Incredible food, drink and scenery await in decadent Belgium. Chocolate, waffles, and beer are among the top indulgences that Belgians have mastered. Add to this delectable delights the rich art, architecture, and comic books that Belgians are famous for. Brussels, the capital city, boasts of beautifully ornate buildings, from the opulent Town Hall in the Grote Markt (Grand Palace) to the modern headquarters of the European Union. In Brussels’ outskirts and outlying cities, such as Ypres, are the important sites of some of the decisive wars in European history. Drink in history and sample the finest food as you explore Belgium.
Odyssey travels by coach and occasionally uses local transport, including trains and ferries. Specifics are always outlined in your tour itinerary. Belgium has an excellent train network, with train services running across the length of the country. Given the extent of the rail network, the bus services in Belgium generally cover shorter distances, with buses often used to connect train stations with other rail lines.
In major cities, Odyssey stays in centrally located 3-4 star hotels, with easy access to public transport. In smaller towns or rural areas, we usually stay in family-run hotels or guesthouses. On our longstay tours, during which you spend the length of the tour in a single location, we use serviced apartments.
Odyssey always engages local guides with regional knowledge to ensure an authentic experience during which you can learn as much as possible about the history and culture of places you visit.
Geography environment and weather
Belgium covers an area of 30,528 square kilometres, and has three main geographical regions: the coastal plain in the north west, the central plateau, and the Ardennes uplands in the south-east. The terrain of Belgium is largely flat in the centre of the country, with the terrain gradually rising into the hills and forests of the Ardennes region. Three major rivers flow through Belgium and into the North Sea: the Scheldt, the Meuse, and the Yser.
Belgium has a temperate maritime climate, with mild summers and cool winters. Depending on when you intend to travel, check the weather reports and dress accordingly.
World Heritage sites
There are 13 properties in Belgium listed on the World Heritage List. You can view the listed properties here: (https://whc.unesco.org/en/statesparties/be). Belgium’s listed properties include:
Belfries of Belgium, distinctive buildings which have been recognised as being an important symbols of civic independence in regional Flanders
Stoclet House, a landmark building constructed in the Art Nouveau style
Notre-Dame Cathedral in Tournai, an outstanding example of medieval Gothic architecture.
Festivals and events
The unique history and culture of Belgium is captured through its many colourful festivals and events. One of the more eye-catching events in the year is the Procession of the Holy Blood. First held in Bruges in 1150 AD, the religious festival centres around the relic of the Holy Blood paraded through the streets of Bruges alongside 1,500 costumed townspeople. Past events of national importance are commemorated through large events, none more spectacularly so than the annual Battle of Waterloo re-enactment. Every June, the Battle of Waterloo is re-enacted by hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of participants clothed in elaborate costumes and equipped with Napoleonic-era props. A few festivals in Belgium take a turn toward the peculiar, particularly the Kattenstoet festival in Ypres. Originally stemming from gruesome medieval tales of townsfolk throwing cats from towers, today the city holds a parade in honour of its feline friends, the culimination of which is toy cats being thrown from the city hall tower.
Belgium: A History, by Bernard A. Cook
Beautiful Belgium, by Alison Cornford-Matheson
Belgium: Long United, Long Divided, by Samuel Humes and Wilfried Martens
The Great War in Belgium and the Netherlands: Beyond Flanders Fields, by Felicity Rash and Christophe Declercq
Eating and Drinking
The riverways, lakes and coastal waters of Belgium have long been a source of sustenance for Belgians, with moules-frites (mussels) and grey shrimp popular staples of Belgian cuisine. Soups and stews feature prominently in Belgian cooking, with dishes such as waterzooi (fish stew) and carbonadeflamandeor stooflees (steak and ale stew) remaining an integral part of Belgian cuisine. The humble potato has made its mark on Belgian cooking over the years, most famously in the form of frites (fries), though also as its usage as a key ingredient in stoemp (mashed potatoes and vegetables). Of course, no discussion about Belgian food would be complete without mentioning its world-famous waffles and chocolate, both of which hold a special place in the hearts of Belgians. Indeed, the Belgians are so enamoured with making and consuming chocolate that there are over 2,000 chocolatiers operating in Belgium.
Beer has been brewed in Belgium for nearly one thousand years, and as such beer is of national importance in Belgium, with over 200 active breweries in operation in Belgium. If you’re a beer enthusiast, be sure to sample a local variety while in Belgium.
Health and safety
As of writing, smartraveller.gov.au advises travellers to exercise a high degree of caution when travelling around Belgium due to the possible risk of terrorist attack. Also be advised that bag-snatches and pickpocketing do sometimes occur in Belgian cities, so keep your personal valuables close and pay close attention to your personal security.
Whenever you travel overseas, it’s always wise to take an appropriate travel adaptor. The electricity supply in Belgium runs at 230V and 50Hz. Belgium uses Type C and Type E electric plugs, so make sure you have the right travel adaptor with you.
Belgium has a single time zone, Central European Standard Time (UTC+1). Daylight savings in Belgium commence on the last Sunday of March, and conclude on the last Sunday of October.
If you’re on an Odyssey tour, we take care of tipping so you don’t need to give it a second thought. However, in your free time, or if travelling independently, it’s essential that you tip an appropriate amount for services. Tipping is not common in Belgium, with service charges often included in bills.
Wifi is widely available in Belgium, and should be freely accessible in most hotels, cafes and restaurants.
Check with your cell phone provider to see whether you’re able to make calls and use data while in Belgium. Many providers will allow you to pay a daily fee that allows you to make calls and check the internet while only being charged your regular rates. However, be certain to inform your provider that you’re heading overseas, because just like a bank they can turn off your service as a result of unusual activity.
Responsible travel tips for Belgium
- Learn at least the local greetings to break the ice. Although many locals speak English, the more you know of the native language, the greater your experience of the country will be.
- Carry a business card in your wallet or purse from your local hotel, to assist you with the return journey if you do become lost.
- Always ensure that you are covered by travel insurance. If you need advice on this feel free to contact Odyssey and we’ll be able to help.
- When travelling independently, make sure you check the opening hours of shops and museums so that you don’t miss out! Museums and galleries are often closed on Mondays. Also be certain to check whether your trip coincides with any public holidays, so you can plan accordingly.
- Consider contacting your bank to inform them that you may be making purchases overseas. Otherwise, they may flag any activity on your account as suspicious. Also, check which ATMs and banks are compatible with your cards, to ensure you can withdraw cash with minimal fees.
- Before departing, make sure you have a number of euros in a range of denominations. You don’t want to be carrying around enormous amounts of cash, but take enough to make it easy to pay in locations that might not accept credit card. It will also help you avoid card transaction fees, and it makes tipping a breeze.