Belgium. Home to waffles, fries, and chocolate galore! Before visiting Belgium, it was never on my “radar”. I happened upon a $500 roundtrip flight, which is how I ended up there. I scoured blogs and didn’t find anything too appealing about the country, so truthfully, I didn’t know what to expect. Would it be a waste of a trip? Or the best kept secret in Europe?
Fast forward to a week spent traveling through the countryside, exploring the ins and outs of the capital as well as the quaint small towns of Northern Belgium. Finding the best waffles and fries the country offers. Meeting the locals, moving slowly through the cobblestone streets and sipping coffee in quaint cafés. To transporting myself place to place via boats, bikes, and trains… even climbing 366 steps in heels to see the entirety of Bruges! I have to say, Belgium will always be at the top of my list and one of the first places I would tell someone to visit. Definitely one of Europe’s better kept secrets.
WEDNESDAY – Depart from the USA, fly in to Brussels, Belgium
Leave Wednesday for arrival into Brussels on Thursday.
If you’re on the west coast your flight can take anywhere from 13+ hours depending on how long your layovers are. With no direct flights, expect 1+ stops before arriving to Brussels. There is a nine-hour time difference between the west coast and Belgium (Europe ahead of the US), depending on daylight savings.
Example was taken from Los Angeles, LAX to Brussels, BRU
If you’re in Middle America your flight will be approximately nine hours, if layover free, with a seven-hour time difference (Europe being ahead of the US), depending on daylight savings.
Example was taken from Chicago, ORD to Brussels, BRU
If you’re on the east coast your flight will be approximately eight hours, if layover free, with a six-hour time difference (Europe being ahead of the US), depending on daylight savings.
Example was taken from Boston, BOS to Brussels, BRU
I prefer to use Kayak for finding flights
THURSDAY – Arrival into Brussels
Stay: Hotel La Légende – A simple, elegant, and affordable hotel in the heart of Brussels. If this doesn’t suit you try checking out Airbnb or booking.com. (If you’re new to Airbnb, use my referral code for a $55 credit).
Truthfully, Brussels is far from my favorite place in Belgium, and makes my list as one of my least favorite capitals in all of Europe. But I think that the stop is worth it for a few worthwhile sites to see. So my suggestion is to arrive, explore, and leave early Friday morning to see the better part of the country.
Upon arrival into Brussels drop your bags and head out to Peck 47. Located in the heart of Brussels near Grand Place, Peck 47 serves all day brunch. While you’ll have ample time to consume any number of waffles, fries, and chocolate that the line the streets in Belgium, start at Peck 47 for their laid back indoor/outdoor atmosphere that allows you to kick back and relax after your long haul flight.
After leaving Peck 47 take a five minute walk to the infamous Mannekin Pis, a bronze statue of a naked boy peeing into a fountain, which has been around since the 1600s. Currently the statue standing is a copy from 1965. On holidays the city dresses up the statue, and on national prostate day the pee slows to a trickle. While nothing more than a statue, due to the notoriety, it deserves a walk by.
After walking past Mannekin Pis continue on for three more minutes to Grand Place, the jewel of Brussels. Here you’ll come upon ornate, gold adorned buildings stacked next to each other. A square that began as a small market dating back to the 10th-century, has now become one of the most renowned architectural wonders in the world, and perhaps one of Europe’s most beautiful squares. Walk around admiring the architecture from up close and far away. While there are many places to stop for a drink and a bite to eat, know that they will be more expensive due to the location.
After marveling at the opulence that is Grand Place, make your way to the shopping arcade, also known as the Royal Gallery of Saint Hubert. A shopping arcade is nothing more than a series of stores facing a system of enclosed walkways. The Royal Gallery of Saint Hubert is one of the oldest shopping arcades in all of Europe, dating back to 1847. Here you’ll find shopping, dining, and chocolate shops galore! If you fancy take yourself on a chocolate crawl. Make sure to hit my favorites, Neuhaus, Pierre Marcolini, and Marys.
FRIDAY – Depart Brussels, arrive in Bruges
Transportation: Take a train from Brussels to Bruges. You can find tickets for as low as $20 and as quick as one hour.
Stay: I would recommend to stay in an Airbnb or a bed and breakfast that can easily be found on booking.com
Average price for an Airbnb is $98/night
A toss up between Bruges and Ghent, Bruges wins the award of my favorite city in Belgium. The perfectly quaint and up kept medieval town. With canals snaking through town and cobblestone streets guiding you to the perfectly decorated café. A true gem in Europe, and a must see for anyone visiting Belgium.
Upon arrival into the adorable city of Bruges, walk along the canal to Jan Van Eyck Square. My favorite spot to people watch, this square is adorned with cafés and restaurants. While you can choose from any number of places to sit for a morning coffee, head to Blackbird. A charming café serving breakfast, lunch, and tea.
If you’re visiting Bruges in a season other than winter, try your hand at a boat cruise. For a cheap price you’ll get to see the entirety of the city from the water, plus get a bit of background of the town. Taking you under bridges and past the swans of Bruges. A boat cruise is an ideal way to see this town dubbed the Little Venice of the North.
As you step off the boat continue to be tourist and head straight to the historic center of Bruges. Market Square is an UNESCO World Heritage site since 2000, but originally began as a small market dating all the way back to 958. Here you’ll find the Belfort Tour, an iconic building in Bruges. In order to see Bruges laid out in front of you, you’ll need to climb 366 stairs and pay a small fee of 12 Euros. Once you make it to the top you’ll witness stunning, panoramic views of the entirety of Bruges.
If you’ve managed to squeeze in both a boat ride and a trip to Market Square to see the views from the Belfort Tower, then you’ve seen just about the entirety of Bruges. End the night with a glass of wine and a fabulous meal from the Belgian Pigeon House. It’s a tucked away, cozy restaurant with upstairs downstairs seating. Downstairs is a bit more intimate, while upstairs has a bar and less tables, but is more lively.
SATURDAY – Bruges
Start your last day in Bruges by getting out of the city and experiencing the countryside of Belgium. It’s easy to find any number of bike shops linking the cobblestone streets, stop in and rent a bike. Bike to Damme, a sleepy Belgium town about four miles northeast of Bruges. You’ll ride along the river, passing windmills and potentially sheep! And while there isn’t much to see and do in Damme, it’s a beautiful ride and worth it to experience the Belgian countryside.
Upon arrival back to Bruges, spend your day how the Belgians typically do… drinking beer! Go on a brewery tour at De Halve Maan, a brewery that has been creating beer since 1856. Or sit outside along the canal with a beer tasting from 2be. If you’re looking for something a bit more active and “local” head to Café Vlissinghe; Bruges oldest pub having first opened in 1515.
For dinner get out of the city centre and explore the quieter neighborhoods of Bruges. Tom’s Diner is tucked away in the neighborhoods of Bruges and away from the hustle and bustle of the tourist hotspots and city centre. This bistro serves tapas style meals or entree style. Both equally as tasty.
SUNDAY – Depart Bruges, arrive in Ghent
Transportation: Take the train from Bruges to Ghent. You can find tickets as low as $10 and as quick as 20 minutes.
Ghent is a town of medieval sorts. The Gravensteen castle still stands high in the middle of the city. The gothic architecture and guildhalls still in place. It’s as though stepping foot in Ghent transports you back in time to the Middle Ages. While it has still retained its sense of “old”, in this day, Ghent is now known as a university town and for being a cultural hub.
Upon your arrival into Ghent begin your day with brunch at Alice. A charming tea and coffee house decorated to the nines and serving an array of pastries, breakfast dishes, and lunches. After filling up, stop along the canal to book yourself on a boat tour. You’ll get to see most of Ghent from the water, and learn interesting historical facts along the way. One of the things I learned that still sticks with me is that the restaurant, The Old Fish Market, has a light outside that lights up every time a baby is born in Ghent. You’ll also learn that the fall of Ghent was mostly due to its castle being built inside the city centre instead of on the outskirts of the city.
Make sure to spend time wandering aimlessly in the alleyways of Ghent. This medieval town is best scene by exploring the alleyways and strolling up and down the cobblestone streets. Pop in to any number of stores, or try the many waffles and fries stands lining the streets. For a break sit down at Barrazza, for drinks on the water. Here you can sit and watch the boats cruise by, enjoying the sun shine in your face.
When it’s time for sunset make your way to the water. You’ll be able to watch the sun melt behind the gothic style buildings, painting them a burnt orange and the sky a light pink. There’s a number of reclining chairs to grab along the water, where someone will serve you drinks. An experience not to be missed. And once the sun goes down head to the ornately decorated Pakhuis for a seafood feast.
MONDAY – Ghent
Use your last day in Ghent getting to know the city by seeing all of the famous sites.
Gravensteen Castle – Dating back to 1180, the castle is unique in that instead of standing tall on the outskirts of Ghent, it stands tall in the middle of Ghent. This is likely the reason for the fall of the city. While the castle isn’t anything to write home about, I enjoyed it most for the views of Ghent. Hours of operation are seven days/week 1000-1800. A self-guided ticket will set you back 10 Euros.
Het Belfort van Ghent – The tallest belfry in all of Belgium, standing 95m, and being one of three towers overlooking the city. Hours of operation are seven days/week 1000-1800.
Saint Bravo’s Cathedral – Dating back to 942, Saint Bravo’s is a church with Romanesque style architecture. Hours of operation vary depending on season so make sure to check the website before you go. A self-guided ticket will set you back four Euros.
TUESDAY – Depart Ghent, arrive in Brussels
Transportation: Take the train from Ghent to Brussels. You can find tickets as low as $13 and as quick as 30 minutes.
And for your last day in Belgium, before you catch a flight back to the United States, spend your day where your trip began – Brussels. While I still don’t think that there is much more to do in Brussels than what was mentioned on day one, I personally wouldn’t chance it trying to take the train into the city on the day you’re due to leave for the States. But if you’re willing to take that risk, then consider extending your stay in either Bruges or Ghent and take an early train back to Brussels on Wednesday morning.
There are a few more worthwhile things to pass your time in Brussels. Spend the day exploring the Ste Catherine neighborhood and the Old Fish Market. Or if you’re a beer connoisseur head to Little Delirium or Delirium for a tasting flight. And for a dinner to polish it all of, Balls and Glory, a restaurant serving large portions of gigantic meatballs.
WEDNESDAY – Depart Brussels, fly back to the USA
Remember, because Belgium is ahead of the US time-wise, you should be able to leave on Wednesday and arrive back to the States on Wednesday. Just in time to clock-in for your shift on Thursday!
Important Notes About Belgium
French – Southern Belgium known as the Wallonia Region
Dutch – Northern Belgium known as the Flanders Region
German – Eastern Belgium
Most people in Belgium speak fluent English so you should not have any trouble with communication
At time of writing 1 USD = 0.87 Euro – making the Euro stronger than the Dollar
112 – European emergency number
100 – Fire, medical emergency, or ambulance
101 – Police
When traveling abroad I always book travel insurance through WorldNomads to ensure I’m covered in case of emergency. This puts me at ease and allows me to more thoroughly enjoy my trip.
Belgium is the headquarters of the European Union and NATO. Because of this I found that hotels were much more expensive and harder to come by in Brussels during the week, versus the weekend. While in Brussels, think about planning ahead.
What to Pack
Tennis shoes for walking long distances
European power adapter to charge your devices – The one I use is called TravelSmart, which I found from Target
*If you choose to check a bag, don’t forget to pack an extra outfit in your carry on in case your luggage gets lost*
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