Welcome to Charleroi! Now, you might just view Charleroi as a travel stop off, but don’t worry, most people do, and if I’m honest, I certainly wouldn’t choose Charleroi over Brussels, Ghent or Bruges. It was actually once named the ugliest city in Europe! However, if you are flying out of (or into) Charleroi for a travel stint in Belgium, this is a city worth giving a day to explore. There are many things to do in Charleroi including an open air street art museum, the Cathedral, memorials to WW1 and art nouveau architecture.
Disclosure: templeseeker.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and other affiliate advertising programs designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.co.uk, Get your Guide and other affiliated sites. Affiliate links may be used in this article on things to do in Charleroi, but they do not impact on the price that you pay and they do help me to get this information to you for free.
How to get to Charleroi
If you are exploring Charleroi, then take the A1 bus from Charleroi airport. It goes from just behind the Flibco bus stop which is well signposted. Buy your TUC ticket from one of the machines before boarding – the price is 6 Euro. It will get you to Charleroi Central Gare (station) in around 20 mins and the best thing is they run through the night to cater for late flight arrivals.
Uber did not work in Charleroi, but there were taxis available (the official cabs are black). If you do take a taxi, remember to negotiate and pre-agree your price.
The centre of Charleroi is walkable from the Central Gare (A1 bus stop) and very easy to navigate.
Make sure that you pronounce it correctly!
The funny thing is, as a Brit, I automatically pronounced it as ‘Charle-ROY’ (as any English person probably would!) But, it is in the French part of Belgium and so it is pronounced ‘Sharle-WA,’ so make sure that you get it right!
Photography copyright: All the images in this blog are original photography by Amy Green and are property of @templeseeker (unless otherwise stated). Please do not use these without permission or without giving credit. If you would like to use any of these images please email: firstname.lastname@example.org for permission.
Where to stay in Charleroi
If you’re looking for a budget stop over, then I recommend the Auberge de Jeunesse Charleroi. It was just €37 for a dorm bed per night, including a filling buffet breakfast of cereals, croissants, bread rolls, meat, cheese and cakes. The hostel was clean with great resources including a bar, ping pong table and lounge/kitchen. It’s perfect if you are on a budget and happy to share a dorm.
If you want a mid-range stay, then I recommend the Ibis Charleroi Central Gare which is also just a few minutes walk from the train station. The Ibis has a great standard of rooms, and I’ve stayed in Ibis hotels in many cities.
For a more upmarket hotel stay, then check out Novotel Charleroi central. It has a restaurant and bar with room service available.
WW1 History of Charleroi
The German invasion of Belgium began on 4 August 1914. The Belgian towns of Liège, Dinant and Namur fell one after the other. The human losses were immense and many civilians were massacred by the invading forces.
From 20 August onwards, French outposts were set up along the Sambre river, occupying the bridges in the town. The following day, at about six o’clock in the morning, the first Germans entered Charleroi via the route de Bruxelles. Around thirty scouts crossed through a number of municipalities without being challenged, as passers-by thought they were English. Once in Charleroi, having reached the crossroads of rue de Montignies and rue du Pont-Neuf, the Germans came across the French outposts. French machine guns fired from behind the barricade at the bottom of the road. This gunfire caused the city’s first victims, killing and wounding people. They were taken to the civilian hospital of Charleroi and Sacré-Cœur college.
The worst was yet to come. On 22 August, Charleroi was set alight and plundered. Around Charleroi, the battle of the Sambre raged. Hundreds of wounded, both French and German, were taken from the battlefields to be tended in Charleroi.
Things to do in Charleroi
Some of the best things to do in Charleroi include the street art walking tour, the Saint-Christophe de Charleroi Church and Le Passage de la Bourse (art nouveaux shopping gallery). There are also several interesting monuments to soldiers who fell in the Great War (WW1).
As there is a great deal of WW1 history in Charleroi and the surrounding areas, there are several monuments around the city to commemorate those who have fallen in the Great War, as well as WW2. On Avenue de Waterloo you will find this monument that remembers the lives lost in both WW1 (1914-1918) and WW2 (1939-1945).
There is also a war memorial in Parc Reine Astrid. The text roughly translates to read the ‘they are gone – 1st and 4th Regiment of Charleroi foot soldiers, 1566 of their own died for Belgium’ (my own translation and I have poor French – if anything is incorrect please let me know).
Street Art Open Air Museum
There is a fantastic street art trail which guides you through the Charleroi Open Air Museum. The route takes about 2 hours and you can find it here.
Some of my favourite murals included ‘Fourchette’ and ‘Vélo-Colorville’, which are located just behind the CHARLEROI Palais Metro. There are a few others that I did manage to find as I ran out of time – ‘Sozyone’ (men in bowler hats) and Hell’O Monsters! Maybe I will check those out next time.
Admire the Art Nouveaux and Art Deco Architecture
There is plenty of Art Nouveaux and Art Deco Architecture to find in the city. But first, what is the difference between the two? Well, both are 20th Century artistic movements. Art Nouveau embraces elegant curves and long lines, whereas Art Deco consists of sharp angles and geometrical shapes.
La Maison da Dorée (known as the Golden House) is the best-known Carolegian creation in the style of Art Nouveau. Notice the swirling patterns in the decor. If you are interested in Art Nouveau architecture I would recommend that you explore the Art Nouveau in Barcelona – it has the most stunning examples of this style of architecture in the world.
The Central Gare and Gare Sud are both good examples of modernism with Art-Deco influences. There is a modernist Art-Deco street walk and you can find the route here. It takes around two hours and there is plenty of information on the buildings showing their historical significance. There were many Art Deco apartment blocks built around the 1920’s because it was a cheap, yet stylish way of providing accommodation when the people of the city were struggling with the cost of living.
Saint-Christophe de Charleroi Church
If you are interested in religious buildings, then don’t miss the Saint-Christophe de Charleroi Church. This modern Roman Catholic Church has a large green dome and was inspired by Byzantine architecture.
One of the most stunning aspects of the church is the gold mosaic ‘the mosaics of the choir’. This 200 meter square mosaic was made in a Venetian workshop and designed by the local artist Jean Ransy. Other interesting aspects of the Church include the Statue of Saint Christopher, the modern Font and Lectern by Bernard Tirtiaux and the brightly coloured stained glass windows.
Climb Charleroi Belfry
The Belfry of Charleroi is part of the City Hall and it was designed by Joseph André in 1936 (A Belgian architect). The building is a combination of classicism and art deco in architecture, and was built of blue and white stone as well as bricks. It is part of the the UNESCO World Heritage Site. The tower itself is 70 metres high, and crowned with a small bronze bell tower. You can climb the 257 steps to the top, which is well worth the view (although don’t expect it to be as beautiful as Bruges!)
Visit the Museums of Charleroi
There are numerous museums in Charleroi to keep you interested during your visit. The most popular ones are the photography museum and the Museum of Fine Arts.
- Museo de la Fotografía de Charleroi – The Charleroi Photography museum is one of the largest and most important museums of photography in Europe. Tickets: 8€
- Museum of Fine Arts of Charleroi – The Museum of fine Arts in Charleroi was launched in 1911 by Jules Destrée in order to preserve the works of Navez. The museum now houses numerous examples of art from the middle of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th Century, covering major artistic movements which emerged in Belgium. It is free for the permanent collections, 5€ for the temporary exhibitions.
- The Glass Museum – A museum displaying examples of the Belgian glass industry, which emerged after the Second World War. In 1950, it was agreed that a building which would house the National Glass Institute and the Glass Museum should be constructed – at the State’s expense.
(prices true in October 2023 at the time of writing)
Eat dinner on Rue de Dampremy
When it hits such time, head to Rue de Dampremy for some of the best eateries in Charleroi. The street is full of cafes, restaurants and chocolate shops, many with outdoor seating.
Le Bistro, Bistro de La Coeur and Le Peiton are all good choices for Belgian food. There is also a good Chinese – if you’re in the mood for Asian food, head to Plateau a Shanghai.
Le Passage de la Bourse
Passage de la Bourse is one of the most famous shopping galleries in Charleroi and was built in a striking neo-classical style (internal) and Art Deco design (external) in 1891.
It still contains some retro bookshops and cafes, such as ‘Mama & Son’ and it’s a nice place to relax and pass some time. La Bourse is also attached to a more modern shopping centre if you fancy a spot of clothes shopping.
Bois du Cazier
If you are interested in the industrial history of Charleroi then head to Bois du Cazier, which is an old coal mine preserved as an industrial heritage site and turned into a museum (since 2002). Now, I’m originally from the Black Country (in the West Midlands) and have an affinity with this kind of industrial past. My home town was where coal mining and chain making was a major source of economy, and Charleroi is industrial to a similar level. The museum portrays the working class and immigration to Wallonia (Belgium) in the 20th century.
Entrance is 9€ per adult and 5€ for under 18s. For an extra 1€ you can tour with an audio guide.
What to see around Charleroi
And finally….there are a few interesting things just a short drive from Charleroi.
If you like castles, there are two that I would recommend. The first is Feluy castle, built in the 17th century, it is a prime example of Belgian Renaissance architecture. The second is the 14th Century Le Roeulx castle. The latter has undergone several renovations resulting in numerous architectural styles, and showcases a mixture of renaissance and gothic elements.
Another interesting place to explore, if you have time, is Aulne Abbey (Thuin). This is the remains of an old 637 CE (approx) Cistercian monastery and garden. If you are a temple seeker like me, you will love this!
Tips for Charleroi
Here are my top tips for exploring Charleroi and the surrounding areas…
- There’s a bit of an uphill walk to the cathedral so comfortable trainers or walking boots are a good idea!
- Stay near the Central Gare – it makes onward travel easy.
- Stay at the Auberge de Jeunesse or the Ibis.
- Remember to use your French – this is the French speaking part of Belgium rather than the Dutch
- Take the street art trail! It takes around 2 hours and the route can be found here.
- Currency is euros so take some change and also your VISA and master cards will work here
- Buy your onward train tickets at the machines in the station before you board the train. Staff in the station did speak English as well as French
- If you are continuing your travels in Belgium then I recommend the Lonely Planet Belgium & Luxembourg.