Mons in Belgium is probably one of the first places in Europe that were inhabited by human beings: with archeological evidence suggesting that there were people here as early as in the Neolithic period.
Mons (Dutch: Bergen, not to be confused with the namesake city in Norway) is the capital of the Belgian province of Hainaut, in the region of Wallonia. The town is a worthy place to base yourself for a multi-day exploration of the Hainaut region.
It is home to some of the most amazing historic buildings from the middle ages that you can find anywhere in the world. It is a place where you can see how human development has been over the years: with ancient buildings standing side by side with modern buildings. With a population of just under 100,000 people, Mons is big enough to be lively, yet at the same time, small enough to be termed as ‘cute’ in the realest sense of the word.
Mons was the European Capital of Culture in 2015, together with Plzeň in the Czech Republic.
- Brussels Airport
- Brussels South Charleroi Airport
Cheap Flights to Brussels
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The train station is walking distance west of the historic centre. There are regular train links with Brussels, Charleroi, Tournai, all nodes in the Belgian train network. The national railway company of Belgium is called SNCB in French.
Take the Mons exit from the E19/E42
Getting around Mons
Mons is one of the few places where you can find absolutely free (zero-fare) urban buses. Yes, you heard it right: in Mons, you just have to jump onto any bus and you won’t have to pay a cent, for a trip within the city center. Take note though, that it is only the short distance buses, doing the ‘town service’ within the city center (the ones that are painted white) that are for free. The yellow ones, doing longer distances, demand fares.
There is also the option of using the train. The train will, however, only get you to Mons and around a few places in Mons.
Further on is the option of hiring a car, and using it to get around Mons. This is not a very clever move, because for one, Mons is a smallish city: the sort of city that doesn’t quite justify being explored on a car. More importantly though, you will come to realize that there are places where cars are discouraged from going in Mons, and most of those are actually the sorts of places that would be of most interest to you as a person looking to savor the awesome sights Mons has to offer.
Being a small city, Mons can be quite extensively explored by foot, and this is indeed a worthwhile adventure. The cobbled streets you will be doing most of the walking on are just amazing.
If you are a keen observer, you will notice, as you try to get around Mons, that many of the streets that encompass the city are actually built where the fortifying walls of the city once stood. The experience of being there is just surreal, as are the sights you come across.
Things to do and see in Mons
In order to take in as much of what Mons has to offer as possible, it makes sense to start your exploration of the city at the main square – located in the old city. While in the square, you will probably feel as if you have been taken back to another age: thanks to the nature of the buildings you will be see, the cobbled streets and so much more. This is also a place where you can do a bit of dining (as there are many fine restaurants) and a bit of shopping.
The Mons city hall is definitely a sight to behold, and a historical monument in its own right.
The Mayor’s Garden (Le Jardin du Maieur) is another interesting sight, with its remarkable fountain.
Towering at more than 80 meters, the Mons Belfry (built using the Baroque style) is a feature that will leave you awed.
You will also want to make a stopover at the Guardhouse Monkey, and perhaps even have a chance to make a wish upon it (it being, supposedly, a feature that was installed, hundreds of years ago, to bring good luck to the residents of Mons).
While in Mons, you may also consider visiting the Spanish House, the Royal Conservatory and St Waltrude Collegiate Church. All of these are amazing from an architectural and historical point of view.
- The Ducasse de Mons of Doudou is the name of a week-long series of festivities or Ducasse, which originates from the 14th century and takes place every year on Trinity Sunday. Highlights include:
- The entrusting of the reliquary of Saint Waltrude to the mayor of the city on the eve of the procession.
- The placement of the reliquary on the Car d’Or (golden carriage), before it is carried in the city streets in a colourful procession that counts more than a thousand costumed participants.
- The lifting of the Car d’Or on a paved area near the church of Saint Waltrude; tradition holds that this operation must be successful for the city to prosper.
- The Lumeçon fight, where Saint George confronts the dragon. The fight lasts for about half an hour, accompanied by the rhythmic “Doudou” music. The tradition of the processional dragon is listed among the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
Where to stay in Mons
- The historic town of Nimy is a few kilometers to the north up the N6.
- The Grand-Large Marina is close to the IMAGIPARK amusement park, and is a good place to start a canal tour of the local waterways.
- The MAC’s in Grand-Hornu (via TEC Bus lines 7 and 9) is a beautiful museum in a superb historic industrial coal site. Visit also the places near Grand-Hornu where Vincent Van Gogh lived.
- Cambron-Casteau — home to Pairi Daiza, a popular animal park north of Mons on the way to Ath.
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