Belgium Travel Guide
Belgium is a small European country wedged between the Netherlands, Germany, France and Luxembourg, while from the UK it is only separated by a narrow strip of the North Sea. This is the country where intersect political and financial interests of the EU, but still allowing to experience its traditions and customs. A country with numerous museums and heritage sites, which offer not just a glass of beer and a bar of chocolate, but the opportunity to get acquainted with historical background of Belgium as a place of high importance for all European Union.
It is a well-known fact that the combined forces of the European states defeated Napoleon’s army at Waterloo, but it is less known that Waterloo and battlefield sites located in Brussels suburbs, which can be reached within half an hour by using Bus W and 365 from Bruxelles Midi. Many have heard about The Legend of Till Eulenspiegel and Lamme Goedzak, but it is not entirely known that Charles de Coster, the author of the novel, was a Belgian-born novelist while the action of this novel takes place in the province of Flanders and Wallonia near the cities of Ghent and Bruges.
Everyone knows about Peter Paul Rubens who was a prolific seventeenth-century Flemish Baroque painter, but few know that he spent most of his in Antwerp where his Rubenshuis or historic house museum is now located. Most beer lovers certainly appreciate the world-famous brands, but rarely think of its origin, at the same time some traditional Belgian recipes and basic techniques have not changed over the centuries.
Comics, saxophone and fries are usually considered an attribute of American popular culture, but these were actually invented in Belgium and considered the national pride.
Belgium consists of several historical provinces such as Limburg, Flanders, Brabant, Liege, Namur, grouped into the Flemish and Walloon regions. These provinces were like an apple of discord long before the Belgium itself was created and were endlessly challenged by Burgundy, the Netherlands, France, Prussia, Austria and Spain. For nearly two centuries since Belgium exists as an independent state, the train might cross an entire territory for less than two hours, while ticket inspectors speak alternately French, Walloon and Dutch.
Namur is the capital of the Walloon Region. Consider using the cable car in case you visit the ancient citadel. Biking routes and hiking trails are widely spread in Wallonia, so they might come in handy if you’re planning to visit surroundings and the foot of the Ardennes mountains. You must not miss the ancient Cathedral of Notre Dame located in the city of Tournai. Built in the Romanesque style the Cathedral dates back to the 12th century and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Spa town that is also located in the Walloon Region gave its name to every spa in the world.
Another major part of Belgium is Flemish region, which consists of lands that were once part of France and the Netherlands. In 1830, most of the Flanders lands ceded to the Kingdom of Belgium. The province includes such cities as Antwerp, Ghent and Leuven, known for their stunning architecture and historical background.
To get to the city center from Brussels-Zaventem airport, which is 12 km (7,5 miles) away, you can by using either buses, trains or taxi. The Brussels subway system is a convenient way to travel to the main destinations of the city centre. Tickets are 2-3 EUR per ride. Belgium has a well-developed transport network, which makes it easy to get around. Most intercity train tickets cost around 17 EUR for a second class fare. The cheapest ticket you can get while traveling from Brussels to Bruges is 13-16 EUR depending on means of transport. From Brussels to Antwerp you can get for 9-14 EUR. Getting around is usually cheaper when using trains, however bus tickets are also quite cheap, often under 16 EUR for most journeys. In addition to buses and trains there is a well developed water transportation. You can use boats along the Rupel, the Scheldt or the Meuse rivers to get around. During summer time, the icycle is a proper means of transportation to get around Belgium, as well as other countries of the Benelux. Bicycles can be rented almost everywhere.
Belgian cuisine and typical dishes are attractive due to the interweaving of culinary taste patterns and is a mixture of cuisines from France, Germany and Austria. Local dishes usually combine seafood, fruit, vegetables and poultry. Most usual main courses consist of pork meat, but the Belgians also use other kinds of meat: rabbits, beef, poultry, wildfowl.
One of the most popular meals in Belgium is rabbit braised in ale. Beer is also a main ingredient of numerous dishes and soups. Even though the main courses’ taste slightly reminds of the German or Austrian cuisine, I’d describe Belgian food as savory and delicious as chefs use the spices much more often. In addition, portion sizes in the Belgian restaurant bigger than in Austria or Germany.
In Belgium, you can choose from a variety of restaurants or nice places to eat. Meals at cafes and inexpensive restaurants cost around 16 EUR and even less in Antwerp. A meal in a mid-range restaurant with a drink will cost about 30 EUR. Try Frites or french fries, which are extremely popular in Belgium, for a small price of 3 EUR. If you want to cook your meals, there are some great markets throughout the country. Expect to pay around 60-70 EUR for a week’s worth of groceries. To save money on food, consider Panos that offers cheap and delicious snacks and bakery.
Another indispensable product of Belgian cuisine is fried potatoes. The country is generally considered the fries’s birthplace. According to the legend, on a cold winter night, local fishermen cut out a potato fish shapes, and then threw it into boiling oil. Anyway, consider visiting the town of Malmedy to try out the best fries with more than 60 sauces served as well. If you are satisfied with the service at the cafe or restaurant, you can tip 5-10%, but usually, a service charge already included in the bill.
Belgian chocolate is considered one of the best in the world, with a wide range of varieties. With a great number of fillings Belgium’s chocolate rivals the Swiss. Bruges offers the broadest choice of chocolate so chocolate lovers should definitely visit this city. It also holds numerous festivals and exhibitions, which attracts chocolate manufacturers, so it is a great chance to grab some chocolate for free.
Commonly associated with beer, Belgium had the number of breweries equal to the number of churches in past centuries while each brewery had its own source of water, a beer brand, and a brewer. Belgian beer is famous throughout Europe as some of the oldest recipes that have been preserved through the centuries.
VAT refund in Belgium
All non-EU citizens might claim a VAT refund if they have spent at least €125,01 in each store. Ensure the retailer has provided you with a TAX Refund form so you can fill it in before you visit the Customs office at Brussels airport to have your receipts stamped. Be ready to have your goods with you.
With so many options to stay in, accommodation is one of the major expenses you’ll undergo on a trip to Belgium. A shared room found with Airbnb might be the cheapest option in Belgium, that prices start from 18 EUR per night. A night in a hostel with single- or double-bedded rooms will set you back about 22 EUR. Private rooms are usually more expensive and start from 50 EUR. Prices usually include breakfast, which consists of boiled eggs, bread, cheese, cornflakes. A night in a budget hotel in Brussels or Bruges starts around 55 EUR per night for a single room with basic amenities and WiFi included.