Belgium Travel Tips
Belgium is a small nation with a big role to play in European life and world history. If you are interested in war history, particularly the First World War, Belgium has a million sites to keep you busy during your visit. But what people mostly come here for is the beer, chocolate, and fries. There are over 1,000 breweries in this little country, the country’s chocolate rivals the Swiss, and the frites will make you look at french fries differently for the rest of your live. This small country usually just gets glossed over as travelers visit Brussels before moving on but the country has a lot of great medieval towns, historical sites, and breweries worth sticking around for.
- Accommodation: A night in a hostel dormitory room will start at $17 USD, though most aren’t more than $21 USD. Private rooms are around $53 USD per night for a double room. Budget hotels start at around $40 USD per night.
- Food: Casual meals and fast food cost around $13 USD. A meal in a sit down restaurant with table service will cost from $25 USD. Frites (french fries and a great snack) cost around $4 USD. If you want to cook your meals, there are some great markets throughout the country that will allow you to eat cheap. Expect to pay around $60 USD for a week’s worth of groceries.
- Transportation: City metro tickets are roughly $2.50 USD per ride. Travel around the country isn’t expensive as the country is small and it’s easy to get around. Most intercity train tickets cost around $16 USD for a second class ticket.
Money Saving Tips
- Metro Passes - Day passes for the metro will save you money over the cost of a single ticket. For example, a day ticket is $7 USD, whereas a single is $2.50 USD on the Brussels metro.
- Skip the bread – Be careful when ordering food in tourist hotspots as a familiar trick is to offer you items which you might presume are free (bread rolls for example) but that are not free and turn up on your bill!
- Eat Cheap – Eat a little sandwich shops, kebab shops or frite shops to save money on food while you are in this country.
- Drink Beer – If you want to drink, drink beer as this country has so many breweries (the most per capita in any country in the world!) that beer is the cheapest form of alcohol. A beer will set you back just a few Euros.
- Free attractions – Although most attractions won’t break the bank, there are still plenty of excellent free attractions for you to visit. Two examples are the Flanders Fields museum or the Notre Dame Cathedral in Tournai.
Top Things to See and Do
- Brussels - Brussels is the capital and the administrative center of the European Union. Visit the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts for its large collection of paintings, drawings and sculptures and magnificent central square, Grand Place where you will find lots of cafés, museums, chocolate shops and the Town Hall. This is also a good place to eat some chocolate. There are a lot of chocolate shops here. Watch out. It’s easy to overindulge. (I did!) Read more: Things to Do in Brussels (video)
- Ghent - The city of Ghent is often overlooked compared with other cities in the country but this university town is charming and has a lot less tourists. To visit the city at its liveliest you should go in July when the largest cultural outdoors festival in Europe, the “Gentse Feesten” takes place with food, music, street entertainment and more.
- Flanders Fields - Flanders was the site of around half a million deaths in the horrific trenches of World War I. There are numerous military cemeteries and ‘Missing Memorials’ in the region commemorating those of all nationalities who fell in battle. In the Flanders Fields museum in Ypres, visitors can discover what it was like to be a soldier in the trenches.
- Eat and Drink – For such a small country, Belgium certainly has a few culinary aces up its sleeve. Waffles, chocolate and friten (a bit like French Fries) shops dot every street and beer is produced in massive amounts. There are over 1000 breweries. And the beer is good and very strong. Drink, and drink well. If you are especially keen, you can go on a tour of a brewery. Belgium is simply the place to indulge in food and beer.
- Bruges - With its interesting architecture and tasty delights it is not to be missed. Key attractions include the 14th-century town hall, the Belfry Tower, the Cathedral of the Holy Saviour, its market squares and canals. Colin Ferrel said in “In Bruges” this place was hell but he was wrong- it’s beautiful. Go visit. (Though keep in mind it is a bit touristy and can be boring if you are there for alone for a few days!)
- Castles - There are more castles per square mile than anywhere else in the world and with over 3000 to explore, it’s hard to know where to start. Castle of Bouillon in the Ardennes is one of the most interesting ones. Other must sees are Beersel and Gravensteen.
- Antwerp - The country’s second largest city, Antwerp is an excellent shopping location and offers an extraordinary variety of local food and beer for visitors to enjoy. For those interested in art, the Royal Fine Arts Museum houses the world’s best collection of the Flemish Masters’ works, including the largest group of Rubens masterpieces in existence.
- Waterloo - At the site of the famous battle, there is a memorial in the form of a statue of a lion (looking towards France) on a hill, with 226 stairs, called La Butte du Lion. Other attractions related to the battle are the Wellington Museum and the Roman Catholic Church of St. Joseph.
- Ardennes Forest - Ardennes Forest is the place to go for skiing or hiking. Aside from sporting pursuits, a there is a lot of good meat here: game, wild boar, venison, smoked ham, the region’s famous paté and as well as the world-renowned Trappist beers.
- Cathédrale Notre-Dame – The Cathedral of Our Lady in Tournai is one of the most striking examples of Romanesque architecture in Europe and is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The cathedral has five towers, magnificent stained-glass windows, and paintings by Rubens and Jacob Jordaens.
- Mannenken Pis & Jeanneken Pis – These two iconic sculptures can be found in Brussels and are considered by many as a ‘must see’. There is always a group of people checking them out. They are simple, nude male and female children’s figures, peeing. The male is often dressed up in costumes. They are pretty weird tourist attractions.
- Antwerp Zoo – Located in the center of Antwerp next to the train station, this zoo is a full afternoon attraction. Open since 1843, it is one of the oldest and most famous zoos in the world. There are several exhibits and unusual garden features to be seen, including crazy animal sculptures.
- Oostende Fish Market Visserkaai – This is where the Ostend fishing fleet sells their catch. If you’re a fan of seafood, this is an awesome place to check out. There are numerous restaurants set up all along the seafront and you are guaranteed to get a fresh meal.
- Cinquantenaire – This museum complex started in 1880 and has continued to expand over the past several years. It lies on the South-East side of Brussels and is host to the Army Museum, the Auto World Museum, an art museum, and more.