Belgium is a beautiful little country in the North West of Europe, squeezed between the much-better known France and Germany. It is a country steeped in history, from the charming medieval Bavarian market towns to the battlefields of Ypres and Flanders, and visitors come as much for the culture as they do the varied scenery.
Belgium offers everything from beaches to mountains and all the terrain in between. A devastating terror attack in 2016 saw a decline in foreign visitors, but last year the Belgian tourism industry showed an 8.9% increase, with 1.7 million more overnight stays by non-residents reported than the previous year.
Now that people are once again discovering the delights of this unique country, let’s take a look at some of the more out of the ordinary things that could make your trip unforgettable.
Take in a Festival
Like any country with a rich cultural heritage, Belgium is teeming with festivals that celebrate it. A quick search online will help you time your visit with those that interest you.
Whether you fancy entering the annual Dinant Bathtub Regatta – where teams race down the river in customised floating bathtubs – in August, dressing in courtly regalia for the Venetian Carvinal at Annevoie Castle, or catching a falling fluffy friend at the Ypres Cat Festival in May, there is something for everyone. And while the Belgian towns are fantastic to wander around on any day of the year, with their medieval architecture, winding streets and waterways, seeing them decorated for the markets and festivals is a spectacular sight.
Study the Local Art
While Belgium has plenty of museums and art galleries to suit all tastes – including the comic strip museum in Brussels, home of the largest Smurf exhibition – there are just as many amazing pieces of art on display in the streets for free. If you are passing by the northern town of Ghent, make sure you drop in and walk through Werregarenstraat. This alleyway has become an ever-changing canvas where street artists are free to paint what they like. The art work changes frequently so there is always something new to discover.
Not far from Antwerp, the tiny village of Doel has undertaken a similar transformation. When the population moved away, under pressure from developing industry, the ghost town became home to street artists. Their giant murals helped cement Doel’s reputation as a dystopian delight and are definitely worth checking out.
Bet Like A Local
There are nine land-based casinos in Belgium, scattered across the major cities from the coast to the German border. Once inside, you can play a game unique to the country, and one of the more bizarre casino games available – bird song betting! It’s a simple, if weird, concept: players bet on which bird will sing the longest or the loudest.
If you thought bird song was relaxing, think again! Bird song betting offers tension and excitement to rival the more well-known games, and it’s so simple that anyone can have a go. And if you win, you’ll have a great story to tell back home.
Ditch the roads
Belgium has a network of canals and rivers to rival its Dutch neighbour, and there are many options available if you want to see the country from the waterways. Whether walking along the towpaths or captaining a boat for the day, many of the major Belgian cities, including Antwerp and Bruges can be viewed in a totally different light from the serenity of the canals.
Or if you fancy letting somebody else take the wheel, a river cruise might just be your thing. There are several on offer, of differing lengths and passing through different destinations, so you are sure to find one that suits your requirements.
At each designated stop you will find knowledgeable local guides who can not only show you the traditional tourist spots, but also give you a unique insight into some of the local delights that are a little further off the beaten track.
And with most of the travelling happening while you’re asleep, you’ll find much more time for sightseeing, exploring or simply relaxing while the world passes by.
Find a Niche Museum.
If you’re the kind of person who loves to delve deeply into a country’s culture and history, then Belgium has some fantastic museums that will take you on journeys into the past. Brussels alone has a plethora of museums on a really diverse selection of topics. You can visit the Musical Instrument Museum which is home to more than 2000 unique and beautiful instruments from all periods of history.
Even the Art Nouveau building that houses the collection is a piece of art in itself. The Museum of Costume and Lace has some beautiful clothes on display and takes you through the history of lace-making in Belgium, something that played a major part in the country’s textile history.
If you fancy something a little more interactive, try the Chocolate Museum. Belgium is famous for making some of the best quality chocolates in the world, and this museum shows you how to make those delicious pralines. Of course there are samples to try, so don’t go right after a big lunch!
There’s also a toy museum, a museum of avante-garde artwork and a war museum to keep you entertained. There are so many museums in Brussels that you never have to go outside! Which would be a shame, as the city itself is full of grand old buildings charting its history as a capital city.
With so many things to see and do, whatever you choose to do on your trip to Belgium, you are sure to have an unforgettable visit.