Belgium is such an amazing country: think waffles, chocolate, beer and fries. If you have no time constraints on your trip, I recommend taking your time through Belgium and exploring more than just the two popular cities of Brussels and Bruges. If you only have a few days to spend in Belgium, hear what I have to say about each city and choose wisely. I spent two and a half weeks there and now looking back I wish I had spent so much longer.
Brussels, a city that divides opinions. Some will love it, some will absolutely hate it and others will think it’s average but not worth wasting your time on. My opinion? I highly enjoyed it. Maybe it had to do with the fantastic people I met staying at the Menninger Hostel or the fact that there was a bar that served 2000+ different flavours of beer… either way I do recommend going there, even if it is only for a couple of nights. The Menninger Hostel is a fantastic hostel to stay at. It is a larger hostel than I usually prefer but the rooms are incredible, they’re so spacious and get cleaned daily, the bathrooms are very modern and the hostel has a couple of large hang out spots as well as a well-equipped kitchen and large bar. For a six to eight bed dorm room the standard price is $AUD39-$43 (€27-€30) in peak season.
What is this fantastic bar serving all these interesting beers, you may ask? It’s called Delirium and has three different levels. One level will only serve on tap and the others by the bottle as well as on tap. Flick through their beer ‘bible’ and choose from many different flavours of beer such as chocolate, passionfruit and strawberry. Try different strengths of beer and taste some that are bitter and others that are sweet.
Brussels offers so many things to do such as doing a free walking tour through the city, which is the best way to see the main points of a city and learn some facts and history while not spending a ridiculous amount of money. Search to see if there are any markets on when you’re in each city, once again I was in Brussels at the perfect time to go to another flea market.
I had also heard of this place, a little walk out of the main centre, which had homemade ice cream made by a lovely man who had been making and selling it for years. Every now and then the flavours change drastically from salted caramel to black pepper – definitely worth the risk!
Try some Belgian waffles, but not the ones overloaded with cream, chocolate and ‘fresh’ fruit. You want to try the real Belgian waffles, with the sugar cooked throughout the mixture and served fresh and hot. If you want to have your mind blown head over to Belgaufra to experience the incredible taste.
Bruges. Even though Bruges is such a breathtaking little city, most people only spend a couple of days there because it is very small and there is not a whole lot to do. I was the opposite; I fell in love the second my bus pulled in. Seven days later and I figured it was eventually time to move on, but I left satisfied with spending time in one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. There are only a few hostels in Bruges because it’s such a small city, but I recommend staying at Snuffles Hostel over the rest, a hostel I was told about many times before heading to Bruges. It is a smaller hostel so it’s a fantastic place to meet fellow travellers and it is very close to the centre of town. This hostel is very secure and the staff members are friendly and accommodating. The price includes free breakfast, there is a small kitchen if you want to prepare any other meals and there is a great bar downstairs. In the peak season the prices for mixed dorm rooms range between $AUD27-$30 (€18-€21).
The smell of freshly made chocolate fills the air as you walk along cobblestone streets surrounded by old brick buildings and alongside flowing canals. A gorgeous path that winds around the old town is so lovely and peaceful to walk along early in the morning if you’re keen enough to do some exercise. I do suggest going on the free walking tour in each city if there is one because it takes you to the places you wouldn’t normally go or the ones you are too lazy to find yourself. The quality sometimes varies, but the one in Bruges was definitely one of the best I’ve ever been on – which is saying something given how many I’ve done. At the end of the tour the guide will suggest a place to try Bruges’s own 12.9% beer – you are sure to have an extremely joyful afternoon.
Whether you’re in Bruges for a short time or a bit longer, there is one thing you must do even if you’re pushed for time. I want you to stop everything and take the following advice: have a hot chocolate at ‘The Old Chocolate House’. Downstairs is the standard chocolate shop you will see all around the city but if you head upstairs to the tea room you can sit down for a hot chocolate. Unlike your normal hot chocolate in a cup, you will be served a bowl of warm milk with a little jar of homemade chocolate pieces to add to your milk as you please along with a yummy biscuit and a delicious chocolate. I was here daily and the best part was that they served soy milk (which I struggled to find anywhere else in Europe)! Plus all of this for only four euro, you really can’t go wrong.
Bruges has some beautiful parks and one of my favourites is Astrid Park. One Saturday afternoon, we headed to the fresh food markets and bought a mix of wine, fruit, vegetables, meats and cheeses to bring to the park and have a picnic. If it’s a sunny day I will give any excuse to have a picnic and it’s a bonus when the city I’m in has beautiful greenery.
One of the great things about such a small country like Belgium is that it’s filled with awesome, even smaller cities. One of these is Ghent and I highly recommend you make the trip! If you don’t have the time to stay overnight it’s incredibly easy to make it a day trip from Bruges or Brussels; from Bruges it was only €12.60 for a return train ticket and 25 minutes later you are in Ghent. If you’re into vintage clothing or secondhand stores you should check out the T2 vintage stores all over Belgium, the store in Ghent was my favourite and I picked up plenty of goodies.
Ghent is a perfect city to stroll around in and discover the hidden street art down the small cobblestone-filled streets. There are two main shopping strips too that are nice to have a look at, though in the one with all the boutique stores I just stuck to window shopping. Ghent is full of canals and nice parks like ‘Circus’ park, where you can to watch buskers and enjoy some interesting people watching while sitting on bright pink picnic benches.
Like Ghent, Antwerp can be done in a day so if you haven’t got a lot of time to explore Belgium. A trip to Antwerp should be in the plans if you can fit it in. If you’re stuck choosing between Ghent and Antwerp, Antwerp would be my number one choice for a day trip. It takes a little bit longer to get to, an hour and twenty minutes. The city itself gives off such a lively and friendly atmosphere, the locals were so cheerful and pleasant when I asked for directions and things to do. The street art in Antwerp is incredible but you really have to venture off the main path to find it. Get lost popping in and out of side streets and alleyways because when you do find it, you’ll be amazed!
Take a look at the Fashion Museum if that catches your interest; I was there for the 50th anniversary of the Fashion School so there was a huge exhibition on. The city is full of pretty old buildings and small stores filled with little trinkets. If you’re vegetarian or really just love Indian food, save yourself for a late lunch or and an early dinner at the Indian buffet restaurant in the diamond quarter near the main train station. The food is delicious and it’s a perfect end to a great day before heading back to the station.
Getting to and from Belgium is very easily done by bus, they run regularly and are very affordable from all the surrounding countries. Luxembourg City to Brussels: €20 with Student Agency. Amsterdam to Brussels: €32 with Megabus. Amsterdam to Antwerp: €15 with Megabus. Rotterdam to Antwerp: €15 with Megabus. Cologne to Brussels: €15 with Megabus. Paris to Brussels: €16 with Megabus. London to Brussels: €19 with Megabus.
I absolutely loved Belgium! It ended up being one of my favourite countries despite what other people had told me before I arrived. The locals are friendly, the food is incredible and just every experience was worth it. If you’re heading to Belgium please take your time through the different cities and make your time spent there worthwhile.