We bet you a beer – hell, make that two – that Belgium will exceed your expectations. The country’s highlights range from the ancient and quirky to the oh-so-cool. You can bank on centuries-old castles and boisterous carnivals as well as home-grown haute couture, comic book museums and street art. To sum it all up, here's our list of the best things to do in Belgium.
The information in this article is inspired by The Rough Guide to Belgium & Luxembourg, your essential guide for visiting Belgium.
Belgium produces more beers than any other country in the world – around eight hundred and counting – making it a top destination for beer lovers looking for things to do in Belgium. There are strong, dark brews from a handful of Trappist monasteries, light wheat beers perfect for a hot summer’s day, fruity lambic beers bottled and corked like champagne, and unusual concoctions that date back to medieval times.
Any decent establishment will have a beer menu, as well as the glasses to go with them – no Belgian bar worth its salt would dare to serve a beer in anything other than its proper glass. To get the full picture of beer culture in Belgium explore our guide to the the top 20 best Belgian beers.
Like many of the resorts along Belgium’s coast, Ostend boasts a glorious stretch of beach. From the far end of Visserskaai, there are fine coastal views with the assorted moles and docks of the harbour in one direction, Ostend’s main beach extending as far as the eye can see in the other.
On sunny summer days in Belgium, hundreds drive into town to enjoy the beach and participate in traditional seaside activities such as sandcastle building and kite flying. Soaking up the sun and swimming are also popular things to do in Belgium.
Looking for a perfect European beach holiday? Explore our guide to the 10 best beach holidays in Europe.
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The Ardennes’ stunning hills and valleys are perfect for a range of outdoor activities, and you don’t have to be a well-equipped expert to have a go. With access to two rivers – the wide and sluggish River Meuse and prettier River Lesse – and surrounded by steep, wooded cliffs, Dinant is the ideal base to try some sporting activities.
The Dinant tourist office sells the Carte Dinant, which shows nineteen signposted walks in the Dinant area, as well as two mountain-biking routes of 23km and 32km respectively. If you’re short on time, take a 20-minute walk north along the west bank of the Meuse to the medieval village of Bouvignes.
Kayaking on the River Lesse, which is wilder and prettier than the River Meuse, is a popular activity available from April to September in Belgium and is definitely worth adding to your list of things to do in Belgium.
Ghent’s centre is a joy to discover, and its cathedral is home to Jan van Eyck’s Adoration of the Mystic Lamb – one of the medieval world’s most astonishing paintings. The third church on this site, and 250 years in the making, the cathedral is a tad lop-sided, but there’s no gainsaying the imposing beauty of the west tower, with its long, elegant windows and perky corner turrets.
In a small chapel to the left of the cathedral entrance is Ghent’s greatest treasure, a winged altarpiece known as The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb (De Aanbidding van het Lam Gods). This is a seminal work of the early 1430s, though of dubious provenance.
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You’d have to go an awfully long way to beat Belgium’s best art museum, with superb collections ranging from Jan van Eyck, Bosch and Bruegel to Ensor and beyond. On the edge of Place Royale, the Musées Royaux des Beaux Arts holds Belgium’s best all-round collection of fine art. This is a vast hoard that is exhibited in three interconnected museums:
The museums also host a prestigious programme of temporary exhibitions for which a supplementary admission fee is usually required. Visiting Museés Royaux is among the essential things to do in Belgium for anyone who is interested in arts.
The obvious place to begin any tour of Brussels is the Grand-Place, one of Europe’s most beautiful squares, which sits at the centre of the Lower Town. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Of the square’s medieval buildings, however, only parts of the Hôtel de Ville and one or two guild houses have survived, the consequence of an early example of the precepts of total war.
Each guild house has a name, usually derived from one of the statues, symbols or architectural quirks decorating its facade. Inevitably, such an outstanding attraction draws tourists in their droves. That said, there’s no better place to get a taste of Brussels’ past and Eurocapital present.
This tailor-made trip to the Netherlands and Belgium will bring you the best of two countries. From the quaint streets, canals and windmills of Holland to beer and Belgium chocolate tasting in three beautiful Belgium cities.
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Everyone knows Tintin. This museum is an appropriately thoughtful homage to his creator, housed in a magnificent purpose-built structure. The brainchild of Hergé’s second wife, Fanny Rodwell, the museum concentrates on his life and work. However, his most celebrated creation inevitably grabs the attention.
A couple of rooms take you through Hergé’s “dreary but happy” childhood, his early cartoon creations and work in advertising and design. While later ones examine the inception of the Tintin stories in detail. Here there are displays on each of the principal characters as well as Hergé’s influences in creating them – travel, science and cinema among them.
One of the most beautiful Gothic structures in Belgium, the interior of which is graced by four fine paintings by Rubens, is definitely worth adding to your list of things to do in Belgium. The cathedral is dedicated to St. Mary and is the seat of the Archbishop of Antwerp. It is known for its towering spires, intricate carvings, and beautiful stained glass windows.
The cathedral is home to a number of important artworks, including paintings by Peter Paul Rubens, who was a member of the cathedral's choir and is buried in the cathedral.
Visitors to Antwerp's Cathedral can explore the interior of the cathedral, including the nave, the chapels, and the choir. The cathedral is open to the public and offers guided tours and other educational programs. Antwerp's Cathedral is a must-see destination for anyone interested in architecture and history.
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Belgium’s annual carnivals, which are held in February and early March, are a must-see event for anyone looking for unique and exciting things to do in Belgium. These carnivals are known for their originality, colour, and boisterous atmosphere. One of the most renowned is held in February at Binche, in Hainaut, when there’s a procession involving some 1500 extravagantly dressed dancers called Gilles.
There are also carnivals in Ostend and Aalst, and in Eupen. The action lasts over the weekend before Shrove Tuesday and culminates with Rosenmontag on Monday. This is a pageant of costumed groups and floats parading through the town centre. Most remarkable is Stavelot’s carnival, where the streets are overtaken by so-called Blancs Moussis, townsfolk clothed in white hooded costumes and equipped with long red noses.
Carnivals often reflect people's cultural heritage, read our guide to Europe's 10 best alternative carnivals and perhaps you will be inspired to visit at least one of them.
Bruges, with its canals, museums, and gorgeous medieval architecture, is without question one of Europe’s most beguiling cities and a must-see destination for anyone looking for things to do in Belgium. The obvious place to start an exploration of the city is the two principal squares: the Markt, overlooked by the mighty belfry, and the Burg, flanked by the city’s most impressive architectural ensemble.
Almost within shouting distance are the three main museums, the pick of them being the Groeninge, which offers a wonderful sample of early Flemish art. Another short hop brings you to St-Janshospitaal and the important paintings of the fifteenth-century artist Hans Memling, as well as Bruges’ most impressive churches, the Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk and St-Salvatorskathedraal.
Explore one of Europe's most intact medieval cities - Bruges, the Venice of the North on this Bruges & Ghent Full-Day Trip. Marvel at the ornate City Hall and the stunning market square in Ghent. Taste the famous Belgian chocolates, the national dish of Moules Frites and beer.
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Belgian cuisine is second to none but has none of the pretentiousness of French food. The national dish — mussels and fries — proves the point. Mussels (moules/mosselen) are cooked in a variety of ways and served with chips. It is a national favourite at lunch or dinner – indeed it’s effectively Belgium’s national dish.
Traditionally, mussels are only served in season – i.e. when there is an “r” in the month (September to April). They are best eaten the time-honoured way, served in a vast pot with chips and mayonnaise on the side. They are served typically either à la marinière (steamed with white wine, shallots and parsley or celery), or à la crème (steamed with the same ingredients but thickened with cream and flour).
The capital’s middle class took to this style of architecture like ducks to water. Victor Horta and Paul Hankar are the names to conjure with. Some of the best-known Art Nouveau buildings in Brussels include the Atomium, the Cauchie House, and the Horta Museum. The Atomium is a futuristic-looking building that was built for the 1958 World's Fair and is now a popular tourist attraction.
The Cauchie House is a private residence that is known for its colourful and elaborate Art Nouveau decorations. The Horta Museum is a museum dedicated to the work of the Belgian Art Nouveau architect Victor Horta and is housed in his former residence.
Learn about the origins and the development of the Art Nouveau architectural style in Brussels on a 3-hour guided tour. Travel to the Bailli district to see several of the most important Art Nouveau houses in the city. Finish at the Victor Horta Museum.
World War I was decided on the plain of Flanders, a point hammered home by the interminable names on the hulking mass of the Menin Gate in Ieper. East of the Grote Markt, the massive Menin Gate war memorial was built on the site of the old Menenpoort, which served as the main route for British soldiers heading for the front.
It’s a simple, brooding monument, towering over the edge of the town, its walls covered with the names of those fifty thousand British and Empire troops who died in the Ypres Salient but have no grave. Volunteers from the local fire brigade sound the Last Post beneath the gate each and every evening at 8 pm.
The outstanding In Flanders Fields Museum focuses on the experiences of those caught up in the war rather than the ebb and flow of the military campaigns, though these are sketched in too. At the start, there is an excellent introduction to the origins of the war, followed by a detailed section on the German invasion of Belgium in 1914, describing the damage the invaders inflicted and the atrocities they committed.
Thereafter, the museum outlines the creation of the Ypres Salient and the gruesome nature of trench warfare with discrete subsections on, for example, the evolution of mortars, the use of gas and tunnelling.
Explore the path of the World War II Liberation Route with this tailor-made trip through Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Visit important landmarks and museums on the way with this self drive itinerary, with enough time to explore cities such as Brussels and Rotterdam on the way.
One of the unmissable things to do in Belgium is to visit the Musée Magritte. It displays the definitive collection of works by Belgium’s most famous modern artist. Musée Magritte's four floors are devoted to the life, times and work of René Magritte. Beginning on the top floor, the museum trawls through Magritte’s life chronologically, with original documents, old photos and snatches of film.
There is an early sketch of his wife Georgette, early Cubist efforts and the later surrealist works he became best known for – often perplexing pieces, whose weird, almost photographically realized images and bizarre juxtapositions aim to disconcert. There are posters by Magritte, too advertising drinks, films and commercial products, as well as a selection of the more Impressionistic works he produced in the 1940s.
The Belgians picked up their love of chocolate via the most circuitous of historical routes. The Aztecs of Mexico were drinking chocolate when Hernando Cortéz’s Spanish conquistadors turned up in 1519. Cortéz took a liking to the stuff and brought cocoa beans back to Spain as a novelty gift for Emperor Charles V in 1528.
Within a few years, its consumption had spread across Charles’s empire, including today’s Belgium and Luxembourg. At first the making of chocolate was confined to a few Spanish monasteries. However, eventually, Belgians got in on the act and they now produce what are generally regarded as the world’s finest chocolates.
Even the smallest town will have at least one chocolate shop. Although some brands are everywhere – Leonidas, Godiva and Neuhaus are three big players. Try to seek out independent producers such as Wittamer or Pierre Marcolini in Brussels or The Chocolate Line in Bruges, as their chocolates are usually that bit better.
Discover Belgian chocolate and learn how to make these tasty treats with this Belgian Chocolate Workshop. Enjoy a workshop with the guidance of a chocolatier and make chocolates yourself.
If you are looking for inspiration and new ideas for your European holiday, read our guide to the 20 best places to visit in Europe on a budget.
If you prefer to plan and book your trip to the Belgium without any effort and hassle, use the expertise of our local travel experts to make sure your trip will be just like you dream it to be.
Ready for a trip to Belgium? Check out the snapshot The Rough Guide to Belgium & Luxembourg or Pocket Rough Guide Bruges. If you travel further in Belgium, read more about the best time to go and the best places to visit in Belgium. For inspiration use the itineraries fromour local travel experts. A bit more hands on, learn about getting there, getting around the country and where to stay once you are there.
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