Belgium: Travelling by yourself
An independent trip to Belgium: how to get, what to see, how to save on transport and food. Useful information for travelers.
Belgium accepts tourists from the Russian Federation, who are vaccinated by WHO. However, some successfully make their way through other European countries. Take a look at the list of open countries. For convenience, we provide pre-pandemic prices for travel and flights. Information about visas and flights may not be up to date now, check with official resources.
Belgium breathes prosperity and tranquility. This small country has a large number of medieval monuments, fine cuisine, delicious beer and chocolate – for all this is what travelers to Belgium seek.
How to get to Belgium on your own
From Moscow to Brussels on your own can be reached by Brussels Airlines (direct flight). The average price for a round trip ticket is 9-10 thousand rubles. It is easy to fly from the northern capital for about the same amount. It is much more expensive to get to Belgium from the regions: from Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk and Ufa the tickets cost from 15 thousand and above.
The most budget way is to fly low-cost airlines from the Baltic States and Finland, but it is not suitable for everyone. Would you like to save money on your flight? We suggest you to read our detailed review of how to reach Brussels inexpensively.
Where to look for cheap tickets? Use Aviasales. Read the instructions on how to properly search for cheap airline tickets. Don’t forget the map and the low price calendar – be flexible when looking for airfare and planning your own trip to Belgium!
Transport in Belgium
Brussels – the transport hub of the country, from the main station you can go to any city in Belgium. The most developed transport is by rail. The country is covered by a network of railroads, so travel by train is more convenient than by bus. In addition, the cost of travel is not so expensive by European standards.
If you’re traveling to Belgium on your own, you can plan your trip and calculate the prices on the SNCB railroad website. For example, a standard round-trip ticket from Brussels to Ghent costs €17.80 and from Bruges to Ghent €13.
(photo © Hunter-Desportes / flickr.com)
It is advantageous to use the so-called Weekend Ticket – with it you can make weekend trips (from 19:01 Friday to Sunday) to any city in Belgium with a 50% discount. The only condition is that the trip must be round trip. So, with the Weekend Ticket, the ticket Brussels – Ghent – Brussels will cost only 10 euros, and Bruges – Ghent – Bruges – 7.40 euros.
In addition, for young people under the age of 26 is often advantageous to travel by purchasing Go Pass 1 – such tickets are cheaper, but sold exclusively online. Also on the site you can often find promotions: for example, from October 7 to November 2 there is a promotional fare Web Deal, on which you can buy a one-way ticket for 6 euros (purchase online). If your goal is to travel around Belgium on your own and cheaply, it makes sense to monitor promotions on the website under Deals.
In Belgium you can also travel by bus, but it is not so convenient, because between the major cities there are comfortable and fast trains, and buses are provided commuter and regional services. The main bus carriers are De Lijn and TEC.
From Belgium it is easy to reach cities in Germany, France, Great Britain, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg by train or bus. The Thalys high-speed trains run to these destinations, and you can take the Eurostar train to Great Britain.
(photo © OliverN5 / flickr.com)
On the Eurostar train to London the cheapest round trip tickets are from 88 euros (non-refundable and non-exchangeable). For young people under 26 years old – from 84 euros each way. Travel time is just over two hours.
Of course, you can travel and comfortable buses Eurolines – note that they often have great deals and special offers, so when planning a trip should not forget about it. For example, the promotional fare allows you to go from Brussels to Paris for only 18 euros (round trip) instead of the standard price of 27 euros.
Useful articles about Belgium:
- How to get to Brussels Airport (read);
- How to get to Bruges from Brussels (read);
- How to get from Brussels to Amsterdam (read);
- How to get to Paris from Brussels (read more).
Food in Belgium
Many people go to Belgium to experience the exquisite local cuisine, because the food in Belgium is an art. The choices are enormous, from street food – fries and waffles with various additions – to traditional dishes such as croquettes or mussels. So what’s to try in Belgium?
Just like chocolate and beer, Belgian waffles are the country’s calling card. Waffles are served warm and sprinkled with powdered sugar, along with soft fruit, whipped cream or chocolate. The two most popular waffles are the Brussels and Liege waffles. Brussels waffles are soft and rectangular in shape, while Liege waffles are oval or round and often sprinkled with vanilla and cinnamon.
(photo © Pabo76 / flickr.com)
Beer in Belgium
Belgium has as many as 650 different kinds of beer! Pretty impressive, huh? Each region has its own beer. There is even a Beer Route: Brussels – Chimay – Dinant – Maredsous – Rochefort. Leuven is Belgium’s “beer” city; the local university even had a special beer department.
The most famous (and delicious) beer in Belgium is made in the so-called Abbaye breweries according to ancient recipes, which are not disclosed: Abbaye de Maredsous (Rue de Maredsous 11, Namur), Abbaye de Val Dieu (Val Dieu 225, Aubel), Abbaye de Leffe (Place de l’Abbaye 1, B-5500 Dinant) and others.
In addition to traditional beers, it’s worth trying fruit beers (raspberry, cherry, cherry) as well as those with unusual herbal additives.
A few beer gardens in Brussels:
- Brewers House (Grand Place 10);
- Les Brasseurs de la Grand Place (Rue de la Colline 24);
- Brussels Gueuze Museum and Cantillon Brewery (Rue Gheude 54).
Everyone has heard that Belgian chocolate is one of the best in the world. Belgian chocolate was made famous by Jean Neuhaus Junior, the creator of the praline and owner of the famous Neuhaus company.
Be sure to visit the many chocolate shops, which are scattered in large numbers across the cities – there are more than 500 small private confectioneries in Belgium. The most famous brands at the moment are Leonidas, Godiva and Wittamer.
Belgian chocolate is famous for its unsurpassed taste and quality – it is made without artificial additives and preservatives, exclusively from natural ingredients. In Belgium, experimentation is the order of the day; the fillings range from the most traditional to the most innovative. Say no more, just have some of this Belgian chocolate and drink a cup of tea.
(photo © LinksmanJD / flickr.com)
A few chocolatiers where you can taste and buy chocolate in Brussels:
- Chocolatier Jean Philippe Darcis (Petite rue au Beurre, 14);
- Wittamer (Place du Grand Sablon, 6);
- Mary Chocolatier (Rue Royale, 73);
- Passion Chocolat (Rue Bodenbroek 2/4).
In addition, you can taste chocolate and even see how it is made, in factories and museums. The Maison des Maitres Chocolatiers Belges shows you how chocolates are made and offers tastings. A visit to the Musee du Cacao et du Chocolat is a must!
A side note: Brussels has chocolate events in November, Chocolate Fair and Chocolate Week, but the real chocolate city is Bruges.
Mussels are Belgium’s national dish and are available from September to February. They are usually served in their own juice with French fries and homemade mayonnaise, but may be served differently in different regions. Chez Leon restaurant in Brussels is considered one of the best restaurants serving fresh mussels.
Look for hotels at the best price on Roomguru – it compares prices from a variety of booking systems and finds the best one.
What to see in Belgium?
Look for interesting excursions on Tripster. Individual and group, without crowds of tourists and in Russian.
Those who come to Belgium on their own, you need to form a program to get to know the country and its culture. The following is a summary of the places must see in the four major Belgian cities.
What to see in Brussels? Firstly the historic Grand Place with the town hall and the King’s House where the 17th century architecture and modern life are in harmony. Secondly the Royal Palace in the Brussels Park and the Royal Museum.
Then there are the Manneken Pis (Manneken Pis) and his ‘friend’ the Pee-Girl, the Brussels Cathedral, St. Michael’s Cathedral and the Galeries Royales St-Hubert. As for the informal attractions in Brussels they include the Atomium, the European Parliament and the Red Light Quarter.
(photo © saigneurdeguerre / flickr.com)
Start your sightseeing in Bruges with the heart of the city, the Grote Markt (market square), whose history dates back to the 10th century. Here you’ll find the beautiful Belfort Tower. And of religious architecture stand out the oldest St. John’s Hospital in Europe, the Beguine Convent, the Church of Our Lady of Sorrows and the Church of the Holy Blood.
Also worth a visit are the fascinating museums – learn about the history of chocolate at the Chocolate Museum, the history of beer at the Brewery Museum, and the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts and the Museum of Lace. It’s also well worth a stroll along the historic streets and canals of what is arguably Belgium’s most romantic city.
(photo © b-leam / flickr.com)
In the city of Rubens, the first thing to do is to pay tribute to the Flemish painter and visit the Rubens House. Next in line is the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, the Grote Markt town hall, the Cathedral of Our Lady of Antwerp and, of course, the Sten Castle.
For those interested in diamonds, we remind you that Antwerp is the city of diamonds, where diamonds were valued, cut and sold, so you can learn about the history of jewelry at the Diamond Museum.
In Ghent, in addition to the wonderful architecture, you will find many pubs where you can have a great time with a mug of Belgian beer. The city is home to one of the largest universities in Belgium, so there are a lot of students here.
Must see Ghent: St. Bavon’s Cathedral, the Bell Tower and St. Nicholas Church, the impressive Gravestine Castle (Counts’ Castle) and Gerard the Devil’s Castle, the beautiful St. Michael’s Bridge over the Lys Canal and the covered Lakenhalle Market. The Vrijdagmarkt square and St. Peter’s Abbey are also worth a visit.
(photo © rwfreund / flickr.com)
Ghent is also known for its daily bazaars and flower markets, where locals buy fresh produce and tourists love to stroll.
And of course, everyone will love the charming medieval streets of Ghent – take a walk along Veldstraat, where the stores are juxtaposed with the 18th century mansions, and go for a swim along the canals, Ghent is a city not to be missed.
Nearby are the defensive castles of Laarne, Van Oydonk and Vondelgem, worthy ends to a city-break in Belgium.
Belgium, or officially the Kingdom of Belgium, is a state in Western Europe; a small piece of the continent with access to the North Sea, sandwiched between France to the south and west and Germany to the east. In tourist guides Belgium appears as a country with eclectic architecture, home of the most delicious chocolate, beer and the Flemish school of painting, and the cradle of Art Nouveau. And in general, all this corresponds to the truth. In terms of the number of medieval monuments per capita, the Kingdom of Belgium is indeed able to compete with the larger powers, not to mention the gastronomic delights, long ago turned into associative clichés that make every traveler salivate involuntarily.
Save money on a trip to Belgium!
There’s literally so much to see and admire in Belgium, and the economic stability of this tiny state is something to be seriously envied. Colourful historical districts from the pages of old books, numerous museums with priceless Flemish masterpieces, exquisite Michelin Red List restaurants – Belgium generously offers these riches to its foreign visitors. On a cursory glance, this calm and prosperous corner of Europe somewhat resembles its northern neighbor, the Netherlands. The same dams and polders, picturesque canals, windmills, even in the art galleries of paintings by the same Bosch and Bruegel. But do not hurry to hang labels: there are significant differences between the countries. But to see them, you have to stay in Belgium for a week or two and drive not only through the major cities, but also through the provincial towns, where the features of national character are clearer and more distinct.
Historically, the lands belonging to the kingdom today have always been identified with the Dutch territories. Until the revolution of 1830, Belgium was subjugated by the Netherlands, which in turn played the role of a passing pennant from the more developed powers. As the birthplace of Van Gogh and Vermeer passed from the Duchy of Burgundy to Spain, and from the Holy Roman Empire to France, the Belgian provinces roamed with it. To break away from a stronger neighbor and to declare itself an independent country, the kingdom succeeded only in the nineteenth century.
Determined with the independence, Belgium began to actively gain momentum in economic terms, and even managed to grab a colony in Africa (Congo). By the way, as early as 1831, the first steam locomotives began to run between Belgian cities, while in the rest of Europe, the construction of railroads was still in the planning stages.
Belgium received its portion of devastation as a result of participation in the military conflicts of the XX century, of which the greatest damage was caused by World War I. During the Second World War, the territory of the kingdom was again in the zone of German occupation. Having hastily signed the act of surrender, the Belgian government scattered by 1940, leaving the German authorities to impose the notorious “Ordnung”. It was not until 1944 that it was possible to expel the adherents of the Third Reich from the country, but it was the British who did so, not the Belgians themselves.
The city of Liège in 1967 Antwerp in 1973
Belgium: The present
Belgium is a country with a constitutional monarchy and an active member of the EU and the political-military bloc NATO. The head of state is King Philip I, whose power is limited to appointing the government and appearing in public as a living symbol of the nation. Legislative power is vested in the parliament, which in the kingdom is bicameral.
Despite its modest size, Belgium is a federal state with a somewhat unusual system of administrative division. Three regions are officially part of the kingdom: Brussels, Walloon and Flemish. Each of them has a certain degree of independence and has its own government and parliament. Since time immemorial, the Flemish and Walloons have been in constant conflict with each other. The relatively prosperous north (Flanders) openly dislikes the financially unstable south (Wallonia), which, in turn, does not like the more successful and arrogant neighbor. In addition, there are so-called linguistic areas, which divide the country along linguistic lines. Thus, the kingdom is divided into Flemish, French and German-speaking communities.
From an economic point of view, things in Belgium are quite stable, if not brilliant. The main sectors that bring the lion’s share of revenue to the local budget are textiles and metallurgy. In addition, Belgium boasts a high-intensity agriculture, so the country exports up to 40% of its agricultural products. The local economy also gets its share of profits from diamond processing.
Geography and climate
Geographically Belgium is divided into:
- low – the coastal zone, formed mainly by dunes and polders;
- middle – the most fertile and flat area of the kingdom;
- high – the least populated part of the country, a tourist region characterized by an abundance of forests.
The climate in this part of Europe is mild and corresponds to the temperate marine type, while the concept of “good weather” in Belgium is understood in its own way. In particular, the local July “pleases” the locals with high humidity and an average temperature of +14 ° C to +18 ° C. Winters in the kingdom are rainy, but cool because of the constant winds blowing from the sea. Snowfalls are quite extraordinary for Belgians, so you can go skiing just in the Ardennes (Belgium highlands), and almost never on the plains.
Since 2002, the Belgian franc has been gone for good, handing over its powers to the euro.
Brussels Stock Exchange
Exchangers in Belgium are located in the most crowded places – airports, train stations and malls. You should use these offices only in case of extreme need, because the commission and exchange rates are not the most pleasant. The best way to avoid unnecessary expenditures is to exchange money before your flight. But keep in mind that it is better to stock up on bills not the largest denomination, because denominations of 500 euros will not accept in any Belgian store. There are some details about the change: if it is more than 20 Euros, the enterprising Belgians have the right to consider it as currency exchange and they are going to charge the commission of 1-3 Euros.
Relatively advantageous in comparison with the classical exchangers offer bank branches and post offices in Belgium. The former work on weekdays from 9:00 to 16:00, the latter are open on Saturdays (until noon). If for some reason you came to Belgium with dollars instead of euros, you can exchange them at special ATMs, installed in city hotels. Classic ATMs on the Belgian streets is almost impossible to find: they are all hidden under the roofs of airports, train stations and shopping centers.
As for “plastic”, it is accepted only in large restaurants and malls – the rule applies to “Visa” and “Mastercard”. To pay with a cab or pay for a purchase at some small retail outlet, you have to prepare cash.
Each region of Belgium has its own language. For example, in the south of the country are spoken in French and very reluctantly pass into English, which here at a decent level, few people speak, so tourists who are able to build at least the most basic sentence in Hugo’s language, in Wallonia is not lost. In Flanders it is customary to chant Flemish, whose forebear was one of the Dutch dialects (although the Flemish prefer not to focus on such “insignificant” details).
In Brussels people have a good command of both French and Flemish, but the first option is of higher priority for the capital region’s residents. In the eastern part of Belgium, in the Liège area, German is preferred.
De Crook Library in Ghent
Belgium is one of the most densely populated countries in Europe, with the vast majority of locals living in cities. On a small – in world terms – territory of 30,528 km², 11,376,070 people live quite happily and relatively well (data current as of 2018).
People on the streets in Bruges
The concept of “national mentality” practically does not apply to the Belgians. And what kind of national identity can we talk about in a country where each region imagines itself to be like a separate state. The local residents, who rarely call themselves Belgians, but rather Walloons or Flemings, are no better.
The more expressive and careless southerners do not dislike the thorough and Germanic avaricious Flemish, who in return pay them back in kind. A true resident of Flanders never misses a chance to tease the habits of their less fortunate neighbors. Well, the national flag of the Walloon Community, representing a rooster, is nothing but an inexhaustible source of ribald jokes for the Flemish. The reason for this mutual disdain lies in the not so distant past, when Flanders lagged far behind its southern neighbor in economic terms. It was only after the coal industry, on which Wallonia made its reputation, collapsed that the southern provinces reluctantly ceded the pedestal to the Flemings.
As for the portrait of a typical Belgian, a subject of the kingdom appears as an average burgher, adoring his cozy cottage, working hard all work week, and at the deserved day off having a good time in a pleasant company with a mug of good beer. Belgians are completely devoid of such a phenomenon as hooray patriotism, which allows them to adequately assess their own country, and often express open dissatisfaction with their state. Here they like to earn money, but do not want to boast about it, preferring to avoid artificial pathos and ostentatiousness in everything. And the Belgians are always at odds with the Dutch. The reason for this is an offensive cliché, assiduously cultivated by the northern neighbors and concerning the slow reaction time and low intelligence of the Belgians. In response to these “stilettoes,” the locals compose aphorisms about the meanness of the Dutch, sometimes downright vulgar.
The Pier in Blankenberg
Belgium’s top tourist destinations
It may seem strange, but not so many tourists dare to go on their own trips to the iconic places in Belgium. Basically the kingdom becomes only a stopover in the so called sightseeing tours of Benelux, which includes Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.
The starting point of most trips often becomes Brussels. The Belgian capital is unbelievably photogenic and is great for architectural memorabilia hunters as well as for party animals cruising through Europe in search of a pleasant place for carefree relaxation. Among other cities of the kingdom Brussels especially distinguishes gourmets, and even the French love to eat in local restaurants, who are generally rather ironic towards everything Belgian.
The second most important city in the country, Antwerp, is famous for its port, plenty of large shopping centers and nightlife. It is in Antwerp’s jewelry factories that they grind the proverbial “best friends of girls,” for which even international celebrities do not hesitate to stop by.
The British director Martin McDonagh’s hyped and forever stuck in his postcard-glossy Middle Ages, Bruges is the third most popular tourist destination in Belgium. Be sure to go to Grote Markt Square, home to the famous Belfort Tower. In between trips to Gothic churches and museums, you can also stock up on exquisite lace and indulge in unimaginable chocolate desserts.
In the third most populous city in Belgium, and the administrative center of the same province, Liege, it is worth stopping by to appreciate the magnificent architecture of St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Church of St. Bartholomew. Ghent and Leuven have their share of fans, typical student cities with their carefree atmosphere and vibrant nightlife.
Getting a black tan on Belgian beaches is unlikely. Bathing season is pretty short and lasts from mid-June to mid-August. But to relax on the soft sand and frolic in the invigorating waves of the North Sea here is quite possible.
In search of a cozy and civilized places for swimming is better to go to the main resort of Belgium – Ostend, famous for its free, and even better, clean beaches. An alternative option, designed for true snobs, is the resort Knokke-Heist, where everything is very glamorous and frankly expensive. De Panne takes the noisy fun, endless string of gastronomic festivals and a strikingly wide coastline, lined with soft yellow sand. For surfing or yachting, try the Neuveport. But for those who miss solitude and quiet family beaches, straight to De Haan.
Ostend Beach at Knokke Heist De Panne
Attractions in Belgium
Belgium’s main attraction is its diverse architecture. From the austere Romanesque, the elegant and austere Gothic, the ornate Brabant style, the graceful baroque and Art Nouveau – 99% of Belgian buildings fall into at least one of these categories.
To go back in time, be sure to visit Bruges, which, with its cozy little houses and tiny bridges, has long been an open-air museum.
The cathedral with an altar painted by Van Eyck himself, the legendary Gerard the Devil’s Castle and the impregnable Gravensten Castle await all fans of medieval flair in Ghent. In Liège, the cultural capital of Wallonia, it is worth stopping by to admire the Cathedral of St. Paul (the embodiment of eclecticism, so beloved by Belgians), the City Hall with its plaque in honor of the Honorable detective Megre, and the Church of Saint Jean, where the priceless image of Our Lady is kept. The home of the Belgian bishop, Mechelen, is famous for its Gothic (St. Rumold’s Cathedral) and Baroque (St. John’s Church) churches. Brussels with its Grand Place, Hôtel de Vil, the Palace of Charles of Lorraine, St. Michael’s Cathedral and countless anonymous, but no less old buildings, remains a champion in the number of old buildings.
St. Bavon’s Cathedral in Ghent Gerard the Devil’s Castle Gravensten St. Paul’s Cathedral in Liège Grand Place in Brussels
Belgium is also Europe’s little art treasure trove. Bruegel, Bosch, Rubens, Meunier, Finch – all these comrades kept their studios on the territory of the kingdom. In the 20th century, the country was hit by a wave of surrealism, giving rise to such extraordinary figures as René Magritte and Paul Delvaux. Of course, most of their paintings were scattered through the art galleries of Europe, but some also settled in Belgian museums. In particular, the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Brussels boasts an impressive collection of paintings by Pieter Brueghel and other Flemish painters of the 14th century. The Rubens House in Antwerp inherited the master’s paintings, which were not to be sold. In Ghent’s Museum of Fine Arts visitors can admire the symbolic works of Hieronymus Bosch, and in the Meyer van den Berg Museum the legendary Bosch’s “Mad Greta” is settled.
Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Brussels House of Rubens in Antwerp
For travelers who are not culturally ecstatic about art, Belgium has its own pleasures. Stop by the Chocolate Museum in Bruges and observe the whole process of creation of this delicacy. Buy a ticket to the French Fries Museum and learn about the history of Belgian – and not, as is commonly believed, American – fast food. Take a stroll through Brussels’ historic center and appreciate the most publicized symbol of the Belgian capital, the Pissing Boy, then arm yourself with a guidebook and go in search of two more “pissing” sculptures of the city.
Chocolate Museum in Bruges Fries Museum
In the same Brussels, there is a famous park “Europe in Miniature”, where it is easy to imagine yourself as Gulliver, wandering among reduced copies of the most iconic sights of the continent. You can also have a good time at the Spa, the oldest thermal spa in the Kingdom, today better known as the location of one of the Formula 1 circuits. The beer aficionados should take a walk through the halls of the Brussels Beer Museum. And for those who long for a break in nature, we recommend a tour of the nature reserve De Soom Kalmthautse Heide, where you can really relax and get zen in the midst of its groves and dunes.