“Let’s travel to see Belgium.” Said way fewer people than should be the case for this small country with a big heart and so much to offer. I make no apologies for donning my Belgophile hat to take you on this journey through brilliant Belgian as enjoyed by fellow travel writers. Come with us to explore the very best of Belgium, from places to experiences and culinary treasures.
Belgium For Beginners
It’s a small, but surprisingly complex country. Here you’ll find three official languages (Flemish, French and German), two halves of the country (French-speaking Wallonia and Flemish-speaking Flanders) and a whole lot of history dating back before Roman times. The population of the whole of Belgium is roughly the same as Shanghai, New Delhi or Moscow.
From the 16th century until the Belgian Revolution of 1830, which saw Belgium separated from the Netherlands, Belgium was a wealthy centre of culture and commerce. This is reflected in its rich heritage and much of the stunning architecture that survived many wars fought on its soil.
Belgium has a small but beautiful coastline, made up of dunes and polders, rugged forests, valleys and rivers in the Ardennes region, architecturally stunning cities, and interesting towns and villages. Add to that some gastronomic treats, a sense of fun and full blown green credentials, and you can see that it’s well worth your time. Let’s go explore with some snapshots of Belgium.
Brussels – The Comic Strip Walk
by Sophie Lenoir from Bitten by the Bug
What to do with ugly empty walls when you want to make your city more attractive? In Brussels, they simply cover them with huge cartoon murals. After removing the plain-looking commercial posters that smudged the city, the city collaborated with the Belgian Comic Strip Center to brighten up the streets with large murals that pay tribute to characters and authors of the Franco-Belgian comics. The project was received by the public with a lot of enthusiasm, so more and more walls were decked with cartoons. Today, more than 60 comic strip murals adorn the walls and a Comic Book Route has been outlined to explore them all. This article describes a suggested walk in the Marolles neighborhood along a few beautiful cartoon walls.
The suggested starting point is gare du Midi, from where you walk up towards Hallepoort and continue through the old Marolles neighborhood, known for its antiquities (hence the daily flea market on Place Jeu de Balle). Along this walk, you’ll see many impressive cartoon walls, among which: Le Chat, Jojo, The Beaver Patrol, Boule & Bill, Odilon Verjus, Blondin & Cirage, Léonard, Spirou, Benoit Brisefer, Passe-moi l’ciel…
After exploring the neighborhood, take a break on the little square in front of the ‘Marolles Elevator’ and the Courthouse, where on a sunny day, you should have a drink on one of the many outdoor terraces. Afterwards, you might also enjoy taking the elevator up for a panoramic view over Brussels!
Antwerp: The Diamond of Belgium
By Mayi from Secret Moona
Antwerp is one of the most underrated weekend destinations in Europe. The unofficial capital of Flanders is not only a pretty city but also packed with activities. On arrival at Antwerpen-Centraal – the most beautiful train station in the world – stop and admire the ticket hall and continue your journey along the diamond district. Take a stroll through the Meir, THE shopping street of Antwerp, then to the Cathedral of Our Lady to admire the paintings of Rubens before visiting his house, the Rubenshuis.
Fashion victims will want to explore the fashion scene by heading to the Nationalstraat for more shopping or to the Fashion Museum and Flanders Fashion Institute for a more in-depth history of Belgian fashion. Culture fanatics will explore Museum aan de Stroom or Plantin-Moretus Museum. After immersing yourself in the city’s history, head south to Het Steen to discover the maritime history. Take the St. Anne pedestrian tunnel to the west bank of the Scheldt and enjoy the skyline. Finish your evening with a plate of moules-frites at Maritime.
Celebrating Gorgeous Ghent
By Carrie from Maple and Maps
With an imposing castle, mouth-watering waffles, and countless churches, Ghent has it all. Though the medieval city is often overshadowed by more popular Belgian destinations, such as Brussels and Bruges, a day trip to Ghent a must for anyone who visits Belgium.
Start the day off with a tour of the Gravensteen, a giant medieval castle complete with a moat, turrets, and a dungeon. Dating to the 12th century, “The Castle of the Counts” looks like something out of a fairy tale. Once inside, visit the exhibits on medieval weaponry and judicial objects. You can see full sets of armor, maces, and spears. Finish your tour by climbing to the top of the castle and enjoying a bird’s eye view of the city.
Head to the nearby Patershol neighborhood for lunch. After eating, take some time to wind through the charming cobblestone streets. Next, make your way to St. Bavo’s Cathedral, a massive gothic cathedral that is best known for containing the world-renowned Ghent altarpiece (which you will recognize if you watched the WWII film The Monuments Men).
To experience the grittier side of Ghent, visit Werregarenstraatje. Graffiti artists have tagged every square inch of this pedestrian walkway, and the result is spectacular. Before you leave, grab a liege waffle from one of the waffle stands dotted throughout the city. In my opinion, they are some of the best in Belgium!
Exploring Beautiful Bruges
By Laura at The Travelling Stomach
Bruges is a lovely, quaint city with picture perfect canals to wander along, delicious waffles and chocolates to try and a staggering number of Belgian beers! Although now quite a popular tourist destination, Bruges has retained its original charm with many quiet alleys to explore to your heart’s content.
You can spend your days in Bruges enjoying the beautiful architecture and taking in some culture at the Basilica of the Holy Blood, with a stop at the famous Bonifacius Bridge, legend has it then the first person you see after you cross is the person you’ll marry! You can take to the water to explore the canals from a different perspective, although get here early to avoid the queues. If you want to explore further afield and find some great lesser known photo spots head to the outskirts of Bruges to the English convent and a little further out you can even find some windmills.
Belgium is famous for some of our favourite foods, so whilst you’re in Bruges it would be rude not to indulge! Fill your tummy with hot waffles piled high with sauce and cream, steaming pots full of mussels, piping hot fresh trays of frites (fun fact: Belgium claims to be the inventor of fries!) and boxes of yummy Belgian chocolates. For dinner seek out one of the delicious innovative menus from Patrick Devos or Michelin starred Sans Cravate to enjoy local flavours with a twist.
The only thing to drink on a sunny day in Bruges is of course Belgian beer. There are hundreds of different Belgian beers to try and even a beer wall dedicated to them, with the best beer terrace in Bruges just alongside (2be Bar). Some of the breweries are located in Bruges itself and you can take a trip to learn more about how beer is made, and of course have a taste.
Learning in Leuven: The University City
By Bernie from A Packed Life
Leuven, only half an hour from Brussels, is a stunner of a city. With a significant student population, one of the largest brewers in the world and possibly the longest bar (actually one side of a street in Grote Markt), you can see there’s a thirst for learning.
Rather like Grand Place in Brussels, the buildings are so beautiful, they are genuinely jaw-dropping. The Stadhuis, with its collection of more than 200 statues of saints and local dignitaries, makes for a fascinating exploration, and you can take a tour of its subterranean world. There are UNESCO heritage sites at the Beguinage, and Sint Pieterskirk with its Brabantine Gothic architecture. The University Library’s belfry has one of the largest carillons in the world.
Don’t forget to meet Fonske, the eternal student, who is Leuven’s equivalent of the Manneken Pis. He’s constantly pouring the fountain of knowledge into his head while reading a book, and has been known to dress up for occasions.
Beer Tasting In The Citadel of Namur
By Joanna from The World In My Pocket
In Belgium you can attend so many different beer tastings, but none is as unique as the one from the Citadel of Namur, where you can taste the local beer inside the old powder magazine. Namur is a small city overlooked by a mighty Citadel, at the confluence of rivers Meuse and Sambre. Namur is the capital of Wallonia, the French part of Belgium, hosting the Walloon Parliament, its Government and administration department.
The Citadel of Namur is the oldest permanent settlement in the Benelux and one of the largest fortresses in Europe. It is so large that you can easily spend the entire day visiting its grounds.
You need to know that you have to book in advance if you want to experience the beer tasting, as they don’t do it every day. You will have the chance to try 5 different beers, in the dark, with the only light coming from the flames of candles sat on an old barrel – the table. You will try Blanche de Namur, Blanche de Namur rose, Gauloise blond, amber and brune. Blanche de Namur is the local beer of the city, it’s a white, light and smooth beverage named after a beautiful local princess who married the King of Norway and Sweden in the 13th century.
Durbuy: The Smallest Town In The World?
By Daniela at Ipanema Travels
If you think that Durbuy is a cute small village, you will be mistaken. Although it is quite petit, Durbuy is a town and it boasts to be even the smallest one in the world. Probably, this is not true but it doesn’t matter as Durbuy is absolutely charming. It’s located in a picturesque setting on the river Ourthe in the French-speaking Belgian region of Wallonia.
When visiting Durbuy, take your time and walk around in the old town to feel the medieval vibe – cobbled stone streets, quirky shops and lovely cafés. Do not miss to try the local beers. There are two of them: Durboyse, brewed by Brasserie Lefebvre in Quenast (which technically doesn’t make it a local beer), is available everywhere in the town; the second one – Marckloff is brewed by the Brasserie La Ferme au Chêneand is the real local one.
One of the most emblematic places in Durbuy is the Anticline (l’Anticlinal). This is an amazing vertical rock formation in the shape of an inverted U. Once you’ve made it to the rock, take a walk along the river.
Another attraction in Durbuy is the Topiary Gardens (le Parc des Topiaires). The park features more than 250 sculptures of pruned to perfection box trees and shrubs. It’s a lovely place to have a walk and to learn about the art of topiary. Besides, you will have an amazing view to the castle of Durbuy.
Although Durbuy is quite small, you can easily spend there a whole day. If you are travelling around in Wallonia, you should include it on your Belgian itinerary. If you choose to stay in Durbuy longer, you won’t be disappointed either – there’s plenty to do and see in the area.
By Theresa from Adventures In Middle Aged Travel
My husband and I took a week to travel to five different towns in Belgium and one of my favourites was Chimay, located near the border with France.
It’s a small town, with a population of less than 10,000, and if you’re looking for a lot of nightlife this is not the place for you. However, if you’re looking for gorgeous scenery, a castle, friendly people, good food, and great beer, Chimay is right up your alley.
We stayed at the adorable Le Petit Chapitre, a B&B with one of the finest breakfasts I’ve had on the road. With five rooms, each decorated in a different style, this place was relaxing and quiet, just off the town square; Brigitte and Guy were wonderful hosts.
We visited the nearby tasting room, Espace Chimay, of the Scourmont Abbey which produces the wonderful Chimay Beer available throughout the world and is one of only six Trappist Breweries in Belgium. You can sample all their beer, have a wonderful meal, and sit inside or out on the lovely patio that looks out over serene green fields.
We wandered the town, took in the local open-air market, and circled the picturesque town square. We dined at La Charlotte, a local restaurant recommended by our hosts, and rightly so.
Unfortunately, Chimay Castle was closed to visitors when we wanted to visit before we left, so we had to take photos from outside. Although Chimay is small and quiet, I would definitely return for a visit.
By Sarah from Travel Breathe Repeat
Mechelen is a very small city in Flanders, which is a mainly Dutch-speaking region of Belgium. Located just about a half hour from both Brussels and Antwerp, it makes for an easy day trip from either city. Even though it’s small, there are quite a few things to see and do in Mechelen. The main square (Grote Markt) in Mechelen is a delight, flanked by two impressive landmarks: Saint Rumbold’s Cathedral and city hall. We visited during winter, but are sure the Mechelen Grote Markt is bustling and fun in warmer weather.
The main part of Mechelen is compact enough to see all of by foot in just a couple hours. There are two specific walks we highly recommend. First, make sure to explore all the nooks and crannies of the begijnhof (or beguinage). With its narrow winding streets and medieval houses it’s a really fun place to get a bit lost in. Second, there is a lovely walk along the part of the Dijle River that cuts through the city. The Dijlpad runs low to the water and takes you from the Botanical Garden to Haverwerf, both of which are worth checking out as well. Don’t miss the particularly lovely set of colorful medieval houses at Haverwerf.
Mechelen is also known for its brewery, Brouwerij Het Anker. Founded in the 15th century as a hospital, the brewery still stands in its original location in the Mechelen beguinage. The tour was quite informative about both the history of the brewery and the city. And their beer is fantastic… even by Belgian standards.
Quintessentially Belgian: Moules Frites
By Sonja from Migrating Miss
Moules-frites, or mussels and fries in English, is a popular main course that originates in Belgium, and is a must-try, even for shellfish skeptics. It’s considered to be the national dish of Belgium after all! You’ll find Moules-frites in restaurants all over the country, with the mussels usually presented in the dish they’re cooked in, and the fries on the side. If you’re looking for a sauce for your fries, then the mayonnaise in Belgium is amazing!
The mussels themselves are usually cooked and steamed with particular sauces. The most common is Moules marinière which is with white wine, parsley, shallots, and butter. Other variations include Moules à la crème which also includes cream and flour to thicken the white wine, Moules à la bière, where beer is used instead of wine, and Moules natures which uses leeks, celery, and butter. Some restaurants are also offering fusion versions of the dish, with curry spices and other non-local ingredients.
Whatever variation you choose, you can expect to be served about one and half kilograms per person! If you’re not sure that mussels are your thing, then try one of the variations that includes a stronger flavour, like Moules à la crème, and share with someone else, or at least help yourself to a taste of the soup in the bottom and some fries. If you didn’t try Moules-frites, did you really go to Belgium?!
The Legendary Belgian Waffle
By Brianna from Archives of Adventure
When most people think of a Belgian waffle, they usually think of the big, crunchy breakfast food, smothered in maple syrup. But in actuality, there are two different types of waffles you can get in Belgium. The crunchy waffle that many know and love most closely aligns with the Brussels waffle. But what people don’t know about is the Brussels waffle’s delicious and much more fabulous little brother, the Liege waffle.
Liege waffles are made with a sugary dough, rather than a batter. Thrown on a hot waffle iron, this dough becomes a warm, soft, caramelized slice of heaven. Topping choices are endless, from fruits, chocolate, whipped cream and more. However, the Liege waffle is so incredibly tasty that you can easily get away with eating it plain, or with a sprinkling of confectioner’s sugar.
In Belgium, you can find Liege waffles around just about every corner. And the best part is, these waffles aren’t just reserved for breakfast time. You can hit up different waffle shops all throughout the day, and I highly recommend you do. Liege waffles will change the way you look at every other waffle you encounter. You just can’t have a perfect trip to Belgium without eating an unhealthy amount of Liege waffles!
Did Someone Say Belgian Chocolate?
We couldn’t really leave Belgium without mentioning the magnificence that is Belgian chocolate. And fortunately in Belgium it would be difficult not to find plenty of chocolate-laden delights for your gastronomic pleasure. You can find chocolate tours and chocolate tastings galore across Belgium, and it would be rude not to do a little sampling.
From the sumptuous pralines and exquisite art of chocolate creation in Brussels, to the seaside treats of big bags of marbled seashells, don’t forget to enjoy Belgian chocolate at its finest. My personal favourite: bitter chocolate covered orange peel. And don’t forget the local specialities, such as the hand, which is the symbol of Antwerp, or sweet – but not chocolate – cubedons: the little noses of Ghent.
More Belgian Treats
You might be surprised to know that this is one of the greenest countries in the world, dealing with almost 75% of its residential waste by recycling, reusing or composting. And it’s a great country for vegetarian and vegan eating with cities like Ghent hosting a vast number of vegetarian restaurants and running meatless Thursday.
I hope this has persuaded you that Belgium deserves to be on your travel bucket list. You’ll find more to explore in Grand Place, Brussels, in the Art Nouveau commune of Saint Gilles, and on the beautiful Belgian coast where we took the coastal tram along its length.
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