Things to See and Do in Belgium
Belgium is a small nation that plays a big role in European life — and an equally big role in world history.
If you’re a history buff interested in either of the World Wars, Belgium has a million sites to keep you busy during your visit. And if you want to learn about government or politics of the EU, it’s the home to the European Union itself.
But what most travelers come for is beer, chocolate, and fries.
There are over 1,000 breweries in this small country and Belgium brewers were some of the first to perfect the beer-brewing process. And the country’s chocolate rivals that of Switzerland, offering decadent sweets that will have you gaining a few pounds during your visit.
On top of that, the frites will make you look at french fries differently for the rest of your life.
This country usually just gets glossed over by travelers who spend a day in Brussels, Bruges, and maybe a trip to Ghent before they travel onward. However, if you look deeper, you’ll see this country has a great many medieval towns, historical sites, and parks worth sticking around for.
Things to See and Do in Belgium:
- Visit the castles
There are more castles per square mile in Belgium than anywhere else in the world. With over 3,000 to explore, it can be hard to know where to start. Castle of Bouillon in the Ardennes is one of the most interesting ones as it was built in the 11th century! Other must-sees are Beersel (built in the 14th century) and Gravensteen (built in the 12th century).
- See Waterloo
The Battle of Waterloo took place in 1815 and brought a decisive end to the Napoleonic Wars. At the site of the famous battle, there is a memorial in the form of a statue of a lion (looking towards France) on a hill, with 226 stairs, called La Butte du Lion. Other attractions related to the battle are the Wellington Museum and the Roman Catholic Church of St. Joseph. If you’re a student of history, a visit here is a must.
- Explore Ardennes Forest
Ardennes Forest covers an area of over 11,000 square kilometers and is the place to go for skiing or hiking. Aside from sporting pursuits, there is a lot of good meat here too: wild game like boar and venison, smoked ham, the region’s famous paté, as well as the world-renowned Trappist beers. Between the meat and the beer, you’ll be in good hands after a long hike or a day of skiing!
- Visit Cathédrale Notre-Dame
Built in the 12th century, the Cathedral of Our Lady in Tournai is one of the most striking examples of Romanesque architecture in Europe and is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The cathedral has five towers, reaching as high as 83 meters. It also has some magnificent stained-glass windows and paintings by Rubens and Jacob Jordaens as well.
- See Manneken Pis & Jeanneken Pis
These two iconic sculptures can be found in Brussels and are considered by many as a ‘must see.’ There is always a group of people checking them out. They are simple, nude male and female children’s figures, peeing. The male is often dressed up in costumes. They are pretty weird tourist attractions but worth seeing with your own eyes — even if it’s just to snap a quick photo of the quirky statues.
- Explore the Antwerp Zoo
Located in the center of Antwerp next to the train station, this zoo is a full afternoon attraction. Open since 1843, it is one of the oldest and most famous zoos in the world. There are several exhibits and unusual garden features to be seen, including crazy animal sculptures. It’s a great place to take the kids. Admission is €24 EUR ($27 USD). It’s open daily from 10am-5:30pm.
- Sample the catch of the day
Oostende Fish Market Visserkaai is where the Ostend fishing fleet sells its daily catch. If you’re a fan of seafood, this is an awesome place to check out. There are numerous restaurants along the seafront and you are guaranteed to get a fresh meal.
- Wander Parc du Cinquantenaire
Also known as Jubelpark, this park and museum complex opened in 1880 and covers over 30 hectares. Located on the Southeast side of Brussels, it has continued to expand over the past several years. It is home to the Army Museum, the Auto World Museum, an art museum, gardens, and more!
- See the Basilique de Koekelberg
The Basilica of the Sacred Heart is one of the largest Roman Catholic churches in the world. In addition to its amazing architecture and impressive art deco, the height offers beautiful views of the city and the surrounding area. Completed in 1970, the church is very close to the center of town and inexpensive to see.
- Take a canal tour in Bruges
Take a canal trip down the arteries of Bruges. A half hour boat trip on the waterway takes you around secret gardens, picturesque bridges, and ornately designed medieval buildings. This is a perfect way to capture the magic of the city and it only costs around €8 EUR ($9 USD).
- Explore Antwerp
The country’s second largest city, Antwerp is an excellent shopping location and offers an extraordinary variety of local food and beer for visitors to enjoy. For those interested in art, the Royal Fine Arts Museum houses the world’s best collection of the Flemish Masters’ works, including the largest group of Rubens masterpieces in existence.
Is often overlooked compared with other cities in the country, but this university town is charming. To visit the city at its liveliest you should go in July when the largest cultural outdoors festival in Europe, the “Gentse Feesten”, takes place with food, music, and street entertainment.
- Flanders Field:
Flanders was the site of half a million deaths during World War I. There are numerous military cemeteries and ‘Missing Memorials’ commemorating those of all nationalities who fell in battle. At the museum in Ypres, visitors can discover the harsh realities of what it was like to be a soldier in the trenches