People have settled in the location of present day Aalst, on the banks of the Dender River, since before the time of the Roman Empire. In modern times, Aalst is known as an industrial and commercial town, with a population of approximately 80,000. Aalst is located halfway between Gent and Brussels, 20 kilometers from either. St. Martin's Collegiate Church, a 15th century edfice, features an altarpiece by Peter Paul Rubens. The region surrounding Aalst is noted for production of hops, and there are many breweries in the town which utilize the local hops harvest. The E40 roadway passes through Aalst from east to west, and the Dender crosses it from north to south.
Baardegem, Erembodegem, Gijzegem, Herdersem, Hofstade, Meldert, Moorsel, and Nieuwerkerken are boroughs within the municipal district of Aalst. (There is another Nieuwerkerken in Limburg province.)