Even after the recent bombings in Brussels, I firmly believe that Belgium is still incredibly worth visiting. Having grown up there, I know how peaceful and quiet nearly all places are, from the flat fields in Flanders to the rolling wooded hills of the Ardennes, to gorgeous medieval towns and the best things to do in Belgium. Sure, there are some districts in Brussels that aren’t recommended to tourists—but they exist in every single major city in the world, including London, Paris and New York City.
Brussels and, by extension Belgium as well, is by no means unsafe. It just isn’t. So, to shine a positive light on the beauty of a country that Belgium is, I have put together a list of the best things to do in Belgium. And, believe me, the list could’ve been much, much longer!
12 Best Things to Do in Belgium
1. Visit the Grand-Place in Brussels
The Grand-Place in Brussels is arguably the grandest of all attractions and one of the best things to do in Belgium. Easily one of the most stunning town squares in the world, the Grand-Place is lined with spectacularly ornate guild houses and home to the towering Town Hall. The entire square is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
2. Cycle around Flanders Fields
Flanders Fields isn’t an actual region in Belgium, but is simply the name by which the former World War I battlefields in the western corner of Flanders are known. This flatter-than-flat area is great for cycling and is littered with battlefields, war cemeteries, war memorials and remains of trenches. Any visit to Flanders Fields should be started at the world-class In Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres.
3. Eat Fries, Drink Beer and Sample Chocolate
From fries and waffles to chocolate and beer, Belgian food is renowned around the world and for good reason. It’s mouthwateringly delicious. Visitors are also strongly advised to sample local dishes as well—great examples are vol-au-vent and Flemish stew.
4. Admire World-Class Art
Maybe less known, but Belgium also houses many a superb art collection. This is, after all, the country of Jan van Eyck, Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony van Dyck, Jan and Pieter Brueghel, Jacob Jordaens and René Magritte. From the Flemish Primitives to surrealism, Belgium’s art collections can rival those of any other country—except for, maybe, France and Italy.
5. Attend a Festival
This is also a country that loves a party every once in a while. And that’s a serious understatement. Belgium is home to hundreds and hundreds of festivals, events, carnivals and fairs. The most famous and largest among them are the music festivals of Rock Werchter, Tomorrowland and Pukkelpop. Additionally, Graspop and Reggae Geel are respectively among the biggest metal and reggae festivals in Europe. Other notable festivals are the Aalst Carnival and the Gentse Feesten.
6. Buy Diamonds in Antwerp
Antwerp, Belgium’s second city, is the world’s diamond capital. Approximately 80% of the world’s uncut diamonds pass through this harbor city in northern Flanders every year. In the appropriately named Diamond Quarter, situated next to the imposing Central Station, dozens upon dozens of diamond shops sell and trade billions’ worth (in any currency) of jewellery.
7. Explore UNESCO World Heritage-Listed Bruges
Bruges is arguably the prettiest city in Belgium, a perfectly preserved medieval city filled with guild halls, step-gabled houses, cobbled streets, quaint squares, picturesque canals and a few excellent museums. The entire inner city is listed as World Heritage by UNESCO.
8. Experience Nightlife in Leuven
Leuven, the largest university town in the country, is home to more than 30,000 students. And also to the largest brewery in the world, AB InBev. Besides being a downright spectacular medieval town—visitors should definitely check out the Gothic Town Hall, the St. Peter’s Church and the Old Market Square—Leuven is also (in)famous for its party scene. The town is dotted with student cafés, brown bars, nightclubs and live music venues.
9. Read Comic Books
Not only world-class artists hail from Belgium, some of the world’s most famous comic book characters do too. Belgium is where figures such as the Smurfs, Tintin, Lucky Luke, and Spike and Suzy were brought to life. It’s strongly recommended to visit the Comic Book Museum in Brussels and walk the Comic Strip Trail in the same city. Reading (and maybe buying) is one of the best things to do in Belgium, in my opinion.
10. Visit a Medieval Torture Museum in Ghent
Home to what’s possibly the most stunning medieval waterfront in Europe—the Graslei—Ghent also has its very own castle. The Gravensteen Castle is open to the public and houses a medieval torture museum, which is exactly what you think it is. Displayed in dark chambers are the most sickening torture devices, which were all used at some point in history. Fascinating, but definitely disturbing too.
11. Learn about Béguinages
Béguinages are systems of women-only communities that are unique to Flanders. They originated sometime in the 13th or 14th centuries and grew into self-sufficient, independent “towns within towns”, places where unmarried and widowed women lived their lives in peace, dedicated to religion.
12. Hike in Belgium’s Only National Park
Hoge Kempen National Park, located in the province of Limburg, is the only national park in the country. This large expanse of heathlands, sand dunes, pine forests and small ponds is amazing for hiking and cycling. It’s advised to visit it in spring, when it can be combined with a visit to the nearby region of Haspengouw, home to countless orchards.