Belgium Travel Guide | Moon & Honey Travel

Belgium

Belgium Travel Guide

Belgium is the country of grand market squares, crow-stepped gables, comics and peeing statues. Belgium is also a vastly underrated country, too often overshadowed. While living in Germany, we made three separate trips to Belgium. You could say that we’re hooked on the medieval architecture and the Trappist beer. In a land where every beer has its own glass, drinking is elevated to a high art.

We recognize that this low country is more than just beer, mussels, waffles, frites, and chocolate. But, if you don’t relish all those things during your visit, you’re also missing the point. So, please eat and drink until you’re silly. We’ll be with you in spirit.

 

This Guide Includes:

  • Belgium Basics
  • Where to Go (Interactive Map)
  • What to Experience in Belgium
  • What to Eat & Drink in Belgium
Ghent, Belgium | Moon & Honey Travel

Belgium Basics

Official Name: Royaume de Belgique / Koninkrijk Belgie (Kingdom of Belgium)

Capital: Brussels 

Government: Federal parliamentary democracy under a constitutional monarch

Regions: Belgium is divided into three regions: (1) Flanders, (2) Wallonia, and (3) Brussels-Capital.  Flanders (Flemish Region) and Wallonia (Walloon Region) are both subdivided into five provinces. 

Population: 11.35 Million 

Language: French (Wallon), Dutch (Flemish) and German.

Currency: Euro

Tipping Etiquette: On a restaurant bills, you can round up the bill. For exceptional service, tip 5-10%.

Water Quality: Tap water is safe to drink.

Something Interesting: Belgium has more comic strip artists per square kilometer than anywhere else in the world.

Brussels, Belgium | Moon & Honey Travel

Where to Go in Belgium

Click the dots to explore specific destinations.
Destinations
  • Antwerp
  • Bruges
  • Brussels
  • Ghent
background

Who knows why geese go barefoot?

 

 

 

 

Flemish Saying

That’s just how it is.

What to Experience in Belgium

Our favorite things to see and do
Brabo's Monument, Antwerp, Belgium | Moon & Honey Travel
Brabo's Monument

Antwerp: The City of Giants and Diamonds

Antwerp (Antwerpen in Flemish) is a multi-cultural city in Flanders that boasts the second largest port in Europe. Local legend credits the city’s rise to a Roman soldier who killed the Giant Antigoon. This particularly nasty giant terrorized the local population by cutting off the hands of sailors and tradesmen who didn’t pay his steep river-crossing toll. The Roman soldier, Brabo, challenged the giant to a duel and after defeating him, cut off his hand and threw the hand into the Scheldt River. The city’s name, Antwerpen, is derived from “hand werpen,” which means “hand throwing.” Brabo is commemorated in a giant fountain facing the City Hall in the middle of Antwerp’s Great Market Square (Grote Markt).

Antwerp has a special relationship with giants. Throughout the city, you’ll see images and statues of the Virgin Mary, because her image was said to ward off giants.

Antwerp is also the city of diamonds, as it’s the most important diamond trade center in the world. Diamonds have been traded here since the 15th century. It’s really interesting to walk through the diamond district and watch diamond traders negotiate deals in the streets outside world renowned diamond institutions. You’ll also see many Jewish Orthodox owned businesses (diamond retailers, bakeries, Kosher grocery stores) next to African textile shops. Interestingly, Yiddish continues to be the primary language of the Jewish community in Antwerp, which is one of the largest in Europe. And, 30 of Belgium’s 45 active synagogues are in Antwerp.

Where to Eat & Drink:

  • Take Five Minutes in Paris – This café serves daily soups for 5 EUR and a delicious seafood soup for 8 EUR. But, you might just want to come here to enjoy a beer in their bamboo garden.
  • Witzli Poetzli  – Located alongside the Cathedral of our Lady, this beer café is a nice spot to sample some excellent Belgian beers: Chimay Blauw and Trappistes Rochefort 8.
  • Bocadero – Riverside bar. On a warm summer night, there’s no better place to be.
  • Coffeelabs – This coffee shop has an urban “we welcome laptops” vibe. Great breakfast. 
Bruges, Belgium | Moon & Honey Travel
Bruges

Bruges: The Medieval City of Swans 

Bruges (Brugge in Flemish) is an enchanting city in Flanders that was once a thriving trade center in the Middle Ages. Replete with swan filled canals, cobblestone streets, and crow-stepped gables, Bruges retains its medieval character most beautifully. UNESCO thinks so too. The whole Historic Centre of Brugge is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

There’s a very vindictive reason why swans grace the canals of Bruges. The legend goes that the oppressed people of Bruges revolted against their ruler Emperor Maximilian of Austria in the 15th century. They captured and imprisoned the emperor and his advisor, Pieter Lanckhals. Pieter was condemned to death, and Maximilian was forced to watch the beheading. The Emperor managed to escape and  returned to the city with an army to take his revenge. He mandated that the city at its own expense must keep swans on all canals for all time. Why swans? The long-necked creatures served as a reminder of what the people of Bruges did to Pieter Lanckhals, or  Pieter the “Long Neck.” To this day, long necks continue to glide through the medieval city center.

Bruges deserves more than a day. Stay the night, visit the vibrant Basilica of the Holy Blood, learn about the 12th century Belfry, drink Brugse Zot at a beer café, visit De Halve Maan Brewery, and shop for chocolate. To learn more legends about Bruges, we recommend the free walking tour: Legends of Bruges.

Where to Eat & Drink:

  • The Gulliver Tree – This bright and cozy café is perfect for an afternoon coffee, tea and/or cake. 
  • T Gezelleke – Charming restaurant that serve local specialities.
  • Bierbrasserie Cambrinus – This restaurant is located in a historical building, dating back to 1699. With a beer selection that doesn’t end, it’s easy to stay here. We loved the house beer and the Fish Soup.
Flea Market, Ghent, Belgium | Moon & Honey Travel
Flea Market

Ghent: The City on Two Rivers

Ghent (Gent) is a historical city in Flanders that has a young student population, a thriving flea market culture, and an architecturally rich city center. The city is located on the confluence of the rivers Leie and Scheldt, and according to Flemish folklore, Ghent was borne out of the divine love of the god Scheldt and goddess Leie.

After strolling through the medieval streets and hopefully treating yourself to some Gentse Strop beer, head to the moated Castle Gravensteen (Castle of the Counts). This grim 10th century castle is a haunting reminder of the darker side of medieval times. There’s a torture instrument exhibition inside the Castle.

For something less gruesome, head to STAM City Museum. If you’re in Ghent on a Sunday morning, there are bird, book, antique and flower markets throughout the city.

We did the Free Walking Tour by Gent Free Walking Tours and loved it. We learned about historical buildings, Ghent’s historical prominence and later demise, and the city’s culinary treasures. Meeting Place: Sint Michielsplein 21, Outside the Uppelink Hostel

Where to Eat & Drink:

  • Simon Says – This is a trendy coffee shop with a beautiful teal interior.
  • Pakhuis – The food is great, but the interior is outstanding. It feels like you’re dining in an antique birdhouse. 
Grote Markt, Brussels, Belgium | Moon & Honey Travel
Grote Markt, Brussels

Brussels: The Capital of Europe

Brussels (Bruxelles, Brussel) is the capital of Belgium, the headquarters of NATO, and the seat of the European Union. Though Brussels may sound like the playground for bureaucrats, it’s a jovial city with a lot of soul. From its beating heart, Grote Markt, to it’s comic-strip painted walls and peeing statues, Brussels is a captivating place. Only in Brussels have we experienced getting an entire restaurant bill footed by the owner. 

Though Brussels sits in the Flanders region of Belgium, the capital is predominantly French-speaking. Every street name is written in both Dutch (Flemish) and French. In many ways, Brussels represents the divisions of its country, as it endeavors to hold it all together.  

During our visit, we spent lots of time walking through flea markets and gawking at chocolate concoctions. We also did a Free Walking Tour by SANDEMANs New Europe that was truly excellent.

Where to Eat & Drink:

  • Peck 47 – You can easily spot this breakfast joint, because of the line extending out the door. The wait is worth it. 
  • Le Pain Quotidien – No wait. Fast service. Delicious organic mushrooms (they grow them using coffee grounds). 
  • L’atelier En Ville – This trendy coffee shop and retail space is located in the Sablon neighborhood, near countless antique shops and restaurants. We loved the cake.
  • Fin de Siecle – Hospitable. Local. Warm. This is a great place to try Belgian cuisine.
Belgium Beer Store in Bruges, Belgium | Moon & Honey Travel

What to Eat & Drink in Belgium

Belgian Beer

There are more Belgian beers than days in the year. Or, we should say in 4 years. Aside from the sheer quantity, it’s the creativity that makes Belgian beer the best in the world. Unlike Germany, Belgian brewers aren’t subjected to a beer purity law (Reinheitsgebot), which means that they can add various herbs, spices and fruits to their beers.

The beer that you absolutely have to try in Belgium is a Trappist beer. A Trappist beer is a beer made by or under the supervision of monks of the Cistercian order. The beer must be made in or near an active Cistercian monastery. Money made from the beer goes directly to the upkeep of the monastery and living expenses of the monks. Any extra profit goes to charity. There are 6 Trappist breweries in Belgium: Achel, Chimay, Orval, Rochefort, Westmalle, and Westvleteren. Our favorite is Westmalle.

Belgium Resources

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Belgium Travel Guide | Moon & Honey Travel
Moon & Honey Travel Resources
External Resources
  • CheeseWeb Belgium Content – helpful and thoughtful travel blog featuring slow travel tips and tons of info on uncovering Belgium, especially the country’s lesser known regions.
@moonhoneytravelers
  • We’ve spent the last few days in Pokhara and have done absolutely nothing, apart from slowly hop around from smoothie joint to restaurant to coffee shop. Pokhara is a city located on Phewa Lake and a favored destination among trekkers pre- and post-trek. After a long multi-day trek, Pokhara satisfies all your cravings and indulges you with its stress-free atmosphere, clean air, cafés, and spas. We’ve really loved our time here. However, we do acknowledge, that Pokhara is probably not best destination for travelers (if you didn’t do a long trek). It caters unabashedly to tourists, with happy hour offers, hippie clothing, German bakeries, Pizzerias, and tattoo shops. So while we’ve been enjoying the comforts of this inauthentic tourist hub, we can’t help but ask “is this a good thing?”
  • We received a question about AMS and insurance as it pertains to the Annapurna Circuit. AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) is caused by reduced air pressure and lower oxygen levels at higher altitudes. Your body can adjust and adapt to higher altitude, but it needs time. Doctors recommend that you sleep three nights around 3,500 meters before ascending further. They also recommend that above 3,500 meters, you only sleep 500 meters above where you slept the previous night. If you don’t feel well (nausea, dizziness, headaches, etc...), you’re supposed to descend to the last place you felt well. Slide right to see AMS Symptoms.  Apart from slow ascension, it’s important to avoid alcohol. In Manang, during the trekking seasons, there’s a medical facility staffed with western doctors. They conduct a free daily talk about acclimatization and how to recognize and respond to various symptoms of AMS. Definitely attend this session. In terms of our personal experience, most people we met experienced some degree of AMS - some at 2,500 meters, while others only at the pass. It’s common to take diamox (Acetazolamide) to help your body adjust to the altitude gain. Unlike ibuprofen, it doesn’t mask the symptoms of AMS, it actually prevents and reduces the symptoms. Consult your doctor about diamox usage, before you go on your trek. Re: insurance, you absolutely need it!!!!
  • Let’s talk about food on the Annapurna Circuit. The main staple food is Dal Baht, a traditional meal consisting of steamed rice, lentil soup (dal), curried vegetables, and pickles. We ate dal baht daily, sometimes twice. With free refills, it’s the best thing to eat when you’re hungry. Most menus also offer curries, momos (dumplings), fried noodles and rice, thukpa (Tibetan noodle soup) as well as pizza, pasta and various soups. There are also bakeries that serve excellent cakes, crumbles and pastries. We’re going to wrap up our Annapurna Circuit posts, so let us know if you have any questions about the trek. #dalbahtpower #dalbahtpower24hour #hikeforfood
  • Annapurna Circuit Days 22 & 23: Tatopani - Ghorepani - Hile - Nayapul. Our final days of the trek were marked by stairs, leeches, mule caravans, water buffalo and good food. Though mountain views were seldom, we saw beautiful terraced fields and hiked through verdant rainforest. The final stretch was a never-ending staircase descent that was physically and mentally taxing. When the trail intersected with the dusty road just after Hile, we opted for a Jeep to Nayapul. At Nayapul, we grabbed a local bus to Pokhara. Shortly after getting on the bus, it stopped. Our fellow bus riders explained that we’d be here for 1.5 hours, because of road construction. We chatted with a few locals, who shared their views on their government, its rampant corruption, and their personal struggles. We arrived in Pokhara at 8 pm, after an enlightening and bumpy journey.
  • Annapurna Circuit Day 21: Kalopani to Tatopani. We started hiking at 6:15 am, because we were determined to end our day in the natural hot springs of Tatopani. When we reached the town in the late afternoon, people were still recovering from a landslide. Unfortunately, a few homes and lodgings were demolished. Some trekkers even lost their belongings in the landslide. When we soaked in the warm springs, a friendly Nepali family (who were touring the region) asked us where we were from, if we could swim and whether we liked Nepal. Their 12 year old daughter was really excited to speak English and shared her career (science) and travel aspirations (visit a developed country).
  • Annapurna Circuit Days 19 & 20: Kagbeni - Marpha - Kalopani. Most of the trail followed the riverbed Of Kali Gandaki. The wind picked up with a vengeance and funneled down the valley, making this part of the trek dusty and miserable. We understood why most people opted for a jeep or bus to their next destination. After lunch in Jomsom, we walked another 1.5 hours to the beautiful town Marpha, where we spent the night. Each stone building is painted white and all the wooden door and window frames are painted burgundy. The streets are immaculate - barely any mule, horse and ox poo. After a night in Marpha, we headed to Kalopani. We followed the forest trail on the east side of the river almost all the way. Only a few parts of the path were washed out. Luckily, the trail was sheltered mostly from the wind. Photos of Marpha.
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