As you might notice from the equine monument on the main market square, horses have had an important place in the heritage of this city in the Leie Valley.
From the 18th century Waregem was a stop on the coaching road between Kortrijk and Ghent.
Later, in the middle of the 19th century, the city became the venue for an enduring horserace, the Grote Steeple-Chase van Vlaanderen (Great Steeple Chase of Flanders), which moved to a purpose-built racecourse in 1855. That course, the Hippodroom van Waregem, is one of the few remaining in Belgium and is packed out every August for meets during the Waregem Koerse Feesten, when there’s also live music and fun for kids.
Some of the last fighting in the First World War happened around Waregem, marked by Flanders Field American Cemetery and Memorial.
1. Park Baron Casier
Waregem’s municipal park could hardly be closer to the centre of town, at just two minutes on foot from the Markt square.
Added to that, this green lung is a genteel sort of place, on the grounds of a Neoclassical mansion.
Baron Casier moved here in 1897, adding a southern wing, and his descendants would stay until 1977 when the city took over.
In eight hectares you can wander among the groves of mature trees, the ponds with fountains and the perfect lawns crossed by meandering paths.
That mansion now holds a contemporary bar-bistro, if you’re in need of something cold after a summer stroll.
2. S.V. Zulte Waregem
Waregem has its own top-flight football team, which got promoted to the Belgian First Division A in 2005 and has stayed there ever since.
S.V. Zulte Waregem have progressed over the last 15 years, and often compete in the Europa League group stages.
Belgian football is seen as a proving ground for Europe’s top footballers, and some famous players to have worn S.V. Zulte Waregem red and green jersey are Thorgan Hazard, Thomas Buffel, Nikica Jelavić and Saido Berahino who joined in summer 2019. The home ground is the 12,414-capacity Regenboogstadion (Rainbow Stadium), which sits next to fishing ponds in a pleasant landscaped area in the centre of Waregem.
3. Hippodroom van Waregem
Something that raises Waregem’s profile is the racecourse that was plotted on the Gaverbeek stream back in 1855. That stream, which passes in front of the grandstand, is part of the course design and a natural obstacle.
The big milestone in the calendar is the Grote Steeple-Chase van Vlaanderen, 4,600 metres long, with 25 obstacles, and run on a Tuesday towards the end of August.
The race draws a massive crowd and takes place during a week of celebrations, called the Waregem Koerse Feesten and kicking off on the previous Sunday.
There’s also a 1,106 flat track for trotting races at the Hippodroom van Waregem, scheduled from May to September.
In 2017 a visitor centre opened on the south side of the racecourse, focussing on the First World War.
Waregem is the location for the Flanders Field American Cemetery, and the two-pronged exhibition At HIPPO.WAR partly recounts the role of the US Army around Waregem in the closing stages of the First World War.
You can study photographs, footage, audio clips, uniforms, equipment, and read moving letters from family members of servicemen laid to rest at the cemetery.
HIPPO.WAR also looks into the role of horses in the conflict, and has a display of original bridles, a re-created horse hospital and a genuine skeleton of a horse from the war.
The exhibition explains the many important jobs filled by horses, from carrying mounted cavalry to running supply lines.
5. Goed te Nieuwenhove
What awaits you at this bucolic site south-west of Waregem are the domestic buildings for the now lost Castle of Nieuwenhove.
The first written mention of an estate here goes back to 1403, and archaeological surveys have revealed Gallo-Roman occupation.
The castle was demolished during the French Revolution, while the architecture of the surviving courtyard is from a little earlier in the 18th century.
There’s a residential house, half-timbered barn, a red brick dovecote and gatehouse.
You’ll notice that there’s a slight distance between all the buildings, and this is a measure to prevent the spread of fire.
6. ‘T Gaverhopke
In 2015 this local, family-run brewery moved to the Goed te Nieuwenhove’s courtyard.
‘T Gaverhopke has been in business since 1994 and brews ten regular beers, among them an abbey tripel, a double IPA, cherry-infused kriek and a handful of blonds of varying potency.
The flagship may be Den 12, a full, rich dark beer with chocolate and raisin notes.
The tasting room is open on weekends from 15:00, as well as Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays (11:00-18:00) between May and September.
There’s also a menu for light meals and snacks, and littler visitors will be pleased with the playground and bouncy castle in the courtyard.
A platform for contemporary art in south-west Flanders, Be-Part has two locations in Kortrijk and here in Waregem, just off the R35 (Westerlaan). Dealing mainly with visual art, this centre also explores overlapping disciplines to present contemporary art in all its diversity and introduce the public to emerging trends and debates in the art world.
When we wrote this list in early 2020 there had just been a show, In the Hands of Puppets, by the Brussels installation artists Sarah & Charles.
The Be-Part complex also has a studio for resident artists and has a programme of workshops aimed mainly at helping children discover art in a playful way.
8. Flanders Field American Cemetery and Memorial
The only United States World War I cemetery in Belgium is in the south-east of Waregem.
One of the many poignant things about the cemetery is that most of its 368 burials (43 unknown) were killed in the closing days of the War, between October 30 and November 11. This cemetery is on the battleground at Spitaals Bosschen, where the 91st Division fought an action in the wider Ypres-Lys Campaign.
You can visit all year round and there’s a monument by French-born American architect Paul Philippe Cret (1876-1945). In 2017 a visitor centre opened in the cemetery’s former superintendent’s quarters, explaining US involvement in Belgium in WWI and telling the stories of some of the men buried here.
9. Roger Raveelmuseum
The painter and graphic artist Roger Raveel (1921-2013) was born 15 minutes away in the village of Machelen, where he would return and spend much of his life.
Raveel’s work tends to depict everyday items, which means he’s often identified as a Pop Artist.
At his museum in Machelen you can follow his progress, from abstract to figurative, in a contemporary building designed by Flemish architect Stéphane Beel.
There are more than 300 paintings, 2,500 drawings and a comprehensive collection of sketches.
Also take a look around Machelen to view Raveel’s three “columns of the unrestricted”, public artworks installed in 2011.
Cyclists from most other countries will be thrilled with the network of designated paths in West Flanders, well-maintained and adding up to almost 3,180 kilometres.
It’s easy to orient yourself on this system, using the 1,045 numbered junctions or “knooppunten”. You can buy a guide to these junctions from the tourist office in Waregem.
Off the network there’s a signposted cycling loop that ushers you through the border region between East and West Flanders.
The pastoral Gaverbeekroute departs from Park Baron Casier for a 35-kilometre ride along the Leie Valley, before cutting east into the foothills of the Flemish Ardennes and then turning back towards Waregem through the forests of Oud-Moregem and Wortegem.
The Regenboogstadion was built in 1957, next to what had previously been a parcel of swampy ground along the Gaverbeek.
This space had been left undeveloped until the 20th century when a local doctor built the pond on what was then a private plot.
In the interwar years this was opened it up to the people of the town, and so founding Vaders Woud, Waregem’s first public park.
The city council bought the land after the Second World War and excavated the ponds as part of a recreation park that included the football stadium.
This is also the origin of the long footbridge, crossing the largest pond towards the stadium.
With ample grass, shady trees, playground and a couple of places to grab a coffee, it’s all a great setting for a stroll, bike ride or morning run, and on warm days you’ll pass anglers huddled on the banks.
12. Beukenhof Vichte
Close by in Vichte there’s an adorable little park open to the public around a neo-Renaissance château from 1876. This was built for the town’s mayor and remained in the family for a century, before being sold to Vichte in the 1970s.
There are several outbuildings on the site, including a gardener’s house and porter’s house, while the sheds and stables are now occupied by youth groups from the town.
The château itself has housed a bistro since the 2000s, and the park, full of native vegetation, is a refreshing place to stretch your legs, with a butterfly garden teeming with life and colour in summer.
13. Uitkijktoren Kruishoutem
In Kruisem an unassuming lookout tower has recently been spruced up with an orientation table.
This 30-metre construction was inaugurated in 1963 and is built from repurposed concrete telegraph poles.
The location is no coincidence, as from this spot there are picturesque vistas back over the Lower Leie Valley towards Zulte and Deinze, as well as down to the rolling hills of the Flemish Ardennes.
14. Brouwerij ‘t Verzet
Off the N382 south-east of Waregem there’s a craft brewery founded by a group of friends in 2011, brewing a mix of traditional and innovative beers, all with a sense of their location in West Flanders.
Brouwerij ‘t Verzet makes seven regulars, like the classic top-fermented Oud Bruin(6%), aged for six months in the bottle, or Moose Blues (7.5%), brewed with Canadian maple syrup, or Golden Tricky (7.5%) made with Australian Ella hops for an almost tropical flavour.
There’s also a selection of Oud Bruin fruit infusions, as well as experimental “Bootleg Beers” in limited runs.
You can book a tour online to hear about how these beers are made on your way past the brew kettles and casks, followed by a guided tasting session.
15. Dwars door Vlaanderen
Waregem is the finish line for a one-day semi-classic professional cycling race, setting off from Roeselare on a 180-kilometre course through Flanders.
This is a stern test, as although the western part of the course is flat, the second half trails through the Flemish Ardennes on cobblestone lanes.
The route changes by the year, but there are always famous climbs like the Taaienberg and Kruisberg, which also feature in the Tour of Flanders a few days later.
The race has been going since 1945, but in 2017 was promoted to the UCI World Tour, raising its profile even further.
Dwars door Vlaanderen is run in late-March and is part of Flemish Cycling Week, in which three important races take place in the region.