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 seven days and I had spent a week traveling through the countryside, exploring the ins and outs of the capital, Brussels, as well as the quaint towns of Northern Belgium. I scoured the streets for the best waffles and fries the country had to offer. I met locals, moved slowly through the cobblestone streets, and sipped coffee in cozy cafés. I got around via boats, bikes, and trains. And I have to say – Belgium is definitely one of Europe’s best-kept secrets.
This is part of my “8 Day Vacay” series! A travel series aimed at nurses who are looking to take 8 days off from the hospital (with no need to take PTO) and travel to destinations both near and far. For more information, read A Guide to the “8 Day Vacay” and How to Make the Most of Your “8 Day Vacay”
How to Spend 8 Days Traveling Through Belgium
WEDNESDAY – Depart from home fly to Brussels, Belgium
One of the easiest European destinations to get to from the USA, Belgium is located smack in the middle of Europe. The reason Belgium is easy to access is that Brussels, the capital, is the head of the EU. For that reason, there are tons of flights in and out of the country each day. I prefer to search for flights and compare prices on Kayak.
Tip: If you’re coming from a small state (like me – Nebraska), I tend to search for options from the nearest international airport to bring down prices. So for instance, I would search for flights out of Chicago instead of out of Omaha.
THURSDAY – Arrive in Brussels
Highlights of Brussels Day 1: Mannekin Pis + Grand Place + Royal Gallery of Saint Hubert
WHERE TO STAY IN BRUSSELS
Hotel La Légende – A simple, elegant, and affordable hotel in the heart of Brussels. If this doesn’t suit you try checking out Airbnb.
Upon arrival in 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 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 its notoriety, it deserves a walk by.
After walking past Mannekin Pis continue 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 much more touristy and 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! I highly recommend taking a “chocolate crawl” and stopping at Neuhaus, Pierre Marcolini, and Marys for sweets.
For more on things to see and do in Brussels, don’t miss 48 Hours in Brussels
FRIDAY – Depart Brussels, Arrive in Bruges
Highlights of Bruges Day 1: Boat Cruise + Belfort Tower
Take a train about an hour northwest from Brussels to Bruges. I prefer to use Omio when searching for train travel throughout Europe.
WHERE TO STAY IN BRUGES
I recommend staying in an Airbnb or hotel near the town center. There are also great options for bed and breakfasts in the area.
While it’s a close toss-up between Bruges and Ghent for my favorite Belgium town, Bruges wins by a slight bit. This perfectly quaint and up kept medieval town is something out of a fairytale. With canals snaking through town and cobblestone streets guiding you to the most pristinely, perfectly decorated café. It’s 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.
After grabbing some food and coffee, head to the canals for a boat cruise. For a cheap price, you’ll get to see the entirety of the city from the water, plus get an education tour of the history of Bruges.
Once you step off the boat head straight to the historic center of Bruges. Market Square has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2000, but when it was first built it was a small market that dates back to 958. In Market Square, you’ll find the Belfort Tour, an iconic building in Bruges that offers sweeping views of the city. I highly recommend paying the 12€ fee to climb the 366 stairs to the top of Bruges.
End your night with a glass of wine and a fabulous meal from the Belgian Pigeon House. It’s a restaurant that is tucked away with both upstairs-downstairs seating. Downstairs is a bit more intimate, while upstairs has a bar and fewer tables, but is more lively.
SATURDAY – Bruges
Highlights of Bruges Day 2: Visiting Damme
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 lining the cobblestone streets – I recommend stopping in to rent a bike and head 4-miles northeast to the sleepy town of Damme. The ride to Damme is beautiful, you’ll ride along the river, passing windmills and even 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! Head out for 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 Cafe Vlissinghe; Bruges oldest pub having first opened in 1515.
For dinner get out of the city center 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 center. This bistro focuses on tapas-style meals.
For more on things to see and do in Bruges, don’t miss Discovering Bruges in 48 Hours
SUNDAY – Depart Bruges, Arrive in Ghent
Highlights of Ghent Day 1: Boat Tour
Take a train about 20 minutes southeast from Bruges to Ghent. I prefer to use Omio when searching for train travel throughout Europe.
WHERE TO STAY IN GHENT
I stayed at Chambreplus when visiting Ghent and would stay again. It’s a simple and affordable guesthouse in the heart of Ghent, with each room resembling a different theme.
Ghent is a town of medieval sorts. One of the main sights in town, Gravensteen Castle, still stands high in the middle of the city. The gothic architecture and guildhalls are still in place. When you visit, it’s as though you’ve stepped foot in a city that can transport you back to the Middle Ages. And while it has still retained its sense of being “old”, to this day, Ghent is now known as a university town and for being a cultural hub.
Upon your arrival in Ghent begin your day with brunch at Alice, a charming tea and coffee house decorated to the nines with an extensive menu of pastries, breakfast dishes, and light lunch. After eating, 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 center instead of on the outskirts of the city.
After your boat ride, aimlessly wander the alleyways of Ghent. This medieval town is best seen by strolling up and down the cobblestone streets as you pop into several stores. Or, my favorite way to spend my time, is to stop at as many waffles and fries stands that you can. For sunset, head to the canal and find a place to sit down for drinks by the water.
Once the sun finally sets, head to the ornately decorated Pakhuis for a seafood feast.
MONDAY – Ghent
Highlights of Ghent Day 2: Graventseen Castle + Het Belfort van Ghent + Saint Bravo’s Cathedral
Use your last day in Ghent to get to know the city by seeing all of the famous sites.
Start at Gravensteen Castle, a Castle that dates back to 1180. The price to enter is 10€ and the Castle is open seven days/week from 1000-1800. The unique thing about this Castle is 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.
Next, head to Het Belfort van Ghent, the tallest belfry in all of Belgium. The tower stands high at 95 meters and is one of three towers that overlook the city.
Lastly, make your way to Saint Bravo’s Cathedral. Saint Bravo’s is a Romanesque-style church that dates back to 942. The entrance to the church is 4€.
For more on things to see and do in Ghent, don’t miss 24 Hours in Ghent
TUESDAY – Depart Ghent, Arrive in Brussels
Highlights of Brussels Day 2: Explore Ste Catherine Neighborhood + The Old Fish Market
Take a train about 30 minutes southeast from Ghent back to Brussels. I prefer to use Omio when searching for train travel throughout Europe.
Spend your last day in Belgium back in Brussels. While Brussels isn’t my favorite city in the country, to safely catch your flight on Wednesday, I recommend heading back to the city on Tuesday. However, if you’re willing to take the risk, I would consider extending your stay in either Bruges or Ghent and take an early train back to Brussels on Wednesday morning. You could head to Antwerp and explore the diamond capital of the world before catching your plane home.
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 flight of beers.
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 in the States on Wednesday. Just in time to clock in for your shift on Thursday!
Things to Know About Belgium
- People in the South (Wallonia Region) speak French
- People in the North (Flanders Region) speak Dutch
- People in the Eastern region speak German
- Most people in Belgium speak fluent English so you should not have any trouble with communication
- Belgium operates on the Euro (€); at the time of writing, $1 = 0.83€ – make the Euro stronger than the Dollar
- In case of emergency dial 112
- 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.