To make sure you’re fully equipped to explore the hell out of Belgium this year, I’ve put together this post with 18 things to do in Belgium in 2018.
Go for it!
1. Have a waffle
You can’t start the year hungry, now can you? I realize a waffle isn’t the most nutritious breakfast, but it will certainly get you in a Belgian mood! Just remember that there’s no such thing as “Belgian waffles” (and if you call them “Belgium waffles”, now’s the time to hang your head in shame). There are Liège waffles, Brussels waffles and then a whole bunch of lesser known waffles. “Belgian waffle” is not a type of waffle.
2. Visit a castle
There are more castles per square kilometer in Belgium than there are in any other country in the world, so visiting a castle is definietly one of the things to do in Belgium this year. One of the best known Belgian castles is the Gravensteen in Ghent.
3. Have a beer and visit a brewery
There are 800 to 1,000 different beers in Belgium, depending on the source, and they come from breweries all over the country. Some have been around for centuries, others are relatively new. A famous smaller brewery is the Halve Maan in Bruges, but you can taste great beers in just about any tavern or “brown bar”, as we call them.
Oh, and did you know our Belgian beer scene recently became UNESCO World Heritage? Well, it did!
4. Visit a beguinage
Real beguinages only exist in Belgium and the Netherlands and several of Belgium’s beguinages are recognized as Unesco World Heritage. One of them is the Grand Beguinage in Leuven, my hometown. Located at the edge of the city, it’s always peaceful and quiet there.
5. Commemorate the World Wars
Belgium has suffered a lot both during World War I and World War II. These events have left a mark not only on people’s lives but also on the country’s attraction as a tourist destination. Every year, people come to Belgium to visit Flanders Fields, other memorial sites and museums dedicated to these dark periods in European history. A lesser known memorial that deserves more attention is the Breendonk Fortress.
6. Attend a music festival
Belgium is a festival country. In summer, you can attend a different festival every weekend and often there are several music festivals going on at the same time. Pop, rock, techno, folk, jazz, big small, free or paid; there’s a festival for everyone over here.
7. Read a comic book
Did you know Tintin is Belgian? And so are the Smurfs. In fact, just like we have more castles per square kilometer than any other country in the world, we also have more comic artists per square kilometer than any other country in the world and several museums are dedicated to them and their art, like the Comics Art Museum in Brussels.
8. Climb the Lion’s Mound in Waterloo
Napoleon was defeated in Belgium before it officially became Belgium, in 1815 during the Battle of Waterloo. Several sites in this city south of Brussels tell the story of what happened before, during and after the battle, but the most famous one is the Lion’s Mound. You can climb all the way to the top of this artificial hill and have a view of what used to be the battlefield.
9. Watch a folkloristic parade
Belgium has quite a few folkloristic traditions that are usually tied to a specific city. These events take place year-round and range from very small and local to big and drawing in spectators from all over the country and abroad. A few examples are the carnival parades, the giant parades and the Doudou in Mons.
10. Try some Belgian chocolate
It goes without saying that we have the best chocolate in the world, rigth? Right. There are the famous brands you can find at the airport, like Neuhaus and GuyLian, but I personally think the best chocolate can be found at the specialist chocolatier shops in Brussels. A personal tip? Frederic Blondeel!
11. Walk in Colin Farrell’s footsteps in Bruges
If you’re a fan of the movie “In Bruges”, you can get a map with a lot of the “In Bruges” locations and simply visit them by walking through the streets of the old center. Don’t forget your camera!
12. Go south
A lot of the people visiting Belgium, limit themselves to the northern part of the country. Cities like Bruges and Brussels are definitely worth visiting, but don’t discard the south. There are some true gems across the language border, like the Abbey of Villers-la-Ville.
13. Get acquainted with Belgium’s mining history
Coal mining used to be a big industry in Belgium and has left its marks on the landscapes. Several old mining sites have gotten a new function and are now open to the public to be visited, like Unesco World Heritage site Grand-Hornu near Mons, C-mine in Genk and be-Mine in Beringen.
14. Try a sip of jenever
Most people will know jenever as “gin”, but the two alcoholic drinks are not exactly the same and the name “jenever” can only be used in Belgium, the Netherlands, certain areas in the north of France and certain areas in the northwest of Germany. It’s a shortdrink that requires a specific first sip. You can learn all about it at the Jenever Museum in Hasselt.
15. Learn about the language situation
Most tourists seem to know that the language situation is a bit of a mess, but that’s usually all they know. While you’ll probably get by with English in most places (although more so in the north and Brussels than in the south), it might be interesting to learn a bit about how things work here (or not) before visiting.
16. Visit the Brussels Christmas market
Belgium isn’t as known for its Christmas markets as Germany is, but the Brussels Christmas market is definitely worth a visit. There’s a ferris wheel, a light show, lots of food and drinks and after the rough Christmas season the city just had, it deserves a little love in 2016, don’t you think?
17. Admire the bluebells at the Hallerbos
Just once a year and only for two weeks or so, the ground of the Hallerbos, nearby Brussels, turns purple with blooming bluebells. It’s absolutely beautiful and the fact that the forest is a nice place to go for a walk is certainly a plus! For the best photos, go in the morning or the evening but make sure to stay on the paths!
18. Visit a lesser known city
Mechelen usually isn’t the first place people go to when they visit Belgium, but the city makes for a great day trip and is easy to reach by train both from Brussels and from Antwerp. It has a rich history, lots of nice cafes and some interesting museums. Here are some things to do in Mechelen to help you plan your trip.
Stay a while!
There’s no way you’ll be able to fully enjoy these things to do in Belgium if you rush them, so why not stay a while?
Booking.com has an extensive list of hotel options for all budgets and needs.
If you’re looking for an apartment rather than a hotel, I would recommend checking airbnb. Sign up through my link and get a discount on your first stay!
How to get to Belgium
If you’re traveling from abroad, you can fly into Brussels Airport or Brussels South (really Charleroi). Click here to find the best flights for your trip.
Alternatively, you can also take the train into Belgium. Click here for timetables and train prices.
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