Welp, I’m afraid you’re going to have to add Belgium to your list of ‘Places I Didn’t Know I Wanted To Go Until Now.’ An optical illusion church? A forest so covered in bluebells it’s called The Blue Forest? Two distinct kinds of waffles?!! INTO IT.
Hi guys! I’m Lily. I’m originally from New Zealand but I got the case of itchy feet and decided to move to Europe. Belgium is a great place to visit and there’s so much more to it than Brussels! I’ve pulled together all my favorite stuff for you in this unique travel guide to Belgium.
Must Go in Belgium
For me Brussels provides all the charm of larger European cities for fewer of my pretty pennies. The historical buildings and over 90 museums keep the historians and art lovers happy.
A stroll down The Galerie de la Reine takes you to the luxury shops and the Royal Palace of Brussels has tons of picturesque gardens to explore. If you’re thirsty or have a sweet tooth the number of Belgian beer bars and fancy chocolatiers here almost feels countless.
Bruges is decidedly quaint. Don’t be surprised if you feel transported to a land of Hansel and Gretel with rows of gingerbread style houses meeting you at every corner! With a Venice-esque maze of canals that connect each cute village exploring Bruges by boat is fun. Plus as a Gothic architect fan I can wander the sites here all day!
This student city is a down to earth in vibe and youthful in energy. Many people skip out on Ghent, but I’m so glad I didn’t. The Gothic architecture is some of the best you’ll encounter. Be sure to check out Gravensteen castle – built in 1190 the castle was also home to a torture museum which further enhances the dark, Gothic feel.
If you’re a fan of seafood Ghent is wonderfully close to the coast. Stop in at Georges IV, Ghent’s oldest family restaurant for some of the best seafood you’ll find in the country.
Located in Flanders, the Northern Dutch speaking area of Belgium, Antwerp is a young, hip city, brimming with gorgeous architecture. A great example of this is the Rubenshuis. Now a museum, the building once housed the famous Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens.
The city also boasts great shopping, fashion (make sure you visit the fashion museum fashion museum MoMU) and a welcoming, excited, and trendy vibe. Arrive by train because the Antwerp Central Station is amazing!
When I first visited Belgium I was lucky enough to be there in spring time. Every year from April through to May The Hallerbos, a beech forest on the outskirts of Halle, blooms a carpet of bluebells under its branches.
If being transported into some sort of fantastical fairy land is your thing, this is a must-visit. And if you’re the outdoor-type, there are tons of hiking paths cutting through the forest.
This is one of my all time favorite attractions in Belgium! Constructed from 2000 columns, arranged as horizontal plates, the is like a real life optical illusion. From certain angles the structure looks almost solid, while from others it almost dissolves into its surrounding farm landscape. Arrive at sunset to experience the church at its best with sunlight flooding through the plates.
The space is open for any budding street artist to test their works, the only rule of thumb is to respect any artwork that surpasses your own talent. Don’t be shy to visit twice! New art is sprayed up on the regular so you’ll find something new each time you visit.
Must Eat in Belgium
If there’s one thing that Belgium takes incredibly seriously (aside from beer and chocolate of course) it’s waffles. There are two main types of Belgian waffles.
1. The Liege waffle, doughy in style with chunks of caramelized sugar in the batter
2. the Brussels Waffle, which is light, fluffy and has deeper ‘pockets’.
Another thing to note is that for Belgians it’s all about the waffle and not so much the topping. You won’t find any American-style piles of cream, jam or chocolate sauce here. You can’t go past Maison Dandoy in Brussels, try their Liege waffle! Otherwise there is the self serve Le Funambule, also in Brussels, where you can choose your own toppings.
A pint of Belgian beer truly is a special thing. But beware, they like to brew it strong here! I’ve seen many a traveler caught out by the power of a Belgian beer. It’s not uncommon to come across 9% or eve 12% beers here.
Delirium Cafe has a selection of over 4000 beers on offer so you may want to do a little research before arriving. Or definitely don’t be shy to ask the waitstaff for advice, they are very helpful!
It’s a cardinal sin to visit Belgium and miss Belgian chocolate. Belgians have been making chocolate for centuries, their craftsmanship is exquisite and the result is, well, perfection.
If you’re a lover of praline then a pilgrimage to Neuhaus is a must. Praline was created by the owner’s grandson, Jean Neuhaus II. For a more modern take on chocolate, Perri Marcolini’s chocolates are often artworks to behold (the chocolate filled macaroon are a must try). Mary Chocolaterie is famous for providing chocolates to the royal family and I can vouch they really are amazing.
Frites and Mussels
Belgian seafood is fresh and delicious. My favorite dish is pot mussels, which are traditionally served with deliciously crispy fries. Don’t be surprised if you finish a pot of these on your own.
The best mussels are at the aforementioned Georgies IV, or Le Zinneke where they boast over 69 ways of cooking mussels! Ghent’s Old Fish Market also has plenty on offer both cooked and raw if you want to try your hand at cooking your own!
Cultural Tips for Belgium
Belgium is split into two parts: Flanders in the North where they speak Dutch, and Wallonia in the South where French is spoken. Flanders is still seeking independence from Belgium in the Flemish Movement and as such, people from here may not be too pleased if you start a conversation in French.
To make things confusing, French is primarily spoken in Brussels, which sits within the boarder of Flanders. To further confuse things, variations of both languages with Dutch dialects including Brabantian, West Flemish, East Flemish, Antwerp and Limburgish.
Belgium has a distinctive culture of comics. Some of the world’s most favored comic characters were born from a Belgian pen. Think Tintin, The Smurfs, Lucky Luke and many, many more. You’ll notice Belgians taking pride in this part of their culture with many shops selling tote items and prized comic collections for the fan boy (or girl) traveler.
Overall, Belgium comes across as a very cool, urban style country. Especially when you’re venturing through the Flemish regions such as Ghent and Antwerp where you’ll find the nightlife buzzing and art scene thriving. Although places such as Antwerp, which are VERY fashionable and hip, may seem a little daunting it’s really quite the opposite. The people are both gorgeous and lovely in character.
Cheap Travel Tips for Belgium
Just like pretty much everywhere, you’ll get more for your money in an Airbnb than a hotel. Here’s an adorable, tiny apartment for $57 USD per night! If you’ve never used Airbnb before, here’s a $40 credit towards your first booking.
Sit down restaurants in Belgium are expensive, but the quality is good so be sure to splurge a few times. Look for the local spots and avoid restaurants that have menus in multiple different languages – they ‘re usually tourist traps.
If you want to eat on the cheap, Belgium is abundant in street food. It’s not the most healthy (think fries and waffles) but it’s cheap and delicious. Visiting fresh produce markets is also a safe bet too.
If you have a student card or are under 26 years old, make sure you use this to your advantage and pick up discounted rates at many cultural institutes.
Belgium is a small country that’s very well connected by all transport modes. If you’re looking for the easiest and cheapest way to get there, the GoEuro website can show you popular routes and travel information to Brussels.
Belgium has a lot of small towns and destinations that aren’t included on most travel search engines, but GoEuro is very well optimized for both trains and buses in Belgium and will normally get you there with ease. Pick up a metro pass if you’re moving around a city a lot too, it will be well worth your dollar!
Thanks so much for sharing your insights, Lily! Do you guys have anything to add? Any Belgian readers out there?