Is Belgium the ultimate European destination for chocolate and beer lovers? Perhaps, but we definitely know that Belgium is a destination for every traveller! With its myriad of famous World War battlegrounds, more castles per square mile than any other country, every type of museum imaginable - and more than 1000 beer breweries! - all packed into a tiny country, you can hardly go wrong. Belgium is far from boring and once you've been there, you would agree that it might just be one of Europe's most underrated destinations. Home to the EU, NATO and a host of giant corporations, the thought of Belgium can easily conjure up images of a stuffy business destination but it's much more than that. Home to stunning architecture and dozens of UNESCO World Heritage sites, you will be delighted with its town squares and funky urban neighbourhoods along with some of Europe's best beer, creamiest chocolate, and crispiest fries.
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BELGIUM QUICK FACTS
Currency: Euro (EUR)
Area: 30,510 km²
Population: 10,414,336 (July 2009 est.)
Language: Dutch (official) 60%, French (official) 40%, German (official) less than 1%
Religion: Roman Catholic 75%, Protestant or other 25% - however, most people are not religious.
Electricity: 230/50Hz (European plug)
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BELGIUM PUBLIC HOLIDAYS
1 May, Labor Day
11 July, Flemish Community Holiday
21 July, National Holiday
15 August, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
27 September, French Community Holiday
1 November, All Saints Day
11 November, Armistice Day
15 November, German Community Holiday
Also, Easter, Easter Monday, Ascension Day, Pentecost (Whit Sunday), and Whit Monday (the Monday after Pentecost).
BEST TIME TO VISIT BELGIUM
Belgium's latitude and the proximity of the sea warmed by the Gulf Stream give Belgium a temperate maritime climate characterised by moderate temperatures, prevailing southerly to westerly winds, abundant cloud cover, and frequent precipitation. Summers are relatively cool and humid and winters relatively mild and rainy.
For the most visited tourist spots in Belgium like Bruges, you will find peak season to coincide with the European summer. Although from mid-June things really gets a lot busier - with long days filled with festivals and sunny weather, summer can still be a good time to visit despite the crowds in some areas. During late spring and during fall you will find milder weather and thinner crowds with the weather still pleasant. (Just watch out for holiday long-weekends). The slower season starts as early as late October and the weather can be wet and cold with an influx of coastal wind. During this time you can still comfortably visit cities but might find the countryside a bit dreary.
SPORT & ACTIVITIES
SNOW SPORT IN BELGIUM
The snow sports season in Belgium can start as early as November and lasts until the end of March. The busiest period is from mid-December through to February, with the lesser crowded times in the beginning of December and March.
HIKING & CYCLING IN BELGIUM
The best time for outdoor activities in Belgium is from May to September. April and October are also feasible, but the temperatures can be rather low and the days are also shorter.
BEACH OPTIONS IN BELGIUM
Belgium's short 60km long coast is lined with beautiful beaches such as: Ostend, De Panne, Blankenberg, De Haan, Oostduinkerke, Nieuwpoort, Middelkerke, Knokke-Heist, Koksijde & Zeebrugge.
SURFING IN BELGIUM
Despite Belgium's extremely short coastline, there are some great surf spots such as Mariakerke, Westende, Ooostduinkerke and Bredene around Oostende as well as Blankenberge and Surfers Paradise near the Dutch border.
KITESURF IN BELGIUM
Belgium's short 60km long coastline has approximately 15 kitesurfing spots along it, such as De Haan. While some spots are a little close to buildings, at least the wind is fairly constant from March through till November.
BELGIUM TRAVEL COSTS
Belgium is not a cheap country. Yes, it can be done on a budget but it’s a tight budget. There are just a lot of high costs here and food and drink can really add up. Travelling by bicycle, eating picnics bought from supermarkets and cooking your own food at campsites, it’s possible to keep costs down to €25 a day per person. Moving up a notch, if you picnic at lunch, stick to less expensive bars and restaurants, and stay in cheap hotels or hostels, you could get by on around €50–60 a day. Staying in two-star hotels, eating out in medium-range restaurants, and going to bars, you should reckon on about €120 a day, the main variable is the cost of your room.
BELGIUM TRAVEL TIPS
Here are some tips on how to save money in Belgium:
Go on a free walking tour – This is a great way to learn the history behind the places you are seeing and to avoid missing any must-see stops.
Get a city tourist card – Local tourism offices issue a tourist card for all their attractions, tours, and restaurants. This card gives you free entry and substantial discounts on all the attractions and tours in a city, free local public transportation (a huge plus), and discounts at a few restaurants and shopping malls. They can save you a ton of money.
Rideshare – If you’re flexible in your schedule, use the ridesharing service BlaBlaCar and catch rides with locals between cities (or countries).
Most cities have transportation passes to help you keep your budget intact. For example, Brussels has a STIB-MIVB pass of which the JUMP 24H will give you unlimited rides for 24 hours. In Antwerp, you can purchase a day pass for €6-8 EUR. Multi-day options are also available.
SIGHTS & HIGHLIGHTS OF BELGIUM
If you're into history and wars then Belgium has loads to keep you busy on that front alone. The Battle of Waterloo took place in 1815 and bought an abrupt end to the Napoleonic Wars of the time. You can visit the site of the famous event as well as other attractions relating to the battle.
More infamous and unmissable World War battlefields can be found near Ypres in the form of Flanders Fields with memorials, museums, and cemeteries are interspersed with artillery craters and pastures.
You can literally spend an entire lifetime visiting castles around Belgium with more than 3000 of these ancient structures scattered around the country. Of particular interest due to its age is Castle of Bouillon in the Ardennes.
Built during the 12th century, the Cathedral of Our Lady in Tournai (Notre Dame) is an incredible example of Romanesque architecture.
Bruges - The oldest and most picturesque city of Old Flanders is a Gothic wonder with its charming cobblestone alleys and intimate city squares. Famous for its chocolate shops on every corner and world-class beer, you will wonder at the medieval rooftops, get lost amongst the canals, immerse yourself amongst in the world of Flemish masterpieces of art and architecture. For a perfect way to capture the magic of the city, take a half-hour canal trip!
Brussels - Urbane capital of Belgium, the European Union, and NATO, with one of Europe's grandest squares. Most travellers just breeze through en route to Amsterdam or Paris but Brussels is more than just a stuffy corporate zone. It's a picturesque city with wonderful architecture, plenty of delightful urban zones, and best of all - tons of delicious food and beer.
Antwerp - Second largest city and home to excellent shopping and Belgium's best fashion, Antwerp is a modern city offering a mix of its old school port city grittiness and its youthful, trendy vibe.
LGBTQ IN BELGIUM
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) rights in Belgium are seen as some of the most progressive in Europe and in the world. Same-sex sexual activity was legalised in 1795, with an equal age of consent, except from 1965 until 1985. After granting same-sex couples domestic partnership benefits in 2000, Belgium became the second country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage in 2003.
Today same-sex relationships are widely accepted and Belgium hosts annual Pride events.