Belgium Travel Guide – Everything You Need to Know

Belgium, nestled in the heart of Western Europe, is a country known for its rich history, captivating architecture, and culinary delights. From the medieval charm of Bruges to the vibrant city life of Brussels, Belgium offers an enticing blend of old-world charm and modern sophistication. Tourists flock to explore its picturesque towns, indulge in world-renowned chocolates and waffles, and savor some of the finest beers in the world. With a wealth of art, culture, and diverse landscapes, Belgium welcomes travelers to discover its unique blend of tradition and innovation. Whether you’re drawn to its iconic landmarks, historic battlefields, or culinary delights, Belgium promises an unforgettable journey through its fascinating heritage and contemporary allure.

What’s the Best Time to Visit? 📅

The best time to visit Belgium as a tourist depends on your preferences and the type of experiences you seek. Belgium experiences a temperate maritime climate with mild summers, cool winters, and fairly consistent rainfall throughout the year. Here’s a breakdown of the seasons and the best times to visit:

  1. Spring (March to May):
    • Spring is a delightful time to visit Belgium when the weather starts to warm up, and the countryside bursts with colorful blooms.
    • Late April to early May is the prime time for viewing the famous Belgian flower fields, especially around Keukenhof Gardens near Brussels.
    • Spring is also a great time for outdoor activities and exploring the cities with pleasant weather and fewer crowds.
  2. Summer (June to August):
    • Summer is the peak tourist season in Belgium, with longer daylight hours and the warmest temperatures.
    • This is the best time for outdoor festivals, cultural events, and enjoying the coastal towns like Ostend and Knokke-Heist.
    • However, be prepared for larger crowds, especially in popular tourist destinations.
  3. Autumn (September to November):
    • Early autumn is a lovely time to visit, with mild temperatures, fewer tourists, and changing foliage in the Ardennes region.
    • September is ideal for visiting the cities, as the weather remains pleasant, and cultural events are still in full swing.
    • Fall is also the season for beer enthusiasts, as many breweries release their special autumn brews.
  4. Winter (December to February):
    • Winter brings a festive atmosphere to Belgium, with charming Christmas markets and decorations in cities like Brussels, Bruges, and Ghent.
    • If you enjoy winter sports, the Ardennes offers skiing and snowboarding opportunities.
    • While the weather is colder, the country’s indoor attractions, such as museums and historic sites, remain open.

In summary, the best time to visit Belgium for pleasant weather and outdoor activities is during the spring and early autumn. However, if you’re interested in experiencing the country’s festive holiday season, winter is an enchanting time to explore its picturesque cities and enjoy Christmas markets. Regardless of the season, Belgium offers a unique blend of culture, history, and culinary delights to enjoy year-round.

What’s the Best Way to Get Around? 🚌

Belgium has an efficient and well-connected transportation system that makes it easy for tourists to get around the country. Here are the best ways to travel within Belgium as a tourist:

  1. Train: Belgium has an extensive and reliable train network operated by the National Railway Company of Belgium (NMBS/SNCB). Trains are a convenient and efficient way to travel between cities like Brussels, Antwerp, Bruges, Ghent, and more. You can purchase tickets at train stations or online in advance.
  2. Tram and Metro: In major cities like Brussels, Antwerp, and Charleroi, trams and metros provide an excellent way to navigate the city center and surrounding areas. Brussels, in particular, has an extensive metro system.
  3. Bus: Buses complement the train network and can take you to destinations that may not be accessible by train. Local buses are operated by different regional companies, such as De Lijn (Flanders), TEC (Wallonia), and STIB/MIVB (Brussels).
  4. Bicycle: Belgium is a cyclist-friendly country with numerous bike lanes and dedicated cycling routes. You can rent bicycles in cities or explore scenic areas like Bruges or Ghent on two wheels.
  5. Car Rental: If you plan to visit more remote or rural areas of Belgium, renting a car is an option. However, driving in cities can be challenging due to traffic and parking limitations. Always follow local traffic rules and regulations.
  6. Taxis and Ride-Sharing: Taxis are readily available in Belgian cities, and ride-sharing services like Uber operate in some areas. Taxis can be relatively expensive, so it’s a good idea to check fares in advance.
  7. Boats and Canals: In cities like Bruges and Ghent, you can explore the historic city centers via boat tours and canal cruises, offering a unique perspective on these picturesque destinations.
  8. Domestic Flights: While Belgium is a small country, there are domestic flights connecting Brussels to other cities like Antwerp. However, train travel is often more convenient for short distances.
  9. Hop-On, Hop-Off Buses: In major tourist cities, you’ll find hop-on, hop-off tour buses that take you to key attractions, offering commentary and flexibility.
  10. Walking: Many Belgian cities are compact and pedestrian-friendly, making walking an excellent way to explore the city centers, especially in places like Bruges and Brussels.

When using public transportation, consider purchasing multi-day passes or cards that offer unlimited travel within a specified period. The “Belgian Rail Pass” is one such option that allows unlimited train travel within Belgium for a set number of days.

Overall, the combination of trains, trams, and buses makes it relatively easy to explore Belgium’s cities and countryside, making it a convenient and enjoyable destination for tourists.

What’s the Official Language?

Belgium has three official languages: Dutch, French, and German. The distribution of these languages varies by region:

  1. Dutch: Dutch is the primary language in the northern region of Flanders, which includes cities like Antwerp, Ghent, and Bruges. Here are some basic Dutch phrases for tourists:
    • Hello: Hallo
    • Please: Alsjeblieft (informal), Alstublieft (formal)
    • Thank you: Dank je (informal), Dank u (formal)
    • Yes: Ja
    • No: Nee
    • Excuse me: Excuseer me
    • Good morning: Goedemorgen
    • Good afternoon: Goedemiddag
    • Good evening: Goedenavond
    • Goodbye: Tot ziens
  2. French: French is the primary language in the southern region of Wallonia and in the Brussels-Capital Region. Here are some basic French phrases for tourists:
    • Hello: Bonjour
    • Please: S’il vous plaît
    • Thank you: Merci
    • Yes: Oui
    • No: Non
    • Excuse me: Excusez-moi
    • Good morning: Bonjour
    • Good afternoon: Bon après-midi
    • Good evening: Bonsoir
    • Goodbye: Au revoir
  3. German: German is spoken in a small part of eastern Belgium, primarily in the German-speaking community. Here are some basic German phrases for tourists:
    • Hello: Hallo
    • Please: Bitte
    • Thank you: Danke
    • Yes: Ja
    • No: Nein
    • Excuse me: Entschuldigen Sie mich
    • Good morning: Guten Morgen
    • Good afternoon: Guten Nachmittag
    • Good evening: Guten Abend
    • Goodbye: Auf Wiedersehen
  4. English: English is widely understood and spoken in tourist areas, especially in larger cities like Brussels, Antwerp, and Bruges. Most signs and menus in tourist areas are also available in English.
  5. Multilingualism: Belgium’s linguistic diversity means that many Belgians are proficient in more than one language. If you’re unsure of the local language, you can often start a conversation in French, Dutch, or English, and most Belgians will be accommodating.

Learning a few basic phrases in the local language can enhance your travel experience and show respect for the local culture, but you can generally navigate Belgium with ease using English or French, depending on the region you’re in.

Where to Stay? 🏨

Belgium offers a wide range of accommodation options for tourists, catering to various preferences and budgets. Here are some popular places to stay in Belgium:

  1. Brussels: The capital city of Brussels has a vast array of accommodation options, from luxury hotels to budget-friendly hostels. If you want to be in the heart of the action, consider staying in areas like the Brussels City Center (Bruxelles-Ville) or the European Quarter.
  2. Bruges: Known for its picturesque canals and medieval charm, Bruges is a popular tourist destination. Stay in the historic city center to immerse yourself in its unique atmosphere.
  3. Antwerp: Belgium’s fashion capital, Antwerp, offers a mix of boutique hotels and stylish accommodations. The neighborhoods of Antwerp-Central and the Old Town (Historisch Centrum) are great options.
  4. Ghent: Ghent is a vibrant city with a rich history. Stay in the historic city center to be close to its stunning architecture and cultural attractions.
  5. Namur: The capital of the Wallonia region, Namur, offers a quieter, more relaxed atmosphere. Consider staying near the Meuse River or in the Old Town area.
  6. Liege: Liege is known for its lively markets and cultural events. The city center and nearby areas provide various accommodation choices.
  7. Ardennes: For a tranquil and nature-oriented experience, consider staying in the Ardennes region. This area offers cozy cottages, guesthouses, and cabins amid lush forests and rolling hills.
  8. Coastal Resorts: Belgium’s coast, including towns like Ostend and Knokke-Heist, offers accommodations near beautiful beaches and seaside promenades. Ideal for a beach vacation.
  9. Spa: If you’re seeking relaxation, consider staying in the town of Spa, known for its natural mineral springs and wellness centers.
  10. Boutique Hotels: Belgium has a growing number of boutique and design hotels, especially in major cities like Brussels and Antwerp, providing unique and stylish accommodation options.
  11. Hostels: Budget-conscious travelers can find comfortable and affordable hostels in most cities. They are great for meeting fellow travelers and exploring the local scene.
  12. Countryside Retreats: In rural areas, you’ll find charming bed and breakfasts, agritourism accommodations, and guesthouses, which offer a taste of the Belgian countryside.
  13. Castle Stays: For a truly unique experience, consider staying in a castle-turned-hotel. Belgium has several historic castles that offer accommodations.

When choosing your accommodation, consider factors such as location, budget, and the type of experience you want to have. Booking in advance, especially during peak tourist seasons, is advisable to secure your preferred choice. Additionally, read reviews and check guest ratings to ensure a pleasant stay.

What to Eat? 🍽️

Belgium is famous for its culinary delights, and there are several must-try foods that every tourist should sample during their visit. Here are some delicious Belgian dishes and treats to savor:

  1. Belgian Waffles (Gauffres): These light, crispy waffles are often served with a variety of toppings, such as powdered sugar, whipped cream, fresh fruit, and chocolate sauce. Try them from a street vendor or in a cozy café.
  2. Chocolate: Belgium is renowned for its high-quality chocolates. Visit a chocolatier to sample pralines, truffles, and other decadent chocolate creations. Brands like Neuhaus, Godiva, and Leonidas are famous worldwide.
  3. Mussels and Fries (Moules-frites): This iconic Belgian dish features steamed mussels in a flavorful broth, often cooked with white wine, garlic, and herbs. It’s typically served with a side of crispy fries and mayonnaise for dipping.
  4. Belgian Beer: Belgium boasts an impressive beer culture with a wide variety of brews. Try classic Belgian beers like Trappist ales, Abbey beers, lambics, and wheat beers at local pubs or breweries.
  5. Flemish Stew (Stoofvlees): A hearty dish, Flemish stew is made with tender beef simmered in a rich beer-based sauce. It’s typically served with a side of fries.
  6. Carbonnade Flamande: Similar to Flemish stew but with a twist, this dish features beef stewed with onions, brown sugar, and a dark beer like Abbey or Trappist ale.
  7. Frites: Belgian fries, or “frites,” are thicker and crispier than traditional French fries. They’re often served in a paper cone with a variety of sauces like mayonnaise, ketchup, or a special sauce called “Andalouse.”
  8. Speculoos: These spiced, crunchy cookies are a Belgian favorite, and you’ll often find them served with coffee or as a topping for ice cream.
  9. Endive Wrapped in Ham (Chicons au gratin): A classic Belgian dish, endive (chicory) leaves are wrapped in ham, covered in a creamy cheese sauce, and baked until golden brown.
  10. Waterzooi: Hailing from Ghent, this creamy soup or stew can be made with fish or chicken. It includes vegetables and herbs in a velvety broth, often thickened with cream.
  11. Vol-au-Vent: This dish features a puff pastry shell filled with creamy chicken and mushroom sauce. It’s a comfort food favorite.
  12. Liege Waffles: Unlike Brussels waffles, Liege waffles are denser and sweeter, thanks to the use of pearl sugar. They have a caramelized exterior and are perfect for on-the-go snacking.
  13. Croquettes: Croquettes are crispy breaded and deep-fried rolls filled with ingredients like shrimp, cheese, or meat. They’re often served as appetizers or snacks.
  14. Cheese: Belgium produces a variety of delicious cheeses. Try varieties like Herve, Limburger, or aged Gouda, often paired with a good Belgian beer.
  15. Tomate aux Crevettes (Tomato Stuffed with Shrimp): A popular Belgian appetizer, this dish features a hollowed-out tomato filled with North Sea gray shrimp and mayonnaise.

Exploring the culinary scene in Belgium is a delightful adventure, and these dishes are just a taste of what the country has to offer. Be sure to indulge your taste buds and experience the rich flavors of Belgian cuisine during your visit.

What to See? 🔍

Belgium is a country steeped in history, culture, and picturesque landscapes. Here are some must-see places and attractions for tourists in Belgium:

  1. Grand Place (Grote Markt), Brussels: The central square of Brussels is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is known for its stunning architecture, including the Town Hall and King’s House (Maison du Roi).
  2. Manneken Pis, Brussels: A quirky and iconic Brussels statue of a little boy urinating into a fountain, often dressed in various costumes.
  3. Atomium, Brussels: A futuristic building and museum shaped like an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times. It’s a symbol of modern Brussels.
  4. Bruges: Explore the well-preserved medieval city of Bruges, known for its charming canals, historic buildings, and cobblestone streets. Don’t miss the Belfry of Bruges and the Church of Our Lady.
  5. Ghent: Visit Ghent’s historic center, home to Gravensteen Castle, Saint Bavo’s Cathedral, and the Graslei and Korenlei canals.
  6. Antwerp: Explore the vibrant city of Antwerp, known for its fashion, art, and historic architecture. Visit the Cathedral of Our Lady, Rubenshuis (Rubens House), and the Antwerp Zoo.
  7. Ardennes: Immerse yourself in the natural beauty of the Ardennes region, with its rolling hills, forests, and charming villages. It’s perfect for hiking and outdoor activities.
  8. The Battlefields of Waterloo: Learn about the historic Battle of Waterloo at the visitor center and explore the battlefield and the Lion’s Mound.
  9. Cinquantenaire Park, Brussels: Enjoy the beautiful park with its triumphal arch, museums, and gardens, including the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History.
  10. Dinant: Discover the picturesque town of Dinant along the Meuse River, known for its stunning Citadel, Notre-Dame Church, and the birthplace of Adolphe Sax, the inventor of the saxophone.
  11. Ypres: Visit Ypres (Ieper) in Flanders to see the Menin Gate Memorial and explore the history of World War I.
  12. Hallerbos: In spring, the Hallerbos forest comes alive with a breathtaking carpet of bluebells, creating a magical atmosphere.
  13. Horta Museum, Brussels: Explore the Art Nouveau architecture of Victor Horta at his former home, which is now a museum.
  14. Bastogne: Discover the history of the Battle of the Bulge at the Bastogne War Museum and pay your respects at the Mardasson Memorial.
  15. Bouillon Castle: Explore the medieval Bouillon Castle, perched above the Semois River, offering stunning views and a glimpse into history.
  16. Durbuy: Visit the charming town of Durbuy, often called the “smallest city in the world,” and explore its historic streets and castle.
  17. Belgian Coast: Enjoy the Belgian seaside resorts along the North Sea, including towns like Ostend and Knokke-Heist.
  18. Mons: Discover the historic city of Mons with its UNESCO-listed belfry and the impressive Grand-Hornu industrial site.
  19. Sonian Forest: Hike or bike in the Sonian Forest (Forêt de Soignes), a tranquil green space near Brussels.
  20. Hageland Vineyards: Explore the vineyards and wine cellars of the Hageland region, known for its quality wines.

Belgium offers a diverse range of attractions that cater to history buffs, art enthusiasts, nature lovers, and foodies alike. Be sure to take your time exploring these iconic sites and hidden gems throughout the country.

What to Do? 📸

When visiting Belgium, there are several must-do activities and experiences that can make your trip memorable. Here are some things you should consider doing as a tourist in Belgium:

  1. Sample Belgian Chocolates: Visit a local chocolatier and indulge in Belgium’s world-famous chocolates. You can even take chocolate-making workshops in some cities.
  2. Beer Tasting: Explore Belgium’s rich beer culture by trying a variety of local brews, including Trappist beers, lambics, and abbey ales. Visit a brewery or join a beer tour.
  3. Take a Canal Tour in Bruges: Explore the enchanting canals of Bruges by taking a boat tour. It’s a great way to see the city from a unique perspective.
  4. Visit Museums: Belgium is home to numerous museums and art galleries. Don’t miss the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium in Brussels, the Groeningemuseum in Bruges, and the Magritte Museum in Brussels.
  5. Enjoy Belgian Fries: Savor a cone of crispy Belgian fries, often served with an array of tasty dipping sauces.
  6. Explore Art Nouveau Architecture: Brussels is famous for its Art Nouveau architecture. Take a walking tour to discover the works of architect Victor Horta and others.
  7. Visit the European Union Institutions: If you’re interested in politics and international affairs, visit the European Parliament and other EU institutions in Brussels.
  8. Go Truffle Hunting: If you visit during truffle season (late autumn to winter), consider going on a truffle hunting adventure in the Ardennes region.
  9. Attend Festivals: Check the local event calendar for festivals and events, such as the Brussels Christmas Market, Gentse Feesten in Ghent, and the Carnival of Binche.
  10. Explore Medieval Castles: Belgium boasts many well-preserved castles. Explore castles like Gravensteen in Ghent, Bouillon Castle, and Castle of the Counts in Bruges.
  11. Try Belgian Waffles: Besides the classic Brussels waffles, try Liege waffles, which are denser and sweeter due to pearl sugar.
  12. Hike or Bike in Ardennes: The Ardennes offers beautiful hiking and biking trails through forests, hills, and picturesque villages.
  13. Visit the Royal Palace of Brussels: While you can’t go inside the royal residence, you can admire the exterior and stroll through the adjacent Parc de Bruxelles.
  14. Attend a Belgian Comic Strip Festival: Belgium is famous for its comic strip art. Explore the world of Tintin, The Smurfs, and other beloved characters.
  15. Participate in a Belgian Beer Festival: Belgium hosts various beer festivals throughout the year. Enjoy tastings, live music, and the camaraderie of beer enthusiasts.
  16. Admire the Flower Carpet in Brussels: If your visit coincides with this biennial event (typically in August), witness the stunning Flower Carpet on the Grand Place.
  17. Take a Day Trip to Luxembourg: Belgium’s neighbor Luxembourg is easily accessible by train and offers its own charm and attractions.
  18. Visit the Magritte Museum: Explore the surreal world of Belgian artist René Magritte at the Magritte Museum in Brussels.
  19. Experience the Tournai Cathedral: Admire the stunning architecture of the Cathedral of Our Lady in Tournai, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
  20. Enjoy Belgian Street Food: Try Belgian street food classics like mitraillette (a baguette stuffed with fries and meat) and stoemp (mashed potatoes with vegetables and sausage).

These activities offer a well-rounded experience of Belgium’s culture, history, culinary delights, and natural beauty. Be sure to tailor your trip to your interests and make the most of your time in this captivating European country.

Culture and Safety 🦺

When traveling to Belgium as a tourist, it’s essential to understand the local culture and take precautions for your safety. Here are some cultural insights and safety tips:

Culture:

  1. Multilingualism: Belgium has three official languages: Dutch, French, and German. The language spoken varies by region, so knowing a few basic phrases in the local language can be helpful. However, many Belgians are proficient in English.
  2. Punctuality: Belgians value punctuality, so it’s advisable to be on time for appointments and reservations.
  3. Tipping: Tipping is customary but not obligatory. It’s common to leave a tip of 10-15% at restaurants, and you can round up the bill in cafes and for services like taxis.
  4. Respect for Diversity: Belgium is a diverse and multicultural country. Be respectful of different cultures, religions, and lifestyles.
  5. Public Behavior: Maintain polite and courteous behavior in public. Loud or disruptive behavior is generally frowned upon.
  6. Dress Code: Dress modestly when visiting religious sites and upscale restaurants. In general, Belgium has a casual dress code.
  7. Museums and Attractions: Follow the rules and guidelines when visiting museums and historical sites. Many places may not allow photography or require you to wear shoe covers to protect the floors.

Safety:

  1. General Safety: Belgium is a relatively safe country for tourists. Violent crime is rare, but petty crimes like pickpocketing can occur in crowded areas, especially in tourist hotspots.
  2. Pickpocketing: Be vigilant in crowded places, train stations, and tourist areas. Keep your belongings secure, use anti-theft bags, and avoid displaying valuable items.
  3. Scams: Beware of scams such as fake charity collectors, unofficial taxis, and overcharging in tourist areas. Use reputable services and check for official credentials.
  4. Public Transportation: Public transportation in Belgium is safe, but watch out for pickpockets, especially on crowded buses and trams. Keep an eye on your belongings.
  5. Health and Safety: Belgium has excellent healthcare facilities. European tourists can use their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). Non-European travelers should have travel insurance.
  6. Emergency Numbers: Know the emergency numbers in Belgium:
    • Police: 101
    • Ambulance/Fire: 112
  7. Traffic Safety: If driving, adhere to traffic rules and regulations. Belgium has strict rules on speeding, seat belts, and alcohol consumption while driving.
  8. Weather Preparedness: Be prepared for changing weather conditions, especially in the Ardennes region. Carry appropriate clothing for the season and check the weather forecast.
  9. COVID-19: Stay updated on any travel advisories or COVID-19 restrictions that may be in place during your visit. Follow health and safety guidelines.
  10. Natural Hazards: Belgium is generally not prone to natural disasters, but it’s advisable to stay informed about weather-related issues and local advice if needed.

While Belgium is considered a safe destination, it’s wise to exercise the same precautions you would when traveling in any other European country. By being aware of your surroundings, respecting local customs, and taking safety measures, you can enjoy a safe and culturally enriching experience in Belgium.

Conclusion

In conclusion, a visit to Belgium is a journey through a country steeped in history, culture, and culinary excellence. From the enchanting medieval cities to the bustling streets of Brussels, Belgium offers a tapestry of experiences for tourists. Explore centuries-old architecture, savor exquisite chocolates and beers, and immerse yourself in the art and traditions that have shaped this remarkable nation. Whether you’re drawn to its UNESCO-listed sites, picturesque landscapes, or vibrant festivals, Belgium promises a memorable and enriching travel experience. Discover the best of both old-world charm and modern sophistication in this captivating European destination.