If you’re looking for some of the finest cuisine in Europe, or you love to explore stunning countryside and want to visit beautiful and historic cities, why not get online now and book your trip to Belgiu.
There’s just something alluring about Belgium that you can’t quite put your finger on. Maybe it’s the friendly and welcoming people. Perhaps it’s the stunning architecture and the quaint, cobblestoned squares. Or it could be because it is home to the world’s most delicious chocolate and overwhelming variety of 800 different beers. Belgium deserves a first hand visit to understand just why there is so much more to this country than meets the eye.
The ‘Essence of Europe’
Nestled between France and Holland, lies Belgium, one of the three Benelux countries, this country is no bigger than the state of Maryland in America, comprising of just 11,730 square miles, it is truly a fascinating tourism destination. Divided into three main regions, Belgium is often called the ‘Essence of Europe’; few countries in Europe are as multicultural and multilingual as this little jewel.
There are three main regions of Belgium. The northernmost is Flanders, which is flatland interweaved by canals and proud of its medieval art cities of Antwerp, Bruges and Ghent. The language mainly spoken in the Flanders is Flemish, but almost everybody also speaks English, the fourth unofficial language of Belgium. To the south of Belgium is Wallonia, where you will find the rolling hills of the Ardennes, countless castles, and the cities of Liege, Namur and Tournai. The language widely spoken in the Wallonian part of Belgium is French. Again, it is not unusual to hear English also being spoken. Thirdly and finally in the centre of Belgium is the city of Brussels, one of the world’s great cosmopolitan capitals. It is home to both the European Union and NATO, as well as a wealth of international trade and finance companies.
Historical and Cultural Belgium
With an eventful and multifaceted history Belgium has always been linked to both commercial and cultural exchange, with much of its character is due to its role as the great meeting place of Western Europe. Traces of the Austrians, Spanish, French and Dutch can still be seen in its architecture and in the lifestyle of its people. You can see superb examples throughout Belgium of art and architecture past and present – Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque and Art Nouveau, this rich tapestry of history is just one of the many ingredients that make Belgium such an interesting country. Where else in the world can you can take a romantic canal cruise, hunt for diamonds, enjoy waffles on the beach, frolic at a festival, get lost in a castle and discover antiques at an outdoor market – all in one single, exciting day?
DRINK – at Café Belga in place Sainte-Croix
SHOP – on rue Antoine Dansaert, a shopper’s paradise
EAT – at Kasbah (00 32 2 502 4026), or Bonsoir Clara (502 0990)
HANG OUT – at Khnopff (1 rue Saint Bernard) – a very cool city spot
BE SEEN – at Belga Queen – ultra hip
PARTY – at Place St Géry, the hub of Brussels’ after-hours life – offers a huge variety of entertainment
FABULOUS TEA & CAKES – try Le Pain Quotidien on Rue Antoine Dansaert 16
BARGAIN HUNTING – have a good old rummage at Place du Jeu de Balle Flea Market in Brussels’ Marolles district
Sumptuous, historic and cosmopolitan but still neighbourly, where else can you find artistry richer than chocolate, architecture as refined as its cuisine and diversity frothier than beer, all in one place? Brussels is alluring at anytime of year, so whether you are looking to enjoy seafood in some of the greatest restaurants in Europe, cave into the tempting smell of hot waffles on a cold winter’s day or visit cafés and pubs that never close, pencil a trip to this magical city into your diary and give it a try.
You will no doubt stumble upon the Grand Place – its hard not to, as it is one of Europe’s most beautiful squares. Dating back to the 12th century, it is also unashamedly one of Europe’s tourist hot spots, with visitors trickling in and out all day. If monuments of a grand scale are your thing then you must visit Place Royal. This impressive square is dominated by Église St Jacques sur Coudenberg. Within minutes of the monument – which stands proudly in the centre of the square – you will find the Palais Royal, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Parc de Bruxelles and Musée des Instruments de Musique, a museum with as much to offer from the outside as from within. It is a retreat of culture and history, in this city that is truly a day-tripper’s dream.
Aside from its stunning architecture and being home to the European Union bosses, Brussels is also a city buzzing with creativity and an eclectic mix of couture and culture, where cutting-edge cool meets Gothic grandeur. With a list of local designers that reads like a fashion Who’s Who, from Martin Margiela to Ann Demeulemeester, Brussels’ style cognoscenti relax and socialise in the city’s most stylish districts. Many prominent figures working in art, fashion and design can be spotted regularly in some of the chicest restaurants, bars, shops, and culture spots around. Rue Antoine Dansaert is undeniably a style haven. Cooler than Paris and hipper than London, with none of the attitude of either, Brussels has quietly crept on to the style scene.
Most visitors arrive between May and September, when the weather is at its best. If you’re considering a weekend visit, Brussels is a particularly attractive option, as the majority of the city’s top-end hotels drop their rates dramatically from Friday to Sunday. Don’t settle for the first price you’re quoted. Do shop around for good deals or weekend break offers.
VISIT THE ATOMIUM
Designed by engineer André Waterkeyn for the International Exhibition of Brussels in 1958, the Atomium is a structure that is half–way between sculpture and architecture. It symbolises a crystallised molecule of iron – magnified 150 thousand million times. The nine giant spheres have a diameter of 18 metres and are made entirely of steel clad with aluminium. The structure stands at 102 metres high and dominates the Heysel plateau. It is a major landmark on the Brussels skyline and is an attraction well worth visiting.
Wallonia is located in the southern part of Belgium and is dominated by French-speakers – numbering over 3 million – although there is a small German-speaking contingent on its eastern borders.
Namur, the capital of Namur province, is also the political capital of Wallonia. The city has a population of 105,000. Namur is located at the confluence of the Sambre and Meuse rivers (both major waterways), and as a result has had a military significance in centuries past, that guaranteed continual assault, from Roman times through the second World War.
Wallonia is a distinct and very striking region of Belgium with an ancient heritage of breathtaking castles, churches, historic buildings and towns rich in artistic and cultural interest. These elements are bound together to form a region of immense character and beauty, set in the heart of dense forest and bucolic countryside.
The region is essentially southern Belgium and is where southen Europe is said to start – both in terms of both language and lifestyle.
Walloon people love taking it easy, spending hours over a good meal in great, friendly company. So if you’re uncomfortable with a laid-back attitude and mediterranean lifestyle, then this is not the place for you.
The beautiful district can be enjoyed as a day trip, for a weekend or longer. There are 12 major towns in Wallonia’s five geographical sectors and each has something unique to offer.
It’s no exaggeration to say that Wallonia is packed with an eclectic range of attractions and is ideal for curious travellers who want an interesting holiday. Whether as an individual, in a group or as a family, the variety is endless; there are caves to explore, castles to see, cycling trips to take, as well as exhiliarating walking and kayaking outings in spectacular settings.
Much of the gorgeous Ardennes region of Wallonia is covered in dense forests. It also has hills that average around 350-500m (1148-1640ft) in height, rising to over 650m (2132ft) in the boggy moors of the Hautes Fagnes (Hohes Venn) region of north-eastern Belgium. The region is typified by steep-sided valleys carved out by fast-flowing rivers, the most prominent of which being the Meuse. Its principal cities, Liège and Namur, are both in the Meuse valley. Liège was independent from the 10th to the 18th centuries, when it was ruled by a line of Prince-Bishops.
Why not wander around the winding streets in the old town area to discover Liège’s history? Visit the museums or relax in one of the many restaurants and cafés.The Ardennes is otherwise relatively sparsely populated so make the most of it!
Remember that Wallonia is anything but flat. If you travel through this region using the first-class motorway network that criss-crosses the country, you will quickly discover how hilly the countryside truly is. Wallonia plays host to the classic bicycle race from Liege to Bastogne and back to Liege, and is a true test for those serious athletes who aim at winning the world’s premier cycling event, the Tour de France.
So, whether it is peace and relaxation that you’re seeking in the rolling hills of the Ardennes, a sophisticated city break in Namur or another fabulous town, or a more adrenalin-packed holiday, Wallonia has something for every taste and budget.
The town of Dinant and its Gothic Notre-Dame church
Annevoie boasts a grand castle and beautiful water gardens
The old university towns of Namur and Arlon, Florenville; for the ruins of Orval Abbey and Bouillon for its stunning castle
Botassart, Rochehaut and Bohan
Antwerp is the second largest city in Belgium and daughter of the River Scheldt. It is home to 500,000 inhabitants and known as the ‘metropolis’. This city has so many different facets that it takes a while before you can get to know it thoroughly.
This city boasts the second largest harbour in Europe and is a splendid centre with numerous architectural highlights, most of which dating from the golden era of Antwerp during the 16th and 17th centuries. Antwerp through the ages can be seen in numerous paintings by legendary artist Peter Paul Rubens, who lived in Antwerp in the early 17th century.
If diamonds really are a girl’s best friend, then a lot of ladies won’t leave Antwerp without a visit to the diamond district surrounding the railway station. This area is also the Jewish part of the city. The presence of many Chassidic Jewish people gives the city a different flavour.
Fashion aficionados will be delighted to hear that Antwerp has earned a place among the fashion capitals of the world thanks to the efforts of numerous young Flemish designers such as Ann De Meulemeester and Dirk Bikkembergs. Visit the fashion district, near the Meir shopping street.
Ghent is the fourth largest city in Belgium with about 250,000 inhabitants. For some people Ghent is the real jewel in the crown of Flanders. Uniquely, Ghent has managed to preserve its medieval power while keeping up with modern times.
The city centre alone is a showcase of medieval Flemish wealth and commercial success. The presence of many young people and students has turned Ghent into an important Flemish cultural centre.
Ghent is also known as the flower capital of Belgium. Flower growers from the region sell their beautiful begonias and amazing azaleas all over the world. Every five years the successful ‘Gentse Floraliën’ (Ghent Flower Show) attracts thousands of visitors to the city.
‘The Venice of the North’ – aptly titled, for it is indeed a postcard town of incredible beauty and character. Bruges’ exceptionally well-preserved medieval architecture makes it one of the most exciting tourist destinations in Europe. Besides architecture, sights to see include several fascinating museums. The Groeninge museum has six centuries of paintings of many different styles, including works by Jan van Eyck, a Flemish Primitive painter. The Memling museum is also a must as it houses the wooden shrine of St. Ursula. The only work by Michelangelo to have left Italy during his lifetime is in the Church of Our Lady.
A visit to Bruges wouldn’t be complete without a canal or carriage ride. Then there is the obligatory chocolate and waffle sampling, shopping for craft work such as Bruges famous lace, climbing the belfry or trying several of the more than 350 Belgian beers available. Ideally, you’d need a day to take in Bruges and all its beautiful attractions – but a romantic weekend stay would be even better!
For those who are fans of medieval architecture, look no further than the Belgian city of Leuven, (Louvain), with what may well be the most beautiful medieval buulding in the world. The magnificent 15th century town hall will leave you speechless and make your trip worthwhile.
Leuven is situated in the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium, about 20 km east of Brussels. With a total population of about 90,000, Leuven is renowned all over the world for the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (Catholic University of Louvain) – one of the oldest existing catholic universities in the world, founded in 1425.
All through the year there is a lively atmosphere in Leuven as its bustling population of students from all over Belgium and the world dutifully go about their studies.
Leuven’s historic buildings and fascinating history, combined with the great nightlife and chic eateries spread all over the town guarantee that there is always something to see, do and eat.
A particularly popular area surrounds the Oude Markt (Old Market), where tourists flock to enjoy the traditional ambience.
So, if you want to enjoy an authentic taste of Belgium in a vibrant yet historical city, why not take a trip to Leuven?
De Witte Lelie, Keizerstraat 16 – 18, Antwerp,
Call +32 3 226 19 66 or visit www.dewittelelie.be
Hotel De Orangerie, Karthuizerinnenstraat 10, Brugge,
Call +32 5 034 16 49 or visit www.hotelorangerie.com
Chateau Du Lac, Avenue du Lac 87, Brussels,
Call +32 2 655 71 11 or visit www.chateaudulac-belgium.com
Train The Belgian National Railway operate the densest rail network in the world and the majority of international lines pass through Brussels, at the centre of this network. There is an efficient train service from Brussels to most parts of the country. For all information relating to train travel in Belgium visit: www.bugeurope.com/transport/railbe.htm
The National Airport of Belgium and Brussels in Zaventem, eight miles from Brussels. The airport of the city of Charleroi is located 40 miles south of Brussels. Train and coach services from Charleroi operate on a frequent basis. More information is available on arrival. For flight information to and from Belgium visit: www.trabel.com/airport-information.htm
Rules of the road There is a speed limit of 90km per hour (56mph) on all roads in Belgium. The only exception to this is highways and trunk roads with four traffic lanes, where speed is limited to 120kmph. In most towns the speed limit is 50 kmph, indicated by traffic signs. Traffic on the right has right of way.
SeaFrance Call 08705 711711 or www.seafrance.com
Crossings beween Dover and Calais
P&O Stena Line Call 0870 600 0600 or www.posl.com.
Crossings between Dover and Calais or Zeebrugge
Hoverspeed. Call 0870 241 2737 or www.hoverspeed.com.
Crossings between Dover and Calais or Ostend
Eurotunnel Call 08705 35 35 35 or www.eurotunnel.com
Crossings between Folkestone and Calais
P&O North Sea Call 08701 296002 or www.ponsf.com
Crossings between Hull and Zeebrugge
Superfast Call 0870 234 0870 or www.superfast.com
Crossings beween Rosyth-Zeebrugge.
Eurolines Call 08705 143 219 or visit www.gobycoach.com
Coaches to Brussels from London Victoria. Journey time: 9 hours approx.
Belgian Tourist Office – Brussels and Wallonia
Call 0906 302 0245 (calls cost 60p per minute) or 0800 954 5245 (free brochure request line, free in the UK) or 020 7537 1132 or visit www.belgiumtheplaceto.be