The beautiful city of Dinant is nestled in the rolling hills of the Walloon region of Belgium. The famous downtown is backed by powerful cliffs, atop which sits a fortified citadel. Lining the river are the classic colorful buildings that lead up to the Gothic Collegiate Church of Our lady. The city is peppered with huge saxophones, each representing a different country, in honor of the inventor of the saxophone, Adolphe Sax, who was born in Dinant.
The sweet little downtown is full of lovely cafes, boulangeries, sandwich shops and restaurants. It is seriously the cutest place – I can’t wait to see it again when Covid restrictions allow places to be open! A must is walking along the river on both sides, and across the bridge to enjoy the many saxophone sculptures surprising visitors around every turn. Heading up to the citadel is another must is taking the steps or cable car up the cliff to the citadel. The views from above are terrific! But the most recognizable view of Dinant is from right in front of the tourist information building (one of the few public toilets in town, too) next to the statue of Charles de Gaulle. The bridge, the cliffs, the cathedral, the buildings lining the river Meuse, the citadel…it’s too picture perfect!
The gothic cathedral of Notre Dame de Dinant was built in the 1200’s (replacing an earlier church built in the 900’s) and is characterized by an iconic pear-shaped dome bell tower crowning the cathedral. Inside are many statues carved from various materials and beautiful stained glass windows – one of which is among the largest in Europe – on the south facade.
It is so fun to walk across the bridge over the river Meuse! The views change on both sides of the river and from each side of the bridge thanks to the flags, saxophones, and colorful buildings.
There are 60 saxophones depicting countries sprinkled all over Dinant, all of the countries from the European Union and beyond. Keep an eye out on the sidewalks too – there are little metal footprints of various sizes embedded in the stones!
At the top of the cliff lies the citadel, a fortress that served as a strategic battle location above the river Meuse for many centuries beginning in 1051. It was destroyed and rebuilt many times, and the current fortification was built in 1815. Today it is now a military museum, showcasing many weapons of war (including a guillotine!) and memorabilia from the world wars. The views from the fortress are splendid and worthwhile!
Not far from Dinant, and still in the city limits, are two great castles: Chateau de Walzin and Chateau de Vêves. The routes to get to each castle are quite rural, and Dinant is located in the middle of the route between them, so plan accordingly and expect to do some walking!
Chateau de Walzin is about 20 minutes southwest and can be visited from the south side of the Lesse river via a walking trail if you park here. You can enjoy this castle without paying a dime, because they don’t allow visitors! The trails around the castle are lovely. We saw people biking, kayaking, and hiking around for picnics.
This famous castle was drawn by Victor Hugo in 1863, but it was originally built in the 15th century. Several fortifications through the 16th century created what we see today – the majestic castle on a cliff!
Vêves Castle (below) was originally fortified in 1230, but what we see today was built in 1410. It exchanged hands for hundreds of years, and today is a well preserved museum. More information and tickets available here.
Chateau de Vêves is southeast of Dinant and is very easy to reach. There is plenty of parking just before the castle on Rue de Furfooz or just after the castle in a lot. There is an entrance fee for this medieval castle, that I believe is waved if you appear in period costumes. Tickets for adults are € 8 and children are € 5 (under age 4 is free). Check the opening times! We haven’t been able to visit while they were open yet (thanks, pandemic) but we hope to tour the castle at some point!