Dinant is one of the most picturesque towns in Wallonia, the French part of Belgium. A small city located along the banks of the river Meuse, with the citadel of Dinant looming with grandeur over the city. Steeped in history, the story of Dinant goes back all the way to the 10th century. Most famous for its citadel, Adolphe Sax, the inventor of the saxophone and Leffe beer which was first brewed in Dinant, the town is quaint and charming and makes a great day trip from Brussels.
Being from Belgium, I had visited Dinant as a child with my parents. I must have been really small since I cannot remember anything about that visit. It took me a long time to return, but I’m glad I did. We went on a sunny Winters day, but a visit to Dinant is recommended any time of the year. It is however best to visit on a clear day which will provide great views from the citadel over the valley of the river Meuse.
Best things to do in Dinant, Belgium
Visit the Dinant citadel
Overlooking the town of Dinant and the valley of the river Meuse, the citadel of Dinant is one of the major attractions to visit. The initial building of the citadel commenced in the 11th century on the rocky outcrop as a defence of the town. Steeped in history, the citadel of Dinant (or citadelle de Dinant in French) has undergone some major changes due to the many wars and occupations over the centuries.
The best way to visit the fortress is with a guided tour, which is included in the ticket price. When we visited there was a guided tour leaving every hour and it takes between 30 – 45 minutes. The guides speak French, Dutch and English on request. The tour starts in the central courtyard of the citadel. It is possible to walk around by yourself and use the flyer you receive at the entrance. However, I do recommend joining the free tour since the guide can give a lot of extra information about the history and the different areas of the Citadel.
The visit takes you to the dungeons which were used as prison and torture cells, complete with a guillotine. You will also learn about daily life mid 19th century in the heart of the fortress, with replicas of the kitchen, bakery and dormitory rooms. The most notable part of the visit is when you walk in a recreation of the trenches of WW1, to get a bit of a feel for what soldiers had to go through in that time. One section of the reconstruction was made to feel as if part of the trench was bombed and had collapsed. Part of the walk in the trench had therefore a steep slope, to show how difficult it is to move around when everything is skewed and slanted and no balance can be found. It was definitely a highlight of the tour, albeit a sombre one.
Don’t forget to go to the various viewpoints of the citadel overlooking the river Meuse valley and the beautiful town of Dinant.
Practical information about Dinant citadel
- Entrance fee: €8,50 per adult / €6 per child (in 2018)
- You can get tickets at either the upper or lower cable station
- Free parking for cars and camper vans on top of the hill by the citadel, paid parking for cars in town
- The entrance fee includes the cable car to go down to the city centre, or up to the citadel. Keep in mind though that the cable car and stairway can close early depending on which season you visit. Make sure you are back in time before they close in order to fetch your car, otherwise it’s a very long walk up, or down the public road.
- More information can be found on the website of the citadel itself
Take the cable car or walk the 408 stairs
No matter where you start, the best way to visit both the town and the citadel on top of the rock is to make use of either the cable car or to walk the ancient stairs. If you don’t like cable cars you can use the 408-step stairway, either up or down. The view while walking down is amazing, overlooking the river and the beautiful picturesque houses.
Saxophones and Adolphe Sax
When walking around in Dinant, you cannot avoid seeing saxophones almost everywhere in all shapes and colours. You might wonder why? Well, the inventor of the saxophone, Adolphe Sax, was born in Dinant in 1814 and is currently the most famous ‘inhabitant’ of the city. Adolphe Sax invented the saxophone in early 1840. During his life, he invented various other instruments but the most famous is no doubt the saxophone, of which the sounds have conquered the world. Think Kenny G.
Read more: 13 Interesting facts about Belgium
Sax and the city
A small museum, Maison de Monsieur Sax, in Dinant is dedicated to the life of Adolphe Sax. It provides a brief insight into his life and the creation of the saxophone. It’s a small but fascinating museum, free of charge, and it can be found on the main road (37 rue Sax in Dinant). It is well suited for both adults and children. More information about Mr. Sax’s House on this website.
Walk the Charles de Gaulle bridge or the bridge of Adolphe Sax
In the heart of Dinant, the bridge over the river Meuse is decorated with colourful saxophones each representing a country. It is a beautiful tribute to Adolphe Sax, the inventor of the saxophone. The pont Charles de Gaulle connects both sides of Dinant over the river. It’s great to have a stroll over the bridge, overlooking the river Meuse and to take lots of photos. The houses which can be seen from the bridge along the riverfront are picturesque, colourful and full of charm and on a nice clear day reflect beautifully in the water. You also get a good view of the citadel high up on the rock, as well as the cathedral.
Learn all about Leffe beer in the Maison Leffe
Most people who love Belgian beer will have heard of Leffe, one of the more famous Belgian beers around the world. The monks living in the abbey of Notre-Dame de Leffe, founded in 1152 in Dinant, started brewing ale in 1240. The reason was to avoid drinking the local water in the times of the plague. Drinking beer or ale was a much more healthy beverage option at the time as the natural brewing process killed all unhealthy bacteria. At the time of publishing this article, Leffe beer is brewed by AB-InBev in Leuven, the same brewery where Stella Artois is produced. Still using the original recipe, Leffe has a warm rich body with a ballanced bitterness together with a strong fruity and spicy-clove yeast after taste. It is not your average pilsner or lager. It is one of Sean’s favourites.
Maison Leffe is a museum that opened its doors to share the history of Leffe beer and the Leffe abbey in Dinant. It explains the history throughout the centuries by means of interactive screens in various languages. It is a smallish museum, but you still need at least 1 to 2 hours to fully appreciate all the stories explained there. We took our time and spent nearly 2 hours in the museum. We listened to all the explanations about the history of the abbey, the making of the different types of Leffe beer, the ingredients used, the food pairings and we could also feel and smell some of the ingredients. At the end of the tour and included in the entrance fee is a nice glass of Leffe beer of your choice just waiting to be savoured at the perfect temperature. We also each received a gift after the tour in the form of a Leffe beer glass to add to our growing collection.
I shouldn’t need to say this, but do drink responsibly, especially when consuming Belgian beer, as it has a bit more of a kick than your average brew.
Maison Leffe also hosts a restaurant as well as a hotel. The menu of the restaurant looked really interesting but we did not have time to try the food, unfortunately. We will definitely consider staying there for our next visit. The view over the citadel, the church, the river Meuse and the city are amazing, both during the day and at night when the citadel is lit.
Practical information Maison Leffe
- Entrance fee is €7 per person, which includes an interactive tour, a beer tasting and a gift.
- Free parking at Maison Leffe
- More information about Maison Leffe can be found on their website.
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Collegiate Church of our Lady – Collegiale Notre Dame de Dinant
You cannot miss the Collegiate Church of our Lady in Dinant. Right at the bottom of the stairway and the cable car to the citadel, this church is worth a visit. It was built in the 13th century in the Gothic style. Admission to the church is free of charge.
Visit the Chateau de Freyr
Stretched alongside the river Meuse, the Chateau de Freyr is located a few kilometres south of the city of Dinant. The castle used to be the former summerhouse of the Dukes of Beaufort-Spontin. The chateau dates back to the middle ages, mid 14th century, and is nowadays still in the private hands of the family Beaufort. When we visited, the castle was undergoing some renovations and we decided not to visit. We will definitely be back and will visit on our next trip to Dinant since it looked very worthwhile. More information about entrance fees can be found on their website.
How to get to Dinant
Dinant can easily be visited on a day trip from Brussels, Antwerp or Ghent, either by car or by train. The train station is located right in the town centre of Dinant. The best way, however, is by car. The reason is that when you have a car, you can drive along the riverbanks of the river Meuse which is really beautiful. You can also visit the surrounding villages and castles as well. The border with France is mere minutes away.
So to summarise Dinant in Belgium:
- There is plenty of paid parking in town and free parking up at the citadel.
- You can also get there by train from anywhere in Belgium and back in a day.
- The birth place of the inventor of the saxophone, Adolphe Sax.
- Home to one of Belgiums most famous beers, Leffe
Have you ever been to Belgium? Did you visit any place other than Brugge, Brussels, Ghent and Antwerp?
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