Belgium Travel Guide: Essential Tips for Visitors

Belgium Travel Guide: Essential Tips for Visitors

Belgium Travel Guide: Key Tips Before Your Trip

WRITTEN BYLorraine Giron
PUBLISHED ONFebruary 12, 2024

Excited to wander through Belgium’s lively cities with their stunning Art Nouveau buildings? How about exploring its peaceful countryside filled with medieval castles? This country is as irresistible as its renowned chocolates.

Before heading to Belgium and experiencing the best things to do in Belgium, you must know key information for a truly memorable trip. This includes learning about local customs, the weather, and must-visit spots.

Dive into this guide and discover every delightful aspect of this European gem.

Preparing for Belgium

Visa Requirements

Before you visit Belgium, check if you need a Schengen visa based on where you live. Also, your passport should be good for three months more than your trip time.

If, by luck, you don’t need a visa, check out the Belgium Embassy’s website to know how long you can stay without one. Some travelers can visit Belgium for up to 90 days without a visa. This depends on your home country’s agreement with the Schengen Area.

Currency Essentials

Belgium uses the Euro (EUR) as its official currency. Let your bank know about your travel plans to help you with currency exchange. They can also help you prevent card issues abroad.

We advise that you carry some cash, too. Small vendors and unexpected situations often require cash payments in Belgium.

Language Basics

Dutch, French, and German are primarily spoken in Belgium. English is common in tourist spots. Try to learn basic phrases in Dutch or French like “hello” (hallo/bonjour) and “thank you” (dank u/merci).

Installing a translation app can be very helpful, too. This will make it easier when talking with locals who may not speak English well.

Transportation Options

Getting around by train? Consider buying a Belgian Rail Pass. For city travel, public bikes or scooters are great options. In rural areas, renting a car gives you more freedom to explore at your own pace.

Understanding Belgian Culture

Local Customs

In Belgium, greetings vary depending on how well you know someone. A firm handshake is common when meeting for the first time. If you’re friends, a cheek kiss might happen instead.

Remember this at dinner parties or gatherings: don’t start eating until the host does. This shows respect and good manners. Also, Belgians value peace at night. Keep it down after 10 PM to respect their quiet hours.

Cultural Dos and Don’ts

Being on time matters in Belgium. Whether it’s a business meeting or coffee with friends, arrive at the time you agreed. More importantly, punctuality shows that you respect other people’s time.

Talking about politics can be tricky here. Avoid making jokes about the differences between Flanders and Wallonia. Don’t make jokes unless you are well-informed about the topic.

When trying Belgian food or drinks, show your gratitude if someone shares their local favorites with you.

City Transit

Getting around Belgium’s cities is easy. Buses and trams are common modes of transportation. A contactless payment card is used to pay for rides. This means you can tap your card and go.

If you’re planning to travel often, think about getting tickets that let you take many trips for one cost. This way, you can see all the amazing places in Belgium without missing anything!

Traveling during rush hours can be busy. The morning rush hour is usually from around 7:00 AM to 9:00 AM, and the evening rush hour is from about 4:00 PM to 6:30 PM. These times can vary slightly depending on the specific city or region within Belgium. Larger cities like Brussels, Antwerp, and Ghent often experience more significant congestion.

Regional Travel

If you plan to see different cities in Belgium, consider a regional train pass. These passes offer deals for traveling between cities.

Booking high-speed trains early often gets better prices, too. Don’t wait until the last minute, as it might cost more.

For short trips in the region, think about car-sharing services. Many locals use them for quick travels.

Key Driving Regulations in Belgium

Considering renting a car to explore the best places to visit in Belgium? Here are some of the essential driving rules you need to keep in mind:

1. Drive on the Right: Like most European countries, in Belgium, you must drive on the
right-hand side of the road.

2. Speed Limits: Speed limits vary depending on the area: 120 km/h on motorways, 90
km/h on other main roads outside urban areas, and 50 km/h in built-up areas. Some
residential zones have a 30 km/h limit.

3. Seat Belts: Seat belt use is mandatory for all passengers in front and back seats.

4. Drink Driving: Belgium has strict drink-driving laws, with a legal blood alcohol limit of
0.05%. Penalties for exceeding this limit can be severe.

5. Priority to the Right: Vehicles from the right generally have the right of way unless
otherwise indicated by road signs.

6. Use of Mobile Phones: Using a handheld mobile phone while driving is illegal.
Hands-free devices are permitted.

7. Environmental Zones: Some Belgian cities have low emission zones (LEZ). Check if
your vehicle is allowed in these areas to avoid fines.

If you’re from outside the EU, an International Driving Permit in Belgium is crucial when renting a car. Here’s why:

  • Legal Requirement: Is your national driver’s license not in one of the EU’s official languages? Then, getting an IDP is advisable to rent a car and drive.
  • Ease of Communication: The IDP translates your national driver’s license into multiple languages. It makes it easier for local authorities to verify your driving credentials.
  • Car Rental Companies: Most car rental agencies in Belgium will request an IDP along with your national driver’s license.
  • Avoiding Penalties: Driving without an IDP (when required) can lead to fines or complications with local authorities.

You can secure an IDP from your home country before traveling to Belgium. You can apply through:

  • National mobile associations or
  • Third-party organizations like the International Drivers Association

For more information, you can check out our Belgium Driving Guide.

Belgian Cuisine

Dining Etiquette

Apart from savoring Belgian delights, knowing the local dining etiquette is key. One important tip: the service charge is usually included in your bill. However, it’s nice to round up the total as a gesture of appreciation. For example, if your meal costs €19.50, you might leave €20.

You should use utensils for almost all dishes. Yes, this includes even when eating fries, a national favorite. This shows respect and good manners at the dining table in Belgium. Remember to place your napkin on your lap right after sitting down to show you’re ready to start your meal.

Must-Try Belgian Treats

Belgium offers some amazing treats that you must try during your visit. First on the list are Belgian waffles found at street vendors across cities like Brussels and Bruges. They’re perfect for breakfast or as a snack while exploring.

Sampling authentic Belgian chocolate directly from local chocolatiers is an absolute must-do. The quality and variety will amaze you compared to what’s commercially available.

Lastly, don’t miss out on traditional dishes such as stoofvlees (a hearty beef stew), often served with crispy golden fries – yes fries again! It’s one of those comfort foods that truly represents Belgian culinary tradition.

Weather and Packing

Seasonal Tips

The weather in Belgium can shift rapidly. You might see the sun, rain, and clouds all day. It’s smart to pack an umbrella and wear layers. This way, you stay dry and can add or remove clothes as needed.

Spring is a special time in Belgium. Flowers bloom everywhere, making cities like Brussels beautiful. There are also fun festivals to enjoy during these months. If you visit then, bring clothes for both warm and cool days.

Winter in Belgium gets cold! But it’s still a great time to go because of the cozy Christmas markets in towns across the country. Pack warm coats, hats, gloves, and scarves for those chilly winter days.

Consider the country’s seasons when planning the best time to visit Belgium.

What to Wear

Dining out after enjoying Belgian waffles from your last meal? Dress nicely for the setting but keep comfort in mind—think smart-casual attire. It shows respect for local customs at restaurants or events.

You’ll walk a lot on cobbled streets that are pretty but tough on feet if you’re not wearing good shoes. Make sure your shoes are comfy so you can explore without sore feet!

And here’s another tip: always have a raincoat or waterproof jacket with you no matter what season it is in Belgium—it rains quite often!

Safety and Health

Emergency Services

It’s crucial to stay safe while traveling in Belgium. If you face an emergency, dial 112 immediately. This number connects you with the police, fire brigade, or medical services.

Find the nearest hospital or pharmacy before heading out, especially to remote areas. Knowing this beforehand is better than searching during an urgent situation.

Also, keep your embassy’s contact information on hand while traveling. They can help if you have serious problems far from home.

Travel Insurance

When planning your trip to Belgium, don’t forget about travel insurance. Ensure your policy covers health issues and the loss or theft of belongings.

Planning fun activities like cycling through Bruges or hiking in the Ardennes? Check if these are included in your coverage, too.

Make sure to have digital versions of your insurance papers saved on your phone. This is helpful in case you lose the original documents.

Communication Essentials

Mobile Connectivity

When you land in Belgium, mobile connectivity is one of the first things to sort out. Buying a local SIM card at airports or kiosks can save you money. It’s much cheaper than roaming charges. Before you travel, check if your phone works with European networks.

You can find top-up credit easily. They sell it at supermarkets and online too.

Internet Access

In Belgium, staying connected online is easy. You’ll often find free Wi-Fi in cafes, hotels, and public spaces. But remember to stay safe online—using a VPN for protection is smart if needed.

If you plan to go beyond the large cities and always want to stay connected to the internet, consider getting a mobile Wi-Fi gadget.

Be careful with data privacy when using open networks.

Unique Belgian Experiences

Festivals and Events

Belgium is a country that loves to celebrate, and you can join in the fun. Major events take place throughout the year. You might want to plan your trip around Brussels’ Flower Carpet or Antwerp’s Summer Festival. These are not just ordinary events but unique experiences that will make your trip memorable.

  • The Brussels’ Flower Carpet is an event where thousands of flowers create a stunning design in the Grand Place.
  • Antwerp’s Summer Festival fills the city with music, theatre, and dance performances.

If you visit during these times, remember to book accommodations early. Events like Carnival de Binche or Gentse Feesten draw huge crowds. Booking ahead ensures you have a place to stay.

When participating in festivals:

  • Respect local traditions.
  • Participate appropriately

Historical Sites

Belgium has a rich history captured in its many historical sites. UNESCO World Heritage Sites like the Grand Place in Brussels should be on your list. The Belfries of Belgium and France offer glimpses into medieval times.

Here’s what you need to visit:

1. Check opening hours, as many sites close on Mondays or public holidays.

2. Plan guided tours at places like Gravensteen Castle, which offers them in English,
among other languages.

You’ll find yourself stepping back into history at these well-preserved locations:

  • Walk through centuries-old squares.
  • Marvel at towering belfries across various cities.

Shopping in Belgium

Local Markets

Belgium offers a unique shopping experience with its local markets. Here, you can taste and buy local produce that’s often fresher and more flavorful than you might find in stores.

The Marché du Midi in Brussels is a must-visit, which comes alive every Sunday. It’s one of the largest markets where locals gather to sell fruits, vegetables, cheeses, and other delicacies.

Remember to wake up early for these markets as they typically open at dawn and close by early afternoon. This way, you ensure you have enough time to explore all the stalls.

Another spot worth checking out is the Brussels Jeu de Balle flea market. It is known locally as Vossenplein. Here, you can find antiques and second-hand items that could be perfect souvenirs or gifts.

VAT Refunds

If you love shopping, there’s good news: Belgium offers a great deal. If you’re not from the EU, you can get some of your money back on items you buy. Remember to save all your receipts for things that cost more than €50. You’ll need these when you ask for your money back at the airport before you go home.

To make this process smoother, search for Global Blue service desks in big shopping areas like Ghent before you leave Europe. They can help you get your refund set up right. Make sure to keep your bought items ready to show customs officials at the airport if they ask to see them.

Here are the steps to claim your VAT refund:

1. Save all purchase receipts over €50.

2. Visit a Global Blue desk before exiting the EU.

3. Walk through centuries-old squares.

  • Marvel at towering belfries across various cities.Show goods if requested by customs during the inspection.

Get Ready for an Unforgettable Belgium Trip

Visiting Belgium means stepping into a world of rich culture, delicious food, and fascinating history.

As you finalize your plans, keep these tips in mind. Thinking about exploring more freely? Renting a car and getting an International Driving Permit could be your ticket to an unforgettable Belgian adventure. Start planning today!

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