The smallest of towns in this region feature fabulous medieval city centres, complete with belfries and begijnhoven. Bruges and Ghent top the bill, but even lesser-known places such as Oudenaarde and Veurne retain wonderfully picturesque town squares. Ypres and Diksmuide are charming, too, and all the more extraordinary for having been meticulously rebuilt following WWI.
This region’s undisputed centre is dynamic Antwerp, a historic port and diamond-trading city currently basking in a third golden age that has made it one of Europe’s more unlikely design and music hubs. Flush with a globally significant fashion, drinking and clubbing scene it may be, but it also retains a small-city friendliness and ease.
If you’re looking for outdoor activities, fresh air and greenery, head for Belgium’s southeastern corner. Here you’ll find meandering rivers, dramatic cave systems, forested hills and deep valleys. There are some really special landscapes here, with picture-perfect castle-topped medieval towns crowded into sweeping bends in a verdant-banked river.
Virtually all of Belgium’s 66km coastline is fronted with a superbly wide, hard-sand beach. However, while some remnant sand dunes survive, the coast is predominantly backed by a succession of bland, concrete-blighted resorts. De Haan, central Nieuwpoort and outer parts of wealthy Knokke-Heist are the only real exceptions.
Wallonia’s largest city has a bit of a downbeat feel at first glance, but don't be deceived. It doesn’t take much scratching to discover an entirely different Liège, a living architectural onion with layer upon layer of history lying just beneath the disfigured surface. Proudly free-spirited citizens are disarmingly friendly and no Belgian city bubbles with more joie de vivre.
With Belgium’s foremost cathedral, a superb central square and a scattering of intriguing museums, Mechelen (Malines in French) is one of Flanders’ most underrated historic cities. And, as the seat of Belgium's Catholic primate (the equivalent of an archbishop), it is overloaded with fine churches.