The Top 10 Places in Belgium

The Beguinages, Bruges / photo: Tourist Office for Flanders, Belgium

Don’t let Belgium’s relatively small size fool you — this country probably has more to do per square mile than most other places on earth. And best of all for the traveler, it’s a comparatively easy place to get around and English is widely spoken.

The country is divided into two ethnic regions, Dutch-speaking Flanders to the north and French-speaking Wallonia to the south. Dividing them is an imaginary east-west line that bisects the country at Brussels, which is claimed by both. Although this is a major political conundrum for the Belgians, for the traveler it’s inconsequential.

Forget the politics and focus instead on the cornucopia of culture, historic places and beautiful towns and cities you’ll find everywhere. Visit Brussels, the self-proclaimed “Capital of Europe” that is the headquarters of the European Union and NATO. Surely wander around the magnificent Grande Place, but also see such great museums as the Magritte, dedicated to Belgium’s famous surrealist painter. Cruise the canals of popular Bruges and Ghent, but also be sure to visit such treasures as Liege, Spa (luring spa-goers since the 14th century) and historic Bastogne, made famous by the Battle of the Bulge in WWII.

As highly regarded as the masterpieces in its museums is Belgium’s well-deserved reputation for superb food and drink. This year, in fact, is the Year of Gastronomy in Brussels and Wallonia, although you’ll certainly eat well wherever you go. If you’re up north in Flanders in August, you can get a Taste of Antwerp at Belgium’s largest culinary festival.

Just remember that “If It’s Tuesday This Must Be Belgium” was a comedic spoof of American travelers, not a suggested itinerary for the rest of us. Here are the top places in Belgium as listed by the Belgian Tourist Office and the Tourist Office for Flanders, Belgium.

Brussels

Brussels is quickly gaining a reputation as one of Europe’s must-see destinations. With its central location in the heart of Europe, Brussels is easily accessible by air or high-speed rail from neighboring countries. It is an international metropolis – a mosaic of languages, cultures, and traditions – and the home of the European Union, NATO and hundreds of international organizations, English is widely spoken, making it a great place for even a novice French-speaker to get by without an issue.

Brussels is a classic European city with small town charm and cosmopolitan attractions. Among the most celebrated attractions are the Grand Place, Europe’s most beautiful medieval square lined with guild houses. Originally built in the 13th century, the square is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Every other year for two days (it will occur be in 2012) the Grand’Place is decked out in an amazing flower carpet, made up of 1 million begonias.

Just a short walk from the Grand Place is the Mannekin Pis, a small bronze statue of a little boy relieving himself. The statue, a great example of Belgium’s quirky sense of humor, is often given costumes to mark various occasions, anniversaries or events.

Antwerp

Known for its vibrant nightlife, its funky bars and restaurants and numerous festivals, Belgians see Antwerp as the “capital of cool.” The Antwerp Fashion Academy produced a group of avant-garde designers who made a big splash on the fashion scene in the 1980’s and became known as “The Antwerp Six”. Nowadays, the academy continues to churn out new, hot talent.

If shopping is not your thing, discover the compact center of Antwerp, which juxtaposes beautiful medieval buildings with modern architectural landmarks. Antwerp is also an art-loving city with which the name Rubens is eternally linked. More than 400 years after the birth of this brilliant painter, it is still possible to see the extent to which Rubens left his mark on the city. Funky nightlife, historical buildings, and the biggest diamond center in the world, Antwerp offers something for everybody.

Bruges

The historic center of Bruges is on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites and is teeming with places of interest. With the city center closed off to cars, all the stunning beauty and culture of this unforgettable city can be easily explored on foot, by boat along quiet canals, or by horse-drawn carriage on cobblestoned streets. Although Bruges is a small city, it is filled to the brim with architectural and artistic treasures, folklore, chocolate shops, lace boutiques and fine restaurants. Two popular places in the city are The Beguinages (on the UNESCO World Heritage list, it is the home of the nuns of the order of Saint Benedict) and the Halve Maan Brewery, a family-owned brewery and creator of the famous ‘Brugse Zot’ beer. Two economical was to visit the city are by using the discount Bruges City Card and by touring the countryside outside the city by bicycle.

Ghent

If you ask a Belgian where they like to travel within their own country, many will tell you about the friendly city of Ghent. With most of the town center closed to cars, they will probably also tell you that Belgium’s third largest city is best explored on two wheels or by boat along the elegant canals.

Ghent is an unassuming, un-touristy city filled with university students, linger-as-long-as-you-like cafes, well-priced restaurants and vibrant energy. It’s a city with great mustard, Stropke beer (which is Flemish for noose), and the ten-day Ghent Celebrations held every year in July where the inhabitants go all out with theater performances, concerts, singing, dancing, and drinking.

Under the watchful eye of Gravensteen Castle or Castle of the Counts, the city boasts an Opera House, 18 museums, 100 churches and over 400 historical buildings. The most visited site in Ghent is the famous and beautiful polyptych, the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb painted by the brothers Jan and Hubert van Eyck in 1432.

Liege

Liege, the largest French-speaking city in Belgium after Brussels, is a historical city situated along the Meuse River. In the fall of 2009, the city welcomed the opening of a stunning, new train station, which brings visitors to Liege from Brussels in 1 hour, Maastrict, Holland in 20 mins and Paris in 2 hours. Designed by the world-renowned architect Santiago Calatrava, it’s a prime example of Liege’s modern transformations.

Dating back to Charlemagne, Liege is a treasure trove of historical sites and celebrated collections. Sitting on the Meuse River is the Grand Curtius, home to the prestigious archaeology, decorative arts, religious and Mosan art museums, a glass museum as well as the famous weaponry museum. Travel back in time as you walk the Coteaux, a winding path of steps and courtyards leading up to the citadel of Liege with an incredible view. Just outside the city, visitors have easy access to the Blegny mines and the Henri Chapelle American Military cemetery, the largest in Belgium. The city will host the opening leg of the Tour de France this summer!

photo: Belgian Tourist Office

Spa

Less than an hour from Liege is the city of Spa, a picturesque Belgian town often referred to as the “Pearl of the Ardennes,” nestled in a wooded valley surrounded by rolling hills and countless rivers and springs. Having given its name to all spas, visitors from across Europe have traveled to Spa for its healing hot spring water treatments since the 14th century. For some travelers a trip to Spa must include a visit to the relaxing Thermes de Spa for any one of the many modern spa treatments.

Spa became a resort town in the 18th century because of its hot spring waters and is still home to the world first casino, built in 1763 to cater to visitors. Today, it hosts one of the most important and fun annual music festivals in Belgium’s French-speaking region, The Francopholies. Formula 1 racing fans may be familiar with Spa because it is home to the Spa-Francorchamps racetrack, the most scenic in the circuit, and host of the Grand Prix each year at the end of August.

photo: Archibald Ballantine

Namur

Namur, the capital of Belgium’s French-speaking region, sits along the Meuse River and is just 1-hour by car or train from Brussels. This impressive fortified town is surrounded by one of Europe’s largest ancient citadels, first built during the 3rd and 4th centuries, and later reconstructed during the 13th and 14th centuries. For shopaholics the city is popular for its many fabulous boutique shops.

Just outside of Namur, the towns of Dinant and Wepion offer a wonderful day trip to visitors with an explorer’s spirit. During the summer months, Wepion produces rich and flavorful strawberries and strawberry stands from local farmers line the streets selling the fresh fruit. Further down the road, is the city of Dinant, sandwiched between the Meuse River and its citadel, originally built in 1051. You can spend a day visiting the waterfalls of the Grotto of Dinant or the Sanctuary of Beauraing, then grab a table at one of the local café while taking in the views of the sparkling Meuse River.

photo: Belgian Tourist Office

Bastogne

In this town close to the Luxembourg border, thousands of American soldiers died fighting in WWII during the Battle of the Bulge. Their legacy lives on in the hearts and minds of locals and they take it upon themselves to remember the sacrifice those soldiers made for them and their town. On the Grand Place of Bastogne, there’s a Sherman Tank from the 11th US Armored Division.

Just outside town, is the Mardasson Memorial, built to honor the memory of the 76,890 American soldiers killed, wounded or missing in the battle from the 48 states, plus the then-territories of Alaska and Hawaii. Also located just outside Bastogne is the Wood of Peace. The 4,000 trees in the woods, planted for the 50th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, were dedicated to the American veterans who fought in the Ardennes, Belgian combatants and all the civilians and soldiers who died in the winter of 1944-45. Every veteran who returned to Bastogne in 1994 chose a tree, which will always bear his name. The Wood of Peace design, only visible from above, is laid out in the image of the UNICEF emblem: a mother and child, symbol of human tenderness.

Photo: Belgian Tourist Office

Mons

Located just 1 hour from Brussels, Mons is a city rich in history and tradition. The town hall building on the Grand Place of Mons, constructed between 1458 and 1477, has a Belfry, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Van Gogh also spent some time near Mons before moving on to Provence. His house, an authentic and preserved environment, now houses a permanent exhibition of reproductions and an audio-visual show in various languages, including English.

The most important event of the year, however, is the Ducasse de Mons or the Doudou, dating back to 1349 and the Fraternity of Saint George. Each June, the city of Mons is filled with visitors who come to witness the reenactment of Saint George slaying the Dragon. As the dragon swings its tail at the crowd, spectators try to grab the tail and pull out its hair and ribbons, both of which bring good luck. This popular festival is recognized by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. In 2015 Mons will be the European Capital of Culture.

photo: Tourist Office for Flanders, Belgium

Mechelen

Mechelen is a small and picturesque city that is big on charm and history. Once the capital of present-day Belgium and Holland, today it is a city thriving with quaint shops, car-free areas and amazingly pleasant little squares. But for some it is best known for its carillon school where students from all over the world come to learn to play church bells. One of the most pleasant experiences to have in Mechelen is to sit outside at a café sipping on a local beer while listening to the delightful bell music coming from the sky.

Mechelen has no less than 336 listed buildings and monuments including eight gothic and baroque churches from the 14th through the 17th century. It also has a Toy Museum and the Tivoli Children’s Farm for youngsters and, for those a bit older, the Anker, one of the oldest operating breweries in Belgium.

 

 

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{ 69 comments… read them below or add one }

Donna Manz March 28, 2012 at 11:14 am

I am SO overdue for a trip to Belgium! Medieval towns, beautiful scenery and architecture, delicious food … I cannot ask for more!

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Belgium Expert June 3, 2014 at 6:20 pm

so true, so true

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Ivona March 29, 2012 at 5:44 am

I am going this summer to Belgium and Luxembourg. This article proves I made a good choice by picking Belgium. I cannot wait!

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RUMESH March 18, 2013 at 2:25 pm

i too like to visit ur country .pls give me a chance.pls

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bradleigh jenkins April 27, 2012 at 6:11 am

my teacher said belguim isd pretty cool

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Jim Ferri April 27, 2012 at 12:14 pm

Always listen to your teacher!

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Acheampong October 13, 2012 at 6:55 pm

I am planing to travel to Belgium for tourist visit and i can’t wait to be there

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tom November 2, 2012 at 3:19 pm

aha. ive lived in belgium for the last 5 years and havent noticed any of those things. i guess the grass is always greener on the other side.

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Jim Ferri November 2, 2012 at 4:29 pm

Where do you live in Belgium Tom? I find it incredulous that you haven’t experienced any of these places.

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Ross November 6, 2013 at 11:56 am

That is a very good reason

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Vera November 17, 2012 at 7:33 am

I lived for 30 years in Belgium and there are even more beautiful places. I miss it like crazy.

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Debbie November 2, 2013 at 2:56 am

Vera – I would like to hear the other places in Belgium that are beautiful and historic. We are planning a visit, in a year or two.

Debbie

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lily November 21, 2012 at 12:05 pm

ive lived in belguim for 7 years and ive been there and it is just AMAZING just FAB OUTSTANDIN

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juka14 December 27, 2012 at 2:36 pm

Nice collection! I would also add Leuven and Dinant to the list.

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julie February 18, 2013 at 2:26 am

Great post and photos. nice collection. i like it.

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Alain April 9, 2013 at 3:23 pm

If you want to discover the medieval cities in Belgium you have the choice for several city walking routes. A suggestion is the site for walking in Belgium: http://www.wandelroutes.org. The site is in Dutch, but a good part of it is also tranlated into English.

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Jim Ferri April 9, 2013 at 3:34 pm

Thank you Alain.

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Ashwani Khurana May 14, 2013 at 7:22 am

I am landing with my 18 year old son in Brussels on wednesday 5th june & leave on Saturday 8th. I usually avoid big cities & like to travel self drive into upcountry resorts, spas or even naturist resorts if any. Am ok to do a 2/3 hours drive. Any suggestions??

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Jim Ferri May 14, 2013 at 7:26 am

You shouldn’t have any trouble driving about Belgium since the country is relatively small and flat and has excellent roads. The countryside is beautiful and easily accessible by car. Have you asked the Belgian and Flanders Tourist Offices for suggestions?

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nkechi May 24, 2013 at 9:42 pm

I will be in Belgium soon like nextmonth to experience and see how beautiful the country is, hope to find love there too lol

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Jim Ferri May 24, 2013 at 9:45 pm

You’ll enjoy Belgium – I wish you success in your other endeavors also!

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DeAnna September 18, 2013 at 12:58 pm

belgium is SOOOOO amaizing, you’ll enjoy it soo much, youl love the belgian waffles aswell 8-D

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Serena September 19, 2013 at 8:05 pm

This is exquisite! Such a beauty! Can’t wait to visit these places next year!

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KATARINA September 28, 2013 at 12:28 pm

i am going next week, i cannot wait!!!!

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Nathan October 2, 2013 at 2:35 am

Driving there today, not been since the 80’s when I was five, I remember it having lots of horses and being very clean, looking forward to it

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Jim Ferri October 2, 2013 at 2:39 am

I hope you all have wonderful trips. My wife and I just returned from Brussels. You can read about it here: http://www.neverstoptraveling.com/brussels-a-foodie-and-chocolate-lovers-delight-2

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Amelia October 8, 2013 at 8:23 pm

I’m doing a report on Belgium and one of the main topics was tourist attractions. Thank you so much for your help!!

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Jim Ferri October 9, 2013 at 2:09 am

I’m glad it was helpful!

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ismail October 9, 2013 at 7:39 pm

hi
I would like to study in Belgium, could anyone tell me witch city in Belgium is cheaper and a good place for foreign student to study and live? thanks for any help

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ghills October 30, 2013 at 5:30 pm

Belgium sounds awesome!!! Drupal gardens man!

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Ross November 6, 2013 at 11:57 am

I would love to visit belgium exempt I live in Ireland

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Morgan November 6, 2013 at 8:21 pm

Hi Jim! My roommate and I are spending next semester in Flanders. This was very helpful to us, we do not know much about Belgium but we are excited! If you have any other suggestions for us, we would love to hear. Thanks!

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Jim Ferri November 7, 2013 at 1:08 pm

Oh, how I envy you! You’ll love Flanders, Be sure to visit Bruges and Ghent, but also don’t miss Antwerp which has become a mecca of sort for fashion and designers. There’s also a new museum, the Red Star Line Museum, which has opened in Antwerp, and tells about emigration from that port to the USA. Get yourself to Brussels, also, at least for a weekend. If you like beer, chocolate, good food, culture or beautiful places you’ll be in heaven. Go to the Visit Flanders website for a lot of good info. Have a great time!

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syed md. nurul karim November 12, 2013 at 6:53 am

Belgium a beautyful cpuntry in the world. I like Belgium. I am a Bangladeshi, in my childhool I was a great dream go to Europe. Basically Belgium is my favourite country, it is a nice country and paradise of world. So I need a visa for going to Belgium, please anybody can help me for get a visa for Belgium. Syed MD. Nurul Karim, cell- 008801811200142, email- smkarim4333@yahoo.com

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Steve December 1, 2013 at 5:17 am

What a great site. Thanks for the ideas my wife and I are heading there next summer. Can not wait.

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Jim Ferri December 4, 2013 at 9:32 am

Steve, you and your wife are going to love it!

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diane December 9, 2013 at 7:15 am

Sorry to say but my Sister in law lives there & she hates it. She cant wait to get back to the States!

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diane December 9, 2013 at 8:44 pm

Sorry

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Jim Ferri December 9, 2013 at 11:32 pm

No reason to be sorry Diane. We all disagree about different places. I really enjoyed Belgium but understand that not everyone likes every place that I do. Have you ever been there? If so, it would certainly make for an interesting conversation with your sister-in-law.

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Gabaake December 11, 2013 at 1:11 pm

I don’t think this is a good idea

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Alain January 18, 2014 at 4:35 am

The First World War centenary is the centenary of World War One which starts in 2014 and will last until 2018.
The Westhoek area offers you wonderful cycling trails in the beautiful nature, cycle along little pathways, and visit the various battlefields.
You can find free cycle maps (Ypres, Dikmsuide, …) on Fietsroute.org:
http://www.fietsroute.org/indexuk.php

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Arthur Gilles February 3, 2014 at 4:38 pm

Taking a good beer, try some chocolate and enjoy themselves reading a comic. Performing these three simple actions have done more than enough for the three icons of Belgium which is known worldwide honors.

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Brenton March 1, 2014 at 4:52 pm

i just got back from a trip to belgium. i went to bruges, ghent and brussels. I recommend it absolutely! Bruges and Ghent were the best. lovley people, amazing beer, chocolate and of course beautiful medieval architecture. I loved it so much. Go to Belgium!!!

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Jim Ferri March 3, 2014 at 7:19 am

Hi Brenton,
Belgium is wonderful, isn’t it? Yes, there’s great people, great food and great lots of things.

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eduarda March 9, 2014 at 2:52 pm

Hello! I’ve never been in Belgium before and this summer I’m going to Boom with 3 friends and we want to spend a few days in Belgium.. which places do you recommend us? We want to go to places near there because we are young people and we don’t want to spend a lot of money.. thanks!!

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Joana April 7, 2014 at 5:13 am

I am from Belgium, I lived there during almost 23 years, but now I live in Australia with my fiance that I met when I was travelling with one of my friend around Australia. I booked my flight to Belgium few days ago to go visit my family and friends, and introduce my fiance to tthem. After almost 2 years without see all of them I am so excited, can’t wait ! And i can say, you guys made my day, writing all these nice comments about my country ! Thanks

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Jim Ferri April 7, 2014 at 8:15 am

I’m glad you enjoyed it Joana. I wish you many years of happiness.

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Nana April 20, 2014 at 9:01 am

Hi ! My hubby is Belgian but we have been out of there for almost 10 yrs. now and have two kids 7 and 2 , can anyone recommend nice places to visit and show my very proud half Belgian boy around and in the same time have fun all of us ? thanks

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Jim Ferri April 20, 2014 at 10:31 am

Hi Nan – how lucky for you to be heading to Belgium. I don’t know where you’ll be going while you’re there but a good thing to do for your seven-year old might be to try to find the best chocolates, going into the little shops around Place du Grand Sablon in Brussels or in the old town of Bruges. Perhaps you’ll want to read the posts Brussels, a Foodie (and Chocolate Lover’s) Delight and In Search of the Best Chocolate in Bruges, Belgium.

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Nana April 20, 2014 at 11:04 am

Dear Jim ,

Thank you very much for your Info , My husband is from Aalst , will be in Bruges for sure and will visit Brussels too as it is one of my personal Favors ;) and will surly have a look at the links you sent and hope my two kiddos like them :D

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Natalia May 23, 2014 at 5:05 am

Hi,

Thank you very much for the info. I’m going to Belgium this weekend. This article helps me where I want to go!

Cheers!

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Musser May 26, 2014 at 10:41 pm

Good info in this post that can guide me for my trips to Belgium next week. Thanks for the best info !

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Matt Y. June 7, 2014 at 1:52 pm

These comments are very good. It gives me a starting point for reference. I will be in Belgium in the next two weeks and will be spending at least 2 full days. Any suggestions on the main things to see in the shirt amount if time? We will be touring Amsterdam after Belgium.

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Matt Y. June 7, 2014 at 1:54 pm

What is the best mode of getting around town? Public transportation? Rent a car?

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Jim Ferri June 9, 2014 at 6:04 am

In Brussels, Bruges, Ghent or any of the Belgian cities, you can see a tremendous amount just by walking. Everything is relatively close. At other times, in Brussels, for example, you’ll find public transportation to be good.

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Debs July 1, 2014 at 2:40 pm

I love Belgium. My husband and I first went there for our 30th wedding anniversary and have been going back a couple of times a year for the last 3 years. Due to go again in July can’t wait. Such an amazing country. Brussels is brilliant and so central.

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Nara July 7, 2014 at 9:32 am

I’ll be at Gent in september for 5 month scholarship studying. Thank you for all these comments, now i am sure that I have made they right choose

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FAS July 23, 2014 at 5:00 am

In LOVE with this country.

Belgium! gonna be in you “Next Week”. <3

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Phil July 29, 2014 at 10:02 am

Can’t believe Ypres (Ieper) isn’t in the 10. Hugely significant area wrt WW1 as has already been said. Also centre of one of the best car rallying events outside of the World Championship. The Market square being taken over as the service park for the event has a wonderful atmosphere.

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Mrs Aitch August 12, 2014 at 9:19 am

My family and I are travelling to Belgium in a couple of weeks time by motorhome. We will start at the Belgium GP in Spa then hope to take in some of the wonderful cities and places I have read about. Has anyone got any suggestions about the best way of finding decent motorhome parks (I believe they are called Aires). We really need them for filling up and emptying water plus overnight stays when visiting Brussels, Bruge, Ghent etc and the WWII memorial sites. We are only there for a week, wish it was two after reading all your comments!

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Jim Ferri August 12, 2014 at 9:32 am

Hi Susie,
The first thing you should do is contact Visit Belgium and the Tourist Office for Flanders. They should be a good source for that information, or they will be able to point you in the right direction. Have a wonderful trip!

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Mrs Aitch August 12, 2014 at 6:25 pm

Thanks Jim, I will do just that. Here’s hoping the weather is half decent when we are there!

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Jim Ferri August 12, 2014 at 9:59 pm

It’s Belgium — if it rains just eat more chocolate!

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TWCMSI.ORG August 19, 2014 at 12:08 pm

Great cities of Belgium. I would like to visit these cities in near future.

Thanks

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LustForTheWorld August 21, 2014 at 12:40 pm

Thanks for the info, we are visiting Brussels and Mechelen in September and were looking for some day trips! :)

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Kim Dekeyser August 30, 2014 at 1:49 pm

other places to add:

Leuven
Durbuy
Ieper

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sarah n.k ssettimba September 29, 2014 at 5:39 am

I visted almost all the historical places in Belgium this August 14 and I’m proud to attest to what has been written about all the beautiful medieval places that I saw. So graetful to my family in Wetteren that enabled the visit.

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Mian October 6, 2014 at 12:04 pm

Nice collection of photos again, Thanks for sharing, Keep writing!

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Febe October 20, 2014 at 5:34 pm

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