The picturesque town of Dinant is a true hidden gem located in the Namur province of Belgium. It’s only a short drive away from Brussels to the south of the country, in the French-speaking region of Wallonia. The town lies by the river Meuse in the countryside and is a charming getaway from the busy cities.
This historical place is known these days for its iconic citadel by the water near the foot of a cliff. Talking picture perfect! In the past, however, Dinant was often exposed to battles and wars due to its strategic location along the river. During World War I the French and the Germans fought over the town which resulted in the severe destruction of Dinant. It took quite some years to rebuild everything, but the whole area is still filled with fortresses and history. Further, Dinant is well known as the birthplace of Adolphe Sax, the inventor of the saxophone.
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10 Amazing things to do in Dinant, Belgium
There are many fun things to do in Dinant, but the small town itself can be easily visited within a day. If you are planning to explore the surroundings, you can definitely make it a weekend trip. The region offers many fun activities, such as hiking nature parks, discovering castles and caves as well as many outdoor activities.
How to get to Dinant
Dinant itself is rather a small city, so the best way to explore all its sights is by foot. However, the easiest way to get to Dinant is probably by car. Definitely, if you are planning to see the surrounding areas of Dinant as well. This way you can easily get to other towns like Durbuy and Houffalize, and explore the countryside and nearby fairytale castles. If you are flying into Belgium, you likely arrive close to Brussels city anyways. There it’s always possible to rent a car. From Brussels, Dinant is around an hour away by car, and from Antwerp a little over 1,5 hours.
Another option would be the train since the railway station in Dinant is only located a 5-minute walk away from the center. If you are coming from Brussels, you can catch a train to Dinant from almost every train station. It will take you around 2 hours to reach Dinant by train (going over Namur). The first train to Dinant from Brussels leaves already at 6 am, and the last one goes back around 9 pm. A return ticket (second class) costs around 25 euros. If you are planning a trip for the weekend, you can get the weekend pass for 14 euros. These tickets are just day-bound, so you’re able to take the train at any time of the day.
BOOK A TRAIN | Book your train tickets online to visit Dinant HERE
Things to do in Dinant
1. Explore the Citadel of Dinant
The highlight of Dinant must be the Citadel (or La Citadelle Dinant), literally. The attraction stands tall on a cliff, overlooking the whole city, and is the first thing you will notice the moment you arrive. The top gives you a breathtaking view of the city and the Meuse river valley. In the past, the rock face served mainly as a lookout spot to guard the city and to see potential enemies approaching.
Originally, the defensive fortress was built in 1040 by the prince-bishop of Liege. However, it got severely damaged over the years due to continuous battles and occupation by the French. The town was indeed occupied by the French until the end of the 17th century, during which they made several modifications. The fortress, as we know it today, has its looks because of the Dutch contributions, when they rebuilt it around 1815. All around the citadel, there are galleries where canons were strategically put into place.
The weapons museum
Today, the citadel is open to the public and has been converted into a museum of weapons and the history of Dinant. The museum is dedicated to World War I, and more specifically to the massacres that happened in 1914 in the Battle of Dinant. There is a whole exhibition with projections and sound installations, to try and recreate some of the horrific experiences. There are well-preserved kitchens and bakeries, as well as barracks and dungeons to give you a sense of how it might have been in the early 20th century. For the full ‘immersion’ there are rebuilt WW1 trenches, which you can enter and walk through. It’s a very disorienting and terrifying experience, to be honest.
You can opt to take the self-guided tour to explore the fortress grounds, expect to spend around 45 minutes to an hour here. You will receive a brochure with some information upon arrival. Don’t miss the best part: the viewing platform over the Meuse River and the town of Dinant. In the summer months, there are guided tours of the beautiful domain.
FUN TIP | Bring some snacks to have a picnic on the viewing platform while enjoying the surroundings.
You have 3 ways to reach the citadel to visit the museum and admire the incredible view from on top of the rock.
- Cable car: There is a cable car lift right near the Notre Dame church that takes you right up to the fortress. This one is included in the price of a ticket, there are two formulas available (see below). Be aware: during low season the cable car is normally only operating during the weekends.
- Walk: If you are more on the sportier side you can climb up the 408 stairs. Even if you are not really into visiting the citadel itself, the climb is still worth it because of the rewarding view of Dinant at the top.
- By car: Of course, it is also possible to get there by car, but then you miss out on the experience. There is a parking lot right before you enter the domain.
OPENING HOURS | During high season (April – September) the citadel is open from 10 am to 6 pm. Cable cars are open. During the low season (October – March) from 10 am to 4:30 pm, cable cars are only operating during the weekend.
PRICES | The standard formula: Citadel + Cable car is €11 for adults ( €9 for children between 4 and 12 years old). The 3-in-1 formula: citadel + cable car + cruise on the Meuse river is €18 for adults ( €14 for children).
2. Admire the Collégiale Notre Dame de Dinant
This majestic landmark of Dinant is without a doubt an impressive sight to see. The Collegiate Church of Our Lady is a Gothic Catholic cathedral from the 13th century with an exterior that truly catches the eye. It is characterized by its iconic pear-shaped bell tower and the gorgeous backdrop of the cliff with the citadel. For the best view of Notre Dame with its beautiful backdrop, head over to the other side of the bridge – Pont Charles de Gaulle. The interior is absolutely stunning as well with its tall ceilings and mosaic stained glass windows. The colorful windows were created by the Ghent glazier Gustave Ladon and depict Biblical scenes. The largest one, near the altar on the right side of the church, is supposedly one of the largest in Europe.
OPENING HOURS | The cathedral is open to visitors from 9 am to 6 pm (April – October) and from 9 am to 5 pm (November – March). The entrance is free.
3. Walk over the Charles de Gaulle Saxophone Bridge
Right in the middle of Dinant, you have the Charles de Gaulle bridge that crosses the River Meuse. The name of the bridge might sound familiar since it was named after the former president of France Charles de Gaulle. This is in honor of his leadership as a general during WWII in the French resistance against the Nazis. The French played an instrumental role in fighting off the Germans in Dinant.
It’s one of the most unique and colorful bridges I have ever seen and is also known as the Saxophone Bridge. You will notice why immediately when passing since the bridge is filled with giant saxophone sculptures. These were placed all around the city in 2010 as a tribute to the European Union countries, each saxophone representing a country. The colorful statues have become the symbol of the city as well as a reminder of the instrument’s birthplace in an artistic way. You can enjoy some excellent views of the city from this famous sight. It comes out right on the main square of the city, where you have the church and entry towards the citadel.
4. Stop by Maison de Monsieur Sax
Speaking of saxophones, did you know that the saxophone was invented in Belgium? Moreover in Dinant? Hence all the saxophone statues throughout the city and monuments dedicated to its inventor: Adolphe Sax. In honor of Sax’s achievements, the city opened a museum in the former family’s home in Dinant. Within the small little cobblestone streets with colorful houses, you will find Maison de Monsieur Sax. It’s a small museum where you will be immersed in the life of the inventor of the saxophone. A must-visit for every music lover, and better yet it’s free! You can admire the prototype of the original design of the instrument while being accompanied by jazz music in the background. When arriving at the house you will be ‘welcomed’ by a bronze sculpture of monsieur Sax himself on a bench. Don’t forget to take a seat next to Dinant’s man of honor for a selfie.
LOCATION | 37 Rue Adolphe Sax, Dinant
OPENING HOURS | The museum is open daily from 9 am to 7 pm and is free to visit.
5. Walk or take a cruise along the Meuse River
The Meuse river runs through the heart of Dinant, giving the city its idyllic views from both sides. The view of the cathedral and the citadel are absolutely iconic and probably the most photographed viewpoint. So next to admiring the sights of Dinant, a walk by the Meuse is the perfect activity to soak in the atmosphere.
Another great way to admire everything from another viewpoint is to take a relaxing cruise on the river. Most boat tours run from May through September, so keep in mind to check availability outside these months. There are two types of cruise options that you can choose from. One of 45 minutes that does a roundtrip from Dinant to Anseremme, where you get to see the Anseremme Priory along the way. The other, a 2-hour cruise, will take you on a roundtrip to Freyr. There you will have the opportunity to see the fairytale Castle of Freyr.
During the summer there is the option of a refreshing activity, rent a Kayak nearby on the river Lesse. Without a doubt one of the most fun things to do in Dinant! You will pass by some breathtaking scenery, peaceful woodland, as well as the beautiful Castle Walzin. There are two routes to choose from, a longer one (21km, around 5 hours) or the shorter one (12 km, around 3 hours). Make sure to book on time because kayaking is a very popular activity in Belgium during the summer months!
BOOK A BOAT TOUR | For current information on the availability and prices of river cruises and kayak renting, check the Dinant évasion website.
6. Spot the legendary rock Rocher Bayard
On the way to Anseremme from Dinant, on the right bank of the Meuse, you can spot the iconic Rocher Bayard. This is a 40 meters tall rock formation split from a huge limestone ridge on the side of the valley. The coolest part is that you can drive between the needle and the other part of the ridge. The origins of how Rocher Bayard got split lie within old folklore tales, known as the Ardennes’ tale of the Four Sons of Aymon. The legend goes that four brothers were fleeing from the terror reign of Emperor Charles, riding on a horse called Bayard. While trying to escape the horse jumped over the river while splitting the rock with its hoof.
LOCATION | Rue Defoin, 5500 Dinant
7. Try out a beer at Maison Leffe
No visit to a Belgian city passes by without trying a local beer. In a former convent in Dinant, there is a museum dedicated to the local beer of Leffe. At Maison Leffe, you have the chance to submerge in the wonderful world and history of Leffe. This beer is one of the best-known Belgian Abbey beers and originated in Dinant. The first brewings by the monks date back all the way to 1240 at Leffe Abbey. You can do a self-guided tour that will take you through the brewing process and show you a glimpse of the life of a monk. At the end of the tour, you have the chance to do a beer tasting. The museum is actually within a hotel property, so you are even able to join for a drink at their bar and restaurant.
OPENING HOURS | During the high season the museum is open from Tuesday till Sunday from 11 am to 7 pm (April – October). During the low season, it is open from Friday till Sunday from 11 am to 6 pm.
LOCATION | Charreau des Capucins 23, 5500 Dinant (Part of hotel La Merveilleuse)
PRICE | 7 euros (including beer tasting and a gift)
8. Nibble on a Couque de Dinant
Couque de Dinant, or better known as one tough cookie from Dinant. You think of quickly munching a few? Think twice! These sweet biscuits must be the hardest ones around Europe. They are pretty to look at though, and maybe more useful as decoration if you don’t want to chip a tooth. However, there is a safe way of eating these. You should break off a little piece, and slowly let it melt in your mouth. You will see that they are actually quite nice in taste. This local biscuit is made out of only two ingredients: wheat flour and honey. That’s it! As you can see at Couques Jacob the cookie comes in a variety of sizes and shapes. They are made by putting the dough in a wooden mold. Once they have cooled off, they become stone hard and can (almost) be preserved forever.
The story goes that the cookies came into existence in the 15th century during the siege of the city by Karel De Stoute. Provisions were lacking everywhere and with only honey and wheat at their disposal, inhabitants of Dinant combined these to make dough. Since the dough was so heavy, they used the casting molds of coppersmiths to get their shapes.
LOCATION | Boulangerie et Fabrique de couque Jacobs – Rue Grande 147, 5500 Dinant
9. Adventure in outdoor activities
Once you are done exploring the city, Dinant has many outdoor activities to offer close by. The southern region of Belgium is known to be more hilly with lots of forests, so perfect for some adventure. As mentioned earlier there is kayaking, but you can also go on many hiking trails, zip-lining, and rock climbing. Head over to Rochers de Freyr, a popular rock climbing area that offers routes for all kinds of levels. In Anseremme you will find a lot of providers for organized nature hikes, cycling, and ziplining. But it’s also really easy to head out yourself to explore some beautiful trails and cliffs as we did.
The Ardennes region is also known for exploring caves and limestone formations. Only a 10-minute walkway from the center you can find the Grottes de Dinant la Merveilleuse. If you have a bit more time on hand visit the Grottes de Han, about a 30-minute drive away. These are probably the best-known caves in Belgium.
10. Nearby castles
There are many fairytale-like castles (or Chateaus) to explore in the area of Dinant, and that is only a short drive away! We would say the easiest way to reach them is by car, although a few are within walking distance (let’s just say a good hike). Chateau de Freyr (Castle Freyr) is located north of Dinant, on the left bank of the Meuse River. The palace is known for its royal interiors and labyrinth-like gardens. This Versailles-style garden is worth a stroll. The castle dates back to the middle ages and is one of Wallonia’s most treasured heritage sites. If you decide to take one of the boat tours, chances are you will make a stop here.
LOCATION | 12 Feyr, Hastiere
PRICE | 9 Euros
Another enchanting castle is Vêves Castle (or Chateau de Veves), often referred to as Sleeping Beauty’s castle. Last but not least, our personal favorite, Castle Walzin. You might have seen it in pictures before because it’s a stunning view. The castle is built on top of a rock with the Lesse River running down at the cliff – what a spectacular sight to see! Unfortunately, the castle is entirely private and not open to visitors. However, you can admire it from the other side of the water and sometimes you can spot some lights inside the old castle windows.
TIP | You can reach Castle Walzin from Vêves Castle by hiking the nature park of Furfooz.
10 Amazing things to do in Dinant, Belgium
Surrounded by the countryside and the river Meuse, the tiny city of Dinant is the perfect place to unwind. Peaceful and serene. This compact historic town is the perfect day trip from cities like Brussels and Antwerp. This hidden gem is definitely worth visiting if you want to see more than just the popular cities in Flanders.
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