Belgium, the heart of Europe, offers travelers an enchanting blend of rich history, diverse culture, delectable cuisine, and stunning landscapes. This small yet immensely diverse country is known for its medieval towns, Renaissance architecture, and as the headquarters of the European Union and NATO.
Famous for its world-class chocolates, waffles, and beers, Belgium promises a gastronomic adventure for food lovers. Its historic cities – Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent, and Bruges – are packed with grand squares, charming streets, and are a testament to its fascinating historical tapestry.
But there’s more to Belgium than meets the eye. Beyond its cities, you’ll find a soothing landscape with pristine forests, rolling hills, and sandy beaches. Whether you’re a history buff, a foodie, a culture enthusiast, or an avid explorer, Belgium has something special to offer every visitor.
In this comprehensive travel guide, we delve into everything you need to know to plan your ultimate Belgian vacation – from discovering the distinct Belgian culture and historical landmarks to exploring the best cities and trying out the well-acclaimed Belgian cuisine. Let’s set off on a captivating journey to discover Belgium – your next extraordinary European destination.
Why Choose Belgium as Your Next Vacation Destination
Belgium, often overshadowed by its more famous European neighbors, holds its own unique charm and a plethora of attractions. Here’s why you should choose Belgium as your next vacation destination:
Belgium’s Unique Culture
Belgium, despite its small size, is a cultural melting pot with a profound historical significance. Being home to both French (Walloon) and Dutch (Flemish) speaking communities, Belgium offers a harmonious blend of cultures, making it an intriguing destination for cultural exploration. The country is known for its traditional festivals, arts scene, comic strips, and a fascinating royal heritage that contributes to its unique cultural landscape.
Historical Sites and Landmarks
From ancient castles and well-preserved medieval architecture to significant World War battlefields, Belgium’s rich history is reflected in its many landmarks. Cities like Bruges and Ghent take you back to medieval times, while Brussels showcases a mix of historic and modern architecture. The Belfry of Bruges, the Grand Place in Brussels, and the Waterloo battlefield are just a few of the historical sites that make Belgium a haven for history lovers.
World-Renowned Belgian Cuisine
Belgian cuisine is highly acclaimed for its quality and diversity. Famous for its mouth-watering chocolates, crispy waffles, more than a thousand varieties of beer, and comfort foods like moules-frites (mussels and fries), Belgium is a gastronomic paradise for food lovers. Each region has its specialties, adding a flavorful adventure to your journey.
Beyond the bustling cities and charming towns, Belgium is home to a myriad of beautiful landscapes. From the sprawling forests of Ardennes, the beautiful beaches on the North Sea coast, to the blooming flower fields in the Flemish region, Belgium’s natural beauty is awe-inspiring. Whether you’re a nature lover, a keen hiker, or simply enjoy a tranquil escape, the Belgian countryside offers an idyllic retreat.
Belgium’s cultural richness, fascinating history, delicious cuisine, and diverse landscapes make it a must-visit destination. By choosing Belgium as your next vacation spot, you are opening yourself up to a world of enchanting experiences and delightful surprises.
Top Cities to Visit in Belgium
When visiting Belgium, one of the best ways to immerse yourself in the country’s rich history and culture is by exploring its cities. Each city has a unique character and its own set of attractions. Here are some top cities you shouldn’t miss on your Belgian vacation:
Brussels – The Heart of Europe
As the capital of Belgium and the administrative center of the European Union, Brussels perfectly blends historic charm with modern vitality. The city’s centerpiece is the magnificent Grand Place, a UNESCO World Heritage site, surrounded by ornate guildhalls and the stunning Gothic-style Town Hall. Don’t forget to visit the Atomium, Manneken Pis, and the Royal Palace. Brussels is also a haven for foodies, boasting excellent restaurants, chocolate shops, and street stalls selling the city’s famous waffles and fries.
Antwerp – The Diamond City
Antwerp, the world’s leading diamond city, is also renowned for its thriving arts scene, influenced by the famous resident artist, Peter Paul Rubens. Visit the Rubens House, the Cathedral of Our Lady, and the Antwerp Royal Museum of Fine Arts to appreciate the city’s artistic heritage. Antwerp’s historic center, with its medieval fortress, the Castle of Het Steen, and the bustling diamond district, offers a captivating contrast of old and new.
Ghent – The Medieval City
Ghent is a charming city known for its well-preserved medieval architecture, including the 12th-century Gravensteen Castle, Saint Bavo’s Cathedral with the world-famous Ghent Altarpiece, and the Belfry, offering panoramic views of the city. Ghent’s historic center, with its picturesque canals and ancient buildings, offers a fairy-tale ambiance. At the same time, the city’s vibrant student population contributes to its lively and contemporary atmosphere.
Bruges – The Venice of the North
Bruges is one of the most beautifully preserved medieval cities in Europe, earning it the nickname ‘The Venice of the North’. Its historic city center, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is crisscrossed by canals and cobblestone streets. Key attractions include the Belfry of Bruges, the Basilica of the Holy Blood, and the Markt Square. Bruges is also famous for its lace-making tradition and chocolate shops that are sure to satisfy your sweet tooth.
Each of these cities, with their unique charm and attractions, contributes to the remarkable diversity and richness that Belgium offers as a travel destination.
Essential Travel Tips for Belgium
Planning your journey well can make your Belgian adventure smooth and rewarding. Here are some essential travel tips for your visit to Belgium:
Best Time to Visit
Belgium has a temperate maritime climate with moderate temperatures throughout the year. However, the best time to visit is from late spring to early fall (May to September) when the weather is most pleasant, and the countryside is at its greenest. Keep in mind that summer, particularly July and August, is also the peak tourist season.
Belgian Etiquette and Customs
Belgians are known for their politeness and modesty. When meeting people, a brief handshake is customary. In social settings, wait to be invited before using someone’s first name. If you’re invited to a home, it’s polite to bring flowers or chocolates for the hosts.
Currency and Payments
Belgium uses the Euro (€) as its currency. Credit and debit cards are widely accepted, and ATMs are readily available. However, it’s also good to carry some cash for smaller shops and cafés that might not accept cards.
Euro current exchange rates
- 100 EUR = $108.93 or $1 = 0.92 Euro
- 100 EUR = 85.78 British Pounds
- 100 EUR = 163.38 Australian Dollar
- 100 EUR = 147.04 Canadian Dollar
- 100 EUR = 1,136.29 Swedish Krona
- 100 EUR = 432.87 Polish Zloty
- 100 EUR = 2,429.41 Czech Koruna
- 100 EUR = 141,040.96 South Korean Won
- 100 EUR = 770.33 Chinese Yuan
- 100 EUR = 15,991.94 Japanese Yen
Belgium boasts an excellent public transportation system, including extensive train and bus networks, making it easy to get around the country. Cities like Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent, and Bruges are very walkable, and cycling is also popular, especially in flatter cities like Bruges and Ghent. If you’re planning to drive, be aware that Belgium has one of the highest densities of roads and motorways in the world, so traffic can be heavy, especially around Brussels.
Belgium has three official languages: Dutch (Flemish), French, and German. Dutch is spoken in the north (Flanders), French in the south (Wallonia), and German in a small eastern region near the German border. In Brussels, both Dutch and French are spoken. Most Belgians also speak excellent English, especially in the cities.
Belgium is generally a safe country for travelers. However, like any tourist destination, it’s always wise to stay alert, especially in crowded areas and major cities where pickpockets can be a concern.
With these travel tips, you’re well-equipped to navigate Belgium and make the most out of your visit to this charming European nation.
Top Experiences Not to Miss in Belgium
Belgium is a country rich in experiences that cater to a variety of tastes and interests. Here are some top experiences you should not miss when visiting Belgium:
Taste Belgian Chocolate and Waffles
Belgium is a chocolate lover’s paradise, boasting some of the world’s best chocolatiers. Visit a chocolate workshop, such as Choco-Story in Brussels, for a deeper dive into the process of chocolate-making and even try making your own. Indulge in a Belgian waffle, available in every corner of the country, topped with powdered sugar, fresh fruits, or whipped cream.
Explore Belgian Beer Culture
Belgium is world-renowned for its beer, with over 1,000 varieties to taste. Each beer often has its own unique glass in which it’s served. Take a tour of a traditional brewery, such as the Cantillon Brewery in Brussels or the Trappist Abbey of Westvleteren, to learn about the rich history and brewing process. Be sure to visit a local beer festival, such as the Belgian Beer Weekend, for a comprehensive sampling experience.
Attend a Belgian Festival
Belgium hosts a myriad of festivals throughout the year celebrating its culture, music, and traditions. Don’t miss the Carnival of Binche, recognized by UNESCO for its cultural significance, where locals throw oranges into the crowd for good luck. In summer, music lovers should check out Tomorrowland, one of the world’s largest electronic dance music festivals.
Visit Belgian UNESCO World Heritage Sites
Belgium is home to several UNESCO World Heritage Sites that offer unique glimpses into the country’s history and culture. Walk through the historic centers of Bruges and Ghent, take a boat ride in the Belfries of Belgium and France, and explore the Major Mining Sites of Wallonia.
Explore the Belgian Countryside
For a change of pace, take a trip to the beautiful Belgian countryside. Hike or cycle through the scenic Ardennes, known for its rolling hills and forests, visit the historic Castle of Bouillon, or take a leisurely cruise along the canals in the Semois Valley.
Each of these experiences offers a unique perspective on Belgian life and culture, making your trip to Belgium truly memorable and rewarding.
- Belgium Official Tourism Website: This is the official government site for tourism in Belgium. It offers comprehensive information about visiting Belgium, including travel advice, visa information, events, and much more.
- Visit Flanders: This is the official tourism website for the Flanders region of Belgium, which includes cities like Antwerp, Ghent, and Bruges. You’ll find detailed information about attractions, accommodations, dining, and events in Flanders.
- Visit Brussels: The official tourism site of Brussels, providing useful information about attractions, accommodations, dining, shopping, and events in the Belgian capital.
- Wallonia Belgium Tourism: The official site for the Wallonia region of Belgium, providing information on attractions, accommodations, and events in southern Belgium.
- Belgian Rail: The official website for Belgian Railways, offering information on train schedules, tickets, and rail passes. It’s a useful tool for planning trips within Belgium and to neighboring countries.
- The Belgian Monarchy: Official website of the Belgian Royal Family, providing information about the monarchy and royal history.
- Museums of Belgium: A comprehensive guide to museums in Belgium. Useful for art and history lovers looking to explore the country’s rich cultural heritage.
- Belgian Beer Routes: A guide to Belgian breweries and beer tours. Ideal for beer enthusiasts looking to explore Belgium’s celebrated beer culture.
Belgium, an enchanting European destination, is a treasure trove of rich history, diverse culture, scrumptious cuisine, and stunning landscapes. Its blend of well-preserved medieval towns, bustling modern cities, and tranquil countryside offers an array of experiences that cater to a variety of interests. Whether you’re a history buff, a food lover, a culture enthusiast, or a nature admirer, Belgium has something unique to offer.