Experience Transat

7 Things to Know Before Travelling to Belgium

Share the article

Belgium is often overlooked by tourists, who tend to just pass through its capital city, Brussels, on a tour of a number of European cities. However, this small country on the shores of the North Sea has plenty to see (and taste!), not to mention the richness of its two distinct cultures. Here’s how to get the most out of a destination that deserves to be discovered.

When to go?

Belgium, like England, is known for its cool and rainy temperatures. While the nights can be chilly (bring a jacket), rain is definitely less of an everyday occurrence for Belgians than for the English. Autumn and winter are rainier, so come in spring and summer to enjoy long, sunny days. It’s definitely cooler than in southern Europe. You can also plan your trip around the various music festivals.

They are numerous, varied, renowned and very popular from mid-June to the end of August and are easily accessible by train from Brussels.

The language

Although Belgium is part of the Francophonie, it’s not a 100% French-speaking country. Plan your itinerary carefully if you only want to communicate in French. In Wallonia (including major cities such as Liège, Namur and Charleroi) you’ll be in French-speaking territory. In Flanders, English is often more widely used than French.

Even in Brussels, you may have to switch to English (unless you speak Flemish!). Don’t be offended, it’s perfectly normal for Belgians. Not all Walloons speak Flemish and vice versa. So English is the common language of the country.

A gourmet destination

Waffles, chocolates, beers, mussels and chips are classics that are easily associated with Belgium. But Belgian cuisine – savoury and comforting – has much more to offer! Flemish stew, meatballs (Liège-style or with tomatoes), vol-au-vent and waterzooi (a potato and chicken or fish soup) are all typical dishes that will delight you. The restaurants in the Sablon and in the Place Sainte-Catherine are reliable options in Brussels, far from the tourist traps. In the Kingdom of Sweets, the choice is endless! Between truffles, pralines, ice creams, cuberdons (gummy fruits), florentines, madeleines and speculoos, there’s something for everyone!

Only for beer lovers?

Wrong! First of all, there are so many types of beer that it’s impossible not to find “your” beer. Abbey and Trappist beers are the most popular among connoisseurs, as are fruit beers (especially Kriek cherry beer), which are perfect as an aperitif on a terrace.

Challenge yourself to try a different beer every day! The choice is huge in cafés, but also in restaurants, which sometimes offer food and beer pairings, so you can make some great discoveries.

The kingdom of comics

To fully enjoy Brussels’ status as the comic strip capital, you should get to know the 9th art before you leave.Of course, you know Tintin, Spirou, the Smurfs, Gaston Lagaffe and a few others, but the world of Belgian comic strips is vast and you’ll make many discoveries at the Belgian Comic Strip Centre.

Take the opportunity to follow the Brussels Comic Strip Route and see the spectacular murals that decorate the city walls. For Tintin fans, the Hergé Museum is a must. Located in Louvain-la-Neuve, it’s easy to reach by train from Brussels.

A budget for the chocolate lover

Chocolate is serious business in Belgium.The great chocolatiers (Pierre Marcolini, Neuhaus, Corné Port-Royal, Wittamer, Laurent Gerbaud, Mary) create “haute couture” and present their new “collections” every season.
And it’s amazing! Don’t be tempted by the cheap chocolates.

You’re in the land of “the best chocolate in the world”, so taste the specialities of these great masters. Allocate a (rather large) budget accordingly… it’s haute chocolaterie after all!

Long live the train

Belgium is a small country and the cities, even Brussels, are not huge (don’t expect Paris!), so don’t hesitate to take the train (direct lines with no transfers) to discover other Belgian cities, both in Flanders (Bruges is 1 hour away by train, Leuven 30 minutes) and in Wallonia (Namur and Liège are also 1 hour away by train).
And don’t miss the chance to see the sea if you can!Ostend is only 1.5 hours from Brussels by train, and you can reach the pretty seaside town of De Panne in two hours. In short, make the most of your stay in Belgium by exploring it thoroughly and don’t limit yourself to Brussels, which can be seen in 4 days.

Our favourite: Ghent! This magnificent city, just 30 minutes by train from Brussels, is Belgium’s best-kept secret. The centre can easily be visited in one day. Don’t hesitate to take a boat trip on the Lys, visit the Castle of the Counts of Flanders, stroll on a terrace in the Korenmarkt or along the quays (Korenlei or Graslei) and enjoy the view of the city’s three towers from Saint Michael’s Bridge.

Check the SNCB website for timetables, fares (very reasonable, with various discounts) and to buy tickets. You can also buy your tickets directly at the station, as you don’t need to reserve your seat in advance. Brussels Central Station is just a stone’s throw from the Grand-Place and there are frequent departures between the capital and other Belgian cities.

Good to know: Train announcements are bilingual (French/Flemish) only in Brussels stations. Outside this area, announcements are in Flemish (in Flanders) or French (in Wallonia).

The comments and contributions expressed are assumed only by the author. The recommendations, intentions or opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Transat AT Inc. or its affiliates. See terms of use of the Air Transat website.

You may also like

Brussels is a welcoming and vibrant city. If you are a foodie or an art lover, this city will undoubtedly become one of your favourite places to visit.
Tintin isn’t the only comic strip hero out and about in Belgium’s capital. Since 1991, Brussels has been covering its walls with fantastic images by some of the country’s most celebrated graphic artists. We surrender to the whimsy of the city’s comic strip route and tumble into its alternate universe.
Out of the almost 500 UNESCO sites in Europe, here are 12 that, according to us, must be seen in a lifetime.
There are a host of natural parks in Europe, some of which are unknown to the public. Here are 5 nature destinations off the beaten track!

Travel with Air Transat