The Most Beautiful Gothic Town Halls Of Belgium

Aalst's Belfry and its former City Hall | © Tasos Kostopoulos/Flickr
Aalst's Belfry and its former City Hall | © Tasos Kostopoulos/Flickr
Photo of Nana Van De Poel
9 February 2017

If you’re looking to be impressed by old world splendor during your travels, turn to Belgium’s Gothic city halls. Whether topped by Archangel Michael or a somewhat goofy town hero, all are shining examples of the enormous effort that these cities put into their external prestige from the 13th century onward.


It’s easy to see where Oudenaarde, that historic city by the river Schelde where Charles V fell in love, gets its charm. “There’s no detail in this marvelous building that’s not worth being viewed,” legendary French writer Victor Hugo once raved about its City Hall that includes a mighty Belfort tower. This shining example of late Brabantian Gothic is topped by a gilded red copper statue of ‘Hanske the Warrior,’ the city’s emblem and rather lazy local hero. Legend has it that Hanske, who was supposed to be on watch duty, didn’t see Charles V coming after he’d dozed off after drinking a little too much of Oudenaarde’s delicious beer.

Oudenaarde Town Hall | © PMRMaeyaert/Wikimedia Commons


The Gothic style was really all about radiating power and prosperity, so why not depict the powers that be right there on the city’s beating political heart? Fourteen Counts of Flanders have been looking out over the Kortrijk’s main market square for four centuries now, immortalized in stone statues on the Kortrijk Town Hall. Despite many changes and even some cases of vandalism in the 18th century, the Counts’ likenesses managed to survive and are the Town Hall’s pièce de résistance next to its Late Gothic chimneys that date back to 1527. Inside, the city houses its collection of rare topographical maps, with a mural by Jan van Imschoot giving the place a modern touch.

Kortrijk City Hall | © Marc Vermeisch/Wikimedia Commons


A former city hall and current Aldermen’s House, Aalst’s Belfry is an eclectic mix of parts built in the Early, Middle and Late Gothic style, which, against all odds, has actually resulted in it becoming one of the most elegant city halls in all of the country. The add-on of an extravagantly adorned Late Gothic field house in the front contrasts nicely with its more sober octagonal tower, making one of the oldest city halls in the Low Countries (1407) also one of the most beautiful. Combine that with the chiming of its old carillon every 15 minutes, and you’ll really get a feel for history standing in front of this beauty. Displaying a little typical medieval coarseness, the locals have even taken to nicknaming the Belfry ‘titty tower,’ for its clocks’ resemblance to a woman’s breasts.

Aalst’s Belfry and its former City Hall | © Tasos Kostopoulos/Flickr


With the entire historic center of Bruges being classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it goes to figure that the building that has been at the heart of its government for over six centuries would be a splendid one. Again, we’re talking about one of the oldest ones in the Low Countries, with the first brick being laid as early as 1376. Its Gothic Hall with its polychrome vaulted ceiling is a work of art in its own right, and the 19th-century murals provide you with a trip down ancient memory lane to the days when quaint Bruges was Belgium’s biggest economic player.

Inside Bruges’ City Hall Gothic Hall | © Tanya Hart/Flickr


If you thought Kortrijk’s Counts brought a little extra oomph to its city hall’s façade, a true army awaits you in the alcoves of Brussels’. The band of Belgian historical figures staring down at the visitors of the Grand Place hasn’t always been there. Though the Town Hall has proudly stood watch over the city ever since the 13th century, the rows and rows of statues that determine its royal look today are a product of an 1843 decision by the city council to have more than 90 different local artists sculpt close to 300 statues. Meant to establish Brussels as a prosperous and cultured hub in the wake of the nation’s fresh independence, the building is one of the country’s most precious architectural gems, of course, protected with a World Heritage label.

Brussels City Hall | © Dennis Jarvis/Flickr


The pride and joy of student town Leuven is its City Hall, in many ways the mirror image of its Brussels counterpart. Again, the ‘hall of fame’ on the front was a result of young Belgium’s search for identity in the middle of the 19th century. Either that or the city council might just have listened to Victor Hugo’s advice when he wrote them a letter concerning the bareness of their City Hall’s façade in February 1852, impressing on them that ‘… a civil or church building with empty alcoves is like a book with empty pages.’

Leuven City Hall up close | © Leonardo Barrichello/Flickr

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel – and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Epic Trips, Mini Trips and Sailing Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travellers and friends who want to explore the world together.

Epic Trips are deeply immersive 8 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and enough down time to really relax and soak it all in. Our Mini Trips are small and mighty - they squeeze all the excitement and authenticity of our longer Epic Trips into a manageable 3-5 day window. Our Sailing Trips invite you to spend a week experiencing the best of the sea and land in the Caribbean and the Mediterranean.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm – and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.

Cookies Policy

We and our partners use cookies to better understand your needs, improve performance and provide you with personalised content and advertisements. To allow us to provide a better and more tailored experience please click "OK"