I was invited to experience Charleroi by the province of Hainaut. All opinion are my own.
Are you planning a trip to Belgium and want to get a taste of a more local town with a local experience? Head to the province of Hainaut and visit Charleroi. There are many surprising things to do in Charleroi despite being named the ugliest city in the world many years ago.
When I hear a place has a title like that, I’m automatically curious. How bad can it really be? Turns out, that title was a push it needed to invest into itself. Now, it’s hard to imagine getting that title with its shopping areas, gallery passageway, great restaurant, and general lively vibe.
How to get to Charleroi?
It’s pretty easy! Just take the Intercity train from Brussels Central Station to Charleroi Zuid Station. In about an hour, you’ll be steps away from the hustle and bustle of the city center.
Of course, you can always drive, but it isn’t that big of a city, so parking won’t be the easiest. Besides, I’m a big fan of trains because there’s less stress around directions, roads, and parking.
Things to do in Charleroi
Take a tour
Want to see the city for free? You have a lot of options! You can download the Totemus app from the Play Store or the App Store and go on a scavenger hunt of sorts and explore the city on your own. Or, you can join a free, small group tour with an official greeter that’s somewhere between 2-3 hours long. The tour can be in French, English, Dutch, German, Italian, or Spanish.
Visit the Le Bois du Cazier
Le Bois du Cazier is an old mining site that is now a UNESCO Heritage Site and renovated museum. If you’re a long-time follower, then you probably know that I’m not big into museums. But, the audio guide made this museum worth the visit. It’s also very well-kept and a lot of it is outdoors, so you aren’t in a cramped area the whole time. There are nearby slag heaps where they put the excess earth while they were mining and these are now great trails to walk through. You can get here by bus from the city center of Charleroi if you’re like us and don’t usually rent cars.
Browse through Le Passage de la Bourse
As part of the main shopping center there is a passageway/gallery/arcade that you can access and is just stunning. We went early in the morning before anything was open and took some photos because I couldn’t leave without that memory. It’s just so BEAUTIFUL! I’m sure it makes for great people watching if you pop into one of the cafes.
Street art tour
At the tourist office grab a street art tour map and start making your way around the city. It is free and super interesting. If you don’t feel like walking the whole way, you can cheat a little like we did and get a day ticket for the tram/metro to help make it a tad easier.
Explore Nouvelle Abbaye Notre-Dame de Soleilmont
The former Soleilmont Abbey is a sight to see. Originally, it’s from the 11th century, but has had its ups and downs since then and is now in ruins. It’s beautiful in the way that something made by humans is being overgrown by Mother Nature.
If you are renting a car, this is super quick to get to as it’s not far from the city center, but if you want to take public transportation, that’s easy, too.
Beer tasting at L’Atelier de La Manufacture Urbaine
Get a flight of beer (they are happy to give suggestions), a beer cocktail, or a gin and tonic with their gin. You really can’t go wrong. We didn’t eat here but they do have a small food menu. The L’Atelier is a gem and I think you’ll really love the vibe.
Where to eat in Charleroi
La Table de La Manufacture Urbaine
If you eat nowhere else in Charleroi, eat at La Table de La Manufacture Urbaine. We enjoyed lunch but I think dinner would be even more spectacular. It’s a fine dining restaurant that has been awarded the Michelin Bib Gourmand distinction for their creative menu. In the downstairs area is a bistro, for a more relaxed atmosphere. I’d go back just to eat here again.
The Huggy’s Bar Charleroi
They say The Huggy’s Bar is inspired by American food but made in Belgium, so you can expect juicy burgers and lots of sides that wouldn’t be out of place in an American bar. For a little extra fun, they have burgers inspired by local areas and places all around the world.
Another restaurant with a Michelin Bib Gourmand distinction, is Chermanne. Outside of the cutesy downtown area (but still just minutes away) you’ll find this French restaurant for a very reasonable price.
Next to our hotel is Au Provençal which has the Michelin plate distinction but we found it just by wandering around. The food was excellent and the vibe was cozy with a friendly staff. Let’s just say, sometimes when plans fall through, you still end up with a great outcome!
Where to stay in Charleroi
Novotel Charleroi Centre
Located at the top of a shopping center, you can’t go wrong with the location of the Novotel Charleroi Centre. You’re within walking distance to most things you’ll want to see and do, and very close to the train station in case you need to get anywhere else. Convenience is key here!
Auberge de Jeunesse – Charleroi
If you prefer hostels, this is for you. They are known in Brussels and in the region of Wallonia (the southern part of Belgium). They focus on sustainability, encourage social and cultural tourism, and have been around since 1933. You’ll find them super central near the train station and around the corner from La Table de La Manufacture Urbaine. Nothing says you can’t stay in a hostel and eat a fine-dining meal!
Tip: Get the Tourist Guide Book for Charleroi from the tourist information office or your hotel. It’s done really well and will give you tons of ideas!
I hope this has convinced you to try something a little off the tourist path. Life is full of experiences, not just checkboxes of places to see. Memories are made on the journey and finding fun in the unexpected. That’s how I felt about Charleroi.
Maybe in the past it wasn’t a place you wanted to visit, but now it certainly is. So, take a day trip from Mons or Brussels, or spend a weekend exploring slowly. You’ll be pleasantly surprised!
Don’t forget to tag me @awanderlustforlife on Instagram so I can see your trip!
Wishing you joy and travels.