Belgium Travel Guide
Famous for chocolates, the European Parliament and the Battle of Waterloo, Belgium is crisscrossed with canals, flat plains in the north and rolling hills in the south. Its people are friendly to visitors but not to each other, as tensions between the northern Flemish and the southern French-speaking Walloons continue to bubble like a well-aged abbey ale. Often the butt end of jokes for the most boring place in Europe Belgium is still a pretty cultured and interesting relic.
Why You Should Go
What’s Cool: Over 1,000 kinds of beer, Mini Europe theme park, the world’s largest molecule, the best French fries and waffles, the Chocolate and Cocoa Museum, Belgian lace, cycling in Flanders, Belgian comics, canoeing in the Ardennes and Manneken Pis (the naked boy peeing statue).
What’s Not: Everything’s expensive, linguistic confusion, church entrance fees, European bureaucrats, dreary weather, divided populace and endless street names.
When to Go
Belgium has a mild climate with lots of grey, rainy weather.
Summer (May to August) is warm with lots of sunshine and the best time to visit.
Autumn (September to November) is damp and grey.
Winter (December to February) is miserable with lots of grey slush.
Spring (March to April) is dry with fewer visitors.
Getting There & Away
Brussels has two international airports but due to the small size of the country, there are no domestic flights. Most visitors from continental Europe arrive by bus or train. The excellent railway network is the best way to get around, while roads are good and plentiful, and buses ply main routes but are slower than trains. Cycling and canal boats are alternative means of getting around.
Health & Safety
Belgian locals are not likely to dip their hands in your pockets, whereas transient citizens of the new EU states may not be so restrained. A certain degree of resentment towards Muslims and North African ethnicities can be experienced. There are no significant health concerns and medical facilities and treatment are excellent but expensive, so be sure to take out medical insurance.
Food & Hospitality
Cooking and brewing is what Belgians do best, but watch your wallet and your waistline. Moules frites (mussels and fries) washed down with a Trappist ale will hardly leave space for the chocolates. In Brussels, accommodation is costly and often full due to all the diplomats, Eurocrats and conference-goers. Try Bruges for good value or maybe a farm stay in the Polders or the Ardennes.
Three days is the least you can get away with to enjoy some of the highlights.
One or two days to see Brussels’ highlights and enjoy the nightlife.
One or two days in Antwerp, a lively port town with medieval castles and Art Noveau architecture.
One or two days in Bruges, a UNESCO World Heritage city.
One or two days in Ghent, the capital of the Flanders region with many historic buildings.
Two or three days in the hilly Ardennes, a peaceful southerly place of rivers, forests, valleys and rustic towns.
Two days in Hautes Fagnes Nature Reserve with swampy heath, woods and windswept moors to walk off all that chocolate and beer.
Grand Place Brussels: lined with Baroque guildhalls, it dates back to the 12th-century. Don’t miss nearby Manneken Pis, the proverbial peeing boy.
Antwerp: boasts medieval charm, neo-Renaissance villas and Art Nouveau mansions supplemented by a lively bar and café scene.
Bruges: is a stunning, medieval city, crisscrossed by canals and packed with 13th-century buildings.
Ghent: is a wild student town with three abbeys to calm you down.
Dinant: in French-speaking Wallonia features the spectacular Citadel and the just as remarkable Notre Dame Church on a cliff face by the banks of the River Meuse.
Battle of the Bulge: remnants can be seen at Bastogne Historical Center including a large American memorial and memorabilia relating to the critical WWII engagement.
Cultural sightseeing: is a must, with all the attractive churches and landmarks, beautiful scenery and captivating divided culture and history.
Canoeing: on the many lovely canals and rivers, particularly in the Ardennes and on the River Lesse.
Cycling: is easy in small Belgium over Flanders’ mostly flat land or the more picturesque paths in the hilly Ardennes.
Beer tasting: you could sample a dozen different brews a day and still not be home for Christmas.
Military sightseeing: on the battlefields of Waterloo and Ypres while humming ABBA’s most famous hit.
Festivals & Events
Belgium is home to hundreds of festivals providing ample excuses to down the amber liquid.
February: Carnival in Binche takes you back to the 16th century with music parades, fireworks and orange throwing.
March: Mid-Lent Carnival in Stavelot features men in white flogging the crowd with pork bladders.
May: biennial Zinneke Parade in Brussels is a street opera of music, choreography, costumes and floats without loud engines or deafening music.
July: Ommegang Festival in Brussels commemorates Emperor Charles V with colorful costumes, horses, embroidered banners, flag throwing and stilt jousting.