The picture-perfect city of Dinant is located in the Ardennes in Wallonia, a French-speaking region of Belgium. Tucked below a cliff face on the banks of the Meuse river, it’s one of the region’s prettiest towns and and a great place to visit for a long weekend or as part of a longer road-trip, where you could include the Grottes de Han (Han Caves), Durbuy and even Brussels depending on how much time you have.
Today the city’s location along the river is a dream for photographers but it’s also played a part in the city’s tumultuous history. The river was an important means of transport for the town and was used for trade but its strategic importance controlling access to the Upper Meuse valley meant the it was frequently attacked.
One of the worst attacks took place in 1466 commanded by Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy. The army put down a rebellion by the townspeople and, in doing so, drowned 800 of them in the river and the burned the town to the ground.
Fortunately things are a little cheerier these days and visitors come year-round to see the picturesque city that is also the birthplace of Adolphe Sax, inventor of the saxophone; the hometown of Belgium’s most famous beer, Leffe; and home to Europe’s toughest biscuit, the Couque de Dinant, which is so hard you won’t want to risk biting into one!
Disclosure: We were guests of the Belgian Tourist Office – Wallonia for the purpose of producing this guide. This post may contain affiliate links. I have been or could be if you click on a link in this post compensated via a cash payment, gift or something else of value for writing this post. See our full disclosure policy for more details.
Is Dinant in Belgium worth visiting?
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Dinant might not be as well known as some other cities in Belgium but that’s precisely why we love it. This is a city with a rich history dating back to the Middle Ages and with plenty of stories to tell.
As well as being an interesting place to visit it’s ridiculously pretty, particularly when the sun shines. If visiting with kids then you’ll discover lots of family-friendly activities to keep everyone happy from tree top adventures and kid-friendly walking tours to eco-friendly boat rides, a delightfully quirky music museum and plenty of ice cream.
So if you’re wondering whether Dinant is worth visiting then quite simply the answer is yes! Read on to discover the best things to do in Dinant, Belgium.
You may also enjoy the following posts:
- Why you should definitely stop at the Caves of Han
- Try this fun 7 day Belgium road trip itinerary (+ map!)
- The 15 best things to do in Dinant, Belgium (2022)
- 12 reasons to visit Durbuy, the smallest city in the world!
- How to plan the perfect trip to Lapland with kids
Take the “Ghost of Dinant” tour
What’s the best way to get kids to enjoy a walking tour? By allowing them to use their smartphones! Created by the Tourism Office of Upper Meuse and Dinant, the Ghost of Dinant is an app that allows families to discover the best bits of Dinant while solving clues along the way.
The app invites users to help the ghost of Knight Quentin de la Marck find his murderer. Born in Dinant, this knight was killed during a particularly riotous episode in the town’s history. Since then Quentin de la Marck has been condemned to wander through time and history, unable to rest until the name of his murderer has been revealed once and for all.
Using your smartphone, the app takes you on a journey through the streets of Dinant, asking players to solve clues along the way. Graphically it’s not the most advanced of apps but it works very well and is a fun way to learn more about the small town. As well as solving clues, the app shares tales of the small city.
The walking tour starts on the Charles de Gaulle bridge (Pont Charles de Gaulle) and should take about an hour (although it took us a bit longer) with the option of adding on an additional section that should take an extra 30 minutes.
If you’re wondering why there’s a bridge named after French soldier and statesman Charles de Gaulle, it’s because he was wounded here in the First World War.
Take a photo with the Dinant sign
Located outside the Dinant Tourism Office in the city center, the large Dinant sign makes for the perfect photo opportunity and is a great place to begin your Ghost of Dinant walking tour.
Visit the Citadel
One of the first things you should do in town is visit the imposing Citadelle de Dinant that sits on top of a rocky outcrop overlooking the city. The current fort was built in 1815 but fortifications were first established here in 1051 when the area was ruled by Prince-Bishopric of Liège.
The main reason to head to the top of the 19th-century heavily fortified fort is for the spectacular views. The viewpoint from the top of the hill is one of the best places to get a birds eye view over the city, the Meuse river and the valley. It also explains the original Celtic name for the area, Divo-Nanto, which translates into “Divine Valley”.
Visitors can also explore the Citadel itself as well. The buildings house permanent displays showcasing when Belgium was ruled by the Netherlands and the House of Orange and you can see how the Dutch regiments billeted here at the time would have lived including their dormitories and the kitchen that would have prepared meals for 400 people at a time.
The most impressive rooms, however, are the ones built to replicate trenches from WWI. Visitors can walk through the trenches while the sound of explosions and gunfire take place around them. Immediately afterwards is the collapsed trench, a reconstruction of a bunker that has been hit by a shell.
Walking through the collapsed trench is not dissimilar to a House of Mirrors or Crooked House at a traditional funfair, where your senses are distorted and you can’t tell up from down. We all gripped the sides as we made our way through the room, trying not to stumble or fall – especially not into the water! It’s great fun, but will leave your head spinning.
There is also a military cemetery near to where the cable car stops is as well as an an old military plane and a playground. A cafe sits next to the playground.
The Dinant Citadel can be accessed via a cable car or you can climb up – or down – the 408 steps carved into the hillside. Be aware that the steps are steep so not suitable for younger children.
Take a River Cruise
One of our favourite things to do in Dinant was a cruise along the Meuse river in an electric boat. There are various tourists boats that run up and down the river but they can’t compare with captaining your own ship.
We loved the time that we spent sailing along the river and because no licence is needed to drive the boat, everyone could take a turn to steer the boat. It’s a great way to get another perspective of the city and to spend time along the river that has really shaped Dinant. It’s also affords an amazing view of the Rocher Bayard.
The impressive 35m-high ridge of Bayard Rock stands at the entrance to the town of Dinant, perfectly detached from the rest of the cliff. Local legend has it that this splinter of cliff was sheared by the hooves of the warhorse Bayard, who was bearing four knights on their escape from Emperor Charlemagne.
The truth is, however, that the road was carved by Louis XIV’s troops in the 17th century and later enlarged to allow cars and vehicles to drive into town.
The boats operate every day from the beginning to April to the first week in November from 10am to 7pm and no licence is needed to operate them. The dock for the electric boats is at the foot of the Charles de Gaulle bridge and the Citadel of Dinant. Boat tours last one hour.
Visit the home of Adolphe Sax
Antoine-Joseph Sax, the inventor of the saxophone, was born in Dinant and his home is now the experience centre La maison de Monsieur Sax. The centre is not large but has interesting displays dedicated to him and the impact that his invention had on the music world.
Although Monsieur Sax himself only lived in Dinant for the first six months of his life and invented the saxophone while living in Paris, the city is understandably proud of him and you’ll spot dozens of saxophones dotting the city streets.
Make sure to take a picture with the statue of Adolphe outside the museum.
If you take the Ghost of Dinant guided tour then you will pass by this experience centre.
Take the Saxophone Tour
Head to the Tourist Office in Dinant (located near the Charles I Bridge opposite the Notre Dame church) and pick up the Sax in the City Walking Tour map.
There are some 60 enormous saxophones dotted around the city and this map will ensure that you don’t miss a single one. The saxophones are all decorated by countries of the European Union as well as a handful of interlopers including the USA, China and the UK.
Don’t miss the giant saxophone made out of glass that sits in front of the Town Hall.
Buy a biscuit from Pâtisserie Jacobs
As well as saxophones and beer, Dinant is famous for being home to the “Couque de Dinant” (the Dinant biscuit), an incredibly tough and impossible to chew cookie.
Although the exact origins of this biscuit are unknown there are plenty of legends and tales surrounding this hard cookie. One popular legend says that the couques arose during the sacking of Dinant in 1466 when the locals were so desperate for food that they mixed flour and honey together and the Couque was born.
The biscuits are made using only flour and honey and baked after using a cookie board to imprint them with a design. There are dozens of designs to choose from and they are often incredibly intricate. Given the town’s history, however, we opted for a saxophone design.
One of the best – and original – places to purchase a Couque is at Pâtisserie Jacobs, a family-run bakery that has been selling these traditional biscuits since 1860. We met Marie Frederique when we visited, wife of the current owner (his great grandfather started the bakery) and she was delightful pointing out the nearest dentists as we left!
Because that’s the thing about the Couque de Dinant, these biscuits are not meant to be bitten into. Instead, you are meant to break off a piece and let it slowly dissolve in your mouth as you would a boiled sweet.
If you want to see how they are made you can visit the factory where the Couques are produced. The factory is open daily from 9am to 6pm (except January and February). Reservations are essential and a minimum of 8 people are needed (maximum 20 people). Inquire at the Pâtisserie Jacobs.
Address: Rue Grande 147, 5500 Dinant, Belgium
See the stained glass window in Notre-Dame Collegial Church
With its onion domed top, the impressive Notre-Dame Church is hard to miss. It’s not the first church to stand here but the original one was flattened by a rock fall in 1228. Dating back to the 13th century, the Gothic-style church is built entirely from the grey limestone of Dinant.
Inside there is an enormous – and enormously impressive – stained glass window that was created by Ghent glass artists Gustave Ladon. It’s one of the largest stained glass windows in Europe and depicts scenes from the bible. Also on display are examples of the intricate metalwork – dinanderie – for which Dinant was known throughout Europe.
One of the best ways to visit the church with kids – particularly if your kids are anything like mine and don’t find churches terribly riveting – is on the Ghost of Dinant walking tour. The tour stops at the church and is one of the locations where you can find a clue to help solve the mystery of the knight’s murder.
Have an adventure with Dinant Evasion
One of the top things that we enjoyed was a morning spent with Dinant Evasion, a company that offer an array of adventure activities. We spent the morning at their adventure park tackling their Dinant Aventure, a treetop adventure course but they also offer activities including paintball, caving, kayaking, a via ferrata trail, and mountain biking.
The treetop adventure was excellent. We’ve tried a handful of other treetop adventures such as Go Ape in London or the adventure park in Morzine, France, but they have all been rather tame compared to this one! This is definitely a park to visit with adventurous kids who like to climb and who do not mind heights.
Rather than following one route around the park, at Dinant Evasion all treetop activities are led by a qualified guide. Our guide, Leon, was fantastic and very good at judging the kids’ abilities as well as explaining what we needed to do.
After an initial introduction and quick test so that we knew how to use the harness and how to hook ourselves onto the course, we set off. Along the way we traversed numerous bouncy bridges (including the longest of its kind in Belgium), did some climbing and zipped down a couple of long zip lines.
It’s a great centre and very well run – we all loved it. The minimum age is usually 10 but they are happy for parents to decide if they think their children can manage the course – Sam, aged 7, enjoyed it but did find the very long bridge quite challenging.
Dinant Evasion does get busy during the summer months in particular so it is worth booking activities in advance.
Make music at la Maison de la Pataphonie
Dinant is home to one of the quirkiest – and best – museums that we have been to. Located in one of the oldest buildings in Dinant dating back to the 15th century, the Maison de la Pataphonie is less a traditional museum and more a magical voyage through music and sound.
The name, House of Pataphony, comes from the word pataphysics a “philosophy” that deals with an imaginary realm and the Greek word phōnía, meaning voice.
Essentially, this small museum is dedicated to musical discovery and creation. All visits, or rather ‘Musical Journeys’, are guided and take visitors on a trip through different musical worlds where you’ll quickly learn the music – and instruments – can come from anywhere and can be created using anything around you.
Our guide was Olivier, who acted as the Conductor of the Orchestra as he led us through the various rooms.
In the first room he showed us an electric guitar made from a broom handle and the top of a water canister; in the second room he made music using terracotta plant pots in a old fishing boat filled with water; in the third room he played an organ that was created using metal water canisters, wine bottles filled with water, and flower pots; and in the final room Olivier played a range of ‘wind’ instruments created from plastic piping.
The hour-long tours are great fun and very inclusive; my three kids all took turns playing instruments whether it was a xylophone made from wooden chair spindles or plastic tubing placed in and out of water.
The House of Pataphony is open to the general public on bank holidays, during school holidays (Mon to Fri) and on Sundays. Journeys begin at 2pm and 4pm and last for approximately one hour. All visits must be booked in advance. The recommended age is 5+yrs.
Indulge your sweet tooth at L’Atelier Chocolate
As well as waffles, beer and frites, Belgium is justifiably famous for its chocolates. Head to L’Atelier Chocolat to sample some of the best in town. This small chocolate shop sits in the centre of Dinant and also sells homemade ice cream as well as other goodies including biscuits. There is a small tea room on site.
Quench your thirst at Maison Leffe
We didn’t get to visit Maison Leffe but if you do like beer then do pay a visit to the home of one of Dinant’s most famous exports. Leffe beer was first brewed in the Abbaye de Leffe back in 1240 and is today one of the world’s most recognisable Belgian beers. Although it is no longer brewed in town (it’s produced in Leuven instead), the museum tells the story of Leffe beer through multimedia exhibitions. Visits end with a beer tasting.
Wander through the Jardins d’Eau D’Annevoie
Set on the outskirts of won the Jardins D’Eau D’Annevoie make for a good half-day excursion, or a full day trip if you take a picnic (there is also a cafe on site).
Created 250 years ago, the gardens are unique in the fact that the numerous water features (some 50 in total) function entirely without pumps or machinery. Instead, the fountains, water jets and cascading falls are fed with water thanks to the lay of the land and the laws of gravity.
Italian, French and English style gardens are on display and a path winds its way gently through all three. At the heart of the gardens is the chateau that was built in the 18th century by the Montpellier family (this is not open to visitors).
Open from the end of March until the first week in November from 9.30am – 5pm.
Visit the Grottes de Han
Located just 30 minutes away from Dinant are the spectacular Grottes de Han (Caves of Han). This natural complex of caves were formed by the river Lesse and sit some 110m below ground.
During the 18th century the Caves of Han were a popular tourist spot and visitors would come here to explore the caves by torchlight. At one point one of the enormous caverns had even been turned into a bar and tourists could sit and quaff champagne while enjoying the otherworldly view.
Things are a little more tame in the caves these days but they are still well worth a visit. Today, as well as recreating a torchlit descent in one of the gigantic caverns, the caves are home to a magnificent sound and light show.
If you want to say in town then in Dinant itself is the Grotte la Merveilleuse.
Take a day trip to Durbuy
Less than an hour away from Dinant is Durbuy, the smallest city in the world. Durbuy’s city status dates back to 1331 when John I, Count of Luxembourg and King of Bohemia, bestowed the title. Ramparts were raised all around the tiny town, creating the world’s smallest city. If you’re wondering just how small it really is, you can walk from one side of the city to the other in five minutes.
Despite its small size, however, there is a lot to do in Durbuy. See our pick of the best things to do in Durbuy here.
It’s well worth spending two or three days in Dinant. This was our itinerary:
- Visit the Tourist Office and pick up the Sax in the City walking tour map, take a photo with the Dinant sign.
- Discover the town with ‘The Ghost of Dinant’ walking tour app
- Enjoy lunch either at Chez BouBoule or Le Cosma
- Take an electric boat ride along the river Meuse
- Go for ice cream at L’Atelier Chocolat
- Spend the morning at Dinant Evasion on the treetop adventure (*you can easily spend a day doing the various activities on offer here)
- Enjoy lunch at either Chez BouBoule or Le Cosma
- Visit the Museum Pataphonie – tours must be booked in advance and are only available during school holidays Mon to Fri and on Sundays. at 2pm and 4pm.
- Go to Boulangerie Pâtisserie Jacob and buy a Couque de Dinant
- Visit the Dinant Citadel
- Travel to the Grottes de Han or Durbuy for the afternoon and enjoy lunch there.
If you’re wondering how to include Dinant as part of a longer trip then take a look at our Belgium road trip itinerary.
When to visit Dinant
The best time to visit Dinant is from May to September when the days are warmer and you’re more likely to experience sunny days. Remember, however that there’s a reason that this corner of Belgium is so green and that’s because of its propensity for rain. May and June can be quite wet.
June to August are the warmest months of the year and January is the coldest.
Visit during the month of August and you may get the chance to watch Les Baignoires, an annual comical boat race that takes place along the River Meuse in bathtubs. Participants are encouraged to decorate their float in any way they like! The race takes place on August 15ht.
Where to stay in Dinant
We stayed in Castel de Pont-à-Lesse, a hotel housed within a former chateaux. Located on the outskirts of town in 25 hectares of gardens, it’s a good spot to stay with families, not least because it has a swimming pool. The hotel also offers generous-sized rooms, many with balconies or terraces, and inter-connecting rooms for families.
For more ideas on where to stay in Dinant, take a look at these hotel options on Booking.com.
Where to eat in Dinant
There are lots of good restaurants in Dinant. We enjoyed the following.
Come here for moules frites (mussels and chips) cooked a variety of ways. We mistakenly chose other dishes for the menu and they were fine but I wish we had ordered the speciality! The location on the banks of the Meuse river is perfect.
We had a great lunch at Le Cosma, a restaurant with a large outdoor dining area a 10 minute walk from the Charles de Gaule bridge. The menu is large and varied and includes salads, burgers, pasta, sandwiches and more.
Les 7 Meuses
This is an excellent restaurant home to some of the best views in town. Located on a hilltop halfway between Dinant and Namur, The 7 Meuses enjoys views over the Meuse valley as well as excellent food using seasonal and local produce.
How to get to Dinant
Dinant is very easy to reach, either for a long weekend from Brussels or a longer trip from the UK. It’s a great option for an October or May half-term holiday.
We travelled with Irish Ferries on their Dover to Calais route, which was a very easy and comfortable trip. The journey takes around 90 minutes, which is the perfect length of time to enjoy one of the comfortable lounges and have something to eat. There’s also the option to upgrade to Club Class with reclining seats and complimentary drinks and snacks. From Calais it takes around 3hrs to reach Dinant.
If you do want to drive then you can get the Eurostar from King’s Cross St Pancras in London to Brussels. From Brussels you can either catch a train to Namur and then on to Dinant or a direct train from Brussels to Dinant. In Dinant the train station is located in the heart of town, not far from the tourist office.