Perhaps it’s unfortunate that Waterloo is commonly known as the site of Napoleon’s last (and epically bloody) battle. Then again, maybe not; while the battlefield itself is a tremendous draw for the region, the town has leveraged that popularity to attract tourists to a wealth of other landmarks, shops, and restaurants, and golf courses. As it turns out, the city of Waterloo is quite charming — definitely worth a stop if you’re making your way through Belgium.
How to get there and get around
Waterloo is only about 35 minutes from Brussels, so your best bet is to fly into Brussels International Airport, then either take a train to Waterloo or rent a car and drive south. A train ticket costs only around $8 one way; renting a car will set you back about $45 per day. The good news is, Waterloo is eminently walkable (if you stay downtown). If you plan on exploring the surrounding country and some of the nearby landmarks, however, you’ll likely want a car.
Where to stay
While small, Waterloo has a few hotel options for tourists — both in the downtown area and in the surrounding farmland. If you want to be able to walk to nearby bakeries, restaurants, and shops, we recommend staying at Martin’s Grand Hotel Waterloo; this modern-meets-classic mainstay features a fitness center, onsite Belgian restaurant, and heaps of history (the property used to be a sugar refinery).
For something cozier outside of the city (but within five minutes of downtown by car), check out Villa Tiffany, a contemporary villa with swimming pool, WiFi, and a delicious Belgian breakfast included. The big bonus here: You’re surround by lush greenery, offering a sense of true privacy.
Both properties are just a few minutes from the city’s main train station.
What to see
Visiting Waterloo is primarily about two things: Taking a break from the bustle of city life and experiencing the 19th-century world that featured prominently in Napoleon’s campaigns. For a quiet, peaceful morning that mixes good food with a soupçon of education, grab breakfast along the Chaussée de Bruxelles, then meander through the Musée Wellington Waterloo. Any guesses what this is about? Yep — Napoleon’s campaign in June 1815. While you can certainly explore the museum after visiting the battlefield (that’s next on the itinerary), we recommend you visit the exhibits first so you have ample context when visiting battle sites. Be sure you take in the details of the campaign, all the information about Britain’s great Duke Wellington (a pivotal figure in the battle), and the various battle landmarks.
All studied up (and well fed), head east along the Route de Lion where you will weave through farmland until landing at the Lion’s Mound — an earthen monument commissioned by William I of Netherlands to memorialize the Battle of Waterloo. More specifically, this purportedly where the courageous Prince of Orange was struck by a musket ball and knocked off his horse during the battle. Visitors can pay 17 Euros ($19 USD) to climb to the top and survey the vast surrounding territory. Having visited the museum previously, you’ll be able to locate key sites of the battle from this vantage point.
Back down on terra firma, walk over to the nearby memorial/museum that commemorates the Battle of Waterloo. This is your headquarters for Waterloo history, tours, and re-enactments. Guided tours last approximately one hour, but if you have less time, opt for the multimedia experience instead — which captures highlights of the battle inside the nearby Hougoumont Farm in around 20 minutes. There’s also a canon demonstration and a sketch or two to help make the experience that much more real.
What to do (away from the battlefield)
With its undulating farmland and verdant pastures, it’s little wonder that the region surrounding Waterloo is home to golf courses. If time allows, tee off at the Royal Waterloo Golf Club, right next to the battlefield. Three courses are available here, serving golfers of all skill levels. Greens fees for nine holes run from 40-65 Euros ($43-71 USD) and 18 holes run 70-130 Euros ($76-141 USD), depending on the day of the week you choose to play.
Craving some retail therapy? Head to the Broc Antik Market (formerly known as the Waterloo Flea Market) for 500+ vendors spread out across both indoor and outdoor spaces. Vendors from Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, and the Netherlands all congregate here, offering unique art pieces, furniture, tableware, and knickknacks that make great souvenirs. While shoppers have recently complained of a lapse in quality at the market, organizers have addressed this by improving vetting standards for all purveyors.
Where to eat
No doubt, your exploration of Waterloo and its surroundings will leave you famished. There are a number of délicieux restaurants in the vicinity, though fair warning: many lean on French/Belgian fare and offer prix-fixe menus only. Be sure to research offerings in advance so you know what to expect.
That said, we have a few favorites that we highly recommend. The first, La Cuisine au Vert, is a hotel-restaurant combo with a menu that’s actually arranged for à la carte selections. A touch international, the menu features everything from hearty Irish Beef with béarnaise to traditional Belgian Sweet and Sour Meatballs.
For “Corsican” cuisine, the local haunt Le Jamy’son is a must — especially if you like live music. Expect cheese platters, simple salads, and our favorite, Veal Scaloppini finished with a decadent chocolate cake. This place is also a dynamite choice for a pre-meal noshing on Brie, Pinot Noir sipping, and listening to local tunes.
Spoil yourself at least one night and take in haute cuisine Française at Rêve Richelle. Prix-fixe menus make choosing a meal easy; expect classic French dishes like Foie Gras and Rillettes mingling with some off-continent flavors like vadouvan, satay, and coconut. We’d describe the food here as mostly French with Middle Eastern/Indian twists. Delicious, through and through.
Before you go
A trip to Waterloo is likely a short one, but as you make your way back to Brussels, take an afternoon (or mid-morning) stroll through the Bois de la Cambre, a park just a jot north of Waterloo off the N5. There’s even a brasserie on an island in the middle — in case you feel peckish. Our advice is to snag a sweet treat (you can’t go wrong with the Tarte Tatin) and some coffee while soaking in the majesty of the verdant surroundings. This is the peaceful punctuation to your escape from the city — and the perfect way to end a trip to Waterloo.
Find out more about Waterloo’s numerous offerings, activities, shops, and restaurants by visiting waterloo-tourisme.com.