Backpacking Belgium

Looking for important travel information while backpacking around Belgium? Here you will find information on working in Belgium, entry visas, Belgium hostels, and much more.

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Table of Contents

Facts About Belgium

Belgium is often overlooked by travellers as being dull and bureaucratic partly a reputation gained by being the home of the European Union and myriad of red tape jockeys that surround it. In truth Belgium is a somewhat under-rated country to travel in. It has some excellent beers including the smooth but powerful Duvel and some incredible cuisine not least of which are the famous Belgian truffles and Belgian chocolates.

Belgium, as it is quite a small country, is probably unsuitable for a full backpacking tour on its own but can easily provide enough to do for those wanting to stay a few days in the heart of the EU or those just travelling through to other areas of Europe.

  • Currency: Euro (€) 1 euro = 100 cents
  • Time Zone: GMT + 1
  • Language: French and Dutch
  • Telephone Services: County code +32, International access code 00
  • Emergency Numbers: 112 for all services

Climate

Belgium’s climate is seasonal and reasonably similar to its neighbouring countries, snow is likely in the winter months although the summers can be quite temperate. There is a small amount of precipitation all year round so it is advisable to pack at least a waterproof no matter when you are coming to Belgium.

Belgium climate map including average rainfall and temperature by month. Find the best time to backpack Belgium based on your climate preferences.

Things to see and do

Brussels is home to the EU, NATO and many other international institutions and many backpackers and travellers like to take a peek at the EU’s headquarters despite it for the most part just being a very expensively decorated office building. However there is plenty of other things to do in Brussels, a “Brussels Card” costs about �20 and gives access to over 30 museums and access to public transport for 3 days. This should give you enough time to cover most of what the city has to offer. Sites of particular interest are the Church of Our Lady of Sablon, the Sunday antique market in the Atomium, a retro futuristic atom shaped tower originally built for the 1958 world trade fair. Europe’s second largest port Antwerp is a city of high fashion with hundreds of exclusive boutiques and outlets spread throughout the city.

Antwerp is also known for its nightlife and boast an array of modern trendy bars and night clubs which might be needed to liven things up after some of the more historic aspects of Antwerp. Such historic landmarks include the Royal Museum of fine arts, the National Maritime Museum and the 17th century house which was home to famous Belgian painter Ruben.

For those wanting to avoid the crowds and travel a little off the beaten track one overlooked destination is Ghent. Ghent was formerly a centre for the cloth trade and at one point was the second largest medieval city in Europe after Paris. Key attractions include the foreboding Castle of the Counts, surrounded by the Lieve canal, and St Bavo’s Cathedral where Charles V was baptised.

Travel

Rail travel in Belgium is a very quick and affordable way to travel but you may be confused at the multitude of ticketing methods on offer. By far the best bet is to use one of the available travel passes. The network is operated by b-rail.be and the trains are modern and comfortable. Within Belgium journeys will last a maximum of a couple of hours so you won’t need to go looking for high speed trains here.

The best pass to use solely for Belgium is the B-Tourrail which allows you 5 days travel within a one month period and is available from train stations. However most people will be making Belgium a part of a larger tour in which case passes such as the Eurail and Interail passes are probably better options. See our section on European rail travel for more detail on these passes. Domestic bus services are operated by TEC and De Lijn which serve the French speaking south and the Flemish north respectively. These companies also between them operate most public transport systems in the bigger cities of Belgium. The buses are quite modern and well equipped but in reality the train is a much better way to get around Belgium especially if you have a Eurail or Interail pass.

Accommodation

Belgium boasts an extensive range of accommodation from luxury 5 star hotels to small family pensions and inns. You should have no trouble finding accommodation in Belgium and you shouldn’t need to book in advance as long as you don’t have your heart set on a particular hotel.

Youth hostels are mainly run by one of two companies; the Vlaamse Jeugdherbergcentrale runs extremely well organised youth hostels in the Flanders region which are especially popular with schools and youth groups. Centrale Wallonne run hostels in the French speaking areas which are somewhat more informal but still a very good choice for accommodation. The Belgian tourist office also maintains a page listing hostels suitable for young travellers (under 25).

Health

The standard of healthcare in Belgium is high and travellers carrying an E111 and adequate insurance should have no problems getting high quality medical care.

The tap water is safe to drink and there are no vaccinations recommended for those travelling to Belgium.

Useful Links

The Belgian tourist office provides tourist information in this somewhat Ameri-centric site.

B-rail runs the rail network in Belgium

De Lijn runs the bus network in the Flemish north of the country.

Vlaamse Jeugdherbergcentrale runs extremely well organised youth hostels in the Flanders region

Centrale Wallonne runs hostels in the French speaking areas of Belgium

Belgian tourist office maintains a page listing officially recognised Belgian Hostels.

Entry Visas for Belgium

A valid passport is required for all apart from members of the EU carrying an official ID card. A visa is not required by EU or US nationals for a stay of up to 3 months. The Belgian Embassy should be contacted for information regarding longer stays or for work permits.

Addresses

The Belgian Embassy should be contacted for all enquiries regarding visas, work permits and immigration enquiries. The embassy can be found at:

Embassy of the Kingdom of Belgium
103 - 105 Eaton Square
London
SW1W 9AB
Tel: (020) 7 470 3700 (general enquiries)
(020) 7 600 255 (recorded message 50p/min.)
Fax: (020) 7 259 6213

While in Belgium, British representation can be found at:

British Embassy
85 rue d'Arlon
B-1040 Brussels
Belgium
Tel: (2) 287 6211
Fax: (2) 287 6270

Foreigner Work Permits in Belgium

As with other EU countries, EU nationals may enter Belgium for up to three months without a permit. If you intend to stay for longer than three months you should apply to the Town Hall within eight days of your arrival for a certificate d’inscription au register des �trangers (CIRE), which will permit you to stay in the country for a year, or a certificate d’immatriculation, allowing you to look for work for three months.

Seasonal Work

Belgium’s busiest tourist industry lies in Bruges. Here you are likely to find work in bars and restaurants, earning around �5 (approx. �3.50) an hour or more. The best way to find out about casual work is to travel from place to place and enquire in person. Some hostels even employ workers in exchange for accommodation. Other than the usual jobs in hotels, bars, and pubs etc. it might also be worth contacting Venture Abroad, a company who organise tours of Belgium and employ guides during peak tourist months. This kind of job will provide you with a bit of money whilst learning and seeing more of the culture of Belgium.

Campsites

Several British and European camping agencies operate throughout Belgium, and again most jobs can be found during the peak tourist times in the summer. Eurocamp arranges work for couriers on Belgian as well as other European campsites. It is preferred that you can speak another European language well because the job involves welcoming and interacting with a range of visiting nationalities. Employees must be over 18, and can anticipate earning approximately �95 per week.

Au Pairing

Au pairs in Belgium can earn up to �347 (approx. �244) per month for performing typical au pair duties, which include looking after children and general domestic duties. Childcare International Ltd is an agency that can place au pairs with Belgian families, provided with accommodation, meals, time off, and about �40 weekly pocket money. Au pairs must be aged between 18 and 27.

Agricultural Work

One of Belgium’s main harvests is hops. Often the best way to find jobs on farms is to visit in person and ask if there are any opportunities. Fruit and crop picking is not a particularly productive money-earner but it can tide you over for the time being. Payment depends on the employer. You may be paid depending on how much you can pick, how long it takes, or on the quality of the produce. The Young Farmers’ Clubs International Farm Experience Programme places volunteers in three to twelve month projects working on international farms. You are required to pay your own fares, insurance, and registration, and experience in the farming industry is needed.

Volunteering

The International Voluntary Service (IVS) offers a range of opportunities for volunteering abroad. Short-term ‘workcamps’ are set up to focus on a community issue, which may include work with those with special needs, the elderly, or environmental conservation projects. Most workcamps are organised for summer months and last only a few weeks, during which time you will be provided with food and accommodation. You must pay a membership fee of �15 to IVS.

Useful Addresses

  • National Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs
  • The International Farm Experience Programme
  • YFC Centre
  • National Agricultural Centre
  • Stoneleigh Park
  • Kenilworth
  • Warwickshire CV8 2LG

Useful Links

Venture Abroad can help to find seasonal placements.

Eurocamp often have vacancies for employment at their campsites.

Children International can help you find au pairing services.

Sci-ivs.org provides information about the International Voluntary Service.

How to Say Common French Phrases

Meeting People

English
French
yes
oui
no
non
thank you
merci
you are welcome
de rien
please
s’il vous pla�t
excuse me
pardon
hello
bonjour
goodbye
au revoir
good morning
bonjour
good night
bonne nuit
I do not understand
Je ne comprends pas
Do you speak…?
Parlez-vous…?
English
anglais
French
fran�ais
What is you name
Comment vous appelez-vous?
Nice to meet you
Enchant� de faire votre connaissance
How are you
Comment allez-vous?
Good
bon
bad
mauvais

Directions

English
French
map
carte
left
� gauche
right
� droite
straight on
tout droit
far
loin
near
pr�s

Methods of Transport

English
French
Where is…?
O� est…?
How much is the fare?
Quel est le prix du billet?
Ticket
billet
A ticket to…, please
Un billet pour…, s’il vous pla�t
Where are you going?
O� est-ce que vous allez?
Where do you live?
O� habitez-vous?
Train
le train
bus
un autobus
underground
le m�tro
airport
un a�roport
train station
la gare
bus station
la gare routi�re
underground station
la station de m�tro
departure
le d�part
arrival
une arriv�e
parking
le parking

Time

English
French
What time is it?
Quelle heure est-il?
Today
aujourd’hui
yesterday
hier
tomorrow
demain

Accommodation

English
French
hotel
un h�tel
room
une chambre
reservation
la r�servation
Are there any vacancies?
Avez-vous des chambres disponibles?
No vacancies
Complet
Passport
le passeport

Places

English
French
post office
la poste
bank
la banque
police station
le poste de police
hospital
l’h�pital
chemist
la pharmacie
shop
le magasin
restaurant
le restaurant
museum
le mus�e
church
une �glise
square
la place
street
la rue

Shopping

English
French
How much does this cost?
Combien �a coute?
I will buy it
Je le prends
I would like to buy…
Je voudrais acheter…
Do you have…?
Avez-vous…?
open
ouvert
closed
ferm�
postcard
la carte postale
stamps
des timbres
little
un peu
lot
beaucoup
all
tout

Meals

English
French
breakfast
le petit d�jeuner
lunch
le d�jeuner
dinner
le d�ner
vegetarian
v�g�tarien
cheers!
� votre sant�
the bill please
l’addition, s’il vous pla�t

Drinks

English
French
drink
la boisson
coffee
le caf�
tea
le th�
juice
le jus
water
l’eau
beer
la bi�re
wine
le vin

Food

English
French
meat
la viande
fish
le poisson
vegetable
le l�gume
fruit
le fruit
potato
la pomme de terre
salad
la salade
dessert
la dessert

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Belgium Hostels

Hostels are a cheap form of accomodation, and so they are essential to backpackers and other budget travellers. We have compiled a list of hostels in Belgium to help you plan your journey. If you are looking for a hostel in Belgium, you’ve come to the right place.

Brussels
Flanders
Wallonie
Ypres

There you have it, the ultimate Belgium backpacking guide. We hope you have found all the information you need for backpacking around Belgium.