The capital of Belgian Limburg is a friendly, pedestrian-friendly place with a fashion scene, stunning street art and historically rich countryside on the outskirts.
One of the nearby sites is Herkenrode Monastery, where the surviving structures show the size and subtlety of a complex that ended more than 200 years ago.
The old city center, filled with shops, brasseries and cafes, is mostly closed to highway traffic and lies beneath the spire of Sint-Quintinuskathedraal.
1. Japanse Tuin
The largest Japanese garden in Europe is a symbol of friendship between Hasselt and its Japanese twin city, Itami in Hyogo Prefecture.
The Japanse Tuin is a 2.5-hectare extension of the Kapermolenpark and was laid out in the early-1990s by the landscape architect Inoue Takuyuki.
This structure also uses centuries-old cooling techniques, like exaggerated eaves that prevent sunlight from reaching the interior.
2. Herkenrode Abbey
This Cistercian monastery existed for 600 years from the end of the 12th century to the French Revolution when it was dissolved.
Although the original church was lost in a fire in the 19th century, most of its artworks survive, some at Hasselt’s town museum.
And more than 200 years later, many of the outbuildings are still intact, including the gatehouse, mill-house and a tithe barn.
3. Sint-Quintinus Cathedral
As is often the case the town’s main church has a complicated construction history, and was made a cathedral with the foundation of the Diocese of Hasselt in 1967.
There was a church on this site as long ago as the 8th century, while the remnants of an 11th-century Romanesque church survive in the substructure of the current tower.
Between the 13th and 15th century the Sint-Quintinuskathedraal took on a Gothic form, beginning with the completion of the current early-Gothic tower around 1250.
Fifteen minutes from the city centre and roughly halfway to Genk there’s a parcel of land that was bought by Herkenrode Abbey in the 13th century.
The abbey’s farm was sold off after the French Revolution though a lot of the outbuildings survived, and a Neoclassical house was completed at the end the 19th century.
Bokrijk is a remarkable place, with nigh on 150 historic buildings, some in situ and others that have been moved here from around Belgium and are positioned according to their region of origin.
5. Nationaal Jenevermuseum Hasselt
The juniper-flavoured spirit Jenever is such a part of Hasselt’s history that there’s even a festival for the drink every October.
From the end of the 18th century a distillery set up shop at a beautiful brick building and courtyard that used to belong to a Franciscan convent – the name Witte Nonnenstraat is a bit of a giveaway.
The Jenever Museum, documenting this traditional beverage, opened in 1987 and came through a renovation in the 2010s.
6. City Centre
The first thing you’ll notice about the old heart of Hasselt is how walkable the streets are, and this is something that has won the city a lot of praise: In 2004 Hasselt was named “most sociable city in Flanders”.
The main shopping arteries are Demerstraat and Koning Alberstraat, while the smaller Hoogstraat and Kapelstraat are where things get a little more upscale.
Grote Markt, south-west of the cathedral is fronted by cafes and brasseries, and on the west side stands one of the most famous old houses in the city, the half-timbered Het Sweert (1659).
7. Modemuseum Hasselt
Among the posh fashion emporia on Kapelstraat is Jeurissen, which was founded here just after the Second World War and has real cachet in the Belgian fashion industry.
As part of a push to underscore Hasselt as a fashion city, the Modemuseum was established in 1986 in the south wing of the former Grauwzusters monastery.
In the last 35 years the collection has grown to more than 18,000 pieces of clothing and accessories between 1750 and the present day.
8. Het Stadsmus
Two elegant patrician houses on the corner of Maastrichterstraat and Guido Gezellestraat are home to Hasselt’s city museum.
One, the Waerdenhof, went up in 1680, while its neighbour the Stellingwerff goes back to 1857.
Among many absorbing objects on show are artefacts from Herkenrode Abbey, including a gilded silver monstrance ordered from Paris by abbot Aleidis van Diest.
9. Domein Kiewit
North-east of Hasselt next to Bokrijk is a nature reserve in 130 acres.
These are the grounds of a mostly 19th-century stately home that has elements going back to the 17th century.
Colour-coded walking paths snake off into the landscape and you can buy a map from the reserve’s office.
10. Plopsa Indoor Hasselt
Belgium’s first indoor theme park opened in Hasselt in 2005 and is a welcome rainy day option for young families.
This is one of seven amusement parks in four different nations, established by the theme park division of Studio 100, a Belgian broadcasting corporation making children’s shows.
On almost a hectare, Plopsa Indoor has more than 20 attractions, mostly themed on Studio 100 characters, like Mega Mindy, Piet Piraat, Samson & Gert, Kabouter Plop and Bumba.