Charleroi is Wallonia’s biggest city, but doesn’t have the best of reputations. Is there actually anything to do? In this article, Trot Op! looks past the well-known clichés to give you five good reasons why you should actually book a Charleroi city trip.
Bonjour mes ami(e)s! In my previous completely underrated article, you could read all about my safari through Charleroi’s rugged industrial jungle. Because the comments were so incredibly positive – “ridiculously insulting bullshit” was just one of many heart-warming compliments – I decided to take a closer look at the city itself as well. After all, who knows how many wondrous sights are in store for us there? Quite a lot it turns out, and good ones too. Both Europe’s largest photography museum and the beautiful but tragic mining site Le Bois de Cazier can be visited in Charlerloi. And those are just two of many museums.
Charleroi: five convincing reasons why you should actually book a city trip here
“But Jonathan, you sexy devil you, is it actually fun?” Well I went and found out for you. I called my buddy Stefan, booked a romantic little hotel in the city centre, played a round of rock-paper-scissors to determine who could be the outer spoon, and then ventured out into town looking for the next adventure. We came back with no less than five fun activities that would make every visit an unforgettable experience. You’re welcome.
“Charleroi has much more to offer than its dubious reputation suggests. Keep it in mind when you drive right past it on your way to your next Ryanair flight.”
1. Go indoor skydiving at Airspace Charleroi
Always wanted to jump out of an aeroplane, but too much of a spineless coward to actually do it? Then Airspace Charleroi – close to the airport – is the place for you. Here you can simulate a free fall in an impressive wind tunnel and a tight little outfit, without taking the risk of splattering all over some Wal-Mart parking lot like meat confetti. It’s like having sex with a doll: a little less exciting than the real thing, but much safer. It looks easier than it is by the way. The pros fly up and down doing the wildest flips, but most customers barely got off the ground on their first try. You can still soar through the air with some professional aid though – be it as a helpless postal package under the arm of an instructor. Cool stuff indeed. www.airspaceindoorskydive.be
“Always wanted to jump out of an aeroplane, but too much of a spineless coward to actually do it? Then Airspace Charleroi is the place for you!”
2. Le Rockerill: party in Belgium’s coolest club
Holy shit, something useful is occasionally done with Charleroi’s industrial heritage after all. In 2005 – when Carolos still had to go to Kenya for a safari – a few party animals decided to break into an abandoned metal factory to use it for illegal raves. This turned out to be – what a surprise – a fairly successful initiative. Soon the building was transformed into an official club, and brightened up with graffiti and strange artworks made of trash. Nowadays, Le Rockerill is a household name both at home and abroad, and DJs like Laurent Garnier play here regularly because they love the atmosphere. In winter only one room is open – the largest hall can’t be heated – but in summer thousands of people come and party here. Every Thursday between May and October the entrance is free and DJs, rock bands and hip hop groups play in different halls at the same time. According to the manager, his club almost doubled the Charleroi tourism numbers. This said, zero times two is of course still just zero. www.rockerill.com
“Le Rockerill became a household name both at home and abroad, and DJs like Laurent Garnier play here regularly because they love the atmosphere.”
3. Gobble on a pair of fat juicy balls in the Meatball’s Bar
The Meatball’s Bar – notice the endearingly misplaced apostrophe: the kitchen isn’t run by a sentient chunk of minced meat just yet – is the archetype of the new kind of restaurant opened here in recent years. It has a hip, no-nonsense interior, a young entrepreneurial owner and honest, tasty dishes served to you in no time. The only thing you can push down your pie hole here are big, juicy balls with some fries, rice or salad on the side. They come in portions of four or five, in a lot of different flavours and with a number of sauces you can pair with your balls as needed. It’s tasty, it’s cheap and you can order some local beers to go with it. Say no more. It doesn’t have to be fine dining every day, and I’m too much of an uneducated lout to book a table at a star restaurant anyway. Bon appetit! www.facebook.com/meatballsbar/
4. Visit some washed-up Charleroi comic book heroes
When Charleroi first wanted to work on its public image a few years ago, they decided to brighten the streets with a number of life-sized statues of local comic book heroes. This was of course a good idea, were it not for the fact they forgot to put on a new layer of paint occasionally. A number of them are looking quite shoddy these days. Lucky Luke and his horse look like they’ve been on crack for years, Boule & Bill appear to be surviving as hobos on a diet of heroin and garbage, and Spirou has seen better days as well – but is for some reason being proposed to by Fantasio on a roundabout. Which is – we’re living in 2020 people – totally okay by the way. There are a lot of these funny statues scattered all around the centre, and there’s plenty of colourful street art to discover as well. Check them all off your list and you’ve seen the entire city. Edit: the statues will soon be replaced by less scary versions. Go check them out quickly if you want to see them as they are now.
“Lucky Luke and his horse look like they’ve been on crack for years, Boule & Bill appear to be surviving as hobos on a diet of heroin and garbage, and Spirou has seen better days as well”
5. Livre ou Verre: have a drink in a hipster spot with no hipsters
There’s a beautiful old gallery in downtown Charleroi. When I first walked through it with Nico six years ago, only one sad looking shop was still open – lots of places even had their windows boarded up like there was a hurricane coming. Not the happiest of sights. A couple of years later though, the whole venue was renovated, a modern shopping mall was built right next to it and a lot of new businesses opened inside.
By far the nicest is Livre ou Verre. This is a cosy coffee bar full of comfortable sofas and wall-high bookcases. Live concerts are regularly hosted here as well. In Antwerp, these kinds of cool places would quickly get overrun by the worst kind of Starbucks-hipsters, but here the clientele is quite varied. Kids can read comics, mom can read a novel and dad can enjoy his coffee – or the legs of the blonde on stage. We didn’t come all the way here to judge, ok?
“In Antwerp, these kinds of cool places would quickly get overrun by the worst kind of Starbucks-hipsters, but here the clientele is quite varied.”
Et voilà: five fun and surprising things to do in Charleroi. Keep them in mind when you carelessly pass by for the umpteenth time on the way to your next Ryanair flight. There’s much more to visit too. The Musée des Beaux-Arts, for example, or BSP22: the museum of contemporary art. The Sunday market is also worth a visit, just like LaM.U: a cool looking restaurant on the riverside that also functions as a brewery and a venue for live music. Charleroi is still not Paris, but it is an interesting city that deserves a fair chance.
For this report I was aided by Morgane of Wallonia-Belgium Tourism. On their website you will find lots of tips for every visit to the region. www.walloniebelgietoerist.be
I stayed for two days at Novotel Charleroi Center, a nice hotel in the new shopping mall. It is a five-minute walk from the train station, and guests arriving by car receive a 50% discount in the underground car park.
Fancy a different Walloon city trip? Then check out my articles on Spa and Liège. More interested in Flemish destinations? Then read about Bruges, Antwerp and Borgerhout.