Ah Belgium: the land of waffles and frites, the sweeping Ardennes and the elegant Grand Place, the European parliament and the ancient Trappist breweries of Wallonia. Sandwiched right in the heart of the so-called Low Countries that hug the North Sea, this multilingual gem of a nation rarely fails to fascinate and enthral. Many travellers head back time and time again, while first-timers are in store for a whirlwind of culinary treats, cultural musts, seriously handsome cityscapes and plenty, plenty more. Check out this Belgium travel guide for a sample itinerary that squeezes the very best out of this historic kingdom, complete with classic chocolatiers, Gothic churches, and more waffles than you can wave a cone of mayo-doused chips at!
The best of Belgium: 12 days
Days 1-2 Brussels
Start off your travels right in the heart of the nation, where Belgium’s financial and economic activity comes to a head and the European parliament now makes its home. On day one, head for the city’s central Old Town area and engage a Brussels tour guide to help unravel the formidable wealth of sites that coalesce around the Baroque cum Gothic Grand Place. Don’t miss the nearby Manneken Pis (hailed by many to be the continent’s most underwhelming statue), or the enticing chocolate boutiques of the Les Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert just to the north. For dinner, stop off at Maison Antoine on Place Jourdan: a spot that’s nothing short of an institution when it comes to classic Belgian frites and a real regular in any Belgium travel guide.
Start day two with a bout of sweet waffles in one of the many cafes that now surround the modernist buildings of the Espace Léopold – the beating heart of Europe. Take a tour of the parliament rooms here to glimpse how the continent’s politics unfold on a day-to-day basis, keeping an eye out for big names and VIPs as you go. Finally, head for the manicured lawns and lanes of the Parc du Cinquantenaire, where the Royal Military Museum rubs shoulders with one gorgeous triumphal arch.
Days 3-4 Antwerp
Emerge from the impossibly wonderful Central Station of Antwerp on day three and head off to discover the Rubenshuis. This wonderful, crenulated building of Flemish design was once the home of the iconic painter Peter Paul Rubens, and now serves as a museum chronicling his life and works. Next, accompany your Antwerp tour guide for a round of the various churches that pepper the centre here, ranging from the magnificent spires of the Cathedral of Our Lady to the almost organic apses of the great Saint Paul's Church. Day two should entail some explorations of Antwerp’s famous docklands – still some of the busiest in the world – a trip to Antwerp Zoo, and, of course, a jaunt through the smoky jazz bars that make this town one of the musts on any music lover’s tour of the Low Countries.
Days 5-6 Ghent
Sat where the Scheldt meets the Leie, Ghent remains an unmissable stop-off in the midst of Flemish Belgium. In a town curiously untrodden by tourists, visitors here can spy out the likes of the Gravensteen Castle, a chocolate box of canal-side architecture (check out the Graslei for some of the best) and oodles of medieval belfries and Gothic spires. Start with a walking tour around the old town here, casing out the dual churches of Saint-Nicholas and the Saint Bavo Cathedral, before hitting the cutting-edge Zebrastraat and the totemic exhibitions of the Museum of Fine Arts, complete with the likes of Rubens and Bosch to name just two.
Days 7-8 Bruges
Next up is impossibly beautiful medieval Bruges, a jewel in the crown of northern Belgium that is blessed with arguably the best-restored medieval old town in Europe. Today, travellers here can start the day seeking out the mysterious relics at the Basilica of the Holy Blood (thought to contain a vail of Christ’s congealed blood), munch mouth-watering Belgian chips from street stalls on the Market Place for lunch, and finish by joining a Bruges tour guide on a journey through the Renaissance artworks of the Gruuthusemuseum. Also be sure to take a canal ride, and go on the In Bruges tour, which follows filming locations used in the 2008 film by Martin McDonagh.
Day 9 Ostend
Day nine means a breath of fresh North Sea air, with the bustling port town and self-proclaimed Queen of Beaches on the menu. Boasting a cocktail of chic, modern architecture and classic, regal charm, Ostend is a medley of the Belle Époque and Art Deco; a city forged by the patronage of the Belgian royals and moneyed visitors looking for a vacationing spot on the sands. Forget moules frites here, because crab claws take centre stage on the seaside promenade, while pancake stalls smother their creations in trademark Belgian chocolate. Maritime history buffs will feel right at home too, when their Ostend tour guide takes them on a visit to the Mercator naval ship and the crumbling remnants of the Atlantic Wall built by the Nazis.
Day 10 Ypres
Day 10 takes travellers to the heart of the Flanders Fields, where the city of Ypres remains one of the starkest and most sobering reminders of one of Europe’s darkest hours. From the earliest years of World War I, this town on the edge of the French border was the site of some of the fiercest battles and exchanges in the conflict that tore the Low Countries and Belgium apart. Unravel the tumultuous history of the city, as your battlefield guide (https://www.tourhq.com/belgium/ypres-tours-guide) leads you through sections of the famous trench lines, military cemeteries and the acclaimed In Flanders Fields Museum.
Day 11-12 Rochefort and the Ardennes
From Ypres the itinerary moves south to the sprawling province of Wallonia and the ancient town of Rochefort. Famed for its deep grottos and iconic Trappist abbey, this one offers up prehistory and some of Belgium’s finest beers. Start with a trip to the caves, and wonder at the colossal stalactites and stalagmites that protrude from the caverns by their hundreds. Then, head out to taste the produce of the monks: frothy Belgian brews still cooked up using medieval methods and practices.
Finally, finish your tour of Belgium by waxing up the walking boots and going for a hiking trip in the Ardennes. This sweeping land of forests and hills forms the border region with all of Luxembourg, Germany and France, and boasts dense oak woods, the winding courses of the Meuse and Moselle and some of the continent’s best managed walking trails to boot.
‘Rich’ as he’s known to most was born in not-so-sunny Swansea, South Wales, where he grew up loving sea, sand and surf. He has since moved to Poland in an attempt to fulfil his insatiable wanderlust for everything Eastern Europe. He’s travelled extensively in Asia and Europe and now runs a local travel portal.
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