Charleroi is the perfect weekend destination for those who want to look further than the well known polished destinations. Here you will find a real living and working city, where the industrial flourishing past (and present) is intertwined with a future driven by renewed creativity. The city is developing at a fast pace and is therefore becoming more interesting and attractive by the day.
This city guide of Charleroi will help you get that unique urban experience by discovering its Street Art, Art Deco and Art Nouveau buildings, museums, nature and best places to enjoy vegetarian cuisine:
See and do in Charleroi
Great wealth was brought to Charleroi by the steel industry and coal mines in the previous century. The last mine shut down in the eighties, but there are still many remnants of this industrial past. Not only the abandoned factory buildings remind us of that time, but also various works of art adorn the streets of the city. One of them is the statue 'The Crouching Miner' (from 1937) which can be found in front of a footbridge over the River Sambre.
'Notre Maison' with a bas-relief of Mary and son at the top, and a miner, steel worker and a potter underneath is another example of this kind of artworks. It was built in 1950 for the 'Christian Labor Movement' which stood up for the rights of the miners. Nowadays it's a classic café and restaurant, with the original decor and murals showing the mining past.
A stroll through 'Passage de la Bourse' takes you back to the grandeur of the late 19th century. As of its opening in 1892 many shops, restaurants and even a cinema were situated here. Unfortunately over the years many of them had to close their doors due to the declining economy, but there are some beautiful shops that keep this wonderful place alive. For example the concept store Mama & Son with coffee, street wear and sneakers, but also optician Lionel Devillers with the latest (sun)glasses. And probably the most charming bookstore of Charleroi: Fafouille. In addition to browsing the shelves in search for your new book, you can also go there for a cup of coffee, tea or something stronger at their café Livre ou Verre.
The typical Modernist architecture from the fifties and sixties is clearly visible in the Palais de Justice and in its integrated artworks and park. When the sun is low there can be a nice shadow play around the building.
The Church of Saint-Christophe also dates from the sixties, but from three centuries earlier. It is well known for its 200m² large (mostly covered in gold leaf) mosaic behind the altar. The church is located on the same square as the Tourism Office and the city hall.
Stroll along the renovated and car-free quays of the left bank (rive gauche) and enjoy the sunshine on one of the benches while watching the river. Make sure you also take a look at the Art Deco bridge Pont Roi Baudouin with the two famous statues which remind of the coal mining past.
The former post office (Hôtel des Postes) is found at Place Verte, which is one of the most important squares of the city. You can no longer send letters from here, but bookworms can go there to marvel at the thousands of books offered at bookstore Molière. The majority consists of French books, but English, German, Italian, Russian, Arabic and Spanish speaking customers can find something to their liking here as well.
Street Art originated in the 1960s in the streets of Philadelphia and about 20 years later the first murals appeared in Charleroi. Since then, these works of art have evolved into, often very detailed, colourful and meters high professional paintings. The tourism office of Visit Charleroi has mapped out a Street Art Tour of 5,4 km (33.5 mi) to show you its masterpieces. It takes around 2 hours to complete the route.
Starting point ☞ Charleroi-Sud (south) train station
Mural of two dandies by Belgian artist Sozyone Gonzalez dating from 2014.
'Red Riding Hood and the Wolf' by El Niño 76 & Demos.
Cartoon lovers might want to take a look inside the subway station "Parc", as there are many lucky Luke images, including his dog Rantanplan, Jolly Jumper and the Daltons. Nice to know: Lucky Luke was created by Belgian cartoonist Maurice De Bevere (known as Morris) in 1946.
HuskMitNavn from Denmark brightened up the walls of a primary school.
Architecture lovers will probably be interested in walking the Art Nouveau Route and the Art Deco Route. The Art Nouveau Route of 2 km (1.24 mi) long takes you along the prettiest buildings of the late 19th and early 20th century. Characteristics of Art Nouveau (also known as Jugendstil in Germany) are arches, wrought iron, curved and stained glass, floral motifs and long wavy lines.
Starting point ☞ Place Charles II 20
One of the Art Nouveau highlights is 'The Golden Mansion', which was built in 1899 for a family who have acquired their wealth in the glass industry.
The Art Deco Route is 4 km (2.48 mi) long and takes you to architectural masterpieces built between 1920 and 1940. Characteristics of Art Deco are geometric forms, clean lines, triangular shapes and sleek design. This movement varied over the years, from exuberant to more abstract, and a lot in between.
Starting point ☞ Pont Roi Baudouin
Le Piano De Heug from 1935 was built for manufacturer De Heug, who have been making pianos for almost one century.
Maison Dermine from 1921 at Boulevard Audent.
Art Deco house with pine cone artisanal bricks, made by Belgian master potter Roger Guérin (1896-1954).
The Museum of Photography is located in a beautiful ancient convent about 4 km (2.5 mi) outside of the city center of Charleroi. It has over 2200 m² of exhibition surface and is considered as one of the most important (and largest) photography museums in Europe. In my opinion you need at least 2 to 3 hours to see the temporary and permanent collection.
The museum also has a café with a nice semi-outside terrace.
Combine your city trip with some nature and exercise while walking over 4 slag heaps just outside of the city of Charleroi. These slag heaps are artificial hills made of waste material from mining, which are called 'terrils' in Belgium and France. The name comes from the French words "terre ill" which means "ill soil". The walking tour of slag heaps / terrils is about 5 km (3.1 mi) long and takes approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes. The difficulty of the route (which is clearly marked with red signage) is rated as 'medium' due to the height difference. (Don't expect to find paradise here, this hiking trail sets you face to face with the effects of consumption and production. Walking over the remains of the mining past shows you the reality of its consequences, which is fascinating to see.)
Starting point ☞ Rue du Chemin de Fer 29
Coffee in Charleroi
Matthew's House is an American-style cafe and bakery where sweet tooths can indulge themselves in freakshakes (milkshakes with almost everything you can think of on top). But those who like pure black coffee can also go there to enjoy Syphon and Chemex coffee.
Vegetarian lunch and dinner in Charleroi
100% vegan and organic comfort food can be found at Veni Vidi Vegan. Here you will get homemade, market fresh dishes like vegan salads, pasta, a burger, pita, antipasti, sweets and so on. There are gluten-free options as well.
Go to Osteria Romana to try pinsa instead of pizza! This is the only place in Belgium where you can eat 'Pinsa Romana' which has a light crispy dough, is more digestible and has fewer calories. About a third of the menu is meat free, so there is enough to choose from for vegetarians.
Brasserie Quai10 shares the same roof with Charleroi's most famous cinema (with screenings from arthouse to more mainstream) which is located in the former National Bank of Belgium. The building dates back to the 60's and has a unique architecture. We ate delicious vegetarian ravioli with ricotta and truffle, and tomato and basil.
Drinks in Charleroi
L'Atelier de La Manufacture Urbaine (LaM.U) is a city brewery, restaurant, beer pub and concert hall in one. Several beers are being brewed here, and even coffee is roasted on the spot. It's nice to sit here between the (occasionally) hissing beer tanks for a drink and a bite.
Charming B&B in Charleroi
B&B 76tour is located in an atmospheric Art Deco building opposite of the tall police tower, which is a good landmark to navigate because of its height. The spacious and very clean room can accommodate up to three people, because of the adjoining room with an extra single bed. In the morning Laurence welcomes you with a delicious breakfast in her charming living room. No hotel can compete with such a pleasant personal experience. (Good to know: the train station of Charleroi-Sud is 1,5 km (9.3 mi) away, and those who arrive by car can easily find a (paid) parking space opposite of the B&B. Subway station 'Janson' is located across the street.)
How to get to Charleroi
A train will take you to Charleroi within:
- 30 minutes from Mons or Namur
- 1 hour from Brussels
- 1 hour and 20 minutes from Liège
- 1 hour and 30 minutes from Ghent
- 1 hour and 45 minutes from Antwerp or Lille (Fr)
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Please note: I was invited to experience a weekend in Charleroi by Visit Charleroi Métropole.