Five Things First Time Travellers To Belgium Should Know
- You don't need to tip. Whether it's for taxis or servers, there isn't a tipping culture due to decent living wages. If you feel the service was exceptional, it won't be refused, but don't feel pressured into adding gratuity onto your bill.
- Belgium is a multilingual country. If you're in the south, French is widely spoken whereas Dutch is the dominant tongue in the north. For travellers, you don't need to worry about knowing either of these languages as you won't struggle to find English speakers in the tourist hotspots.
- Buy the Brussels Card. If you want to see as much as possible in the city without blowing your budget, this card will go a long way. You'll get free entry into many of the top attractions and discounts at selected shops, restaurants and bars.
- You need to pay to use public restrooms. Keep a few coins on you in case you need the bathroom while exploring. You'll find someone collecting payments outside toilets at most bars and fast food establishments.
- Keep an eye on the calendar. Most of the museums in Belgium are closed on a Monday as well as a few restaurants. On Sundays, you also might struggle to find mini markets and souvenir shops open. During public holidays, all transport runs on reduced hours even in the country's peak tourist season.
Best Time To Visit Belgium
The best time to visit Belgium is during the summer months. From June to August, the country is buzzing with festivals and events that will make the sweltering heat worth it. It's also a great time of year to tackle the country's hiking trails and explore the Ardennes region.
The only downside is that it's also high season. If you're not a fan of crowds, you might want to give these summer months a miss. But if you're set on visiting during this busy period, you'll need to plan your trip well in advance. With such a high demand for hotels, tours, and flights, there won't be much room for spontaneity and prices will be at their highest.
If you're looking for a happy medium between good weather and decent prices, try Belgium's shoulder months. May and September see the summer crowds thinning out, and hotel rates slowly start to drop. The weather is warm during these months, and most tourist attractions are still open.
For winter sports enthusiasts, the best time of year to visit Belgium is between December and March. While it's not as busy as the peak summer months, the ski resorts are full of tourists looking to tackle the slopes. While Brussels can be depressing during this period, winter is when the towns of Ghent and Bruges really shine.
Brussels is a fascinating capital city in the heart of Belgium. It's a melting pot of diversity and is full of historical and quirky sights.
The city's crown jewel is its 16th-century Grand Place. Its Baroque and Gothic style buildings are home to flower markets, shops and murals illustrating the history of Brussels.
Other must-visit attractions include the world-class museums and art galleries, the Royal Palace and the Notre-Dame du Sablon.
Ghent is a city from the Middle Ages. It was once the wealthiest and most powerful city in Europe and remnants of its glorious past are scattered around the region.
Ghent boasts more than 100 medieval churches, 400 historical buildings and the imposing Gravensteen Castle. The city is a must-visit for history buffs, and there's more than enough to keep you entertained for days.
Bruges is one of the most-visited places in Belgium. Each year more than 2 million travellers flock here to marvel at its outstanding medieval architecture.
Known as the "Venice of the North", no trip here would be complete without sailing down the city's many canals. Other popular attractions include the Saint John's Hospital, the opulent Basilica of the Holy Blood and the striking Belfry Tower.
Top Attractions in Belgium
The Grand Place is the main landmark in Brussels. Dating back to the 11th century, the square is lined with ornate gothic and baroque architecture. Once home to some of Belgium's most influential guilds, it's now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the top attractions in the country.
Surrounded by a 96-metre-high Town Hall, the square also includes the King's House and numerous guild houses. The Grand Place deserves at least an hour, but if you can, come back throughout your stay and explore it in parts.
For a unique experience, plan your visit around the famous Flower Carpet event. Every two years, a million begonias are arranged in colourful patterns covering the floor of this architectural and cultural jewel.
Waterloo is a must-visit for history buffs. It marks the place where Napoleon famously met his defeat in battle.
All that's left from the epic battle today are peaceful agricultural fields and an artificial hill crowned with a memorial lion sculpture. To reach the top, you'll need to climb up 226 steps, and for those that do, you'll be rewarded with panoramic views of the battle site.
There's also a panel that depicts the locations of the opposing troops to give you a better idea how it all played out.
Waterloo is only 20km from Brussels, making it an easy day trip from the capital city. If you don't want to hire a car, you can take public transport to the site and go on a guided tour once there.
Mons Old Town
Mons is a medieval city located in the Hainaut Province. It's home to the only Baroque belfry in the country. Standing at 87 metres high, it was built in the 17th century and is the town's most iconic landmark. Today, it's a UNESCO listed site and is full of artistic and religious relics.
Other notable buildings include the Toison d'Or House and the Chapel of St. George. Both were constructed in the 16th century and make up the city's many architectural highlights.
One of the most interesting times to visit Mons is during the Lumecon Festival. The tradition dates back to the 14th century where the locals act out a fight scene between St. George and a dragon. If you happen to be visiting in May, the festival is definitely worth the trip.
Gravensteen is a 12th-century castle located in Ghent. Inspired by buildings the knights saw during the Second Crusade in the Middle Ages, its architecture is spellbinding.
Over the centuries, it turned into a prison and then a factory before being scheduled for demolition in 1885. Luckily, the castle was saved, and it's now one of the most popular tourist attractions in Belgium.
Inside the castle walls, you'll find exhibits depicting medieval life, its most macabre display being torture devices used over the ages. Climb up the staircase to the roof for beautiful panoramic views of the region.
Cathedral of Saint Bavo
Saint Bavo is one of Belgium's most impressive cathedrals. It's famous for its Gothic choir and a Romanesque crypt that shows off some of the finest religious architecture of the time.
But don't just admire the cathedral from the outside. The real stars of the show are the artworks that grace the interior of the building, the highlight being a 15th-century masterpiece known as The Altar of Ghent.
Before leaving, don't miss out on the massive underground crypt. It contains the remains of some of Belgium's most important historical figures and even more exceptional pieces of art.
Major International Airports in Belgium
- Brussels Airport
- Brussels South Charleroi Airport
- Liege Airport
- Ostend–Bruges International Airport
- Antwerp International Airport