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 4 day itinerary.
Must Knows for Travel in Belgium
When is the best time of year to visit Belgium?
Avoid April-August if possible. December is supposed to be magical due to the Christmas market!
What language is spoken in Belgium?
It’s actually two, however most people speak English too! 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.
Do they take credit cards in Belgium?
ATMs are common enough although you still need to look. Places in the historic centres close to tourist sites tend to take any credit card, 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 in Belgium
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 in Belgium
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 On a Budget
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.
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 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. 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.
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 Liege style as the Brussels style is much thicker. Definitely have some frites (french fries) along with your beer.
Things To Do in Bruges (1 day / 1 night)
Bruges is a beautiful city. The outskirts of Bruges aren’t particularly pretty (although functional with supermarkets/atms!), however the historic centre is beautiful with charming little streets, fantastic architecture.
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.
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. 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.
Things to Do in Ghent / Gent
We primarily came for touring the Gravensteen castle and getting a nice meal. 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 (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. 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.
Things to Do in 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 take 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:
- Cafe Kulminator
- Platin-Moretus museum
Our first night, we visited one of the best beer bars in the world where they have a hundreds of rare beers, called Cafe Kulminator.
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.
It’s a really small bar that is very hole-in-the wall/homey. You’ll hear lovely classical music while sipping on beer. 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 out lining 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. The original city had canals, however due to waste, they came sewers.
The Ruien were then covered up. In theory, it’s really cool to walk around them, but four hours is a bit much for me. Additionally, the tour is only in Flemish with minimal translations.
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