We just celebrated our wedding anniversary #9 and for the occasion we decided to go on a weekend getaway to Belgium. More than one person asked the same question when we shared our destination of choice: why? My answer: why not?
This was not the traditional “romantic” anniversary, where you go to the beach and relax with a massage. This was a “beer-versary”. We wanted to indulge in mussels, fries, Belgian waffles and BEER. My husband is into home-brewing and has slowly dragged me into the beer culture. 6 years ago I did not drink beer, but now I find myself liking beer more and more and even can tell the difference between an IPA and a Pils. We are not experts in the science of brewing nor pretend to be. We simply enjoy learning and discovering different types of beer and what better place to do that than Belgium?
Belgium exceeded our expectations. We found great beer, amazing cuisine, history, architecture, you name it. Here are my 10 reasons on why you should visit Belgium, at least once in your lifetime.
Living in Switzerland for over a year now, I’ve tried so many different varieties of chocolate. Swiss chocolate is good, but then I met Belgian chocolate. Not sure exactly what it is, but if feels smoother, creamier and perfectly delicious. Also, when visiting a chocolate shop you will be welcomed with chocolate. We didn’t know this, so the first place we entered we ordered two pieces and when handled some money to the employee, he asked with “what are you doing?, we just want you to enjoy it”. Sure, that’s a catch, because they know you will return for more.
Belgium is extremely easy to navigate. It has a reliable public system. We originally had planned to rent a car and drive from Brussels to Bruges in order to stop in Ghent, but changed our mind since we realized that in order to do that we were not going to be able to try more than 1 beer on our way there. Also, apparently driving in Bruges is nearly impossible and we would have had to leave the car in a parking lot and then walk to the hotel. Instead, we took the train. Best decision ever. The train from Brussels took us to Bruges in one hour. From the train station we took a taxi to the hotel, but to return to the station we took the bus which was 6€ cheaper.
Everywhere we went we ended up engaging in a conversation with a local. At the restaurants (with the exception of one server in Bruges), hotels, train and bars we found ourselves talking to locals about the food, the beer or the language. One particular guy in Brussels named Danny, even called his friend in Bruges to ask for the name of a restaurant he wanted to recommend us. Then he invited us a beer. It was easy to feel welcomed and comfortable in Belgium there.
Belgium is really affordable, especially if visiting during low or shoulder season. Still, we went in June, considered the beginning of the high season and we found modest hotels in Brussels and Bruges for less than 100€ per night and ate a 3 course meal for 20€. I’m sorry, but I don’t see that in Switzerland.
Belgium’s history dates back to Roman times. It occupies part of the Roman province of Belgica, named after the Belgae, a people of ancient Gaul. Julius Caesar conquered it in 57–50 B.C. Then Charlemagne’s in the 8th century. The territories that are today known as Belgium passed from the duchy of Burgundy to the king of Spain (Phillipe II) to Austria. After the French Revolution, Belgium was occupied and later annexed to France. But after Napoléon’s empire fell, the Congress of Vienna in 1815 reunited the Low Countries under the rule of the king of Holland. It was in 1830, when Belgium rebelled against Dutch rule and declared independence. Since December 2000 Brussels is the official capital of the European Union (EU), it’s like the DC of Europe.
The changes that Belgium has endured throughout the years have served to shape it’s culture, influencing the language, customs and cuisine and now we can enjoy the beauty of this cultural melting pot.
#5 The food
Belgian cuisine is good. Really good. Belgians take pride on their food and beer and they say they eat as good as the French with big portions as the Germans. So true. Every single thing I tried was delicious. Mussels and fries, waffles, stoemp, carbonnades flamandes…. everything.
#4 It has the prettiest town in Europe
And that is, ladies and gentlemen, Bruges. Seriously, this is probably the most quaint and charming town I have seen so far. This picturesque medieval town offers plenty opportunities to snap that perfect picture that no-one would believe you took. This town has most of it’s original medieval architecture intact, making it a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000. This was the romantic part of our trip. We enjoyed a boat ride in its charming canals and strolled at night in the cobblestone lanes. But of course there’s much more. Bruges offers wonderful architecture, historic churches, a unique beer-tour experience and amazing
french belgian fries.
#3 Easy to Access
Belgium can be access by train, plain or car. There are direct trains daily from London, Amsterdam and Paris. Renting a car from Amsterdam and driving to Belgium is completely doable. We flew with Swiss Air from Zürich and in less than 2 hours we were in Brussels. With such convenience, there’s no excuse to not squeeze a few days in Belgium during your trip to Europe.
Belgium is divided in 3 regions: Flanders (North, Dutch), Wallonia (South, French) and Brussels in the middle of both. The country has 3 official languages: French, Dutch and German. But English is widely spoken, especially in Brussels. It was very easy to communicate with the locals. However, like I have mentioned before, as a rule of courtesy it is always recommended to learn some basic words in French, Dutch and German and more importantly, to know where to use them. It is polite to always greet the person in the language of the region and then ask if they speak English, instead of assuming people can speak it.
#1 Best beer in the world
We added Belgium to our wish list 2 years ago, when we were still in California and had no idea we were going to be living in Europe. We bought the book “Around Brussels in 80 Beers” and decided to try to hit as many beer bars in Brussels as we could. Brussels was as live or more during night time as it was during the day. Stereotypes about women and beer don’t exist here. Girls and guys drink beer equally. The passion for beer culture brings everyone closer. As a prime destination for beer lovers, there are hundreds and hundreds of different beers, from Trappist Ales to Lambic to Saisons. Even if you think you don’t like beer, chances are you still haven’t found your type of beer yet, so go ahead and expand your tastebuds, you might convert into the beer cult.