Belgium is a small nation that plays a big role in European life — and an equally big role in world history.
If you’re a history buff interested in either of the World Wars, Belgium has a million sites to keep you busy during your visit. And if you want to learn about government or politics of the EU, it’s the home to the European Union itself.
But what most travelers come for is beer, chocolate, and fries.
There are over 1,000 breweries in this small country and Belgium brewers were some of the first to perfect the beer-brewing process. And the country’s chocolate rivals that of Switzerland, offering decadent sweets that will have you gaining a few pounds during your visit.
On top of that, the frites will make you look at french fries differently for the rest of your life.
This country usually just gets glossed over by travelers who spend a day in Brussels, Bruges, and maybe a trip to Ghent before they travel onward. However, if you look deeper, you’ll see this country has a great many medieval towns, historical sites, and parks worth sticking around for.
This travel guide to Belgium will help point the way by giving you tips on what to see, costs, suggested budgets, and ways to save money. It’s the ultimate planning tool!
Table of Contents
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Top 5 Things to See and Do in Belgium
2. Eat and drink
5. Flanders Field
Other Things to See and Do in Belgium
1. Visit the castles
There are more castles per square mile in Belgium than anywhere else in the world. With over 3,000 to explore, it can be hard to know where to start. Castle of Bouillon in the Ardennes is one of the most interesting ones as it was built in the 11th century! Other must-sees are Beersel (built in the 14th century) and Gravensteen (built in the 12th century).
2. See Waterloo
The Battle of Waterloo took place in 1815 and brought a decisive end to the Napoleonic Wars. 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. If you’re a student of history, a visit here is a must.
3. Explore Ardennes Forest
Ardennes Forest covers an area of over 11,000 square kilometers and is the place to go for skiing or hiking. Aside from sporting pursuits, there is a lot of good meat here too: wild game like boar and venison, smoked ham, the region’s famous paté, as well as the world-renowned Trappist beers. Between the meat and the beer, you’ll be in good hands after a long hike or a day of skiing!
4. Visit Cathédrale Notre-Dame
Built in the 12th century, 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, reaching as high as 83 meters. It also has some magnificent stained-glass windows and paintings by Rubens and Jacob Jordaens as well.
5. See Manneken 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 but worth seeing with your own eyes — even if it’s just to snap a quick photo of the quirky statues.
6. Explore the 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. It’s a great place to take the kids. Admission is €24 EUR ($27 USD). It’s open daily from 10am-5:30pm.
7. Sample the catch of the day
Oostende Fish Market Visserkaai is where the Ostend fishing fleet sells its daily catch. If you’re a fan of seafood, this is an awesome place to check out. There are numerous restaurants along the seafront and you are guaranteed to get a fresh meal.
8. Wander Parc du Cinquantenaire
Also known as Jubelpark, this park and museum complex opened in 1880 and covers over 30 hectares. Located on the Southeast side of Brussels, it has continued to expand over the past several years. It is home to the Army Museum, the Auto World Museum, an art museum, gardens, and more!
9. See the Basilique de Koekelberg
The Basilica of the Sacred Heart is one of the largest Roman Catholic churches in the world. In addition to its amazing architecture and impressive art deco, the height offers beautiful views of the city and the surrounding area. Completed in 1970, the church is very close to the center of town and inexpensive to see.
10. Take a canal tour in Bruges
Take a canal trip down the arteries of Bruges. A half hour boat trip on the waterway takes you around secret gardens, picturesque bridges, and ornately designed medieval buildings. This is a perfect way to capture the magic of the city and it only costs around €8 EUR ($9 USD).
11. Explore 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.
Be sure to visit our city travel guides for more detailed information about what to see and do in each place:
Belgium Travel Costs
Accommodation – A night in a hostel dormitory room starts around €20 EUR ($23 USD). Private rooms in a hostel with an ensuite bathroom start around €50 EUR ($57 USD) per night. In this country, most hostels come with breakfast, which is usually just meat, cheese, hard boiled eggs, juice, and bread. Budget hotels start at around €50 EUR ($57 USD) per night for a single room with basic amenities and WiFi included. Airbnb is popular throughout the country and you can get a shared room (i.e., a couch) for €16 EUR ($18 USD) while prices for an entire apartment start around €50 EUR ($57 USD).
Food – Meals at cafes and fast food restaurants cost around €12 EUR ($14 USD). A meal in a sit-down restaurant with a drink will cost about €25 EUR ($28 USD). Frites (french fries), which is extremely popular around the country, costs around €4 EUR ($5 USD). If you want to cook your meals, there are some great markets throughout the country. Expect to pay around €55-60 EUR ($63-68 USD) for a week’s worth of groceries. Panos is a nationwide chain serving cheap and delicious sandwiches.
Activities – Museums and attractions vary in cost between €5-15 EUR ($6-17 USD). A student card will get you discounted entry – about 20-50% off. City cards (like the Brussels Card or the Bruges Card) will get you into museums and attractions for heavily discounted rates. You can buy cards that are good for 1-3 days. It’s about €22 EUR ($25 USD) per 24 hours.
Backpacking Belgium Suggested Budgets
If you’re backpacking Belgium, my suggested budget is €50-60 EUR ($55-65 USD) per day. This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel dorm, cooking the vast majority your meals (and splurging on frites here and there), skipping sit down restaurants, and using local transportation but mostly walking everywhere, avoiding a lot of the expensive tours and attractions. Belgium is hard to do on a budget so you really have to watch your spending, especially when it comes to food.
On a mid-range budget of about €110 EUR ($126 USD) per day, you can stay in a private hostel room or a budget hotel, enjoy fast food or cafe dining (and maybe a splurge meal or two), take the bus or 2nd class trains between cities, and purchase a city card to do all the activities and tours you want!
Belgium can do luxury well. This is the home to the EU and a popular destination for honeymooners so they know luxury. From hotels to restaurants, it’s easy to find things to splurge on here. With a luxury budget of €280+ ($320+ USD) per day, you can afford a 3-star hotel, 1st class train travel between cities, eating out at fancy restaurants, private tours, and anything you want. The sky is the limit here!
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style.
Belgium Travel Guide: Money Saving Tips
Belgium is not a cheap country. Yes, it can be done on a budget but it’s a tight budget. There’s just a lot of high costs here and food and drink can really add up. While it will never be the cheapest country in the world, there are a few ways to cut costs and avoid spending all your money. Here are my tips on how to save money in Belgium:
- Drink beer – If you want to drink, 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.
- Couchsurf – Nothing’s cheaper than sleeping for free. Couchsurfing connects you with locals who will give you not only a free place to stay but also a local tour guide who can introduce you to all the great places to see.
- Eat cheap – Eat at a little sandwich, kebab, or frites shops to save money on food. These meals cost between €5-7 EUR ($6-8 USD).
- Camp in a garden – A very good camping service specific is Campspace, which allows you to pitch a tent in someone’s backyard for free or a nominal fee (around €4-10 EUR/$4.50-11 USD). This is a new service that started in 2010 but more and more people are signing up for it each day. All of the garden owners have profiles that tell you what services and facilities they offer.
- Take the bus – Budget bus companies like Flixbus can take you across the country for cheap. It isn’t glamorous, but for tickets starting at €5 EUR ($6 USD) you really can’t complain!
- Go on a free walking tour – This is a great way to learn the history behind the places you are seeing and to avoid missing any must-see stops.
- Get a city tourist card – Local tourism offices issue a tourist card for all their attractions, tours, and restaurants. This card gives you free entry and substantial discounts on all the attractions and tours in a city, free local public transportation (a huge plus), and discounts at a few restaurants and shopping malls. They save a ton of money.
- Rideshare – If you’re flexible in your schedule, use the ridesharing service BlaBlaCar and catch rides with locals between cities (or countries). I used this service and, not only did I save a lot of money, but I got to meet interesting people to and learn about local culture and life. Drivers are verified and it’s perfectly safe (though sometimes rides don’t show up, which is why you need to be flexible).
- Have an ISIC Card – To save 20-50% on the cost of admission to museums and other tourist attractions, be sure to present a valid student card. The ISIC is typically accepted in places where a foreign student ID is not.
Where To Stay in Belgium
Here are some of my favorite places to stay in Belgium for your next trip:
How to Get Around Belgium
Public Transportation – Belgium’s cities and towns have excellent public transportation options. Although Brussels has the only metro system in the country, you can also travel by tram in Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent, and Charleroi. Public buses also run everywhere. Tickets per one direction are roughly €2-3 EUR ($2.30-3.40 USD).
Most cities have transportation passes to help you keep your budget intact. For example, Brussels has a STIB-MIVB pass that will give you unlimited rides for 24 hours (including to and from the airport) for just €7.50 EUR ($8.50). In Antwerp you can purchase a day pass for €6-8 EUR ($7-9 USD). Multi-day options are also available.
Taxis are generally quite expensive, and seeing as how you can get around on foot or by public transit, they’re not recommended. Fares start at €3 EUR ($3.40 USD) but they can also start as high as €8 EUR ($9 USD) in some places (like Ghent). Each kilometer starts at €1.80 EUR ($1.15 USD). Tips are built into the metered fare; you are not expected to tip your driver. But even still, that’s expensive!
Train – Travel around the country by train isn’t that expensive as the country is relatively small. Most intercity train tickets cost around €15 EUR ($17 USD) for a second class fare. Brussels to Bruges via train costs €9-14 EUR ($10-16 USD). Brussels to Antwerp via train costs €6-9 EUR ($7-10 USD).
You can track schedules and fares on the SNCB website.
A Eurail Pass, which allows travelers to explore Europe by providing a set number of stops in a specific time period, might also be a good option if you’re doing some country hopping. For more information, here’s a detailed breakdown of how Eurail passes work and can save you money.
But if you’re staying within Belgium, the SNCB also has some great value passes:
- Rail Pass Ten – This pass gives you 10 one-way trips anywhere in the country if you’re over 26 years old. The 2nd class pass is €77 EUR ($88 USD), and it’s €118 EUR ($134 USD) for first class. You can transfer en route, but you’re not allowed to stopover. It’s valid for one year, and if you don’t use the whole thing, you can hand it off to someone else.
- Go Pass 10 – This is the same as the Rail Pass but for people under 26 years old. It costs €52 EUR ($59 USD).
- Go Unlimited – For people under 26 years old, you can get a week of unlimited travel during school holidays for $15 EUR ($17 USD), or a month of unlimited travel in July or August for €25 EUR ($28 USD).
Bus – Intercity bus tickets are also quite cheap, often under €10 EUR ($11 USD) for most journeys. Getting to and from most of the major airports is easy, with buses and trains readily available. Expect to pay €10 EUR/$11 USD (usually less) for a one-way ticket.
There are a few major bus companies servicing Belgium, including:
I recommend Flixbus for the cheapest rates and most comfortable buses. You can get from Brussels to Antwerp for as little as €4 EUR ($4.50 USD), or Brussels to Bruges for €6 EUR ($7 USD). Research the schedule ahead of time, however, as buses tend to not run everyday. You may also need to use a service like STIB-MIVB if you’re venturing off the tourist trail.
Hitchhiking – Hitchhiking in Belgium is very safe, but it’s not for everyone. HitchWiki is the best website for hitchhiking info.
When to Go to Belgium
Belgium is a year-round destination thanks to its moderate temperatures. It never gets too hot or too cold here. The peak season is from July to August, when tourism traffic is at its highest (especially in coastal areas). It’s always warm and pleasant, with temperatures rarely going above 72°F (22°C). Rainfall increases slightly during the summer months, so bring some rain gear just in case.
Low season is during the winter months, from November to March. The average daily temperature is 38.5°F (3.5°C), but it can go a lot lower. It can be very cold during these months, but there are always carnivals and special events going on (especially around Christmas and Lent). Bruges and Ghent are particularly beautiful during this time of year. You can’t beat a mug of hot Belgian chocolate at a Christmas market!
Spring (April to June) and autumn (September to October) are the best times to visit. In the spring, the entire countryside blossoms. Temperatures are nice, and there are fewer crowds. The same goes for the autumn months – the fall colors in the countryside are a photographer’s dream, and the winter chill hasn’t yet set in. You’ll get a lot of sunshine and better prices everywhere.
How to Stay Safe in Belgium
Belgium is an incredibly safe place to travel. Due to a few high-profile terrorist attacks in Europe, and ongoing media coverage, I often get asked if it’s safe to travel to Europe. Europe is no more dangerous (probably even less so) than any other place in the world. I wrote a whole article about how Europe is safe to visit right now. Check it out.
Belgium is very safe for backpacking and solo traveling but there are scams and petty crime you should watch out for. Guard your stuff in crowded places and watch out for people offering you stuff. You can read about the 14 travel scams to avoid right here.
Always trust your gut instinct. If a taxi driver seems shady, stop the cab and get out. If your hotel is seedier than you thought, get out of there. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID. Forward your itinerary along to loved ones so they’ll know where you are.
If you don’t do it at home, don’t do it in Belgium!
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. You can use the widget below to find the policy right for you:
Belgium Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel to Belgium. They are included here because they consistently find deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the ones I use the most and are always the starting points in my search for travel deals.
- Momondo – This is my favorite booking site. I never book a flight without checking here first.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is another great flight search engline which searches a lot of different airlines, including many of the budget carriers that larger sites miss. While I always start with Momondo, I use this site too as a way to compare prices.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments.
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Couchsurfing – This website allows you to stay on people’s couches or spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can tell you the ins and outs of their city. The site also lists events you can attend to meet people (even if you’re not staying with someone).
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have a no money down policy, great interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Rail Europe – If you are going to Europe and taking a lot of high speed or long distance trains, get a rail pass. I’ve used a rail pass three times and saved hundreds of dollars each time. The math just works.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around Belgium, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get a discount when you click the link!
- The Man in Seat 61 – This website is the ultimate guide to train travel anywhere in the world. They have the most comprehensive information on routes, times, prices, and train conditions. If you are planning a long train journey or some epic train trip, consult this site.
- Rome 2 Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B the best and cheapest way possible. It will give you all the bus, train, plane, or boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
- FlixBus – German based Flixbus has routes between 20 European countries with prices starting as low €5 EUR ($6 USD)! Their buses include WiFi, electrical outlets, and up to three 3 free bags.
- Bla Bla Car – BlaBlaCar is a ridesharing website that lets you share rides with vetted local drivers by pitching in for gas. You simply request a seat, they approve, and off you go! It’s a cheaper and more interesting way travel than by bus or train!
- EatWith – This website allows you to eat home cooked meal with locals. Locals post listings for dinner parties and specialty meals that you can sign up for. There is a fee (everyone sets their own price) but this is a great way to do something different, pick a local’s brain, and make a new friend.
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
Belgium Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of NM+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Belgium Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
A Tall Man in a Low Land: Some Time Among the Belgians, by Harry Pearson
This book’s Amazon description sums it up best: “Most British travel writers head south for a destination that is hot, exotic, dangerous or all three. Harry Pearson chose to head in the opposite direction for a country which is damp, safe and of legendary banality: Belgium.” (But if you’ve read this guide you’d know that Belgium is anything but banal!) Pearson’s time over several months in Belgium has him getting to know the culture – and loving it. From jellied pig cheeks to the peeing statues, Pearson discovers the quirkier side of Belgium.
Belgravia, by Julian Fellowes
It’s June 15, 1815, and the leaders of British society have come together in Brussels for the Duchess of Richmond’s ball. It is marked as one of the most tragic parties in history because the very next day, at the Battle of Waterloo, many of the young men in attendance find themselves on the battlefield. For Sophia Trenchard, the beautiful daughter of a chief supplier, this night will change the entire course of her life. This book is full of mystery – it’s an easy read before your trip!
In Flanders Fields: The 1917 Campaign, by Leon Wolff
Certainly not light reading, but if you’re a historical fiction fan you need to check out In Flanders Fields. This is a narrative story of legendary Passchendaele – the Third Battle of Ypres, which lasted from July to November in 1917. Here, 475,000 troops were killed, wounded, or they went missing. Wolff’s description of the bloody battle is rooted in fact, and his accurate descriptions of strategy and war tactics give plenty of harsh insight into what happened. This book will stick with you.
The Adventures of Tintin, by Hergé
Ok so this isn’t a book exactly, but The Adventures of Tintin is a famous comic about a young reporter and his dog. Chances are you already know about it. The series is quintessentially Belgian, and if you want to impress your new Belgian friends, read up on Tintin. This is the first volume, but if your interest is piqued, you have an unlimited number of graphic novels to choose from.
Camra’s Good Beer Guide Belgium, by Joe Stange & Tim Webb
If you’re coming here for the beer, consider this your brew bible. This is the 8th edition, and it’s the perfect companion for anyone visiting Belgium with a mission to sample plenty of beers. It’s full of information on the country’s breweries, beers, and bars, and the authors hold nothing back when it comes to breaking down the best and worst of your options. There’s also a ton of advice on where to eat, stay, and how to bring the beer home with you.