Built in 1666, Charleroi is a relatively young city in comparison to most in Belgium and is often remembered for rioting England fans in the 2000 World Cup. The behaviour of hooligans didn’t affect local attitude to tourists though as they are still enthusiastic, generous and friendly as ever. A warm welcome and good hospitality plays an important role in their culture.
Situated on the Sambre River, Charleroi was once the centre of Belgium industry, though the peaceful canals and quaint cobbled streets make for pleasant surroundings and are a far cry from the sweat and grime of machines and factories. The toil of the past is not forgotten by locals however and is reflected in the fascinating Industry Museum and the Glass Museum. One port of call not to miss is the Photography Museum.
Charleroi is split into to sections, Ville Haute (upper town) and Ville Basse (lower town), but with its pedestrian zones, arteries and parks is comfortable and pleasant for walking around in. The city is dominated by two great squares surrounded by magnificent neo-classicist style Art Deco buildings such as the town hall which is home to the Musee des Beaux Arts and the Jules Destree Museum, dedicated to the city’s most famous politician. The Place Charles II is dominated by the imposing baroque structure of the Saint-Christopher Basilica built at the end of the 17th century. Other notable places of interest include the Palais des Beaux Arts which looks out over the Place du Manege. A third square, the Place Albert Ier is found in the commerce and financial centre and is where the annual Mardis Gras is held.
In fact the Mardis Gras is a local tradition, full of life, colour and partying in fancy dress costumes. With a local attitude like that, visitors can guarantee the nightlife will not be disappointing. Whereas it might not be as explosive as Ghent or Bruge, there is a strong Irish influence with a number of bars playing live folk music and having a good time. Pont Neuf is the place for bars, though the best nightclubs in Charleroi are found around the Place du Manege and Quai de la Gare du Sud.
Charleroi has several shopping centres where visitors will find a string of chic boutiques and high street fashion stores. Chatelineau and nearby Gilly both have good reputations for shopping as does Ville 2, complete with cinema complex, Carollywood and several well-known restaurants. For eating though choose somewhere cosy around one of the squares. Influenced by their French neighbours, Belgium has a reputation for fine wining and dining and Charleroi has numerous stylish restaurants, trendy gastro bars and pretty cafes to enjoy. Because the city is not as geared towards tourism as many other cities, restaurant owners take more pride in their cooking and finding a good one is not difficult.
Travelling to Charleroi by Ferry
Charleroi is positioned well inland and if your travelling their by ferry then regardless of what route you are taking, you will be looking at a drive of at least 90 minutes once you leave the ferry port in Europe. A ferry to one of the two Belgium ports will get you closest.
All three of the UK to Belgium ferries will get you about 100 miles from Charleroi, then it should be a pleasant drive through Belgium that should take you less than 2 hours at most times of the day. There is actually seven separate UK to Europe ferries that will get you within a 3 hour drive of Charleroi. Where ever you live in the UK, driving to the Charleroi should be easy with ferries available from Scotland, Newcastle, Hull, Harwich and Dover.