So far, Belgium’s always been my home. I was born and raised here, obwent to university here, found my first job here and then quit my job to become a freelance travel writer and blogger.
I haven’t left Belgium to go traveling full time, though.
With such a big world out there it’s easy to forget the amazing things that surround us. We travel to other countries because they seem interesting, forgetting that they’re also “just” the home of so many people. So I decided to explore more of Belgium and share with you why I think you should travel here, where I think you should go and what I think you should do when you’re here.
This is quite a long page (2.000+ words!), filled with all the information you need to plan your trip to or through Belgium. To make it easy for you to find what you’re looking for, I’ve divided the page into several sections. Just click whatever interests you most or get the full lowdown by reading from top to bottom.
Size: 30,528 km² or 11,787 sq mi
People living there: more than 11 million
in Flanders: West Flanders, East Flanders, Antwerp, Flemish Brabant and Limburg.
in Wallonia: Hainaut, Brabant Wallon, Belgian Luxemburg, Namur and Liège.
Language and political structure:
Belgium’s language and political structure is complicated, so I’ve tried to clarify it in the following video:
(You can also watch this video directly on YouTube)
Belgian weather can never be trusted, but the nicest time of the year is usually in June, July and September. For some reason, August is often rainy, as are the spring and autumn months. Winters can get a bit chilly, but it doesn’t often freeze during the day and it usually doesn’t snow for more than a week or two a year – if it snows at all.
Just make sure to always pack an umbrella, whatever time of the year you decide to come.
You can check the weather report on the website of the Royal Meteorological Institute.
Brussels International Airport welcomes passengers from all around the world and connects them with the rest of the country by train, bus and taxi. People sometimes make a little detour to Charleroi (optimistically called “Brussels South”) so that they can fly with budget airline Ryanair, but recently Ryanair also started flying to and from Brussels (not yet from/to all of their destinations, though).
Alternatively, European travelers can take the Eurostar from London or the Thalys from Paris or Amsterdam. Of course, you can also make use of the regular national railroads between countries and check B-Europe for the best route to take.
The NMBS/SNCB trains provide the best option to move between cities and buses from De Lijn (in Flanders), the MIVB (in Brussels) and TEC (in Wallonia) will easily take you to smaller destinations.Belgium is a small country and the highways are often congested. Renting a car isn’t recommended unless you plan on staying in a small village with hard access to public transport.
Belgium is a small country and the highways are often congested. Renting a car isn’t recommended unless you plan on staying in a small village with hard access to public transport.
Taxis are an option, but not really if you don’t want to spend a lot of money. A 15-minute drive can easily cost you €30.
The language situation in Belgium is a bit complicated. It’s true that in some towns around the language barrier (and not even only there) people won’t be pleased if you use the “wrong” language, but in general Belgians are very flexible when it comes to speaking other languages and we’ll quickly switch to the other person’s language, especially when we notice that person is from out of the country.
You’ll easily get around in Flanders by using English. It might be a bit harder in Wallonia, but you’ll almost always find someone to help you out. Brussels is special. It’s a very multicultural city and a lot of the families living there speak several languages. On the other hand, there are still a lot of families in Brussels who only speak French and French is more present than Dutch is. But don’t worry: you’ll definitely get by using English in Brussels.
And of course we cannot forget that small part in the southern east of Belgium where the official language is German. You’ll probably have a better chance here with French, but you can always try English as well.
When it comes to socializing, there’s quite the difference between the northern and the southern part of the country. When I worked at the Belga Press Agency, my French speaking colleagues would give each other a kiss when arriving at the office, while my Flemish colleagues would shake hands. That about says it all.
Of course, this is a generalization, but I think you could say that the people from the south are a bit warmer and more open than the people from the northern part of Belgium. We all have cliques and groups we belong to and for an outsider it’s not always easy to become part of such a group.
If you want to meet Belgians, I’d say the best approach is to just walk up to them because the chances of us walking up to a stranger are rather slim (again, generalizing here).
As long as roaming charges are around, calling and texting while abroad can be rather expensive. If you’re only here for a short period of time, I’d try to avoid it and use wi-fi in your hotel or at bars and restaurants to send emails or skype.
Belgium is a Western European country with Western European prices. It’s not as expensive here as in England or France, but you’ll have to look around to find a cheap meal. Of course all depends on where in Belgium you’re traveling too. Smaller towns are always cheaper, places near touristic attractions always more expensive.
I live in a city, Leuven, but have been lucky that the businesses here so far have always catered to the large student community we have. You can still find beers and soft drinks here for less than €2, as well as a decent warm meal (read: not fast food) for less than €10.
Debit and credit cards are widely accepted, but not all restaurants accept both. You should easily find an ATM everywhere you go, so there’s no need to walk around with a lot of cash in your pocket.
Also good to know: all taxes here are included in the sales price and tipping isn’t a standard thing to do. We’ll tip if we get some change back or are really happy with the service, but waiters here get a normal paycheck and don’t depend on tips to make a living – which, of course, doesn’t mean that they don’t like getting them.
Belgium is the land of chocolate, waffles, fries and beer, but also of so many other delicious dishes. Typical Belgian food is often pretty filling food that isn’t hard or doesn’t take long to cook.
That being said, we’ve kind of adopted foods from around the world, both with the restaurants we have in the cities and with the meals we cook at home. Italian does well everywhere, each town has a kebab shop or a Chinese take-away and sushi also gained popularity here. You can find world cuisine all over Belgium, but of course Brussels has the most options.
When people plan a trip to Brussels they often ask me if it’s safe. It’s as safe as the average capital anywhere in Europe, I’d say. There are pickpockets, robberies occur and once in a while a murder is committed. This all sounds really scary, but if you’re realistic, you know that it’s like that in any major city. Just watch your stuff and mind the neighborhoods you walk through at night.
As for the rest of Belgium: each year newspapers and other institutions publish rankings of the safest cities in the world, the most dangerous countries and so on. I’ve done a bit of research into these before creating this page and all of those rankings are based on different analysis and hard to properly interpret.
So is Belgium safe? My personal opinion is that it is. Just watch out for pickpockets in some of the bigger cities.
What about health issues? No need to worry about those over here. You don’t need any vaccines to come to Belgium and the worst thing you might take back with you is probably a cold. It’s also perfectly safe to drink tab water here. I actually never buy bottled water as the tab water is so good here.
As for insurance: everyone should have travel insurance; You can break your leg anywhere in the world, maybe just from getting out of bed in a luxury hotel and walking towards the toilet. Don’t take the risk and get yourself some basic travel insurance.
For those of you who love to check off items, you can never go wrong with a few UNESCO World Heritage Sites. These are the ones we have in Belgium:
- Flemish Béguinages (Hoogstraten, Lier, Mechelen, Turnhout, Sint-Truiden, Tongeren, Dendermonde, Ghent, Sint-Amandsberg, Diest, Leuven, Bruges, Kortrijk)
- La Grand-Place, Brussels
- The Four Lifts on the Canal du Centre and their Environs, La Louvière and Le Roeulx (Hainaut)
- Belfries of Belgium (Belfry Aalst, O.L.V. Cathedral Antwerp, city hall Antwerp, Belfry Bruges, Belfry Diksmuide, Belfry Eeklo, Belfry Ghent, former city hall Herentals, Belfry Ieper, Belfry Kortrijk, St. Peter’s Church/Belfry Leuven, Belfry Lier, Belfry Lo-Reningen, Belfry Mechelen, Belfry Nieuwpoort, Belfry Oudenaarde, Belfry Roeselare, Belfry Sint-Truiden, Belfry Tielt, St. Germanus Church Tienen, O.L.V. Basilica Tongeren, Belfry Veurne, St. Leonard Church Zoutleeuw, Belfry Binche, Charleroi, Gembloux, Mons, Namur, Thuin and Tournai)
- Historic Center of Bruges
- Major Town Houses of the Architect Victor Horta in Brussels (Hôtel Tassel, Hôtel Solvay, Hôtel van Eetvelde, Maison & Atelier Horta)
- Neolithic Flint Mines at Spiennes (Mons)
- Notre-Dame Cathedral in Tournai
- Plantin-Moretus House-Workshops-Museum Complex
- Stoclet House
- Major Mining Sites of Wallonia (Grand Hornu, Bois-du-Luc, Bois du Cazier, Blegny-Mine)
(The ones with links I’ve visited and written about, the bold ones I’ve visited but not yet written about)
7. Museum Ship Amandine
8. The Abbey of Villers-la-Ville
9. The comic walls of Brussels
10. Chocolate, yes, more of it.
If you don’t really have a specific city or region in mind, then have a look at these different themes for your trip to Belgium:
6. Read all posts about Belgium^
Where you should book a hotel depends a bit on the places you plan to visit while here, but I would always recommend comparing prices on different sites to make sure you get the best bang for your buck. HotelsCombined is a great comparison site for that.
Did you find this guide about Belgium useful? Then make sure others hear about it as well and spread the word!