15 Things To Do in Tournai, Belgium in 2024

Last Updated on February 12, 2024 by Emily Johnson

Tournai, an ancient city straddling the banks of the River Scheldt in Belgium, is a treasure trove of cultural heritage and architectural splendor. With roots stretching back to the Roman era, this city is a living museum, boasting a rich tapestry of history that is woven into the very fabric of its streets and buildings.

Tournai stands out as a serene getaway, inviting travelers to step back in time and immerse themselves in its timeless beauty. From its grandiose cathedral to its quaint cobblestone lanes, Tournai offers a plethora of experiences for those eager to delve into Belgium’s medieval past while enjoying the peaceful charm of a less-traveled destination.

Whether you’re drawn to the awe-inspiring artistry of ancient monuments, the tranquil ambiance of its riverside settings, or the warmth of its local markets and cafes, Tournai is a city that promises to fill your journey with memorable moments.

This guide will introduce you to 15 activities that encapsulate the very essence of Tournai’s enchanting spirit, ensuring that your visit is filled with exploration, discovery, and delight.

Explore the Historic Cathedral of Notre-Dame

As the only Belgian site designated a UNESCO Heritage site for all its 2,300 years of history layered over 6 architectural styles, the Gothic-styled Notre-Dame Cathedral beckons culture explorers. Gawk at two gingerbread-like bell towers capping this cruciform masterpiece.

Marvel at the vast nave lined by soaring columns topped with carved angels. Make out delicate details illustrating biblical tales, gargoyles, and family crests decorating this mammoth landmark so influential across Europe.

Wander Charming Grand Place and Ancient Streets

Picture perfect Grand Place unfolds from the towering cathedral, its 17th century buildings gloriously restored after 1944 WWII bombings, to encircle vibrant cafe terraces perfect for channeling the vintage vibe. Follow atmospheric lanes leading into petite Place Crombez and its rows of classy brasseries encircled by the sparkling Espierres River through charming Passage Lainé, next to the intricate dollhouse facades of the 15th century Butchers’ Hall.

Cruise the River Scenery on La Lilloise Boat Tours

See Tournai from a fun new perspective onboard red-trimmed boats drifting down the Scheldt River and through an underground tunnel granting closeup looks at the massive cathedral and ancient bridges that buses can’t access. Friendly guides narrate escape routes used by Princess Marie-Josè to flee German invaders in 1940. Or pack a picnic lunch and cool drinks for longer cruises through idyllic countryside landscapes dotted with sheep and crumbling castles drifting alongside the currents.

Immerse in Cultural Sites like Belfry and Beffroi Museum

Tournai overflows with landmark buildings offering glimpses into rich history as Belgium’s oldest city, like the soaring 257-foot Belfry watchtower. Used for spotting approaching enemies since 1188 AD, today its panoramic views stretch to France from its observation deck. Down below, the Beffroi Museum chronicles the tower’s strategic roles through interactive displays and weaponry exhibits. The nearby 14th century Cloth Hall and St Brice Collegiate Church similarly present architecture impressively preserved since medieval eras.

Try Unique Craft Beers at Brasserie Cazeau

Behind an inconspicuous storefront hides Tournai’s beloved family-run Cazeau Brewery, which has perfected artisanal beer production since the 1880s spanning trendsetting styles like organic ales, barrel-aged sours, and heavily hopped IPAs distributed internationally. But only here can visitors sample full pours of the entire Cazeau range alongside pairing plates spotlighting local cheese, charcuterie and flatbreads. It’s the ultimate tasting experience tailored for true beer connoisseurs looking beyond commercial labels.

Celebrate Folkloric Giants’ Parade Festival

Every 5 years on Easter Sunday, colossal papier-mâché giants representing Crusader knight Melin and his wife join Tang the Saracen on a grand parade through Tournai’s streets accompanied by extravagantly costumed dancers, horses and musicians. Up close, the 9-meter tall giants reveal colorful historical scenes painted across their hollow frames now carried by dozens beneath. After the floats and fanfare concludes, live bands and food stalls keep festivities romping into the night as a beloved Tournaisian tradition.

Browse the Artisan Shops Along Rue des Chapeliers

The atmospheric Rue des Chapeliers pedestrian lane brims with independent galleries, jewelers’ workshops, designer boutiques and antique dealers worth browsing for quality craftsmanship. Find art nouveau glass creations at fourth-generation Maison Obin or hand-stitched leather bags at Atelier Anaka. Watch skilled jewelers setting stones at OR-ARGENT, while curated housewares shop Entre-Sort tempts decor lovers. Wherever you wander, expect creative passion paired with warm hospitality.

Pamper Yourself at Thermes de l’Orient Spa

Indulgent treatments utilizing mineral-rich thermal waters flowing directly from the source transform Tournai’s sleek spa complex into a true urban sanctuary. Pamper skin with Cleopatra or Dead Sea mud therapies, release muscle tensions during Balinese or Thai massages, or simply relax in the panoramic hammam’s steamy warmth infused with healing aromas. Return energized after a day of sightseeing or schedule in advance to spend an entire blissful day alternating treatments with nutritious spa cuisine meals.

See Where Van Gogh Learned Realist Painting

Not only was Tournai home to famous Flemish Primitive painters, it’s also where a teenager named Vincent van Gogh received his formal art training at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts. Still operational today, the Academy displays etching interpretations of city landmarks created by students over generations. Its peaceful hidden garden dotted with sculptures by former professors encourages contemplation of how these early influences impacted the blossoming visionary who’d make art history.

Enjoy Opera, Concert and Theatre Performances

Boasting Belgium’s most stunning concert hall that once hosted royalty, renovated Grand Theatre de Tournai today draws diverse French and Flemish acts spanning world music, dance, theater spectacles and classical orchestras. The state-of-art facility features perfect acoustics, lavish chandeliers and gilt trim framing the soaring scene stealer: a vivid cobalt blue vaulted ceiling swirled with glimmering gold nebulae transporting audiences into inspired realms before performances even begin.

Tour Authentic Lambic Beer Cellars

Behind an unassuming red door, family-run Cantillon Brewery produces world-class spontaneously fermented lambic beers using traditional open-air methods inside weathered oak casks left teeming with wild yeasts that create signature tart, funky flavors sought after globally. Their atmospheric cellars filled with cobwebs left untouched feel charmingly antiquated, contrasted by experimental fruit-steeped brews ageing in wine barrels that keep this historic brewer on the innovative cutting-edge after over a century.

Experience a Marvelous Light Show at the Cathedral

As dusk enshrouds the Notre-Dame Cathedral in shadow, a free 15-minute spectacle projected across its towering facade nightly immerses spectators in artistic visions drawing inspiration from Tournai’s history and future dreams through swirling shapes, figures and colors animating stone surfaces accompanied by music specially composed for the multimedia event involving dozens of artists. Different inspirations shape regularly updated videos displayed year-round rain or shine, so don’t miss this family-friendly way to see the landmark glow!

Take Side Trips to Picturesque Villages

Tournai provides the perfect home base for daytrips exploring quaint heritage hamlets scattered around the peaceful Pays des Collines countryside just minutes away. In spring, ramble under blooming fruit trees at the spectacular 18th century château gardens of Attre showcasing over 2000 rose varieties. Year-round at Antoing, see Belgium’s only suspension bridge plus two imposing fortresses connected by kayak down the green Scheldt River. For casual charm, Mont-de-l’Enclus offers scenic cycling trails and gourmet stops at farmhouse kitchens.

Conclusion

As the often overlooked first capital of France, Tournai rewards visitors to Belgium’s western reaches with an abundance of jaw-dropping medieval architecture crowned by the grand Gothic cathedral, atmospheric winding lanes made for aimless wandering past cute shops and cafes, rewarding cultural experiences from artisan breweries to world class theatre, plus abundant opportunities for revitalizing spa treatments or day trips into bucolic countryside scenery – making it the perfect home base to grasp the peaceful pace of life in laidback Wallonia even among the relics of bygone power and prestige.

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