Last spring, we had a chance to visit Belgium for a four-day trip. Belgium is located in Western Europe between Netherlands and France, not far from the UK. For the very first time, we took the Eurostar and it was the most convenient way to reach the city centre of Brussels from the heart of London. We spent 2 and half an hour on the train while we went through the Eurotunnel, which connect the UK and Europe, passing through France and finally arriving at the central train station of the Belgian capital at 10:30 in the morning. Actually, Brussels is not only the capital of Belgium, it is also widely considered as the capital of the European Union.
A friend of mine who lives in Brussels was waiting for us outside the station. He offered us a tour through the city while we walked towards our hotel, the Thon Hotel EU, on the other side of the city.
We strolled into the city, and he told us the bilingual city of Brussels is divided in two parts, where either Dutch-speakers or French-speakers live.
We were walking toward the central square when we saw the crowds of tourists taking video or photos of a small monument in the corner of a street. There it was our first stop to see the famous Manneken Pis, the bronze statue of a little-naked boy urinating into the fountain’s basin. It is a weird attraction, but it is one the most popular one in Brussels. The boy is not always naked, we have been told he would be dressing different costumes based on the occasion.
The Grand Place or Grote Markt, the central square and the main tourist attraction in Brussels, which is surrounded by historical private and public buildings including the Town Hall, Guild Houses and King’s house which is known as Breadhouse too. Above all, Grand Place has been listed in the UNESCO World Heritage site.
We continued walking straight down the boulevard de l’Empereur towards the Royal Palace. We stopped at the Place Albertine, where there is a beautiful park to take a couple of photos.
The next stop was in front of the Royal Palace of Brussels, where the king and queen of Belgium live. The Palace is open to public every summer from the 22nd of July to the 4th of September. We were there at the end of May, staying longer in Brussels was not an option, so we moved on and headed to our hotel.
We checked in at the hotel and left our luggages there. Thon Hotel EU is not far from the Berlaymont Building or European Commission building, so we walked there. Honestly, there is not much to do rather than taking photos, but it usually feels good to visit places you always see on TV.
After lunch, we took the metro and went to visit the magical architecture of the Atomium. This amazing structure was designed by the architect André Waterkeyn at the World Fair of Brussels in 1958. It is open every day between 10am to 6pm. Unfortunately, we arrived there too late to view the inside of the building, but we still had the extraordinary building in front of us. We took some photos and walked around the building.
The following morning we took the train to the town of Bruges. We always wanted to visit it since we watched the Colin Farrell movie “In Bruges”. The movie shows how pretty is this Belgian town. Our expectation was high, but thankfully the stunning city of Bruges didn’t let us down. We strolled into the city passing through some beautiful bridges, gorgeous parks, old streets and saw its stylish old buildings.
We arrived at the main square of Bruges, Grote Markt, which is surrounded by restaurants, cafes, bars. The place is flocked by tourists, that is why the prices are high and the quality of the food is not exactly what you pay for. Thus, we skipped there and had better quality and less expensive food a 10-minute walk off Grote Markt.
After lunch, we headed to the Belfort Belfry tower, the main outstanding monument in the town. We waited in a long queue for almost an hour till it was our turn to climb the 366 steps to enjoy the spectacular overlooking view of the town on the top of the 83 meter tall bell tower.
When we reached the ground we hired a couple of bicycles and went for a ride around the town. I would recommend to do the same when you are in Bruges.
In the evening, we went back to Brussels, since we booked our hotel for three nights. The train ride between Bruges and Brussel takes a little over an hour.
The third day, we took a train to Ghent, the third most populous city in Belgium. Actually, Ghent is between Bruges and Brussels and it took us only 40 minutes to reach it. When we walked out of the train station, the huge crowds of parked bicycles on the opposite side of the station surprised us.
We went through the Citadel Park and headed to the city centre. When you travel by train, the park would be on your way to the downtown.
There is no metro system in the city, but it is not an issue. You can go around by walk or trams. Ghent is less touristy than Bruges, which means you will see more locals than tourists. We decided to stroll around to see the everyday life.
The architecture, colourful stunning narrow buildings facing the canals and beautiful bridges reminded us the city of Amsterdam. The city looks like a dutch city while Bruges doesn’t have the Dutch feeling.
There are various restaurants and places to eat in the town centre. After lunch we headed to the stone Gravensteen castle on the corner of a river. It is one the best castles I have ever visited. It is easy to go around the castle, you just need to follow the path which is well organised and take you to all of the sites and rooms.
Beer, Chocolate, Waffle and Fries
Belgium is famous for beer, chocolate, waffles and fries. We usually don’t drink beer, but tried two different tastes, a sweetened one and another with bitterness, it didn’t disappoint us.
You would find waffles and chocolate shops all around the cities in the country. We bought a big pack of Belgian chocolate as a souvenir for ourselves. I wish I could do the same for waffle, because the waffles in Belgium are tastier and much cheaper than what we have here in London.
Fries is the other thing you can’t avoid having while you are in Belgium. You can order only fries, and when you go to a restaurant, even if you don’t order fries, your meal no matter what it is, it will come with Fries.
We had plan to visit Binche, a small town but we have been told that the town is popular during winters. Every year a unique European carnival takes place for 3 days of parades, creative costumes, and parties in the most original traditions.
If you are planning on visiting Brussels in February, you have to go to the small town of Binche. To the South of Brussels, it is easily reachable for a day trip as it is only an hour away by train!