*this post is part of an agreement with Ryanair and the Charleroi tourism board following a press trip.
Can you BELIEVE i’m writing this post following my first ever press trip? I still have to pinch myself at times to get myself to remember that this is real and i didn’t dream it.
It was quite the experience. I think i’ll write a post about the overall press trip experience because it was unlike anything else i’ve experienced. But for now, we’re just gonna do your classic city break guide.
I’ve also decided to split the press trip into two posts; we visited two different areas and they were both so different and we packed a lot in. It seemed silly to do one huge post when both places are wonderful to visit on their own.
So, to kick things off, here’s all the things to do and see in the city of Charleroi, Belgium.
Where is Charleroi?
Charleroi is a Belgian city around 30 miles south of Brussels; people often fly into Charleroi airport and head straight to Brussels as it doesn’t take long at all. I’m here to tell you why you should stick with Charleroi instead!
What is Charleroi?
Let’s backtrack for a hot second. Charleroi was created, essentially, to protect Brussels. The whole city was a fortress at one point in time, meant to protect invaders from advancing any further. Of course, they did anyway, and Charleroi has been under French, Austrian, Dutch and Spanish control. Multiple times.
The fortress was eventually torn down and the Sambre was filled in to create more space for the industrial revolution. Charleroi became a very industrial place and the majority of the city was covered in large factories and mines.
A lot of these factories aren’t used anymore but still stand there. Charleroi locals seemed very proud of their industrial past and took us to see some of the best views of the industrial areas that still remain.
Now, Charleroi is trying to build their reputation as a tourist hot-spot. Belgium is a beautiful country and a lot of people only know of Brussels or Bruges; Charleroi are trying to put themselves on the map too.
where to stay
Full disclosure, as we were there on a press trip, we were treated to the loveliest accommodation you could find in Charleroi. I know this won’t be to everyone’s tastes or budgets, so i’ve also done my research to find you a cheaper place.
We stayed at the Hotel Charleroi Novotel Centre for half our trip (with the other half spent in the second location which i’ll cover in post #2) and it’s the nicest you can find in the area. 4*, i think.
Our room looked out onto the main square, making the location the best for anyone looking to explore the area. The beds were comfortable, they have wifi, a tv, air-con, and a gorgeous shower. I’m a bit of a shower snob but this one was 10/10, would shower in again.
Prices start at around €70 per night, so if that’s a little out of your budget, you can check out Auberge de Jeunnesse, where prices start at €30 per night.
Auberge de Jeunnesse is a youth hostel, but you can also book private rooms if you like your own space. Location wise, it really couldn’t be better. It’s on the opposite side of the main square from Novotel, so whilst you’re compromising on luxury, you don’t have to compromise on location.
what to do
Now, onto the good stuff. What can you actually do in Charleroi? Well, i’m glad you asked. Quite a lot.
Charleroi is the place to go if you love street art. And i mean, who doesn’t?! They actively encourage and commission artists to paint gorgeous murals on the street, making every turn the potential to find something beautiful.
One of my favourite things that we saw was the Museum of Photography – it’s the biggest museum dedicated to photography in Europe. Each room had a different theme (happiness, sadness, etc) and a selection of photographs to look at.
I’m a big fan of photography so it was really inspiring to see. My favourite room was the room full of things we’re “not supposed” to talk about – prostitution, mastectomies, war. It was fascinating and definitely worth a visit if you own a camera.
Whilst we’re on the topic of sadness, on our last full day we visited Bois du Cazier. Bois du Cazier was the site of a mining accident which killed 262 men in 1956. It’s now preserved as an industrial heritage site, but you can visit and see how the miners would have lived.
Mine and Max’s last day was spent with our tour guides, exploring the old part of the city. We went into the Palais de Beaux-Arts, the town hall and the belfry. The Palais interior is breathtaking, and the huge painting inside details everything Charleroi is known for.
The belfry boasts some of the most gorgeous views of the city, and you can see the city changing as new buildings are under construction and the old ones are being torn down.
where to eat
We ate extremely well whilst in Charleroi, and as an incredibly fussy eater, i found there was actually quite a lot for me to manage.
We first went to LaMU L’Atelier for a beer tasting followed by dinner. They brew their beer in the middle of the restaurant and serve it on tap, which i’m sure i would like if i had a taste for beer. In terms of food, i had a bolognese which was delicious. I figured that would be the safest choice.
Charleroi are very well known for their meatballs, which might be a weird thing to be known for, but after trying them, it’s definitely justified. I had two chicken meatballs and two beef meatballs in a tomato sauce; they were great. Even if i couldn’t tell the difference between the beef and chicken for the whole meal. My palette isn’t very refined.
Not far from Bois du Cazier, there is a restaurant called Mine de Rien known for their delicious pasta. We were generously treated to 3 different pasta dishes and a spectacular speculoos dessert. I will admit i’m not a huge fan of set menus, being so fussy means other people deciding for me doesn’t go well. Max can vouch for how delicious the pasta was, though, and i’m still dreaming about the dessert.
On our last night, we ate at Quai10, which is where we saw the King and Queen of Belgium a few days earlier. Quai10 is a cinema but also a restaurant and also an arts centre, i think. I went for the famous meatballs here and i didn’t love them as much as the Meatball Bar, but by that point i was just craving chicken. They’re very heavy on the red meat over there.
Our final lunch was one of my favourite meals we had – pho. Pot-au-pho is a really chilled out place to get some delicious Vietnamese food. I had chicken and we also got a side of vegetable spring rolls and chicken croquettes, which was a weird change and i wish they were potato.
Overall, i really enjoyed our visit to Charleroi although i loved the things we did and saw more in Thuin; a post on all that will be up shortly. I had only ever visited Brussels briefly on a school trip, so getting to see a whole other side to Belgium was fascinating.
Max loved learning about the more industrial side of things and seeing the factories, abandoned and still in use. I found the history of Charleroi fascinating and loved the street art tours. There is something for everyone there.
However, city breaks aren’t for everyone. The city environment can be a bit stressful, so if you’re looking for something a bit more low-key, you’ll want to check out my post on Thuin – the town by the lake.
I just want to take a second to thank all our guides – their passion and enthusiasm for their city was so enjoyable to witness and we could tell just how much they loved it there. They were proud to have us there and show us everything the area had to offer.