Things to do in Tongeren & Doorkijkkerk Borgloon (Flanders - Belgium)

This article first appeared in My Travelogue by Bhushavali
 
A TRIP TO THE OLDEST CITY IN BELGIUM

I wanted to visit Doorkijkkerk, as a day-trip from Brussels and there were 2 ways to reach here by public transport - Train till Tongeren or train till Sint-Truiden (which are located on either sides of Borgloon) and then a bus ride till Borgloon where the Doorkijkkerk (Reading Between the Lines Church) is located. So it was by chance that I decided to head to Tongeren first, then Borgloon, then Sint-Truiden and return back from there. I didn't know anything about Tongeren when I planned this, but then I came to know that - Tongeren is the Oldest city in Belgium!!! 
All of these are in the province of Limburg, which is more known for its natural beauty. So, here's more about my heritage & cultural daytrip to Limburg from Brussels....

Tongeren is the oldest city in Belgium. It was occupied by the Germanic tribe Tungri, so the town was called Aduatuca Tungrorum. Before the Roman occupation, this was the home to the tribes called Eburones, who revolted against Julies Ceaser and failed and were wiped off by 1st C BCE! The region then became the stronghold of Romans and began to be inhabited by the Tungri tribes, thus the name Tongeren. This city became the capital of the Roman province of Civitas Tungrorum. Later by 4th C CE, it became the centre of Christian diocese. Today, Tongeren is a member of the 'Most Ancient European Cities Network'. 

All about its Neanderthal past to the Roman past is all well explained in its Gallo Roman Museum. Visiting Gallo Romain Museum is one of the best things to do in Tongeren with kids. With life sized life-like sculptures (the one of a girl with insect is so damn real!), recreated habitats of Neanderthals, interactive displays with animations, the Neanderthal section of the museum is very interesting, even for toddlers. The Roman section of the museum is typical with displays of excavated terracotta pottery, stone relief sculptures, Roman tiles, Roman frescoes, city-plans and more. This is a bit more advanced and more suitable for advanced students than toddlers. In the year 2011, Gallo Romain Museum in Tongeren won the European Museum of the Year title.
Apart from Gallo Roman Museum, there are also bits & pieces of Roman Wall scattered at multiple placed, a Roman aquaduct and a re-imagined, contemporary recreation of a Roman Temple. 

How to reach Gallo Roman Museum Tongeren (on Google Maps): Gallo Roman Museum - 700m (10mins walk) from Tongeren Railway station - 2mins from Basilica
Gallo Roman Museum Tongeren Tickets€7 (included in Museumpassmusees)
Gallo Roman Museum Tongeren Opening HoursTue-Fri - 9AM to 5PM; Weekends - 10AM to 6PM
How to reach Roman Walls in Tongeren: Can be seen at Caesarlaan, Legioenenlaan, Cottalaan & Sabinuslaan

Medieval Wall Tongeren Belgium

Moerenpoort Gatehouse Tongeren Belgium

Museum Beghina Tongeren Belgium UNESCO

St Catharine Beguinage Tongeren UNESCO Belgium

St Catharine Beguinage Tongeren UNESCO Belgium

Moerenpoort is associated with the Medieval past of Tongeren. This was built in 1379 and today it is the Military History museum of Tongeren. Remnants of the Medieval City Wall built in 13th C CE can still be found along the highway R72, from Moerenpoort

How to reach Moerenpoort Tongeren (on Google Maps): Moerenpoort - 700m (10mins walk) from Tongeren Railway station
Moerenpoort TicketsFree (However access code to enter the monument has to be collected at the Tourism office)
Moerenpoort Opening Hours: 24 x 7

As I just mentioned above, one of the most important places to visit in Tongeren is ofcourse the Gallo Roman Museum. Other top things to do in Tongeren are to visit its UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Belgium - this little town has 2, the Belfry & the Beguinage. 
Sint-Catharina Begijnhof can be walked around (read more about what is a Begijnhof/Beguinage) and there's a museum here called Museum Beghina that talks about the lives, livelihood etc of the beguines who lived here. There was an infirmerie (clinic) here as well as a Chapel which functioned when the beguinage still existed. Today, the infirmerie is a restauranrant and chapel is a events venue.
Tongeren's Belfry belongs to its Basilica - Basilica of Our Lady. The church has been built over and over, over several centuries with its beginnings as a wooden & stone house in Roman era. The initial church was built here in 4th C CE, & in 6th C CE and expanded in Carolingian Era in 9th C etc. The current structure was begun to be built in 1240 CE in Gothic Style. The tower was built in 15-16th C CE. The wooden sculpture here of Our Lady of Tongeren belongs to 15th C CE as well. The treasury and the archaeological excavations of the Basilica can be accessed through Teseum.

How to reach Tongeren Basilica & Teseum (on Google Maps) -  Tongeren Basilica & Teseum - 700m (9mins walk) from Tongeren railway station - 2mins from Gallo Roman Museum
Tongeren Basilica Opening Hours: All days 9AM to 5PM
Tongeren Tesium Tickets: €10 
Tongeren Tesium Opening Hours: Tue-Sun 10AM to 5PM
How to reach Museum Beghina (on Google Maps) -  Museum Beghina - 1km (13 mins walk) from Tongeren railway station - 4mins walk from Moerenpoort
Tongeren Museum Beghina Tickets: €4
Tongeren Museum Beghina Opening Hours: Tue-Sun 2PM to 5PM

Tongeren Basilica Belfry UNESCO Belgium

Tongeren Basilica Belfry UNESCO Belgium

Market Square Tongeren Ambroix sculpture

Pumpkenskal Pump chat Sculpture Tongeren

One more important thing to do in Tongeren is to walk around the city for its street art. One of the most imporatant public sculpture is of Ambroix, king of Eburons, erected in 1866, located in Market Square near Tongeren Basilica. This square also have very many fountains with colorful LED lights on the floor. On the hot summer day, these fountains made Atyudarini very happy!
The city has some interesting contemporary public art installations within the city and I spotted 3 of those. First was the Pump chat (Pumpkenskal) located in the main shopping street very close to the Tongeren Tourism office, depicting 3 women chatting beside a water pump. This is a bronze sculpture created by the local sculptor Gerard Moonen. I spotted 2 other public art sculptures very close to the Gallo Romain Museum. To The Point is by Liliane Vertessen. It is a very long arrow that pierces the floor, one level underground! That depicts the purpose of Gallo Romain museum of getting to the point about history and the very fact that, that is the level where Roman remains have been found. Very closeby, is Luizado by Nick Ervink who was inspired by the drums depicted in the statue of Jupiter, excavated in Tongeren. 

Locations of Tongeren Street Art (on Google Maps): Pumpkenskal, To the Point, Luizado, Ambiorix

DOORKIJKKERK - BELGIUM's TRANSPARENT CHURCH

There was my actual destination, the one infact that I listed in my Belgian Bingo - the see-through church of Doorkijkkerk (NL) - Reading Between the Lines (EN)One of the most unusual, off-beat Belgium church, 'Reading Between the Lines' is located atop the Haspengouw hills, in the middle of a vast meadow, surrounded by orchards of apples, peaches and corn-fields! The last 1km definitely has to be walked or cycled (the carpark & bus-stop is 1km away), and to walk in the midst of the fields & orchards and see the church come into vicinity slowly, is definitely a mesmerizing experience. Atyudarini hadn't seen so many peach & apple trees up & close, so she pretty thrilled! Unquestionably this is one of the best, picturesque post-wedding photoshoot locations!
Doorkijkkerk is a very small church. Have a look at the size of the people as compared to the size of the church. The height of the entire church is just 10m, that's almost the same as the size of the doors of huge, old cathedrals. This was designed and constructed by Belgian architects Pieterjan Gijs and Arnout Van Vaerenbergh in 2011. It is basically 100 steel sheets stacked on top of each other and the whole 'building' weighs 30 tonnes! At some angles it is really opaque and at some it totally see-through. Its pretty interesting to see the tower of Kerk Groot-Loon align with Dookkijkkirk's tower, as you walk towards it.

Doorkijkkerk Transparent Belgium Church

Doorkijkkerk Transparent Belgium Church

Doorkijkkerk Reading between the lines Church

Doorkijkkerk Borgloon Reading between the lines

Doorkijkkerk Borgloon Reading between the lines


Seeing it in person is a special experience which is difficult to depict even with a video. Walking into it and being able to see the meadow all around & grazing cattle & feel the wind blowing on your face & to see Kerk Groot-Loon far away... and then to look up and see an almost enclosed roof which covers the view of the sky atop... and then to walk out and see-through a church including a see-through roof... is an unusual experience that really can't be explained in words or photos or videos! 

How to reach Doorkijkkerk Borgloon: 
By car - 10km from Tongeren & 14km from Sint-Truiden, between the 2 towns. Car-parking is 1km away from the church.
By bus - Bus no: 23a from Tongeren or Sint-Truiden (runs once every hour and journey time is 40-50 mins)
By bike/bicycle - Node point 155 on Fietsroute (Knooppuntenroute) 
Doorkijkkerk Borgloon TicketsFree
Doorkijkkerk Borgloon Opening Hours: 24 x 7

I was pretty tired by the time I was at Sint-Truiden and I was half-minded about heading to Sint-Truiden's beguinage & belfry which are again two of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Belgium. But then, there was a train back to Brussels in 5 mins and another in an hour and I was just too tempted to take the train and get back home and that's exactly what we did. So yeah, I do have to pay another visit to Sint-Truiden. Apart from the historical sites, Sint-Truiden has very many hiking trails that lend some exquisite panoramic views as well as a couple of breweries that brew traditional Belgian beer! 

How to reach Sint-Truiden from Brussels - 70km by car or 1hr train ride (direct train from Brussels Noord/Central/Zuid)

  • Begin the day with Doorkijkkerk, as early as possible - the earlier it is, the emptier it is. If possible, try to capture the sunrise here! 
  • Head to Tongeren and visit the Tongeren Basilica and Teseum.
  • After lunch visit the Gallo Romain museum 
  • By 2:00PM head to the Museum Beghina, when it opens. 
  • After the museum, walk around the Beguinage and see Moerenpoort & ruins of Roman wall. 

  • Day 1 - as above
  • Day 2 (opt 1) - Limburg Castles tour! Tongeren is surrounded by 7 castles around it plus 2 more in Borgloon - Scherpenberg Castle, Kasteel Rosmeulen, Kasteel van Hamal, Kasteel van Betho, Château de Widooie, Kasteel Borghoven, Kasteel van Bommershoven and Kasteel Hulsberg! Not all the castles are accessible for general public, though. 
  • Day 2 (opt 2) - Archaeological & Ancient Roman tour of Tongeren! Visit the Roman Temple site & Roman Aquaduct in Tongeren, Roman burial mounds in Gingelom and take a guided tour of Neanderthalersite at Lanaken.
  • Both options of Day 2 can only be done with a car. These aren't well connected by public transport. With a bicycle or e-bike, a couple of castles can be visited in opt 1 & Lanaken can be visited in opt 2. 

Things to do in Tongeren in One day

Things to do in Tongeren in One day

How to reach Tongeren from Brussels by car - 90km via Leuven on E40 & N69 (1 hr drive). 
Tongeren is one of the easy day-trips from Brussels by train. There's a train available once every hour from Brussels Noord/Central/Zuid. This is one of the routes where the train ticket costs a whopping €17.60 one way and I used my Standard Multi, a 10 journey pass of SNCB Belgian Railways where the cost is just €8.30.

Tongeren does not really have any budget hotels. There are a few upscale and luxury boutique hotels in Tongeren. The nearest city to have budget hotels in Hasselt. I personally don't have a review of any hotel here because, as mentioned above, I visited Tongeren & Borgloon together as a daytrip from Brussels. 

Doorkijkkerk Pinterest Oldest City in Belgium Tongeren Pinterest

Bhushavali

An ardent traveler by passion. I am a wanderlust.. Read more about me here.

11 comments:

  1. Wow, I didn't know that Doorkijkkirk existed in Belgium, but it looks stunning. What a creative piece of architecture that probably evoked so much emotion. Definitely putting it on my list for when I make it to Belgium again. Also, loved the curious little one in all your photos! How unique to have those cultural experiences at such a young age.

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  2. We never really thought about putting Belgium on our travel list. Your posts are showing me some interesting spots we should visit. Those cobblestone streets and small museums would definitely be worth a stop. We would definitely be posing with those statues of the ladies in the street. What a fun find! The Reading Between the Lines church surely is one of the most unusual designs.

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  3. Wow, Tongeren is old indeed and also very resilient, if it survived the Roman's attempt to destroy it. It looks like my kind of town, with grandiose cathedrals, old city walls and narrow alleys. We have been planning to visit Belgium for a long time, so I'll add this to my list. It's good to know it's just a short drive from Brussels.

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  4. Amazing place. Thanks for the details post.
    Beautiful photos.

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  5. I'm a big fan of old towns, and Tongeren looks especially fascinating and peaceful. Too bad it doesn't have any budget hotel. I might have to go to the next town or make a day trip like you did. It sounds easy enough to do it by train.

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  6. Wow that is some history for a charming looking small town! It looks so pretty and peaceful, so difficult to imagine the they had to fend themselves from attacks and destruction by Romans. I never imagined needing more than 2-3 days in Belgium, but your posts have convinced me, nothing less than a week would work. BTW, your son is gonna be an explorer like you! Such cute pics. :D

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  7. I have no idea that Tongeren is the oldest city in Belgium, but I like it very much. I add it to my bucket list after reading your post! It's a great place! Many attractions and beautiful places that I certainly need a few days to enjoy this city, its historic architecture and amazing museums. Gallo Roman Museum is so incredible! I think the church of Doorkijkkerk looks fabulous too!

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  8. These are some amazing fairy tale towns of Belgium and steeped in history. Though they have names which are veritable tongue twisters, they seem equally charming. Tongeren seems really fascinating, never knew that this is one of the oldest towns of Belgium, and the ancient tribe actually revolted against Julius Caesar!

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  9. We were in Belgium last year but never knew about this day trip to Limburg from Brussels. If it had come to my attention I would have definitely included in our plans. Probably next time. I have a fascination for Churches and love the pictures here. Looks such a great experience for you.

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  10. What a quaint town! I love that there is so much history, and the fact that it's the oldest town makes it so much more interesting. I do hope to get to Belgium someday - it looks like a beautiful place to spend time.

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