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The Ultimate Guide to Visiting Belgium

Last updated: May 2020

Typical architecture in Brugge, Belgium

 

Belgium is one of the most popular European destinations for tourists. Even if Belgium does not always appear at the top of the wish list of many tourists, the country affords the highest satisfaction from tourists who decide to visit Belgium. In fact, despite its size, Belgium has so many fun things to do. Visiting Belgium is an immersive experience among medieval cities, picturesque canals, and incredible cuisine. Each city has its own specialties and delights. Of course, we can’t forget to mention what Belgium is most known for: chocolate, beer, waffles, and fries!

Let’s start discovering this wonderful country by giving you a list of places to go and things to do in Belgium as well as helpful information for when you are there.

 

Things to Do in Belgium

A vacation in Belgium will surprise you by how time seems to stand still in the medieval period and how everything seems to proceed at a slower and more relaxed pace. Belgians are among the friendliest people in the world. Discover the big cities in Belgium without feeling the hustle and bustle of a metropolis. If you are wondering what do in Belgium, then you’re in luck! To help you choose where to go on your vacation, we put together our overview of the most beautiful cities and best places to visit in Belgium.

 

Town Hall Brussels, Belgium

1. Brussels

Brussels is the capital of Belgium and is the city where many tourists land and start their vacation to discover the country.

Brussels is known and loved above all for its cultural diversity, international climate, and the numerous sites and places of interest. Touring Brussels is easily accessible on foot because the main sites are very close to each other and are concentrated near the center of the city.

Topping the list of things to do in Brussels would be visiting the Grand Place. It is a large square in the center of the city, founded in the 13th century. The Grand Place is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the most beautiful city squares in the world.

Traditional cafes, pubs with elegant terraces, and Gothic buildings surround this central square. At the heart of the historical square is the striking Brussels Town Hall. On the southeast side of the square lies the medieval “Guild houses” that were home to associations of craft guilds for trades like butchers, blacksmiths, tailors, bakers, and many more. The guilds were grouped into nine “nations” that represented a number of trades. The Maison des Boulanger (Bakers House) and Le Cygne (butcher’s headquarters) are now both home to terrific restaurants. La Maison des Brasseurs (Brewer’s Guild) is the only building that is still home to the original guild. Today, it's a small brewers’ museum that displays 18th-century brewing equipment and offers a complimentary beer after the tour.

 

There are many more things to do in Brussels than just Grand Place. Here are a few more things to see in Brussels:

  • Manneken Pis: The famous statue of the little boy peeing in the fountain was constructed in the early 1600s. “Manneken Pis” literally translates to “peeing little boy.” It is a little statue, standing only at 2 feet tall, but it has become a symbol of the rebellious spirit of Brussels. There are many stories about the origins of the statue and why it was created, but no one truly knows. The statue stands on the corner of Rue de l’Étuve and Rue du Chêne.
  • The Atomium: The symbolic structure of the city and of the whole country, is located in Heysel Park a few miles north of the city center. More than 100 meters high, it is a representation of an iron crystal magnified "just" 165 billion times. Initially built as a temporary structure, given the success, the structure is now used to host exhibitions, conventions, and large conferences. Just like the Eiffel Tower in Paris in 1889, the Atomium was built in 1958 for the World Expo, Expo58. Strangely, it was decided to manufacture the structure in aluminum.
  • Brussels Museum of Arts: By far the best art gallery in Belgium, today houses more than 1000 paintings by many of the greatest exponents of Flemish painting and some of the most famous painters of all time, including Brugel, Rubens, Jacques-Louis David, the author of the Assassination of Marat (which you will find displayed here) but also Van Gogh, Gauguin, and De Chirico.
  • Brussels Comic Museum: Belgium has a long comic history that is unknown to most, but some of the most famous comics were born here from a Belgian pencil, such as the Smurfs, Tintin, and Lucky Luke. If you are a fan of comics this is definitely a must-see on your trip to Belgium.
  • Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert: A magnificent shopping complex with a grandiose glass-roof and amazing window displays. It's home to high-end boutiques, chocolate shops, and cafes. It was built in 1847 and was one of the first shopping arcades built in Europe.

 

Brugge canals, Belgium

2. Bruges

Bruges is the capital of Flanders and the most visited city in Belgium.

Bruges is a small medieval town that has preserved the splendor of its medieval architectural heritage over time. Visiting the historic center of Bruges, you will pass through splendid Gothic brick buildings and masterpieces of Flemish primitive art. You will seem to travel through time, being catapulted directly into the Middle Ages. Truly an enchanted place that has definitely deserved to be included in the list of UNESCO world heritage sites in 2000.

Bruges is like an open-air museum, where at every street corner there is a masterpiece to be admired and glimpses of almost unreal beauty.

Its religious monuments are among the places of interest in the city. It contains some museums of art and artisanal heritage of Bruges, as well as some of Rubens' most important works. Not to mention the many sweet shops where we absolutely recommend trying the classic Belgian chocolate.

The center of Bruges is also crossed by a dense network of canals, which has earned it the deserved nickname of "Venice of the North". Remember that it is also possible to navigate by boat through the city canals. An experience that we really recommend, especially in the spring.

 

Antwerp, Belgium

3. Antwerp

Antwerp is located in the north of Belgium, near the border with the Netherlands. It has a single city connection system, the best in Belgium, making transport within Antwerp extraordinarily simple and cheap.

One of the most interesting areas of the city is the diamond district of Antwerp which is located adjacent to Central Station and the famous Antwerp Zoo. Walk along the streets of the diamond district and be dazzled by the never-ending displays of jewels. It’s fun just to do some window shopping or even go into one of the stores to try on a piece of jewelry.

The Chocolate Nation museum in Antwerp is one of the best ones I have ever visited. You feel like you have stepped into Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory with its whimsical colors, machinery, and displays. The audio guide explains every part of the chocolate-making process and of course, you get to taste plenty of chocolate along the way.

Another historical feature of the city of Antwerp is the crucial importance that over the years has had its port where all types of food, drinks, herbs, and spices from all over the world have arrived. Antwerp continues to offer a wide range of restaurants to satisfy all tastes today. In this cosmopolitan city, you will find a wide range of European, ethnic and organic cuisine and traditional restaurants.

The city of Antwerp, like all of Belgium, has a long history of tourist reception. The city offers a range of hotels and accommodation in a wide range of prices, so you can be sure to always find accommodation that suits your needs. Many of the hotels are located within walking distance of the diamond district.

 

The Ardennes, Belgium

4. The Ardennes

The Ardennes is a region full of infinite historical and natural beauty situated in the region of Southern Wallonia.

Adventurers and nature lovers can indulge in the wooded Ardennes in southeastern Belgium.

The 300 million-year-old low mountain range covers an area of ​​approximately 11,000 square kilometers and covers much of Wallonia, northern Luxembourg, and a small part of France.

The area is perfect for long walks and mountain bike excursions. Go kayaking or canoeing on the Lesse, Ourthe, Semois, or Amblève rivers, take an exciting GPS walk, and relax in the spa.

 

Liege stairs, Belgium

5. Liège

Liège is a small medieval town located along the Meuse River in the French-speaking region of Belgium. The city is most known for its vibrant nightlife, beautiful medieval architecture, and delicious sugary Liège waffles. Indulge in the many chocolate and pastry shops around town. 

Here are the best things to do in Liège:

  • Climb the Montagne de Beuren: The height of these stairs is truly stunning. As you look up from the bottom, the imposing stairs feel like they continue on forever. There is a war memorial at the top of the stairs that is well worth visiting. It's a quiet park, perfect for relaxing and eating your chocolates or pastries that you bought and overlooking the city. 
  • Visit St. Paul Cathedral: Impressive Gothic cathedral built in the 15th-century with a lovely garden in front
  • Grand Curtius Museum: Archaeology and art museum in a restored mansion from the 17th-century
  • Parc Boverie: Created in 1874, this beautiful park is Liège's largest green space. It's located in front of an excellent fine arts museum, La Boverie

 

Dinant Cathedral, Belgium

6. Dinant

The last on our list of what to visit in Belgium is the beautiful city of Dinant. The most notable area of the city is the marvelous cathedral situated against a limestone cliff. The Meuse River runs through the city with many outdoor cafes situated along the water. The city is the birthplace of Adolphe Sax, who invented the saxophone. This fact is proudly displayed in the form of saxophone monuments all over town and along the bridge.

After marveling at the cathedral, you should definitely take the hike up to visit La Citadelle de Dinant situated on top of the cliff. The climb to the top is relatively short and took us about 15 minutes. There is also a cable-car that will take you to the top if you don't want to break a sweat. The citadel was very important in the Battle of Dinant during World War I. The museum does an excellent job of recreating the violent event and what it would have been like to fight inside the citadel. The tours are in French and Dutch, not in English. We still really enjoyed the tour because it took you through areas where you couldn't have gone without the tour. They hand you an English pamphlet so you can follow along with the tour.

 

Belgian Food and Drinks

Belgium is world-renowned for its chocolate, beer, waffles, and fries.

Belgium produces over 650,000 tons of chocolate each year, making it the second-largest chocolate producer in the world. Belgians eat an average of six kilograms of these chocolates, bars, and tablets every year.

Belgian beer is another icon of Belgian culture. From abbey breweries and Trappist monasteries to Flemish red ales and lambic beers, and so much more, Belgian Beer varies widely. The Belgian Beer culture is actually listed on the UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage of humanity.

As you walk along the streets in any city in Belgium, you are sure to come across numerous waffle stands. The true way of eating a Belgian waffle is not with a fork and knife, but just picking it up and eating it. There are two styles of Belgian waffles: Brussels style and Liege style. Brussels waffles are rectangular with perfectly shaped square holes and are served with powdered sugar. Liege waffles are oval-shaped and are much sweeter and denser than Brussels waffles. Brussels waffles are what Americans refer to as Belgian waffles.

Of course, many people know that “French” fries were actually invented in Belgium. The term ‘French fries’ originated from World War II when American soldiers mistakenly thought they were in France and nicknamed the fries accordingly. Belgians take their frites very seriously and have a standard way of producing them. The dish was even added to the UNESCO List of Cultural Treasures.

 

Castle made of Belgian chocolate at the Chocolate Nation museum in Antwerp

Castle made of Belgian chocolate at the Chocolate Nation museum in Antwerp

 

Regions and Languages in Belgium

Belgium has undergone a strong cultural and linguistic influence from its neighboring countries (The Netherlands, France, and Germany). Although Belgium has built a profound national identity over the years, still stark differences remain between the different regions that make up the country. The main difference is that Belgium has three official languages – Dutch, French, and German.

 

Flanders is the region north of the country whose population speaks almost exclusively the Dutch language.

The central part of Belgium is the region called "Brussels Capital." This is obviously named because this is the region where the capital of Belgium, Brussels, is located. Brussels is also the capital of the European Union and other important European institutions, including the European Commission, the Council of the European Union, and part of the European Parliament. This region is officially bilingual, speaking both French and Dutch. Although thanks to the international environment of the region, many people also speak fluent English.

Wallonia is the southern region of Belgium where more than thirty percent of the nation's total population resides.  Most of the inhabitants in this region speak French. The only exception being the German community that lives in this region near the border with Germany and speaks mostly German.

 

More about Belgium
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About

Hi there! 

We are Jacob and Taylor. Travel is our passion and we love sharing our experiences here at The Travelling Souk. Our hope is that you would be inspired by this little blog to try something new, embrace an adventure, and live life to the fullest. 

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