10 Awesome Things to do in Belgium

To some, Belgium isn’t exactly high on the radar of European travel destinations. It doesn’t have the panache of France or the flamboyancy of Italy: in fact, what comes to people’s minds when they hear “Belguim” are two words: “waffles” and “chocolate.”

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

Many people don’t realize that Belgium has an extremely dominating beer market. There are almost 180 breweries ranging from local microbreweries to international brewers. Here you can find everything from the palest of lagers to the deepest of Flemish reds.  It’s a culture here: did you know that each beer has its own specially shaped glass, meant to enhance the flavor of its contents?

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

Brussels is the capital of Belgium, but it also considers itself the “Capital of Europe.” Why? The headquarters for both the European Union and NATO are located here, meaning it’s a pretty darned important place. But there’s one place in particular that stands out in the city, and that’s the beautiful square, also known as the “Grote Markt” in Dutch.

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

Did you know that the original Spa experience started in Belgium? The Wallonian town of Spa is the place from which all modern spas get their name. And yes, you can still enjoy self-pampering to the extreme in Spa, with all sorts of treatments being offered. The Casino Spa is the oldest spa in the world.

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

Tapping into Belgium’s historical side isn’t hard with all its landmarks lying around. Its earliest occupation was by the Belgae tribe, until the area was integrated into the Roman Empire. The Franks, Spanish, and the Holy Roman Empire also ruled Belgium until its independence in the 19th century.

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

Have you seen the excellent movie In Bruges, featuring Colin Ferrell? If you haven’t, you should; other than being hilarious, it’ll make you want to desperately see the town. The buildings here have a storybook quality, and the canals are dreamy.

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.

Visit Antwerp

Antwerp is another one of those little towns that looks like it came straight out of a romantic fairytale. The Grote Markt is where all the good stuff happens, located in the Old City. Here you’ll see former guild houses and the City Hall decked out in Renaissance style. You’ll also want to check out Antwerp Cathedral, the iconic symbol of Antwerp and home to some of Rubens’ most memorable artwork.

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.

Explore Ghent

Ghent is a classic town of canals and charming architecture, as well as a vibrant nightlife and lots of interesting museums. Climb the Belfry tower for a view of the whole town, or visit the dominating Castle of the Counts. Other than its sprawling expanse of architecture, it’s also home to a torture museum.

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

Belgium’s more than just waffles and fries – although those things are pretty good too. Try chicon au gratin, which is a dish made with endives wrapped in a slice of ham and topped with béchamel sauce and melted cheese. For something just as filling, try boudin blanc, a white sausage made with milk (yes, seriously).

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

Step outside the big cities, and hit up La Roche-en-Ardenne. The deep Ardennes forest surrounds this village, and the landscape is set up for adventurers. You can kayak on the rivers, try spelunking, take a bike trip around the hills, or camp out with your friends or family.

The town itself has the impressive ruins of La Roche’s feudal castle, staking its glory over the Ourthe River.

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