Emerging from a turbulent past, Belgium has become one of the most peaceful nations in the world. The highly developed economy has led Belgium to become very stable and prosperous in its local and internationals endeavors.
While a high quality of life is provided for all of Belgium, the country is distinctly and culturally divided to make for a unique travel experience. The Dutch speaking region of Belgium is the largest group in the country, and it lies in the West. In the East, there are communities that speak mostly German and to the South, are rural French speaking towns.
Welkom – Welcome to Belgium
With so much diversity, visitors can also enjoy skipping around the various landscapes. With flatter areas, picturesque canals and green hillsides, Belgium’s landscapes are true beauties. Pocketing in-between the green vegetation are medieval towns, creaking windmills, towering castles, and stone houses. The country also pays tribute to its past by preserving important sites. There are numerous UNESCO World Heritage Sites, along with the Waterloo Battlefield and World War II memories.
With the seats for the European Union and a quirky personality, Brussels is the capital of Belgium. With the Old European architecture on display in places like the Grand Palace, while modern glass dominates the European Union’s headquarters.
The mix of styles only adds more character to Brussels and makes it an exciting place to visit. But Brussels cultural scene is also heavily devoted to contemporary art and the local gastronomy. With plenty of galleries and studios, art enthusiasts will be captivated while exploring Belgium. But for travelers with a craving for food, Belgium gladly opens its doors to an array of culinary delights.
Culture and Language
While Belgium’s strongest stereotypes tend to center around Bruges, waffles, beer and fries, the country has an intriguing history. The Belgaes tribes were the first people in Belgium, but their true origin is unknown. While they were often considered to be a part of the Gaul tribes, Julius Caesar also noted that when the Roman Empire began to conquer the area, the Belgaes had a very diverse culture.
The diversity of the Belgae tribes means that they spoke a different language and practiced other traditions from the Gaul tribes. But once the Roman Empire’s influence started to cease, it allowed Belgium to further diversify with French, Dutch, and Spanish culture. But Belgium didn’t really gain any independence until 1830, when people began to push for the country to become independent.
But even under independence, Belgium has drawn heavy criticism. King Léopold the II brutally colonized the Congo, which has been a sensitive topic ever since. The excess rubber in the Congo made it a prize for Belgium, but the treatment of the Congolese by Léopold II was barbaric and horrific. The novel, Hearts of Darkness was inspired by these events and it was eventually pushed into Hollywood, where the book inspired Francis Ford Coppola’s famous Apocalypse Now.
World War I and World War II were also difficult times for Belgium as they were invaded and at the crossroads of various war fronts. But Belgium has come out from the struggles to be a well-balanced nation. Now, Belgium is run by a multi-party system that gives power to the King and Prime Minister. But Belgium’s capital has also become an important center for Europe, has Brussels holds the seats of the European Commission, European Council, and European Parliament. These three groups are the most important seats for the European Union.
The culture of Belgium is another unique aspect because it is divided by the three languages and regions in the country. In each region that speaks a different language, the culture changes and differs from other parts of Belgium. As travelers visit each region in Belgium, they should notice the changes in not only the language, but the food and landscape too.
Belgium’s three official languages are Dutch, German, and French. The majority of people in Belgium speak Dutch, but there are also significantly sized groups who speak German and French in their specific regions. However, with Brussels influence on Europe and the world, the capital is known to be the most multilingual. It is in Brussels, you are most likely going to hear foreign languages spoken, like English.
As part of Belgium’s integration into the European Union, the country is also a part of the Schengen Area and Agreement. For travelers getting prepared to visit Belgium, it is important to know how to legally enter and exit the country. For citizens of the United States, you are not required to obtain a tourist visa before your arrival to Belgium if you are staying for less than 90 days.
For US citizens to enter Belgium, you need to have a valid US passport. It is required that the validity remaining on your passport is at least 3 months past your departure date, but it is strongly recommended to have double that – 6 months. It is almost important to note that a US emergency passport, which has 12 pages, is not valid for visa free entry into Belgium.
Belgium has no vaccination requirements for entry, but there is a restriction on the currencies allowed in and out of the country. Travelers must declare any amount over €10,000 Euros upon entry or exit from Belgium.
While many Europeans countries are very expensive and others are affordable, Belgium tends to sit in the middle. A trip to Belgium doesn’t have to excessive, but you will need to plan your trip and create a spending budget if you want to keep your costs on the lower end. By creating a spending budget before you travel, you can get a better understanding of the cost of a trip to Belgium and try to minimize any unexpected costs. The major categories of your spending budget will be the airfare, accommodation, food, drink, and transportation.
Airfare is often the first concern for many travelers because they want to be able to confirm the dates of their trip and find a good price on the tickets. Belgium is a long way from the United States and the average cost for a flight is about $700 US dollars. But travelers will also notice that the price of a plane ticket to Belgium fluctuates throughout the year.
The most expensive time to visit Belgium will be in the high tourist season. The vast majority of tourists visit Belgium in the summer months of July and August. This is when the crowds will be bigger, and most hotels will be booked.
Winter is the tourist off season, which is the least expensive time to visit. But if you want to see Belgium in its price and still save money, you may want to consider visiting in the shoulder season. This would be the few weeks before or after July and August.
Once you have decided on the dates of when you want to visit Belgium, you will want to look at booking your accommodation. By booking in advance, you can save money and be guaranteed a place to stay. This is essential during the high tourist season when accommodation quickly sells out or is booked in advance.
Hostels, hotels, and Airbnb are some of the most popular accommodation options for travelers visiting Belgium. Hostel dorm rooms are the most affordable choice with most nightly rates averaging around $23 US dollars per night. A private room in a hostel is more expensive and will probably cost about $57 US dollars per night. But a big difference between Belgium’s hostels and other countries is that many include a basic breakfast.
Budget hotels have prices that are often the same as a private room in a hostel, but you get a more private setting. Most budget hotel’s nightly rates will start at $57 US dollars per night. Budget hotels may also have different amenities from hostels, including free Wi-Fi. Luxury hotels will cost a lot more and most rates start at $100 US dollars per night. But for the nicest hotels, you should expect to spend $150-$350 US dollars per night.
Airbnb is another diverse accommodation option that is great for single or group travelers. There are plenty of options from a shared or private room to entirely private apartments and homes. Shared rooms are the most affordable and usually cost about $18 US dollars per night. A private room normally costs about $30 US dollars per night. If you would like a completely private property like an apartment, you should expect to spend a minimum of $60 US dollars per night.
While your accommodation is an important part of your trip, you probably aren’t expecting to spend a lot of time in your room. A part of visiting Belgium is getting out and exploring the country and a big part of exploration comes with tasting the local cuisine. Belgium is most famous for its waffles, chocolate, fries and beer, but there’s a lot more than just that to taste.
Belgium’s cuisine has been greatly influenced by the Netherlands, Germany, and France. The quality of food is high, and it is often rivaled to that of France’s local cuisine. But while Belgian has a strong influence from its European neighbors, there are still a few national and traditional dishes that are unique to the country.
Moules-frites is the national dish in Belgium, which is served all throughout the country in its cafes and restaurants. The dish is mussels with fries, which are eaten as both an appetizer and main course. Another national dish, though not officially named but Belgian’s most famous treat, are fries.
Fries here are never given the “French” title and there is still a lot of debate as to where they were actually invented. But while France may take the name, many people consider Belgium’s fries to be pure perfection. The key to Belgian’s fries is that they are fried twice for a soft interior and crisp exterior. There are fry shops throughout the country and most of the time, the fries are served with a sauce. There are a lot of different sauces, so you can complete a full taste test or mix and match.
Another dish that is wildly popular in Belgium is meatballs. Here the meatballs can be served with the famous fries or in a sirop de Liege, which is a fruit-based syrup. Beef stock is another option, which is called boulets Liégois. If you are near the North Sea, you may want to try the Grey shrimp croquettes. These deep-fried delicacies are a creamy and delicious morsel that are served as snacks or appetizers.
Finally, for the sweeter flavors, Belgium’s name is most well associated with chocolate and waffles. Chocolate has been a major part of Belgium’s identity and it is turned into pralines, bars, and truffles. Most chocolate is considered to be Belgian, if it was made in the country. But the ingredients are outsourced from all over the world.
Waffles in Belgium are a major part of the local cuisine and the country has perfected two different types of waffles. In Brussels, the waffles are rectangular shaped and have a flaky texture. They are often topped with Belgian chocolate and fruit or cream. The Liège waffles are a lot denser than the Brussels variety and they are first infused with sugar, which then crystalizes when it is baked. Either waffle is tasty, and you should be able to find both varieties on your travels.
While the food is truly a delight and major comfort for travelers, it is important to know the costs of eating out in Belgium. Inexpensive meals will cost about $15 US dollars in establishments like fast food restaurants or small cafes. A local restaurant with sit down dining costs more and a meal will likely be about $28 US dollars. Belgium has plenty of fine dining options too, but you should expect to pay up to or well over $100 US dollars for a meal. Finally, the smaller snack foods like fries and waffles will often cost about $5 US dollars.
With all of your costs and expenses added up, you should expect to spend about $100 US dollars per day in Belgium, at minimum. Budget travelers may be able to lower their costs even more by cooking for themselves, but most backpacker budgets will still range from $100-$110 US dollars per day. A more moderate budget will cost about $280 US dollars per day in Belgium. This would allow you to book nicer accommodation and eat out more often. Finally, luxury vacations in Belgium can easily cost hundreds to US dollars per day.
How to Get Around
The final part of your budget that you’ll need to be prepared for is the cost of transportation. There are a lot of places to visit in Belgium and you’ll need a plan to get around from city to city or out to the rural towns. Belgium has a reliable transportation system, which fits both the national and local scale.
Trains and buses provide service around the country and are relatively affordable since Belgium is smaller in size. Most trains will cost about $20 US dollars for a ticket between cities. But if you choose a more expensive class, you should expect to pay more. The lowest class is the most affordable, but most travelers choose the $20 second-class ticket. Shorter train rides will also be more affordable, and tickets may be purchased for as little as $10 US dollars.
Buses are the most affordable way to travel around Belgium, but they can be a lot slower way to travel than the trains. But for travelers on a strict budget, most bus tickets will cost about $12 US dollars for a one-way journey.
Local buses are also very popular as public transportation in big cities and it is very affordable. With rides costing less than $4 US dollars, you can also look at purchasing multi-day passes. The passes vary in how many days they are valid, but they can be purchased for less than $10 US dollars.
Top Cities to Visit
With plenty of captivating cities, it can be hard to pick and choose. When you’re planning your trip, having a little overview of each city can be helpful. Here are Belgium’s top cities to visit.
Brussels is Belgium’s heart and the center of most of its culture. With a powerful influence from the European Union, the city has embraced diversity and international communities. While the architecture of Brussels pays homage to Old European styles, a variety of cultures call this city home. The Grand Palace is a historic square, which is one of the most visited spots in the city. With plenty to explore from museums to art, Brussels also a great place to go to taste the local food. With its own charm, Brussels a place that should not be skipped.
Bruges looks like you’ve stepped out of the pages of a history book with its medieval appearance and architecture. The narrow alleyways offer plenty to explore and the city quickly becomes packed in the summertime. But with plenty of bars and cafes, Bruges is a great place to explore Belgian beer. Burg Square is at the center of Bruges and close by the Markt square and tower provide panoramic views of the local landscape.
Once bombed in World War II, Antwerp is a historic city that has been rebuilt. While the streets were once rubble, the stones have been raised again and this time, it has made Antwerp a hip and cool place. All the biggest trendsetters want to go to Antwerp to explore all of the bars, restaurants, and cafes. With a booming nightlife scene, Antwerp has a lot to offer.
Canals lined with impressive medieval architecture is what makes Ghent stand out. The various peaked buildings are a stunning sight and what makes the city so magical. Like something out of Harry Potter, the streets here are often less crowded, which makes Ghent the perfect getaway. With a castle, cathedral and church, Ghent has plenty to explore.
Located in the French speaking region of Belgium, Liege is the up and coming tourist hotspot. Once a place for Belgium’s industrial history, the streets have been modernized and given character with a coat of bright colors. The peaceful waterside location of Liege also makes it a calm getaway for travelers looking to escape the hordes of tourists.
Points of Interest
The cities are often the most visited parts of Belgium, but there are also plenty of points of interest to explore too. From World War II sites to Waterloo, here are the top points of interest in Belgium.
Waterloo has been made famous because it is where Napoleon I was defeated in 1815. While the town of Waterloo is significant, the actual battlefield has been preserved and has become a tourist attraction. With an underground museum that depicts the battle, Waterloo is the place to go for history buffs and military curious travelers.
Caves of Remouchamps
Beneath the Caves of Remouchamps is the world’s longest subterranean river. The site has become more popular after a remodeling put in permanent and artificial lights. Now, the caves can be explored in two parts and by boats. While there isn’t much life in the caves, you are sure to run into a few bats from the local colony.
With dates that age back to the times of the Roman Empire, this castle is impressively large. With three different drawbridges, a dungeon and its own torture chamber, this castle is well defended. Everything inside and apart of the castle has now been preserved and it is open to visitors.
Get Out and Go
Belgium may be small but there is still a lot to explore. With significant events in history, Belgium is also the place to go for people who want to learn more about Europe’s storied past. But Belgium has also stepped into the modern age and this highly developed nation has become an important world leader. With an often-unknown beauty, Belgium’s landscape is sure to take your breath away. But don’t let your breath escape you too long. There’s a lot to explore, taste, and pack into a Belgian vacation.