A day in Mons
The Hainaut province can use a little P.R. to enhance its image, so I guess it was a great bargain Mons was picked as European capital of culture in 2015! The truth is this small city definitely has some cultural assets and plenty of history. Its traffic-free center is the perfect backdrop for a chill day doing some shopping, some eating and a little sightseeing. You might bump into a few marginal people on the street, but you'll discover that the 'Montois' are really nice people!
Visit of the BAM | Rue Neuve 8, 7000 Mons
The Fine Arts Museum of Mons was reopened in 2007 and now boasts a very modern architecture that's all about glass and transparency. There is no permanent collection to be seen but instead the museum organizes temporary exhibitions that last for 3 to 6 months each. I remember their exhibitions dedicated to Andy Warhol and Van Gogh were great and attracted many people. That's why I suggest visiting the museum in the morning, as I noticed there can be waiting lines in the afternoon.
Exploring the Grand Place
The Grand Place is really the city center around which Mons' city life revolves. When it's sunny, everyone goes looking for a spot on one of the many terraces around it to enjoy some refreshing drinks. The architectural gem of this square is the Gothic City Hall that dates back to the 15th century. It is on the facade of this building that you can find the most famous local character: the Guardhouse Monkey. Nobody quite knows for sure where he comes from and how long he's been there, but it is said that stroking his head with your left hand brings good luck. After you cleaned your hand with some anti-bacterial wipes perhaps, go behind the City Hall to discover the cute Mayor's garden.
Lunch at Boule de Bleu | Rue de la Coupe 46, 7000 Mons
When I first came to Mons a few years ago, I had trouble finding a place that would suit my vegetarian regime, until I found Boule de Bleu. Ever since, I've been coming here each time I'm in Mons. They are specialized in salads (I'm telling you, you've never seen so many attractive salads together on one menu) but personally I simply adore their focaccias ('La Santorin' is my favorite). For drinks, I suggest one of their homemade lemonades that are equally pretty and delicious (lemon, rose, violet, ...). And their desserts look amazing, but I've never had a taste of them since portions are rather big. Making a reservation is recommended.
A little shopping in Rue des Fripiers
One does not come to Mons to find the epicenter of hipness, but there are a few boutiques that are definitely worth a stop. Carnaby Street (Rue de la Coupe 54-56) is a must for vintage lovers who will find there are two sections in this small shop. The one in front is dedicated to the trends of the 70s and 80s, whereas the room in the back is for fashion from the 40s to the 60s. Belgian artist Alice on the Roof is a fan and I see why. Baroc (Rue des Fripiers 32) is specialized in jewelry of all kinds, for all budgets. When I crossed the entrance door, I had the feeling I just stepped into a museum. The building has housed shops since the 19th century and luckily most of the original elements have been kept in place (from the tiled floors to the wooden furniture).
Coffee and more at MoMA Coffee | Rue de la Coupe 10, 7000 Mons
For the best coffee and tea specialties in Mons, there's only one address: MoMA Coffee. The owner Lily fantasies about New York (we have that in common) so she brought a little bit of Manhattan to Mons. They have everything you might crave for, including a killer matcha latte, and their desserts look yummy too!
Visit of the Belfry | Parc du Château
There are about 30 belfries scattered across Belgium, but the one from Mons is especially pretty as it is the only one in baroque style. Going up the glass elevator, you'll discover panoramic views of the surroundings (but it will cost you €9,00). The belfry is adjacent to a cute park that is the highest point of the city so you can already enjoy some views just strolling around it.
Visit of the Collegiate Church of Saint Waudru | Rue du Chapitre 3, 7000 Mons
From the outside, the Saint Waudru Church in Gothic style strikes by its sheer size. On the inside, there are many relics to be admired. The church is always open and entrance is free so there's no reason why you shouldn't explore it. Just a few steps away is the Decorative Arts Museum François Duesberg (Square F. Roosevelt 12) famous for its exceptional collection of artifacts of the French high society from the 18th and 19th century: porcelain, gold & silver items, jewels and a unique collection of clocks.
The train will take you from Brussels to Mons in 50 minutes. If you come by car, there are a few free parking options around the city center listed here. I easily parked my car on Boulevard Sainctelette last time I was there.