Belgium is SUCH an underrated country! I wish I’d had more time to explore – lots of beautiful scenery and lovely architecture. If you do make it over to Belgium, promise me you’ll try to put more in your itinerary than just Brussels!! (I wasn’t the bigggggest fan of Brussels – but then again, I’m not a huge city person, so…). Admittedly, I don’t think I really went to the “off-the-beaten track” destinations in Belgium, but maybe I did compared to the average tourist? I’d love to go back and explore more of the countryside – my train rides to Dinant and Durbuy were absolutely beautiful.
[The Grand Place in Brussels – I’d argue that it’s the main tourist attraction in Brussels, and it’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s also just fancy AF]
As far as communication goes, many people speak English, but there are 3 official languages: Dutch, French, and German. However, most people speak either Dutch, French, or both, depending on the region.
And the food is GOOD. Between the chocolate, waffles, fries, pastries, and sandwiches (they have so many specific types of sandwiches there! They’re usually in long baguettes, and have a very specific yummy flavor – one of the chains is Panos, and their sandwiches are actually pretty good quality), I was happy happy happy.
[Isn’t this like one of the most picturesque streets you’ve ever seen? Durbuy, Belgium]
Side note: when I was there, Belgium had an amazing deal on train passes for younger people, I think it was up to 26. How’d I find out about it? I literally just asked a worker at a customer service booth if there were any promotions going on! The workers at my hostel didn’t even know about it, so it’s always a good idea to ask again just in case. I took full advantage, and rode the train every single day (save for the day I stayed in Brussels to explore).
[Gravensteen Castle in Ghent]
BRUSSELS (AND I’M NOT TALKING ABOUT BRUSSEL SPROUTS)
[Mont des Arts Gardens]
Of course, if you do go to Belgium, you’ll most likely end up visiting Brussels. It was a very interesting city, that’s for sure – lots of different cultures and people. And, I’m not sure about now, but when I visited in summer 2016 it was pretty cheap to fly to.
[The storefront of Pierre Marcolini, a famous chocolate shop in Brussels]
Belgium was the last country on my solo tour, so I admit that I was pretty dead by that time (which could also be a reason I didn’t LOVE Brussels). However, I’d highly recommend doing a free walking tour here – I really enjoyed ours, and it’s pretty easy to see all the things on the tour. The guides also gave great tips (especially food-wise) about where to go that was actually authentic and not just shitty tourist food.
For instance, our guide told us where to get the best chocolates (at three different price points), the best frites, and the best waffles! He also gave great suggestions on non-touristy things to do. They also do a beer tour, which sounded really cool, but I was on a budget so I opted against it.
For chocolates, he recommend Neuhaus, Leonidas, and Marcolini. For fries, he said Friterie Tabora if in the tourist area; they were delicious! They also have 46 sauces to choose from – my favorite was the andalouse! Not that I tried a ton, but that seems to be the popular one, and it lived up to its hype. The waffles are the ones pictured below (although I wasn’t the biggest fan, but I don’t typically love waffles/pastries in general).
[I stumbled upon a concert my last night in Brussels; it was in The Grand Place, which was really cool!]
Okay, I’ll be honest – I really don’t get the hype about Manneken Pis (the peeing boy statue) or Jeanneke Pis (the peeing girl). They’re literally just statues of peeing kids?
But, what I did get the hype about was The Grand Place. It really is gorgeous! I’d suggest visiting both during and later in the day, since you’ll get different feels for each time. During the day it can feel pretty touristy, so it’s nice to see it when it’s a little emptier in the evening. At night, it also gets lit up – however, I didn’t go to see this since I was by myself and didn’t want to venture out alone in the dark.
I also really enjoyed Delirium Café – it has the largest selection of beers in the world (3,162 according to the website). I tried a cherry beer, because I am a baby and am still just getting into actual beer. It was delicious, though!
[The Grand Place (aka Grote Markt) is sooo pretty and one of the main tourist attractions in Belgium. It’s the central square and I learned a shit ton about its history from our guide, but I could not for the life of me tell you about it now lol]
[Dying over the architecture and pretty details!!]
If you love Art Nouveau and Deco, head over to Saint-Gilles, a district in Brussels, and marvel at the pretty buildings! If you have time, I’d recommend visiting the Museé Victor Horta, which was absolutely beautiful. The rest of the area was a little ways from the tourist center, and was very trendy and cool. Lots of eclectic shops and fun restaurants.
Mont des Arts Gardens (first picture in this post) is also a really beautiful overlook! It’s in the same plaza as a few different museums, so you can get your learn on after basking in the beautiful views.
[‘Real’ Belgian waffles, according to our free walking tour guide; apparently the ones with all the crazy toppings are just made for tourists. We got these from a little cart at the Mont des Arts Gardens]
St. Nicolas Cathedral was also stunning! Overall, I liked Brussels, but don’t know if I’m necessarily dying to go back. I definitely preferred the other places I went in Belgium!
BRUGES IS DISGUSTINGLY PERFECT
[If you wander outside the city center, the streets are often empty; however, this was also taken after 4PM when a lot of the day-trippers had pretty much left]
I adored Bruges!! But is that really a surprise? I’m a sucker for anything fairytale-like, and Bruges is pretty much exactly that. It did seem a little fake (I’ve heard it’s pretty much dead in the off-season) and kind of felt like a cardboard cutout, BUT it’s such a pretty place that I really didn’t care.
[Bruges in all of its disgusting perfection; and yep, those are SWANS. Are you freaking kidding me]
And so that said, I really want to go back and visit it in fall/winter, because there’ll be waaay less tourists (I made the mistake of going on a Saturday in July…). I just think it would look sooo pretty on a rainy/cloudy day! I’d also like to stay the night, as I noticed the tourists pretty much started clearing out after 4PM or so.
[Buildings in the main plaza]
I also went on a free walking tour here, and had some of the best chocolate of my ENTIRE EXISTENCE. I was actually pleasantly surprised with the food in Bruges – being a tourist city, I expected the food to be pretty crappy, but I actually really enjoyed it!
[Of course, like pretty much every other touristy city in Europe, you can ride a boat through the canals; Also, you get an idea of how crowded it can be across the street]
And, if you haven’t seen ‘In Bruges’ yet, you totally should! Maybe even actually watch it in Bruges. *side-eyed emoji*
As for what you should do in Bruges, walk around. Do the free walking tour, like I said, it’s really interesting and gives you a good overview of the city. There are a ton of museums, which I didn’t go into, but you can find almost anything, from art to chocolate to fries. You can go up into the Belfry and get really great views. Check out De Halve Man Brewery and chill out (such a nice way to end the day!). Also, get chocolate from Chocolaterie de Burg – sooooo good! It was recommended by our tour guide, and although I’m sure there was some sort of business partnership going on there, it was damn good. Other good places I’ve read about are Dumon Chocolatier and The Chocolate Line, but I’m sure there are more, because Bruges has about 2852930 chocolate shops.
[You just can’t ignore those picture perfect streets]
GHENT IS BRUSSELS’ COOL YOUNGER SISTER
[I am a sucker for pretty city views; this photo was taken from the top of Gravensteen]
I enjoyed Ghent, but I didn’t LOVE it. It was definitely a cool city, though, and I definitely liked it better than Brussels. It’s got more of an authentic feel to it, and it’s just beautiful. Out of all the Belgian cities I visited, this is the one I’d most like to actually live in. I absolutely loved the architecture there, and throughout most of Belgium for that matter. It’s more of a university town, so it feels very hip and modern and fun.
[More boats on canals!!!!!!]
[Walking into the city center from the train station; I would kill to have a place right on the river like so!]
I’d suggest checking out Gravensteen Castle – it’s awesome. It used to be a torture chamber and prison, so they have all kinds of information on that, and on the castle itself. The views from the top are stunning, too! I spent like 2-3 hours there. Other than that, I pretty much just wandered around the city center and surrounding neighborhoods aimlessly.
[Not the best picture, BUT! Gravensteen Castle; I highly recommend it! It’s beautiful, and there’s sooo much history to learn about inside. And those views!]
[More pretty buildings – I can’t get enough; view from Gravensteen Castle]
DINANT ROCKS (GET IT??)
[Look at that pretty view!]
Dinant was really really cool. It’s super small, and definitely touristy, but not as much as Bruges. It feels much more ‘real’. And just as beautiful!
[View of the city from the citadel; you have to go up quite a few steps to get there, though! But totally worth it]
I hadn’t done a ton of research, but I stumbled into The Church of Our Lady (the tallest building in that first picture) which was quite beautiful. Afterwards, I decided to check out the citadel and ended up spending the majority of my day there. First off, the views are amazing (see above), and once you get to the top, it’s an actual museum! It’s all about the citadel itself and its roles in various wars, including both WW1 and 2.
[Look at that prettiness!!!! AHHHHH]
The exhibits are all really well done, and very informative and engaging! I like history, but wouldn’t call myself a history geek, and I had a great time.
After the citadel, I just enjoyed walking around Dinant a bit. It wasn’t very crowded – granted, I did go on a weekday, but still! I think most people just go to Brussels, Bruges, and maybe Ghent when visiting Belgium, so I’d highly recommend looking into other smaller cities (especially if you’re a nature lover, like myself). It’s worth going to just for the train ride, honestly – it’s so pretty!
DURBUY, AKA THE SMALLEST CITY IN THE WORLD
[Durbuy Castle; I wanted to check it out but you can’t actually go inside]
This was once the smallest city in the world. It’s still pretty damn small, and feels a little touristy, although I didn’t hear much English spoken. It was still pretty, though, and I’m glad I made the trek out – similar to Dinant, the train ride alone was absolutely gorgeous!
[Give me all the vine-covered stone buildings with flowers in the window]
So, getting to Durbuy from the train station without a car can be a little annoying – there’s a shuttle that picks up at the train and takes you to Durbuy, but it only comes around sporadically – I wanted to get all the exploring I could out of it at the cheapest rate, so I tried to walk – partway realized it just wasn’t going to happen, and decided to try and hitchhike. That did not work at all (I just got a lot of weird looks; one couple stopped to apologize that their car was too full, and one other guy didn’t speak English); I gave up after about 20 minutes and decided to just bite the bullet and pay for the shuttle (which really isn’t even that expensive, I was just being cheap haha and inspired after hitching with my friends in Ireland).
It ended up being pretty cool because I made friends with the shuttle driver! It was just he and I for a while, so I started asking him questions about what it was like living here. He was super cool and ended up telling me about hitchhiking all over France and Italy; when I told him I tried here, he laughed and said no one would ever pick up a hitchhiker in Belgium. So that was interesting, and I didn’t feel like as much of a failure ha.
[All the signs]
[Tortuga Bar is apparently really popular, but it was closed when I was there]
I’d recommend walking around (it’s super small, so you can pretty much see everything in a few hours) – I popped into a few shops, and there’s this cool artisanal jam shop that I missed (I think it was closed? I can’t remember why I didn’t go) called Confituerie Saint Amour. Quite a few restaurants and a cool tiki bar. La Vraie Confiture du Durbuy was a super cool shop! All local Wallonian products (the region that Durbuy falls in). I got some awesome beers there (well, I think they were awesome – I got them for my brother and boyfriend at the time).
[Look at all that coolness!!!!]
[Another photo, for scale]
Something I thought was SUPER COOL was the anticline! It’s a cool u-shaped rock formation that formed from layers and layers of accumulated sediment. It’s so unique looking and I was super into it.
The Topiary Park is supposed to be another cool attraction, but I didn’t visit because, to be honest, I didn’t really care. I looked at pictures and decided I’d rather spend my time exploring the city. However, if you’re a fan of topiary, it’s supposed to be great! It’s also supposed to offer great views of the castle, but I thought the ones I got were good enough.
I’d love to go back to Belgium and explore more of the lesser known towns! And really get outdoors there, as it’s soooo pretty.
WHAT I MISSED:
– If I went back at a different time of year, I would’ve loved to have visited Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (natural history museums are my jam!!).
– Hallerbos (The Blue Forest) looks beautiful – in April, the forest floor becomes covered with bluebells!!! However, if you do choose to visit, please be respectful and practice LNT (Leave No Trace) principles! Apparently, the forest has been getting more popular and some people have not been staying on the paths, causing the bluebells to become trampled.
– All the other cities – Leuven (pretty university town), Mechelen (beautiful architecture and one of the oldest-operating breweries), and Ypres (history of the world wars). I’m sure there are soooo many more, but those are the ones I was choosing between!
– Belgium also has some amazing parks and natural scenery – I would love to come back and explore more, especially in the fall!
[Another perfect street in Durbuy]