Some call it boring, some call it Europe’s most underrated destination, but for those who visited, Belgium holds a unique charm which continues to draw them back to its picturesque towns, delicious street foods and glorious art-nouveau architecture.
Unfortunately, tourism has suffered a dive in Belgium since the terror attacks in 2016. Earlier this year the Belgian government launched a campaign in a bid to tempt travelers back to the country, and it appears to be working, as the country reported a 2% increase in growth. With international tourism finally on the rebound in Europe, it might be time to consider adding Belgium to your itinerary.
A small, connected, country. Belgium is often called Europe’s capital, a place connected with its historical roots (the country is filled with sprawling medieval towns, ornate monuments and elaborate cathedrals), yet still modern and convenient (everywhere in Belgium is easily accessible by train or public transport). It’s a country worth exploring.
The country’s capital is Brussels and there are more than a few reasons it can compete against Paris for the title of ‘most artistic’ city in Europe. The Brussels art scene is also well known for it’s surrealism. The famous surrealist painter René Magritte, has a whole museum dedicated to him. Fans of Tintin are, of course, in for a treat. The mystery-solving Belgian and his little dog, Snowy have their own exhibit at the Belgian Centre for Comic Strip Arts, situated on the Rue de Sables. Diehard fans can also visit the family home of Tintin’s creator, Hergé, can be found in the Etterbeek district, south-east of the city. There is even a lot of work by Congolese-Belgians and other African European diaspora to highlight the country’s dark colonial past through art.
There’s a place for the petrol-heads. The city of Spa, home to one of the circuits in the Formula One Gran Prix also known as the ‘Café of Europe’ thanks to the region’s natural springs, diehard F1 enthusiasts can even take a drive around the old Spa circuit, which last hosted a Grand Prix back in 1970. While high-rollers and poker fans can enjoy a visit to the Casino De Spa, the Belgian casino often dubbed the world’s oldest casino, built in 1763.
Food lovers will find a lot to enjoy in the country, Belgium has been making a name for itself with around 130 Michelin-starred restaurants countrywide. Ghent is the self-dubbed ‘vegetarian capital of the world’, and it’s easy to see why. Every Thursday in Ghent is veggie day, where citizens and tourists alike are encouraged to try eating an all vegetarian meal! But even if you’re just a lover of fries or chocolates, then Belgium really should be a stop on your next European tour!
Belgium’s high concentration of microbreweries are a treat for beer lovers (the country is home to over 450 different varieties of beers) and there is even an art form to the pour, with the appropriate glassware for specific beers a big part of the Belgian way of enjoying a brew. Also for those who love their history with a tipple, De Rembrandt, Belgium’s oldest pub houses 150 beers on tap. Located in the city of Tongeren in the Flemish region of Belgium, it’s also home to the famous Tongeren antiques market. While for gin lovers, Hasselt is the must-stop, especially in October when it plays host to Belgium’s national jenever festival. Jenever, a precursor to modern day gin, is still a popular beverage in the country.
History buffs will find plenty in Belgium. The country is home to many famous battlegrounds, Flanders Fields the name commonly given to the battlegrounds in the Belgian provinces of West Flanders, and of course the site of Napoleon’s final defeat, in Waterloo. For fans of the macabre, there are guided tours of the Brussels Cemetery, which provides a unique look at the work of the famous Compagnie des Bronzes who made many of the tombs and monuments. In fact, guided tours have proven to be part of what’s helped tourism in Brussels bounce back, giving tourists the opportunity to explore the city in a detailed and collaborative way alongside expert guides.
The country also has treats aplenty for music lovers, we already mentioned Ghent, well it’s not just famous for its vegetables! It’s also a UNESCO-recognised Creative City of Music. In fact, live music rocks in Belgium. Take the 4-day extravaganza hosted every summer in the town of Werchter. The festival Rock Werchter, has garnered a reputation as one of the world’s best and most diverse music festivals, each year the event attracts massive headliners and fans from a multitude of genres, like Radiohead, Adele and Kendrick Lamar.
It might be one of the smallest countries in Europe, but there really is something for everyone in Belgium.