In the heart of Europe, Belgium offers appealing stays within easy reach of the UK. Succumb to the charm of the Bruges canals, the pulsating buzz of Anvers’ cafes, or the many monuments and parks of Brussels. With a trip to Belgium, you’ll be treated to dozens of exciting and captivating visits, for a holiday off the beaten track.
Belgium is divided into three major regions: Flanders, Walloon and Brussels. In each region, several cities are just waiting to be discovered on your trip to Belgium. The country’s capital, Brussels has a perfectly preserved historic centre around its famous Grand-Place, classed as one of the world’s most beautiful squares. Further north, the beaches of the North Sea attract people from all over Europe seeking to chill out or do some water sports. The city of Bruges, whose ancient belfry stands tall over the medieval centre, is ideal for a romantic escapade on the canals, which have given it the name of the “Venice of the North”.
Most museums and monuments in Belgium are concentrated around the major cities. During the Brussels stage of your trip to Belgium, head to the Grand-Place to admire the city hall and other manor houses. Then visit Manneken Pis before moving on to the BOZAR or the Comic Book museum for an excursion to delight all ages. In Anvers, the Rubens house and the Notre-Dame cathedral are the great classics. For cultural trips, the Plantin-Moretus, the Mayer van den Bergh museum and the fashion museum offer varied collections ranging from handicraft items, masterpiece paintings and sculptures. Brussels has a fine assortment of museums that cover culture, history and more. Brussels’ Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium displays more than 20,000 works of art that date back as far as the 15th-century. For a fascinating and sobering study of World War I, look no further than Flanders Fields Museum. Chocolate is so important to the culture and economy of the country that there are even museums devoted to it, most notably in Brussels and Bruges.
Belgium offers the chance for excellent shopping experiences. Visit Antwerp and you’ll not only see some stunning architecture, but have the chance to indulge in some of the best shopping in Europe. Look out for an array of designer clothing and quality jewellers.
Bruges is a charming city in northwest Belgium and the capital of West Flanders. Whether walking its streets or navigating its canals, there is always something to see that will surprise and enthral. One of the best ways to admire this medieval city is by canal. It’s the perfect way to spy enchanting churches, such as the Church of Our Lady, and historic and postcard-perfect buildings like the Rozenhoedkaai.
Not only is it the capital of Belgium, Brussels is also the headquarters of the European Union. And in Grand Place, Brussels has its very own UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s here that you’ll discover a history that dates back to the 9th-century. One of Grand Place’s most prominent buildings is the gothic town hall, Hotel de Ville, with its crooked spire that ascends almost 100 metres into the sky. Take a look inside and you’ll find a fine collection of works of art and 15th-century tapestries.
The irreverent humour of the Belgians is perhaps best exemplified by Mannekin Pis, a celebrated statue that depicts a little boy perpetually peeing in a fountain. It’s not all about the past, however. Brussels is very forward-thinking - something that is perfectly typified by the Atomium. This striking stainless-steel edifice was built for the World Fair in 1958 and, even now it looks like something from the far future.
Ghent is a Belgian destination that isn’t always on the radar of many tourists and is therefore, largely free of holidaymakers. Its Graslei district in particular, is notable for its historic buildings whose reflections shimmer appealingly in the Leie River. There are few things better than taking a seat in one of the city’s many fine cafés and sipping on a freshly-brewed coffee, watching the world go by.
To discover the cuisine of the “Flat Country” during your trip to Belgium, head to a typical tavern. There you can discover exceptional abbey beers, so rare that they are not exported, and beers flavoured with rock candy (faro) or cherry (kriek). The most popular culinary specialities are the Flemish carbonnades, the waterzooi and the world-famous moules-frites (mussels with chips).
Good tip: if you’re on a low budget, do not hesitate to settle for some chips or a waffle. A real Belgian institution, chips are served in a cone in all Belgium’s cities and villages.
Ask anyone about a product that they most associate with Belgium and there’s a good chance that they’ll mention chocolate or beer. The country produces more than 450 kinds of beers, all of which have a distinctive taste and are appreciated all over the globe. A great way of discovering how this great export is created is by visiting Brussels’ Cantillon Brewery, a tour of which provides the chance to sample some of the finished product!
Anyone with a sweet tooth will almost certainly have experienced the delights of Belgian chocolates. And, naturally enough, it’s on a Belgium city break is where you’ll experience the very finest examples. The Belgian Chocolate Box by Beatrix is an example of an excellent chocolatier and can be found in Philipsburg. Taking a Belgian chocolate tour in Brussels is a splendid way to learn about the product and its history. It also offers plenty of opportunities to sample some great sweet treats.