The Passion of Brussels, Belgium in Pictures

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    Grand Place

    The Passion of Brussels, Belgium in Pictures

    © Susan Breslow Sardone.

    What's your passion? Whether it's food, drink, shopping or even spiritual, you can satisfy it in the city of Brussels, the capitol of Belgium.

    Brussels is a small (one million population) European capital city, yet its passions are outsize. Although it is the headquarters of the European Union and NATO, there is more to Brussels, Belgium than international trade and politics.

    Where traveling couples ought to start: Brussels' Grand Place is the city's central gathering spot. The wide, cobblestoned plaza, which was was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998, is surrounded by buildings dating from the 1400s. Today many of them are filled with shops, restaurants and hotels.

    Also See:

    Top 10 Belgium Attractions & Activities for Couples

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    St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral

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    © Susan Breslow Sardone.

    The passions of Brussels, Belgium pleasure to residents and visitors alike. The spiritually inclined will want to put Belgium's leading Roman Catholic church, the dual-named St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral, on their agenda. It was constructed hundreds of years ago.

    Standing high on Treurenberg hill, the Gothic cathedral was first built in the 11th century, renovated in the 13th, and completed in the 15th. It provides succor to those for a passion for Catholicism and draws admiration from those with a passion for history and architecture.

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    Brussels Cathedral

    the passion of brussels belgium in pictures 3 - The Passion of Brussels, Belgium in Pictures

    © Susan Breslow Sardone.

    The Brussels Cathedral features a massive pipe organ that fills the nave and towering vaulted ceiling with liturgical music.

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    Splendor in the Grass

    the passion of brussels belgium in pictures 4 - The Passion of Brussels, Belgium in Pictures

    © Susan Breslow Sardone.

    Your visit doesn't have to be all liturgy and looking up. On the lawn across from St Michaels and St Gudula Cathedral, a couple takes a break from Brussels sightseeing.

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    Galeries Royal St Hubert

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    © Susan Breslow Sardone.

    Have a passion for shopping? One of Europe's most elegant addresses, the Galeries Royal St Hubert houses several of Brussels' finest chocolatiers and purveyors of luxury products.

    Like the Galleria Umberto in Naples, the Galeries Royal St Hubert is an early example of a covered shopping area.

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    Belgian Lace

    the passion of brussels belgium in pictures 6 - The Passion of Brussels, Belgium in Pictures

    © Susan Breslow Sardone.

    A handmade treasure to be cherished for generations, Belgian lace is valued for its delicacy, intricacy and quality. Lace is woven from linen thread, and the natural color of unbleached lace is beige. This Galeries Royal St Hubert shop sells handkerchiefs, runners, christening gowns, and more.

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    Cobblestone Street

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    © Susan Breslow Sardone.

    It won't cost a Euro — Belgium's official currency since 2002 — to people watch. Have a passion for street life? Outdoor cafes line both sides of this cobblestone street off of Galeries Royal St Hubert.

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    Outdoor Café

    the passion of brussels belgium in pictures 8 - The Passion of Brussels, Belgium in Pictures

    © Susan Breslow Sardone.

    Belgians have a passion for dining out, and the city's approximately 4,000 cafés and restaurants accommodate them with French and other fare.

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    Mussels in Brussels

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    © Susan Breslow Sardone.

    Eating mussels in Brussels is one of many culinary passions in this city. (You may want to avoid them in any month that does not have an R in its name.)

    Brussels is also credited with cultivating Brussels sprouts, although the vegetable has fewer fans than lovers of Belgian waffles, beer, fries, and chocolate.

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    Beer Temple

    the passion of brussels belgium in pictures 10 - The Passion of Brussels, Belgium in Pictures

    © Susan Breslow Sardone.

    Love beer and tasting a variety of different brews? Belgians are justly proud of the quantity (more than 400 varieties) and quality of their beer.

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    Belgian Beers

    the passion of brussels belgium in pictures 11 - The Passion of Brussels, Belgium in Pictures

    © Susan Breslow Sardone.

    Some of the many brands of Belgian beer at the Beer Temple, all of which are for sale.

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    Belgian Beer Glasses

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    © Susan Breslow Sardone.

    Interestingly, every beer has a distinct glass into which it is intended to be poured. And you want to be proper, don't you?

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    Belgian Chocolate

    the passion of brussels belgium in pictures 13 - The Passion of Brussels, Belgium in Pictures

    © Susan Breslow Sardone.

    Of the many passions in Belgium, chocolate is paramount. The city of Brussels is filled with chocolatiers, many of whom have been in business for generations.

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    Neuhaus Chocolates

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    © Susan Breslow Sardone.

    One of the best-known of Belgium's top-quality chocolatiers, Neuhaus Chocolates maintains an elegant shop in Galeries Royal St Hubert.

    Neuhaus chocolates are meticulously made and beautifully packaged.

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    Artisanal Chocolate

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    © Susan Breslow Sardone.

    In addition to the big-name chocolatiers, Brussels supports numerous smaller ones who turn out creative batches of unique chocolates.

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    Belgian Waffles

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    © Susan Breslow Sardone.

    And no trip to Brussels is complete without a serving of Belgian waffles, known as gaufre in French.

    How do you like your waffles? Sweet or savory, piled high with fruit and/or whipped cream, Belgian waffles are mouthwateringly good whether bought on the street or consumed in a Michelin-starred restaurant. If you use use the proper tool to create them at home and follow the recipe, each time you make them will help you picture a visit to this charming city.

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Antwerp Gay Guide and Photo Gallery

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    Grote Markt (Great Market), with the Statue of Brabo

    antwerp gay guide and photo gallery 1 - Antwerp Gay Guide and Photo Gallery

    photo by Andrew Collins

    Belgium's most fashion-forward and trendy city, Antwerp lies in the Flanders region of northern Belgium near the Netherlands border, and is Europe's second-busiest port. During the city's 16th-century Golden Age, Antwerp was the second-largest city in Northern Europe. Today, with a population of nearly 500,000 and an abundance of fashionable boutiques, restaurants, hotels, and gay cafes, the city has developed a reputation as one of Europe's hippest gay destinations.

    The focal point of Antwerp, the Grote Markt (Great Market) is an open pedestrian square anchored by the famed statue of Brabo, and a mix of civic buildings, open-air cafes, and ornate guildhouses, From this vantage point, near the northwest corner of the square, you see the statue in the foreground, and the iconic Onze Lieve Vrouwekathedraal (Cathedral of Our Lady) towering over everything in the distance. Behind where I shot this photo is the city's Town Hall, famous for its Renaissance design.

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    Leonidas Chocolates, on Hoogstraat at the Grote Markt

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    photo by Andrew Collins

    One of Belgium's leading producers of chocolates, Leonidas (Hoogstraat 2-4) has branches throughout the country and in several other nations around the world. Although there are arguably finer and more unusual chocolatiers in Antwerp, Leonidas is a reliably superb chocolate maker with very attractive prices, and this location on the edge of Grote Markt is especially convenient.

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  • 03 of 07

    Boekhandel ‘t Verschil, gay bookstore and cafe

    antwerp gay guide and photo gallery 3 - Antwerp Gay Guide and Photo Gallery

    photo by Andrew Collins

    One of Europe's most attractive and popular GLBT bookstores, Boekhandel 't Verschil lies along one of Antwerp's main north-south thoroughfares (at Minderbroedersrui 33), just a few blocks east-northeast of the Grote Markt square. Inside the well-lighted, attractive space you'll find a huge selection of gay and lesbian titles (mostly in Flemish and Dutch, but a number of titles in English, too), from novels and travel guides to erotic fiction and gay nude photo books. There's also a small cafe, with tables along the sidewalk when the weather warms up. The owners of 't Verschil also operate De Onderkant, a sexy gay-underwear and sex-toys shop, directly across the street.

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  • 04 of 07

    De Onderkant, gay underwear and adult boutique

    antwerp gay guide and photo gallery 4 - Antwerp Gay Guide and Photo Gallery

    photo by Andrew Collins

    Run by the same team who operates the popular Boekhandel 't Verschil (gay bookstore and cafe) across the street, De Onderkant (Minderbroedersrui 42) is Antwerp's most popular gay underwear, sex toy, and swimwear boutique. Much more above-board and attractive inside than the handful of gay erotic shops near the railroad station, De Onderkant strikes the perfect balance between risque and classy, and carries a great selection of sexy briefs, swim suits, and club gear, plus dildos, gay porn DVDs, bondage accoutrements, and condoms.

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  • 05 of 07

    Red & Blue gay disco (and a discussion of other gay clubs and saunas)

    antwerp gay guide and photo gallery 5 - Antwerp Gay Guide and Photo Gallery

    photo by Andrew Collins

    Red & Blue (Lange Schipperskapelstraat 11) is not only the city's largest gay and lesbian disco, but the biggest one on Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. The spacious building a 10-minute walk north of Grote Markt has a variety of large events, including a men's party on Saturday nights, which begins at 11 pm and pulses into the wee hours, usually wrapping up around 7 in the morning. This is the major see-and-be-seen, rump-shaking gay-male party in the region, and one of the best in Northern Europe. The club also hosts a slew of annual circuit parties, including Circuit in mid-March, Club Flesh in late March, Toolroom Knights in late May, Navigaytion in late June (during the city's big Gay Pride blowout), and an anniversary party in mid-November (to celebrate the club's opening in 1997).

    On Sunday nights, twice monthly, Red & Blue hosts one of the region's hottest lesbian parties – these events rotate and are known alternately as Cafe de Love and Cafe deluxe, and you can learn more at their website (www.cafedelove.com).

    The city also has some very popular gay saunas, including 't Herenhuis (de Lescluzestraat 63) and Kouros Sauna (Botermelkbaan 50). And you'll find a bit of the city's seedier and cruisier nightlife scene along van Schoonhovenstraat, just across Astridpleintk from Central Station. There are several gay bars and sex shops along this street otherwise known as Rue de Vaseline (Vaseline Alley).

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  • 06 of 07

    Que Pasa cafe and gay bar, near ‘t Verschil

    antwerp gay guide and photo gallery 6 - Antwerp Gay Guide and Photo Gallery

    photo by Andrew Collins

    Centrally located Que Pasa cafe (Lange Koepoorstraat 1) bills itself a gay Latin bar and cafe, and it is indeed a delightfully vibrant and friendly place with some fun drag parties, great mojitos, and fun music – you just may not see any Latino guys in here. It's very cozy and inviting though, and Que Pasa has some of the best drag shows in town (as pictured here).

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  • 07 of 07

    Cafe Confituur, a gay-popular eatery and coffeehouse

    antwerp gay guide and photo gallery 7 - Antwerp Gay Guide and Photo Gallery

    photo by Andrew Collins

    Cafe Confituur (Minderbroedersrui 38), a dapper cafe with pressed-tin walls and hardwood floors. This is one of the most gay-popular spots in town for a cup of coffee or a light meal (breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served), and it's along a main street just across the street from the gay bookstore, 't Verschil. Everything is presented just so, including the cup of strong coffee pictured here.

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Photo Guide to Bruges, Belgium

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    Lake of Love

    Photo Guide to Bruges, Belgium

    Linda Garrison

    Bruges was an important commercial center of medieval Europe, and its history dates back almost 2000 years. Visiting Bruges is like stepping back into time. Unlike many other European cities, it was not devastated by war, and the city's Gothic charm is evident from these pictures. Bruges also has one of the few Michelangelo sculptures located outside of Italy in one of its churches—a statue of Virgin and child.

    In early spring, the daffodils and flowering trees are blooming, but the tulips are only just beginning to grow. The trees and greenery were more dominant in the late summer, and you will find more crowds. However, Bruges is lovely in every season!

    Bruges is a perfect medieval fairy tale city, full of sights like this one. This photo is of the lake of love, named Minnewater.

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    Lake of Love in the Springtime

    Photo Guide to Bruges, Belgium

    Linda Garrison

    The flowering fruit trees give Bruges' Lake of Love a different appearance in the spring.

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    Watch Tower

    Photo Guide to Bruges, Belgium

    Linda Garrison

    This old watch tower is one of the first structures visitors see when walking into Bruges from the bus parking lot.

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    Street Scene and Old Buildings

    Photo Guide to Bruges, Belgium

    Linda Garrison

    Bruges has many old structures and quaint street lamps.

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    Beguinage (Begijnhof)

    Photo Guide to Bruges, Belgium

    Linda Garrison

    The Begijnhof or Beguinage has been a pleasant oasis in Bruges for over 750 years. In medieval times, there were many more women than men, primarily due to the wars. Unmarried or widowed women often joined the Catholic order of Beguines, promising obedience and chastity, but not poverty like the nuns. The women lived in religious communities such as this one, making their living by making lace with religious motifs or caring for the sick or elderly. Sometimes rich benefactors would pay the Beguines to pray for them.

    This Beguinage was founded in 1245 by Margaret, Countess of Constantinople, to bring together the Beguines of Bruges, many of whom were widows of Crusaders. The congregation flourished for over 600 years, but the last Beguine died in the 1970s. Today part of the compound is home to a group of Benedictine nuns, and the other part is home to about 50 ordinary single women of all ages.

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    Daffodils Blooming at the Beguinage (Begijnhof)

    Photo Guide to Bruges, Belgium

    Linda Garrison

    This springtime view of the daffodils blooming looks different that the courtyard in the summer.

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    Street Scene

    Photo Guide to Bruges, Belgium

    Linda Garrison

    The streets in Bruges are filled with tourists on most summer days. We spent much of the time in Bruges wandering down interesting streets such as this one. Most of the buildings have the tile roofs, and most of the streets are cobble stone.

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    Horse-Drawn Carriage

    Photo Guide to Bruges, Belgium

    Linda Garrison

    A horse-drawn carriage is a popular way to get around Bruges.

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    Canal Ride

    Photo Guide to Bruges, Belgium

    Linda Garrison

    A boat ride on the canals is one of the best ways to see Bruges, especially when the pedestrian streets are filled with tourists.

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    Colorful Buildings

    Photo Guide to Bruges, Belgium

    Linda Garrison

    One of the small streets in Bruges. In addition to the brick structures, many of the Bruges buildings are colorful like this one. 

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    Church of Our Lady and Almhouse

    Photo Guide to Bruges, Belgium

    Linda Garrison

    A picture of the tower of the Church of Our Lady taken from the garden of the almshouse.

    One of the 20 almshouses in Bruges. The almshouses were a medieval form of public housing for the poor. Rich people would pay for someone's tiny room in one of the almshouses in exchange for lots of prayers. This almshouse had a peaceful garden.

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    Almhouse Garden

    Photo Guide to Bruges, Belgium

    Linda Garrison

    The Almshouse garden is very quiet and away from the hustle and bustle of the shops and tourists just outside the courtyard.

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    Tower at the Church of Our Lady

    Photo Guide to Bruges, Belgium

    Linda Garrison

    The brick tower at the Church of Our Lady in Bruges is 400 feet high, making it the highest brick construction in the world.

    The church is home to the famous Virgin and Child statue, one of many Pietas carved by Michelangelo. The Church of Our Lady was under construction when this photo was taken, a common problem when touring medieval sites.

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    Church of Our Lady

    Photo Guide to Bruges, Belgium

    Linda Garrison

    The back of the Church of Our Lady shows that brick was a popular building material in Bruges. It gives the city a different look than marble and granite do.

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    Michelangelo Pieta in Church of Our Lady

    Photo Guide to Bruges, Belgium

    Linda Garrison

    Michelangelo did many sculptures of the Virgin Mary and Jesus. This is one of his early works and is found in Bruges, Belgium.

    In the Church of Our Lady (Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk) in Bruges is this special Pieta by Michelangelo. The statue of the Virgin and Child is one of the few located outside of Italy. It is an early work of Michelangelo, who sold it to a rich Bruges merchant when the original client failed to pay. It is the only Michelangelo sculpture to leave Italy during his lifetime. The statue has been taken from Bruges several times, but has always seemed to make its way back to the city.

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    Michelangelo Pieta

    Photo Guide to Bruges, Belgium

    Linda Garrison

    This Pieta is the only one sold outside of Italy during Michelangelo's lifetime. It is still one of the few located outside of Italy.

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    Church of the Holy Blood on Burg Square

    Photo Guide to Bruges, Belgium

    Linda Garrison

    The Church of the Holy Blood is only one of the interesting buildings surrounding the Burg Square. The Burg is a grand square, with six centuries of differing architecture surrounding it. The square is still the civic center of the city, with the Gothic city hall flanked by this Romanesque church which sits in one corner of the square.

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    Church of the Holy Blood

    Photo Guide to Bruges, Belgium

    Linda Garrison

    Inside the Church of the Holy Blood in Bruges. This basilica has 2 chapels. The lower one was built in the 12th century and is dark and somber and very Romanesque. The upper chapel was destroyed twice—once by Protestant iconoclasts in the 16th century and again by French Republicans in the 18th—but was rebuilt both times. The upper chapel is lavishly embellished and is accessible via a wide staircase.

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    Church of the Holy Blood Interior

    Photo Guide to Bruges, Belgium

    Linda Garrison

    Another view of the Basilica of the Holy Blood. The church takes its name from a phial brought from Jerusalem to Bruges in 1149 by Derick of Alsace. The phial is said to contain a few drops of the blood of Christ. It is available for viewing on Friday of each week from 8:30 am to 11:45 am and from 3 to 6 pm.

    On Ascension Day each year, the phial is carried through the streets of Bruges in the magnificent Procession of the Holy Blood, a major Bruges pageant combining religious and historical elements.

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    Belfry Tower

    Photo Guide to Bruges, Belgium

    Linda Garrison

    This view of the Belfry is one of the most popular photos taken in Bruges. The bell tower has watched over the city since 1300. The octagonal lantern at the top was added in 1486, making the tower 88 meters high. You can climb the 366 steps if you are touring Bruges on your own (and have the legs for it). The view from the top is interesting, with all of the red-tiled roofs and canals in the city.

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    Market Square

    Photo Guide to Bruges, Belgium

    Linda Garrison

    The Grote Markt, or Market Square in Bruges. This square was used as a marketplace since 958, and a weekly market was held here from 985 to August 1983—almost a thousand years! Today the large square is ringed by banks (with ATMs), a post office, and many guild houses converted into outdoor restaurants. The Markt is filled with pedestrians and bicyclists, and is a good place to start or end a walking tour of the city.

    The Belfry (bell tower) stands guard at the south end of Market Square in Brugge.

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    Provincial Government Palace

    Photo Guide to Bruges, Belgium

    Linda Garrison

    The Provincial Government Palace stands on the east side of the Market Square in Brugge.

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    Burg Square

    Photo Guide to Bruges, Belgium

    Linda Garrison

    All of the buildings on the Burg Square have been marvelously restored.

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    Old Brick Building and Willow Tree

    Photo Guide to Bruges, Belgium

    Linda Garrison

    Many of the old buildings are covered in brick in Bruges.

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    Church of Our Lady

    Photo Guide to Bruges, Belgium

    Linda Garrison

    This view of Bruges is one of the most typical. It shows the Church of Our Lady and the picturesque canals and medieval buildings.

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    Canal Boat Ride

    Photo Guide to Bruges, Belgium

    Linda Garrison

    Touring Bruges via boat gives you a good look at the “backyards” of many residences and city buildings.

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    Swans in a Canal

    Photo Guide to Bruges, Belgium

    Linda Garrison

    We saw swans almost everywhere in northern Europe. They were as ubiquitous as the ducks and geese at home. These were in a Bruges canal. In 1488, Maximilian of Austria was imprisoned by the citizens of Bruges, and his advisor was beheaded. When Maximilian was freed, he ordered Bruges to keep swans in its canals in perpetuity as a punishment for the crime of imprisoning him.

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    Making Lace

    Photo Guide to Bruges, Belgium

    Linda Garrison

    Lace making is an art still practiced in Bruges, and it is the best city to buy lace in Belgium.

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Antwerp in Belgium: a Spellbinding City Where Medieval Meets Tomorrow

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    Antwerp Is Amazing and Easy to Get To

    Antwerp in Belgium: a Spellbinding City Where Medieval Meets Tomorrow

    ©Mike Smith/Flickr

    Antwerp is a favorite destination of luxury travelers who know Europe well. It is a tolerant and progressive city, and one where English is widely spoken. Antwerp was one of Europe's richest and most inventive cities in the 1600s and 1700s, the Golden Age of the Low Countries (Holland and Belgium).

    Antwerp is in its second Golden Age. It absolutely sparkles, and not just because it's the world's biggest diamond hub. This slideshow will give you 16 reasons (and photos) that show you why Antwerp in Belgium is an incredible place to visit.

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  • 02 of 20

    Antwerp Is in the Middle of Everything

    Antwerp in Belgium: a Spellbinding City Where Medieval Meets Tomorrow

    ©Erik_V/GettyImages

    Antwerp Is Very Easy to Get To

    Antwerp, in Belgium, is less than a one-hour ride by car or train from the capital, Brussels, the seat of the European Union. Antwerp feels very international, which is no surprise: it has been ruled by monarchs from the Netherlands, Germany, France, Spain, and Italy.

    Antwerp has a unique personality: artistic and progressive yet heritage-proud and dignified. Its population is diverse. You will see Orthodox Jewish residents who work in Antwerp's tremendous diamond trade. And you will see locals whose forebears came from the Belgian Congo (today's Democratic Republic of the Congo). The official language is Flemish, a variation of the Dutch language. Most Antwerpers also speak French and English.

    Antwerp grew by leaps and bounds in the Middle Ages partly due to its location on the Scheldt River a few hours south of the English Channel. Rivers were the superhighways of the time, carrying people, goods, and ideas from place to place. Nowadays you can take a leisurely river cruise that features Antwerp as a port. (Curious? See how river cruises are different from ocean cruises.)

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  • 03 of 20

    Getting to Antwerp on Brussels Airlines

    Antwerp in Belgium: a Spellbinding City Where Medieval Meets Tomorrow

    ©Rudi Boigelot

    ic pAcross the Atlantic to Belgium Aboard Brussels Airlines 

    Numerous airlines fly nonstop from U.S. gateways to Brussels, Belgium's capital, a one-hour ride from Antwerp. But if you're the kind of traveler who likes to get into the spirit of the destination by flying on its national airline — on a comfy and well-priced flight to boot — your choice is Brussels Airlines, a member of the Star Alliance mileage group.

    Brussels Airlines flies nonstop between New York, Washington  D.C., and Toronto. Elsewhere Americans can connect to a Brussels-bound flight through Brussels Airlines' partner, United,

    Coach seating on Brussels Airlines is relatively quite comfortable. And business class is a lovely experience. Your pod-style seat feels like a cozy cocoon. And the personal attention never ends. You're welcomed with a glass of Champagne and royally fed and pampered for the rest of your flight. Think Belgian chocolates and Belgian beer. This is a flight you won't want to sleep through.

    What Are You Passionate About? You Might Find It on Brussels Airlines

    Brussels Airlines is a lot like Antwerp—a historic pedigree and a flair for contemporary tastes and trends. Its jet exteriors honor Belgium's cultural icons such as the comic-book hero Tintin (in the photo above) and Surrealist painter René Magritte (you know his depictions of black umbrellas in the sky). Check out Brussels Airlines' b inspired magazine.

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  • 04 of 20

    Take Your Pick of Refined Hotels in Antwerp

    Antwerp in Belgium: a Spellbinding City Where Medieval Meets Tomorrow

    ©Hilton Hotels & Resorts

    Your Choice of Tempting Hotels in Antwerp

    Antwerp takes its tourism trade seriously, and treats its visitors well. You'd expect a range of hotels in a city this stylish and this enterprising. And you'll get just that.

    Accommodations include from elegant B&Bs, inexpensive Airbnb apartments, super-stylish boutique hotels, and well-known major hotel names. Stylish visitors like  Hotel Rubens-Grote Markt: a boutique hotel just off the Grand Place, and Hotel Les Nuits, a seductive design hotel whose 22 rooms have a black-dominant palette.

    An Easy Decision: Hilton Old Town Antwerp

    The U.S.-based Hilton brand offers Antwerp visitors a refined full-service hotel with one of the city's best locations, right on the central square. Hilton Old Town Antwerp's draws include

    spacious, quiet rooms with comforts like super-quality beds and pillows, coffeemakers, American-style showers with Peter Thomas Roth toiletries; a 24-hour gym; VIP Club Floor with a snack-filled lounge and a scenic deck (shown above); Brasserie Flo, overlooking the square and serving sparkling-fresh seafood and Belgian specialties.

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  • 05 of 20

    Antwerp’s Cathedral of Our Lady Is a Must-Visit

    Antwerp in Belgium: a Spellbinding City Where Medieval Meets Tomorrow

    ©VISITFLANDERS/www.milo-profi.be

    Antwerp Has One of Europe's Great Cathedrals

    Even if you're used to checking out the big church in every European city you visit, Antwerp's Cathedral of Our Lady will impress you. The biggest Gothic church in Europe's Low Countries, it was begun in the early 1100s and is still being refined with new artworks. The cathedral is a source of pride and joy to the Flemish people, and welcomes over 300,000 visitors annually.

    The Cathedral's Paintings Are By Rubens, Antwerp's Hometown Genius

    Gothic cathedrals flaunting the work of legendary painter Peter Paul Rubens are rare. The Cathedral of Our Lady flaunts four masterpieces by this master of the Flemish Baroque style, painted over a period of 15 years. And Our Lady contains many other masterworks in paint, marble, and sculpted wood.

    Continue to 6 of 20 below.

  • 06 of 20

    Antwerp Sparkles with Diamonds

    Antwerp in Belgium: a Spellbinding City Where Medieval Meets Tomorrow

    ©VISITFLANDERS/Kris Jacobs

    Antwerp is the global diamond trade's busiest center — busier than Johannesburg or New York. Antwerp's diamond trade is on both the wholesale and retail levels. It is estimated that two-thirds of the world's gem-quality diamonds pass through Antwerp. This is where diamonds are brought to be traded, cut, polished, graded, set, and sold. 

    Diamonds, Diamonds Everywhere

    With the dollar rising against the Euro, Antwerp is a brilliant place to buy diamond jewelry…or just window-shop and dream. Many of the city's diamond stores are in the Diamond District near Central Station, and other diamond shops are scattered about. in Antwerp, you are never far from a dazzling diamond window display.

    Continue to 7 of 20 below.

  • 07 of 20

    DIVA Antwerp, for Diamond Intrigue and Adventure

    Antwerp in Belgium: a Spellbinding City Where Medieval Meets Tomorrow

    ©Louise Mertens for DIVA Antwerp

    DIVA, opened in Spring 2018 in Antwerp's historic center, is an interactive adventure that immerses you in the diamond mystique. Your guide is the virtual DIVA, an Antwerp glamourpuss who leads you through her house and shows you its sparkling treasures. The way DIVA tells it, the story of the world's diamond trade is in many ways the story of Antwerp.

    Can You Escape with a Diamond?

    Visitors can also try on (virtually, that is) stunning creations involving the world's most precious substance, and learn about the world's most notorious diamond heists and forgeries. Your newfound diamond knowledge will come to the test in DIVA’s Escape Room. In this 60-minute challenge, your only way out is to solve riddles and find objects. Diamonds are forever, but let's hope your stay in the Escape Room is temporary.

    Continue to 8 of 20 below.

  • 08 of 20

    Antwerp Shopping and the Stadsfeestzaal Designer Mall

    Antwerp in Belgium: a Spellbinding City Where Medieval Meets Tomorrow

    ©Antwerpen Toerisme & Congres

    Antwerp is a world center of edgy modern fashion, and shopping is an avid pursuit here. The upshot: you'll find lots of high-end fashion but also many bargains. The city's main shopping street, Meir, is a pedestrian promenade that runs over a mile. You'll see many of Europe's popular retail brands. Some, like Zara, H&M, and Mexx, you can find in the States. But others, like C&A, will be fresh pickings. Prices range from super-cheap to high-ticket.

    Stadsfeestzaal on Meir Street shelters around 40 stores, but it's a shame to call it a mall. This elegant late-1800s arcade is so upscale, its refreshment stand is a Champagne bar.

    You're Never Far from a Designer Boutique

    European and Flemish designer shops are scattered around the neighborhoods surrounding Old Town. Have fun. Know that some retailers accept only cash for sale items. Here's where to find the shops by name.

    Fashionistas plan their Antwerp visit around the Antwerp Fashion Festival, held annually in early fall. You can expect late-night shopping, runway shows, juicy discounts, pop-up “fashion villages,” style meetups, and other insider events. Antwerp Fashion weekends occur throughout the year.

    Continue to 9 of 20 below.

  • 09 of 20

    Belgian Food in Antwerp: Some of the Best Snacks on Earth

    Antwerp in Belgium: a Spellbinding City Where Medieval Meets Tomorrow

    ©Maria Doreuli/Flickr

    Antwerp Cuisine Thinks Global But Cooks Local

    Antwerp's delicious cuisine evolved on its own path. As a port city, Antwerp absorbed influences and seasonings from far and wide. The basis of the cuisine is Flanders' hearty meat and fresh produce, with unique flavors thanks to Antwerpers' way with spices.

    Antwerp is a sophisticated multicultural town where you can find a myriad of global cuisines. French restaurants abound (including around a dozen with Michelin stars). And if you seek an Indian, Lebanese, Turkish, African, Asian, or Kosher restaurant, you can find it. Find out more about restaurants in Antwerp.

    Eat These in Antwerp

    But if you want to eat like an Antwerper, consider these local specialties: mussels and fries (mosselenfriet); waterzooi (a saucy chicken or fish casserole); carbonnade Flamande (beef stew made with beer instead of red wine). Belgian waffles are a sweet treat you cannot deny yourself. Choose a topping, or several. Loco for cocoa? Antwerp's divine Belgian chocolate awaits.

    Continue to 10 of 20 below.

  • 10 of 20

    Calling All Chocoholics to Antwerp

    Antwerp in Belgium: a Spellbinding City Where Medieval Meets Tomorrow

    ©VISITFLANDERS/www.milo-profi.be

    In a World of Standout Chocolate Countries, Belgium Could Be the Best

    Belgium is not the only great producer of chocolate. What chocoholic would turn down Swiss, French, or Dutch chocolate? But if you're a certified chocoholic, you may fall hard for Belgian chocolate. It's creamier and silkier, with an intriguing variety of flavors (fruit, nut, spice, liqueur) worked into a velvety-smooth ganache texture.

    In Antwerp, chocolate is a passion. The local chocolate is made by hand and gorgeously packaged with ribbons. Dainty shops here resemble lingerie boutiques. After all, fine chocolate is a sensuous pleasure.

    Hand Me Some of that Antwerp Chocolate

    Antwerp's signature chocolate treat is small chocolates shaped like hands. This tradition is part of Antwerp's mythology about a mean giant who lived on the river. The hands symbolize what happened to him. And the statue in the Grand Place, showing a Roman soldier hoisting a severed hand, tells you the end of the story. Forget the story but remember the chocolate!

    Continue to 11 of 20 below.

  • 11 of 20

    Antwerp Is a City of Parks

    Antwerp in Belgium: a Spellbinding City Where Medieval Meets Tomorrow

    ©VISITFLANDERS/Misjel Decleer

    Antwerp Has a Park You'll Fall in Love With

    Antwerpers work hard and play hard. They planned their city with green space everywhere, and you'll encounter huge parks where yo can lose yourself for a half-day. And as you explore Antwerp's medieval street plan, you'll stumble upon its public gardens and secret glades.

    One favorite is Stadspark, a large triangular patch a few minutes' walk from Old Town and the Meir Street shopping district. Everyone comes here, and you should, too. Stadspark is the place for a walk, run, or spin on a citybike. Or you can take it easy. Read on a bench, sunbathe on the thick grass, or feed ducks by the pond.

    All the while, you'll do some inspired people-watching. And you'll come away refreshed by nature and armed with an inside take on Antwerp. Here's more about Antwerp's lovely parks.

    Continue to 12 of 20 below.

  • 12 of 20

    Antwerp’s Tomorrowland Festival

    Antwerp in Belgium: a Spellbinding City Where Medieval Meets Tomorrow

    ©Tomorrowland

    Tomorrowland, a Revel of a Festival

    Tomorrowland is up there with the world's best annual festivals, attracting and entertaining some 200,000 fun-seekers. This summer sensation is a celebration of electronic music and its liberating effect. Founded in 2004, Tomorrowland is held in Boom, 10 miles from Antwerp. It has grown to encompass an entire lifestyle and has two spinoffs, Tomorrowland Brasil and Tomorrowland Dubai.

    Continue to 13 of 20 below.

  • 13 of 20

    Antwerp’s Glorious Central Station

    Antwerp in Belgium: a Spellbinding City Where Medieval Meets Tomorrow

    ©Neimon/Flickr

    Antwerp's Railroad Station Is One of Its Greatest & Most Famous Buildings

    Central Station is an Antwerp landmark, and one of the great railroad stations of the world. This glorious, church-like building, completed in 1905, brings the romance back to train travel. It resembles a palace, with a soaring glass dome and a monumental marble staircase. One of the station's local nicknames is “railroad cathedral” (Spoorwegkathedraal).

    At Central Station, you will see as many admirers with cameras as travelers with luggage. This magnificent structure is one of Antwerp's treasures and definitely worth a visit.

    Continue to 14 of 20 below.

  • 14 of 20

    Fall in Love with Belgian Beer in Antwerp

    Antwerp in Belgium: a Spellbinding City Where Medieval Meets Tomorrow

    ©Karen Tina Harrison

     

    You know how passionate beer-lovers are. And no beer fan is more ardent than the partisan of Belgian beer. These brews are a breed apart. They are thick, creamy, and golden, more like a kiss than a pucker. 

    Belgian beer was developed by monks in the Middle Ages, and medieval monks clearly had fantastic taste. At a time when hardly anyone could read, let alone create a recipe, monks were their eras' intellectuals, chemists, inventors, and taste-makers.

    Why Is Belgian Beer Such a Cult Thing? Find Out in Antwerp

    Today, Belgian beer is exported everywhere, but it's thrilling to drink it on home soil. The place to indulge is the De Koninck brewery right in Antwerp. 

    Duvel Beer is an icon of Belgium. Its Antwerp brewery offers an absorbing tour that spotlights the history of the brand and the uncompromising Antwerp family behind it. The tour ends with an ample tasting of several De Koninck beers. You can decide which one is your favorite. For many, it is Duvel. Don't be surprised if it becomes the beer you always look for. (Order it right: the name Duvel is Flemish, not French, and pronounced DO-v'l.) Find out about visiting De Koninck Brewery and tasting its beers.

    Continue to 15 of 20 below.

  • 15 of 20

    Cutting-Edge Fashion in Antwerp

    Antwerp in Belgium: a Spellbinding City Where Medieval Meets Tomorrow

    ©Modeafdeling Antwerpen

    Multiple Generations of Disruptive Design in Antwerp

    Antwerpers have always cherished their creative side. In the 1980s, the city burst upon the international fashion scene with the attention-getting Antwerp Six, a half-dozen designers who changed everything.

    The Antwerp Six's approach—architectural, dark, hand-made—continues to influence fashion design. Whenever you see the word “minimalist” in fashion copy, that's a tribute to Dries Van Noten, Ann Demeulemeester, and the other fashion radicals of the Antwerp Six.

    A School for Ambitious Antwerp Designers

    Antwerp has long been a sanctuary for artists, and the Fashion Department of the Antwerp Academy trains designers. It attracts style-mad, innovative young people from all over the world (but especially the E.U.). Find out more about contemporary fashion in Antwerp and

    MoMu, Antwerp's Fashion Museum.

    Continue to 16 of 20 below.

  • 16 of 20

    The Rubens House: Now, This Was Livin’

    Antwerp in Belgium: a Spellbinding City Where Medieval Meets Tomorrow

    ©VISITFLANDERS

    Time to dream: imagine an extravagantly talented creative type whose ground-breaking work creates a sensation. People talk about him and are eager to see his latest. He becomes the top guy in his field and extremely wealthy. He buys a fabulous home and fills it with precious objects, and showers his first and second wives with diamonds. His renown is such that he's a kind of diplomat, hobnobbing with world leaders.

    We are not talking about an entertainment superstar or a Silicon Valley visionary. We are talking about Antwerp's artistic genius, Peter Paul Rubens. He was the painter of his day (late 1500s and early 1600s). Kings, cardinals, and moguls wanted him to paint their portraits or their palaces and cathedrals. Here's Rubens'​ incredible bio and complete painting gallery.

    Visit Rubens' House in Antwerp

    Rubens owned one of the grandest private houses in Antwerp, with galleries galore and a sculpture garden. Today's visitors can tour the home. It adds up to more than a museum studded with timeless paintings by Rubens. It's a place that makes you think about just how much one person can achieve. Rubens was an artist, and a personality, for the ages. Check out Rubens' House (Rubenshuis).

    Continue to 17 of 20 below.

  • 17 of 20

    The Cycling Life in Antwerp

    Antwerp in Belgium: a Spellbinding City Where Medieval Meets Tomorrow

    ©Wikimedia Commons/François

    Antwerp Is a Two-Wheeled Town

    Belgium is a progressive country that long ago recognized the bicycle as a form of transportation as well as relaxation. And Antwerpers are passionate about the two-wheeled lifestyle. You'll see locals of all ages getting around on their bikes: going to work, doing their shopping, taking in the splendid sights of their city. Find out how to rent a bike in Antwerp and meet people on small-group Antwerp bike tours.

    A Bike Ride You Can't Take Anywhere Else: Through St. Anna Tunnel 

    One of the many mesmerizing rides you can take in Antwerp traverses the Scheldt River. Unlike in other cities, this bike path doesn't go over the river on a bridge. It goes under the river in a tunnel. St. Anna Tunnel is a feat of engineering that has made Antwerpers proud since it opened in 1933. (They call it simply “the underpass.”) The tunnel is for walkers and cyclists only.

    St. Anna tunnel's rare wooden escalator still take you (and your bike) up and down. What's new and delightful: mood lighting in the tunnel. If you find yourself on a bike during your Antwerp visit, a colorful spin through St. Anna Tunnel will be a thrill you don't soon forget.

    Continue to 18 of 20 below.

  • 18 of 20

    Zip Around Free with the Antwerp City Card

    Antwerp in Belgium: a Spellbinding City Where Medieval Meets Tomorrow

    ©Karen Tina Harrison

    The Best Bargain in a City of Bargain-Hunters

    Antwerpers are practical folks who love a bargain — and they know that visitors do, too. One of Antwerp's best travel deals is the Antwerp City Card, a discount program for visitors. It gives you a lot for a little (or for free). And the card allows you to do it all without constantly dipping into your wallet or backpack.

    The benefits of the Antwerp City Card are exceptional. For starters, you get free entry to most tourism attractions, such as museums and the cathedral. Plus free passage on city transportation and the HopNStop downtown shuttle. Not to mention discounts on things like bike rentals and waffle shops.

    24, 48, or 72 Hours?

    The Antwerp City Card is sold for one, two, or three days. The best deal is the 72-hour card, only 40 Euros as of 2018, around $48USD. (The discount coupon book that comes with the card is good for the whole year.)

    Continue to 19 of 20 below.

  • 19 of 20

    Antwerp’s Thriving Jewish Community

    Antwerp in Belgium: a Spellbinding City Where Medieval Meets Tomorrow

    ©Karen Tina Harrison

    Yiddish Culture Lives On in Antwerp

    A vibrant Jewish community exists in Antwerp. Many of its residents are involved with Antwerp's diamond trade, the world's most significant. 

    Back when, Antwerp welcomed Jews who had fled or been expelled from Spain following the anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim Spanish Inquisition of 1492, and for successive generations. Today's Jewish citizens of Antwerp are Orthodox Jews whose forebears came from Eastern Europe. Their neighborhood is the only Yiddish-speaking district that remains in Europe, a fact that thrills Jewish visitors. Find out more about the dramatic history of Antwerp's Jewish residents.

    Continue to 20 of 20 below.

  • 20 of 20

    How to Start Planning a Visit to Antwerp

    Antwerp in Belgium: a Spellbinding City Where Medieval Meets Tomorrow

    ©LudoVicM/Flickr

    Inspired to Visit? Start with These Antwerp Connections

    Visit Antwerp online and Visit Flanders

     

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How to Get Around Belgium Like a Local

  • 01 of 04

    Belgium Tourism Map Showing Rail Lines

    How to Get Around Belgium Like a Local

    James Martin

    Belgium, grouped with Luxembourg and the Netherlands to make up the Benelux countries, is a fascinating tourism destination. It's a required side trip on the Grand Tour for beer and chocolate lovers. The landscape is a lush green, and it's flat for easy rural walking. There are plenty of castles and gardens to keep the traveler enamored with the medieval period busy.

    Art lovers can be kept busy viewing the likes of the masters Peter Paul Rubens, Sir Antony van Dyck and Rene Magritte. Adolphe Sax, born in Dinant, invented the famous jazz instrument that takes his name–and jazz has become increasingly popular in Belgium in recent years.

    And talk about diversity! Belgium is divided into three regions, each with language, culinary and cultural differences. The Flemish Region or Flanders occupies the north, the Walloon Region or Wallonia occupies the south, and the Brussels-Capital Region is central to Belgium.

    Belgium doesn't seem to take the standard prizes in the “What's the best place in Europe to visit?” popularity sweepstakes, which is why I tend to think of it as Europe's Best Kept Travel Secret.

    Compact Belgium

    One of the great things about visiting Belgium is its diminutive size and the interesting cities crammed together so they're just a short train ride from each other. You won't spend a lot of time (or money) getting from one destination to another. Plus, it's very easy to get to London and Paris as well as other destinations in Germany, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.

    The Thalys high speed train whisks you from Brussels to Paris in about an hour and a half. Brussels to London takes a little over two hours. You can be in Cologne, Germany from Brussels on the cheaper normal trains in under three hours.

    Belgium Cities and towns

    The major cities popular with tourists are Brussels, Bruges, and Ghent, and Antwerp, followed by smaller cities like Liège, Dinant, Damme, Mechelen, and Mon.

    Belgium is also a focal point for World War I sites, many including remnants of the rather brutal trench warfare as in the Trench of Death in Dixmude.

    Where to Stay

    Belgium has a wide range of accommodations. There are usually hotels near train stations, many budget, a few seedy. You may inspect a hotel before committing to it. There are many hostels in larger cities like Brussels.

    Belgium has many self-catering accommodations, from small apartments to sprawling villas for large families and groups. Self-catering can save money over renting hotel rooms, especially for families. HomeAway lists almost 400 vacation rentals in Belgium (book direct).

    Farm stays are popular with those who like the rural environment; we enjoyed our stay at Hoeve Spreeuwenburg.

    What to Eat and Drink in Belgium

    Frites -or the misnamed “french” fries. Pretty much the national dish, except for the superb waterzooi. You have them with mayonnaise. Find: The Best Belgian Frites

    Waterzooi-from a Flemish word meaning “simmering water” comes a hearty stew of local fish (or chicken) with vegetables and herbs, often enriched by a trio of the kitchen god's best: butter, egg yolks and cream.

    Carbonnades – meat cooked with brown beer, the national dish of Belgium. (Cabonnades Flamandes recipe)

    Belgian Endive – White Gold, an endive kept in darkness for most of its life. Often served braised (recipe)

    Chocolate – Belgian Chocolate! Yes, it goes without saying. See: The Best Belgian Chocolate Shops Travel Guide

    Beer – Aficionados of Bud Lite need not read further. The rest of you who like variety and flavor must try one of these: Lambic Ale, Abbey and Trappist Ale, Witbier (wheat), Sour Ale, Brown Ale, Amber Ale, or Strong Golden Ale. You can even order Pilsner. See: Belgian Beer Styles and Food Pairings.

    Languages

    The language spoken in the northern region of Flanders speak Dutch. People in the southern region, Wallonia, speak French. German is spoken in the East near the German Border. English is widely spoken in main tourist areas.

    If you would like to learn a few words of Dutch, there are online resources enabling you to do so. One of them is SpeakDutch.

    Transportation to and within Belgium

    Brussels Airport, east of Brussels, is the only international airport in Belgium. “Taxis with a taximeter are permanently available in front of the arrivals hall. The fare from the airport to the city centre of Brussels is normally around € 45. Licensed taxis can be recognized by the blue and yellow emblem. Travellers are advised to avoid unlicensed taxis!” There is also bus service.

    Getting to Belgium – By Train

    The Eurostar goes between Brussels and London and fast TGV trains link Brussels with Paris and Amsterdam. There is a Benelux rail pass available as well as one which adds France, and one which adds Germany (buy direct). See Our Belgium Map and Travel Essentials for more detailed transportation information.

    Belgium is served by an extensive rail system as you can see in the map above. The Belgian Railway is called the SNCB and its website is here. Many discounts and passes are offered to the tourist or occasional traveler.

    The fast trains in Belgium are the TGV trains. They run on three routes shown in red on the map. The red Thalys high-speed train links Paris to Amsterdam, Brussels, Cologne and Dusseldorf.

    Railpasses: A Benelux Tourrail Pass is good for five days unlimited rail travel throughout Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands within a one month period. Two adults traveling together get a discount. The Youth Pass will save money for folks younger than 26. A France-Belgium-Luxembourg-Netherlands Pass is also available.

    The Eurostar will take you quickly from London to Brussels and other cities in Belgium.

    There is direct bus transportation from the airport to Antwerp, Eindhoven (Sabena) and to Rotterdam (Virgin Express).

    There are about 150,000 miles of highways in Belgium. You will need a car to take you to the smaller villages.

    When to Go

    Belgium enjoys a moderate climate. It rains frequently but for short durations in most of Belgium. For an overview of climate throughout the year in some of Belgium's most popular destinations see the interactive map at Belgium Travel Weather.

    Etiquette and Culture in Belgium

    Visitors to Belgium might be concerned about cultural habits and etiquette, especially when business is part of the plan. Executive Planet has information on the most common situations that might get you in trouble.

    For insight into the Belgian identity see: Belgium: Society, Character, and Culture.

    Restaurants in Belgium

    A restaurant in Belgium is a pretty elegant eating place. If you're looking for something a little more informal, look for a bistro, café, restaurant-café, or brasserie. While food is relatively expensive in Belgium, you can also find broodjeswinkel (sandwich shops), or pannekoekhuije (pancake houses) offering good bargains in food.

    Lunch is generally served from 12 to 3pm and dinner from 7 to 10 pm.

    A “menu” refers to the special of the day.

    See the food section of our Belgium article for what to look for in the way of food and drink.

    Service charges are included in hotel, restaurant, shopping bills and taxi fares. Belgians commonly round up the total amount to determine the tip.

    Alison Wellner, our guide to Culinary travel, recommends the 6 Belgian Food Experiences for Travelers.

    Currency in Belgium

    The currency in Belgium is the Euro. At the time the Euro was adopted, its value was set at 44.3399 Belgian Francs.

    Continue to 2 of 4 below.

  • 02 of 04

    Belgian Chocolate and How It Became Popular

    How to Get Around Belgium Like a Local

    James Martin

    You have checked into your hotel. Bags have been dumped on the bed, a map has been procured from the front desk, and off you go.

    It won't be more than 5 minutes before you will encounter a shop with things made of chocolate. Yes, there are little shells like you'll encounter in Guylian chocolates–but there are way more tempting ways to market chocolate for some people: if you don't want your children to gander upon the lusty wonders as you see in the picture, you may need an opaque shopping bag to throw over their heads. Belgians do not flee, especially from breasts.

    Belgians make a relatively pure chocolate, but so does Italy. There's a reason you think of Belgian chocolate before you think of Italian chocolate. First of all there are over 2,130 chocolate shops in little Belgium. Then there's consumption:

    “According to the International Cocoa Organization, Belgium ranks number two in per capita consumption of chocolate, with Belgians enjoying an average of 11.03 kilograms per year.” ~ Belgium Chocolate.

    During the 17th century Spain ruled Belgium. The Spanish consumed chocolate as a drink from chocolate they got in South America.

    Once the Belgians got a taste for it, they looked for their own source. Remember the deep, dark, Belgian Congo? Yep, they exploited it for cocoa beans.

    Neuhaus, Belgium's first chocolate shop, opened in Brussels in 1857. They're still kicking, and you can even order their chocolate from the US: Neuhaus Chocolates.

     

    Continue to 3 of 4 below.

  • 03 of 04

    Antwerp Central: The Railroad Cathedral

    How to Get Around Belgium Like a Local

    James Martin

    It wasn't so long ago that railway stations weren't tall sheds or malls with shopping and a jumble of train tracks. Even in the 1970s there were some great, elegant restaurants in some of Europe's train stations. To go to the station wasn't all a burden but an adventure.

    The station that's stood out to frequent travelers is Antwerp's central station. Built between 1895 and 1905, it replaced a wooden station built in 1854 by Auguste Lambeau.

    The station is surrounded by diamond and gold shops. If that wasn't enough to be reverential about, the 44-meter high glass vault reaching toward the heavens was designed by the architect J. Van Asperen.

    You should visit, even if you're not going anywhere. But then again, there are compelling cities not so far from Antwerp to explore. Look at the chart of departing trains. Dreaming is planning, too.

    You could, after all, head to Rotterdam to buy a warm Belgian waffle with chocolate melted on top

    The Railway cathedral was recently updated, the renovation started in 1993 was completed 16 years later–in 2009. This, like the chocolate, horses, mussels in great, steaming pots, and long, rambling countryside walks are things about Belgium to remember.

    Continue to 4 of 4 below.

  • 04 of 04

    Walking and Biking in the Belgian Countryside

    How to Get Around Belgium Like a Local

    James Martin

    The picture you see above shows you just about all you need to know about the Belgian countryside near the Netherlands border. There are those horses. They are everywhere. The ground is flat. The polder landscape holds a secret: amongst those trees in the background there are waterways, and many of the waterways had tow paths which are now bike and trekking paths that criss-cross the country, even ​between big cities. Here are some resources:

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The Top 10 Things to Do in Brussels

02 of 10

Get Up Close to Tintin at the Belgium Comic Strip Centre

the top 10 things to do in brussels 1 - The Top 10 Things to Do in Brussels

Getty/Atlantide Phototravel

Address

Rue des Sables 20, 1000 Bruxelles, Belgium

Phone

+32 2 219 19 80

Web

Visit website

Walk into the Comic Strip Centre (Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinée) and the first thing you see is a large model of the rocket in Tintin’s Destination Moon adventure. Tintin is definitely the hero of the center along with his companions, Snowy and Captain Haddock but also making an appearance are the likes of Lucky Luke, the Smurfs and a whole host more. There’s a permanent exhibition that takes in how the comic strip developed, an exhibition on Hergé, Tintin’s creator, and a whole section on Peyo with a realistic 3D Smurf village. Temporary exhibitions cover everything about the 9th art. It’s housed in a beautiful Art Nouveau industrial building designed by the Belgian architect Victor Horta in 1906 for a textile tycoon.  Eat in the Horta Brasserie and stock up your bookshelves in the excellent shop.

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The Best Bars in Brussels

02 of 14

A la Mort Subite

The Best Bars in Brussels

Getty/Lonely Planet

Address

Rue Montagne aux Herbes Potagères 7, 1000 Bruxelles, Belgium

Phone

+32 2 513 13 18

Web

Visit website

This splendid, ornate bar called ‘Sudden Death’ is always busy. Opened in 1928, it got its peculiar name after a game of dice that the regulars played in a previous bar. It’s still in the same family with the fourth generation Vossens serving beers from Trappist offerings to the splendid Geuze and Lambic beers. But you really should go for the Lambic White Mort Subite at least once. After a few beers, you’ll really appreciate the dramatic and theatrical songs of one of the regulars of the past, the Belgian singer and actor, Jacques Brel, and you might even start singing.

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The Top 10 Things to Do in Antwerp

02 of 10

Visit a 400-Year-Old Printing House

The Top 10 Things to Do in Antwerp

De Agostini / C. Sappa/Getty Images

Address

Plantin Moretus Museum, Vrijdagmarkt 22, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgium

This large, imposing and very grand house is tucked down a side street in central Antwerp. Walk inside and you enter the house and workshops of the Plantin-Moretus publishing firm, the most important and largest printers in Europe at the time.

The house was built around a charming formal 17th-century garden with rooms on four sides. The first rooms you visit are domestic, a splendid series of dining and living rooms that showed off the wealth and power of the family. Some have oak paneled walls; others have walls lined with gilded leather or hung with portraits of the family and their friends.

But the house was more than just a home and the rest of the building was used for the printing firm. You can see rooms full of substantial wooden presses that are the oldest in the world, and can watch demonstrations of how the presses worked. The old bookshop takes you back to the days when wealthy customers came to buy, their silver and gold coins weighed to check their value before they were allowed to take their precious books home.

The Plantin-Moretus firm produced 55 works a year, employing 22 men who worked 14-hour days. They acted as the official printer for Antwerp, and the royal typographer to King Philip II of Spain. Their 8-volume Plantin Polyglot Bible with Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek and Syriac text was the most sophisticated production at the time; others of their publications are shown here in facsimile.

The Plantin-Moretus Museum is a real treasure trove, the only museum in the world to be granted UNESCO World Heritage status.

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10 Classic Belgian Dishes (and Where to Try Them)

02 of 10

Beef Stew

10 Classic Belgian Dishes (and Where to Try Them)

Getty Images/Philippe Desnerck

The well-known and hearty winter dish of carbonade Flamande or Vlaamse stoverij/stoofvlees was, according to the Belgians, invented by them. The French of course claim that the French equivalent of boeuf Bourguignon was the original. Originally a farmer’s dish from north Europe, ideal for keeping the cold at bay, it’s a rich deeply satisfying plate of caramelized onions and slow-cooked beef. The French use red wine, but in Belgium, the dish is cooked using Belgian beer, particularly Oud Bruin (Old Brown, or Flanders Brown). The beer's secondary fermentation adds a slightly sour flavor and perfectly counteracts the sweetness of the onions. Bread covered in mustard is added and the dish is served with mashed potatoes or ​frites.

Nearly every Belgian restaurant will have this on their menu, and it’s particularly popular in traditional brasseries. In Brussels go for Le Fin de Siècle at 9 rue des Chartreux where the old wooden floors, tables, and chairs take you back to 19th-century living.

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