Visiting Belgium: Exploring the Heart of Europe
Time to read 9 min
Time to read 9 min
Belgium, often referred to as the "heart of Europe," is a country with a rich history, stunning architecture, delectable cuisine, and a vibrant cultural scene. From medieval towns to bustling cities, Belgium offers a diverse range of experiences for travelers. If you're considering a trip to this charming European destination, here's a guide to help you make the most of your visit.
Start your Belgian adventure in the capital city of Brussels. Explore the historic center with its impressive Grand Place, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and iconic landmarks like the Atomium and Manneken Pis. Don't miss the opportunity to indulge in some world-famous Belgian chocolate and sample delicious Belgian waffles.
Marvel at Bruges:
Known as the "Venice of the North," Bruges is a fairy-tale city with its picturesque canals, cobbled streets, and well-preserved medieval architecture. Take a leisurely stroll along the charming streets, visit the Gothic-style Bruges City Hall, and indulge in some of the best Belgian beers at local breweries.
Just a short train ride from Brussels, Ghent is a hidden gem that shouldn't be missed. Its medieval city center is adorned with stunning buildings like the Saint Bavo's Cathedral and the famous Ghent Altarpiece. Explore the lively Graslei and Korenlei waterfront, lined with historic buildings, cozy cafes, and restaurants.
As Belgium's second-largest city, Antwerp is known for its fashion, diamond trade, and thriving arts scene. Visit the impressive Antwerp Cathedral, explore the trendy neighborhoods of Het Zuid and Eilandje, and don't forget to indulge in some shopping in the fashion district.
Delve into Belgian Cuisine:
Belgium is renowned for its gastronomy. Be sure to try traditional Belgian dishes like moules-frites (mussels with fries), stoofvlees (beef stew), and carbonade flamande (Flemish beef stew). Pair your meal with a wide selection of Belgian beers, including Trappist and Abbey beers, and end with mouthwatering Belgian chocolates.
Experience the Battlefields of Flanders:
For history enthusiasts, a visit to the Battlefields of Flanders is a must. Discover the poignant World War I sites, such as the Tyne Cot Cemetery and the In Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres, and pay tribute to the fallen soldiers.
Enjoy Festivals and Events:
Belgium is known for its vibrant festival culture. Plan your visit around events like the Ghent Festival (Gentse Feesten), Tomorrowland music festival, or the colorful Carnaval de Binche to immerse yourself in the local traditions and celebrations.
Belgium has a well-connected public transportation system, making it easy to travel between cities. Consider getting a Brussels Card for free entry to museums and unlimited public transportation. English is widely spoken, but learning a few basic phrases in French or Dutch will be appreciated by the locals.
1. Be Prepared for Weather:
Belgium has a temperate maritime climate, which means the weather can be unpredictable. Pack layers and always carry an umbrella or raincoat, especially if you're visiting during the colder months.
2. Public Transportation:
Belgium has an excellent public transportation system, including trains, trams, and buses. Consider getting a MOBIB card for convenient travel between cities and within major urban areas.
Belgium has three official languages: Dutch, French, and German. While English is widely spoken, it's polite to learn a few basic phrases in Dutch or French to show respect for the local culture.
The official currency in Belgium is the Euro (€). It's recommended to have some cash on hand for smaller establishments, as not all places accept credit cards. ATMs are widely available for cash withdrawals.
5. Enjoy Belgian Cuisine:
Indulge in the local culinary delights, such as Belgian waffles, moules-frites (mussels with fries), and Belgian chocolates. Don't forget to pair your meals with a refreshing Belgian beer, known worldwide for its variety and quality.
6. Respect Local Customs:
Belgians value politeness and respect. Greet people with a handshake or a nod, and use "please" (alstublieft) and "thank you" (dank u) when interacting with locals. Respect local customs and traditions, especially when visiting religious sites.
7. Safety Precautions:
Like any other destination, it's important to take necessary safety precautions. Keep an eye on your belongings, especially in crowded tourist areas. Be cautious of pickpockets and avoid walking alone in unfamiliar or poorly lit areas at night.
8. Museum Pass:
If you plan to visit several museums and attractions, consider getting a museum pass like the Brussels Card or the City Card, which offer free or discounted entry to various sites and attractions.
9. Explore Beyond the Cities:
While Brussels, Bruges, and Antwerp are popular tourist destinations, consider venturing off the beaten path to discover lesser-known gems like Ghent, Leuven, and Mechelen. These cities offer stunning architecture, charming canals, and a more relaxed atmosphere.
10. Festivals and Events:
Check the local event calendar for festivals and events happening during your visit. From music festivals to cultural celebrations, Belgium has a vibrant calendar of events that offer a unique glimpse into the local traditions and culture.
Remember to immerse yourself in the local culture, try new experiences, and savor the charm of Belgium. Whether you're exploring historic cities, enjoying mouthwatering cuisine, or marveling at architectural wonders, your trip to Belgium is sure to be a memorable one.
While visiting Belgium, it's important to be aware of certain things you should avoid to ensure a smooth and respectful experience. Here are some "what not to do" tips for tourists:
1. Don't Overlook the Local Customs:
Familiarize yourself with the local customs and traditions. For example, it's considered impolite to interrupt or speak loudly in public places, so try to be mindful of your behavior.
2. Don't Skip the "Golden Rule" of Traffic:
Belgium has strict traffic rules, and jaywalking is not tolerated. Always use designated crosswalks and wait for the pedestrian signal to avoid fines and ensure your safety.
3. Don't Forget to Respect Personal Space:
Belgians value personal space and privacy. Avoid touching people or invading their personal space unless you have established a friendly rapport.
4. Don't Neglect Table Manners:
When dining in Belgium, be aware of table manners. Avoid resting your elbows on the table, refrain from starting to eat before everyone is served, and use utensils rather than eating with your hands unless it's customary for the specific dish.
5. Don't Overlook Local Greetings:
Belgians appreciate polite greetings. When entering a shop or establishment, it's customary to greet the shopkeeper or staff with a simple "hello" or "good day." When leaving, a polite "thank you" or "goodbye" is appreciated.
6. Don't Assume Everyone Speaks English:
While many Belgians speak English, it's always appreciated when tourists make an effort to learn a few basic phrases in Dutch or French, depending on the region you're visiting.
7. Don't Underestimate Train Ticket Validation:
If you're traveling by train, make sure to validate your ticket before boarding. Failure to do so may result in a fine if caught by a ticket inspector.
8. Don't Skip Tipping Etiquette:
Tipping in Belgium is not obligatory but is appreciated for good service. Round up the bill or leave a small tip as a gesture of gratitude.
9. Don't Disregard Recycling Rules:
Belgium has a strict recycling system. Make sure to separate your waste correctly and dispose of it in the designated bins to respect the country's environmental efforts.
10. Don't Miss Out on Exploring Beyond the Cities:
While the cities like Brussels and Bruges are popular destinations, don't limit your exploration to just these places. Belgium has beautiful countryside, charming villages, and lesser-known towns that offer unique experiences. Venture off the beaten path to discover the country's hidden gems.
By being mindful of these "what not to do" tips, you'll ensure a respectful and enjoyable experience during your visit to Belgium. Embrace the local culture, engage with the locals, and make lasting memories in this fascinating European destination.
When visiting Belgium, there are several websites that can assist you in planning your trip and navigating the country. Here are some helpful websites for tourists:
1. Visit Belgium
(https://www.visitbelgium.com): The official tourism website of Belgium provides comprehensive information about the country's attractions, accommodations, events, and practical travel tips.
2. Visit Flanders
(https://www.visitflanders.com): Focused on the Flanders region of Belgium, this website offers detailed information about cities like Brussels, Bruges, Ghent, and Antwerp. It provides insights into local culture, attractions, dining, and accommodations.
3. Wallonia Belgium Tourism
(https://www.belgium-tourism.be): For those interested in exploring the French-speaking Wallonia region, this website offers insights into the region's attractions, outdoor activities, cultural events, and suggested itineraries.
4. Brussels Tourism (https://visit.brussels):
If you're planning to visit Brussels, the capital city of Belgium, this website provides information about the city's landmarks, museums, events, dining options, and practical details like transportation and accommodation.
5. Tourism Bruges
(https://www.visitbruges.be): If you're heading to Bruges, a charming medieval city, this website offers detailed information about the city's attractions, historical sites, museums, events, and suggestions for exploring the city.
6. Visit Antwerp
(https://www.visitantwerpen.be): For travelers interested in visiting Antwerp, the website provides information about the city's art and fashion scene, historical landmarks, museums, shopping districts, and culinary delights.
7. Visit Ghent (https://visit.gent.be):
If Ghent is on your itinerary, this website offers insights into the city's rich history, cultural events, architectural wonders, and local attractions, including the famous Ghent Altarpiece.
8. Visit Leuven (https://www.visitleuven.be):
For those planning to explore Leuven, a vibrant university town, this website provides information about the city's historical sites, breweries, local cuisine, festivals, and recommended activities.
9. Visit Mechelen
(https://www.visitmechelen.be): If you're interested in discovering Mechelen, a charming city known for its historic buildings and cultural heritage, this website offers details about the city's attractions, events, dining options, and local traditions.
These websites provide valuable resources for planning your trip, discovering attractions, finding accommodations, and staying updated on events and activities. They can assist you in making the most of your time in Belgium and ensure a memorable travel experience.
The cost of travel to Belgium can vary depending on various factors such as the duration of your stay, your travel preferences, accommodation choices, dining options, and activities you plan to engage in. Here are some general cost considerations for a 7-day trip to Belgium:
The cost of flights to Belgium will depend on your departure location, the time of year, and how far in advance you book. On average, round-trip flights from the United States to Belgium can range from $500 to $1,500 per person.
The cost of accommodation in Belgium can vary depending on the city and the type of lodging you choose. On average, budget hotels and guesthouses can range from $60 to $120 per night, while mid-range hotels may cost between $120 and $200 per night. Luxury hotels and boutique accommodations can be more expensive, ranging from $200 to $500 or more per night.
Belgium has an efficient public transportation system, including trains, buses, and trams. The cost of transportation within the country will depend on the distance traveled and the mode of transport. A 7-day unlimited travel pass for trains and buses can cost around $100 per person. Taxis and ridesharing services are also available, but they can be more expensive.
4. Food and Dining:
The cost of dining in Belgium can vary depending on the type of restaurant and your food preferences. On average, a meal at an inexpensive restaurant can range from $10 to $20 per person, while a mid-range restaurant can cost between $20 and $40 per person. Fine dining establishments can be more expensive, with prices starting from $40 and going up.
5. Attractions and Activities:
Belgium offers a wide range of attractions and activities, including museums, historical sites, guided tours, and cultural experiences. The cost of these activities can vary, with entrance fees typically ranging from $10 to $20 per person for museums and attractions. Guided tours and special experiences may have higher costs.
6. Miscellaneous Expenses:
It's important to budget for additional expenses such as souvenirs, shopping, and miscellaneous costs like tips, snacks, and local transportation within cities.
Overall, a rough estimate for a 7-day trip to Belgium, including flights, accommodation, meals, transportation, and activities, can range from $1,500 to $3,000 per person or more, depending on your travel style and preferences. It's advisable to research and plan your trip in advance to get a better understanding of the specific costs associated with your desired itinerary.