Bargaining

Gentle haggling is common in markets; in all other instances you’re expected to pay the stated price.

Discount Cards

Museums and sights typically offer small discounts to seniors (those over 65, sometimes over 60) and often give bigger discounts to those under 26. Accompanied children (under 12) generally pay even less or go free. Students with an ISIC (International Student Identity Card) might, but won’t always, qualify for the ‘concession rate’ (usually the same as seniors). Bigger Belgian cities offer discounted passes to a selection of municipally owned sights and many have one day a month when key museums are free. The Luxembourg Card (www.visitluxembourg.com; 1-/2-/3-day adult €13/20/28, family €28/48/68) offers value for visits to the Grand Duchy.

Emergency & Important Numbers

Emergency112
Country code32
International access code00
Police101

Entry & Exit Formalities

Customs Regulations

For goods purchased outside the EU, the following duty-free allowances apply:

  • tobacco 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars or 250g of loose tobacco
  • alcohol 1L of spirits (more than 22% alcohol by volume) or 2L light liquor (less than 22% abv); 4L of wine; 16L of beer
  • perfume 50g of perfume and 0.25L of eau de toilette

Coming from within the EU, you can bring unlimited quantities for personal use. Nevertheless, expect to be asked questions if you are carrying more than: 800 cigarettes, 200 cigars or 1kg of loose tobacco; 10L of spirits, 20L of fortified wine or aperitif, 90L of wine, 110L of beer.

Visas

EU citizens can stay indefinitely; many other nationals can enter visa free for up to 90 days.

More Information

A valid passport or EU identity card is required to enter. Most Western nationals don’t need a tourist visa for stays of less than three months. South Africans, Indians and Chinese, however, are among those who need a Schengen visa. For more information contact the nearest Belgian or Luxembourg embassy or consulate, or check the websites http://diplomatie.belgium.be or www.gouvernement.lu.

Australian and New Zealand citizens aged between 18 and 30 can apply for a 12-month working holiday visa under a reciprocal agreement – contact the Belgian embassy in your home country.

Etiquette

  • Say hello, wave goodbye

Entering a shop or arriving at a cash desk it's polite to offer a cheery greeting to staff. And as you leave say thank you and 'good day'/'good evening' (in French using the specific terms bonne journée/bon soirée).

  • Giving gifts

When visiting someone's home it's appropriate to bring wine, flowers or chocolates – choose the brand carefully!

  • The wrong language

In Flanders don't think it's clever to speak French. English will generally be better understood and better appreciated.

  • Liberal or conservative?

Local ideas about political correctness might not match your own. Don't jump too quickly to conclusions. A lighter hearted approach to serious issues is common, and underneath, many attitudes are very liberal.

  • Kissing

Traditionally Belgians welcome good friends with three kisses on alternating cheeks. But knowing when that's appropriate confuses even the locals.

Gay & Lesbian Travellers

Attitudes to homosexuality are pretty laid-back in both Belgium and Luxembourg. Same-sex couples have been able to wed legally in Belgium since 2003, and since 2006 have had the same rights enjoyed by heterosexual couples, including inheritance and adoption. Luxembourg legalised same-sex marriage in 2015, and prime minister Xavier Bettel soon took advantage to tie the knot himself.

Insurance

A travel insurance policy to cover theft, personal liability, loss and medical problems is recommended. There’s a variety of policies available. Travel insurance also usually covers cancellation or delays in travel arrangements; for example, if you fall seriously ill two days before departure.

Buy insurance as early as possible. If you buy it the week before you are due to fly, you may find that you’re not covered for delays to your flight caused by strikes or other industrial actions that may have been in force before you took out the insurance.

Browse extensively online to find the best rates.

Paying for your airline ticket with a credit card often provides limited travel accident insurance, and you may be able to reclaim the payment if the operator doesn’t deliver.

Certain bank accounts offer their holders automatic travel insurance.

Make sure you get a policy that covers you for the worst possible health scenario if you aren’t already covered. Make sure it covers you for any activities you plan to do. Be sure to check the small print. Also find out in advance if your insurance plan will make payments directly to providers or reimburse you later for overseas health expenditures.

Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you’re already on the road.

Checking insurance quotes…

Internet Access

Internet cafes – often doubling as call-shops – exist, but are comparatively ephemeral; ask at the tourist office.

Wireless internet access is very widespread; several cities have extensive networks and nearly all hotels, as well as many restaurants, cafes and bars, offer free access to customers and guests.

Data is very cheap. If you've got an unlocked smartphone, you can pick up a local SIM card for a few euros and charge it with a month's worth of data at a decent speed for under €20.

Media

Keep up to date with the Bulletin (www.thebulletin.be), Belgium’s invaluable English-language news weekly.

Money

Credit cards are widely accepted. ATMs are very prevalent.

More Information

Belgium and Luxembourg adopted the euro (€) in 2002. Euro notes come in five, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 denominations and coins in one, two, five, 10, 20, 50 cents and €1 and €2.

Credit cards are widely accepted. ATMs are very common and are the best way of accessing cash.

Exchange Rates

AustraliaA$1€0.62
CanadaC$1€0.66
Japan¥100€0.72
New ZealandNZ$1€0.57
UKUK£1€1.37
USUS$1€0.87

For current exchange rates see www.xe.com.

Saving Money

  • Using a debit or credit card to withdraw money at ATMs is often the cheapest method of accessing cash, but check what your home bank will charge you: it may be better to withdraw large amounts each time.
  • Travel-specific credit cards can be pre-loaded with holiday cash and are often the cheapest way of spending abroad.
  • Many towns have passes which will save you money if you are a heavy sightseer.
  • Many restaurants – even the posh ones – have weekday lunchtime specials that offer great value, so if you're on a budget, make this your main meal of the day.

Tipping

Personnel receive living wages and tipping is not required for taxis, restaurants, hairdressers or bars, though it won't be refused and some locals round up a bill. If service was quite exceptional, you could show appreciation (up to 10%). In a few tourist-oriented locations, unaware foreigners regularly leave disproportionate tips, leading to a certain expectation from staff. Similarly, airport taxis may hint (or even state outright) that a tip is appropriate. But that's a gentle scam. Don't be bullied.

Opening Hours

Many sights close on Monday. Restaurants normally close one full day per week. Opening hours for shops, bars and cafes vary widely.

Banks 8.30am-3.30pm or later Monday to Friday, some also Saturday morning

Bars 10am-1am, but hours very flexible

Restaurants noon-2.30pm and 7pm-9.30pm

Shops 10am-6.30pm Monday to Saturday, sometimes closed for an hour at lunchtime

More Information

Restaurants generally open for lunch from noon until 2.30pm, while dinner is typically served from 6.30pm/7pm to 9pm/10pm. Gastronomic restaurants with multicourse menus might have only one sitting, while brasseries have more fluid hours, usually serving until 11pm and possibly staying open until midnight or 1am with at least a limited menu.

Bars and cafés in some cases close only when the last barfly drops.

Shops in both countries usually open from 10am to 6.30pm Monday to Saturday, some closing for lunch, especially in smaller towns. Tourist-oriented shops often open Sundays then close Mondays. Sunday trading is also common among chains of convenience stores, while night stores (nachtwinkel or magasin de nuit) work dusk till dawn.

Banks open from 8.30am or 9am and close between 3.30pm and 5pm Monday to Friday. Some close for an hour at lunch, and many also open Saturday mornings.

Larger post offices open at 9am, closing at 6pm or 7pm Monday to Friday, noon Saturday. Smaller branches close at 5pm, have a lunch break and are closed Saturdays.

Post

Postal rates for standard-sized letters under 50g: €0.75/1.09/1.29 to domestic/EU/non-EU

Public Holidays

  • New Year’s Day 1 January
  • Easter Monday March/April
  • Labour Day 1 May
  • Iris Day 8 May (Brussels region only)
  • Ascension Day 39 days after Easter Sunday (always a Thursday)
  • Pentecost Monday 50 days after Easter Sunday
  • Luxembourg National Day 23 June (Luxembourg only)
  • Flemish Community Day 11 July (Flanders only)
  • Belgium National Day 21 July (Belgium only)
  • Assumption Day 15 August
  • Francophone Community Day 27 September (Wallonia only)
  • All Saints’ Day 1 November
  • Armistice Day 11 November (Belgium only)
  • Christmas Day 25 December

Telephone

  • International country codes +32 for Belgium, +352 for Luxembourg. When calling Belgium from abroad, drop the initial 0 from the number.
  • International dial-out access code 00

In Belgium and Luxembourg dial the full number without an extra area code.

The cheapest and most practical solution for making calls and using data is to purchase a local SIM card and pop it in your own phone. First make sure your phone isn’t blocked from doing this by your home network. There are several providers: check current offers. Some are online only.

Mobile Phones

Roaming charges for EU phones are low or non-existent. With an unlocked phone, local SIM cards are cheap and have good packages available.

Time

Both countries run on Central European Time. Clocks move forward one hour for daylight-saving time on the last Sunday in March, and revert again on the last Sunday in October. The 24-hour clock is used.

Brussels and Luxembourg are an hour ahead of London and usually six hours ahead of New York.

Tourist Information

Almost every town and village has its own tourist office – dienst voor toerisme, toeristische dienst or simply toerisme (in Flanders), maison du tourisme, office du tourisme or syndicat d’initiative (in Wallonia and Luxembourg).

Offices are marked with an easily identifiable white-on-green ‘i’ symbol.

Most give away brochures, sell detailed walking/cycling maps and can usually book accommodation and arrange guided tours on your behalf.

Useful contacts:

  • Visit Wallonia (www.belgiumtheplaceto.be) Wallonia and Brussels
  • Visit Flanders (www.visitflanders.com) Flanders
  • Visit Luxembourg (www.vlsitluxembourg.com) Luxembourg

Travel With Children

From spooky rambles through candlelit castles to high-tech space simulators to splashing about on beaches and rivers, Belgium and Luxembourg have plenty to thrill and inspire beyond the sheer magic of their historic chocolate-box old cityscapes.

Best Regions for Kids

  • The Ardennes

The wide range of summer sports activities goes well beyond the archetypal kayaking weekend, offering something for kids of all ages with Durbuy and Coo especially well set up.

  • Bruges

For any age Bruges is enchanting, but if the kids are tiring of history they might still get excited by museums of chips and chocolate.

  • The Coast

Even if it's too cold to swim they can still ride kwistax (pedal carts) along the prom and visit the craziest sandcastles they're likely to have seen.

  • Ghent

Magical townscapes are inspiring while plenty of interactive museums have activities for youngsters.

  • Antwerp

The city is very much a grownups town, but the zoo and Aquatopia will keep little ones engrossed; city museums cater well for tweens and teens adore the shopping.

  • Müllerthal

Hiking the Müllerthal trail through Luxenbourg's Little Switzerland; no mighty mountains but some mighty impressive castles to retreat to in case it rains.

Children's Highlights

Theme Parks

Very helpfully, several of Belgium's best theme parks have been installed near enough to other major sites so that one parent might slope off to enjoy a different kind of attraction while the rest of the family is busily soaking up the fun rides.

  • l'Eau d'Heure Natura Parc is a great addition to this already activity-filled area.
  • Plopsaland The biggest theme park on the coast is tucked back off the beach strip at De Panne.
  • Plopsa Coo Brilliantly named and very handily located to entertain the younger kids while teenagers have a choice of more full-on adrenaline sporting activities available across the road at Coo Adventures.

Educational Activities

The difference between educational attractions and theme parks is increasingly blurred as the best install simulators and full-sense experiences. Many museums are designed in large part with children in mind, and include interactive activities and workshops. It's well worth looking at the websites of the various museums or sights before going as some activities might operate only on certain days of the week. Naturally many will be in local languages, but are often tactile and intuitive, so an adventurous child is likely to enjoy them, and most leaders speak excellent English. Even non-child-specific museums tend to have a toddlers' zone equipped with relevant play activities.

  • Technopolis Mechelen's cutting-edge science-experience museum.
  • Euro Space Center A major interactive experience, but awkward to reach without a car.
  • Earth Explorer Ostend's equivalent lets rip with earthquakes and storms, then tries to explain them. Very obliging English-speaking staff are on hand to guide the baffled.
  • Bakery Museum Veurne's underrated delight has a weekly bake-in.

Outdoor Excitement

  • Bouillon Castle This wonderfully evocative Crusader ruin is likely to inspire young minds at any time; the birds-of-prey show is memorable. The site is all the more special if you visit on a summer's night by the light of burning torches.
  • Han-sur-Lesse Younger kids might find the cave visit a little long, but there's the fun of starting out by train. With the 'safari' and various other minor attractions, it all adds up to a fine day out.
  • Durbuy Belgium's smallest 'town' is brilliantly set up with activities to keep the whole family active, while a few kilometres away in Barvaux there's also the fun of the great cornfield labyrinth.
  • Mini Europe Confuse the kids' sense of scale by visiting a whole series of Europe's monuments in miniature while overhead towers the Atomium – a vastly oversized representation of iron's atomic crystal lattice.

Planning

Entrance Fees

For most attractions, there are discounted childrens' tickets for those 12 years old or under, though occasionally eligibility is judged by height. Many top attractions across Flanders have a €1 entry rate for young people over 12 but under 26, which can make a big difference if you're planning to see a number of museums.

Accommodation

Hotels don’t usually charge for toddlers, while many will provide an extra bed for children for around €15 (variable). A great idea for bigger families is to rent a gite for a week to use as a base for visiting one region. If you've got a car, the compact nature of Belgium and Luxembourg means that driving times are rarely painful.

Eating

Local families regularly take children to brasseries and restaurants, and in general such kids seem to be very good at behaving suitably. If yours aren't, you might consider erring towards self-catering accommodation rather than cause embarrassment. All restaurants are free of smoking (though foodless cafes in Luxembourg aren't). Many midrange restaurants and especially brasseries have a small selection of simpler dishes (burger, pasta, meatballs, chicken-in-apple) or smaller portions for children, typically priced around €10. A fair proportion of eateries across all categories have high chairs for youngsters, but it's worth calling ahead to check availability.

Babies

Baby cots are available on request in many B&Bs, hotels and even some hostels, but it’s worth reserving ahead as most places stock only one or two. Nappy-changing facilities are patchily available: try the female toilets at branches of hamburger chain Quick if you’re stuck. Breastfeeding in public is acceptable, though not commonly seen.

Transport

When travelling by car, children under 1.35m must travel in a child’s safety seat. Most car-rental firms have such safety seats for hire if you book well ahead. Theoretically taxis should provide a seat if you book in advance.

Train travel in Belgium is free for under-12s when accompanied by an adult if the journey starts after 9am. Families with three or more children can get 50% discounts with a Famille Nombreuse discount card (€5 per month, passport photos required).

Further Information

Family Guide is a remarkably detailed resource book for Luxembourg, suggesting around 700 activities, trips and contacts. It's available online from Maison Moderne (www.maisonmoderne.lu).

Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children offers plenty of useful advice.

Travellers with Disabilities

New buildings, including hotels and shops, are required to be constructed in a ‘disabled-friendly’ way. Slowly increasing numbers of public buildings are thus sprouting lifts and/or ramps, but with numerous buildings that are centuries old, such additions are not always easy to incorporate.

Access to public transport is rapidly improving and information about facilities is decent.

Trains have wheelchair spaces, but it's important to contact the departure station at least a day before.

In all cities and many big towns, larger hotels can usually accommodate travellers in wheelchairs, as can many official HI hostels.

Some useful resources:

Accessible Travel Info Point You can download the ever-expanding brochure, which has masses of detail on the accessibility of attractions and accommodation in Flanders and Brussels with a graded rating system.

Bruxelles Pour Tous (www.bruxellespourtous.be) Valuable online 'guidebook' for Brussels, giving good information about facilities and attractions for disabled visitors.

Welcome.lu Luxembourg accessibility site with useful information, mostly in French.

Weights & Measures

Use the metric system for weights and measures. Decimals are indicated with commas, while thousands are separated with dots (full stops).