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
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.