While this nation is known in the present day as the centre of the European Union, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to those that are knowledgeable about this Low Countries’ past significance on the continent.
Being home to cities that were influential in trade, many wealthy fiefdoms arose, leading to the rise of many spectacular buildings within its borders. Being at the intersection points of many major European cultures, many major conflicts have been fought on its soil, and the mixing of its respective cultures have resulted in a food scene that is on par with the very best on the continent.
It may be tempting to skip this nation on your Euro Trip, but spend a few days eating, drinking and sightseeing here. You’ll be happy you did.
Languages: Dutch, German, French
What To Do
The cities of Belgium are filled with some of the best architecture in Europe, with few better examples being available than the majestic Grand-Place, a city square located within Brussels, which is its capital.
Surrounded by intricately designed guildhalls (where members of trade organizations met to conduct internal business), museums and Brussels’ city hall, Grand Place will dazzle those not used to an embarrassing wealth of architectural beauty, as its mix of Gothic, Baroque and Louis XIV styles combine to create a collection of beautiful buildings not often seen in the world.
Another highlight of Brussels that should be seen before departing the city is the St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral. Built to honour the patron saints of the city, this house of worship boasts almost 1,000 years of history, as much of the churches’ original structure dates all the way back to the 11th century. Apart from its soaring exterior, the insides of this cathedral also offer plenty of highlights, with the marble altar and the baroque styled pulpit stealing the show.
While Brussels certainly offers much to fans of pretty buildings from the past, the historic centre of Bruges is by far this nation’s marquee highlight in this department, as many structures in this cute city of just over 117,000 people have survived the ages between the 12th century and the present more or less intact.
Don’t miss the Church of our Lady, which contains the only sculpture of Michelangelo based outside of Italy, and the Belfry of Bruges, which contains 48 bells in an 83 metre high tower that offers heart-stopping views over the entirety of the city.
If you consider yourself a war buff, then you won’t want to leave Belgium without strolling the length of the Waterloo Battlefield. This was the site of the fateful battle that resulted in the fall of Napoleon’s mighty French Empire, as a seven nation coalition came together with the aim of removing him from power.
Napoleon’s only hope was to attack before the armies assembled as one force, setting what would be his final battle as commander of the French armed forces. The Lion’s Mound offers a view over sacred ground where many good people fought and died, making for a good bit of introspection before carrying on with your Belgian trip.
Contrary to what you might think, Belgium is not a pancake flat country like its fellow Low Country neighbours, as The Ardennes is where the coastal plains give way to ancient mountains that have been heavily eroded over the eons.
Despite its advanced state of decomposition, these low peaks, rolling hills, dense forests, and vigorous rivers make for a rare tract of wilderness in a portion of Europe that is largely dominated by cities, towns, villages and farmland.
If you are looking to get outside in the Benelux portion of the continent, this is where you’ll want to indulge in it, as the opportunities for hiking, mountain biking, paddling, and rock climbing are abundant here.
What To Eat
Belgium is a wonderland of amazing food in Europe, as it has been best described by many writers as being a nation of French inspired cuisine, served up in German sized portions. Make those hunger pangs disappear by indulging in Moules-Frites (Mussels with French Fries), which is considered by many Belgian nationals to be this country’s national dish.
There are seven different ways this meal can be enjoyed, with versions ranging from the mussels being marinated in white wine, shallots, butter and parsley, to ones that are cooked with garlic. Bring your appetite, as the average serving of this dish amounts to about 1.5 kilograms per person!
If you are in the mood for stew, or if you aren’t a big fan of seafood, then Carbonade Flamande will prove to be a lunch or dinner from which you will derive a great deal of enjoyment. Being a beef and onion stew made in a broth augmented by beer, and seasoned by thyme, mustard and bay leaves, this comfort food is perfect for those exploring this nation in the chillier weather of the off-season. Find it at friteries all over the nation.
Finally, we cannot close out this travel guide without recommending that you seek out some Belgian Waffles … whether you do it for breakfast or dessert is immaterial. The decadence of this treat cannot be understated, as it is sold in street stands throughout the nation, coated with everything from strawberries to whipped cream and chocolate. Forget about your low carb diet or day and indulge … you won’t regret it!