Bouillon had been on my Belgian wishlist for a long time, ever since I saw a picture of Le Tombeau du Géant on Instagram, but I was contemplating between a daytrip & a weekend trip after listing the other things to do in Bouillon.
Then, something happened, that made an overnight trip, even more attractive! Read on to know what it was….
Top 5 things to do in Bouillon
VISIT BOUILLON CASTLE (DURING DAY & AGAIN AT NIGHT)
The most important historic site in Bouillon is its majestic castle. Chateau de Bouillon is the face of the town and visiting it is one of the top things to do in Bouillon. Surrounded by the natural bend of River Semois it is protected by nature on all sides!
History of Bouillon Castle: The earliest mention of this castle is from 988 CE, but there is a possibility that some kind of castle might have been in existence at this spot since the Gallo-Romain era! The dukes of the House of Ardennes were the owners till 1096 when Godfrey V, sold the whole castle to the princebishop to fund the holy war of the first crusade. Godfrey V died in Jerusalem after winning the First Crusade. After changing several hands, incl. Napoleon Bonaparte, finally after Belgian Revolution, it became a part of Belgium. Over the period of time, it had been renovated and expanded time & again.
Points of Interest inside Bouillon Castle: As soon as you enter, you’ll spot the Vauban flight of stairs. Well, this is the same Vauban, the military engineer of 17th C CE, who was behind Namur Citadel and portions of Luxembourg fortifications etc! Further ahead is the Primitive Room which is one of the oldest portions of the Castle, built in 13th C CE. A fascinating room in the castle, is the well. It is 165m deep - that’s lower than River Semois’ level, in order to give the castle an endless supply of water in case of a siege. When there’s a well this deep, there obviously has to be a pulley that strong, and yes, there is one! It was not pulled by hand, but operated by men who walked ‘inside’ it (imagine something like guinea pigs)!
The biggest room of the castle is the Godfrey of Bouillon’s room. This room had once served as an indoor horse stable. The most fascinating aspect here is the wooden cross that has been discovered buried for centuries! It had been claimed as the original cross on which Jesus was crucified but factually, it isn’t so - it belongs to a much later era! The floor above this room had been used as a hospital in the 19th C and the entire wall had been scribbled (engraved) by the patients! Today that has been preserved and also serves as the site of the permanent exhibition of ‘Scriptura’.
Then of course there’s the Austria Tower and the view from atop is exquisite. On one side the Old Road to France that vanishes into the greenery; on another side is the Point de vue de la Ramonette, a point higher than the castle; on yet another side is the bridge across Semois, Pont de Cordemoy, a new construction that blends so beautifully with the historic surroundings; and then there’s the town of Bouillon on yet another side!
Torchlight Tour of Bouillon Castle: So, why did I begin this article saying that an overnight stay at Bouillon is a must? This is the reason – torchlight tour of the castle after sunset! The tour began at 9:30PM. Regular tours happen in Dutch & French. Regular English tours happen in summer and at other times, it is possible to pre-book one. If you haven’t pre-booked and if there’s no regular English tour for the day, it doesn’t matter, just take French or Dutch tour. The ambience is so fascinating that explanations aren’t needed. It about an hour-long tour and you walk holding a burning torch through the castle, through its dark cellars and more!
The view from atop the tower at night? Phenomenal!!! Unlike the cities, the light-pollution here is very less and as night falls, the sky is so filled with stars! All the beautiful surroundings I mentioned earlier, now dotted with night lights! A historic castle + a burning torch + the town lights + the stars = Belgium. Uniquely Phenomenal!
BOUILLON TOP TIP
Regular English tours happen only in Summers (check online if it is available on the date you’re visiting). Otherwise, it is possible to pre-book an English-speaking tour guide just for your group / your family. If you choose not to do that, just join the torchlight tour in Dutch or French. More often than not, Dutch tour is less crowded than French tour since Bouillon is located in the French-speaking region of Wallonia (though in summers Dutch tours also has a lot of people)! You could enquire at the ticket counter on which tour has fewer people and join that one!
Bouillon Castle Location: Château fort de l'Esplanade Godefroid de Bouillon 1, 6830 Bouillon
VISIT ARCHEOSCOPE BOUILLON
Archeoscope is a unique experience that reminded me much of the show at Waterloo. It is like a movie theatre screening but along with some flat & 3D projections! If you’re not choosing for a guided tour of Bouillon Castle, the best idea is to see the Archeoscope show before visiting the castle. It gives a very good idea about the castle, about who is Godfrey and a glimpse into the history of Crusade wars.
BOUILLON TOP TIP
Get Bouillon City Pass. It includes entry to Bouillon Castle, Archeoscope Bouillon & Ducal Museum.
Archeoscope Bouillon Location: Quai des Saulx 14, 6830 Bouillon
EXPLORE THE HISTORIC CENTRE OF BOUILLON
As I mentioned earlier, Bouillon is beautifully located, surrounded by a river that curves around it. No wonder it was one of the historically important sites of Belgium and there are 20+ historic monuments & listed buildings in this little town.
The self-guided tour with mobile app, begins at the tourist office. The historic convent of the Sépulcrines of the 17-18th C CE is today the site of Archeoscope Bouillon. The tour goes through the Liege bridge (Pontde Liege), and many historic buildings of 17-18th C. The Brittany area is a very charming, instagrammable spot very close to the Bouillon Castle.
Around the castle was the fortification wall with 12 bastions built in 1680 CE, of which only 3 still survive and those were renovated in 20th C. Today, where the wall once stood, is the main street of the town and it goes ‘through’ 2 of the bastions. The walk ends at the Athenee Royal school which was the old civil hospital built in 1768 CE. If you’re up for it, from here continue on the promenade de la Sente aux Geais hiking route! More about it below!
Starting point of Historic Tour of Bouillon: In front of the Tourist Office - Quai des Saulx 12, 6830 Bouillon
There are several hiking routes in and around Bouillon. One of the simplest hiking routes in Bouillon is the 3.5km Promenade de la Sente aux Geais. This stroller-friendly, 3.5km, way-marked hike begins in front of the Tourism office (follow no:9) and goes till Pont de France and then takes a different route from the Historic Tour mentioned above. This route goes to the wooded areas, follows the historic tram route and lends some amazing views of the town & the Semois river.
Another awesome trail is the Promenade de la Ramonette et arboretum. This is a 5km long, way-marked trail that begins near the Bouillon Tunnel (follow no: 8), behind the castle. This is a bit challenging and is an upward hike to reach the point de Vue de la Ramonette (Ramonette viewpoint), which is the point higher than the castle, to see the castle from atop! After this viewpoint the route takes you to the Bouillon Botanical & Geographical Arboretum, formed in 1906 CE. Apart from the 150+ native species, there are also some exotic plants & trees from as far as N.America & Asia!
Another interesting trail is the Bouillon – Abbaye de Cordemoy hike. Unlike the other 2, this isn’t waymarked. This is a 6.5km trail, starting at Pont de Cordemois. The Abbey of Our Lady of Clairefontaine (L'abbaye Notre-Dame de Clairefontaine) itself isn’t accessible to public though.
Bouillon Hiking Maps: Available at the Tourist Office
The best way to explore the places around Bouillon is by bike. Of course, going by car is possible, but biking is more eco-friendly! If you don’t own a bike, like me, it is very much possible to hire bikes in Bouillon.
One of the top places to visit near Bouillon is ofcourse the Tombeau du Géant (Giant’s Tomb) at Botassart. It is located 10km from Bouillon and easily reachable by bike. Being in Ardennes hills, the roads have moderate or steep slopes. So, if you’re not really up to it, a good idea would be to hire an e-bike.
One of the awesome things to do in Bouillon would be to go biking on a 40+ km loop route touching Tombeau du Géant, the viewpoint of Frahan at Rochehaut, go down to Corbion to touch the French border before heading back to Bouillon.
BOUILLON TOP TIP
Bike hire in Bouillon - There any many city/mountain/e-bike rentals all over Bouillon. It is a good idea to pre-book the bikes, especially during vacations.
Mountain Bike rental prices – around €30 per day
E-bike rental prices – around €40-€50 per day
Bouillon Biking Maps: Available at the Tourist Office
What to try in Bouillon
- BOUILLONAISE BEER: Being in Belgium, the land of craft beers, ofcourse Bouillon also has its own brewery and beer. Also, while you’re here, why not check out Rochehaut beer too?!
- L’OEILLET DU CHÂTEAU: If you have already done the Castle tour, you might have spotted the cheese in the cellars! That’s the hard cheese made from unpasteurised goat’s milk!
- LE CROISÉ: This is something like Speculoos, but low in sugar and bears the image of Godfrey!
- SEMOIS TROUT: If you’re a fish-eater, don’t miss the trout fish found in abundance in the Semois river.
DAY TRIP TO BOUILLON: Chateau de Bouillon, Archeoscope Bouillon, Bouillon-Abbaye de Cordemoy hike or bike till Tombeau du Géant. If time permits, walk around the historic centre of Bouillon.
DAY TRIP TO BOUILLON WITH YOUNG KIDS: Chateau de Bouillon, Animalier Parc, Promenade de la Sente aux Geais hike.
DAY TRIP TO BOUILLON WITH OLDER KIDS: Chateau de Bouillon, Archeoscope Bouillon, Promenade de la Ramonette et arboretum hike or bike till Tombeau du Géant, Kayaking on river Semois.
24 HOURS IN BOUILLON: If you depend on public transport, you may reach Bouillon by noon. Begin with Chateau de Bouillon, Archeoscope de Bouillon and walk around the historic centre of Bouillon. After dinner head back to the castle for the night tour with torchlight. While heading back to your hotel don’t miss the gorgeous reflection of the castle & the town’s lights on the river Semois. Begin day 2 with an incredible biking trip to just Tombeau du Géant or go on a longer 41-44km loop route incl. Rochehaut, touch the French border and head back to Bouillon. If time/energy permits do one of the small hikes or choose to relax on river Semois with kayaking/pedal-boating. You may have to take the return bus by early afternoon.
2 DAYS IN BOUILLON – If you have a car or even otherwise, if you are able to reach early on Day 1, and can leave late on day 2, here’s your itinerary for 2 full days and a night!
Day 1 - Chateau de Bouillon, Archeoscope de Bouillon, Musee Ducal, Promenade de la Ramonette et arboretum hike or Bouillon-Abbaye de Cordemoy hike, night tour of the Castle with torch light.
Day 2 – Biking the 41-44km loop or till Tombeau du Géant & back (20km), Parc Animalier, walk around the historic centre of Bouillon, Kayaking or pedal boating on river Semois.
How to reach Bouillon
HOW TO REACH BOUILLON BY CAR
Bouillon is 150km away from Brussels via Ottignies, Namur. It takes about 2 hours to reach Bouillon from Brussels by car.
HOW TO REACH BOUILLON BY PUBLIC TRANSPORT
Bouillon is not connected by train. The only way to reach Bouillon depending on public transport is by taking a bus (LeTEC route 8) from Libramont. Libramont is connected to Brussels by direct train and the journey takes about 2 hours. Including the bus journey, connection time, it effectively takes about 3 hours to reach Bouillon from Brussels by public transport.
Where to stay in Bouillon
- BOUILLON BUDGET HOTELS: If you’re on a budget, the best option to stay in Bouillon is of course the Youth Hostel.
- UNUSUAL ACCOMMODATIONS BOUILLON: There are many hotels at all budgets available in Bouillon. But if you’re looking for an unusual accommodation, one option is L'Instant Ch'Oizy in Bièvre where you can spend a night in gypsy wagons; another option is to camping at Camping de la Semois in Sainte-Cécile, Florenville or Bouleaux camping in Bohan.
About the Author: Bhushavali is an Indian travel blogger, who blogs at My Travelogue by Bhushavali. She is currently living in Belgium.
Her background in art-history gives her the interest and insight to explore the historic & heritage sites in Belgium. Her primary interest is UNESCO Sites and she has visited all 13 Belgian UNESCO World Heritage Sites & Global Geopark.