Brussels is the capital not only of Belgium but also of the European Union. In my opinion almost all capitals don’t show the real lifestyle of the country, as for example small Ghent or tiny Bruges. Brussels is Belgium’s main economic and educational spot, what let to define it as a cosmopolitan city full of contrasts. Nevertheless it attracts tourists with it’s historical monuments and various world-class museums. Interesting to mention is that the city is bilingual, all signs and the name of the streets are written in French and Dutch. The majority speaks French though, so they don’t even understand Dutch. Curious and sad at the same time, the country is divided into two parts, so many of it’s citizens can’t communicate with each other. But let’s talk about beautiful parts of Brussels because there are plenty of them!
If you are planning to visit one of the Belgian cities just for a weekend check out my useful packing list for a weekend!
Must see in Brussels
The main touristic spot is the city’s main plaza Grand Place and it’s right in the heart of Brussels’ Old Town. The square is full with magnificent architecture in barock style. Moreover it’s considered as one of the most beautiful places in the world. No wonder, the square is surrounded by outstanding buildings decorated with rich gold ornates and gables. The most recongizible architectural masterpiece is the Town Hall, built in the 15th century. The architecture of the beautiful Grand Place reflects the diverse culture and society of Belgium, presenting the influences of different artistic styles. Here you also have a possibility to visit various museums, the prices for the tickets are mostly around 7-9€. If you need a map of the city, don’t buy it in the Info Hall, just go to the little chocolate museum and take one for free.
You’ve probably heard a lot about the famous urinating little boy of Brussels: “Manneken Pis”. I did it too. My expectations to see the symbol of the rebellious spirit of the City of Brussels were not so high, because what other country would actually use a pissing little boy as a symbol of the city? Moreover my hope to understand the meaning of Belgium’s most famous statue were immediately gone when I saw the microscopic bronze sculpture: 61cm.
Must try in Brussels: Beer and waffles
Next to the marvelous “monument” is a street full of delicious Belgian waffles. The tempting aroma will lead you to the right direction, where you can find a huge variety of these sugary baked goods from 1 to 10 Euros. The price doesn’t play a main role, all Belgian waffles taste delightful. It’s like Belgian chocolate, the taste will never disappoint you. You can get waffles either hot or cold and even with different toppings like fruits, chocolate, caramel, nuts and more and more of other exquisite extras.
Belgium is famous all over the world for it’s tremendous beer culture. Since the Middle Ages Belgian folk take it’s reputation so seriously, they even designed customized shapes of the glasses for each beer to enhance most of the flavor. Belgians brew with love and passion numerous variety of beer tastes and in 2002 the world discovered Westvleteren, the best beer in the whole world. It’s a very exclusive beer, made by monks. They brew only enough to support themselves, they don’t see it as a business. Probably that’s why it tastes so good. Nevertheless if you have affinity for beers, you should definitely visit Delirium Café in Brussels. It’s popular for having over 3.000 different brands of beer from over 60 countries. This unbelievable record found it’s place even in The Guinness Book of Records. The bar with the pink elephant symbol seems to be unimposing from the outside, but inside you can get lost: The bar splits into three gigantic levels. Even if you don’t like beer, it’s interesting to go there. I’m not much of a beer drinker and I could still enjoy one of the Belgian beverages, namely a grapefruit beer. It’s always about learning a new culture and be a part of it for a moment.
Must visit in Brussels before you leave
Brussels is hiding a diverse amount of historical treasures, I could write an infinite number of pages describing it’s breathtaking beauty. I will introduce you to a few, that left impression on me. The Mont des Artes is an architecturally imposing complex of monuments with a wide gorgeous garden. From there you can enjoy a great view on the Grand Place and the historic City of Brussels. Close to this magical garden you can find the influential achievements of the great Belgian architect Victor Horta. His unique design now regarded as iconic examples of the Art Nouveau style. Horta’s architectural masterpieces with borrowed motifs from nature are even featured on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. You can also visit the Horta museum, which remains a magnificent scene of a fairytale.
I’ve spent only one day in Brussels, that showed me both of it’s sides: a rough, grey city and a marvelous historical pearl. To enjoy the city to it’s fullest you would need at least a weekend for it. The best decision is to combine it with a trip to Belgium, so you can see most of the Belgian culture and it’s meaningful sights.
Have you ever heard about Antwerp? No? Don’t worry, it’s nothing to be ashamed of, we are learning something new every single day! Nevertheless Antwerp has a plenty of things to be proud of. No wonder it’s also one of the commonly visited cities in Belgium. It’s also the second largest city in the Kingdom of waffles, but don’t expect to land in a metropolis: Antwerp is a compact, but cozy city. In one weekend you will see most of it and you will be astonished what treasures it keeps.
If you are planning to visit Antwerp just for a weekend check out my tips and tricks how to travel light!
Antwerp by the way means “throw the hand” and it’s name comes from an interesting Belgian myth. Once upon a time a giant Antigoon was terrifying the city. A young brave man Brabo defeated the villain by cutting his hand off and throwing it into the river. The imposing statue which captures the moment of glory is standing proudly in front of the Town Hall at the Grote Markt square.
It’s better to come to Antwerp by train and not only because of the costs but also because you will arrive in one of the most beautiful train station worldwide. I promise you, you will be magnified by the extraordinary architecture of the 19th century.
All I see is diamonds!
Another curious fact about Antwerp is that it’s “The World’s Capital of Diamonds” and it has a decent district with diamond dealers, merchants and brokers, who are by the way mostly Jewish. Since a long time diamond trading is ruled by jewish people. After all if you found the love of your life and you feel that your relationship is going to another level, don’t hesitate to go to the city of diamonds. Undoubtedly you will find the perfect ring and she won’t even think to say “no” to you! We all know, diamonds are a girl’s best friends! My advice before you walk around, go to Diamond Land and get closer information about the gems there, but be aware, the prices outside of that store are lower, much lower.
You were probably asking yourself why Antwerp is a city of diamonds? What is so special about it that is almost 80% of all diamonds all over the world are shipped to Belgium? So, here is the answer: Antwerp just got lucky! It has second biggest harbor in Europe and furthermore the position of the port is ideal: it’s in the heart of Europe. Since 15th century all trading including the diamond trading were happening here. Therefore you need to see the Antwerp’s harbor with your own eyes. There you will find various cafés, restaurants and even a museum. If you need to get some energy, my recommendation is Pelican Rouge: great coffee, amazing service and friendly prices, definitely cheaper than at Starbucks. And please do me a favor, don’t go to Starbucks. After the coffein energy boost time to visit the MAS museum: tremendous modern architecture of red brick decorated with little hands. Honestly I’m not fascinated by that building, my personal opinion is it doesn’t fit to the lovely historic harbor of Antwerp. Although inside of the museum you can discover different exhibitions on 9 levels. On the top of the MAS you can experience the panoramic view of the city, which is breathtaking.
The modest Antwerp is additionally famous for being an international fashion capital. The fashion department at The Royal Academy of Fine Arts laid down the foundation for many talented and creative designers. Belgium is very quiet about communicating the achievements of it’s artists though. At the shopping street Meir you can find numerous amounts of stores and whatever your personal taste or style is, in this city you can always shop till you drop. If you are not interesting in spending money on the designer clothes, you can learn something about fashion: visit MoMu, the museum of fashion.
The medieval city impresses with it’s beautiful architecture and splendid art. Great artists like Rubens, who is famous for his affinity for voluptuous nudes, and other renowned painters include Weyden and Van Eyck were born in this inspiring city. A typical touristic place is Rubens House, built in 17th century architectural style containing a modest collection of his work. Worth to see it. My advice, if you don’t want to waste all your money on museums, then visit Antwerp in the last week of the month. On the last Wednesday all museum are gratis, so you will have more money too enjoy Belgian beer. Before I will tell you where you can enjoy your cold drink with locals, here is one more important monument of Antwerp: seven-aisled gothic Cathedral of our Lady. The background story of that cathedral is very dramatic: it took over two centuries to build the magnificent monument and some tragic accidents happened during the constructions. It was damaged a couple of times through the fire and different wars, so a high amount of artistic treasures were destroyed. Only by the end of the 19th century the church was finally completely restored. Nowadays the cathedral possesses some meaningful masterpieces of Rubens.
Beer of Antwerp – Belgian pride
After gathering historical knowledge time to get to know Belgian beer culture. Moreover the best way to consume some delicious gold drink at the places where you can find only locals. One of them is charming Zeezicht: it’s located a bit further from the city center in Zurenborg area on the square surrounded by splendid old buildings. Pay attention to the name of the streets, they are definitely amusing. Close to the cafe you can also discover a long serpentine of colorful graffitis. It’s perfect location for a new profile picture!
If you are wondering where you could eat in Antwerp here are some awesome restaurants that you should definitely visit!
These are three beers of Antwerp, that you definitely need to try:
- De Koninck 5,2%, it’s Antwerp in the bottle! It has been launched in 1913 and has quite bitter taste with complex and delicious aroma of toffee, chestnut and caramel.
- Duvel 6,8%, special golden blond beer. It’s smooth and refreshing transparent beer with the citrus notes.
- Kriek 4-6%, cherry cooling beer, perfect for girls.
Another attractive and currently hipster area of Antwerp is the South, Zuid. In that young and vivid district you will be always entertained: numerous markets, exhibitions and delightful cafés and restaurants. Great place to visit and to enjoy good weather and fascinating view of the stone monument with the God of the sea, Neptune on the top of it, is Marnix Square. Go there to the bar Neptune, it’s very cozy pub with a friendly and sociable young service. In the evening the square is crowded with sympathetic and chatty people, occasionally you can even meet Belgian celebrities. Last but not least it’s an amazing spot to get to know new people and have nice conversations.
At one of the Sunday mornings I decided spontaneously to spoil my soul and to go visit one of the four largest cities in Belgium: Ghent! Because Sundays are made for relaxation and taking a breather. It’s also a day when you should take it slow and end up doing something you enjoy the most, something for your soul.
Before you go to Ghent check how you can pack maximum of essential but still travel light.
I’ve heard a lot about this city, how beautiful and impressive the medieval architecture is and that many people in Belgium move to Ghent to study. But I didn’t expect to see something so breathtaking as the cathedrals and castles of Ghent! I was overwhelmed how two contrasting times like modern – time of smart phones and medieval – time of witches and brave knights ( or just Game of Thrones time ) can be presented in peaceful harmony.
On the one hand it felt like I’m a princess walking through the gorgeous historical streets, while the horse carriages are passing by. On the other hand, when you go in one of the alleys, it feels like you are back into the modern world, with good dressed people sipping their lattes in one of the charming cafés.
We were traveling by train and arrived on the railway station “Gent Sint-Pieters”. The station is not directly in the center, so from there we took a tram direction “Korenmarkt”. The tram 1 or 22 stopped just in front of the main entrance of the station and it took only 5-6 minutes to get to our destination. The breathtaking part when you arrive in the centre city of Ghent is the architectural attraction: It doesn’t matter where you turn your head, you will be surrounded by majestic buildings of medieval times. One of them is the high gothic Cathedral of St. Bavo. It was built between 13th and 16th centuries and has famous unique artworks of Rubens “The Conversion of St. Baaf” and Van Eyck brothers “The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb”. One of the panels of the Van Eyck’s paintings was stolen in 1934 though, so it was replaced by a reproduction. The curious travelers should definitely enter the the cathedral, because underneath the main church are numerous tombs and treasures.
If you are interested in Belgian Beers my Belgian friend helped me to create a list of the best Belgian beers that you definitely need to try.
It’s important to mention that Ghent’s historical city central is car-free and very pedestrian-friendly. Ideal to explore the surroundings by feet. But first take a closer look at the city center, there are so many splendid buildings to admire! One of them is The Belfry: 91-meter-high tower, the symbol of the city’s independence. Town Hall ( Stadhuis ) is another magnificent architectural masterpiece, that contains a variety of architectonic styles.
The city is full of canal arteries and attractive bridges, where you can take variety of amazing pictures. One of the main bridges will lead to the The Old Market (Groentenmarkt). That place is full of life and joy, on every side you can discover variant restaurants, cafés, on the river you can see boats and kayaks. In that delightful area is a great place to have lunch and enjoy energizing drink: “Three monkeys” . It’s a relative new café and all the waiters are very young, but welcoming and sociable. The most important thing is that the food is divine! We ordered the tuna burger and for a small amount of money it was served with a descent portion of chips, salad with tuna steak on top, lemon mayo and a juicy burger! We felt like being in a gastronomic paradise. You can read more about that place in my other blog.
This is by the way also an interesting fact about Ghent: the city boasts with the full architectural load of history, but a modern influx of young people makes it hip and vivid. Maybe this is also a reason why the streets are not crowded by many visitors as any other touristic places in Belgium, seems like the country of waffles and beer wants to keep it’s vivacious city in a secret.
After charging the battery and being ready for the forthcoming positive impressions, time to explore the hidden streets of a Belgian’s pearl Ghent. If you pay attention to the little alleys, you may discover a narrow graffiti street (Werregarenstraat, 9000 Gent). My advice, prepare your camera, because the serpentine of colorful graffitis seem to have no end! The end of that street will bring you to the shopping area, where you can decide if you would like to spoil yourself and make your wallet a bit thinner. Be careful, for shopaholics Ghent can be a dangerous oasis: various shops with the stylish closing.
Another important place to see in Ghent is Castle of the Counts – Gravensteen. The pompous and imposing fortress stands in the city centre and provides the whole city with the shattering medieval charm. The castle was built in the late 12th century and was used during all this time for several purposes: a mint, a prison and even a cotton plant. Nowadays it’s open to visitors as a museum, showing different torture methods that were once used at that castle. If you’re keen to visit this breathtaking monument then keep in mind the opening hours: daily from 09.00 to 17.00.
Ghent is also famous with the rich amount of cute little parks, but no wonder it’s a student city and as we all know, students favorite places to catch up and to relax are parks. Whenever you will go, you will come across little green grass islands, where a group of people are enjoying the sun. One of the places that I discovered was Appelbrugparkje. Very intimate, small and an appealing location. And another famous thing in general in Belgium is beer. Not only the taste of the beer plays a significant role but also the place and atmosphere of the surroundings. That’s why follow my recommendation and visit “Het Waterhuis aan de Bierkant”, this literarily translates to the “Water house on the beer side”. The location of that place is ideal: next to the canal, under the sun and not far from the imposing fortress.
By the end of the day you will be infatuated with that unexpectedly culturally rich city Ghent. There are so many things to discover and see. One day is definitely not enough, to get to know all charming facades and corners, buildings and museums, parks and cafés of that unique Belgian beauty. I will absolutely go there soon again and narrate about my new sighting!
“It’s a fairytale town, isn’t it? How’s a fairytale town not somebody’s fucking thing? How can all those canals and bridges and cobbled streets and those churches, all that beautiful fucking fairytale stuff, how can that not be somebody’s fucking thing, eh?”- from the movie "In Bruges"
If you are planning short breaks to Bruges then this little romantic town in Belgium will definitely capture your heart! Bruges or Brugge is the capital and the largest city in West Flanders in Belgium. It’s the perfect place to escape reality and spend one day in Bruges, in a fairy tale. Follow the cobblestone streets and they will lead you to the different historical treasures of Bruges. The friendly atmosphere, smell of waffles and chocolate, fascinating architecture, cute bridges and swans on the canals are all attributes for a perfect peaceful day.
Historic Centre of Brugge – UNESCO World Heritage Centre
My first impression of the city was that it’s a very clean and green. Official Bruges’ language is Flemish but people speak English fluently. Locals really not happy with French tourists expecting everyone to communicate in French, complaining that they don’t even try to switch the language.
Bruges City Break: Grote Markt & Belfry of Bruges
So what to see in Bruges? It’s a tiny town, it’s compact size allows you to wander around with no fear of getting lost. So it’s perfect to experience Bruges city break or just a weekend in Bruges! By the way locals would call it “Weekedje Brugge”. All roads run into the heart of the town to the Grote Markt, Bruges centre. You can recognize it by the striking building of the Middle Ages, the Belfry of Bruges and the uncountable amount of tourists. Belgium tourism is growing so every year over 4 million visitors pass through this area to admire Bruges’ symbol for freedom and wealth. It was built in the 13th-15th centuries and suffered through some tragedies like fire. If you visit Bruges must do is to climb the 366 steps of spiral staircases to the top to enjoy the breathtaking panoramic view of the Old Town.
If you are interested in Belgian Beers my Belgian friend helped me to create a list of the best Belgian beers that you definitely need to try.
On the left side of the Belfry of Bruges is the Neo-Gothic Provincial Palace of the 20th century. It includes a Beer museum and the Historium, where you can walk through authentic backdrops, with film and music. There you can also find Tourist Information, which is opened daily from 10am till 5pm.
Bruges’ attractions: Belgian Waffles
I have great news for the sweet tooth: There is a small alley on the side of the Beer museum with delightful chocolate and waffel shops! There you can enjoy a typical Belgian waffle or heavenly tasty Belgian pralines. There is also a cool shop “Waffle on sticks for €4”. It looks very photogenic but doesn’t taste as nice as real big waffels.
If you follow the chocolate and waffle street you will reach the birthplace of Bruges, Castle Square. It used to be the administrative, juridical and religious centre of the town. On the right side you will discover Bruges’ oldest building, Basilica of the Holy Blood built in the 12th century. Legend tells that Count Diederick of Alsace brought Jesus Christ’s Holy Blood to the church.
Belgian Chocolate Brands to try & the Best Bruges’ Chocolate
There are numerous little shops with the tasty Belgian chocolate nevertheless not all of them are good. There are some that are focused on to sell quantity to the tourists and then there are some like Leonidas Belgian chocolate who’s intention to create good quality. They also sell delicious Belgian chocolate seashells. Chocolatier Dumon is also excellent and it’s Belgian chocolate price varies from 7€ for the small box of pralines. The best Belgian chocolate truffles you will find in my favourite store “Chocolate Brothers”. You can also visit Bruges chocolate museum and try plenty of it there!
The best Instagram spot in Bruges
Behind the Castle Square you will be amazed by the coziness and appeal of the Huidenvettersplein. There you can also choose one of the places to eat or have a coffee. It doesn’t matter where you will go, because food in the touristic areas is pretty similar and the prices too. But my advice is to enjoy your coffee in one of the restaurants next to the canal, so you can breathe in the fresh air and watch the little boats passing by with the smiling people.
Bruges is not only the perfect place for the lovebirds. If you have an affinity for photography, you should definitely visit this charming city. It doesn’t matter where you go in Bruges, you will always find an ideal spot to take a stunning picture. One of the most famous photographed spots in Bruges is Rozenhoedkaai though. Even if you are not familiar with photography, make a pause for a moment and enjoy the beautiful scenery. There you also have the possibility to experience Bruges’ canal tour and explore the city from a fresh perspective: sitting in the boat, listening to the tour guide and getting to know this wonderful city. Bruges’ boat tour is a perfect decision if you are a bit tired after your journey before or maybe after your hard working week. The prices are also acceptable, around 8€ and the length of the tour is about 4 km.
How to get around
Another possibility to get to know the city in a comfortable way is by horse drawn carriage tours. And it’s not only during the day but also in the evening, when the stars begin to sparkle in the sky and again you can cherish that moment with your beloved one.
Bruges, Belgium Points of Interest
If you would like to experience something totally different, something that will give you a thrill then you should visit two exhibitions in Bruges. One of them is in Musea Brugge, it has an interesting exhibition about witches. Bruges is one of the most authentic locations to discover the world of witches. The reason for it is, that the city had a big influence in medieval times, known as the time of witchcraft. Another museum will introduce you cruel instruments, which were developed to torture human beings. In the Torture Museum you can see different devices that were used in particular centuries. The museum is also located in one of the oldest Europeans prisons and it’s name is “De Oude Steen”.
I’m sure as a traveler you are not only hungry for knowledge but also for real tasty food. Don’t worry after the many museums you can enjoy delicious meals, but before you need to turn into one of the Rolling Stones’ band members. You were probably asking yourself already, why the title of that column says that Rolling Stones will be jealous? So now it’s time to share my secret! Belgium is very popular for it’s delightful chocolate, so it’s a paradise for choco-addicts. This country is filled with plenty of chocolate stores, but one of them is not like any other. It’s crazy, it’s rebellious and it offers unexpected and unique flavors. They call the owner a rock star of the chocolate world, he calls himself “Shock-a-latier”. The audacious chocolate maker Dominique Persoone’s opened his first shop in 1992, “Chocolate Line”. Mr. Persoone can currently boast with 50 chocolatiers and a crazy invention made special for the Rolling Stones: sniffing chocolate powder. The mix of a ground dust of pure cocoa, ginger and mint catapults in your nostrils with a special device, to give you unbelievable fireworks of the flavors.
Even rock stars need a moment to relax, so it’s time to get some good food and to digest all the impressions that were gathered during the day. Next to the crazy chocolate place is an adorable bio café called “Le pain quotidien”. From the outside it looks like one of the common bakeries, but when you enter the café, you will be overwhelmed by the size of this hidden place. The warm atmosphere, inviting feeling and pleasant smell make you feel like home. In the back of this location you will find a cozy terrace, where you can get away from the noise of the streets, enjoy your delicious drink and intimate conversations with your beloved. In the menu you can find delicious healthy food for a relatively low prices if you compare it everywhere else in Bruges. Don’t hesitate to try one of the cakes, they are undescribably great!
Free Things to Do in Bruges
You can enjoy Bruges walking tour. By the end of the day have a pleasant walk down the Lake of Love in “Minnewaterpark” and cherish the moment of togetherness. Therefore you can enjoy the view from one of the charming bridges or watch the sunset from a bench in the park. There is also a little secret about that place, a local legend telling that you will experience eternal love with your partner if you walk over the lake bridge. Even if you are sure you have found a love of your life, why not try it just to guarantee a bright future.
Places to Eat in Bruges
The dining possibilities in Bruges are constantly changing because it follows new trends but still keeps it’s traditions. There are some nice places that are beloved by locals and that I would definitely suggest to visit:
Everyone knows the cult Patisserie Academie in Bruges. It’s an amazing place where you can enjoy extraordinary sweet and savory creations made by incredible chef-patisserie Tom van Loock. If you would like to have something savoury is a great alternative. There are many Michelin star restaurants in Bruges like Den Gouden Harynck.
If you prefer savory meals with a lot of meat and live music from time to time then you doubtlessly need to visit Lokkediz. The restaurant opens at 6pm except Tuesday and Wednesday. I would suggest to reserve the table because this place is always full!
Fancy for a drink? Hungry for a lovely meal? Then enjoy all of it at the Bruges’ best place to eat, De Republiek. Nevertheless don’t expect to get traditional Belgian beef stew because that one you can get from your grandmother at home!
If you have an opportunity to visit Bruges, don’t think twice. Go there for 1 or 2 days and you will no doubt fall in love with that endlessly fascinating city! And if you are planning to visit other beautiful cities of Belgium I would suggest to go from Bruges to Brussels. You can find out more about Brussels here.