Travel Tips for Belgium

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Travel Tips for Belgium

Things to See in Belgium

Mostly known for its key role in European Union administration, the small nation of Belgium might leave you surprised by its rich and gorgeous heritage. It boasts a number of fascinatingly historic cities packed with medieval and Art Nouveau architecture and famous for their long traditions in arts, fashion and fine dining. If you've seen the best of them, the Belgian countryside offers anything from sandy beaches to the densely forested hills and ridges of the Ardennes.

Brussels, the country's vibrant capital, is a modern world city with a highly international character. It combines massive post-modern buildings in its European Quarter with impressive historic monuments, such as the World Heritage listed Grand Place, surrounded by guildhouses and the Gothic town hall. There's Laken Castle and the large St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral, dedicated to the cities patron saints. The Royal Palace is a more recent but no less grand structure. One of the city's most famous landmarks is the Atomium, a remarkable steel structure and remnant of the 1958 World's Fair. And yet, with all those magnificent sights at hand, many travellers' favourite is a tiny bronze fountain in the shape of a peeing boy: the curious Manneken Pis.

Perhaps the most popular of the Belgian cities is Bruges. Much of the excellent architecture that arose during the towns Golden Age, roughly the 14th century, remains intact and the old centre is a valued UNESCO World Heritage Site. Among its most prominent landmarks is the 13th century belfry, where the carillonneur still rings the bells on a daily basis. With countless other noteworthy monuments, Bruges is a highly popular destination and get a bit overcrowded during holidays. And then there's Ghent, which in ages past was one of the wealthiest cities in Northern Europe. Although larger and much busier than Bruges, its excellent medieval architecture can definitely compete. Its beguinages, belfry and former cloth hall are World Heritage Sites. Or visit Antwerp, the country's current place to be as it is a hotspot of the Belgian fashion, clubbing, arts and diamonds scenes. Nevertheless, the city's timeless old centre is right up there with the others, boasting the countries most stunning cathedrals. Other pleasant cities with good sights include Leuven, with the oldest Catholic University still in use and Liège.

For hiking, biking and camping, head to the rugged hills of the Ardennes with their tight forests, caves and cliffs. They are home to wild boar, deer and lynx and hide a number of friendly villages, lots of castles and a few other notable sights. The impressive caves of Han-sur-Lesse, the castle of Bouillon and the modern Labyrinth of Barvaux are some of the best picks. The city of Namur makes a great base from where to explore the Ardennes and has some fine sights itself too. The city is beautifully located along the rivers Meuse and Sambre and from the ancient citadel you'll have a great view over town.

The Belgians brought forward a good number of world famous masters of art, and their love for arts is still today reflected in the range of fine arts museums. The Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts in Brussels and the Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten in Antwerp are just a few excellent examples. However, the Belgians love museums, with over 80 of them in the capital alone. Besides arts, they display anything from history and folkore to industry and technology. As some of the worst fighting of both World Wars took place on Belgian territory, there's also a large number of memorials and museums dedicated to those dark times, along some humbling military cemeteries.

Things to Do in Belgium

  • Ducasse de Mons - yearly parade in the city of Mons that celebrates the release of a legendary dragon (which is displayed every year in the city)
  • Ommegang - a parade in Brussels that celebrates the beginning of the reign of Charles V of Habsburg. It takes place on the stunning cityscape of the Grand Place and involves thousands of stunts in period costume.
  • Zinnekeparade - the biennial celebration of the Brusseler's spirit - the theme changes each time and involves costumes & chariots made by volunteers and locals.
  • DOCVILLE - International Documentary Film Festival, Naamsestraat 96, 3000 Leuven, +32-16-320300. International Documentary Film Festival in the beginning of May, with national and international competition in the city of Leuven. Selected films have a focus on cinematography. 4.5-6 euro.
  • Graspop Metal Meeting - Yearly heavy metal festival held in the town of Dessel, in June.
  • Carnival de Binche - Three days in February the town of Binche is transported back to the 16th century for one of the most fantastic festivals of the year. Highlighted by music parades and fireworks, the climax of this event is when the Gilles appear on the Grand Place and throw oranges to the spectators. This infamous festivity has been classified as part of the world's cultural heritage by UNESCO along with its renowned Gilles.
  • Rock Werchter - end of June, beginning of July, Werchter.
     
  • Dour festival - "European Alternative Music Event" - 12-15 July 2007 - Dour.
     
  • Pukkelpop - mid-August
  • Atomium - built for the 1958 Brussels World Fair (Expo ’58), it is a 102 meter tall representation of an atomic unit cell. More precisely, it is symbolic of a unit cell of an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times. Nine steel spheres 16 meters in diameter connect via tubes with elevators 32 meters long.
  • Gentse Feesten - 2nd half of July. Huge, ten day long street festival in the historical center of the city of Ghent. The biggest street festival in Europe, with theater, music in all genres, techno parties, and so on - Gentse Feesten
  • Activiteiten Gent & Antwerpen - Rerum Novarumlaan 132 (Merksem), 0475 / 696 880. Great boattours around Ghent and Antwerp.
  • 24 hours cycling, Louvain-La-Neuve - Louvain-La-Neuve is in the Wallonia not far from Brussel, it's a small pedestrian city created in the 60's for the french-speakers students. Every year, in October, they organized a bicycle competition. Actually, the course is a pretext to enjoy the event... And to drink beers. This party is one of the most important consumption of beers of the whole Europe.
  • Belgian Beer Tour - Belgian Beer Tour is a tour operator specializing in tours of Belgium breweries. It offers a great way for beer lovers to visit their favourite breweries and discover new ones. The tours cover a wide range of beers and appeals to connoisseurs and amateurs alike.
  • International Short Film Festival Leuven - Naamsestraat 96, 3000 Leuven, +32-16-320300. International Short Film Festival with many foreign guests and directors. Focus on the best Flemish and European short films. 4.5-6 euro.

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