Kortrijk is the second stop on our exciting adventure through the Lys region. It’s a beautiful city, full of water, spires and cosy bars. Trot Op! went in for a closer look and came back with seven great tips for you next visit to Kortrijk.
Let’s not beat around the bush: when it comes to long-distance travel, the last year and a half was quite the sad tale for most people. For me, this was no different. In the blessed year 2019, I was displaying my phenomenal paleness on no fewer than five continents, but since then I’ve not managed to leave Europe even once. When a crisis of this magnitude happens, you can either cry about it or straighten your back and try and make the best of it. I went for the second option and decided to explore Belgium for a year. This decision made me realise one thing: I don’t know most of my own country. Take Kortrijk for example: one of the largest cities in West Flanders, but I’d never been there even once. Nice place though. The recently lowered banks of the Lys River near the Broel Towers bring the water back to the people, and in summer they become a prime location for some leisurely people spotting. The same Lys also gave Kortrijk its own island. Embraced by the two arms of the river, Buda Island holds several innovative spots on a relatively small area. And with Buda Beach, it has a nice summer bar as well – just saying.
What to do in Kortrijk: 7 great tips for your visit to the Lys region
As you might suspect from the previous paragraph, Kortrijk is especially enjoyable in summer, with multiple temporary events, pop-ups and exhibitions going on. Unfortunately, we are now in winter, which limits both our options and the appropriate number of miniskirts. Moreover, Kortrijk is not really a city that relies on its big museums and monuments. There is the beguinage, a few pretty churches, a belfry and until recently Kortrijk 1302 in Groeninge Abbey, but that just closed for a thorough renovation. With Texture you can also visit a large and modern museum about the local flax industry, but then you’ve seen most of the obvious stuff. So what else is there to experience in Kortrijk? Well, a lively city centre with lots of green spots and pedestrianised shopping streets, full of cosy corners and a number of unique businesses worth a trip. And look: the Christmas market was allowed to stay open despite the six hundredth corona wave. This made for the perfect moment to dust off my busty bestie Floor, put her in her ugliest Christmas sweater and plan a weekend for two. After all, it is the season to be jolly. Here are our seven favourite things to do in Kortrijk.
1. Have lunch in the Kortrijk Beguinage
Many Flemish cities used to have a whole horde of beguines shuffling about (Diest for example: nice piece, definitely read). They all huddled together in the local beguinage, cause they didn’t need no man. Contrary to popular belief, beguines were not nuns but single women who consciously chose this form of cohabitation. This way they could keep their own belongings, live in their own house and do the work they actually liked. All this without having to listen to the huffs and puffs of their non-existent husband – sweet deal. Kortrijk has a beautiful beguinage as well. It’s located just behind the main square, was recently renovated and has been a UNESCO World Heritage site for years. The Kortrijk Beguinage is also of historic importance for another reason. The world’s very last beguine (the only survivor of the Great War against the Augustinians*) was called Marcella Pattyn and lived here until the year of our Lord 2005. Beguines are therefore officially an extinct species, and for once the climate crisis has nothing to do with it. When you get hungry while on your discovery tour, you’ll find a nice spot for an extensive lunch behind the stepped facade of Huyze Begga (Begga is the patron saint of beguines, but strangely also of stutterers and people who broke a leg). www.huyzebegga.be
*Never happened but admit it sounded intense.
2. Ceramic Stories: a crash course in pottery
To many men, a ceramics workshop sounds a bit like Sunday brunch. By that I mean something they really don’t want to do, but are forced to by their girlfriends because doing nothing on your day off is apparently not a relationship option. Allow me to distance myself from this group. Not that I’ll go out for brunch any time soon – it’s basically a more expensive breakfast with shitty cava – but pottery is actually very enjoyable. I first discovered this in Ceramic Stories: a shop in Kortrijk, full of cute ceramic gadgets. You can book a workshop in their studio as well, and that’s exactly what we did. With a little explanation here and a helping hand there, we managed to create our own pots (and bowls and candle holders and vases) in about an hour, and that was an amazingly satisfying experience. Afterwards, everything gets fine-tuned, baked and then sent to your home so that you can give it to your mom as a gift. Everyone who participates in the workshop also gets one chance to recreate the iconic scene from the movie Ghost with Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze. If you subsequently lose yourself in the love making process while your wet clay is flying all over the place, you will be kindly requested to leave the premises. There have to be some boundaries, you know. www.ceramicstories.be
3. Boekenhuis Theoria: visit Belgium’s prettiest bookstore
What smells better than a big stack of brand new books? I’ll tell you: gasoline and your sweetheart’s freshly washed hair, but that’s about it. As a real intellectual, I of course prefer buying my books in a good old-fashioned bookshop. These radiate a certain charm you won’t immediately find in the bigger chains. Kortrijk is home to perhaps one of the most beautiful bookshops in the country. Boekhandel Theoria is situated in a historic building full of columns, mirrors and high ceilings, with the occasional cosy lounge hidden between the shelves for you to read in. Thirsty? There’s a coffee bar at the register. This way you can sip your cappuccino while pretending to read a philosophical tome on existentialism (while you secretly go over your grocery list for tonight). Boekhandel Theoria comes with an impressive exposition space on the second floor, as well as a Book Chef (yes) who will cook some vegan dishes from the newest cookbooks every Friday. Great place. www.theoria.be.
4. Pand.A: bar, record store and podium under one roof
Kortrijk is pretty good at combining separate things into a bigger whole. Near Theoria – in the music academy building – you’ll find another example of this phenomenon. Pand.A is a nicely decorated bar, where (in non-corona times) lots of shows, performances and parties are held – remember those? Foodies can enjoy specialty beers, cocktails and decent food, and when it’s sunny outside, the large wooden terrace opens up, effectively turning the place into a summer bar. Here you can catch some rays while enjoying several street food options. Finally, oldskool music lovers can find there favourite vinyl records in The Vinyl Corner near the DJ booth. Something for everyone! www.pand-a.be
5. Tarterie: the best pies in Kortrijk
There are only a few things in life you can always wake me up for. A Lord of the Rings marathon, Emilia Clarke in a slightly undersized nightgown or my bedding catching fire. A warm, freshly baked pie however, takes fourth place in this illustrious list. After all, what could be better for the soul than a creamy piece of pie to forget your misery for a while? Anyone in Kortrijk in acute need of pie should stop by Tarterie. This is a cosy place on the main square in the shadow of the belfry. Here everything is freshly prepared in a large open kitchen. The range of cakes is huge, but there are also quiches for those who prefer something heartier. Even the jam and granola for breakfast are homemade. Nice place to warm up in before going for another walk. www.tarterie.be
6. Shopping in Kortrijk: the best places
You might not give it to me due to my extremely fashionable clothing style, but I’m not an avid shopper. When I need a specific item, I look up a suitable establishment that possibly has it in stock, take a brisk walk straight there, buy the specific item and head back home. It’s not rocket science. For those who are actual shopaholics though, Kortrijk is a good place to be. A lot of smaller businesses and boutiques offering stuff you wouldn’t find in the main brands are hidden all throughout the city. OES (Original Everyday Smilemakers) for example, is a fun shop for all kinds of nicely (and sometimes naughtily) designed gifts and gadgets – great if you need a quick present. The main shopping street is the pedestrianized Lange Steenstraat. It feels a lot like our own Antwerp Meir, but with significantly fewer Dutch people. www.oeskortrijk.be
7. Barbootel Ahoi: sleeping on the water
Why would you book a hotel in Kortrijk when you can stay on a boat instead? In Barbootel Ahoi for example – docked along the quay opposite Buda Island. Above deck you can order a nice pot of mussels and fries, below nine cabins are hidden – all with the cute round windows for you to look out on the water from. We got the honeymoon suite without asking for it. Don’t imagine your average Hilton suite, but it was a nice gesture nonetheless. Because the water was unusually high, the ship could not be moored to the quay in the usual way. As a result, the entire cabin swayed back and forth with every inland vessel passing. Disorienting to some; gently rocked to sleep by Mother Nature to me. www.ahoi.be
Et voila: you are now officially ready for your trip to Kortrijk. Did I forget to mention your favourite place? Are you a big brunch fan? Any other additions in mind? Don’t hesitate to write them down in the comments below.
For all information about the Lys region, visit www.toerisme-leiestreek.be.
Many of the businesses in this article are part of the Leiespots of Tourism Leiestreek: interesting entrepreneurs or businesses you can visit throughout the region. For a list of all of them, click here: www.toerisme-leiestreek.be/nl/leiespots.