Best Things to Do in Belgium

Best Things to Do in Belgium

Your Guide to Belgium's Best Things to Do

Photo by Héctor Martínez on Unsplash
WRITTEN BYBryan Jacinto
PUBLISHED ONNovember 27, 2023
Misty Forest Path With Walkers

Have you ever considered visiting Belgium’s stunning country but still trying to figure out what to do there? Don’t worry! This guide will help you explore this fantastic place.

Jam-packed with all the must-see historical sites, festive events, and world-renowned museums, your journey in Belgium will surely be unforgettable. Not only that, but we’ve also taken it a step further by covering crucial information for your visit, such as the importance of having an International Driving Permit.

Ready to begin? Let’s explore the stunning scenery and vast history that Belgium has to offer!

Historical and Archaeological Sites

Belgium, a perfect mix of history and modernity, is full of historical and archaeological sites that transport you to the past. Take advantage of the medieval fortresses and ancient ruins. Here are a few top spots:

  • Gravensteen Castle (Ghent): This striking medieval fortress, featuring a mote, towers, and a torture museum, offers an insightful look into the country’s history.
  • The Battlefields of Waterloo (near Brussels): Traverse the vast fields where Napoleon Bonaparte met his defeat in 1815. Don’t miss the Lion’s Mound, a significant memorial on the battlefield.
  • The Cathedral of Our Lady (Antwerp): Stunning Gothic architecture and revered artworks, including pieces by Rubens, await in this monumental cathedral.
  • The Archaeological Site of Spiennes (Mons): This UNESCO World Heritage site is home to some of Europe’s oldest mines, providing a unique insight into prehistoric times.

Festivals and Events

Color Festival Crowd

Photo by Maxime Bhm on Unsplash

Belgium is your dream destination if you delight in local festivities, gatherings, and celebrations. It offers numerous festivals and events throughout the year, catering to various interests. Here are some that you cannot miss:

  • Carnival de Binche: This event is recognized by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Taking place in February or March, it features stunning mask and costume displays.
  • Flower Carpet: Witness an ethereal display of flowers designed in a pattern at the Grand Place in Brussels. This blooming spectacle is hosted every two years in August.
  • Ghent Festival (Gentse Feesten): A music and theatre festival that spans over ten days in mid-July. An extravaganza that transforms the city of Ghent into a vibrant scene of cultural activities and performances.
  • Tomorrowland: One of the world’s largest and most notable music festivals in Boom, Belgium. It features electronic music and takes place annually in late July.
  • Christmas Market (Plaisirs d’Hiver): From late November till January, experience Belgium’s winter magic through ice-skating rinks, sparkling decorations, and local food stalls scattered around the city centers.

While these are just a few, you’ll find Belgium brimming with local celebrations and heartwarming traditions throughout the year. When planning your trip, consider the best time to visit Belgium to enjoy these events and the country’s overall charm fully. It’s critical to check the dates in advance as the scheduling of these events might vary.

Art and Museums

Belgium is brimming with impressive art and museums that cater to diverse tastes and interests. If you’re an art lover, here are some must-visit spots:

  • Royal Museums of Fine Arts: Located in the heart of Brussels, these museums house over 20,000 pieces of art dating from the 15th to the 21st century. You’ll find an impressive collection of Flemish Art, including works by Rubens and Bruegel the Elder.
  • Magritte Museum: If surrealism is more your thing, this museum in Brussels, dedicated to the world-renowned surrealist artist René Magritte, is a must-visit.
  • Musée Hergé: For those who grew up on Tintin comics, this magnetic attraction located in Louvain-la-Neuve offers a journey through the life of Belgian cartoonist Hergé.
  • Museum of the City of Brussels: Explore the rich history and culture of Brussels through its artifacts, costumes, models, and paintings, all housed in a beautiful medieval setting of the Grand Place.
  • MU.ZEE: Situated in the coastal town of Ostend, this museum offers contemporary Belgian artworks from 1830 to the present.

Remember, these are just a few of Belgium’s fantastic art and museum experiences. Each city has its unique cultural treasures to uncover.

Natural Wonders

Belgium may be tiny, but it’s brimming with striking natural scenes that you will find mesmerizing. Here are a few wonders you shouldn’t miss out on:

  • The High Fens-Eifel Nature Park: Encompassing Belgium’s largest upland area, its verdant hills, deep valleys, and unique raised bogs create a stunning contrast, encouraging hiking and birdwatching.
  • The Caves of Han: A captivating underground network of limestone formations lit to highlight their beauty: A truly enthralling sight!
  • The Ardennes: Known as Belgium’s wild heart, this forested plateau is a feast for the eyes, with deep valleys, slow-moving rivers, and picturesque villages.
  • The Sonian Forest: A verdant oasis near Brussels, ideal for tranquil walks, cycles, or even aimless wanderings amidst wildlife.
  • Coastlines of the North Sea: The sandy beaches stretching 67 km, punctuated with captivating dune landscapes and bustling seaside towns, offer scenic views and a touch of Belgian coastal culture.

From captivating caves to serene forests, these natural wonders impart a unique facet of Belgium’s diverse landscape and rank among the best places to visit in Belgium. They provide a beautiful retreat into nature’s arms amidst your urban explorations in this enchanting country.

Outdoor Activities

Let’s get outside! Belgium is not just about cultural sights and mouthwatering waffles; it’s also an excellent destination for outdoor activities. Here’s a list of recommendations for you:

  • Canal Cycling: Experience Belgium’s picturesque landscapes through a biking tour around its pristine canals. Cycling routes like the Brussels Green Belt and the Flemish Brabant are perfect for this.
  • Kayak in the Ardennes: The Ardennes offers beautiful, tranquil rivers perfect for kayaking. The Ourthe and Semois rivers are highly recommended.
  • Wildlife spotting at Hoge Kempen National Park: This park is home to diverse wildlife and offers several walking and biking trails. It is an excellent place for birdwatching, too.
  • Hiking in the High Fens: This nature reserve provides breathtaking views and challenging hiking trails that can include boardwalk paths over its iconic peat bogs.
  • Beach activities at the Belgian Coast: Belgium boasts a 70-km stretch of sandy beaches perfect for horse-riding, kite-surfing, or simply sunbathing.

No matter what your preference is, Belgium has abundant outdoor activities for everyone. So, make sure to pack your adventure gear for your next trip!

Shopping and Fashion

Belgium, famously known for its unique fashion trend and bustling shopping districts, offers you the opportunity to experience the best European shopping. Here are some suggestions:

  • Antwerp’s Fashion District: Renowned as the heart of Belgian fashion, this is a must-visit spot. Here, you can discover the works of the celebrated ‘Antwerp Six’ designers, get your hands on trendy clothing pieces, and explore a blend of high-end stores and vintage shops.
  • Brussels’ Dansaert: A trendy district where you can find exclusive Belgian designers’ wares. The area is filled with boutiques featuring local talent, ensuring a unique shopping experience.
  • Marolles Flea Market, Brussels: For eclectic and vintage items, visit the Marolles Flea Market. Open daily, it’s a treasure trove of antique goodies, second-hand items, and curiosities. Go early for the best finds!
  • Belgian lace: Belgium’s lace is world-renowned for its exceptional quality and intricate designs. Visit Bruges or Brussels to buy handcrafted pieces as souvenirs or gifts.
  • Belgian chocolate shops: Your trip is complete with tasting and buying world-famous Belgian chocolates. Shops like Neuhaus, Leonidas, and Godiva offer delectable treats that can be perfect gifts for your loved ones back home.

Remember, no matter where you shop, always respect the local customs and enjoy every second of your shopping expedition in Belgium.

Local Cuisine

Only leave Belgium to indulge in its delightful culinary scene. Here’s a peek at some must-try local dishes:

  • Chocolates: Belgium is famed for its chocolates, and there’s a reason why. Treat yourself to an assortment of delectables from world-class chocolatiers, from pralines to truffles.
  • Waffles: Whether you prefer them dense and sugary (Liege-style) or light and crispy (Brussels-style), Belgian waffles are a must-try. Add a whipped cream or fresh fruit dollop for a sweet breakfast or dessert.
  • Frites: Commonly mistaken as French fries, Belgian frites are thicker, double-fried, and served in a paper cone with various delicious sauces.
  • Beer: With more than 1,000 varieties, Belgian beer is legendary. Visit traditional breweries or enjoy a local pint in one of the countless beer pubs scattered across the country.
  • Seafood: In maritime cities like Ostend and Antwerp, savor the day’s fresh catch or indulge in a bowl of moules-frites (mussels and fries).
  • Belgian Stews: Slow-cooked to perfection, Belgian stews like carbonnade flamande (beer-braised beef) and waterzooi (chicken or fish stew) provide a comforting and hearty meal.

Belgium’s culinary offerings reflect its rich history and diverse cultural influences. So, as you explore the country’s beautiful regions, take your taste buds on an adventure and sample the exquisite local cuisine. Experience Belgian cuisine’s full spectrum of flavors from some of the best restaurants to check out in Belgium.

Cultural Insights

Vibrant and picturesque, Belgium offers a captivating blend of old and new. Dive in and explore its cultural richness:

  • Language: Belgium is multilingual, with Dutch (Flemish), French, and German as official languages. Knowing a few basic phrases can help break the ice with the locals.
  • Social Customs: Belgians are known for their humility and politeness. It’s customary to exchange greetings and respect personal space and privacy.

So, in Belgium, soak in the culture and let the country’s charm make your journey unforgettable.

Transportation Options

Belgium’s dense public transportation network offers a seamless, user-friendly way to explore this diverse and beautiful country. Whether traveling between major cities or venturing to lesser-known areas, you’ll appreciate the efficiency and convenience of the available travel options. Here are the primary forms of transport you can utilize in Belgium:

  • Trains: The extensive Belgian rail system reaches even the most remote locations. It offers an efficient, economical way to travel across the country.
  • Buses: Particularly in rural areas, buses offer a great alternative to trains, providing services where rail networks may not reach.
  • Trams: Primarily found in cities, trams provide a quick and efficient means of navigating urban landscapes.
  • Taxis and Rideshares: Uber operates in many Belgian cities. Traditional taxis are also widely available for quick trips or when public transport isn’t convenient.
  • Bicycle: Belgium is exceptionally bike-friendly, with comprehensive cycling lanes and bike hire services widely available in urban and scenic areas.
  • Car Rentals: Numerous international and local car rental agencies are available in Belgium for those who prefer self-driving. Remember to familiarize yourself with local driving laws and requirements specific to driving in Belgium.

Safety Considerations

Belgium is generally a safe destination for travelers. However, as with any location worldwide, being mindful of certain safety aspects can make your trip more enjoyable and free from undue stress.

Below, we’ve compiled a few safety considerations to remember while traversing this vibrant European nation.

  • Due to pickpocketing risks, be vigilant in populated areas such as tourist attractions and public transportation.
  • Ensure you carry a copy of your important documents, like your passport, ID, and travel insurance.
  • Emergency numbers in Belgium are 112 for general emergencies and 101 for police. Save these numbers in your phone for easy access if needed.
  • Although English is commonly spoken, it’s helpful to have key phrases in Dutch, French, or German, depending on your area.
  • Use navigation technology sparingly in public to avoid looking like a tourist and attracting unwanted attention.

Remember, it’s always better to be overly cautious when traveling in a new country. Stay alert, stay safe, and soak up all of Belgium’s offerings.

Visa Requirements

As a traveler, understanding the visa requirements for your destination is crucial for a seamless journey. Visa rules differ based on your country of origin and intended length of stay. For Belgium, here’s a brief, concise rundown of what you need to know:

  • Schengen Visa: If you’re a non-EU citizen and planning to stay in Belgium or any other Schengen country for up to 90 days, you’ll likely need a Schengen visa. Always check the guidelines according to your nationality.
  • National Long-Stay Visa: A national long-stay visa is necessary if your stay exceeds 90 days. The process includes proving you have adequate financial resources and medical insurance coverage.
  • Transit Visa: A transit visa may be required if you’re transiting through Belgium to reach another non-Schengen country.
  • Visa Exemption: Nationals from several countries, including the US, Australia, Canada, and Japan, do not require a visa for short-term travel to Belgium.

It’s essential to contact your nearest Belgian consulate or embassy to get the most accurate and up-to-date information on visa requirements. Initiating your visa process well before your travel dates is vital.

Importance of an International Driving Permit (IDP) in Belgium

An International Driving Permit is more than just a helpful document; it is a crucial passport to road travel throughout Belgium. As you venture out to explore the pastoral landscapes, cityscapes, and all that lies in between in this beautiful country, possessing an IDP for Belgium can ensure your journey is as smooth and hassle-free as it is enjoyable. This permit provides numerous advantages, such as:

  • Instant approval, allowing you to kick-start your international road trip almost immediately after application.
  • A fast and easy application process, devoid of complex paperwork and with a straightforward online form to fill out.
  • Validity ranges from 1 to 3 years, fitting conveniently within the time frame your travel plans require.
  • The freedom to legally drive overseas gives you the independence and flexibility that is often lacking in traditional travel methods.
  • The permit is translated into 12 languages, easing communication barriers abroad.
  • Your IDP will be recognized in over 150 countries, making it a versatile document for travel beyond Belgium.
  • The option for worldwide express shipping ensures that your IDP arrives swiftly and securely wherever you are.

Familiar roads can often lead to the same old destinations. An IDP allows you to break free from those well-trod paths, thoroughly enriching your experience in Belgium and beyond. Don’t let the absence of an IDP hold back your travel plans. Embrace the freedom and peace of mind it offers, and explore Belgium to your heart’s content.

Closing Thoughts

Belgium should be your next stop if you want a place with a rich history, diverse culture, delicious food, and stunning nature. As a traveler, you’ll not just have an enjoyable journey, but you’ll also discover new things about yourself.

In Belgium, you can hear history from ancient monuments, experience art in museums, and witness the beauty of the outdoors. So whether you’re into history, food, art, or adventure, there’s something in Belgium for you.

Having an International Driving Permit in Belgium will significantly enhance your travel in the country, allowing you to explore its beautiful landscapes easily. Remember to follow local driving rules to ensure a safe journey. Now that you’re equipped with this insider’s guide to Belgium, you can start planning your amazing trip.

Remember to share this article with your fellow travel enthusiasts if you found it helpful. They might also be looking for a comprehensive guide about Belgium’s best things to do.

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