The capital of Belgium’s German-speaking community is on the margins of the High Fens, a plateau of raised peat bogs and moorland at the highest point in the country.
Eupen’s character is still defined by a sheet and drapery industry that reached its apogee in the 18th century.
The cityscape is endowed with lots of elaborate Baroque architecture, and the 18th-century interior if the parish church is nothing short of magnificent.
The Hautes Fagnes-Eifel Nature Park, safeguarding some of the High Fens countryside, is a vast protected space beginning on Eupen’s outskirts and bleeding into Germany.
And at this high elevation, the city is between two reservoirs that provide drinking water for millions of people, Lac d’Eupen and Lac de la Gileppe.
1. St. Nikolaus
At the highest point of Eupen’s upper town (Oberstadt) rises the majestic double towers of the parish church of St Nicholas.
In an Aachen Baroque style, this splendid three-aisled construction went up in the 1720s, although if you inspect the rustic stonework on the lower part of the southern bell tower you won’t be surprised that it comes from an older church dating back to the 12th century.
The interior is very theatrical, in the Liège and Aachn Baroque, and showing the sort of money in Eupen’s coffers when the woollen cloth trade was peaking.
Those wealthy cloth merchants donated the stupendous high altar, by Aachen artist Johann Joseph Couven (1701-1763), and be sure to take in the confessionals and pulpit (both 1730s), as well as the organ from the 1760s by Liège builder Guillaume Robustelly (d. 1793). The side altars for Mary and St Anne were produced in the 1770s, while the church’s 84 pews were sculpted from oak and still bear the names of Eupen’s dignitaries from the 18th and 19th centuries.
In 1993 Eupen was chosen as the location for an international contemporary art centre, partly because of its setting at the crossroads of Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.
This is the only art museum in the German-speaking Community of Belgium, anticipating future trends in art and setting up the IKOB Art Prize, awarded every three years to emerging artists.
When we wrote this article there were temporary exhibitions for video/installation artist Helen Anna Flanagan and “plastic illustrator” Francis Feidler.
In the last 25+ years the museum has also built up a collection of work by the likes of Günther Förg, Patrick Everaert, Jonathan Meese, Johan Tahon and Guillaume Bijl.
3. Hautes Fagnes-Eifel Nature Park
South of Eupen is the High Fens, a plateau of raised peat bogs and moorland that originated in the last Ice Age, some 7,500 years ago.
A portion of this landscape has been protected in an immense cross-border nature park, adding up to almost 250,000 hectares, 70,000 of which are in Belgium.
Given it’s scale, the Hautes Fagnes-Eifel Nature Park is embroidered with all sorts of other scenery, from trickling streams to epic broadleaf valleys, reservoirs and far-flung villages.
Eupen meanwhile is on the edge of the plateau, and here the countryside is all wooded hills and rolling pasture speckled with dairy cattle.
If you want to experience the High Fens in all their moody glory, the plateau is minutes away by car.
At the Maison du Parc-Botrange visitor centre, near Belgium’s highest point, you can find out all about this wild landscape and traverse the bogs on a boardwalk.
4. Lake Eupen
This scenic reservoir on the edge of the High Fens was formed by the construction of a 63-metre-high dam at the confluence of the Vesdre River (Weser) and Getz rivers, between 1938 and 1950. Another stream, the Helle also feeds the reservoir via a 1.5-kilometre tunnel.
The reservoir covers 126 hectares and provides water for the Eupen, Spa and Seraing regions.
You can ride or walk around the lakeshore, on a RAVeL course laid down when the dam was built.
The dam is an imposing structure and commands a stirring view along the valley.
There’s also a visitor centre with a cafe and playground, and a 2.5-kilometre family-oriented walk through the forest.
5. Stadtmuseum Eupen
The stately Mosan Renaissance townhouse, Haus de Ru’s at Gospertstraße 52 is one of many clues around Eupen of the cloth-making industry that prospered from the 16th century onwards.
In 1980 it became home to Eupen’s municipal museum, and this reopened in 2019 with a modern extension beside it.
Needless to say, the permanent exhibition puts an emphasis on the cloth trade, and you can discover the various techniques for making these fine-woollen fabrics, as well as the sort of lifestyles their sale afforded wealthy merchants.
One pivotal moment documented here is a weavers’ uprising in 1821, after a mechanical cloth clipper had been introduced.
There’s also a complete chronology of Eupen, a display of carnival costumes, many depictions of the changing cityscape, and a watch cabinet with antique timepieces made in the city.
6. K.A.S. Eupen
The local team, Königliche Allgemeine Sportvereinigung Eupen, was founded in 1945 and has spent much of the last 75 years kicking around Belgium’s lower amateur divisions.
Things took a turn for the better in the 2010s when Eupen were bought by Qatar’s Aspire Zone Foundation (also in charge of Paris Saint-Germain), and since then the “Pandas” have established a foothold in the Belgian First Division A.
In a league renowned as a breeding ground for top-class football talent, Eupen’s Kehrwegstadion is a place where you can see potential stars learning their trade.
7. Park Moorenhöhe
From this belvedere in the south of the city you can contemplate Eupen and the low, dark green slopes of the Hertogenwald behind.
Paved with stone and bounded by elegant iron railings, Park Moorenhöhe is more an observation point than a park, and takes its name from Eupen’s late-19th-century mayor Theodor Mooren (1881-1905). Mooren is remembered for his efforts to beautify the city, his motto being, “Plant a tree in every empty space!”, (Auf jeden leeren Raum pflanze einen Baum!).
8. Centre Nature Haus Ternell
To help you get to know the ecology and history of the High Fens landscape there’s a visitor centre right in the heart of Hertogenwald, close to the Weser Dam.
In spring and summer there are regular guided walks setting off from the centre, in German, French and Dutch.
Go in for a small natural history museum about the High Fens, explaining their origins with the help of dioramas, and showing off the biodiversity of today.
There’s a welcoming cafe restaurant making regional specialities and stocking a variety of Belgian beers, and wee ones can burn off any extra energy at the playground.
Come winter Haus Ternell is a departure point for cross-country ski trails and you can hire a pair of skis from the centre.
This chapel on the east side of Werthplatz makes an impact for its grand western frontage, which was constructed in 1821-22, while the rest of the building is mostly from the end of the 17th century.
Werthkapelle was founded by the local Klebanck draper family, and testifies to the wealth of this trade in Eupen some 300 years ago.
Over the pediment on the main portal is a niche with a statue of Saint Lambert, 7th-century Bishop of Maastricht-Liège.
Within, take a look at the main altar from1694, the partially gilded oak pulpit from 1720 carved with the Klebanck coat of arms, a communion bench of polished Dolhain granite (1740) and two consoles from the late-18th century.
Since 2014 the Werthkapelle has been a combined place of worship for Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox congregations.
10. Historic Residences
Eupen is replete with beautiful, mostly baroque cloth-making houses from the 18th century, many attached to enclosed courtyards where the fabric would be produced.
A lot of these houses, with mansard roofs, pediments and quoins, have been repurposed as government buildings.
The grandest of all has to be the townhouse Haus Mennicken (1744), where Gospertstraße meets Werthplatz.
Also splendid is the factory building at Klötzerbahn 34 (1761-63), now HQ for the German-Speaking Community of Belgium.
This sits opposite another courtyarded house at No. 27, from 1757. The marvellous property at Kaperberg 2–4 houses Eupen’s State Archives, and the parliament of the German-speaking Community used to meet at another cloth-makers’ house next door at No. 8 (1812).
11. Cultural Centre Alter Schlachthof
Around the corner from IKOB, Eupen’s former slaughterhouse has found a new purpose as a performing arts and events centre.
The Alter Schlachthof sits on the right ban of the city stream, in a fine brick industrial complex from the beginning of the 20th century.
Take a look at the centre’s calendar before coming to Eupen as the programme is brimming with live music of all genres, dance, family fun, plays, comedy, as well as a smattering of festivals throughout the year.
Over six weeks in February-March is SCENAR!, now more than two decades old and mixing theatre with dance and circus.
The complex’s old spice house (Gewürzhäuschen) hosts a bistro, open for the bigger performances.
12. Karting Eupen
After an expansion in 2014, this massive facility on an industrial estate out of Eupen is now the largest indoor karting centre in the world.
The new track is 1,100 metres long, and six metres wide, so offering plenty of space for friends to scrap it out and overtake.
The new bridge/tunnel sponsored by Red Bull gives is a nice touch, and the centre is fan-ventilated, so carbon dioxide is not a problem.
There are dozens of karts available, tuned for all experience levels up to professional, including for people with reduced mobility and children.
If you just want to ride along there’s even a two-seater kart.
Free WiFi is provided, and there’s a briefing room, bar, bistro with terrace and even a pro shop with racing gear by brands like Alpine Star.
Book in advance to avoid disappointment.
13. Lac de la Gileppe
There’s another scenic dam and reservoir 15 minutes by road from Eupen couched in the Hertogenwald.
The Lac de Gileppe is one of Europe’s oldest artificial lakes, impounded in 1867 to provide industry in the city of Verviers with water.
That dam was heightened between 1967 and 1971, and rising with it was a monumental lion sculpture weighing 300 tons by Antoine-Félix Bouré (1831-1883). During that project a panoramic tower was built next to the water, at a height of more than 76 metres and with a restaurant on its glazed top floor.
At the bottom of the tower you can rent an e-bike, set off on a hike or test yourself on a high ropes course in the forest.
14. Eupen Carnival
Wallonia has a rich carnival tradition, when the strict norms of everyday life in times past would be turned on their head, and people would take to the streets in fancy dress for dancing and parades.
The celebrations in Eupen are a little different, and originate from the Rhineland to the east.
Here, Carnival all builds up to Shrove Monday (Rosenmontag) instead of Mardi Gras.
From the Thursday before there are daily processions, including one for “old women” (Weibefastnacht) on the Thursday and children (Saturday), as well as a traditional procession on the Sunday, followed by the Rosenmontag parade.
Throughout, Eupen’s streets are a riot of dapper country knaves, two-legged elephants, butterflies, chimney sweeps, giant frogs, Pierrots and much more.
15. Cortège de la Saint Martin à Eupen
Every November 11 there’s an atmospheric procession through Eupen dedicated to the 4th-century saint Martin of Tours, a member of the Roman cavalry.
As a patron saint of anti-poverty, he is venerated for using his sword to cut his cloak in two in the middle of winter to share it with a beggar at Amiens.
On this chilly night, Saint Martin parades through Eupen on horseback, accompanied by 60 Roman soldiers and handing out treats to children on the way.
Lining the route are around 5,000 torches, and at the end of the procession a ceremonial sharing of the cloak takes place on Werthplatz.
This spectacle is held in front of a reproduction of the old city gate of Amiens and ends with an enormous burning pyre.