Must Knows for Travel in Belgium
What Language is Spoken In Belgium: Flemish/French. I speak some Dutch, so I was able to do more things than I'm used to doing in the Netherlands without switching to English. Almost everyone spoke English, so you won't have any problems, however I felt like people weren't as comfortable and preferred speaking in Flemish, so if you speak some Dutch/Flemish, it's much appreciated.
Most Common Card Taken in Belgium: ATMs common enough although you still need to look. Places in the historic centres close to tourist sites tend to take any card you have, however when you're a bit outside of the centre, you may have issues using a non-PIN Maestro debit card. I tried using an American Visa with a chip at a local supermarket and it wouldn't work. If you don't have Maestro and you're intending to get off the tourist track, use cash.
Supermarkets: Larger supermarkets are on the outside of cities. Some smaller stores in the cities, but if this is an issue, look up the supermarkets before booking accommodation. Hours tend to be limited to 9-8.
Public transit/Bikes: Antwerp has a public bike program (requires Dutch PIN) although public transit seem quite good. Bruges has more limited transit, but it seemed easy to to to the outskirts. Gent had good public transit as well. Antwerp was the most bike-friendly city of the three we visited based on the number of separate bike lanes, however we mostly walked.
How to Get to Belgium Cheaply: Transavia, Easyjet, Ryanair go to Brussels. From Amsterdam, you can easily get a train to Antwerp (slightly closer) or Brussels. A lot of people take the train to Gent and Bruges from Brussels, but you need to account for the schedule. If you have more limited time, it's better to rent a car although beware of the speed traps and legal parking spots.
Beer; Virtually everywhere. Don't get sucked into the tourist trap bars and try to take advantage of the fantastic beers that are harder to find elsewhere. Although the Belgian Style is well-documented, a lot of breweries like to experiment and you can find beers with some interesting combinations. Here's a list of the main beer types that are more unique to Belgium that you should try while traveling around.
- Lambics (Sour fruity beer unique to Belgium).
- Trappist ales (Only 8 of these exist in Belgium. You can visit some of the monasteries int the western and eastern parts of Belgium although I've read that they typically don't give tours.) .Come in single, double, and triple types along. They can be quite heavy (especially as they go up in hop number) and remind me of bread.
- Saison (light, non-hoppy beers, seasonal (although you can find it in fall) so refreshing in summer).
- Witbier (White Beer). Typically light, not too hoppy, and good for non-beer drinkers hoping to learn more.
Food: Although the Belgian waffle is famous, you'll need to look for a good place to get one as a lot of waffle places exist for the tourists, however not all make it fresh. There is a different between the Brussels and Liege style as the Brussels style is much thicker. Definitely have some frites (french fries) along with your beer!
Top 5 Things To Do in Bruges (1 day / 1 night)
- City Gates. Only three remain in the city although Ezelpoort has a moat and swans. They're beautiful and worth seeing!
- Beer. We stumbled upon Brouwerij De Halve Maan, which is a popular Belgian brewery. The Bruge Zot Blonde is cheap, tasty, and easy to drink although they have some rarer beers on tap if you ask at the bar. I was a fan of the Bottle Shop (Wollestraat 13) where I spent a long time browsing the massive bottle collection with some beers I've never seen. If you're a beer lover, there are lots more fantastic beer bars to visit, so try to avoid the tourist traps and do your research.
- Chocolate: Everywhere. Some places are tourist ones although you can't go wrong with Stef's Chocolatier, which was my favorite of the many I visited.
- Best street for wandering: Ezelpoort. Lots of cute little stores to stop into slightly removed from the tourist centre.
- Must-see site: the Belfry. Beautiful medieval tower that is free to visitors (unless you want to climb). You can enjoy listening to the bells, which is worth looking up ahead of time, and visit art exhibits at the bottom.
Things to Do in Ghent / Gent ( 1 day / Stay in Antwerp)
Whenever possible,I love to try new food and we stumbled upon an Afro-Creole restaurant called Uele with owners from Martinique. The owners are really nice, the food is very different than anything I've ever had as they use ingredients I've never heard of before, and the spices were really interesting. Along the same street (Zwijnaardsesteenweg), you'll find numerous restaurants if you're interested in something else.
If you don't know about Gravensteen castle, you need to look it up. The castle is MASSIVE, in the middle of the city, full of exhibits/art, and as Jacob says, "the castley-est castle I've ever been in." It dates back to 1180 although it was renovated in the late 1800s. It has a proper prison hole, dungeons, a throne room, a fantastic view of the city, a moat, turrets, a small exhibit on torture, and art exhibits. It's also only 10 euros, which is very reasonable considering how many you will spend walking around.
Interested in learning more about Ghent's history and seeing more photographs? Click here for a complete guide to Ghent!
Things to Do in Antwerp / Antwerpen (2 days / 2 nights)
Top 3 Things to see:
- Cafe Kulminator
- Platin-Moretus museum