating the right bank of the Ourthe.
You can take a good look on the opposite bank next to the bridge, where there’s a little terrace with a bench in the shade of a big lime tree.
The first written mention of a castle on this rocky spur was in the 11th century, but it is thought that there was a castle here a couple of hundred year before.
The property has been the seat of the Ursel Family since the 17th century, and the current 18th-century building was constructed on the ruins of the Medieval castle and given a Renaissance Revival restoration by the Countess of Ursel in the 1880s.
The Château des Comtes d’Ursel is closed to the public but captures your gaze with its imperious towers and the tight rows of dormers on its roof.
9. Topiary Park
On the left bank of the Ourthe with the towers of the Château des Comtes d’Ursel in the background is a garden 10,000 square metres in size, growing more than 250 imaginative topiaries.
Most of these creations have been fashioned from boxwood, but there are a few holly and yew bushes as well.
Re-imagined for each new season, the topiaries are clipped with real skill into abstract shapes, cartoonish human figures, animals and objects.
The garden’s paths are trimmed with neat boxwood hedges and in summer there are almost 40 flowerbeds ablaze with blooms.
Also at the Topiary Park is Herba Sana, a garden growing a wealth of carefully labelled medicinal plants.
10. Les Escaliers des Béguines
Around Durbuy you’ll see lots of references to the Recollectine nuns, who played a prominent role in town life in the 17th and 18th centuries.
They opened a pharmacy, built a bridge and founded a school as well as a beguinage, accommodating a community of lay religious women (beguines). They have also been credited with cutting this stairway out of the anticline, named for the beguines.
The going is steep, but there are 172 steps to the top, and awaiting you at the summit is a striking view from the very top of the town.
11. Église Sainte-Walburge
More on the church at the centre of Wéris, which is mostly Romanesque and has been standing in some form since the 1000s.
The oldest stonework is on the square tower, which was once used for the defence of the village and equipped with arrow loops.
Also typically Romanesque is the semicircular apse, with walls punctuated by round-arched windows.
Gothic modifications were made in the 16th century, which is the origin of the chapel to the right of the choir and the tabernacle.
On the walls are several memorial stones and carved crosses, and a wooden carved image of Saint Walpurga, from the 1500s.
12. Église Saint-Nicolas
The convent church built for Durbuy’s Recollects order was the present day Église Saint-Nicolas, begun in 1630 and consecrated in 1643. The church abuts the old convent buildings, and after the Recollects were suppressed in 1797 the convent church became a parish church.
For a town of Durbuy’s size, the Église Saint-Nicolas has surprising proportions, at almost 40 metres long.
Essential inside are the pulpit, with wonderfully intricate carving, and the baptismal font, both from the 17th century.
13. Adventure Valley Durbuy
The smallest city in Belgium is the site of the largest outdoor adventure attraction in the country, based at a former quarry.
The list of activities available at Adventure Valley is big, and includes a treetop high ropes course, a via ferrata climbing trail, ziplines, mountain biking, laser tag, caving and a variety of playgrounds for kids.
Adventure Valley also offers overnight stays, glamping, in bungalows, holiday homes, chalets and villas.
Entrance for visitors is free, and you either pay individual activities or purchase colour-coded wristbands for unlimited access to certain facilities.
14. Caves of Hotton
There’s an exciting set of caves about 15 minutes south of Durbuy.
Hollowed out by an underground river, the Caves of Hotton consist of more than eight kilometres of chambers sinking to a maximum depth of 65 metres.
You’ll descend into this subterranean world via a stairway and elevator before journeying through a maze of galleries filled with bizarre concretions in varying hues.
You’ll get to peer into a 30-metre abyss and hear the roar of that underground river.
The biggest thrill of all awaits you at the immense Galerie du Spéléo Club de Belgique, the largest subterranean chamber in Belgium at 200 metres long, 35 metres wide and 10 metres deep.
At another old quarry, the system was hidden until as recently as 1958, and has a year-round temperature of 12°C.
15. Château de Logne
Balanced on a rocky outcrop where the Lembrée stream enters the Ourthe are the mysterious ruins of a Medieval castle.
This stronghold dates to the early 1100s, although there’s mention of a fortification at this site from the 9th century.
The castle we see now was ordered by Father Wibald of the Princely Abbey of Stavelot-Malmedy, to defend its western border.
A village was founded below to help supply the garrison posted at the castle.
The Château de Logne was given a new enclosure at the end of the 15th century, but its end would come a short time later in 1521 when the Duke of Bouillon Robert II de la Marck took up sides with Francis I of France against Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, in the Italian Wars.
In response, the castle was bombarded by 21 heavy guns and the onslaught’s survivors either took their own lives or were executed.
From 1990 to 2003 the castle’s 56-metre well was excavated yielding many centuries of domestic refuse, but also weapons and artillery projectiles.
These have gone on show at the Musée du Château Fort de Logne at the Bouverie farm 1km away in the village of Vieuxville.