Today: Top 10 things to see & do in Belgium
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause havoc and tragedy across the globe. I have previously described in this blogpost my personal brush with the Coronavirus. Due to a complete travel ban in my home country (Belgium) and the never-ending travel restrictions around the world, I have decided to temporarily pause my travels. While I am waiting for (international) travel to resume, I will publish several videos featuring the highlights of my home country on my YouTube channel over the coming weeks (to keep you all entertained during these frustrating times).
Located in the heart of Europe, Belgium is globally known for indulgent chocolates and tasty beer. But my country is so much more than that of course. Belgium is divided into three regions: French-speaking Wallonia to the south, Dutch-speaking Flanders to the north, and the small German-speaking East Cantons to the east. The imaginary language border between the largest regions, Wallonia and Flanders, dissects the country in two and the capital, Brussels, is claimed by both. Although the cultural and economic differences between the two main regions is a sensitive political theme for Belgians, for the traveler it’s inconsequential. From medieval towns displaying splendid gothic architecture to modern cities boasting designer shops and world-class museums, here’s my selection of the top 10 things to see and do in Belgium.
There is more information below the slide show. Think I missed one? Share your favorite Belgian place in the comments section, or take my poll below!
The Belgian cities of Antwerp and Liege harbor some of the most spectacular railway stations in the world. Liège’s sleek, curvaceous train station has earned countless contemporary architect accolades. Made of steel, glass, and white concrete, the station seems to bring the outside in, with light pouring in through the windows and skylights. Antwerp’s railway station is an opulent neo-Baroque station, completed at the turn of the 20th century and containing more than 20 types of marble and stone under an impressive iron and glass vaulted ceiling.
The gorgeous city of Leuven is home to Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world’s largest beer brewer (with the famous brands of Budweiser, Stella Artois and Corona in its portfolio) and the KULeuven, one of the oldest and most prominent universities in Europe (founded in1425). This inspiring mix of beer and student life is nowhere more evident than on Leuven’s Old Square – called the “longest bar in the world.” On warm days, the square attracts thousands of young people who socialize, connect and relax on the terraces of the forty cafés. Students and locals never get thirsty in Leuven.
Located in the woods of Belgium’s Ardennes region, Manoir de Lébioles is a castle hotel – dubbed as Belgium’s Versailles – that welcomes its guests with pristine nature, discreet luxury, private atmosphere, and first-class service. Having maintained the structural beauty of this fine monument, a renowned architectural team managed to turn this historic castle into a modern-influenced hotel which offers state-of-the-art comfort respecting the 100-year-old soul of the building, making the Manoir a one-of-a-kind architectural jewel.
With its funky nightlife, the world’s biggest diamond center and world-class museums, Antwerp – the “capital of cool” – offers something for everybody, but is especially attractive to shoppers. The Antwerp Fashion Academy produced a group of avant-garde designers who made a big splash on the fashion scene in the 1980’s and became known as “The Antwerp Six”. Nowadays, the academy continues to churn out new, hot talent, and a consequence, the city is filled with cool boutique shops.
Tomorrowland is one of the world’s most celebrated music festivals, and takes place the last weekend of July on a provincial recreation area – called De Schorre – near the village of Boom. Tickets always sell out within hours after being announced. Tomorrowland was first organized since 2005 and has since then gained world-wide fame with more than 400,000 people attending the 2014 edition and the launch of international spinoff festivals. Festival goers flock from all over the planet to De Schorre to celebrate the electronic soundtracks produced by the world’s best DJs.
The multicultural metropolis of Brussels is not only the capital of my tiny country, but also the unofficial capital of the European Union. Its historic heart, the Grand Place, is not only Brussels’ most memorable landmark but also the world’s most beautiful square. The UNESCO World Heritage Site measures 68 by 110 meters (223 by 361 ft), and is surrounded by opulent guildhalls, the gothic townhouse and the Maison Du Roi. It is especially idyllic when you bring a visit during the Christmas period or when a flower carpet is set up every two years in August.
Belgium is a country of foodies and offers some of the best fine dining restaurants in the world. Top of the bill is the exquisite The Jane Restaurant, which is housed in the beautiful chapel of Antwerp’s former military hospital. Not only is the decor very impressive, but so is the food of course: tasting menus are carefully selected by the restaurant’s owner, celebrity chef Sergio Hermans who belongs to the world’s youngest generation of three-star Michelin Chefs. Food is The Jane’s religion, and that is why the restaurant’s open kitchen is located on the altar.
Flanders Fields is a common English name of the World War I battlefields. Even if that war is already a century behind us, its memory is still vivid in Ypres, a beautiful town that gained global attention in 1915 for all the wrong reasons (first major gas attack). For each of the more than 600,000 dead who fell here, there is a story of suffering, pain and ordeal somewhere in the world. Therefore, a visit to the excellent In Flanders Fields Museum and one of the war cemeteries is a must, as the area and its memorials embody a universal and contemporary message of peace.
Bruges is one of Europe’s most beautiful cities and should be on your bucket list. The complete, historic center of Bruges has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000, because it maintained its medieval character as it evolved over the centuries. Rich gothic architecture defines the town’s identity, reflecting its past as one the continent’s commercial and cultural capitals. Because of its many canals (linking the city to the North Sea), Bruges is often called the “Venice of the North”, but it would be more appropriate to call Venice the “Bruges of the South”.
Unlike Bruges, Ghent has retained the character of a functioning city rather than an open-air museum. Being Europe’s second largest city north of the Alps during the Middle Ages, Ghent is nowadays a brilliant mix of a wonderfully preserved, medieval buildings and contemporary design. Nowhere is this more evident than on the Graslei, where splendid architecture is displayed along the Leie river. Be sure to visit Ghent during its music and theater festival in mid-July (Gentse Feesten), when the city celebrates its rebellious atmosphere of the early days.