An hour outside Brussels, Charleroi has often been overlooked as a travel destination in favour of its more popular neighbour. However, for a budget traveller with an interest in beer, hearty food, and the arts - it's the perfect place to spend a weekend away.
I've recommended some of the best things to see, do, eat, drink and places to stay below.
With direct flights starting at €11 each way with Ryanair, and accommodation prices starting at €20 for a hostel, Charleroi is a seriously cheap weekend getaway. Take advantage of free beer tastings, live music nights, and cultural events and you can have a great time on a tight budget.
Details on flight schedules and routes are below, so you can grab yourself a cheap fare!
Charleroi is often referred to as 'the city with art at its heart'. It has a collection of world-class street art, Europe's largest photography museum, a thriving underground music scene, and is the home of The Smurfs and many other popular French-language comic characters.
Music lovers should go here for the famous Uzine festival, and many of the other music, arts, and beer festivals on throughout the year. Check out this site to plan your visit during one of these festivals.
London, Paris, and Rome are all incredible places to visit, but you know what they have in common? There's an almost overwhelming number of things to see and do. It's easy to feel guilty or like you're missing out if you don't tick off absolutely every sight in the city.
If you want to pound the pavements all day, going from one sight to the next, then you might find Charleroi lacking somewhat. But if you just want to get away for a weekend and experience a new culture, go for a few drinks, eat local food, enjoy live music, and chill out - then this is the ideal place to go.
This once rich and powerful city built its economy on coal-based industries - and, like many industrial towns, its fortunes changed as those industries declined in the 1970s. In the wake of Charleroi's economic collapse, crime rates increased and the city's reputation suffered.
However, this hardship has inspired a generation of artists who have turned the relics of the industrial age into a technicolour landscape of weird and wacky street art, and now the city is focused on cleaning up its image and returning to its former glory. I would consider Charleroi a work in progress, which means that you may have to scratch beneath its imperfect surface to discover the beauty of the city. I am excited to see how the city develops over the coming years, and hoping to return someday.
Ryanair fly directly to Charleroi from 83 destinations around Europe with fares starting from as little as €11 each way. Below are the flight schedules from Dublin, Manchester, and Edinburgh - to find flights from other airports you can search Ryanair.com.
Dublin - Charleroi
Manchester - Charleroi
I highly recommend downloading their app as I found that the easiest way to book and check in for my flight, and also to store my boarding passes. You can download the free Ryanair app on the Apple app store here and the Google Play store here.
Address: Place Verte 17, 6000 Charleroi, Belgium
We stayed in Novotel City Centre in Charleroi, where double rooms start at €102 per night. The hotel is attached to the Rive Gauche shopping mall which is really convenient if you want to do some shopping while you're in Charleroi. From Leonidas chocolates to H&M to cute coffee shops and high end clothes stores, you can find pretty much anything you want in this mall.
Location-wise, the Novotel hotel is perfect for exploring the city without a car. The train station is just a 5 minute walk away, and you can walk right out the door to restaurants, bars, and many sights. A buffet breakfast is included in the room, there is an outdoor terrace you can have a drink in the evenings, and there is a small gym with cardio machines but no weights.
We had a really comfortable stay here for two nights, and I would happily stay here again if we came back to Charleroi. I was really happy with the location, and I liked that I could work out in the morning before heading out exploring for the day.
Here are some other great options in Charleroi in a variety of price ranges.
Meat, cheese and potatoes feature strongly on menus in Charleroi, so meat-eating beer lovers will be very happy here! For vegetarians and vegans you may struggle a little, but I have found some great recommendations for you below.
One thing to be aware of when eating out in Charleroi is that opening hours are more restricted than you may be used to back home. Many places open for lunch, and close again until evening service - or are not open certain days of the week. So if there is anywhere below that you are keen to try, make a note of the opening hours before you go!
Here are some great restaurants you can try in Charleroi.
La Manufacture Urbaine
Address: Rue de Brabant 2, 6000 Charleroi, Belgium
Opening hours: Tues - Thurs: 11am - 10pm, Fri - Sat: 11am - 1am
A brewery, bakery, coffee roaster, and a live music venue, 'La Mu' as the locals call it, is a great option for a group meal or chilled date. The menu is meaty, carby and cheesy, with a beer recommendation to go with every dish. Try the trio of meatballs which are a popular dish in Charleroi, or if you're not a meat eater I recommend the goat's cheese salad drizzled with honey!
Main dishes start at €12 and you can view the menu here.
Mine de Rien
Address: Rue du Cazier 11, 6001 Charleroi, Belgium
Opening hours: Mon - Sat:12–2pm & 6:30–9pm
This unassuming Italian restaurant is located opposite the Bois du Cazier museum (described below) - so it would make a great stop before or after a visit here.
We visited Mine de Rien during our trip and dined on 3 courses of pasta, followed by a delicious Speculoos dessert. Veggies and vegans, the menu does look meat-heavy, but don't be afraid to ask for your dishes without meat. The staff were really friendly and great with me not eating meat and with Tim's allergies. They prepared special dishes for us both so that we were able to enjoy our meals with everyone else. I had the best Tagliatelle boscaïola which I highly recommend!
Main dishes start at €12 and you can view the full menu and book a table online here.
Address: Rue Basslé 27, 6000 Charleroi, Belgium
Opening Hours: Tues - Fri: 12pm - 12am
This hearty Italian restaurant is popular in Charleroi and gets an impressive 4.8/5 on TripAdvisor and 4.6/5 on Google reviews. 2 Fenêtres offers classic Italian food with very well priced wine in an intimate setting.
Perfect for a date night, this restaurant is only open Tuesday to Friday from 12 -2pm and 6:30 - 9:30pm. If you're eager to eat here I would call and make a reservation - contact details can be found here.
The menu is vegetarian friendly, and they also host a 'Vegetarian Thursday' each week where they serve only veggie meals. Gluten free options are also available here. Mains start at €16, and the only place I have been able to find their menu is on their Facebook page here.
Some other great restaurants to try:
Vegetarian & Vegan Friendly Restaurants
While good vegetarian food can be a bit tricky to come by, I found that Charleroi's vegan options were even more limited. Most restaurants don't offer vegan options at all, but there are vegan friendly restaurants you can try in the city. You just have to do a bit more research!
Veni Vidi Vegan is a vegan restaurant that gets great reviews online - just be sure to check it's opening hours before you go! Le Pain Quotidien also has some tasty veggie friendly options too. To find other great vegan and veggie restaurants, check out HappyCow.net, which is the best resource for finding vegetarian and vegan food anywhere in the world.
Address: Rue de la Providence 136, 6030 Charleroi, Belgium
Opening hours: Check the upcoming gig listings and times here
Le Rockerill was created in 2005 by a collective of artists who decided to transform this former steelworks into a cultural and music venue. Le Rockerill is a unique venue to listen to the best alternative music in an industrial atmosphere. There are more than 80 events and 200 artists each year (such as Laurent Garnier, Jazzy Jeff, Front 242, Little Big, Sugarhill Gang, Grandmaster Flash etc). We were lucky enough to visit here for the Uzine festival and I had the best night discovering some great French hip-hop - the energy in this place was crazy!
La Cuve à Bière
Address: Boulevard Jacques Bertrand 68 (803.46 km) 6000 Charleroi
Opening hours: Mon - Sun: 11am - 2am
This quirky bar is one of the liveliest in the city, with a wide selection of Belgian beers to choose from. Close to Le Rockerill, this could be a good first stop before going to watch some live music.
La Cuve à Bière serves hearty food, and hosts regular vinyl markets plus other events.
Address: Rue de Marchienne 25, Charleroi, Belgium
Opening hours: Tuesday & Wednesday: 12h - 18h30 / Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday: 12h - 00h /
One of the most popular cocktail bars in Charleroi, Le Carolopolitan gets excellent reviews for its friendly staff, unique cocktails, and warm atmosphere. The selection of cocktails here is huge, and the mixologists working behind the bar are always happy to whip something up for your tastes.
La Carolopolitan also serves light meals like salads, Croque Monsieur, and cheese & meat boards. If you're here on a Thursday, pop in for Happy Hour between 7-9pm.
The Irish Times Pub
Address: Boulevard J. Tirou 86, Charleroi
Opening hours: Sun - Weds: 12pm–2am, Thurs - Sat: 12pm–4am
If you're on the hunt for the best Irish bar in town, then look no further than The Irish Times! Walk into this large, cosy pub and you could almost feel like you're back at home. With Guinness on draught and Taytos behind the bar, it's a welcome taste of home in the middle of the city.
The Irish Times shows most rugby, GAA and football matches, and hosts regular live music, plus a DJ every Thursday and Friday night. During the afternoons the atmosphere is chilled out, so you can pop in for a quiet drink and a bite to eat.
Check out their website for information on upcoming events, sports listings, and live music. The Irish Times also have two other pubs in Antwerp and Hasselt.
Some other great bars to try:
Go Beer Tasting
Belgium is famous for its beer, with over 800 varieties brewed in the country - so no trip here is complete without a tasting. Even if you're not a beer drinker I recommend giving it a try, as you could find something you love!
There are two breweries in the city which offer tours and tastings to visitors;
Do a Street Art Tour
If you're interested in street art or urban photography, you will be spoiled in Charleroi. With its landscape dominated by the relics of its industrial past, Charleroi launched their 'Urban Dream' project. They invited 100 street artists and painters from all over the world to add colour and fun to where industry left its mark. Walking through the city, your head will regularly be turned to large murals dominating the side of buildings, along the canal, and even dotted on the floor as you walk by.
Visit the Musée de la photographie
Address: Avenue Paul Pastur 11 | Mont-sur-Marchienne, Charleroi 6032, Belgium
Opening Hours: Tues - Sun: 10am-6pm
The largest dedicated photography museum in Europe, this former convent is home to a collection of 80,000 photographs. 50,000 people visit each year to learn about the history of photography and see its constantly rotating exhibitions. This is an interesting look at how photos were taken and developed throughout the years, and a chance to see some fascinating shots.
If you like taking photos yourself, pop around back to the gardens for your own exhibition-worthy photo.
Learn about the sad history of Charleroi at Bois du Cazier
Address: Rue du Cazier 80, 6001 Charleroi, Belgium
Opening Hours: Tues - Fri: 9am to 5pm, weekends:10am -6pm
Price: Adults €8 - 60+ €7 - students / children €4.50 - children (<6) free of charge • Audio guide €1
In 1956, a great fire ripped through this busy coalmine, killing 262 of the 275 men who had descended into the mine to work that day. These men were of 12 different nationalities, and there were even several generations of some families killed in the blaze.
The site of the tragedy has now been converted into a UNESCO World Heritage-listed museum and memorial. During the tour you learn about the history of the mine, the stories of the men that were killed, how they had come to be in Charleroi, and the fateful events that took place that day. You can see their living quarters, where they would descend into the mines each day, and even hear taped accounts from survivors.
This was the most interesting stop during our tour of Charleroi, and I highly recommend a visit. It's a fascinating and somber insight into Charleroi's industrial past, so expect to spend a few hours here as there is a lot to see, watch, and read.
Snap a photo of Saint-Christophe's church
Address: Place Charles II, 6000 Charleroi, Belgium
Opening Hours: Mon - Sun: 8am - 7pm
Belgium’s oldest church, St Christophers dates back to 823BC. Its location in the middle of the town makes it easy to visit during your time in the city, so it's well worth a quick stop during your time here.
This is a gorgeous spot to take a photo on a sunny day, and inside, a mosaic made from millions of pieces of coloured glass or covered with thin gold leaf is the most impressive item in the church.
Shop at Centre Commerciale Rive Gauche
Address: Place Verte n°20 - Boite 2, 6000 Charleroi
Opening Hours: Mon - Sat: 10am - 7pm
If you're interested in shopping when you're in Charleroi, this mall should have everything you're looking for. You'll find high street stores like H&M and Pull & Bear, and also local clothing, beauty, and food stores here.
While you're there, pop into Le Passage de la Bourse which is super pretty - and the location of our next stop.
Stop for coffee and a quick read at Livre Au Verre
Address: Le Passage de la Bourse 6, 6000 Charleroi, Belgium
Opening Hours: Tues - Sat: 11am-7pm
This super cute little bookshop and coffee shop would be a great place to stop and put your feet up between sights. Livre ou Verre serves food and drinks surrounded by packed bookshelves you can peruse while you eat. Fresh smoothies are available too, and tasty and healthy breakfast and lunch.
Take a Walk Through Nature at Arboretum of Monceau-Sur-Sambre
Address: Place Albert Ier 34, 6031 Charleroi, Belgium
Just a 15 minute drive from the city, the majestic Château de Monceau-sur-Sambre is surrounded by a magnificent park which is free to visit. The grounds provide a welcome escape from the bustle of the city, so grab a picnic and take a walk here on a sunny day. It's also so beautiful when the leaves change colour in autumn!
Explore an abandoned Power Plant
Address: 6030 Charleroi, Belgium
Opening Hours: This isn't officially open to the public
This spooky and imposing disused power plant is popular with urban explorers and photographers visiting Charleroi. While not officially open to the public, the gate is not locked so anyone can just walk in. I do recommend coming here during the day though as the whole area is abandoned.
You can find it easily by searching for Power Plant IM on Google Maps. It's a 12-minute drive outside the city, and if you don't have a car you can take the 109a bus from Charleroi Sud.
I hope that's given you some inspiration for an alternative Belgian city break! If you have any questions about Charleroi, or other suggestions for things to see and do there - feel free to leave them in the comments!
This article originally appeared on StephMyLifeTravel.com
For further information visit cm-tourisme.be.