Intro to Belgium
Easy to miss Belgium is located in northern Europe between France and the Netherlands. It’s the headquarters of both the European Union and NATO. Belgium obtained great wealth in the 19th and early 20th century through its possession of colonies in Africa but suffered greatly during the two world wars. In World War I much of the fighting occurred in Belgium. Parts of the rural landscape still bear the scars of mortar rounds that bombarded the country side almost daily for several years. Today its elaborate gabled town squares, short distances, and famous Trappist beer make it a joy to explore.
Some airports, JFK included, have pretty handy direct flights to Brussels, about 7.5 hours from NYC. Like Holland, the country has a great rail system. Upon landing you could take the train to Brussels in a few minutes or head for Bruges, about 1.5 hrs away. Brussels and Bruges make for a great long weekend. Three nights is surprisingly enough. Spend the first two in Bruges, take a morning train to Brussels and try for a later flight out the next day.
When we went
May 2008. Flew into Brussels and took a train from the airport to Bruges (2 nights), train back to Brussels (1 night), flew home.
What we did
Bruges with its canal-laced medieval old city, it’s straight out of an eighteenth century Flemish painting.
The first thing you should do in Bruges is find a cute cafe like this place seen below and try some local beer and cheese. We found our “cute cafe” at de Vlaamsche Pot.
Biking is popular in Belgium. One day when the tour buses filled the town’s square we rented bikes and glided along the flat Flemish countryside.
If you can’t make the one hour long train from Bruges to Brussels, Ghent makes a great stopover to stretch your legs. A town complete with a medieval castle, canal side promenade and cute cafes.
Ghent makes a great stop if traveling from Bruges to Brussels.
Recommendations for Brussels
You don’t need a lot of time in Brussels. Its main attraction is a “wee” little fountain called the Manneken Pis. With its great food and spectacular market square, it is definitely worth at least one nights stay.
Groeninge Museum. Bruges. This museum has a great collection of Flemish art.
Biking in Bruges. Just outside of Bruges’ old city walls, there are miles of flat picturesque farmland. The half day trip to Damme and back goes alongside canals and past windmills.
The Grand Place in Brussels (aka the town’s square seen above) is the finest in Europe. It’s a great place for a drink (or mussels in Brussels) but many of the restaurants charge a premium for the view.
The BELvue Museum. Brussels. A interesting look at the history of this small country.
To satisfy your desire for “Mussels in Brussels’, check out any of the restaurants surrounding the Grand Place. We went to Chez Leon.
de Vlaamsche Pot; Bruges. A cute cafe tucked on a side street in Bruges.
**Two of our friends lived in Brussels for about a year; below you can find their recommendations.**
Nuetnigenough; Brussels (between Manneken Pis and the Grand Palace square). Great traditional Belgian food with a terrific beer selection. The service is good, especially if you can get a server who cares about pairing your food with your beer.
Restobieres; Brussels (8-10 min walk from the Porte de Hal Metro station). Another great traditional Belgian restaurant. The decor is “homey looking” and seems to be a family run business. The food is all prepared with beer and they have a decent beer selection to complement the meals.
Bia Mara; Brussels. A small sustainable fish and chips restaurant that uses fresh catch of the day; they also make delicious hand-cut fries. You choose your fish, type of breading and homemade sauce.
Les Larmes Du Tigre; Brussels. Thai restaurant located in central Brussels that has been serving for over 25 years. Their contemporary decor creates a unique atmosphere and is complemented with great service. It has a great Sunday buffet.
Theatre Royal de Toone; Brussels (near the Grand Palace square). If you’re looking for something different to do, check out this place — it’s been serving beer and entertaining visitors with marionette shows for over eight generations!
La Porte Noire; Brussels. Located in the former kitchen of a convent, this Celtic bar now serves delicious beer and cheeses. The bar is under an all brick vaulted ceiling which makes it feel as if you’re in a dungeon.
Beermania; Brussels. “Hands down the best beer selection in all of Brussels.” Come here to try the world famous Westvleteran beer. The store is up front while the bar is the back.
Suggestion: If you want more info about what to do in Brussels- check out the USE-IT office. The volunteers who work there are locals and have great tips for what to do and see in the city. They also have free coffee, tea and wi-fi!