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.

Transportation

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.

Food

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.

Accommodation

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.

Top 16 Things to Do in Belgium

Visit the European Parliament

Brussels is not only the capital of Belgium, but the capital of the European Union with a Parliament located there. A glass-mirrored building impresses with its size and always looks different, depending on weather. There are not only conference rooms inside, but an information center, where every citizen of the European Union can get a souvenir booklet in any of the European Union’s 24 official languages.

Eat Your Way Through Belgium

With so many waffles, chocolate, and frites shops around it impossible to avoid the sin of gluttony.
Even though Belgium is a small country, it delivers a bunch of culinary miracles. There’s nothing better than sitting outside on a nice day with a bowl of frites in one hand and lager beer in the other. It may not be healthy, it may be considered junk food, but it will always be cheap, delicious and unpretentious.

Take a canal tour in Bruges

No doubts, Bruges is one of the most amazing cities in Belgium known also as The Venice of the North. So if Bruges is on your bucket list, be sure to take a canal trip down the cozy waterways, climb the belfry of Bruges to see the city from a bird’s eye view and search the outskirts of the city along the canal path Kruisvest to find the windmills of Bruges, which you generally expect to see in the neighboring Netherlands.

Hug the Leaning Tower of Pisa and see the Vesuvius in Brussels

Yep, that is right, located at the foot of the Atomium in Bruparck, Mini-Europe park, allows you to enjoy more than 350 buildings and 90 tiny cities designed with very high accuracy. In the park you can also see the Acropolis, Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben in 1/25 scale. This is a perfect way to walk around and make up an internal list of places you want to visit across Europe, which costs around 15 EUR.

Take a ride across tiny towns

There are a lot of picturesque towns outside the capital, so don’t stick to a beaten track. Such cities like the third largest city in Belgium of Liege, Ghent, Leuven, the coastal city of Ostend are usually overlooked compared with other cities in the country, but these have so much charm and a lot fewer tourists. Consider visiting these cities during summer months when the cultural outdoors festivals take place with food, music, and street entertainment.

Venetian Carnival at Annevoie Gardens

Being held annually the Carnival at Annevoie Gardens, near the towns of Namur and Dinant, is a place where dozens of costumed couples and single people show off their costumes. However, if you miss the carnival, there is a great park to enjoy. English garden, fountains, tiny waterfalls and a castle with a moat.

The Carnival of Binche

One of the most spectacular and most popular Carnival of Binche in Belgium that dates back as far as the 16th century usually takes place in February. While the origins of the Binche festival are still uncertain, it is closely related to Catholic Easter celebrations. Nearly 1000 “Gilles,” traditionally male and ranging anywhere from toddler to elder, appear in a pouch costumes consisting of clogs and bells. As cities prepare for the celebrations for about two months, the last two Sundays before the event is the time for Carnival rehearsal. So it is also worth visiting. The Carnival festival was designated as a ‘Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity’ by UNESCO.

Caves of Han-sur-Lesse

On the outskirts of the village of Han-sur-Lesse (not far from Rochefort) there are the most beautiful limestone caves in Northern Europe. The only way to get there is by riding a century-old tram that departs from the village. Having an impressive historical background, it will take about two hours to see it all, including a sound and light show in one of the largest chambers of the cave. Be sure to get yourselves bundled up in some warm clothes, as the caves have a constant temperature of 13 °C (55 °F) and a high level of humidity. The prices start from around 20 EUR.

Ride a Beer Bar Bike

If you travel with a group (or even alone) and want to have some fun in Belgium, there is a great chance to get it. Sharing beer bike is some kind of a bicycle used by a group of people (usually) pedaling and make the whole thing move forward. Since it has a barrel with a foamy drink set up nearby it provides great opportunity to get all in one – enjoy the sights and get some cold beer. You are guaranteed to receive admiring glances from passers-by. Prices start from around 35 EUR per person.

Enjoy the Funny Sculpture Art

Belgium has a lot weird but funny and creative statues. If you loved Mannenken Pis and Jeanneken Pis, two iconic sculptures in Brussels, you will certainly find enthralling finding the other ones all over the country. A humorous sculpture of a policeman being tripped by a man I found in Sint-Jans-Molenbeek. The similar sculptures can be enjoyed in Tongeren, Huy, Hasselt, Liege and Leuven.

Explore the Walls of Old Town  

Brussels like other medieval cities has something that once was an old town wall. You can either spend the day exploring it or visit just a part of the wall from Grand Sablon to Sainte Catherine spending just a few hours. Some parts of the wall that dates back to the 12th century are still clearly visible, while other parts are hidden beneath the new buildings and smaller streets. The set of boulevards where the wall once was, have a line on the ground marking where it used to be. Follow the line and discover Old Brussels for free.

Take a Comic Strip Wall Tour in Brussels

Brussels has a long tradition of murals as well as comic books. There are two museums that introduce you to the history of the comics: the Belgian Comic Strip Center and the Museum of Original Figurines. Both of these are not free, but you can take a stroll and discover Brussels in a different manner. With about 35 murals around the city they make up a Comic book route in Brussels, including such comics as Tintin, Nero and Asterix displayed on walls all over the city.

La Cambre Abbey

La Cambre Abbey today is a catholic parish located near the Sonian forest just 5 km away from the St. Nicholas Church. This is a perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. With the Belgian National Geographic Institute and La Cambre visual arts school nearby, both the Church and Garden can be visited for free. Great place to think about eternal things.

Explore the city with a local

Discover Brussels for free, see the city off the beaten track, explore the spots only locals know with a Greeter, passionate local resident. Since you can fill in the form here. You get an assistance of volunteers who’ll show you around and take you to places they love and think you should know about – and often places too cool to find in a regular guidebook.

People watching at the Markets

I’ve spotted two markets that stuck in my memory and which are great for people watching. Sint-Gorikshallen or the Brussels Vintage Market can be found near Arteveld street and is open every first Sunday of the month with numerous shops offering wide range of vintage and second-hand clothing, accessories and small furniture.

The Marolles flea market in the Jeu de Balle Square can easily be reached not far from the Palais de Justice. Having convenient operation hours from 6am to 2pm on weekdays and from 6am to 3pm on weekends it is a right place to obtain any thing imaginable – from old maps to the washing machine.

Waterloo

There is a memorial in the form of a statue of a lion (looking towards France) on a hill, with 226 stairs, called the Lion’s Mound. It was erected on the famous 1815 battlefield located south of Waterloo, and was completed in 1826. A fee is charged to climb the hill, which has become a major tourist attraction in the region. Other attractions related to the battle are the Battle Panorama Mural, Wellington Museum, and the Roman Catholic Church of St. Joseph, where Wellington is said to have prayed before going into battle and where British and Dutch plaques commemorating the fallen are now to be seen.

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