Half a day in Dinant, Belgium

DINANT, BELGIUM: Belgium never stops surprising us with its coolness and charming little towns. Situated by River Meuse, Dinant is a French-speaking (Wallonia) part of Belgium in Province de Namur. The name for the town of Dinant was first recorded about 800 BC. The first bridge of this town was built around 1080 AD. In those old days, Dinant’s main activity was to manufacture copper. Interestingly, Dinant is home town of Adolphe Sax, the famous Belgian musician who invented saxophone.

River Meuse and City of Dinant from the citadel in Belgium
River Meuse and City of Dinant from the citadel in Belgium
     

Dinant would be a perfect place for a day-trip from Brussels or other cities of Belgium. We didn’t take river cruise on Meuse, but saw some boats and water-taxis for visitors to hop on for a lovely tour around the river.

TIME of TRAVEL: It was a bright and sunny Sunday of April, 2013 when we visited Dinant. My uncle-in-law from Chicago was here visiting us. The day turned out to be a fantastic one for exploring. After Dinant, we went to Durbuy (another Wallon city in Belgium close to Dinant) for the latter half.

A beautiful day in Wallonia, on our way to Dinant from Tervuren, Belgium
A beautiful day in Wallonia, on our way to Dinant from Tervuren, Belgium
     

EATING and SHOPPING: There are many big and small restaurants and cafes by River Meuse. You can enjoy good food with good view near the Saxophone Bridge (not sure if this is the actual name of the bridge). We had some quickies in a fast food type small place.

I didn’t see too many souvenir shops here, may be one or two by the river side and one inside Dinant Citadel. I am sure if you explore small streets, you can find some specialty places.

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: We spent few hours in Dinant. Walking around the citadel, then taking cable car down to the lower city, and strolling by River Meuse were fantastic. Small cities like these may not have world-famous tourist spots but the charm they cultivate is something you can’t find in big cities.

1) DINANT CITADEL: Visiting Dinant Citadel is like visiting many centuries of history. The first fortress was built at its current spot towards 1040 AD. This fortress was erected between 1818 and 1821 under the Dutch regime. It once used to dominate the Meuse Valley from a height of 100 meters. The stairway of 408 steps to connect the citadel with lower town was constructed in 1577 and the cable car was installed in 1954.

The steps of Dinant Citadel from the 16th century (on the left) and cable car on the top
The steps of Dinant Citadel from the 16th century (on the left) and cable car on the top
    

Dinant Citadel gives a splendid view of the city and River Meuse from up above. You can see the French border only 12 km away and famous Bayard Cliff on your left from the view-point of this fortress. The massive defense wall can be seen from far away and lower part of the city. There are many small galleries and museums depicting life in 1820, prisoners’ cells, torture room, armory, and a collapsed shelter cave/trench from 1914. This is like a big park great for strolling and wandering around while discovering old history. Looking at those century-old walls take you back in time when Dinant used to be a tiny city.

Breathtaking view of the city and river from Dinant Citadel in Belgium
Breathtaking view of the city and river from Dinant Citadel in Belgium
   

An underground temporary exhibition, Disney Sand Magic, was at display inside the citadel during our visit. We got to see many sand sculptures of famous Disney characters and castles from the movies and TV shows. It took us about 15-20 minutes to see few rooms full of these sculptures in an underground space of the citadel.

Sand Sculpture of Mr. Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse in Disney's Sand Magic in  Dinant Citadel, Belgium
Sand Sculpture of Mr. Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse in Disney’s Sand Magic in Dinant Citadel, Belgium
       

Citadel + cable car + Disney Sand Magic cost 11 euros per person and 9 euros per kid. There is a free parking for citadel visitors on the hill. The citadel is open from 10 – 5 (10 – 6 during high season). There is a small snack and souvenir shop in the main courtyard of this fortress.

2) COLLEGGIATE CATEHDRAL: Located at the foothill of Dinant Citadel, this beautiful cathedral is a unique signature and landmark of the city. Visitor’s shouldn’t miss the chance of going inside to see its gorgeous interior (also because it’s free). Decorative altar, giant stone columns, and stained-glass windows are very nice. Cross the saxophone bridge and go on the other side of the river to get a prettier outlook of the cathedral.

Collegiate Cathedral of Dinant and the citadel in the backdrop with River Meuse flowing in the front in Dinant, Belgium
Collegiate Cathedral of Dinant and the citadel in the backdrop with River Meuse flowing in the front in Dinant, Belgium
     

3) SAXOPHONE BRIDGE and RIVER MEUSE: I really don’t know the exact name of the bridge, but this is the closest one to Collegiate Cathedral. The bridge is dedicated to Charles de Gaulle who had been wounded there on 1914. I call it Saxophone Bridge because both sides of this bridge is decorated with many colorful and artistic saxophones.

Saxophone bridge in Dinant, Belgium
Saxophone bridge in Dinant, Belgium
    

Once we were done with the citadel and visiting cathedral, we crossed the bridge and went to the other side of the river. Lines of old buildings by the river with the cathedral and fortress in the back look brilliant. Take time to just walk by River Meuse while enjoying cozy old atmosphere of the city.

Old buildings by River Meuse in Dinant, Belgium
Old buildings by River Meuse in Dinant, Belgium
    

Wallon capital of Belgium – Namur

NAMUR, BELGIUM: Namur, Namen in Flemish, is the capital of the Province of Namur and Wallonia region which is the French-speaking part of Belgium. Located by River Meuse (Mass), the city has its own heritage and unique look. This charming city can be a great getaway for tourists when visiting country’s capital, Brussels.

City of Namur, Belgium
City of Namur, Belgium
      

TIME of OUR TRAVEL: It was 2nd Saturday of March, 2013 when we visited Namur. We had a friend from Antwerp who accompanied us in this trip. The winter wasn’t over yet, but that day turned out to be a surprise for us. It was still cold and a bit gloomy in the morning, but luckily no rain (as predicted) and no bone-freezing cold. We left our home around 10:45 am and took us about an hour from Tervuren to reach the citadel of Namur.

EATING and SHOPPING: Most of the streets in old town near Cathedral St. Aubain are loaded with variety of cuisines and cafes. We had lunch in Express Asia on Rue de Fer. There are many bakeries and waffle house to treat your sweet tooth too. By the way, the smell of these waffles were divine…I thought I would have one before leaving, but forgot…hmmm.

Namur won’t disappoint you when it comes to shopping. In fact, I want to go back to Namur one day by myself only to do some crazy shopping spree. You will find almost every type of store on Rue de Fer and all the other small branches of alleys from or around Rue de Fer and close to the university.  I wonder if this is the biggest shopping center in Wallonia!

PLACE WE’VE VISITED: We spent about a whole day in Namur, about 6/7 hours. We didn’t have any itinerary or a to-see list to follow. We knew we wanted to see the citadel, after that we just wandered around and went inside whatever looked good in our eyes. One thing that we didn’t see but should have seen was the Belfry of Namur which is an UNESCO World Heritage site. Here are the places we’ve seen and enjoyed:

Namur, Belgium - a view from the citadel
Namur, Belgium – a view from the citadel
    

1) CITADELLE de NAMUR: The citadel is town’s most prominent sight. It is more like an open park for the public on top of the mountain. Many locals come here for jogging, walking, and biking. The best part of being on the top is that you get a fantastic view of the whole town. The scenic beauty of River Meuse with old buildings by the side is picture perfect.

View of Namur from the citadel in Belgium
View of Namur from the citadel in Belgium
     

The hill where the citadel is located is called, Champeau hill. From 10th – 15th centuries, the castle was the residence of the earl of Namur. In the 16th century, a modern fortification called “Mediane” was built.   Chateau de Namur was built in 1910 AD. There are some underground passages to take a walk but can only be done with a tour. Even though there are very few remains from the medieval period, some elements can still be seen, such as the general outline of the castle, 3 of its towers, and part of the foundations.

There is no fee to enter the citadel. Train ride costs 4 euros per person (4 years and below are free) and lasts for about 20 minutes. Another package which is available to the tourists costs 9 euros. This is with a guided tour and includes the train ride, underground passages, medieval part of the citadel, and a film. There is a big parking lot in front of reception where we parked for free.

Tourist train in Citadelle de Namur, Belgium
Tourist train in Citadelle de Namur, Belgium
   

2) CATHEDRALE ST. AUBAIN: Turquoise dome of this cathedral can be seen from far distance and from top of the citadel. Outer Late-Baroque look of St. Aubain may not impress you as much but it’s a totally different story when you go inside. It’s very big in size but more than that the walls and vaulted ceilings are delightful. The highlights of this church are probably the richly carved dome, decorative main altar, and the huge organ in the back. It didn’t look like a typical Belgian church to me…has more of Italian/Roman touch to it.

3) RUE de FER: This is probably one of the busiest streets of city where Namur Town Hall is located. The whole stretch of this street (partially pedestrian zone) has tons of shops, local boutiques, brand name places, chocolatiers, and etc…you can say this is the fashion street of the Walloons.

One of the major shopping streets of Namur - Rue de Fer
One of the major shopping streets of Namur – Rue de Fer
     

4) CHURCH of ST. LOUP: This is a very sophisticated looking church located in the old town/heart of Namur and very close to Cathedral St. Aubain. The interior of this Baroque style church is very gorgeous. The vaulted ceilings, main altar, the black and red marble naves and columns are remarkable. It is a small church but a must see in Namur.

Inside Church of St. Loup, Namur
Inside Church of St. Loup, Namur
   

5) PLACE de I’ANGE: As I said before, we really didn’t have any to-see list for Namur. We were doing some window shopping on Rue de la Croix (one of the alleys of old town and this big square sort of opened up at the end of the street to our surprise. This is a lively and lovely square with many shops and cafes along with an indoor shopping mall, Galerie Jardin D’harscamp. Most of it is pedestrian zone. We came here little bit before our parking meter was almost up…so could only spent little time here.

Place de I'Ange in Namur, Belgium
Place de I’Ange in Namur, Belgium
   

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