Belgium is SUCH an underrated and unique 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. And I did do some unusual and unique things (read below!!).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.
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). 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.
Both Bruges and Ghent are located in the Flanders region of Belgium, where the official language is Dutch. Brussels is in the Brussels-Capital Region and it’s bilingual in French and Dutch. Dinant and Durbuy are both in the Wallonia region, where most people know French.
However, it’s not too hard to find someone who knows how to speak at least a little English, especially in the larger cities like Brussels and Ghent. It would be polite to learn at least a little in French and/or Dutch, depending on which region you’ll be spending the most time in.
BRUSSELS (AND I’M NOT TALKING ABOUT THE SPROUTS)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. 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 and free 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 (they’re all at different price points, so something for everyone!). 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.
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 probably could have made friends if I wanted to but since it was my last week, I just decided to be my introverted self!
And, it’s free – so you can’t go wrong! It’s also pretty damn unique – I’ve never seen anything like it.
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!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 and dare I say, unusual. 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.
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 PERFECTI 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. 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. 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! 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 (wish I’d done this). 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.
GHENT IS BRUSSELS’ COOL YOUNGER SISTERI enjoyed Ghent, but I didn’t LOVE it. It was definitely a cool city, though, and I liked it more 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. I feel like it’s one of those places I’d fall in love with if I lived/spend more time there. But not one I would necessarily do for a day trip again, if that makes sense!
Like, Bruges is a place I would visit and not live in. Ghent I’d rather live in instead of a be a tourist in. Ya feel me?I’d suggest checking out Gravensteen Castle – it’s awesome. It’s unusual in that 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.
DINANT ROCKS (GET IT??)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!
It’s located along the River Meuse, so along with pretty city views, you can stare at the river, too! And even take a cool boat ride between April and October.You’ll also notice giant saxophones all over the city, and lining the Charles de Gaulle Bridge – these were erected in memory of Adolphe Sax, the inventor of the saxophone! I hadn’t done a ton of research, but I immediately stumbled upon Collégiale Notre-Dame, or the Collegiate Church of Our Lady (the tallest building in that first picture). As you can see, it’s quite beautiful and definitely worth a stop!
Afterwards, I decided to check out the Citadelle de Dinant, or the Citadel of Dinant, and ended up spending the majority of my day there. There are a TON of steps to get up to the top, but the views are amazing (see above)!
If steps aren’t really your thing, you can also take a cable car to the top, instead.
Once you make it up there, it’s an actual museum! Very cool. It’s all about the citadel itself and its roles in various wars, including both WW1 and 2.The exhibits are all really well done, and very informative and engaging. I like history, but wouldn’t call myself a history geek. I really enjoyed reading and learning about everything, although it was a little sad at times.
When I was there, there was also a random exhibit of life size Disney characters made of sand in the citadel. It looks like it’s still going on, but double check before you go if that’s something you really want to see!After the Citadel of Dinant, I just enjoyed walking around the city 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!
Lol do you see a theme here? I end up just wandering aimlessly in most cities at least part of the day, mainly because it’s free 🙂
DURBUY, AKA THE SMALLEST CITY IN THE WORLDThis 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!
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. 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. There are also some other shops – I can’t remember the name of the one I went to, but it had 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). Something I thought was SUPER COOL and unusual 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 Gardens are supposed to be another unusual 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 (BELGIUM, I’M COMING BACK):
– 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. Let’s work to preserve this unique place!
– 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!