Ah, Dinant. This picturesque Belgian city is one of those places so boldly beautiful that you have no choice but to pine over it after seeing just a single photo.
At least that was the case for me! I must have had Dinant pinned on my travel bucket list for almost a decade before I got to see it for myself, and I’m happy to report it was every bit as beautiful in-person as it was on Pinterest. And, as a personal win I didn’t even cry!
Anyways, Dinant may be famed for its unique riverside aesthetic, but there’s a lot more to it than just postcard photo opps. Did you know for instance that the saxophone was invented here, which has resulted in DOZENS of giant saxophones scattered around town? Or that they host a bathtub regatta every year where people race through the river in decorated tubs? Yeah, Dinant isn’t just a pretty face… it’s a weird saxophone, bathtub wonderland too.
SO if you’re wondering what to do in Dinant, I’ve got you. From its photogenic citadel to more saxophone-themed attractions you even knew existed, here are the top fun things to do in Dinant, Belgium.
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1. Photograph the Dinant view
We’ll start with the obvious. People from all around the world flock to Dinant likely because of this riverside view – colourful narrow facades, a majestic church and an epic castle-topped rock looming in the background.
I’m not usually one to travel for photo opps, but I literally gasped the first time I saw this in real life. It’s a very special view, and can be found along the river near Pont Charles de Gaulle.
2. Stop by The Collegiate Church of Our Lady
Way too often overshadowed (quite literally) by the Dinant Citadel, I’d say a stop inside the Collegiate Church of Our Lady is one of the best things to do in Dinant.
The Collegiate Church of Our Lady was founded in the 13th century, with construction beginning in the early 13th century and continuing over several centuries. Throughout its history, the church faced various challenges, including destruction during times of war. The most notable instance of destruction occurred during the French Revolution when the church was severely damaged and its treasures looted. It was subsequently rebuilt and restored in the 19th century, much to the benefit of tourists like you and me.
While small, this church is a delight to explore. Built primarily in the Gothic architectural style, which is characterized by pointed arches, ribbed vaults, and flying buttresses (heh), its exterior is notable for its imposing façade with a tall, slender tower rising above it. Inside the church, visitors can admire the impressive nave with its ribbed vaults and slender columns, along with beautiful stained glass windows that filter colourful light into the space.
It’s also home to several valuable artistic treasures, including a 12th-century baptismal font, a magnificent organ and numerous sculptures.
My personal favourite? This statue clutching his church like he’s at a show and tell:
3. Head up the Dinant Citadel
While often considered THE top thing to do in Dinant, I have to say the Citadel is probably an attraction best suited to those really interested in the military history of the region.
The origins of the Dinant Citadel date back to the 11th century when a fortification was first constructed on this strategic hilltop location. Over the centuries, it underwent multiple renovations and expansions to defend against various threats and invasions. The citadel played a pivotal role in several historical events, including conflicts during the Middle Ages, the French Revolution, and both World Wars.
Apart from sweeping views over town (similar ones of which can be found across the river), the citadel’s main attraction is its museum, which offers visitors a comprehensive overview of its history, the town of Dinant, and the surrounding region. Exhibits include artefacts, weaponry, and informative displays that provide insights into the fortress’s role in different eras.
My personal highlight? The WWI trench simulation which was absolutely disorienting, but unique and memorable.
4. Pose with saxophones
Visitors who arrive in Dinant will find themselves confronted with many a colourful saxophone, which might seem weird at first but is actually a nod to the city’s most famous invention – yes, the mighty saxophone itself!
Antoine-Joseph “Adolphe” Sax was the inventor of the saxophone and he was born right in Dinant in 1814. As well as the saxophone he actually also invented the saxotromba, saxhorn and saxtuba (he really liked naming them after himself too). Plus he played the flute and clarinet, so all in all, he was a very musical man!
In honour of him, there are now giant saxophones all over the city, although the colourful ones on the main bridge are probably the most striking.
5. Pose with Mr. Sax himself
Of course, while in town, it’d be rude to not grab a photo with the saxy Adolphe Sax himself. Luckily, you can find a great photo opp with him just outside Maison Sax. Feel free to pretend you’re old friends. The photos come out much cuter:
6. Take a quick look around Maison Sax
Maison Sax is the former birthplace of Mr Saxophone himself, which has now been turned into a very cool (albeit small) museum that’s also free to enter!
There are no staff in this tiny museum, but it’s open daily year-round, so that you can take yourself on a little self-guided tour through the life and inventions of Adolphe Sax. You can see all eight of the different wind instruments he invented, including, of course, the very first saxophone.
NOTE: If you’re especially interested in Mr. Sax, then keep an eye out for these golden footprints around town – they’ll guide you to all the Adolphe Sax sights in town.
7. Visit Maison Leffe
Belgians take beer seriously, and if it’s international street cred we’re talking about, then few names are better known than Leffe.
Gracing the line-up of countless global pubs, Leffe is a common entry point for international appreciators of Belgian beer. Of course, this means that for many Belgian beer snobs, it’s a ‘bottom of the barrel’ pick. I still like it though, and given my penchant for over-the-top interactive experiences, then it’s no surprise I enjoyed my time at Maison Leffe so much.
Originally established in 1240, Maison Leffe is now a visitor centre and brewery experience – although at first, it was just where the canonical Norbertines (who were like monks) of Notre Dame de Leffe brewed beer to offer visitors as the water wasn’t always safe to drink!
Nowadays it provides educational materials and exhibits that delve into the art of beer brewing, the history of Leffe, and the Trappist tradition from which Leffe draws its inspiration. I loved how interactive the displays were (with quizzes to test your knowledge, for the dorkiest of dorks), and also got a kick out of how they displayed their beers like priceless religious relics:
Best of all though might be enjoying some Leffe in their beer garden with views over the city! NOTE: If you’re more beer-driven than knowledge driven, you can access this area without getting tickets to see the museum displays inside.
8. Shop for Belgian beers
Of course, there’s no better souvenir than beer. A sentiment I didn’t intend to rhyme, but here we are…
There are plenty of places to do some beer shopping in Dinant, but none more thorough than A c’t’heure Dinant, a fantastic little shop selling beer, wine, gift sets and more from Belgium and beyond. Their collection is pretty astounding, so be sure to spend some time in here browsing all their goods!
9. Cozy into a cute cafe
Truth be told, Dinant is a small place, which on one hand means not a ton of things to do, but also plenty of time to relax and enjoy the city slowly.
One great way to do that is by stopping into a nice cafe or restaurant for the afternoon. I only had a day in Dinant, so don’t have too many recommendations to shower you with, but Le Lido had really tasty and affordable Croque Monsieur, washed down with an affordable little glass of 2 euro Jupiler. Not a bad deal for such a tourist-heavy place!
10. Go on a boat tour
Dinant is built on both sides of the River Meuse, which flows 925 kilometers (575 miles) through France, Belgium and the Netherlands. So, it would almost be rude not to spend some time on the water on a boat tour to see the sights of Dinant!
There are several types of river cruises available that allow visitors to explore the town and its picturesque surroundings from a unique perspective. You can opt for a standard cruise to see the sights, or (if you have enough time) perhaps you might enjoy a more refined and romantic dinner cruise?
The Dinant Evasion cruise company even offers some fun themed cruises like a barbecue cruise, a murder party or a Love Boat cruise!
11. Or rent an electric boat
Another thing I noticed while in Dinant were these cute little blue boats moored near the bridge, and on investigation it turns out they are electric boats which can be rented for your own self-steered river cruise!
Also operated by Dinant Evasion, these eco-friendly boats don’t require a boating license and are very easy to sail as they just use a lever to control everything. Plus they fit up to seven people so you could organise your own little intimate boat trip with some friends or a partner.
12. Visit the caves
Just up the road from Pont Charles de Gaulle (on the side of the river opposite the Citadel) is the Grotte La Merveilleuse – a fascinating natural cave system that is renowned for its stunning stalactite and stalagmite formations.
The name “La Merveilleuse” translates to “The Marvelous,” and it aptly describes the breathtaking beauty of the cave. This natural wonder has been a popular tourist attraction for over a century due to its enchanting underground landscapes. Grotte La Merveilleuse is not just a single tunnel but a series of interconnected chambers and passages. Each chamber has its unique formations and characteristics, making it a captivating experience to explore the depths of the cave.
You can explore by yourself or book a cave tour, just ensure you wear good shoes as it can be a little slippery. But it’s definitely a unique attraction not to miss while exploring Dinant!
13. Admire Rocher Bayard Rock
A little way down the river from Dinant proper is the unique rock formation known as Rocher Bayard Rock – a 40-meter high pinnacle that’s been split and has a road you can drive through between the two sheer sides.
As you might expect from a rock that looks this whimsical, Rocher Bayard is steeped in folklore. According to local legend, the rock was split by a powerful horse named Bayard, ridden by the famous Four Sons of Aymon. In actuality, the French created the passage through the original rock wall during the Nine Years’ War so they could march troops along the Meuse, and this was later expanded to create space for a road… but that’s much less fun to discuss.
There’s nothing particular to do here, but it’s definitely one of the most iconic sights to marvel at when you’re entering or leaving Dinant!
BONUS: Watch some bathtub racing
One of the weirdest and most delightful events you can catch in Dinant is the International Bathtub Regatta, which takes place every August 15th.
This bizarre event has been running since 1982 and sees people from all around the world competing to sail a kilometre down the Meuse River in bathtubs! Well, technically the rules are that the craft must include at least one bathtub and no motor, plus it has to be fully human or nature-powered. There’s a different theme each year so you never know what kind of amazing contraptions you might see.
The Régate de Baignoires (as it’s called in French), attracts around 25,000 spectators each year who come to watch around 50 teams compete and it’s totally free to attend or compete… do with that information what you will! This is one of those unique things you can only do in Belgium, so be sure to take advantage.
Did I miss any of your favourite things to do in Dinant?
Let me know in the comments! I hope you enjoyed this roundup of the best Dinant activities to enjoy on your next trip. Safe and happy travels! <3