Visiting Belgium, one of Europe’s most overlooked countries, is a remarkable experience full of quaint villages, historic cities, striking architecture, scrumptious chocolate, and tasty beers. All just waiting to be explored … and sampled!
Check out our top must-try experiences when visiting Belgium:
It’s no secret that we love tasting the local beer wherever we travel but Belgium has an abundance of delicious beers to choose from, many with long histories and captivating stories. You’ll find a wide variety of Belgian dubbels, triples, dark strong ales, saisons, and lambics. Though Belgian brewers love to carry on long-standing traditions, there is also an ever-growing craft beer scene in the more urban areas that are worth a try as well. So pull up a stool at one of the numerous beer bars or grab a table at a beer-focused restaurant, and sample to your taste buds’ content.
Considered some of the finest chocolate in the world, Belgian chocolate is sure to satisfy anyone’s sweet tooth. With around 2,000 chocolate shops throughout the country, you’ll have no problem finding your way to this sweet treat. But don’t just stop into one, typically each shop has a few specialties they are known for. Make sure to ask your friendly chocolatier behind the counter to make sure you’re getting the best chocolate experience possible.
WWI Historic Sites
The city of Ypres (pronounced Ee-Pra) has been an important city in Belgium since the Middle Ages where it was a flourishing trade center and textile hub. The surrounding area holds many cemeteries, war memorials, and war museums in honor of the battles that unfolded in this area during World War I. Ypres itself held a strategic position during WWI as it stood in the way of Germany’s planned path across the rest of Belgium and into France. Germany surrounded the city on three sides, bombarding it throughout much of the war and reducing the town to rubble including some of its most beautiful, ancient buildings. The citizens of Ypres decided to preserve their history rather than rebuild their city using more modern designs and replicated the buildings that were lost. Your eyes will be deceived when visiting the main square of Ypres as the ancient cloth hall may look like it was built in the 1200s (pictured above) but it was really just painstakingly rebuilt and finished in 1967. There are countless other historic sites throughout Belgium that would keep any history buff happy.
Belgium is home to incredible works of architecture throughout the country. Brussels alone offers a wide variety of architectural styles ranging from Modern to NeoClassical to Romanesque and more. The Grand Place, the central square of Brussels, (bottom left in the photo above) is a UNESCO World Heritage site and was originally built in the 15th century. Presently, it’s a wonderful hodge-podge of Gothic, Baroque, NeoClassical and NeoGothic due to the original buildings being damaged or destroyed by the French army in 1695. In contrast, the Atomium (bottom right in the photo above) is an incredibly modern and unique building. It was constructed for the opening of the World Expo 1958 and symbolizes the atomic age and the peaceful use of nuclear energy. But let’s not leave out the Antwerp Central Railway Station (top image in the photo above) as it was named the most beautiful railway station in the world in 2014. It is another eclectic building that combines a few different styles, including NeoRenaissance with Art Nouveau decorations.
Savory or sweet, you can’t beat a toasty warm Belgian waffle. Served mostly as street food and typically not laden with a pile of toppings as you might see it in the States, the waffle is one of Belgium’s most famous culinary contributions. There are technically two types of Belgian waffles – the Liege waffle and the Brussels waffle. The Liege waffle is made with a special kind of sugar called pearl sugar giving it deliciously crunchy caramelized bits. The Brussels waffle (the version most Americans think of when they hear “Belgian waffle”) is the light, fluffy, and buttery version of this doughy treat.
With a vast network of easy to navigate bike paths taking you from city streets to seaside paths to country trails, explore Belgium like a local by hopping on a bike. In the northern part of the country, there is an extensive trail system that is marked at each intersection of the cycle paths with a unique number. Signs, like the one pictured above, point you in the direction of the next numbered sign/intersection. Once you get the hang of it, it is quite easy to navigate. Just look at the map, decide your route, note down the numbers and then follow the well-marked signs. It’s basically like biking by numbers!
Fries – one of Belgium’s most well-known delicacies. Most Americans might assume that the tasty fried potato treat can be traced back to France since we usually call them “french fries”. But rumor has it that during WWI, American soldiers were introduced to fries while stationed in Belgium but they incorrectly assumed they were in France since the locals spoke French! Belgians typically enjoy their fries served as a side dish with mayo for dipping. But fries are also considered a good “working man’s lunch” as they are a hearty, filling meal that could be purchased inexpensively. Frankly, it would be quite tough to spend more than a day in Belgium and not at least have the option to have a side of delicious fries.