I’m back today with part two of my Europe series – visiting Belgium. As with my recent post on Amsterdam, I’ve structured this post to include the highlights and lowlights of my Belgium trip. I will say that the lowlights were much harder to think of than the highlights, as Belgium was probably my favorite country of the three we visited.
I spent three days in Belgium and each day in a new city. Brussels, Gent, and Bruges were the three cities I visited and I’d recommend visiting all of them. Before I headed there, I’d read that you don’t need too much time in Brussels. I would very much echo this fact (essentially go the Grand Place) and am very thankful I checked out several different cities and not just one. If I would have had a few more days in Belgium, I would have continued to visit other cities around the area.
#1 – Bruges
If I had to pick one town from my Europe trip that was my favorite, Bruges would be that town. From the moment you arrive, you are transformed back in time. After the hustle and bustle of larger cities, this smaller, simpler one was a real treat. With its cobblestone streets, horse-drawn carriages, quiet parks, and restaurants and shops of solid brick, you will get glimpses of Europe from years ago.
My absolute favorite area was north of Minnewater Park (also visit here to see the famous, romantic bridge of the city – Bonifacius Bridge) and east of Begijnhuisje – the famous swans of Bruges! Here you’ll find dozens and dozens of swans, floating around in the water surrounding the city. It truly is magical. I could have sat in this area for hours, just soaking everything in.
Between the honking of the swans, the chimes of church bells, and the clip-clop of horses’ hooves, the atmosphere is like none other. I loved walking down the little side streets, while enjoying the local shopping and sampling the famous Belgian waffles. In Bruges, I visited Chez Albert and found their waffles to be delicious.
Although I was in Bruges just for a day trip, if I went back I’d spend the night and make it a weekend getaway. While in town be sure to visit Markt Square (heart of the city), go see the famous Madonna and Child by Michelangelo, climb up the Belfort Tower for amazing views of the city, and take a canal ride to see parts of the city you might not otherwise see.
#2 – Food
If I’m being completely honest, here is one of the main reasons I loved Belgium so much – the food! One of my favorite foods is French fries, and I found that Belgium fully lived up to the hype of having the best fries in the world. I ate French fries multiple times a day, completely guilt-free. It is hard to describe what makes them so different from the fries in the United States, but just know that they are amazing and not greasy. I’d also recommend trying them both from local vendors and from more gourmet places. Although I like them primarily without sauce, the many flavors of dipping sauces (like garlic) were also fun to try.
Sampling local chocolates is a requirement when you go to Belgium. I tried to research the best chocolates and where to find them before going to Belgium, but my search seemed to yield a variety of results. I now know why, as all the ones I tried were excellent. If you do want the name of a place to watch for in Belgium though, I’d highly recommend Neuhaus. They have many locations around Belgium and offer a great selection. And if you really can’t wait to try them, they also can be ordered online.
Again, I’ll mention the waffles. Whether you order them plain or fully loaded (hello chocolate, bananas, strawberries and whipped cream), they cannot be beat.
I love mussels and was very excited to try the famous Belgian mussels. They too did not disappoint. If you are visiting Brussels and looking for a restaurant to try them at, I’d recommend Chez Leon. Their menu has a wide selection of not only mussels but other Belgian dishes.
The biggest food surprise in Belgium was spaghetti. I had some of the best spaghetti of my life in Belgium. This picture was taken in Brussels at Le Roy d’Espagne.
#3 – Grand Place
Spectacular is the word I’d use to describe the Grand Place. If you just visit one place in Brussels, visit the Grand Place. For years it served as the city center, and today you’ll find it bustling with people. As you walk in the middle, all sides of you will be surrounded with beautiful architecture, restaurants and shops. I’ve never been anywhere like it.
One of the neatest things we did here was to eat outside at one of the restaurants, enjoying the atmosphere, watching all the people walk by, and listening to the collection of different languages from around the world.
Grand Place is one of those spots that you need to visit during different times, as you’ll want to check it out during the day and also at night. Both times give a completely different vibe but are equally impressive.
#1 – Driving
You’ll find that all of my lowlights of Belgium involve transportation. Essentially, take the trains and you’ll be just fine. We had heard that driving was fairly easy in Belgium and wanted to be on more of our own time schedule, so we did rent a car. The cities were tight, congested, and hard to maneuver. We also came upon traffic that slowed us up by a few hours when coming back into Brussels.
#2 – Parking Garage
Our hotel’s parking garage is one of those things that makes for a hilarious story now but was anything but humorous at the time. If you travel to Belgium, know that your parking garage may be extremely tight, flooded and down an extremely steep ramp. After successfully finding our parking garage, we found ourselves parking our car in a huge flooded area and having to roll all our luggage up what felt like a mountain (elevators are non-existent) of several flights fighting with gravity every step, while keeping our fingers crossed that no cars would be coming down towards us at the same time.
#3 – Gas Station
The most stressful time of the trip involved one of the most basic tasks – filing the car up with gas. After visiting Belgium, we were headed to drop our rental car off at the train station where we would head to Paris. One thing we needed to do before leaving was to fill the rental car up with gas, as to not collect an extremely heavy fee. We had allocated plenty of time thankfully but still barely made it to our train in time. We ended up stopping at five different gas stations before we could find an open station with a properly-functioning pump. Morale of the story – just because something is easy at home does not mean it will be equally easy somewhere else. I’ve never been so grateful to have baked in extra time into a trip before. Again – take the trains.