Antwerp's most scenic hinterland is the Kempen moorland that stretches east of the city, along the Dutch border.
16km (10 miles) SE of Antwerp
A pretty, small town on the banks of the Nete River, Lier (Lierre in French) has canalside scenes reminiscent of Bruges.
Getting There -- Trains for Lier depart hourly from Antwerp Centraal Station. There are buses every half-hour or so from the bus station in front of Centraal Station, but they take longer. To go by car, take N10.
Visitor Information -- Toerisme Lier, Stadhuis (Town Hall), Grote Markt 57 (tel. 03/488-38-88; fax 03/488-12-76; www.lier.be).
Seeing the Sights--Don't miss the town's Zimmertoren (Zimmer Tower), Zimmerplein (tel. 03/491-13-95), which dates from the 14th century. It's equipped with the remarkable Centenary Clock and Wonder Clock, which were installed by astronomy enthusiast Lodewijk Zimmer to explain "Life, the Universe, and Everything" to his fellow citizens. The clocks show the sun, moon, signs of the zodiac, seasons, tides on the River Nete, and, quite possibly, tomorrow's movements on Wall Street. The tower is open daily in July and August from 9am to noon and 1 to 6pm; the rest of the year it closes at 4pm. Admission is 2€ ($2.50) for adults and 1€ ($1.25) for children.
If you have time, visit also the Stedelijk Museum (Municipal Museum), Florent van Cauwenberghstraat 14 (tel. 03/491-13-96), just off of the Grote Markt in the town center. Its art collection includes paintings by Rubens, Jan and Pieter Brueghel, David Teniers the Younger, and local artist Isidore Opsomer. The museum is open April to October, Saturday to Tuesday and Thursday from 10am to noon and 1:30 to 5:30pm. Admission is 2€ ($2.50) for adults and 1€ ($1.25) for children.
77km (48 miles) SE of Antwerp
The heart of Belgium's potent jenever industry, Hasselt is a center for touring the eastern reaches of the Kempen moorland.
Getting There -- The town is easily reached by hourly train from Antwerp, or by a leisurely drive east on N10 and N2.
Visitor Information -- Toerisme Hasselt is at Lombaardstraat 3 (tel. 011/23-95-40; fax 011/22-50-23; www.hasselt.be).
Seeing the Sights--Centuries of the loving care devoted to the fiery drink jenever are recalled in the exhibits of the Nationaal Jenevermuseum (National Jenever Museum), Witte Nonnenstraat 19 (tel. 011/24-11-44). These include its distillation, bottling, labeling, and, of course, drinking. The jenever has the last word in a free sample that rounds the visit off with an appropriate glow of gratitude. The museum is open April to October, Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 5pm; November to March, Tuesday to Friday from 10am to 5pm. Admission is 3€ ($3.75) for adults, 1€ ($1.25) for children ages 12 to 18, and free for children under 12.
A nearby attraction, which is especially interesting for children, is the Domein Bokrijk (Bokrijk Estate) (tel. 011/26-53-00), 8km (5 miles) northeast of town. On the grounds of the big wooded estate is the Openluchtmuseum (Open-Air Museum), consisting of old houses that provide detailed reconstructions of everyday Flemish life in premodern times. In some, craftspeople work at traditional trades, creating the illusion that you've been transported back to a simpler age easier to sustain. Although all of the buildings and village sites are clearly marked, I suggest you buy the English-language guide, which is an education in itself. In addition, the estate incorporates a big nature reserve. The museum is open April to September daily from 10am to 6pm. Admission Monday to Saturday is 6€ ($7.50) for adults, 5€ ($6.25) for seniors, 3€ ($3.75) for children ages 6 to 12, and free for children under 6; Sunday 7€ ($8.75) for adults, 6€ ($7.50) for seniors, 4€ ($5) for children ages 6 to 12, and free for children under 6. There is regular bus service from Hasselt, and train service from Brussels via Hasselt (Bokrijk has its own rail station). By car, take N75 from Hasselt.
88km (55 miles) SE of Antwerp
Belgium's oldest town (Tongres in French), with a history dating back to Roman times, is at the eastern end of the Kempen moorland, close to the Dutch border. Ambiorix, chief of the ancient Eburones, whipped one of Julius Caesar's legions here in 54 B.C., earning himself a martial statue on the town's Grote Markt.
Getting There -- There is frequent train service from Antwerp to Tongeren via Hasselt. By car, take N20 southeast from Hasselt.
Visitor Information -- Toerisme Tongeren, Stadhuisplein 9, 3700 Tongeren (tel. 012/39-02-55; fax 012/39-11-43; www.tongeren.be), is open April to September, Monday to Friday from 9:30am to 5pm, Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 4pm; October to March, Monday to Friday from 9:30 to noon and 1 to 4:30pm, Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 4pm.
Seeing the Sights--Tongeren is home to the imposing Onze-Lieve-Vrouwebasiliek (Basilica of Our Lady), a Gothic church with a Brabantine tower and a Romanesque cloister. Its rich schatkamer (treasury) contains rare religious objects from the Merovingian era (6th-8th c. A.D.) up to the 18th century. The basilica is open daily from 9am to 4pm (the treasury Apr-Sept). Admission to the basilica is free; to the treasury 2.50€ ($3.15) for adults, 1.50€ ($1.90) for seniors, students, and children ages 12 to 18, .50€ (65¢) for children ages 5 to 12, and free for children under 5.
Also worth a visit is the Gallo-Romeins Museum (Gallo-Roman Museum), Kielenstraat 15 (tel. 012/67-03-33), which contains 18,000 artifacts from prehistory through the Roman and Merovingian periods. The Roman period, when the town was known as Atuatuca Tungrorum, is especially well represented, and includes huge and important collections of relics from its cemetery and the surrounding countryside. From the province of Limburg alone, there are collections of Roman-era pottery, glassware, bronze articles, terra cotta, and sculptures. These are organized by theme to illustrate everyday life both in the country and in the city, and include exhibits on religious practices and traditions. The museum is open Monday from noon to 5pm, Tuesday to Friday from 9am to 5pm, and Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 6pm. It's closed on January 1 and December 25. Admission is 5€ ($6.25) for adults, 2€ ($2.50) for seniors and students, 1.25€ ($1.55) for children ages 6 to 12, and free for children under 6.
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