Namur is a cosy provincial town in Wallonia, with a humongous citadel towering above it on a hill. There’s much more to discover though. From shocking museums to fantastic cocktail bars and one of the most impressive churches in the country. Trot Op! listed Namur’s top sights for you.
Hello friends! Quick pop quiz: you might know the capital of Belgium as well as Flanders is Brussels, but who can tell me what the capital of Wallonia is? Is it also Brussels? Liege perhaps? Charleroi (hahaha)? Durbuy? Good heavens no! It’s Namur, and this officially only since 2010. Quite a strange choice for a capital at first sight – Namur is about the size of Leuven – but certainly not rampantly insane. Namur lies – quite photogenically – right on the confluence of the Sambre and Meuse rivers, and has much more on offer than just its famous citadel. Last year I was there to celebrate my well-deserved zero (0!!) wins at the Belgian Travel Blog Awards in the stunning Théâtre de Namur. The morning after the gala event we were given an extensive tour of the city, but unfortunately I was still drunk from the night before. So no pictures, coherent statements or even concrete memories were made. Fortunately, I got another chance last month. What’s more: I wasn’t myself invited, but was allowed to tag along on a trip tailor-made for the ever ravishing Caroline of Veggie Wayfarer (read her much more informative piece on Namur here). So for once, no obligations for me. This is why I can finally – in stark contrast to my other extraordinarily neutral blog posts – write whatever I feel like. You just try and stop me, Wallonia. You just try.
What to do in Namur: 10 top tips and sights to enjoy
Namur may not be the largest city in Wallonia, but it’s far from a hovel. Historically, the city played a prominent role for centuries, and it was founded on a strategically important location – this is why the citadel is there. As a result, Namur was not only able to enjoy numerous potential conquerors over the years, it also built up a rich collection of cultural heritage. Namur is an art city with a number of surprising museums and several monumental buildings. Above all, it’s a beautiful city. While in the last century Liège was joyously stuffed with ugly Soviet-style apartment blocks and the mines and steel factories turned Charleroi into a post-apocalyptic industrial graveyard, the city centre here remained more or less intact. The result is a coherent whole full of classic buildings, cosy streets and lively squares. Ideal stuff for a short city break, and to facilitate this I found ten of the best local sights for you. Hold onto your butts, because it’s about to get real folks.
1. Musée Felicien Rops: discover one of Belgium’s most controversial artists
Let’s start with the best museum in Namur and the only stop from last year I actually remember: Musée Félicien Rops. Rops was a Namur-born etcher, painter and caricaturist of the 19th century. Keep that time frame in mind and then look at the man’s work. He made prints, cartoons and paintings full of double meanings, that even today would be categorized as “maybe a bit over the top” – let alone 150 years ago. The entire museum is full of satirical, satanic and pornographic works that brutally challenge religious, social and political hypocrisy. To me this is of course quite entertaining, especially since the man was a versatile and talented artist who could change styles at will. Great museum, but unfortunately it was closed for renovations last month. The photo of the exhibition hall you see above was taken in Museum De Reede in Antwerp. It exhibits plenty of Rops etches as well. The museum should already be open again by now. Go check it out. www.museerops.be
2. Botanical by Alfonse: surprising top cocktails
If you’re aching for a drink in Namur and it has to be a good one, hop in at Botanical by Alfonse. This is the best cocktail bar in a very wide area, and they offer more than just the classics. I know Alfonse – his real name is Valentin, no idea why they named the bar like that – from when he and his girlfriend Charlie were invited to an Antwerp cocktail bar for a bartender exchange project (“toogwissel” in Dutch). He is an amiable guy with a spiffing moustache, but above all he’s an experimental genius when it comes to mixing. Every month, the entire menu is thrown in the trash and they come up with a dozen new drinks in a specific theme. I drank, for example, a gin cocktail with basil, balsamic vinegar and Parmesan cheese. That sounds like it should be disgusting, but it turned out super smooth. Visit this bar if you want to be surprised. www.alfonse.be
3. Explore the Art Deco-quarter next to the train station
There’s a lot of graceful Art Nouveau facades to discover in Namur. You’ll find them mainly in Jambes (that means “legs” in French) on the other side of the water. In Rue Tillieux there are a few textbook examples to be found, but there’s plenty of them elsewhere as well. Those who come by train and are walking towards the old town however, will mainly encounter the architectural style that followed in response to Art Nouveau: the less curly and more functional Art Deco. Especially in Rue des Croisieres and Rue des Carmes you can admire many remarkable buildings. The sleek facade of Cinema Cameo is a beautifully restored example of the style. In the same street there are also a few houses covered in nostalgic green tiles, and a few others in the so-called paquebot style. These are Art Deco buildings in which nautical elements were incorporated in the image of the large cruise liners of the twenties and thirties. Two interesting neighbourhoods to have a walk in, and also a tragic reminder of all the beautiful architecture demolished in Belgium in the sixties and seventies. Antwerp and certainly Brussels were also full of these.
4. Street Art in Namur
While you’re at the train station anyway, turn left and discover a huge collection of street art on the parking garage next to the C&A shop. It s been empty for some time now and will eventually be demolished, but until then you can enjoy a treasure trove of crazy graffiti here. You can even go and explore the painted corridors inside, but do so at your own risk. Judging by the smell of hobo-pee and the amount of empty beer cans, more than just walls get tagged here at night. The rest of Namur – in slightly more kosher places – also has street art on display. The most striking work is located behind the town hall in the Jardin du Maïeur. The Fresco of the Walloons depicts just about every Walloon hero on a monumental wall: from Nafi Thiam, Ernest Solvay and Georges Simenon to even Smurfette and Marsupilami (I guess they ran out of non-fictional heroes eventually). Download the Street Art Cities app and you can walk past all fifty works.
5. Eglise Saint-Loup: visit one of the prettiest churches in the country
Namur does not only boast the best-decorated parliament in Belgium – marble table tops and 200 office chairs for €4,750 a piece: that’s basically for free – it also has what is probably the most fantastically decorated church in the country. Eglise Saint-Loup looks pretty but reasonably plain from the outside, but if you walk in you’ll end up in a magnificent baroque church. A beautifully crafted wooden pulpit, a black marble colonnade and contrasting with it a completely hand-carved ceiling in white sandstone. Overwhelming view, and this is without even a lick of paint. Apparently, not everyone was equally impressed. Charles Baudelaire – French poet and friend of Rops – described the church as an “elegant coffin” after a visit. Should have kept that statement to himself though, because two months later he had a stroke and collapsed. He was buried in a slightly less decorated casket. That’ll show him.
6. Visit Namur Citadel in style
The biggest attraction in Namur is of course the huge citadel photogenically spread out above the city on an impressive rock. In the past you had to walk up the entire slope like some peasant, now you can simply take the cable cars from the city centre and reach the top in five minutes. Nice. There is plenty to do on the citadel grounds. You can enter the casemates with a guide for example, and discover the history of the fortress through several 3D projections. You can also have a nice lunch, or explore the visitor centre, catch a concert in Le Belvédère or visit the Guy Delforge Perfumery – the scents are matured in the underground hallways below by the way. Got some little kids to entertain? Visit the Reine Fabiola amusement park, which unlike the actual queen these days, still has a couple of fun rides in store. If you’re heading back down on foot, you’ll not only come across some beautiful views, but you’ll also walk past a large golden turtle sculpted by controversial Belgian artist Jan Fabre. On it sits a man who – like all of his statues – looks suspiciously similar to Jan Fabre. Yes, this man seems to like himself quite a bit. Someone’s gotta do it.
7. Atelier de Bossimé: sustainable fine dining outside the city centre
Because Caroline is an absolute animal herself (just look at that pic: holy shit), she doesn’t eat any of them. This is understandable, but it makes it difficult to find the right restaurant sometimes. Fortunately, in Namur there is Atelier de Bossimé. This is a sustainable fine-dining restaurant in a renovated farm about five kilometres outside the city. Everything they put on your plate is from the local area – and often even from their own garden. For example, all vegetables and herbs are grown on-site. A seed to plate concept they call it. The menu comes with plenty of courses paired with some very good wines (so bring someone to drive you). For every course they gave me, Caroline was presented with an equally tasty vegetarian option. The service was superb as well. www.atelier-de-bossime.be
8. Rent a boat in Namur
Since Namur is located right at the confluence of the Sambre and Meuse rivers, there’s a lot to experience on the water as well. At various places along the quay, moorings for the so-called Namourettes are waiting for you. These are small boats that function as surprisingly cheap river taxis. Are you a real sea dog and do you prefer to man your boat yourself? Then do as we did and rent an electric vessel at Les Capitaineries de Namur where you can sail up and down the Meuse. This is very nice, but it costs €70 for an hour and you can only sail past the first three bridges (there are some locks in the way on both sides. We were also not allowed to turn towards the Sambre. All of these rules made the call of the pirate life quite appealing of course, but we managed to resist the temptation. www.lescapitaineries-de-namur.be
9. Grab a coffee at Miss Miaouw
I may look like a real tough guy – just play along okay? – but in reality I’m quite the tender soul. Every time I come across a cat café, I have to go in and write something about it. This was also the case in Namur. Miss Miaouw is not the name of some worn-out stripper, but that of a cosy coffee bar where you can also have a quick bite. While you’re doing that, cats will be all around you, purring, rubbing up against your leg or quietly judging you from a corner for ordering that oat milk latte. When we were there, around five of them were in the café. If you promise not to eat it, you can adopt one. Isn’t that just swell? www.facebook.com/ChezMissMiaouw/
10. More tasty stuff in Namur
Because ten is a nice round number, I’m going to list a few other nice things we encountered in Namur. La Maison des Desserts is a bakery/chocolate shop/tearoom where apparently half the city comes for brunch every weekend. Behind the store is a room full of tables, big enough to organise a wedding party in if so desired. They also sell Bietrumés de Namur: butter caramels with chocolate that are only made in the area. If you want to imagine yourself in Paris for a minute, visit Brasserie François across from the cathedral. Lovely interior and good food. Nearby is Le Chapitre: one of the oldest pubs in the city. Adventurous eater? Try the petits gris de Namur. These are small grey snails that are grown nearby. You gotta eat something, right?
There we are dear friends: here ends the tale of my wild adventures in Namur. Looking for some other trips in Wallonia? Click here for my stories about Waterloo, Gaume, Viroinval, Mons, Liège, Charleroi, Tournai or Spa (yes I’ve been around).