Belgium is a tiny country with an interesting history, delicious cuisine (chocolate, waffles, beer and fries anyone?!), and the most beautiful architecture. I spent 1 week in Belgium, staying in Brussels and Bruges, and taking day trips to Antwerp, Dinant, and Ghent. I have to be honest with you, although Brussels and Bruges get all of the publicity, it was Dinant and Ghent that stole my heart. As always, the order of the cities on my recap is listed in the order that I visited them.
Why Brussels? Brussels is the capital of Belgium and an interesting city to explore, especially in a short amount of time. Without any day trips, I really don’t think you need more than one or two days to see Brussels.
- Grand Place: This is the central square in Brussels and is surrounded by gorgeous buildings, including the Town Hall and the Breadhouse. The Grand Place was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1998. It is always bustling with activity and really comes to life at night!
- Manneken Pis: Bit of a strange tourist attraction but this small bronze sculpture has become a landmark in Brussels. It displays a naked little boy urinating and was designed by Hiëronymus Duquesnoy and put in place in 1618 or 1619, although the current statue is from 1965. It’s become a tradition that the Manneken Pis is dressed in different costumes each day (according to a schedule) and as of 2016 he’s had more than 950 costumes.
- View on top of the Musical Instruments Museum (and the museum): You can go to the top of the Musical Instruments Museum for free for panoramic views of Brussels. If you’re into music then this is an excellent museum as well.
- Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert: Window shop (and snag chocolate samples) in this gorgeous shopping arcade.
- Chocolate and Waffles: Details in my “Eat” section…
- Maison Dandoy: For chewy and dense Liege waffles and/or light and crispy Brussels waffles. Interesting enough, there are two types of waffles found in Belgium. the The dough for Liege waffles contains chunks of sugar, which caramelize when baked forming a denser, chewier and sweeter waffle. The Brussels waffle is made with a yeast-leavened batter, resulting in a airier, crispier and lighter waffle. I tried both types of waffles at multiple spots, including Maison Dandoy. Maison was my personal favorite and I’m partial to the Brussels waffle over the Liege (although most people do prefer to Liege so I’ve heard…). Pro tip: keep it simple and just get powdered sugar on your waffle, trust me.
- Moon Food: For a very gourmet and delicious pay-by-weight vegan buffet with many raw food options.
- Eden Foodie: For a tasty, mostly plant-based fast food. There’s a ton of already prepared boxes to take-away, along with a hot bar with fresh and tasty veggies and lean proteins. I did find this place a bit pricey for the portions though.
EXKi: Another great healthy fast food spot. EXKi has a lot of takeaway options available if you’re on the go.
- Neuhaus Chocolates: I know you can get these all around the globe and there’s a ton of shops throughout Belgium, but (with the exception of one chocolatier in Bruges) Neuhaus was my favorite of the many chocolates I sampled in Belgium.
- Kriek lambic: Also known as cherry beer, this Belgian beer is made by fermenting lambic with sour Morello cherries. Don’t miss this tasty beer!
Why Antwerp? Antwerp is Belgium’s second largest city and is called the city of diamonds. Diamonds have been traded in Antwerp since the 15th century. Today, Antwerp is still known as the diamond capital of the world, with about 84% percent of the world’s rough diamonds passing through Antwerp and more than 1,500 diamond companies based in Antwerp. Antwerp is an interesting city and makes a nice day trip from Brussels.
- Central Station: You’ll likely arrive by train to Antwerp so make sure you stop and admire Central Station. It is considered one of the most beautiful stations in the world and contains various different types of architectural styles.
- Meier Street: This is Antwerp’s main shopping street and famous throughout all of Belgium. Antwerp is also known as the city of fashion.
- Cathedral of our Lady: This impressive cathedral has the tallest bell tower in Belgium and contains a number of pieces by Rubens along with works by other famous artists. This cathedral is a UNESCO world heritage site.
- Grote Markt: Many impressive buildings fill this square located in the heart of the old city.
- Groenplaats: This square located in Antwerp’s historical center is packed with many cafes and restaurants.
- Museum aan de Stroom: This gorgeous and huge museum covers the history of Antwerp. If you’re not in a museum mood, simply ride the escalators up to the top of the museum for excellent views over Antwerp (for free).
- Murni Food: For very creative and flavorful food and the friendliest staff. This restaurant derives its roots from an Israeli, Nepalese, Thai and Sri Lankan cuisine- so expect unique (and delicious!!) combinations.
Why Dinant? Dinant is a beautiful city set on the Meuse River and surrounded by steep cliffs. This city is adorned with colorful saxophones, honoring Adolphe Sax who was born in Dinant. In the winter time, Dinant makes an excellent day trip from Brussels, and in the summer time you could stay for a few days and go hiking nearby.
- Citadel of Dinant: Climb up the 408 steps (or take the cable car) to this medieval fortress and history museum. The views of Dinant are gorgeous from the citadel and although small, I found the history museum really interesting.
- Charles De Gaulle Bridge: Dinant’s main bridge commemorates Charles de Gaulle as he was shot in the leg during the major battle in Dinant in August 1914. There is a statue of Charles De Gaulle at the foot of the bridge as well. The bridge is lined with colorful saxophones as well and flags from members of the European Union.
- Notre Dame de Dinant: This gorgeous church is definitely worth a wander inside. Plus, entrance is free so why not?
- Dinant Caves (Grotto la Merveilleuse): The guided tour takes about one hour and is definitely worth it. The cave are massive and the tour provides a great way to learn about them.
- Maison Adolphe Sax: I’ll be honest with you, I only went to this museum because it was free and I was seeking shelter from the heavy snowfall. That being said, this tiny little museum is nice to quickly pop into for a few minutes (yes, it’s that small).
- Dinant Cookie (Couques de Dinant): These notoriously hard cookies are actually not meant to be bitten into. Instead, break the cookie into pieces and allow it to melt in your mouth.
Why Bruges? Bruge is absolutely beautiful! It is one of the most well-preserved medieval towns in Europe, filled with stunning architecture, cobblestone street and enchanting canals. That being said there is not a ton to do in Bruges and I think you could cover the entire city in one day.
- Grote Markt: It’s hard to miss the city’s picturesque central square.
- Free walking tour: Bruges has a very interesting history and I’d recommend taking one (of the many) free walking tours offered to learn about it. I took the free walking tour with Legends Free Walking Tours.
- Eat chocolate: my favorite chocolate shop in Belgium is located in Bruges… more details in my “Eat” section.
- Just got for a walk: This city is so beautiful that you can entertain yourself by just walking through the cobblestone streets.
- Belfry of Bruges: In my opinion, €12.00 for admission is absurd and with caging all around the tower, the views are heavily obstructed.
- Dumon Chocolatier: This chocolatier was recommended by a friend and did not disappoint. It was perhaps my favorite chocolate from Belgium!
Why Ghent? Ghent was without a doubt my favorite Belgian city. I took two day trips here as I loved it so much! But, ideally I’d recommend staying for a night or two. It is a university town and known as a cultural hub. Similar to other Belgian cities, Ghent is filled with gorgeous medieval architecture.
- Gravensteen Castle: This moated castle in the middle of the city dates back to the middle ages. Check our the armory museum inside and the gorgeous panoramic views of the city from the castle.
- Belfry of Ghent: This 91-metre-tall belfry is the tallest belfy in Belgium. Admission is cheap for breathtaking views over Ghent.
- Free walking tour: Ghent has a really interesting history and I would really recommend taking this free walking tour.
- St. Nicholas’ Church: This Roman Catholic church contains Baroque painting and 18-the century statues. Although I didn’t go inside, admiring the exterior was breathtaking.
- Dulle Griet: Check out this giant red iron cannon that was used in the 15th-century in the siege of Oudenaarde.
- Lokaal: For homemade, seasonal vegan food. The owner is absolutely lovely and the atmosphere is so cozy. I honestly couldn’t recommend this place enough!
- Plus+: For amazing seasonal and organic salad bowls in a beautiful atmosphere.
- De Frietketal: For Beligan fries! I really only went here because google told me they had the best fries in Ghent and I figured I had to get Belgian fries at least once. They weren’t my cup of tea but I’m really not a regular potato french fry type of person I guess. People rave about them though…