Charleroi, located on the Sambre River's northern banks, is a modern-day urban playground teeming with quirky art, invaded by nature, and defined by its unique culture that's just waiting to be explored. A post-industrial city with an unbelievably turbulent past, more than half a million Belgians call Charleroi home.
Historians believe that Charleroi, and its surrounding areas along the Sambre, were originally inhabited during the prehistoric period. Having said that, the first written evidence of the city that's been discovered dates back to the 9th-century and refers to the town as Charnoy. Throughout the Middle Ages, Charnoy, a part of the County of Namur, was known to be a small hamlet of less than an estimated 50 people.
Starting in 1659, with the Treaty of the Pyrenees, Charleroi became a heavily contested land. So much so, that the city was Spanish, French, Austrian, and Dutch throughout its history before finally joining Belgium in 1830. Later, on August 22nd, 1914, Charleroi became the setting for the first battle of World War I, during which it suffered immense destruction.
These days, the city is known for its multiple UNESCO World Heritage Sites, fantastic art museums, and as the home of the South-Charleroi Airport. Are you planning on visiting Charleroi? Then, continue reading below to find out everything you need to know about the city before you arrive.
Luggage Storage near Train Stations in Charleroi
When it comes to using public transport to get around town, Charleroi has a bevvy of options. In addition to the Charleroi Metro, the city also offers taxis, bike rental, ridesharing, multiple bus routes throughout the city, trams, and an extensive railway system.
Charleroi - South Railway Station
The beating heart of transportation in the city, Charleroi-South Railway Station (or Charleroi-Sud, in French), connects passengers to the city centre and beyond. More than just the busiest railway station in Charleroi, Charleroi-South, as it's often shortened to, is also the main bus transfer point for TEC bus routes and a stop on the M1, M2, M4, and M4 lines of the Charleroi Metro.
The station was initially built to replace the previous station, which could no longer keep up with the city's rising number of passengers. Officially opened in which was erected in 1874, Charleroi-South Station features a gorgeously preserved neoclassical exterior and a completely modernised interior.
Currently, Charleroi-Sud has twelve platforms serving seven intercity services, five local services, and peak time trains during the morning and evenings on most weekdays. If you're stopping by the station on your way into Charleroi, be sure to check out the retail centre before you depart. And, if you can, stick around past nightfall until the station's fully illuminated to experience the building in all its glory.
Charleroi - West Railway Station
Just 750 meters (less than half a mile) away from Charlerloi's city centre, Charleroi-West Railway Station is a small, unmanned station on railway line 140. Currently, the single-platform station mainly functions as a stopping point for local trains running from Charleroi-South to Ottiginies.
Moreover, underneath Charleroi-West Station (Charleroi-Ouest, in French), the Charleroi Ouest Metro Station connects passengers with the M1, M2, M3 and M4 Lines. Travellers can access the Ouest Metro Station via three clearly marked street-level entrances, which lead to the mezzanine and escalators down to the station platforms.
As of 2009, Charleroi Ouest Metro Station is also home to eleven watercolour reproductions of local artist Charles Szymkowicz works. Interestingly, most of the paintings actually depict landscapes of Tuscany, Italy, with the exception of one fresco depicting the artist and his mother traversing the viaduct bridge where the station is currently located.
Luggage Storage at Charleroi's Airports
Charleroi is served by several of Belgium's airports, including Brussels South Charleroi Airport, Brussels Airport, and Liège Airport.
Brussels South Charleroi Airport
Handling more than 7 million passengers per year, Brussels South Charleroi Airport is the second busiest airport in Belgium. Located in the town of Gosselies, the airport is just 7 kilometres (4.3 miles) from Charleroi's city centre or the equivalent of about a ten-minute drive. While Brussels South Charleroi Airport is the airport's official name, it's not uncommon to hear the locals refer to it as Brussels-Charleroi Airport, Charleroi Airport, or Gosselies Airport.
An international airport with over 75 domestic and international destinations, Charleroi Airport, opened its doors in 1919 as an aircraft maintenance area and aviation school for pilots. Today, the airport has 25 boarding gates and two terminals, T1 and T2. It offers regularly scheduled flights through several major commercial airline carriers like Ryanair and Air Belgium.
Brussels South Charleroi Airport contains more than twenty shops and restaurants, a currency exchange counter, and a lounge area. Plus, the airport offers free Wi-Fi to tourists, allowing you to stay connected while travelling. As one of the area's primary transit hubs, the airport also provides access to rental car services, taxis, and shuttle busses. Furthermore, thanks to its convenient location, the airport is less than 20 minutes away from some of the country's major train and bus terminals, both of which offer routes to Charleroi.
An international airport in the Belgian municipality of Zaventem, the Brussels Airport is the largest airport in the country. The airport, which is colloquially known as Brussel-Nationaal Airport and Luchthaven Zaventem Airport, sits 73 kilometres (a little over 45 miles) north of Charleroi. As Belgium's busiest airport, Brussels Airport sees over 22 million passengers in a typical year. In 2019, it effectively handled more than 26 million people, cementing its position as Europe's 24th busiest airport.
The airport has undergone extensive improvements since it was first opened following World War II, including the incorporation of an underground metro station. A single-terminal airport, the Brussels Airport is split into four levels:
- The railway station on level -1
- Pick-up on level 0 at ground level
- Arrivals on level 2
- Departures on level 3
The Brussels Airport is home to more than 40 duty-free stores and over 30 coffee shops, pubs, and restaurants for passengers to browse. Furthermore, as a family friend facility, the airport is fully equipped with various facilities and amenities. For example, it contains multiple play areas for kids of all ages, including Baby Care Zones, where mothers can use the airport's microwaves and breastfeed in a peaceful environment.
Formerly the Liege-Bierset Airport, Liege Airport is an international airport in Liege, Wallonia, about 84 kilometres (more than 52 miles) from the city centre in Charleroi. The airport serves as a gateway to four year-round destinations and four seasonal destinations throughout Belgium and Europe. However, Liege Airport is primarily utilised for cargo and freight services.
The airport, which was once a military post, is currently Belgium's largest cargo airport and freight hub. And, since Liege airport currently transports over 800,000 tonnes per year, it's also the eighth busiest cargo airport in all of Europe.
Liege Airport's single terminal facility has an annual capacity of one million passengers, but, In a typical year, it rarely sees over 350,000 passengers. This is mainly due to the fact that currently, only one passenger airline, TUI fly Belgium, offers passenger flights at the airport.
What to do in Charleroi
- Visit the 1400-year-old ruins of Aulne Abbey, a former monastery and iconic piece of Charleroi's skyline, despite being burned down by the French in the 18th century.
- See over 80,000 photographs at the Museum of Photography, and don't forget to check out the museum's library of more than 13,000 publications dedicated to the art of photography.
- Admire the gorgeous blend of Art Deco and Classical architecture at Charleroi's Town Hall, also home to one of the city's UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Charleroi Belfry.
- Stop in at the tourist centre for a map of the city's street art and treat yourself to a walking tour of some of the Charleroi's fantastic murals and graffiti.
- Explore Bois du Cazier, a former coal mine and museum dedicated to the worst mining disaster in Belgium's history. Visitors can also take a tour of the Glass Museum and enjoy the natural beauty of the museums' on-site woodland park.
- Get lost in a fairy tale among the bookshelves in a genuine castle built in the 17th-century. Charleroi's Cartier Castle, or Chateau Bilquin de Cartier. is home to the city's public library.
Charleroi, like the majority of Belgium, has an oceanic climate as a result of its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean and the substantial effect of the Gulf Stream during the winter. There are four different seasons in the city, with summers proving particularly pleasant, with temperatures seldom exceeding 22 degrees Celsius (71.6 degrees Fahrenheit). Winters in Charleroi, on the other hand, are moderately cold, with minimum daytime temperatures averaging 0.6 degrees Celsius (33 degrees Fahrenheit).
Precipitation in Charleroi varies throughout the year, with an average of 849 millimetres (33.4 inches) falling each year. Furthermore, the city is often overcast and breezy throughout the winter months, with wind gusts ranging from mild to severe. If you're going to visit the city, locals recommend planning your visit between late June and early September to ensure the best weather possible.
Fun Facts About Charleroi
- Every hour, on the hour, the 47 bells at Charleroi's Town Hall chime out the tune to Land Of Charleroi - It Is You I Love Best.
- There are nine Stolpersteine (German for Stopping Block) by artist Gunter Demnig in Charleroi. Often called paves de memoire (French for memorial cobblestones) by the locals, the art pieces commemorate the lives of those lost during the Holocaust to the Nazi Regime.
- After Japan's Osaka International, Brussels South Charleroi Airport has been named the most punctual airport in the world.
- Charleroi is primarily French-speaking, but Dutch, German, and English are also fairly common.
- Charleroi is home to artist Nicolas Buissart, creator of the Mayonaisse Bracelet and Charleroi Adventure, a tour of the city that touts itself as an "urban safari." According to Buissart, visitors on the tour can "discover the place where Magritte's mother committed suicide, the house of Raymond La Science (from the gang in Bonnot), the ghost metro, the most depressing street in Belgium, climb to the top of a slag heap and visit an authentic abandoned factory."