Lier: A Visit to Belgium’s Undiscovered Medieval City

In this destination guide we make a trip to Lier, a relatively undiscovered but delightful city to visit in Belgium.

Lier: An undiscovered Belgian city

Belgium is a popular country for city trips as each year tens of thousands of tourists flock to places like Bruges, Ghent, Antwerp or Brussels.

Although these are certainly all worthwhile destinations in their own right, they can be overrun by tourists on peak weekends.

If you are however searching for an alternative city trip destination in Belgium you could opt for lovely little Lier.

Just like Bruges or Ghent, Lier is also rich on history, has a wonderful old town with medieval buildings and canals and is a great place to sample some of those lovely Belgian beers.

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Lier has all the sights and sounds you expect from a medieval Belgian city. ©Paliparan

Easy train trip

Even though Lier is located just 17 kilometres to the south-east from Antwerp, it only receives a trickle of the tourist numbers visiting the largest city in Belgium’s Flanders region.

From Antwerp it takes just 15 minutes to reach Lier by train, while from Brussels it takes 45 minutes.

This makes it easily possible to visit Lier as a day trip as well, although it’s highly worth it to stay overnight and spend some more time in the city.

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From Antwerp’s magnificent Central Station there are frequent train departures to Lier. ©Paliparan

Lier history

When you walk through the city centre of Lier you might think you accidentally ended up in Bruges or Ghent as the city has a similar look with its canals and medieval architecture.

However, you will instantly notice that Lier has a much more relaxed, down to earth vibe compared to the more famous Flemish cities.

That doesn’t mean that Lier has been of lesser historical importance.

In the 7th century, the Merovingian Franks built a villa (a sort of royal palace and regional ruling centre) just outside the current city limits.

In the year 1212, Lier was granted city rights by Duke Henry I of Brabant.

Thanks to the local wool industry and market privileges, the city of Lier developed into a major regional powerhouse.

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With its lovely canals Lier easily resembles other medieval Flemish cities such as Ghent and Bruges. ©Paliparan
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The main city centre canal. ©Paliparan

Saint Gummarus Church

Perhaps the most important historical event to take place in Lier was the marriage between Philip I of Castile (nicknamed Philip the Handsome) and Joanne, the second daughter of King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castille.

The marriage took place in 1496 in Lier’s magnificent Saint Gummarus Church, which is named after the city’s patron saint.

The marriage between Philip the Handsome and Joanne laid the foundations of more than 200 years of Spanish Habsburg rule over the Low Countries.

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The Saint Gummarus Church as seen from the ‘Vismarkt’ (Fish Market). ©Paliparan
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The impressive belfry of the St Gummarus Church can be seen from all over the city. ©Paliparan
Saint Gummarus Church
The Saint Gummarus Church is a fine example of Brabantian Gothic style architecture . ©Paliparan

Market Square

Just like all other medieval Flemish cities, Lier has an impressive central square.

Called the ‘Grote Markt’ (Great Market), this square is home to Lier’s city hall and adjacent Belfort, a medieval watch tower.

This fine square with its many cafés and restaurants made for a good location to drink my first of many Belgian beers that day.

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Market square in Lier. ©Paliparan
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Beer with a view of the City Hall and Belfort. ©Paliparan

Begijnhof

Perhaps the most beautiful part of the old town of Lier is the Beguinage – called ‘Begijnhof’ in Dutch.

A Beguinage is a sort of medieval housing complex for Beguines, a semi-monastic community of religious women who took vows not to marry and to dedicate their lives to God.

However, unlike nuns they were allowed to retain private wealth and property, even though they did strive to live their lives in a sober and simple way.

With its cobblestoned streets and lovely brick buildings, the Beguinage is a wonderful part of to explore.

Together with a few other Flemish Beguinages such as those in Leuven and Turnhout, the Lier Beguinage is listed as an UNESCO World Heritage site.

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The Beguinage in Lier. ©Paliparan
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St Margaret’s Church in the Lier Beguinage. ©Paliparan
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Cobblestoned street in the Lier Beguinage. ©Paliparan
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Old water pump in the Beguinage. ©Paliparan
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Houses in the Beguinage. ©Paliparan
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Lier Beguinage. ©Paliparan
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Street inside Lier’s Beguinage. ©Paliparan

City park

If you want to escape the city surroundings there is no place better than the lovely ‘Stadspark’ (City Park).

Located just to the south of the old town centre of Lier, this park has some nice views over the River Nete and features several ponds, a playground, miniature golf course and a café.

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Spring blossom in Lier’s central park. ©Paliparan
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Stadspark. ©Paliparan
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Old school building in the park. ©Paliparan

Pubs in Lier

A trip to Belgium is not complete without sampling some of the fine local beers and fortunately Lier has some great pubs to visit.

One of my favourite spots in Lier is Café Sint Gummarus, a typical Flemish pub with an outdoor terrace on the quays overlooking the River Nete.

The pub has an extensive beer menu featuring some local brews such as the Sint Gummarus ‘dubbel’ and ‘tripel’ beers and the delicious Caves beer, which mostly resembles a red ale or a Belgian ‘geuze’.

Make sure you also admire the interior of Café Sint Gummarus as it’s full of historical drawings and posters of Lier.

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Enjoying a local Caves beer at Café Sint Gummarus. ©Paliparan
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Sint Gummarus beer. ©Paliparan

Conclusion

With its rich history, magnificent old town, canals and low-key atmosphere, the city of Lier is an absolute delight.

Although Lier resembles other medieval cities in Belgium such as Bruges, Ghent or nearby Antwerp, the city feels like an undiscovered gem as it receives relatively few visitors compared to the numbers heading for the better-known places across Flanders.

That’s great news for you as it means there is still a lot of local charm to discover in Lier.

Whether you are coming for the city’s history and fine architecture or for the number of great cafés and restaurants, a trip to Lier is highly recommended.

Explore some other destinations with us!

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Koen

Koen works as a freelance journalist covering south-eastern Europe and is the founding father and editor-in-chief of Paliparan. As a contributor to some major Fleet Street newspapers and some lesser known publications in the Balkans, he travels thousands of miles each year for work as well as on his personal holidays. Whether it is horse riding in Kyrgyzstan’s Tian Shan mountains, exploring the backstreets of Bogotá, or sipping a glass of moschofilero in a Greek beachside taverna, Koen loves to immerse himself into the local culture, explore new places and eat and drink himself around the world.

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