Having passed through Liège a dozen or more times in the past few years, we thought we had this city all figured out. But really, Liège is so much more than the hedonistic student town or recovering industrial city that it is so often perceived to be.
It’s a heady brew of grit and quirk, a blur of innovation and tradition and a melting pot of culture that filters through the city streets. Of course, the undercurrents of student life and its industrial roots are very much woven through this thriving town, but they by no means define it.
Liège will probably never be considered a ‘pretty’ city, but the gritty streets of the centre make it an intriguing place to wander all the same.
Heading to Belgium’s eastern hub? These are the very best things to do in Liège.
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We’ll let you in on a little secret.
If you’re anything like us, you’ll be doing a whole lot of eating during your time in Belgium and what better way to work up an appetite (or work off last night’s dinner) than to clamber up all 374 stairs of the Montagne de Bueren.
Carving a pathway between brick-covered facades, this stairwell climbs higher and higher to give a beautiful glimpse over the city below; the sparkling Meuse winding through its centre, the tight, twisting laneways of the old town and the hilly periphery, a hangover from the city’s mining activity.
Twice a year the stairs are brought to life through flowers and light. In summer, Bueren en Fleurs, is a biannual event that sees the stairway adorned with flowers, while on the first Saturday of October, the stairwell glitters with candles for Nocturne des Coteaux de la Citadelle.
Even if you’re not travelling by train in Belgium, the Liège-Guillemins train station should be an essential stop on your visit to the city.
Designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, this open-air station with a graceful and ornate latticework glass and steel roof designed to mimic the curves of the hills that fringe the city is, quite simply, a work of art.
Receiving a complete overhaul and being officially reopened in 2009, this new station was purpose-built to handle high-speed trains, transforming it into a key transport hub in Belgium and Northern Europe, especially for long-distance travel.
Liège’s La Batte Sunday Market is an institution in the city.
Sprawling for almost 3km along the banks of the Meuse, this is the place for tasty street food, fresh produce, local cheese, a lively atmosphere and plenty of miscellaneous bric-a-brac. While some locals lament the market perhaps isn’t what it used to be, on a sunny day, we imagine it’s worth checking out.
Unfortunately, our time in Liège did not fall over the weekend, but we’re saving it for next time.
Opening Hours | Every Sunday between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Location | Spread along the riverfront promenade between Quai Paul van Hoegaerden and Quai Saint Léonard.
Did you even visit Liège if you didn’t eat its famous meatballs?
Larger and meatier than their Swedish counterparts, the city’s signature dish sees these delicious meatballs drowned in a slightly sweet, sticky concoction of beer, raisins and apple syrup sourced locally from the surrounding countryside.
Though many restaurants claim to have the best, you’ll find them at almost every Belgian restaurant or pub in town.
Cafe Lequet | Reputed to actually have the best meatballs in Liège, this old-school pub set beside the river seems like a safe bet, however, their 2 p.m. closing time meant we unfortunately missed out. While the food is supposedly delicious, they do have a reputation for not being the friendliest towards us non-French speaking folk so don’t expect any kind of special treatment.
Location | Quai Sur, Meuse 17, Liège
Au Point de Vue | As one of the few places in Liège not adhering to the 2 p.m. lock-up time, we stumbled upon Au Point de Vue quite by accident and were not disappointed. Serving a full menu of Belgian specialities, the meatballs were delicious and came with a generous serving of sauce and fries.
Location | Place Verte 10, Liège
Peeling off the frenetic main road that rolls through Liège’s historic centre lies the impasse, a network of tiny dead-end laneways hung with flowers and vines that feel a world away from the gritty streets of the outside city. In these serene cobbled lanes, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d stumbled upon a rustic village in the countryside.
Running perpendicular to Rue Hors-Château, you’ll find these alleyways in a tight cluster between Saint Leonard’s Park and Montagne de Bueren.
Our favourite was the Impasse de l’Ange, but this photo journal beautifully captures some of the others as well. Remember that these peaceful streets are the entrance to someone’s home so be respectful and don’t impose.
Sweet, sticky and piping hot from the iron, is there anything more quintessentially Belgian than devouring a freshly made waffle between the pretty streets of the old town.
Though you’ll find waffles sold from hole-in-the-wall food stalls all around Liège, Pollux right in the centre makes them fresh to order and is rumoured to serve the best Liège waffles in town.
Location | Place de la Cathedrale 2, Angle rue Vinave d’Ile, Liège
The open plains of the High Fens Nature Reserve are worlds apart from the meandering valleys and rippling hillsides of the lower Ardennes.
As the seasons ebb and flow, the landscape transforms from golden grass reminiscent of the African savannah to a carpet of emerald peppered with lilac heather, wild berries and cotton grass before being painted with a broad brush of glimmering white.
There are a number of hiking routes through the High Fens though the most beautiful is the boardwalk from Baraque Michel which feeds through the grasslands past a gathering of dead trees and onto the forests beyond.
Stop by the Botrange Nature Centre for more information on hiking trails or to learn about the Fens’ unique ecosystems. You can also visit Belgium’s highest point at Signal de Botrange which reaches just 694m.
By day Le Carré is a charming knot of pedestrianised cobbled streets in the heart of the old town, lined by pretty storefronts and an explosion of restaurants to satisfy your every culinary whim.
Arrive at night, however, and you’ll most likely find a rather different scene. Bars appear behind hidden doorways, revellers spill out onto the streets and the music beats on well into the wee hours.
When darkness trickles in, Le Carré (literally ‘the square’) is where the lively student population of Liège comes to blow off steam. It’s that classic watering hole of every proper university town where the drinks are cheap and free-flowing, the debauchery continues well into the night and the crippling hangovers are forgotten come next week.
Though not technically in Le Carré, Le Pot Au Lait, just a few blocks further south is a stop that will have you gawking at absolutely everything!
The city’s home of weird, whimsy and downright bizarre, this laid-back bar where anything goes attracts an equally eclectic bunch to match. Make your way through the haze of green smoke that hovers around the entrance, stay for a drink and take some time to look around at the psychedelic paraphernalia – you really never know what you’ll find in this place!
Le Carré | Grid of streets bound by Boulevard de la Sauvenière, Rue de la Casquette, Rue du Mouton Blanc and Pont d’Avroy. The intersections tend to be the most popular.
Le Pot Au Lait | Rue Soeurs-de-Hasque 9. Open Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 a.m., Saturday and Sunday are 12 p.m. to 4 a.m.
Come December, all of Europe seems to descend into Christmas Market mania, and Liège is no exception.
Erupting into a world of twinkling lights, ice-skating and copious amounts of vin chaud, Liège’s Village de Noel certainly lives up to its reputation as the best Christmas market in Belgium, as well as being the oldest and largest.
Just 15 minutes outside of Liège lies the countryside of Herve, a vibrant mosaic of farmland speckled with apple orchards, dairy farms and quaint country villages rich in regional products – most notably its cheese.
Saturday is the best day to visit when many farms open their doors to visitors and an endless string of samples are up for the taking. Start at the Maison du Tourisme in Herve to pick up a map and view a short video about the area’s farming tradition before setting off to explore by car or bike.
Zoom between rolling hills marked by ornate steeples and gurgling streams that thread their way from farm to farm, filling your belly as you go. Aside from the farms, notable sights include the Val Dieu Abbey and Brewery and the pretty villages of Aubel and Clermont.
When and Where To Go | This tasting itinerary is the recommended route for Saturday visits when farms welcome visitors to sample their produce. Visits on other days can be tricky to organise as most establishments continue as functioning farms.
Details | You can hire a bike from the Maison du Tourism in Herve for €15/€23 for a half/full day. Pick up a timetable for the tastings and a map of the cycle route. If you’re not visiting on a Saturday, you can still view the video and enjoy a small tasting of the local cheese, apple syrup and cider for just €3 per person.
Budget | Located across the river from the old town with a spacious terrace, onsite bar, restaurant and guest kitchen, the Auberge de Jeunesse de Liège (Liège Youth Hostel) is a decent budget option in Liège. Prices start from just €19 for a dorm or €48/€63 for a private single/double room with breakfast included. Hostelling International members receive a 10% discount plus deals on several attractions around town.
Mid Range | We stayed at the lovely B&B No. 5 located right in the historic centre. Boasting modern, spacious and beautifully designed rooms with an extravagant breakfast spread of fresh regional produce, it’s no surprise this is one of the top-rated hotels in Liège.
As one of Belgium’s major transport hubs, getting to Liège by public transport is easy from within Belgium or any of its neighbouring countries.
Train | Direct trains leave from Brussels and Namur, or if you’re arriving by plane, trains run from Charleroi Station or from the Brussels Zaventem Airport with a change in either Brussels or Leuven. Check rates and timetables here.
Bus | Liège is also a major transfer point for FlixBus, one of our favourite (and most affordable) ways to travel in Europe. Short distance travel often costs less than €10 or if you’ll be travelling for a while in Europe, InterFlix is a great money saver for long-distance travel. Check rates and timetables here.
Car | If you’re travelling by car, finding reliable overnight parking can be tricky in Liege and certainly won’t be free. There are a number of overnight options in the city centre, just ask your hotel for a nearby recommendation. Also, remember that Liège may appear on street signs as Lüttich (German) or Luik (Dutch/Flemish). Find the best deal on car rental here.
A big thanks to Wallonia Belgium Tourism for hosting us during our stay. As always, all opinions are our own.