If you want to avoid the tourists in Paris, the massive city of Berlin, or hectic Amsterdam, come to Belgium to experience the diverse culture of a smaller country. The 30,510 square kilometre (11,779 square mile) country is divided into 3 federal areas: Flanders in the North (Dutch-speaking region), the capital Brussels (bilingual headquarters of the EU), and Wallonia in the South (French-speaking region). As small as Belgium may sound, it has all sorts of things to offer to visitors: from medieval architecture to delicious cuisine.
Here are the five Belgian cities to not miss out on during your 2016 European travel resolution.
1. The famous & touristic Bruges
Bruges - the most touristic city in Belgium is known for its romanticism with many canals, old bridges, swans, and medieval European buildings surrounding the city. Bruges is a dream for tourists - where you can find medieval architecture, small old houses, various museums, delicious food, hostels, and tours provided by locals all around the city. The locals’ income derives from tourism services significantly, and your travel expenses for Bruges may exceed what you spend in other cities of Belgium.
But the tourists still love the city, and would still put Bruges on top of the must-see list in Belgium. During the summer, there are more tourists than locals in the city, and you will want to avoid the tourist traps. Do not eat around the Grote Markt as restaurants usually offer expensive prices for tourists. Bruges is such as small city that is discoverable on foot, thus you don’t need to pay for any expensive guided tour.
2. The romantic Ghent
Also listed as another UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ghent is the capital and largest city of the East Flanders province. It is also well known for being a city for couples. Experience walking along the Leie River surrounding Ghent, renting a boat in the summer, or glancing from St Michael’s bridge to enjoy the fantastic views of the marvellous buildings around the city centre.
Standing magnificently above the Ghent skyline, the Old Tower Belfry is an iconic symbol of the town. From the city’s tremendous art treasures, including St. Bavo’s Cathedral, walk up north to the Castles of the Counts (the Gravensteen) to overlook the city from its battlements from high up, and feel the wealth and power that the lord of the castle used to have. In Ghent, you can find everything around the city centre, from medieval buildings and splendid landscape views, to a vibrant nightlife with many bars.
3. The artistic and historical Antwerp
Known as the second largest port in Europe, and the second largest city in Belgium, Antwerp is another major destination in the Flanders region. There is a well-known legend here that the city’s name ‘Antwerpen’ derives from the story about a giant called Antigoon who would charge a toll to boats passing by. Those who would not pay the toll, Antigoon would cut off their hand, and throw it into the nearby river. A young man named Silvius Brabo actually killed the giant, severed his hand, then also threw the giant’s hand into the river. Thus they say the terms ‘hand werpen’ or ’throwing a hand’ came about, helping to give the city its name. You’ll notice the hand is a famous symbol of the city, which you can find in any corner of Antwerp: from a big statue in the middle of the beautiful historic centre to chocolate boxes.
4. The capital Brussels
Known as the ‘New Berlin’, Brussels is now known as the new ideal location for artists, upstart architects, and designers from across Europe. Brussels is well known for the famous Manneken Pis - the symbolic statue of a peeing boy that embeds the rebellious spirit of Brussels.
Other famous tourist attractions around the city centre are the Town Hall, the Stock Exchange Building, Jeanneke Pis, the Palace of Justice, and the Atomium that is located further on the northern part of the city. Visitors to Belgium usually prefer Bruges and Ghent to Brussels, so make sure you don’t spend too much time in the capital city.
5. Namur - do not forget Southern Belgium
To get to know more about the ‘French speaking’ part of Belgium, come to the capital of the province of Namur and Wallonia, where you’ll find the Walloon Parliament. The biggest tourist attraction of Namur is the citadel - a fortified castle lying on a hill between the Meuse and the Sambre Rivers. Hiking or biking to the top of the Citadel, you will get a fantastic view of the whole city of Namur; including the parliament building and river banks. It’s nice, and quite easy to walk around, discovering the traditional Mosan-style houses of Namur, which are made of grey stones and bricks.
How to get around Belgium
Going to Belgium from neighbouring countries like Luxembourg, France, the Netherlands, or Germany is very easy and affordable by bus. Do not forget your passport! The driver may not let you in if you bring only a national ID card. Within Belgium, you can get around by train, where you can buy the ticket directly from the machine at any central station. For youngsters under 26 years old, you can get a 6 EUR (roughly 6.60 USD) ‘Go Pass’ for traveling around any city in Belgium.
Lastly, do not forget to bring your umbrella, as Belgium’s weather is very unexpected during the winter time. Then you can enjoy seeing the country whilst eating a fresh hand-made waffle!
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