12 Must-Have Experiences in Belgium

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.

Grand-Place in Brussels, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Grand-Place

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.

Flanders Fields
Flanders Fields

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.

Belgian Beer
Belgian Beer

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.

Adoration of the Mystic Lamb by van Eyck
Adoration of the Mystic Lamb: Photo on Flickr by Hans Olofsson / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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.

Tomorrowland
Tomorrowland: Photo on Flickr by Sebastien Camelot / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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.

Antwerp photos: Diamond shop in Antwerp
Diamond shop

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.

Belfry at the Grote Markt
Bruges Belfry

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.

Best Things to Do in Belgium: Market Square in Leuven
Market Square in Leuven

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.

Comic Book Museum, Brussels
Comic Book Museum: Photo on Flickr by Yann Garr / CC BY-SA 2.0

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.

Ghent Castle
Gravensteen Castle

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.

Best Things to Do in Belgium: Beguinage of Tongeren
Beguinage of Tongeren

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.

Best Things to Do in Belgium: Heathlands in Hoge Kempen National Park
Hoge Kempen National Park

About Bram

Website: http://www.travel-experience-live.com

Bram is a Belgian guy who's currently living in the USA. For over four years now, he has been wandering the globe, with jobs here and there in between. So far, his travels have taken him to four continents and twenty-two countries. Bram likes to try different styles of travelling: from backpacker and adventurer to tourist and local, he has been all those stereotypes and probably will be many more in the future. You can follow his adventures on his travel blog, on Twitter and on Facebook.

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