Do you dream of a place where it’s acceptable to consume beer, chocolate, waffles, and fries daily without judgement? A place where chocolate shops and breweries are more common than Starbucks and McDonalds?
I didn’t think a place so magical could exist, but thankfully I was wrong. I’m happy to report this place is alive and well in Belgium.
My sister and I spent five gluttonous days in this beautiful country during her April visit (Side note: how is that already two months ago? Come back, Laura!). Not only do I Love chocolate with a capital L, the country of Belgium has a special meaning for our family as my 4th great grandfather hailed from Tournai, Belgium and is credited with designing much of Brussels’ infrastructure including roads, government buildings, canals, and bridges. Basically, my obsession with chocolate is genetic. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the engineering smarts. But I will stake claim to the chocolate. Feel free to turn this post into a drinking game and take a swig of your fave Belgian beer for every mention of chocolate. Chug!
We arrived in Brussels via Eurostar from London and immediately boarded a connecting train to the medieval town of Ghent situated smack dab between Brussels and Brugge. My sister selected Ghent after reading reviews that lauded the city as an ideal home base for exploring the country. It’s worth visiting in its own right with at least a day’s worth of sightseeing without the crowds of Brugge or Brussels. Nowadays it’s home to thousands of University of Ghent students and locals who reside there to escape the chaos of Brussels. My flatmate Josie joined us for the first few days in Ghent so we could all celebrate Easter together. We took a group selfie to show our excitement about being in the land of Belgian chocolate and beer.
In between eating chocolate we managed to do some sightseeing and exploring. Exhibit A: Gravensteen Castle, AKA “Castle of the Count” in Dutch was built in 1180 and still stands surrounded by a partial moat in Ghent. Yea, we went inside and climbed the towers.
Here’s how we spent our time across the 3 cities we visited in Belgium.
We stayed in Ghent all but our last night when we stayed in Brussels. I loved it! We walked everywhere and felt like locals as we ate lunch and drank beer along the canals. Strangely enough, there were a lot of Rib restaurants and vegetarian restaurants. Very drastic combo. Fun fact: every Thursday is vegetarian day in the city. We weren’t there on a Thursday to experience what I’m sure is a very thrilling, yet healthy, occasion.
Brugge was a mere 30 minute train ride from Ghent and is so quaint. I couldn’t stop using the word “quaint” I think Laura was ready to lose it and ditch me by the tenth exclamation of “oh my god this street is SO QUAINT”. Just try visiting without using this phrase. Impossible. We also toured De Halve Maan (the half moon) Brewery, sampled chocolate and waffles, saw the Belfry of Brugge, and rented bikes to ride to Damme. It’s about an hour bike ride roundtrip along canals and windmill-speckled countryside. My friend Jeannette (shoutout!) recommended both the brewery tour and bike ride and they were some of our favorite memories from the entire trip.
We capped off the trip by exploring our Vifquain heritage in Brussels thanks to extensive research done by Laura’s boyfriend Mark who moonlights as a historian. We also saw the Grand Place which is a UNESCO Heritage Site and central square in the city. From here we took a 3 hour walking tour with Sandemans that explored historical sites and tried to explain to us why a little peeing statue like Manneken Pis is symbolic of the city. If you enjoy history and politics you have to visit the EU Parliament’s visitor center, Parlamentarium, which is free and very informative.
I feel so fortunate I could have my sis by my side as we toured Belgium. Although I am still paying the price for eating chocolate like I had the metabolism of a 13 year old boy, I have no regrets about our time in such a beautiful country.
Know Before You Go:
- I wouldn’t recommend staying in Brussels if you have more than 2 days in Belgium. We loved Ghent and Brugge, or you could choose one of the other cities outside the capital. As long as it’s accessible by train you can easily navigate the country.
- Besides the trifecta of chocolate, waffles and fries washed down with beer, Belgium is also known for mussels and Flemish Beef Stew.
- Some Belgians speak Dutch while others speak French, and most people speak English too.
- Belgian’s currency is the Euro.
- You can travel to Brussels via Eurostar and then catch local trains to other cities from the station.