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The beginner’s guide to Belgium’s best sights! Includes travel tips and top 5 sights for visiting Antwerp, Ghent, and Bruges. Includes chocolate, beer, and castles! Read more for the best tourist sites to visit in Antwerp, Ghent, and Bruges as well as travel advice for visiting Belgium in a quick 4-day itinerary.
Must-Knows for Travel in Belgium
When is the best time of year to visit Belgium?
Avoid May-August if possible as this is peak season in Europe and you will pay more. It’s not to say that you shouldn’t visit, but it’s nice visiting in the low season if you don’t enjoy crowds. The Christmas markets can be busy during December in Brugge and many other cities.
What language is spoken in Belgium?
It’s mainly Flemish and French depending on what region that you’re in. One region uses German. 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.
Do they take credit cards in Belgium?
ATMs are common enough although you still need to look. Places in the historic centers close to tourist sites tend to take any credit card. I recommend avoiding any Euronet machines as they tend to have higher fees. BNP, ING, and Europa Banks are all popular Belgian banks.
When you’re a bit outside of the Centre, you may have issues using a non-Maestro card in Belgium. People refer to the local debit card as a Bancontact card, which works on a different system than Visa or Mastercard. It’s safest to have cash with you.
Supermarkets in Belgium
Larger supermarkets (such as Carrefour) are on the outside of cities. Some smaller stores in the cities, but if this is an issue as you intend to cook, look up the supermarkets before booking accommodation. Hours tend to be more limited in Belgium with not as many supermarkets open late. Similarly, not all supermarkets may be open on Sundays. Some Carrefour Express markets are open in the evenings, but selection tends to be more limited for food…
Public transit & Bikes in Belgium
Antwerp has a public bike program although public transit is quite good as well. Bruges is quite small and there are a few bike programs. Similarly, you’ll find public transit throughout the city center if you prefer not to walk to your hotel. Ghent is quite lovely to walk around although I’d recommend taking a bus from the train station as it’s a bit far with luggage to some parts of the city center. All are very bike-friendly!
How to Get to Belgium On a Budget
The cheapest way to get to Belgium from neighboring countries is by bus (Flixbus/Ouibus). If you’re looking for a bit more comfort, you can also take an international train from Amsterdam to Brussels or Antwerp. From Brussels or Antwerp, it is easy to take a train to Ghent or many other Belgian cities.
Trains within Belgium tend to be pretty flexible and affordable, so you can always pick up a ticket that day. It’s pretty easy to navigate the Belgian trains once you arrive. Still, you might save on transport with a car if you’re a larger group.
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 in Belgium types that are more unique to Belgium that you should try!
- Lambics (Sour fruity beer unique to Belgium).
- Belgian Trappist ales (Only 6 of these monasteries exist in Belgium. You can visit some of the monasteries in the western and eastern parts of Belgium. Trappist ales come in single, double, triple, and quadruple varieties. The heavier Trappist ales can be quite heavy (especially as they go up in hop quantity) and remind me of bread. The world’s most exclusive beer is made at a Trappist brewery and it’s called Westvleteren 12.
- 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.
In all of my Belgian city guides, I write about my favorite local breweries and bars, so don’t worry!
Famous Belgian 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 difference between the Brussels and Liège style as the Brussels style is much thicker. I prefer the Liège style myself as it tends to be sweeter. Many Belgians don’t add much to their waffles and enjoy them mostly plain although tourists love to pile toppings on.
Definitely have some frites (french fries) along with your beer. Of course, we had to mention mussels and other seafood. Many mussels and oysters come from the Belgian coast region, so don’t hesitate to order them if you love seafood. You will also want to try stoofvlees if you eat beef. Every city has a namesake dish, for instance Antwerpen is famous for smoked eel.
Things To Do in Bruges (1 day / 1 night)
Bruges is a beautiful city. The outskirts of Bruges aren’t particularly beautiful (although functional!), however, the historic center is beautiful with charming little streets and fantastic architecture.
City Gates. I’d recommend entering through the Ezelpoort if possible. They’re beautiful and worth seeing!
Beer. We had to visit the 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. So far, my favorites include La Trappiste, Bar-low, and ‘t Brugs Beertje. ‘t Brugs Beertje is an old school brown bar with a great selection from the region’s beers.
Chocolate: It’s an important reason to visit The most famous chocolatier in Brugge has to be The Chocolate Line. Other favorites include Pralinque and Chocolaterie Spegelaere.
Best street for wandering: Ezelpoort. Lots of cute little stores to stop into slightly removed from the tourist center. Katelijnestraat is also lovely and I recommend looking for the Handmade in Brugge sticker on the window if you are looking for unique souvenirs created by independent creators.
Must-see site: the Belfry. This is a stunning 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.
Where to stay in Bruges for one night
We ended up staying on the city outskirts, which is cheaper, however you’ll find a lot of great options on where to stay in Bruges for every budget. Hostel Lybeer Bruges is a hostel right in the heart of Bruges. I stayed here and it is a no-frills accommodation. Still, the bed was comfy, the staff was friendly, and it was clean enough for me. For an affordable private room at a cozy family-run B&B, look to Hotel Groeninghe. For the ultimate luxury experience, look up Relais Bourgondisch Cruyce, a luxury hotel along the waterfront that is straight out of your dreams that was featured within In Bruges as the gangster’s hideout.
1 day + 1 night in Ghent/Gent
We primarily came for touring the Gravensteen castle and getting a nice meal. I really regret not giving Ghent more of a chance on that first trip as it’s a sorely underrated city that I’ve been back a few times. I didn’t write much in this guide as I didn’t know that Ghent had so much to offer, so please keep reading about the charming Paterhol neighborhood, Ghent’s cool art scene, and other aspects of the trip that I really neglected within my other post.
Ghent tends to be a bit more affordable than other cities in the region, mostly as it’s less famous. It’s a shame as the waterfront walk is definitely one of my favorites in Belgium (I write this after seeing a LOT of beautiful waterfront walks). Be sure to stay until after sunset to enjoy this view.
You can click to read my favorite spots, restaurants, and things to do in Ghent in detail within this weekend guide!
If you don’t know about Gravensteen castle (Ghent’s 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.
Where to stay in Ghent
If you’re interested in staying in Ghent, you’ll find a lot of affordable options in this student majority city. It’s also very doable to do a day trip from Antwerp if you prefer to stay in Antwerp. I recently stayed at Anna’s Apartments in the trendy Paterhol neighborhood. It was a really nice cozy apartment with all that we needed for a nice weekend enjoying the Christmas market.
You’ll find affordable hostels, including Hostel Uppelink, as well as affordable private rooms at Bed and Breakfasts. Of course, you’ll find boutique luxury hotels, such as 1898 The Post, if you dream of waking up with views of Gent’s most iconic buildings.
Antwerp / Antwerpen (2 days / 2 nights)
Antwerp is full of interesting sights to visit, no matter how strange your tastes are. Click for my complete guide of what to do in Antwerp with a free self-guided walking tour of Antwerp!
Be warned that the city is fairly large, so walking somewhere takes time. There are bikes all over the city that you can rent with a credit card as well as easy to use bike lanes! I’d recommend trying to do a history or food tour while in Antwerp!
My favorite places in Antwerp:
- Enjoying a beer at a specialty beer cafe
- Platin-Moretus museum
Our first night, we visited one of the best beer bars in the world where they have hundreds of rare beers, called Cafe Kulminator. I’m so sad to write this, but they will be limiting their hours as of 2020 due to the owners’ health. It’s a beer lover’s paradise although you need to get there early (they close 12ish) and the cellar closes earlier. There’s a cute bar cat and it’s surprisingly mostly locals. I’d also recommend Billie’s Bier Kafétaria as well as Elfde Gebod.
Antwerp is a very charming city with traditional architecture although you must find the hidden street Vlaeykensgang. You take a secret entrance and suddenly, you’re transported back in time. Definitely worth wandering around although finding the door can be tricky!
Between me eating lots of Belgian waffles, we visited the Platin-Moretus museum. I am a literature lover, so I try to find beautiful libraries whenever possible. This museum is a UNESCO World Heritage site and it’s easy to see why.
Although Gutenberg invented the first book press, Platin redefined commercial printing and the museum explores the history of early literature. It also was his private residence, so you can view his personal library as well as many priceless books. The coolest part is seeing the printing presses, try outlining up letters on a block made for the printing press (really difficult), and understanding the history.
Where to stay in Antwerp
On my last visit to Antwerp, we stayed at a beautiful apartment in the historic city center, Catherina at Friday, for 100 euros per night with stunning views of the city. If you’re on a budget, you’ll find lots of hostels in Antwerp although book ahead as prices rise in summer. For luxury, you’ll find some beautiful boutique hotels within historic buildings, including De Witte Lelie.
One additional thing we did that I would not recommend to everyone: walking around the sewers of Antwerp. In theory, it’s really cool to walk around them, but four hours is a bit much for me. Our experience was not great and I had to translate for non-Flemish members of our group.
If you’re lucky enough to visit Belgium in spring, check to see the bluebells in the incredible and magical Hallerbos are in bloom. You can take a tour Read more on Lilli’s blog about this incredibly beautiful place