Tongeren: Belgium's oldest city


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Photo of Tongeren and its canals
Photo of Tongeren and its canals

A summary of its history

Tongeren is the oldest town in Belgium. According to official documents, as early as 54 BC, the then king of Eburone, Ambiorix, defeated the Romans occupying the territory, and from 15 BC, Tongeren developed into a Gallo-Roman civil settlement. Later, in the 2nd century it was granted market rights and in the 4th century it became the seat of the first bishopric in the Netherlands. As the centuries passed, the town grew in importance, and by the 13th century Tongeren in particular had a collection of churches, monasteries, shops and even a beguinage, which necessitated the construction of a new city wall to protect it from invaders. One of the most tragic moments in its history occurred in 1677, when a ferocious fire reduced its centre to ashes. The city finally began to develop as a tourist attraction in the second half of the 20th century and is now the judicial capital of the province of Limburg.

Where is Tongeren located?

Tongeren is located in the south of the province of Limburg, very close to the border with the province of Liège. Fortunately, the train service provided by the SNCB/NMBS gives Tongeren good connections to other major cities in Belgium, such as Brussels, Antwerp and Liège. In addition, the Flemish regional public transport company "De Lijn" operates bus services to Tongeren from Liège and Maastrich (Netherlands). In case you are interested in evaluating different options on how to get to Tongeren, we recommend you to use the widget below. Finally, another interesting option, particularly if you would like to travel around the outskirts of the city which are perhaps a bit more inaccessible by public transport, could be to rent a car. We recommend you to do it through this link, where you will find the best offer at the best price.

Top attractions in Tongeren

Below is a list of the main attractions in Tongeren:

  1. Market square (Grote Markt): like every Flemish city, Tongeren has a beautiful market square surrounded by imposing buildings and beautiful houses. It is worth sitting on one of its many terraces to taste some Belgian beer, which is widely considered to be the best in the world! Here you will also find:

    • The Basilica of Our Lady (Onze-Lieve-Vrouwebasiliek): the construction of the present Gothic church began in 1240 after the old Romanesque church here burnt down. It took more than 300 years to build it and today its imposing bell tower is included on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

    • The Town Hall (Stadhuis): the current town hall dates from 1737 and was built in the Mosan Renaissance architectural style, also known as Maasland Renaissance. As a curious fact, this town hall is very similar to the one in Liège and in fact this is because they were built by the same architect, Pascal Barbier.

    • The Statue of Ambiorix (Standbeeld van Ambiorix): is an imposing bronze statue of King Ambiorix of Eburon dating from 1866. It refers to the great victory over the Romans in 54 BC and for this reason Julius Caesar called the Belgians "the bravest of all the Gauls".

  2. Photo of the Basilica of Our Lady in Tongeren, Belgium
    Photo of the Basilica of Our Lady in Tongeren, Belgium
  3. Gallo-Romeins Museum: is a permanent exhibition that tells the story of man in the Limburg region through illuminated objects, animations, realistic figures, films and models, from prehistoric times to the end of the Roman era. The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday and admission is very affordable: €1 for children under 18, €8 for adults and €5 for seniors over 65.

  4. Saint Catherine's Beguinage (Sint-Catharina Begijnhof): founded in the 13th century, it is fortunately one of the survivors of the Great Fire of the 17th century. Today it has a church, a museum, numerous houses and a beautiful restaurant which formerly served as an infirmary. It has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is, without a doubt, a must-see if you are visiting the city.

  5. Photo of the Beguinage of Tongeren, Belgium
    Photo of the Beguinage of Tongeren, Belgium
  6. Medieval Walls (Middeleeuwse wallen): there are still remnants of the 13th century wall, which was erected as a replacement for the old Roman wall from the 4th century. These medieval walls had 13 towers and 6 gates. The best preserved parts are along Elfde Novemberwal and Leopoldwal.

  7. Moerenpoortmuseum (Moerenpoortmuseum): this is the only gate of the second city wall still standing and dates back to 1379. Today it houses the city's military history museum and is also used as a lookout point.

  8. City park "De Motten" (Stadspark De Motten): this park is a real paradise in the city, a perfect combination of water and nature. It is the ideal place for a stroll in the open air.

Finally, we provide you with an interactive map of Tongeren, where you can easily identify the location of each point of interest mentioned above. In addition, by clicking on the markers you can go directly to the paragraph containing the information about that point. Moreover, if you allow us to obtain your geographical location by clicking on the button below the map, you will also be able to see your position and thus find the points of interest more easily (reverse search provided by LocationIQ.com).

What to visit around Tongeren?

Alden Biesen Castle (Landcommanderij Alden Biesen): just 10 km from the centre of Tongeren is this wonderful castle. We rented bicycles at the Tongeren train station and it took us about 45 minutes to reach our destination, although by car the journey time is reduced to about 20 minutes. We highly recommend a visit to this castle, which is owned by the Flemish government. We were particularly impressed by both its structures and its gardens, and best of all, it is free!

Photo of Alden Biesen Castle, Belgium
Photo of Alden Biesen Castle, Belgium

Where to stay in Tongeren?

One day was enough for us to see all the must-see sights of the city, but if you want to visit all the museums, experience the nightlife and explore the castle, we suggest at least two days. We recommend you to book your hotel room through this link, where you will find the most varied offer at the best price.

Further information?

Here is our video of Tongeren (with English subtitles). If for some reason the video does not load or you encounter any other problem during playback, from here you will be able to watch it directly from our YouTube channel.

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