Vacation Ideas in Belgium: Beer, Bikes and Beauty
Did you know?
Belgium is divided into two distinct cultures, each speaking its own language. In the Flanders region, natives speak Flemish (similar to Dutch); in the Wallonia region, natives speak French.
This unique country offers more than Belgian fries, mussels and chocolate. While they are an absolutely essential (and delicious) part of your visit, the picturesque scenery in quaint towns and buzz of the cities will be what you treasure most. For a good sampler of what Belgium has to offer, travel by train between Brussels and Brugge.
Winding Waterways and Pedal Power
Located in the northwest of the country, the city (sometimes appearing as "Bruges" or "Brugges") made famous in the movie featuring Colin Farrell is a respite from the hustle and bustle of Brussels. Although it's the capital and largest city of the province of West Flanders, its small-town feel will remind you of a medieval village.
Stop by any of the cafes surrounding the Grote Markt and soak in the scenery of this quaint city square or stroll alongside a duck-filled canal to get the true character of the city sometimes called the "Venice of the North."
Brugge is very bike-friendly! In fact, it may be the best way to get around. Rent a bicycle and explore all the old streets that meander through town.
Translated as the grand city square, it's where you'll find several worthy stops, from tourist attractions to cute cafes.
Brugge: Brews and Views
De Halve Maan offers tour of its ancient brewery, with funny and informative guides. And, of course, you must sample the beer. Even if you don't leave time for the tour, the court yard of the restaurant is a gorgeous place to rest your legs and soak up the sun.
Brugge: Flemish Flair
Brugge: City of Charm and Chocolate
If you are looking for the buzzing metropolis that is Paris, but without the price and pace, Brussels offers a more laid-back, manageable experience.
Stop by the cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula to take in its gothic splendor, then head down to the Mannekin Pis for some touristy fun.
To get truly off the beaten path, head over to the Cantillon brewery, off the Clemenceau subway stop. You might be the only one there, as this is by far no tourist trap. They'll let you wander through the still-operating old brewery, as they open-ferment their signature lambic (sour) and kriek (cherry) brews. Note: This is an old industrial neighborhood and far from the tourist hotspots, so be aware, as always, of your surroundings. For more information, check out http://www.cantillon.be/.
Brussels: Off the Beaten Path
Although Brussels is buzzing with activity, there are so many secluded brasseries and authentic European cafes if you know where to look.
Try La Fleur en Papier Dore, a literary-themed cafe, for an espresso, or "un express" as they say in Europe.
Brussels: Flemish Beer and Flames
Along a popular alleyway, you'll find something of an entertainment district, including the Delirium bar. Grab a bar stool, rest your glass on one of the barrels-turned-tables and take in the trippy atmosphere. For more info, visit http://deliriumcafe.be/.
A must-see is the Maison des Brasseurs, or "Brewer's House," a museum of ancient beer-making relics. Have a drink in their tiny underground pub.
Packing for Belgium
What to Bring
TSA-approved corkscrew (made without the knife)
You'll want to imbibe the wine in the French-speaking parts, and you'll need it for the corked beer in the Flemish parts.
You'll want to take back home the delicate chocolates you can buy individually at local shops.
The Best Rest
Brugge: The hotel Jan Brito, on a quiet street not far from the Grote Markt, is a quaint old inn. Ask for a room on a top floor and you'll feel like you're in a castle's turret looking over the roof tops.