In a nutshell:
Belgium is a country of 30.528 km² located in the centre of Europe between France, The Netherlands, Luxembourg and Germany. Tourism ranges vastly here, from the English tourists that visit Bruges to Dutch bike tourists in Limburg to the French and German tourists in the hills of the Ardennes. Belgium has everything you could need, from the seaside to long countryside walks and even cross country skiing in winter.
The road network in Belgium is very easy with major highways linking most areas in the country. From Paris, London or Amsterdam, it is easy to take high speed trains that are not too expensive and will bring you to Brussels or Antwerp swiftly and comfortably. The main airport is Brussels International Airport but the 4 regional airports of Ostend, Antwerp, Liège and Charleroi also offer a lot of international fights. Charleroi (Brussels South) is particularly interesting as it is home to several low-cost airlines that have various routes to most European countries. Although flights from Ostend to Dover no longer exist, you can also hop on a ferry daily from Zeebrugge to Hull, on the British coast. Even the French ports of Dunkerque and Calais aren’t too far from the Belgian border, offering a direct line across the seas from Dover. Furthermore, there are ferries in the Netherlands that are also easy to reach from Belgium with the most important being from Rotterdam to Hull (UK), Hoek van Holland to Harwich (UK) and Ijmuiden to Newcastle (UK).
Where to go :
Though there is a lot of tourism throughout Belgium, Brussels is always a big draw. The city is well known for its mascot, the statue of a little peeing boy called Manneken Pis. He stands very close the second most known place in Brussels, the Grand Place, with its Gothic town hall and baroque guild halls. Just outside the city centre you will find the area that was used for the 1958 Expo. The biggest landmark was built for this purpose and is still standing today: the Atomium underwent a complete restauration between 2004 and 2006. The building represents one elementary cel of pure iron and 5 of the 9 spheres are open to the public, a must-see for anyone visiting Brussels.
Belgian people are known for their relaxed, no-stress lifestyle and this means that parties are organised everywhere. A few of the best known events are music festivals like Tomorrowland, which has now spread to America and South America, Rock Werchter or Pukkelpop. These open-air festivals attract big international artists and have thousands of visitors every year. Another great event is the ‘Carnaval’ which is celebrated most towns in the country though the best known one is in Aalst. This is an event where everyone dresses up in costumes from the classic clown to the most ridiculous fantasy character. People create big floats and then drive them around the village where people are lined up in the streets, catching the confetti and candy that the floats throw out. This is an event that is loved by kid, as they are still eating the sweets two weeks later. Smaller events such as jazz festivals, art festivals and concerts are organised throughout the year so visitors can enjoy culture, arts and music alongside Belgian beer and snacks all the time.
Belgium is a country of food-lovers and in summertime many people will light up the BBQ to grill some juicy meat and eat outside on the terrace in the sunlight. The 4 internationally known products that Belgium is famous for are chocolate, fries, beer and waffles. Belgium has been said to have the best beer in the world and many people travel to Belgium just to buy the real Belgian beer. Might I add the fact that there are over 300 different beers made in Belgium so you have plenty to choose from. Head to Delirium, a well-known bar that offers the largest beer menu in the world, featured in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Restaurants are also everywhere in the country. Brussels’s main restaurants are ‘brasseries’ where you can enjoy ‘vol-au-vent’, mussels and fries as well as fish and pasta dishes. Head to Skievelat, Chez Lola or Belga Queen for traditional upscale Belgian cuisine or to La Quincallerie for fine seafood dining. Some more hearty Belgian specialities include ‘gegratineerd witloof’, a locally grown chicory with ham and a cheesy sauce grilled in a very hot oven. ‘Stoofles’ is a Belgian meat stew served with fries. And last, but certainly not least, Belgian ‘bloedworst’, a black pudding sausage traditionally accompanied by brown bread for breakfast or lunch.
I have one simple word of advice for those visiting Belgium: bring a raincoat! Although in general the winters are pretty cold and the summers are pretty warm, you can never be certain and a rain shower is never too far away. Spring and Autumn can be very interesting if you want to avoid the crowds but, in general, summertime is the best time to visit Belgium, mostly because it is full of interesting events. So now you know all of this, get on that train, plane, boat or hop into your car and visit Belgium where there is something for everyone to do!