The main sights and cities will often be swarming with travellers in summer but don’t let that stop you from experiencing this beautiful and quirky country. Head to Brussels to try the famed mussels and fries. Take a look in at the comics museum and its giant replica of Tintin’s moon rocket, or visit the Mannekin Pis wearing their various costumes. Stop off at Bruges to try the delicious beers brewed within the tiny city’s walls, or buy some of its famous lace and wander along the narrow cobbled streets to marvel at the architecture, including the belfry featured in the Hollywood movie ‘In Bruges’. Head to Antwerp to fulfil your fashion fix, and a visit to the battle sites of WWI around the country are a must.
With friendly locals, great beer, and intriguing buildings and history, Belgium is a great way to get a taste of Europe and be part of something a little different from your average tourist experience.
Places to Visit in Belgium
- Ieper (Ypres)
Unique Things to See and Do in Belgium
- Eat ‘moules et frites’ (mussels and fries) in Brussels and check out the Belgian Comic Strip Center
- Taste the beers brewed in Bruges and watch the swans glide along the picturesque canals
- Cycle around the fields and battle sites of Ieper to remember the soldiers of WWI
- Experience the culture and architecture of Ghent
- Frolic with fashion in Antwerp
- Visit the site of the historic 1815 Battle of Waterloo, where Napoleon was defeated
Belgium’s World War One History
Belgium was invaded in 1914 by Germany in its push to France. Flanders Fields, and its horrific loss of life, became immortalised by the poem from which the area, comprised of parts of Belgium and France, takes its name. In particular, the area around the town of Ieper. The Ypres Salient became known for its extensive fighting and trench warfare in WWI, as troops fought over small rises in the largely flat countryside.
One of the more moving experiences for travellers to partake in is to cycle tour of the fields around Ieper. The fruitlessness and horror of the war has been made famous by the poets, including Siegfried Sassoon, whose poetry adorns the walls of the In Flanders Fields Museum in Ieper.
This quiet little town is nevertheless a bustling metropolis when compared with photos taken during and after the bombardments of WWI, particularly the beautifully restored Cloth Hall building in the town centre.
Summer is clearly the best season to cycle around the various battle sites, memorials and graveyards. Both Tyne Cot, the largest Commonwealth cemetery, and Langemark, a large German cemetery, are beautifully maintained and bring home the huge loss of life of the war. Both are striking and haunting in different ways; Langemark’s four statues stand silent watch at the middle edge of the cemetery, while Tyne Cot’s white marble headstones and roll call of the dead are displayed for visitors.
The cemeteries, which have places to lock up bikes, are interspersed with smaller graveyards and memorials to the fallen troops of different nationalities. Battle sites are also scattered about the countryside including Passchendaele. It is worth noting that armaments from the war are still being found in the soil around Ieper, so it’s best not to kick or play with any curiously shaped rocks you find.
Not to be missed in Ieper itself, aside from the wonderfully set out, educational, and sad, museum, is the Last Post played every night at the Menin Gate – an arch dedicated to British and Commonwealth soldiers who died in the area without known graves.
Getting Around Belgium
Belgium has various options for arrival in the country, including low cost international bus companies and trains arriving in Brussels from Cologne, Amsterdam, London, and Paris (which are billed to take less than three hours). You can also fly in to various cities including Brussels and Antwerp, depending upon your point of departure.
Buses around Belgium, and within the cities, are reliable and affordable, and the same goes for trains.
Did you know…?
Tintin fan favourites Thomson and Thompson make a cameo in the French comic ‘Asterix’, when Asterix, Obelix and Vitalstatistix visit Belgium and are regaled with beer, meat and Brussels-sprouts (geddit?).
Did you ALSO know…?
If you’re a journalist travelling in Belgium, you get to journey on a train free. Bear in mind, it’s in the second class section (you get 75% off first class) and you have to carry a special card to prove your occupation.
The roads in Belgium are generally in good condition, but the UK government has warned that traffic can be fast, with a high accident rate mainly due to speeding.
Best Time of Year to Travel to Belgium
Things can get sticky in summer in Belgium, like much of Europe, although not oppressively so, so pack a hat but don’t despair. Temperatures reportedly average around 13C to 21C while winter averages are from 0C to 6C.
Summer (June to August) sees lovely sun-filled days but packed streets and cities as tourists flood the towns while winter reportedly gets grey and cold days. Recommended travel times are generally early summer or early autumn.
Ready to plan your visit to Belgium? Check out these popular guides and trips.