Belgium (& Luxembourg)

Belgium is an amazing country, where the people are easy-going and not afraid of being themselves, and the sights are pretty cool. The two main cultures, Dutch and French-speaking, come together in this not-so-big nation, although they also oppose each other and clash in many ways. It’s a relatively small country, yet there’s quite a lot of amazing things to do and places to see. The beer-making and drinking culture (you can even drink in the street and public places), tasty waffles, well-known as well as more underground comics, people’s niceness and the country’s beautiful sights will take your breath away.

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Bruges

To visit each of the places presented in this post, around two weeks would be ideal (four to five full days in Brussels, and the other ones can be simply day-trips). But if you would want to take your time to visit each place and if you are able to do it, I definitely recommend it!

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Antwerp

Anyway, I highly advise you to visit Belgium, not only the capital but other cities as well. Most places are easily accessible by train (SNCB, around 6 euros per single trip). Alternatively to backpacking from city to city, it’s great to have a basis somewhere, like I did. You could leave your things at a friend’s apartment or an airbnb/hostel/hotel, and take day-trips from there. That way you can visit a lot of places without having to carry all your things or worrying about where you’ll sleep. Definitely try to get the free maps USE-IT  before travelling to each city or town (https://www.use-it.travel/home); they are made by young locals who want visitors to experience the real place, not only touristy scenes and activities. They’re renewed every year with the most current tips on places to see, eat, drink, and things to do. You should definitely look into it and find stands where you can get them, since they’re free, though they don’t exist for every city or place.

Bring an umbrella! Belgium can be rainy and pretty cloudy too!

(Scroll down for tips on Luxembourg City!)



Brussels

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View of Bruxelles from the elevator close to the Palais de Justice

Brussels is a central city in Europe and the most important one of the European Union. It’s highly accessible by bus or train; there are five big stations, but the most central ones are Bruxelles Central and Bruxelles Midi, which is Brussels South in English and Zuid in Dutch, so beware. It’s also reachable by airplane; the airport BRU is pretty accessible and the further one CRL is accessible by a one-hour shuttle which leaves from the Bruxelles Midi station.

The city is mostly bilingual, divided between the Dutch and the French-speaking, but a lot of people speak English there. The street, square and monument names exist in both languages, so it’s pretty easy to get disoriented as some maps are incomplete and the two languages couldn’t be less alike, but you’ll find your way. Thus the city’s quite unique, also because there’s a clash between the mostly modern and European-style old architectures, and the original, young and honest city vibe. I love it as much as any important European city, if not more!

These are Brussel’s unmissable tourist classics:

-The  Comics museum, typically Belgian. It’s only 7 euros for students, and interesting, especially if you’re a fan of comics. There’s also a big comics store there.

-The Grote Markt or Grande Place, a beautiful historical square next to the well-known Rue des Bouchers, full of expensive restaurants and touristy chocolate shops. But it’s quite impressive and a must-see; don’t buy or eat anything there, though.

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Grande Place

-The Manneken Pis: really small and full of tourists, but it’s still the city’s symbol! There’s also Jeanneke Pis, which was recently created and a legend was made up, simply to attract more tourists!

-The Galleries Royales Saintt-Hubert, where you can find fancy chocolateries and cafés.

-The Atomium or the 9 Balls, build in the World Expo of 1958. It’s further from the city center but extremely impressive, though I didn’t go in. Students pay 8 euros to get in and visit a museum and expositions. The Osseghem Leiken Park next to it is free, beautiful and very nice to take a walk.

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Atomium
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In the Ossenghem Leiken Park

-The most famous bar there is a tourist attraction by itself; Delirium Village has over 2000 different sorts of beer! It’s located in the city center and it gets extremely packed, so try to get a beer there before 6 pm, or just take a look inside.

-The largest urban park in Brussels, the Parc de Bruxelles or Warandepark, is lovely when it isn’t too cold outside. It’s next to the stunning Palais Royal de Bruxelles, the Place Royale and many interesting museums. It’s also not too far from the Mont des Arts, allegedly the most beautiful view of the city, though that’s debatable.

There are also less touristy places in Brussels, and those are my favorite ones. For instance, the neighborhood Marolles, next to the metro station Louise/Louiza. It’s super nice to walk around there; the Rue Haute is local and sweet, with its hip art galleries, beautiful little stores and cafés. The café L’Atelier, which is also a plants, homemade wooden tables and decoration store, is beautiful and original! The vegetarian restaurant L’Eau Chaude serves amazing food and has vegan choices, 9-15 euros for a meal. Close by, you can go up the lift that shows a beautiful view of the city, and takes you to the Palais de Justice, which you can vist for free.

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Walking in the Marolles

The restaurant and bar À La Mort Subite, in the city center, is old but very well maintained; it’s the perfect place to get a beer in the afternoon and chill.

The impressive European Parliament is also a good visit in Brussels, since the city is at the heart of the European Union. There’s an interesting free tour that anyone can take!

In the neighborhood Saint Gilles, the Rue Bailli offers cute and fancy clothing and shoe stores. It’s nice to walk around and visit the shops. Eat lunch or breakfast at La Fabrique, a cute place with great food, lots of veggie choices and inexpensive for a city like Brussels (13 euros for a great lunch, coffee included). Close by, there is the Place Flagey, where you can find an amazing Sunday market. Every other day, you can eat at the vegetarian restaurant Ami, which I haven’t tried myself but it looks great!

I have a close friend who is currently living in Brussels, so here are Charlie’s tips:

Café Belga: Close to the Place Flagey, there’s a great jazz night there on Thursdays. It’s also just perfect to get a beer anytime, especially if it’s a sunny day!

Musée Magritte: 2€, only takes 45min-1h, very interesting!

-The Château Laeken and its park (perfect for a picnic), not very visited but MAGNIFICENT.

Overall, there’s a lot to see and do in Brussels, I really hope you can make it there!



Bruges

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Walking in the streets of Brugge

Bruges or Brugge is a small town in the North of Belgium, where you can find more tourists than locals! It’s easily accessible with a 1.5 hour train ride from Brussels South station, 11 euros for the round trip. Despite its touristy aspect, I highly recommend to visit this town, as it is really welcoming and charming.

Joey’s Café, a bar and restaurant, has a chill and romantic atmosphere. They have few options but good food and of course, beer! Also drop by Hap, a vegetarian take away place also close to the Zilver Pand; the food and price seem great, but it was closed when we were there. I also heard and read great things about the tapas at Vino Vino, open in the evening. Close to it, there is Le Trappiste, known for its rare signature beers.

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Brugge

Walk downtown in this small city, visit the Grande Place or Grote Markt, with the Belfry in the middle; you can go up the stairs and enjoy a beautiful view. Walk around the canals and get lost in the lovely streets of Bruges, among religious buildings and gardens. But avoid the tourist traps! Enter a local chocolaterie; Olivier’s Chocolate has the best artisan chocolate, and you can also order drinks for there. Walking along Langestraat and seeing the east “coast” of the town is also interesting and beautiful.

Find pretty second-hand clothes at T2 (Think Twice) at Sint-Jakobstraat, and original posters, old and new comics at the specialized shop De Striep. Visit the Bieratelier for great homemade beer and a unique atmosphere.

Bruges is pretty small and touristy, but you could walk along every little street and corner without getting bored! Definitely worth the visit, and stay longer than a day if you can :)



Namur

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Namur is a tiny city but one of my favorite ones! In the Southern part of Belgium, it’s mostly French-speaking and easily accessible by train. It’s not very touristic, so you’ll get to walk around among students and locals. It’s actually known as a twin city to Québec city, and there’s a square in the city center dedicated to their connection!

The Marie-Louise park is beautiful and calm, ideal for a nap or to take a break while watching the birds. It’s pretty nice to walk around the train station, but the city center is mostly located between the Rue de Bruxelles (which becomes Rue Saint-Jacques) and the river La Sambre. There are many places to get food and to shop there; you’ll see them everywhere, and it goes without saying that the best ones are the local ones. The best thing is to walk around , discover the many squares, and let Namur’s vibe sink in. Also, get an amazing and cheap coffee to go at the well-known and amazing store Delahaut.

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Parc Marie-Louise

Across the river, the old Citadelle is definitely a highlight! You can walk up there to see the view or do some exercise, and even visit the underground ruins (5 euros); the nature and history are amazing there.

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View from the Citadelle

I really enjoyed visiting Namur and strongly recommend it as a day-trip!



Antwerp 

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Center of Antwerp

Quite the multicultural city, Antwerp (or Anvers, in French) is a Dutch-speaking city reachable by train. Their train station is actually one of the most beautiful ones in Europe, and a fifteen-minute walk from the city center. It’s actually a pretty nice walk; go through the beautiful City Park or Stadspark in what seems to be a Jewish neighborhood. Walk the city streets and find cheap eats and interesting stores.

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In the Stadspark

The closest you get to the Schelde river, the more you get into the city center and where the tourists are. You absolutely must find the lovely alley that is Vlaeykensgang, accessible by the Hoogstraat and other streets around it. You’ll see a sign for restaurants with “Free passage” or something similar written on it. Just get in and let yourself find the beautiful tiny courtyards, houses that take you back in time, and fancy restaurants’ entrances.

Also, go see the Grote Markt without letting the tourist-trap-like restaurants and cafés fool you. Admire the stunning tower of the cathedral (Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal). To eat, Falafel Tof in the city center is simple, great and inexpensive.

For an amazing view of the city, find your way to the underpass at the square Sint-Jansvliet to reach the Sint-Annatunel, where you have to walk through the long tunnel to get to the city’s left bank. From there, you simply have to walk to the park in from of where you got out, sit down, and admire a tranquil view of Antwerp. It’s beautiful to walk on that side, too.

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Going down the tunnel through the old stairs

I wish I could have seen more of the city, and I recommend you spend more than a day there!



Dinant

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View of Dinant

We spent no more than a few hours in this small town of the Wallonie, and despite its tiny size it has quite a few things to see. If you arrive at the train station, cross the Pont Charles de Gaulle to admire the saxophone sculptures, which you will also find all around the city center. Then, you’ll get in the city center; it’s all tiny and charming.

Stop at Neuhaus for a hot chocolate: 4 euros for an amazing one, which comes with whipped cream, a biscuit and a piece of chocolate! Check out the beautiful church Collégial Notre Dame, and definitely do not miss the Citadelle. You can walk up there (408 steps) or take the cable car if it’s working, either way it costs 8 euros. It’s very interesting up there; there’s not only a beautiful view but also kind of little museums explaining Dinant’s history as well as the Citadel’s role in protecting Belgium and France in the First World War, as well as cool sensory experiences.

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Check out the Adolphe Sax statue, the saxophone inventor who is from Dinant; the statue is in front of the Maison d’Adolphe Sax, which I didn’t get to visit. Walk around the center, visit the cute and calm Place Lion, and eat at the simple yet great sandwich place Au Coin des Gourmets. It’s next to the bridge; ask for their great vegetarian sandwich.

Walk along the river Meuse. Get to the Abbaye de Leffe, which we unfortunately didn’t get to visit but read great things about it. Definitely go spend a few hours or a full day in Dinant!



Louvain-la-Neuve

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Walking in the streets of LLN

Louvain-la-Neuve is a small French-speaking university town, quite interesting but not really worth a visit on its own. But if somehow you have to go there, take a walk or a run around the town’s beautiful and calm lake, Lac Louvain-la-Neuve.

Check out the cute hip café Altérez-Vous, it can be expensive to eat there but the coffee is great. Also, the bar Brasse-Temps has amazing homemade beers and good inexpensive food as well! Don’t forget the market in the Place de l’Université, usually there on weekdays from 10 am to 4 pm. The town’s cinema is also nice. Other than that, you might run out of things to do!



Leuven

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Leuven is a Dutch-speaking town with an acknowledged university, well-known but not nearly as touristy as Bruges, and easily accessible by train; it’s a truly amazing small city, and one of my favorite ones in Belgium and even in Europe in general. I only spent a few hours there, but I really wish I had had more time to explore this picturesque, young and chill town!

From the modern train station, walk on Maria Theresiastraat and turn left on Blijde-Inkomststraat to find yourself between two green squares. Get to the University Library, which was destroyed by a German fire in the First World War and then restored thanks to American investment. Pay 5 euros (student price) to get in, visit the beautiful library and go up the tower, where there’s an interesting exposition and a beautiful panoramic view; beware of the stairs, though.

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University Library Tower

Take a break at the corner bar close to the library, Commerce; its terrasse receives the sun every afternoon until the evening. Make your way to Sint-Donatus or Stadspark (city park) for a bit of green area and some palm trees in the summertime; it’s the perfect place to simply chill.

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Inside Sint-Donatus park

Find Sint-Michielskerk in the north side of the park, a well-known beautiful Baroque church. Then, make your way to Dijlepark, a kind of secret garden where the birds sing in Spring time and where the Dijle river crosses; it’s a peaceful and tranquil place. To find it, get in what seems to be a parking lot on Schapenstraat; you’ll be surprised when you turn the corner and face the river and park. Get out in the park’s southern exit and make your way to Groot Begijnhof, the old beguinage founded by nuns in 1232 and transformed in a university housing; it’s also an official UNESCO World Heritage site for being like a ‘town within a town’, very pleasant to walk in.

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Finding Dijlepark
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A street inside Groot Beginjhof

Then, make your way to the city center! Go over to Joris Helleputteplein to find a calm place parallel to the center; right by it, find the café Swartehond, with a hip atmosphere, good music and vegan options for the coffee. Then, walk in the Oude Markt, a street where every building is a bar. Visit Universiteitshal, the oldest part of campus. Get to the Grote Markt, where you’ll find the impressive Gothic City Hall and Sint-Pieterskierk. Walk around the city center and enjoy the area’s people and original commerce, especially if it’s a nice day; but always be careful with the bikes!

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Oude Markt
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In the Grote Markt

Shopping tip: in the store Harvest Club, you can find vegan shoes, bags and more!

Towards the northern part of the town, find the busy and ready to party Dijleterrassen, and the amazing park De Bruul, where people of all cultures and ages get together to practice sports, listen to music, and more; it’s the perfect place for people-watching in the afternoon.

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People-watching in De Bruul

Further north but still in town, get to the park around Keizersberg Abbey, where I didn’t get to visit but I read that it’s a great escape from the city action. Next to it, find urban gardens and art, at Vaarttuin.

On the western side of the city, you’ll find the botanical garden Kruidtuin, churches and museums, and a secret spot known as the best panorama in Leuven; the USE-IT map says to “enter the Keizershof‘s gate at house number 10 and follow the path beyond the small fountain and the big buildings to find a beautiful view on the city”. I didn’t have enough time to go there myself but I’ve heard first-hand amazing things about the panorama.

Overall, Leuven is absolutely mesmerizing and charming; make sure to be there at an afternoon on a weekday and you’ll be part of the students’ action! Plus, I would DEFINITELY recommend going to study there if you’re looking for an exchange destination; I obviously fell in love with the town and am eager to go back there!



Gent

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Gent (also spelled Ghent, or Gand in French) is the third biggest city in Belgium, and a Dutch-speaking beauty. I only spent an afternoon there, and though I would have liked to spend more time exploring Gent, I was able to visit a lot of places and get a feeling of the city.

I got there at Gent-Sint-Pieters train station and took the Tram 1 until the northern city center. Then, I visited by walking towards the south, until I got back to the station. But if you don’t feel like walking too much, there are many buses and trams that take you everywhere, especially the station! Now let me tell ya what is there to see in Gent.

Patershol is a part of town just north of the Leie river crossing which couldn’t be more charming and welcoming. It used to be the place for hookers and thieves, but now it’s full of restaurants, lovely little streets and protected monuments from the 1500s. Close by, there’s the Huis Van Alijn, basically a museum of Gent’s everyday life in the 20th century (2 euros for students)!

Across the river you can find the pretty Vrijdag Markt. Next to it, there’s the church St-Jacobskerk and one street away there’s the great cantine Le Petit Botanique. In the latter, every ingredient in the food served comes from Gent’s urban agriculture; cosy and friendly, the food there is great and inexpensive, and it’s easy to find vegetarian options!

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Vrijdag Markt
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Eating salad for lunch at Le Petit Botanique

The Gravesteen or Castle of the Counts is a medieval castle which has served in many ways; you can visit its towers, torture chamber, dungeon, and much more (6 euros for students, totally worth it!).

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Gravesteen

The city’s old harbor at Graslei is where locals meet to drink and appreciate the sun in the afternoons. There are restaurants and chocolateries around it, as well as boat rides available for a price.

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Graslei

Close by, you’ll find the Korenmarkt, and it’s as centered as it gets; from there, you can see the following buildings which you should definitely pass by: the troubled with renovations Sint-Niklaas Church, the modern and controversial Stadshal (don’t miss the amazing urban graffiti street close to it, on Werregarenstraat), the touristy Belfort, the impressive Gothic City Hall, and the Sint-Baafs Cathedral.

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Korenmarkt
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Belfort

In the southern part of town, you’ll find the well-known Vooruit, a building which has served multiple purposes and actually still does (bar, concert hall, theatre…)! It’s also a chill area to look at some hip stores and get a snack or beer.

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Close by, there’s the peaceful Sint Annaplein and the church Sint-Annakerk, also not far from the pretty Small Beguinage area protected by UNESCO. The Zuidpark is also close, perfect for a break. If you’re not tired of walking, make your way to the Citadel Park, a beautiful large green area with two museums and a botanical garden.

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Small Beguinage
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Zuidpark

Gent is a stylish and charming city, where everyone find their place! Definitely a must-see in Belgium.




Overall, Belgium is an amazing country to spend a few days, weeks or months. It’s amazing to travel by train there, and completely safe to travel alone. I fell in love with its sights, people and cultures, and I’ll definitely be back to see more of it!

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Travelling by train in Belgium

 





 

Luxembourg

Luxembourg is a tiny landlocked country which shares borders with Germany, Belgium and France. I only visited the capital city, very accessible by train and only 3 hours from Brussels. I definitely recommend it if you have a spare day or are travelling in the countries close to it. Despite being kind of expensive, it’s a beautiful place with lots of green areas, shopping spots and a special authenticity to it. I think that one day there was enough, but if you don’t feel like doing 6 hours of train that day, you can always spend the night there.

When you get there, I recommend you go to the Tourist Information Office to get a map where a little bit of history is explained and the main places are pin-pointed. An important attraction there is the Casemates du Bock (12 euros per person in a on-hour guided tour, which only leave at specific hours so check that in advance), ruins of the old city’s fortress. But there are many other things to see, especially if you like to walk!

I really recommend you follow the circuit in the city map that they’ll give you at the tourist office to visit the best places such as walk on the stunning Chemin de la Corniche, see the outside of the Palais, visit in the eventful Place Guillaume II and Place de la Constitution, get a look at the Bibliothèque Nationale which is right right next to the beautiful (and free to see inside) Cathédrale Notre Dame, cross the Pont Adolphe and explore the quiet garden underneath it. Don’t be scared to get lost within the streets and explore the corners of this beautiful town!

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In the park underneath Adolph Bridge
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Beautiful view from the Corniches


 

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