Bruges canals, Antwerp fashion, decadent chocolate, mussels and chips, belfries and castles, crazy carnivals, Tintin and Trappist beers… how could anyone call Belgium boring?!
Belgium’s biggest draws are its medieval town cores, home to a bounty of Unesco sites and many a delightful cafe-bar serving some of the planet's finest beers. But there's so much more, from stalactite-filled caves to post-industrial heritage, forest-edged kayaking rivers and rural chateaux to sandy North Sea beaches. Cutting-edge museums and finely endowed galleries unveil the complex history of what has been a crucible of European art, from the Flemish Primitives, through Rubens' voluptuous nymphs and art nouveau's sinuous curves to bizarre surrealism, comic strips and 21st-century fashion. Belgium also hosts some of the world’s weirdest carnivals.
Since at least Roman times, what we now call Belgium has regularly found itself in the path of invaders. Cities have been ravaged and brutal conflicts have raged, not least in the last two centuries. A lion statue atop a conical artificial hill overlooks the world famous Waterloo battlefield where Napoleon was finally defeated. Seemingly endless rows of white gravestones in Flanders fields commemorate four years of WWI hell. And haunting former prison camps and numerous museums sensitively honour those who died in WWII, the last throes of which included Hitler's devastating 'Battle-of-the-Bulge' counter-attack in the Ardennes.
Town & Country
Though compact, Belgium is a place of striking contrasts: linguistic, cultural and topographic. Most of the historic ‘art’ cities lie in predominantly flat, Dutch-speaking Flanders, seducing visitors with medieval belfries, magical market squares and step-gabled houses that often overlook pretty urban canals. Dotted with superb museums and galleries, these places are close together and seamlessly interconnected by regular public transport. In contrast, despite some intriguing post-industrial cities, much of hilly, French-speaking Wallonia is profoundly rural. So it's useful to have your own wheels to reach the region's spectacular caves, impressive castles and bucolic valleys, where there's endless outdoor fun to be had.
Chips, Chocolate & Beer
Prepare to add an inch or two to your waistline: Belgium's remarkable range of comestible specialities goes far beyond the country's diminutive size and isn't aimed at weight-watchers. Brussels and Liège compete over what constitutes the perfect waffle, while countless speciality shops sell some of the world's most luscious chocolates. Jumbo mussels are served with crispy, twice-fried frites that you'll only call 'French' fries at your peril. Then, of course, there’s beer. Brewing is an almost mystical art in Belgium with a dazzling rainbow of different styles, most notably the six great Trappist beers, still created within active monasteries.