This industrial city in West Flanders came through a revival in the 19th century with the completion of the Roeselare-Leie Canal.
In the decades that followed, Roeselare would be described as the Manchester of Belgium, and has a port on the canal still bustling with activity.
In 1875 a young Albrecht Rodenbach, who later became an important poet, led a protest against the use of French in education at the city’s Klein Seminarie (minor seminary), spearheading the Flemish Groote Stooringe student revolt.
This was a big step in the “Dutchization” of Flemish secondary education.
Rodenbach’s namesake is a Roeselare brewery revered for its barrel-aged sours, and a must-visit for beer lovers.
Also waiting to be discovered in the city centre is a UNESCO-listed belfry, a newly updated cycling museum and one of the region’s prime shopping streets (Ooststraat).
1. KOERS. Museum van de Wielersport
Flanders has always enjoyed a distinguished position in the cycling world, but Roeselare is front and centre, having produced Belgium’s first Tour de France winner, Odile Defraye (1888-1965) champion in 1912. KOERS, which opened at the ornate former fire station on Polenplein in 1998, documents the history of competitive cycling, but also the evolution of the bike.
You’ll find out how the design of racing bikes have been tweaked down the years, and follow the bicycle’s 18th and 19th-century journy via balance bike, vélocipède and penny farthing.
In one room you’ll get to know the four world champions to have hailed from Roeselare, and there’s plenty of space given to Jean-Pierre Monseré who died at just 22 years old while world champion.
After a four-year revamp the attraction reopened in 2018, with an integrated tourism centre, a bike shop, library and a hub for long-distance cyclists, complete with showers and e-bike charging points.
2. Rodenbach Brewery
Coming up for its bicentenary, Rodenbach is a name revered in beer circles.
The brewery specialises in a Vlaams rood bruin (Flemish red-brown) beer that after fermentation is allowed to mature in giant oak barrels for various lengths of time.
The oldest of these barrels date back to 1872. Afterwards the matured beer is then cut with young beer: For instance, Rodenbach’s flagship Grand Cru is a 67% to 33% blend of older and younger beer, with an almost wine-like aroma and a light, refreshing sourness.
As it is now, the brewery complex dates to the 1860s and 70s, and a visitor centre opened for tours in 2001. These take two hours and are available Saturday to Thursday, walking you through Rodenbach’s idiosyncratic brewing process, and letting you sample a cold Grand Cru and Rodenbach Original.
Most of Roeselare was razed by a fire in 1488, and what was then the only church in the city was reconstructed in a Late Gothic style at the beginning of the 16th century.
Today, the 65-metre tower is one of Roeselare’s main identifiers, and was topped with a Baroque dome and lantern after sustaining damage in the 1730s.
The tower is 12 storeys high and houses 75 bells and two carillons.
In a corner at the back of the nave sits Sint-Michielskerk’s foremost monument, a recumbent tomb carved in 1504 for Jan van Kleef and his wife Johanna van Lichtervelde.
Also take time to admire the Baroque pulpit and a beautiful assortment of paintings by renowned Flemish painters like Ferdinand Callebert and Bernad Mioen.
The tower commanding the south side of Roeselare’s Grote Markt square is one of 56 in Belgium and northern France to be listed in one UNESCO World Heritage Site.
What’s peculiar about this one is that it only dates back to 1924, although the Louis XV-style city hall that it grows out of was ready in 1771. If you’re interested in viewing the inside you can sign up for a guided tour.
There are portraits of all of Roeselare’s mayors from 1830 to the present, the Gemeenteraadzaal (municipal council room) holds onto its original Louis XV decoration, while in the conference room is a painting depicting the city’s layout as it was in the 17th century.
5. Rumbeke Castle
In its current iteration this property on Roeselare’s outskirts was one of the first castles to be built in the Renaissance style in Belgium.
Rumbeke Castle has a distinct Flemish Renaissance design dating back to 1538, but is on a site that had been occupied for centuries before.
Legend has it that Baldwin Iron Arm, the 9th-century first Margrave of Flanders, kidnapped Carolingian King Charles the Bald’s daughter Judith from Senlis and brought her to a fortress at this location.
It’s a stunning sight, still ringed by a moat, and with a brasserie on a terrace by the water and an excellent children’s playground.
The castle’s 27-hectare estate also demands some exploration and is remarkable for its mature forest and a plan that dates to the 1770s.
At that time the whole estate was re-landscaped, and given a system of alleys that converge at a single point.
This is where the name Sterrebos (star forest) comes from, and the design is borrowed from the famous Prater park in Vienna.
These lanes will take you through beautiful beech and oak forest, as well as meadows embroidered with wildflowers in early summer.
Right in front of the castle is a monumental plane tree, 200 years old.
Come in winter and you might just see a long-eared owl swooping around the castle’s moat.
Connecting Grote Markt and Roeselare’s station square is one of the top shopping streets in West Flanders.
This is also among the oldest streets in the city, growing in importance with the arrival of the railway in the mid-19th century.
The ground floor of every building on Oostraat has a shop or catering establishment, while the east end is pedestrianised and the remainder of the street has one-way traffic and widened pavements for shoppers.
And allied with brands like Zara, H&M, Women’s Secret, C&A, Springfield and Jack & Jones, there’s some lovely Eclectic and Art Nouveau architecture to appreciate.
Finest of all is the old post office (1903) at No. 35, now a cultural centre.
8. Grote Markt
The square on the north side of the Stadhuis is at a nexus point in the old city and is as sociable as you’d hope, with bars, restaurants, cafes and ice cream parlours on the north, east and west sides.
An extra interesting detail about Grote Markt is the lost 13th-century cloth hall and original belfry that collapsed in 1704. Following excavations in the 20th-century the footprint of this complex is marked in the square’s paving.
Grote Markt escaped significant damage in the First World War and has a spectrum of styles, but mostly Neoclassical from the late-19th century and Art Deco from the 1920s.
9. Roeselare–Leie Canal
This artificial waterway was dug through the Mandel valley across ten years between 1862 and 1872, and is 16.5 kilometres long.
The Roeselare–Leie Canal still has an industrial purpose thanks to Roeselare’s thriving inland port.
This is the base for animal feed manufacturers like Debaillie and Hendrix, and is worth a look for the enormous grain silos that have been given ultra-realistic murals in the last few years.
Away from the port the canal’s towpath becomes a gentle way to enjoy the countryside in the Mandel Valley, by bike or on foot.
Maybe the prettiest piece is in Ingelmunster, where the canal passes through the Mandelhoek nature reserve and past the southern end of the wooded estate of Ingelmunster Castle.
10. Stadswandeling (City Walking Tour)
Dipping into Roeselare it will become clear just how dynamic this city is, and how easy it would be to miss out on a shop, sight or piece of art without a guide.
The tourist office has set out a regularly updated walking tour, covering plenty of pop-up shops and attractions that won’t be around for long.
Priced at €2, the tour takes in museums, heritage, cafes, restaurants and a lot more.
11. Michels Filmmuseum
There are interesting private museums and then there’s Michels Filmmuseum, one movie buff’s ode to the silver screen.
Here Michiel Remaut presents a hoard of almost 1,500 projectors and cameras, collected over decades since he was just seven years old and summing up 20th-century cinema’s technical progress.
This equipment is neatly displayed in a well-lit warehouse and accompanied by informative descriptions.
Also at the museum is a 60-seater auditorium, where part of the experience is to hear a mechanical projector whirring, as opposed to the silent digital projectors used in modern cinemas.
Michiels Filmmuseum is at Gladiolenstraat 15 and you’ll need to phone ahead to arrange a time.
An exciting addition to Roeselare’s cityscape is this slick, glass-clad building, found a little way north of Grote Markt.
ARhus (2014) is essentially a library, but incorporates a knowledge and “learning centre”. Being a public amenity it’s a building that is well worth seeing inside, and you can make your way up to a terrace for what is probably the best view of Roeselare’s skyline.
On the first floor is the ARhus Café, which is open seven days and in early 2020 had some interesting choices like veal steak saltimboca and pan-fried walleye with parsnip puree and horseradish sauce.
13. Eperon d’Or
Strictly speaking, this industrial museum is in Izegem but the journey from Roeselare is negligible, at ten minutes.
Eperon d’Or is in an Art Deco shoe factory from 1930 and that can only be described as refined.
The Vandommele company that owned this factory can be traced back to 1863, and moved to this spot in 1909. Vandommele was at the upper end of the market, making many of its shoes by hand: Even by the time the factory shut down in 1968 only a portion of the brand’s range was produced by machine.
The museum, which only opened in 2017, charts the history of Izegem’s shoe and brush industries beginning in the early 19th century.
The finest pieces in the collection are from the 1920s and 30s when Izegem’s luxury women’s shoe industry was at its peak.
14. Bierkasteel Brouwerij Van Honsebrouck
In 2016 the Van Honsebrouck Brewery, founded as long ago as 1900, moved into a new, purpose-built headquarters known as the Bierkasteel (Beer Castle). Van Honsebrouck produces a whole spectrum of beers, including a tripel, blond, a dark beer (donker), a line of lambics infused with fruit, as well as a special aged brews and beers blended with liqueurs.
The new brewery has a fabulous visitor centre, where a professional guide will be ready to take you on a 90-minute guided tour behind the scenes.
This comes with tons of multimedia, and an audio handset in five different languages.
You’ll be able to taste two of Van Honsebrouck’s specialty beers and will be given a 75cl bottle of specialty beer to take home.
15. Oude Stedelijke Begraafplaats
This urban cemetery is often called the parkbegraafplaats (park cemetery) for the richness of its landscaping and monuments.
It dates back to 1806 and is a burial place for people from all walks of life, from civilians to fallen Belgian, French and British First World War soldiers to priests and monks.
Information boards have been added to each of the cemetery’s sections.
One burial monument from the First World War that will hold your attention is that of French soldier Ferdinand le Hétet, who stayed behind in Roeselare in October 1914 to allow his fellow soldiers to pull out.
His tomb is loaded with symbolism, in the shape of a ruined pillar, helmet, gun, laurel wreath and whitewash.
Maybe the most prestigious civilian burial is the Flemish poet Albrecht Rodenbach (1856-1880) a figurehead for the 19th-century Flemish movement and revival of Flemish literature.