Flanders tourist office reopens in Brussels with fresh look and focus

Summary

The recently revamped Flemish tourist information centre in Brussels aims to inform and inspire people to discover what the region is all about

Flanders is …

A rejuvenated concept store in Brussels aims to show tourists in the city exactly what Flanders has to offer. Flanders Shop, just behind the Grote Markt and coloured with the government of Flanders’ distinctive yellow branding, is a tourist office with a difference.

On one side of the airy shop, multilingual experts advise people on where to visit both in Brussels and further afield, with brochures to take away and desks to sit at while browsing the free iPads.

On the other side is the store itself, with shelves stacked with products of Flanders’ collective creativity – books, design objects, fashion accessories, comics and toys. It’s divided into sections labelled “Flanders is …” that cover cycling, festivals, art, the First World War, food and more.

There’s been a tourist information centre on this site for years, but it recently reopened with a new look and focus. “We really want to show tourists the best of Flanders, to introduce the people who are busy making nice things here,” explains brand manager Marianne Janssens. “So when it comes to tourism, that’s mainly about eating and drinking, art and culture, cycling and so on. Everything you find here in the shop is either made in Flanders or connected to Flanders and Brussels.  

Lie of the land

The cities of Antwerp, Bruges, Ghent, Mechelen, Leuven and Brussels are very important to the local tourism industry, and a large map laid out near the entrance shows the lie of the land to help orientate visitors. Interactive screens offer information in five languages to help people plan their trip around the region.

“Most of the tourists coming to Brussels don’t really know what Flanders is,” says Janssens. “So we have many ways of informing and inspiring people to discover what the region is about.”

We’re trying to offer a more contemporary kind of souvenir

- Brand manager Marianne Janssens

In the shop, she explains, it’s not just about the products. “It’s also the story of the designers,” she says. “We’re selling products and telling stories, so even if you don’t buy anything, you go home with those stories.”

Of course, when people think of Belgium, thoughts of chocolate and beer aren’t far behind. Janssens: “We want to go beyond those clichés. We don’t want to compete with the shops around here that are already selling beer and chocolate and Manneken Pis souvenirs. We’re trying to offer a more contemporary kind of souvenir.”

Old meets new

Among these contemporary souvenirs are linen scarves by Libeco, a family-run company from Meulebeke, West Flanders, which prides itself on the very passion and craftsmanship that Flanders Shop wants to promote. Edegem company Crazyclage offers a nod to beer culture with its recycled bottle tops made into accessories, and Leuven designer Mimi Vangindertael is represented by her poppy brooches containing real poppy seeds in a reference to the First World War.

On one wall, a Rubens portrait hangs alongside a shot from Tomorrowland, as Flemish culture old and new rub shoulders. Coming soon is a range of low-price souvenirs based on Rubens, Van Eyck and other notable Flemish artists, including playing cards featuring  15th- and 16th-century paintings, made by Turnhout’s Cartamundi

From the world of cycling, there is high-end clothing on sale, as well as maps and city guides in various languages and postcards featuring traditional Flemish recipes. Everything sold here is also available online at the Flanders Shop web store.

Flanders Shop, Grasmarkt 61, Brussels
Photo courtesy Visit Flanders

Tourism in Flanders

The majority of tourists visit Flanders from neighbouring countries like the Netherlands, the UK, France and Germany. The main destinations are the coast and the Flemish art cities.
West Flanders - West Flanders is the number-one destination for tourism in Flanders, including for residents living in the region. Visitors are flocking to the province for several reasons: The long coastline, the historical city of Bruges and the First World War memorial sites.
Art cities - The most popular tourist cities in Flanders are known as the “art cities”, which include Bruges, Ghent, Antwerp, Brussels, Mechelen and Leuven. The most-visited city is Brussels, followed by Bruges. Other popular Flemish regions include the fruit-growing area of Haspengouw and the pastoral Maasland along the eastern border of Flanders.
World heritage - Flanders has five listings in Unesco's list of protected world heritage, including a series of 26 belfries and the entire historical city centre of Bruges.
5

percentage of local jobs in tourism

98

average amount spent per day by a tourist in euros

21 785 600

Number of tourists who visited Flanders in 2016