Nestled between Germany and France in the middle of Europe, tiny Belgium is easy to overlook. But as small as it may be, make no mistake: this beautiful country is brimming with a variety of European culture and institutions, making it one of Europe's great secrets.
Belgium is known for its medieval towns, dazzling art, Renaissance architecture an also for serving as headquarters of the European Union and NATO. It’s comprised of various regions including Dutch-speaking Flanders in the north, French-speaking Wallonia to the south and a German-speaking community to the east.
If you’re a new international traveler, fear not. Everything in Belgium feels close together, organized, and the people there are lovely (there's also practically no language barrier). But if that's not reason enough to visit, I have another trick up my sleeve to sell you: the food. Yep, this country is one you'll want the stretchy pants for. Whether you choose to indulge in something savory like buckets of mussels or the best fries in Europe (with mayonnaise, obvi), something sweet like Belgian waffles or their world-class chocolate, or if even if you prefer to stick to a liquid "diet" by drinking their famous beer this is one region where your tastebuds won't be disappointed in the slightest.
While Belgium may be a tiny country, there are countless towns worth seeing. So on my most recent trip, my friend Sarah and I did some research and decided to visit 3 different towns in 3 different days (perks of everything being close together!) Our top picks?:
Brussels has way more to offer than most people realize. Apart from its famous chocolates and beers, it's home to roughly 90 museums, stunning architecture, lovely parks, and wonderful people.
Though (like the rest of Belgium) Brussels is officially bilingual, most people here speak French first (so pulling some French phrases out of your brain is a polite courtesy if you can manage).
Serving as the unofficial capital of Europe, this cosmopolitan city hosts businessmen from around the world (making it a fantastic place to Bumble for all my singles out there- trust me on this one). It's the political nerve center of united Europe (which also means that when Europeans want to protest, this tends to be where they demonstrate).
If you only see one attraction in Brussels, head to the central square of the city known as Grand-Place. Not only is it considered one of the most beautiful places in the world, but it's also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The first time I visited Brussels was during the Christmas season and this is where the city's massive tree was displayed (along with an impressive light show at night). On my most recent trip (which was in May), a jazz festival was held here. No matter when you visit, you can guarantee to find entertainment (not to mention some of the most gorgeous art nouevau facades in all of Europe).
As previously mentioned, beer here is a must. To be perfectly honest, this isn't my drink of choice but that doesn't mean I can't enjoy it (especially when I'm someplace like Belgium!) While it's in a touristy area and probably not a hot spot for the locals, we loved going to Little Delirium to sit outside and drink flights of beer (they had a great selection of local beer and a fun sidewalk atmosphere).
If you only go to one restaurant in Brussels, make it this one. This chic brasserie is housed in a former bank with gorgeous stained-glass ceilings, creating one of the most beautiful dinner atmospheres I've ever been in. But aside from a stunning environment, this is a wonderful place to partake in Belgian cuisine. The ingredients are carefully selected from Belgian artisans, while the wines come exclusively from Belgian producers. Everything we tried was fantastic (although my personal favorites were the meatballs and the speculoos dessert!)
Repeat after me: Maison Dandoy is where you want to get your waffles in Brussels. Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of great waffles out there- but this is by far the best one that I had. While they technically are the oldest and most famous biscuit shop in Brussels known for their speculoos (a traditional Belgian cookie), everything they make is fantastic and will certainly satisfy your sweet tooth. There is a location conveniently located off the Grand-Place so you can even order it for take away and sit there to enjoy it if you prefer.
I’d highly recommend staying in Brussels the entire time you’re in Belgium, even though I absolutely recommend taking day trips to other towns! Since Belgium is such a small country, no town is more than 2 hours away by train so it’s totally doable to leave in the morning and head back to Brussels in the evening. Chance are you’ll be coming and going from Belgium via the airport or Eurostar in Brussels, so you may as well stay there the entire time so you’re not lugging your suitcases here there and everywhere. Regardless of what you’re looking for in a hotel, here are a few options I highly recommend based on my past stays:
We spent the majority of our hotel time at Sofitel Le Louise: a 5 star luxury hotel in Brussels prestigious Avenue Louise district nestled amid quiet streets lined with chestnut trees designer boutiques and art deco mansions.
With its stunning plays on color and light this stylish hotel blends Brussels historic beauty with French art de vivre. From the moment you walk in and see the ruby pink crystal chandeliers and translucent wall carved with lace patterns, you'll fall in love with this beautiful hotel.
We truly loved everything about our stay (especially the incredible room service breakfast that we ordered every morning- these pastries were insane!)
Le Louise is about a 15 minute walk away from the touristy center of the city, which is still convenient to reach but also a tranquil oasis away from the chaos. If you're looking for a luxury (yet attainable) option with contemporary finishes, Sofitel Le Louise is an amazing place to stay in Brussels that I highly recommend.
Should you prefer to stay in the heart of the city, we stayed at Hilton Brussels Grand Place, which was an incredible experience. This hotel is only a 3 minute walk from Grand-Place and offers first-class accommodations (including free wi-fi and a delicious breakfast). It was so easy to get anywhere in the city from here (especially the train station for our day trips to Bruges and Gent!) I'd recommend this property to anyone who prioritizes location, but still wants a quality experience.
I actually stayed here on my last trip to Brussels on a cold December night at Christmas-time and it was absolutely magical. This five-star luxury hotel is also located on Avenue Le Louise and has hosted guests like Bill Clinton and Mick Jagger. This is definitely the most luxurious hotel that I stayed at during my time in Brussels (which sounds about right because it also has the highest price tag.) Every tiny detail is absolutely lovely: Nespresso machines in every room, the most impressive breakfast spread you can imagine, marble countertops in the bathrooms, spacious rooms, luxurious bedding-- all of it was heavenly. If you're willing to splurge a little for the ultimate experience, I definitley recommend Steigenberger Wiltcher's.
Regardless of where you go in Belgium, the capital city of Brussels is an absolute must. I love every experience I've had here, although if you have flexibility (and don't mind the cold!) I would definitely recommend Christmas time so you can experience the Christmas markets, mulled wine and amazing light show in Grand Place. But no matter when you visit- just make sure you get here!
So, first: a disclaimer. We took a lot of photos in Brugge (as the Flemish people who live in this part of Belgium call their town, or Bruges as the French speaking half of the country say).
This little town is bursting with idyllic architecture, Renoir canals, serene Flemish masterpieces, and, according to locals, the best beer in the world. The word Brugge/Bruges comes from the Viking word for "wharf" because it's been a trading center for a long time.
We spent most of our time simply wandering around the town, taking photos, admiring the architecture, eating chocolate and drinking beer (sounds like a pretty magical day, huh?)
One of my favorite parts about Brugge is the architecture. It's so easy to see the influence from its Dutch neighbor! Literally every corner looks like it's out of a storybook. It was truly a dream!
You don't need a grand agenda in Bruges- just go! Let yourself get lost and admire this quaint little town. Trains from Brussels run roughly every hour (check the station times to be certain) but it's super simple to purchase. I had no idea what I was doing but people at the station (both in Brussels and Bruge) were very helpful and got us exactly where we needed to be.
For our last day in Belgium we went to Gent (or Ghent): a port city in the northwestern part of the country. During the Middle Ages it was a prominent city-state. Today, it serves as a university town and hub of many cultures. It's known for medieval architecture (such as 12th-century Gravensteen castle and the Graslei, a row of guildhalls beside the Leie river harbor) but to be honest, it was definitely the least touristy place we went in Belgium. I felt like we experienced a day in the life of Belgium as we wandered through Gent. People passed by on their bikes, sat outside at cafes, and carried on with everyday life.
Again, no real agenda here! Just wandered around, admired the architecture, drank some more beer and ate some more fries (noticing my trend here?) Gent was a unique little town that felt much different than many destinations I've been in Europe, but I really loved seeing someplace off the beaten path from tourism and observing everyday life in another culture. If you enjoy the same, I definitely recommend coming here!
Belgium is an amazing country where you could truly spend all your time wandering the streets of each town and only eat waffles or stop for a beer. I loved every second we spent here and will definitley be back in the future.
Have questions about planning your trip? Let me know in the comments below!
Thanks for stopping by friends!