Discover all the things to see in Mons Belgium and plan a wonderful day or more in this charming Belgian city.
Learn about the main attractions and effectively plan your time. I also share our personal experiences, useful tidbits and why you shouldn’t miss this fantastic travel gem!
Table of Contents
🧭 Where is Mons?
Mons is the capital city of Wallonia, one of the three regions of Belgium in Europe. The region’s primary language is French.
The city is located close to France, in fact, it’s just a 25-minute drive from Mons to the French border via the highway.
Located just about an hour south from the Belgian capital, Brussels, Mons has long been a strategic point of interest for rulers of the past and sits now at a geographical crossroads in Europe.
Mons is also known as Bergen in Flemish and German, and as Mont or Mon in the former local Picard language (Northern France and Wallonia in Belgium).
The names tell us a little more about the cities’ history and progress over the ages. Julius Caesar added the area to the Roman Empire in 100 BC and a castle was built on the main hill top of Mons, and that was later renamed to Montes, which means mount or hill.
🌁 Take a Stroll through the Colorful Old Town
Mons has a vibrant old town, and we were pleasantly surprised on our first discovery tour through the city.
Street Art with contemporary illustrations, colorfully painted cobblestone roads and the Belgian cartoon character Tintin smiling down on you will introduce you to the Belgian way of life.
Alone in the old town, you will come across 29 unique wall paintings. The artists range from DUEK, Leonidas Giannakopoulos, Noir Artist to David Mesguish. Another 20 something large house facade paintings can be found scattered outside the old town.
In fact, the street art of Mons is a permanent open air exhibition which aims to make art accessible to everyone. International artists from all over the world took part in this project.
Add to that, typical South Belgian/Northern French brick stone architecture and north-west European color ideals, and you get a unique city ambiance.
Mons is not all that known internationally, and you can see that the administration and tourism office are taking a lot of effort to bring out the beauty of the city.
A stroll through Mons is refreshing, and it feels truthfully like an authentic city. This place is very well worth seeing!
🏰 Belfry Tower and City View
The Belfry, better known as Beffroi in French, is a clock tower sitting at the top overlooking the city of Mons. Standing at 285 feet (ca. 87 meters) tall, the Mons Belfry is special, as it is the only Baroque Belfry in Belgium.
The monument, located in the gardens of the former Counts of Hainaut, has been a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1999. Recent restorations helped make this attraction stand out from the city landscape.
You get a fantastic view of the city from the garden view point, but you can take part in the Belfry tour by going up to the 5th floor with an elevator. The top floors give you a peak at the original, but out of service, mechanical clock and the carillon.
Furthermore, you get to learn about the history of the Belfry and Mons in the various mini exhibitions on your walk through the simpler brick interiors. Interestingly, the bells are rung every 15 minutes and at the top they sound very differently from down.
You can expect to pay Eur 9 to see the top of the Belfry and the city offers a free of cost museum day every first Sunday of the month. The opening hours are from 10 am to 6 pm daily except Mondays it is closed.
🖼️ Grand-Place de Mons & City Hall
The Grand-Place de Mons is the large cobbled stone city center square where everyone and everything converges.
Here you will find a fountain, a fun “I love Mons” and blue picture-like large frame to help your photographic memory creation, and the town tall.
The city hall is a gothic monument built during the late medieval ages and the oldest parts of the building date back to the 15th century.
Visitors can take a peak at the inner rooms with an official guide, but you have to book an appointment in advance, which can be done in the local Tourism office at the Grand-Place square.
The unique Sacquiaux Room with a 16th century fire place, a stunning wedding hall with a 17th century Italian ceiling, and a period style gothic and portrait hall await you on the inside and are well worth a visit!
Look out for the city’s mascot, the small iron statue of a monkey at the Hôtel de Ville de Mons (aka city hall). It is said that rubbing the monkey’s head shall bring one plenty of good luck in life. It’s located attached to the facade, to the left of the porch to the town hall.
The town hall is also lit with colorful lights in the summer and winter months.
You will also find a handful of Cafés to chill in at the Grand-Place town square. A horse-drawn carriage ride, a seasonal market and a bike rental service can be all found in the city square. I recommend hiring a cycle here to see out of the old town attractions mentioned further below.
🏠 Van Gogh’s House
The renowned Dutch painter briefly lived in Mons in a house just outside the old town, in a village known as Cuesmes, and that’s the so-called Van Gogh’s house in Mons.
Vincent Can Gogh moved to this enchanting small house, known as Maison Van Gogh in French, amidst nature and greenery in 1879 and stayed here for a brief time until 1880.
The area was known for coal-mining at the time and was called the Borinage. Vincent came to the area to do Evangelical work for the coal miners.
He lived a simple life and that was all before his painting years. Today, the house has been turned into a museum telling the story of Vincent’s life struggles and his time in Mons.
The small exhibition doesn’t have any of his paintings, but rather focuses on the men who left a lasting memory to the world. Yet, a few of his earlier pencil drawings, that he sent to his brother Theo, are displayed at the Van Gogh’s House.
It’s an 8-minute car ride or 15-minute cycle ride to the South of Mons to get there from the city center. The Van Gogh house museum doors are open to all visitors from 10 am to 4 pm every day except Mondays. The entry costs about EUR 4 per person.
⛪️ Collegiate Church of Sainte-Waudru
The Collegiate Church of Sainte-Waudry, or Saint Waltrude as it is also known, is a Brabantine Gothic church located in the old town near the Belfry tower.
Originally built in the 15th century as a female run collegiate, it is today’s Mons’s main parish church and an important heritage building of the Wallonia region. Canonesses from high-ranking nobility ran this church for women at the time.
Dedicated to Saint Waudru, a Vatican canonized saint who lived and died in Mons around the year 686, it has long been a significant pilgrimage site for Catholics.
The massive inner sanctum holds the reliquary bones of Saint Waudry, which are also displayed to visitors. Every year on the Trinity Sunday (Sunday after Pentecost), the reliquaries of Saint Waudru are transported on a baroque style golden coach in a procession to the local Ducasse fair.
Yet, the main attraction is the inner architecture and decoration. A gothic style well-preserved vault and colorful stained-glass windows from the 16th century, gifted by emperor Maximilian I of Habsburg, add an enchanting light vibe to the inner sanctum of this massive church.
Significant art pieces can be found in this inconspicuous holy place. Look out for the relief sculpture known as Resurrection by Jacques Du Broeucq, a Dutch artist who introduced the Italian Renaissance savoir faire to the region.
🐉 Experience the Ducasse Fair
You can take part in the Ducasse celebrations, every year again, on the Trinity Sunday, the Sunday after Pentecost.
The Ducasse of Mons, also called Doudou, combines religious beliefs with tradition and fun, and it has been listed in the Oral and Immaterial Human Heritage of UNESCO
The local saint’s reliquary, Saint-Waudru is transported through the town in a procession in the first half of the celebrations and in the second half, a dragon fight is replayed to honor Saint George.
1349 marks the year when this tradition started. Most town people had succumbed to the Black Death. It is said that a procession taking the saint’s reliquary through the streets was initiated and soon after the plague disappeared from Mons.
Today, on the Doudou Sunday, locals dress up in medieval attire and follow the golden coach with the saints’ remains.
Music, performances, games, local food and drink, and market stalls are added to all this and the St. George dragon fight, known as Lumeçon, is replayed on the Grand-Place town square. Whoever, gets a piece of the dragon’s tail bristles will find luck in the future!
🎨 Museums to See
Mons has various wonderful museum experiences on offer. Most are art related and others tell the tale of the town and its age-old history.
Most museums are reasonably priced, and you don’t have to wait in a queue or book a spot in advance. Note that all museums in Mons can be accessed for free every first Sunday of the month.
Created by the Belgian humanists Paul Otlet and Nobel Prize winner Henri La Fontaine, the Mundaneum is a place where a universal classification system was developed, all that before the Internet was a thing.
The idea was to capture all knowledge.
Their work and the archive classification system, in the former Art Deco department store, are open to the public from Wednesday to Sunday, between 10 am and 5 pm and on weekends up to 6 pm.
Art Nouveau, also known as the Jugendstil, is an art style that took over Europe at the end of the 20th century.
The Maison Losseau, an ambitious project by the former owner Léon Losseau, is a splendid example of this style that celebrates curves and sensual ornamentation.
Located in the rue de Nimy, you can visit this very well-preserved building for EUR 5 from Wednesday to Sunday, between 10 am and 6 pm (hours may differ on Saturday and Sunday).
Musée du Doudou
The local history museum dedicated to the Ducasse celebration of Mons. Interactive exhibitions for children and grown-ups alike tell the tale of the local saints, including saint Waudru and the cobat of Saint George with the dragon.
Folklore and tradition come to play in this permanent exhibition from Tuesday to Sunday between 10 am and 6 pm for EUR 9.
The Mumons is the university of Mons museum collection with varied science and historical items’ in exhibition.
Located in a beautifully renovated building and open daily, except Tuesdays and Saturdays, it can be visited for just EUR 5 between 10 am and 5 pm.
Decorative Arts Museum François Duesberg
An elaborate collection of time pieces, statues, jewelry, silverware, porcelain, and other unusual rare objects can be found in this museum dedicated to 19th and 20th century decorative arts.
The Baron François Duesberg is running this museum on his own with his wife in their great age without the help of the municipality; therefore it’s not always open as advertised.
If you can get it, count yourself lucky to see this unique collection!
The Anciens Abattoirs is a former slaughterhouse turned into a modern Art installation place just a little outside the main town center.
Normally open every Tuesday to Sunday from 12 pm to 6 pm with an entry fee of EUR 3-4, but times and rates are subjected to changes.
The Beaux-At, BAM, is a contemporary art museum with famous art works displayed across 3 levels. They are currently closed (as per May 2023) for renovation works, but temporary exhibitions are planned for the 1st July 2023 onwards.
Get acquainted with surrealism, pop and modern works of art in the 6500 f² (2000 m²) exhibition space. Past expos included art pieces from Roy Lichtenstein, Fernando Botero, Niki de Saint Phalle and most recently also Joan Miro.
Mons Memorial Museum
Formerly known as the War museum, the permanent exhibition of this museum talks about the military history with a strong focus on WW1.
On the onset of the first World War in 1914, Britain declared war on Germany and the Germans took over Mons as a strategic point.
The battle of Mons was a battle of the frontiers that took place at the Franco-Belgian and Franco-German borders, at first in 1914 and at last during the liberation in November 1918.
The Memorial Museum is open daily, except Mondays, from 10 am to 6 pm and the entry is set at EUR 9 per adult.
As a little side note, the NATO’s Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) is located just outside Mons in Casteau.
🌳 Relax in the Park Waux Hall
The Parc du Waux-Hall is situated just outside the old town, and it’s a large green space which offers a space of restitution to recuperate your energies.
Children and adults alike will have a great time hanging out in the park as it has been maintained by the neighboring horticulture school.
In this medium-sized park, you will find flower beds, age-old trees, uncommon plant varieties, a large pond and plenty of ducks and geese. A children’s playground is also attached to the gardens and a public restroom.
I recommend spending some time here if you love formal 19th century style gardens or if you are looking for a green space to unwind or have a picnic at.
⛏️ Neolithic Flint Mines of Spiennes
The Neolithic flint mines of Spiennes (aka SILEX) is an archeological site turned into a public accessible museum. Listed by the UNESCO since 2000, it is one of the largest and oldest areas for the extraction of flint in Europe.
A guided tour includes detailed explanations of the surface area and a unique chance to descent 32 feet (ca. 10 meters) ladder down to a real neolithic flint mine.
You get to learn the various techniques that the people used at the time in the mining pits. Furthermore, the meadows are visibly covered with craps of flint, and it is believed that a village was attached to the underground mines.
It’s a fantastic experience for adults and children alike with interactive tours and more. Open daily, except Mondays, from 10 am to 4 pm, tickets are just EUR 6 per adult, EUR 2 for 13 to 18-year-old and younger kids get to go in for free.
🍟 Try Belgian Food and Drink Specialties
Belgian beer is said to be one of the best in the world, and I couldn’t agree more. I’m going to top this and say monastery brewed Trappist Belgian beer excels everything else.
Fortunately, Belgian beer can be found plentiful in this small European country and the rest of the continent has caught up to the Belgian beer trend. In fact, you might have come across a popular beer export internationally.
Hoegaarden is one, but the best Belgian beers are strong dark beers. I can recommend Orval, Westmalle Tripel, Achel and Chimay.
This small independent country is also known for having invented Fries (yep French Fries are not French but Belgian!) and they love it with Mayonnaise.
A must-eat, is, of course, moule frite, which is the freshest of mussels served with crispy hot potato fries.
💡 Day Trip Ideas
Most places are best accessible by car because they are located in rural areas, but cities are well-connected via public transport in Belgium.
- Charleroi – A neighboring city known for its industrial history, art deco and fine art museum.
- Abbaye d’Aulne – A magical abbey ruin great for photos and historical discoveries.
- Grand Hornu – Historic mining site and UNESCO building hosting contemporary art exhibits.
- Château de Beloeil – Fairy tale 15th century royal castle with dazzling interiors and gardens.
- Tournai – Known for its beautiful, well-preserved old town.
- Binche – small village near Mons with an old town and medieval fortification.
- Lille France – A city known for its Flemish influence.
🚗 How to get there?
Public transport connections are great in Belgium and Mons isn’t too far from the capital, Brussels. You can fly into Brussels and get to Mons by train within an hour.
Alternatively, you can also fly into Paris CDG and get via the Belgian version of a TCV, the Thalys to Brussels and take then a regional train back down to Mons. This route takes a reasonable 2 1/2 hours to complete.
We traveled to Mons from northern France. From Paris to Mons it’s a 3-hour drive, from Reims it’s a 2-hour drive and from Lille a 1 1/2 hour trip.
You can also hire a car from Brussels and get to Mons within 1 hour. Antwerp is about 1h 40 minutes away, Liege 1 1/2 and Brugge 2 hours.
We found a save affordable and easily accessible parking near the old town right at a government office called Parking du Béguinage. You have to buy a ticket at a billet machine and place it behind your windshield.
Is Mons worth visiting?
Yes, if you are looking for a travel gem in Europe and if you are in the vicinity. We were contemplating if it was worthwhile before getting there. A family member recommended this city, and it was on our way to Luxembourg (we came from northern France). Mons was definitely worth a trip!
Is Mons safe?
Yes, it is safe, but we did feel that people were not yet used to visitors and travelers there. For example, we were filming the town, and we had an unfortunate encounter with a local in a public space at the Belfry.
What language is spoken in Mons?
Locals speak French and a few will know Flemish and, if you are lucky English.