But in reality, Belgians enjoy a high standard of living, and it’s reflected throughout the country. Whether you’re visiting Brussels or the countryside, guides worldwide will tell you that there are secrets to uncover and new inspiration everywhere. And yes, the fact that the Belgians do beer really, really well also kind of helps.
Indulge Your Artistic Side
Belgians are a cultured bunch, and despite being such a small country, many of its towns are designated as “cities of art.” One of the most popular places to visit is the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, where the artwork is classified in three specific eras: the Musée Old Masters, Musée Modern, and Musée Fin-de-Siècle. The history covers five centuries, from Flemish Primitives to Delvaux.
Just next door, you’ll find the Musée Magritte, a fairly new museum opened in 2009. This place was built for Rene Magritte, the famous surrealist, and contains more than 200 pieces of artwork including oils on canvas, drawings, sculptures, advertisements, and even musical scores.
In Antwerp’s Royal Museum of Fine Arts, you’ll get to see artwork by Rubens, Ensor, and Van Eyck. But if you’re mostly interested in the work of Rubens, you’ll be happy to know there’s a Rubens House Museum.
It’s not all limited to museums, either: Belgium has some very beautiful architecture, as you’ll see while wandering the tiny streets of Bruges. Visit the house of the Art Nouveau architect Victor Horta, or explore some of Belgium’s many fine cathedrals. The Romanesque Collégiale Ste-Gertrude in Nivelles is perhaps the most famous.
Drink Lots and Lots of Beer
Other than the Belgian-specific beers, the main two types are Trappist beers and abbey beers. Trappist beers are brewed in Trappist monasteries, where the monks play a role in its production. The profits are then used to support the monastery itself; there are only 10 breweries like this left in the world, and six of them are in Belgium. The Trappist beers within the country include Achel, Chimay, Orval, Rochefort, Westmalle, and Westvleteren.
Abbey beers, on the other hand, can also be Trappist beers, but not necessarily. They can also be produced by a non-Trappist monastery (like a Benedictine monastery), produced in a commercial brewery with an arrangement with a monastery, branded with a fictitious abbey name, or given generic monastic branding. There are 18 certified abbey beers in the country, including everything from small players like St. Feuillien to big names like Leffe.
Hang out in Brussels’ City Square
The architecture is a mixture of Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque, and the colourful facades give the whole place a fairytale glow. The Town Hall was built in the early 1400s and its focal point is the gothic tower measuring 96 metres high, created by Jan Van Ruysbroeck.
The King’s House used to be a bakery, but later became an administrative building for the duke of Brabant in the 15th century. Inside you’ll find the Brussels City Museum with a stunning floor painting by Pieter Bruegel, among other historical artifacts.
Go to Spa
The town itself is beautiful, located in a wooded valley surrounded by hills and rivers. Can you imagine a better setting for a town filled with spas?
Take Yourself on a Historical Tour
One of the most beautiful landmarks is the Church of Our Lady in Bruges, known for its white marble Madonna and Child statue created by Michelangelo. This medieval church was built over a period of 200 years, and has a stunning spire reaching over 400 feet. For a tower of a different kind, visit the 100-foot Irish Peace Tower serving as a memorial to the Irish World War I causalities during the battle for Messines Ridge.
The oldest building in Belgium is Het Steen, once known as Antwerp Castle. It once controlled the access to the Scheldt River to protect against raids, and its medieval fortification is impressive.
If you’re particularly interested in war history, check out the Tyne Cot Cemetery, the Waterloo Battlefield, the Trench of Death, or the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917.
Spend Time in Bruges
Some landmarks to visit include the Basilica of the Holy Blood – a stunning church in the square. It’s home to a vial of blood that apparently belongs to Jesus Christ, and it’s filled with gorgeous Gothic architecture. Onze Lieve Vrouwkerk is another church worth visiting for its fine Romanesque and Gothic architecture.
On the extreme opposite end of the scale, Brewery de Halve Maan will give you a tour of the beer making process, and of course, you’ll be invited to drink. Bruges is also well known for its chocolate offerings, and the Choco-Story Museum is a must-see.
For something a little different, the Stadsfeestzaal shopping centre is one of the most beautiful in Europe, thanks to its marble staircases and mosaic floors.
But the best way to see Ghent is to simply walk around to take in everything that is weird and wonderful, popping into quirky shops and vintage stores. There’s even a wallpaper shop, and a place where you can try some flower ice cream.
Eat, Eat, Eat
Dense food is the theme in Belgium, and stoemp is no exception: they’re the creamiest mashed potatoes you’ll ever eat. Filet Americain is like a steak tartar, made with minced ground beef and served with fries and bread.
But, of course, you’ll want to try the chocolate. You should definitely try the chocolate.
Get Adventurous in La Roche-en-Ardenne
The town itself has the impressive ruins of La Roche’s feudal castle, staking its glory over the Ourthe River.