There are a lot of erudite reasons to visit Belgium, seat of the European Parliament, NATO, the European Commission, wonderful art, incredible architecture, etc.
Truth be told though – we went for the fries (fried in lard and served with mayonnaise, what’s not to like?), the chocolate (there are, quite literally, thousands of chocolate shops in Belgium), Belgian beer (each with its own unique character and purpose made glass…) and the stupendous Belgian waffle.
Where to go?
Brussels – There is a lot to do in Brussels, We went there to try to get a handle on the quirky Belgian sense of humour, to see the magnificent town square, look for bargain vintage furniture, visit the fantastic covered passageway (Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert) and to eat chocolate, waffles and fries, along with a beer or two.
Try to find the delightful and very well hidden Toone VI pub that also hosts the Royal Puppet Theatre.
Do pay to see the altar piece in the Saint Bavo’s Cathedral. This early Northern Renaissance Altarpiece painting “The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb” was painted by the Van Eyck brothers and was was completed in 1432. The modern features of the protagonists are just plain astounding. The work is considered to be one of the greatest artistic masterpieces of Belgium.
Bear in mind that visitors to the “Mystic Lamb” are allowed in until 15 minutes before closing of the Chapel, in Winter until 3.45 pm and in Summer until 4.45 pm. Part of the cathedral may also be closed, on short notice, for religious services.
Another work to look out for in the Cathedral is “Saint Bavo enters the Convent at Ghent” by Peter Paul Rubens.
Ghent is a wonderful place to explore on foot, especially along the canals.
Oh, of course; we went to Ghent to eat chocolate, waffles and fries, along with a beer or two.
The historic city centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Aptly named the “Venice of the North”. Listen out for the 47 carillon bells of the 13th-century belfry and look out for Michelangelo’s “Madonna and Child” sculpture in the Church of our Lady.
We would recommend a lot of walking to take in the fabulous architecture. Try to leave the central market place – as lovely as it is – to find the quieter, quainter quartiers.
Don’t forget to eat chocolate (there are some wonderful independent chocolate makers in Bruges), waffles and fries, along with a beer or two.
How to get there?
Belgium has a highly developed public transport system and it is relatively easy to travel from city to city once you have arrived.
Intra city travel is also easy once you have figured out the trams, busses or horse and carriage so common to most of the tourist areas of the larger cities.
The country is very cycling and cyclist friendly with many cycling paths and free parking for bikes in some cities.
You can get to Paris from central Brussels (and vice versa) in roughly an hour and 20 minutes via the Thalys train network. In addition, Eurostar trains leave from Brussels and connect in Lille, France.
Thalys and Eurostar trains leave central Paris from the Gare du Nord station. There is an average of 31 trains a day between Paris and Brussels, with a train leaving the station approximately every 34 minutes.
Most buses are direct, depart from either Paris’ Porte Maillot, Gare Routière Galliéni, or Quai de Bercy bus station and arrive at Bruxelles Gare du Nord.
The Paris to Brussels bus trip takes as little as 3 hours and 40 minutes to arrive in Brussels. There are several operators.
Paris to Brussels is about 305 kilometres via the highways (3 hours). The most direct route takes you through major highways A1 and A2 which is a straight drive but may involve toll charges, depending on the route you choose.
However, with such great road and rail connections – it’s hard to justify a plane trip.