Maybe you love the chocolate, the waffles, or the beer. Maybe you appreciate that such a small country is able to play such a large role in global politics. Or maybe the scenery, history, and overall vibe of Belgium appeals to you.
All these are great reasons to check out this Western European kingdom.
Belgium is worth a visit anytime – it has been influenced over the centuries by surrounding countries like France, Germany, and the Netherlands, but has been able to forge its own unique cultural identity, including its own language.
But if you’re overwhelmed with choosing the right area in which to stay, we’re here to help. We’ll show you the best parts of the country, why we love each, and our favorite hotels and things to do. Let us be your guide!
Why You Should Visit Belgium in 2023
Like other European countries, Belgium is a blend of new and old. Tourists enjoy looking at castles, older sections of major cities dating back to the Renaissance, and important historical battlefields, including Waterloo, where Napolean’s forces were defeated.
But there are also modern elements that make Belgium worth seeing. It’s the current capital of the European Union and NATO.
It’s also considered the Diamond Capital of the World, where potentially you can score great deals on this popular gemstone and learn about the entire fascinating industry.
Beer is big everywhere too! Belgian beer has been designated by the United Nations as part of the “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.”
Today, there are around 200 breweries and more than 1,600 unique types of beer, including varieties that have been brewed by Trappist monks for centuries.
Every community offers some sort of food tour that lets participants enjoy the local cuisine and beverages while admiring the scenery. Sampling food and drink is an enjoyable way to appreciate the richness of a particular area’s culture.
The 4 Best Areas in Belgium
A trip to Belgium provides an opportunity to learn all about this unique country that continues to play an important role in European affairs.
Though it’s a relatively small kingdom, about the size of the U.S. state of Maryland, there are larger cities here with their own history and cultural identity.
All of these are worth a look on a Belgian journey:
- Brussels. The capital city provides a blend of well-designed municipal buildings plus all sorts of notable artwork, historic taverns, cathedrals and more.
- Antwerp. Belgium’s largest city and an active port includes the centuries-old Diamond District.
- Bruges. The capital of the West Flanders region acknowledges its medieval history but also enjoys promoting its current charm.
- Ghent. This community has a general laid-back vibe and plenty of world-class scenery.
Where to Stay in Belgium: 4 Best Areas
Belgium stretches from the Atlantic coast and the border of the Netherlands to Luxembourg and Germany, with France towards the bottom.
There are more than 3,000 castles throughout the kingdom, a figure some say is the most per capita in Europe for this type of structure. There are larger cities, villages, farms and more, which present a good blend of scenery for driving or train travel.
Whether you’re exploring the country by itself or as part of a greater trip through Europe, there are many options to see a good sampling of the countryside.
It also is welcoming to many language speakers: French, German and English are all commonly heard, plus Flemish, a distinct local version of Dutch.
Travelers should also be advised that, similar to other Western European countries, some services may be limited in summer due to holidays, especially in smaller communities. Some workers may be out of the office for up to six weeks at a time.
When I last passed through Brussels, it was not only during the height of summer but during a series of national holidays. Although hotels remained open for tourists, many attractions for sightseeing, even some restaurants, were firmly closed.
If you’ve been to Brussels in the past decade or so, it’s bigger now. The population is now just over 2.1 million, nearly double that of the 1.4 million recorded in 1951. It also added about 12,000 residents in just the last year.
The city attracts plenty of international visitors due to being the host capitol for NATO and the EU, a location for the World Trade Organization, and one of Belgium’s three regional administrative centers.
Although it focuses heavily on modern commerce and government today, Brussels also makes sure to recognize and preserve its roots, including a variety of museums and galleries.
Visitors are more likely to hear French in this part of the country than Flemish to the north or German to the east.
Things to do
- Palace of Justice. This structure is the oldest and largest courthouse in the country, and one of the largest in the world that’s in use. The original building opened in the 1850s and a larger addition was completed 30 years later. It received a renovation in the early 2000s.
- Stoclet Castle. Disproving the misconception that all castles must be ancient, this grand private residence wasn’t built until 1911. Tourists can’t see inside, since it’s still in use by the Stoclet family, but its elegance can be viewed from the outside. It’s considered an architectural marvel with Art Deco and Art Nouveau elements, and has been designated as a U.N. Heritage site.
- BELvue Museum. Part of this unique museum goes beyond typical historical exhibits and mementoes to focus on the contemporary themes of the country, including symbols of democracy, prosperity, solidarity, and Belgium’s role in modern Europe. There are also artifacts that Belgium claims credit for, including the waffle iron and coffee filters.
- The Atomium. This unique ride/sculpture, created for the World’s Fair in 1958, wasn’t expected to last long, but after a major renovation in 2004, still allows thousands of passengers to take a spin above the countryside. Visitors can also learn about science and atomic power during their experience.
Where to Eat
- La Trufee Noire. Truffles are a local delicacy, and this restaurant emphasizes these treats in much of its menu and décor. Diners can enjoy them in all sorts of unique ways, including cooked with beef or served with tobacco leaves. Lunch specials are also available.
- Belga Queen. Shellfish is especially popular throughout the country, especially mussels and oysters. This restaurant and dance club in a former bank has a strong focus on seafood, but also offers many varieties of pork, beef, and duck.
- Le Bistro. Along with extensive beer options, diners can indulge in another local treat, moules frites, which is a dish of mussels and French fries, with flavor variations like crème fraiche or white wine. Vegetarian options are also available at this classy spot that encourages outdoor dining on good-weather days.
Where to Stay
- Au Coeur de Bruxelles. This private apartment is in the middle of downtown with one bedroom, two living rooms, and an equipped kitchen. Guests can access a terrace and a garden.
- Guest House BXL. A breakfast composed of local specialty foods is provided each morning. The location offers guests double or triple room options. They also receive access to a garden, lounge, and billiards table. Some rooms have balconies.
- Hotel Dixseptieme. This hotel is an easy walk to the Grand Palace and the Margritte Museum, two popular tourist destinations. Guests can enjoy a mini bar in their room or a cozy bar in the lobby. A garden courtyard is also a popular feature. A variety of room sizes is available, from solo travelers to couples to families.
- Appart’City Confort Bruxelles Center Gare du Midi. Described as an “aparthotel,” this pet-friendly location blends both types of living options, including a lounge, kitchen, studio bedrooms, and private bathrooms. Hotel-style housekeeping is available, as well as a buffet breakfast.
- Hygge Hotel. Comfort is part of the focus of this establishment near the Film Museum, Egmont Palace, Parliament, and other attractions in the Elsene/Ixelles District. A breakfast buffet is provided. Guests can also tour the garden or enjoy the view of downtown from their terrace room.
- Radisson Collection Grand Place Brussels. This newly-renovated hotel focuses on providing an amazing guest experience, including two restaurants and the Atrium Bar in the central interior courtyard area. There’s also a fitness center, business center, and concierge service. It’s easy to reach nearby attractions, including the Grand Palace and Rue Nueve shopping area.
Although diamonds are mined in Africa, Asia, or Russia, about 85 percent of them worldwide end up here for evaluation, processing, and trading.
It’s a complex, multinational industry that has been in operation since the 16th century. Because diamonds are such a vital part of the local economy, the stones have led to all sorts of affiliated businesses, including graders, insurers, and security companies.
The constant commerce and international interest adds a degree of vibrancy to the large city, which could make it appealing to tourists, especially those interested in gems or other luxury goods.
There are also plenty of non-diamond attractions, including galleries, museums, and interesting buildings, along with a strong Dutch influence.
Things to Do
- Chocolate Nation. The world’s largest chocolate museum provides plenty of interactive knowledge about one of the world’s most favorite foods, including a 90-minute overview of the history of Belgian chocolate. The 14-room tour predictably ends at a chocolate shop where visitors can load up on sweets.
- Castle Nottebohm. With so many castles around the countryside, it’s hard to choose just one of particular interest. But this one just north of Antwerp in the village of Brecht attracts a lot of attention for its history. It was built in 1834 as a summer home. But it gradually fell into disrepair and is believed to be haunted. Director Tim Burton thought it would be perfect for his film, “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.” Some filming took place outside, but it was declared too unstable to film inside, so a version was rebuilt in Hollywood.
- KMSKA. The Royal Museum of Fine Arts provides a solid collection of art from the Low Country, and a suitable substitute for fans of 17th century artist Peter Paul Rubens, since his home/museum is off-limits. It closed at the beginning of 2023 and is expected to re-open in 2027 following an expansion and renovation. Visitors to KMSKA can see the work of Rubens, James Ensor and other notable artists.
Where to Eat
- The Jane. Owned by noted chef Nick Bril, who started in the industry as a dishwasher, this high-end location prides itself on unique flavors of shellfish and fish dishes plus various selections of local cheeses. A complete dining experience is estimated to take up to four hours. There is also regular collaboration with “untitled,” a nearby high-end bar, to add to the creative liquor choices.
- Frites Atelier. Who knew frites could be considered gourmet food? Besides the owner of this restaurant. The location focuses on frying quality potatoes that have been grown in proper soil and then adding just the right amount of flavoring and toppings to provide an amazing sit-down dining experience. Various meat and seafood combos can be added.
- Kommilfoo. Described as formal yet unpretentious, classic yet modern, and smart but casual, this location is known for interesting and sometimes contrasting cuisine choices blending all types of cooking techniques. One of its permanent specialties is Pyrenean Goat.
Where to Stay
- Antwerp City Hostel. This location provides dormitory-style housing, including a room for women only. It’s near a variety of attractions, including the MAS Museum and the Rubens house. It includes an on-site lounge, bar, and nightclub, along with a continental breakfast.
- The Ash. A variety of rooms are available, including double, king, and dormitory style, plus private or shared bathrooms. It’s near the train station and other attractions, and includes a shared kitchen, garden, games room, and library. Tea and coffee are available.
- The Greenhouse. This bed-and-breakfast focuses on plants and overall sustainability. It includes a sun terrace and plenty of indoor and outdoor foliage to enjoy. There’s private bathrooms, refrigerators and microbars in the rooms, and guests can also visit a coffee shop and lounge.
- Yays Antwerp Opera. A recently-renovated apartment complex provides a variety of guest rooms that include kitchens and dining rooms, plus linens. Breakfast is provided each morning and vegetarian/vegan choices can be provided. Bicycles can also be rented.
- Goodnight Antwerp. Located in the Antwerp Center district, this location includes private bathrooms, flat-screen TVs, and a continental breakfast. It’s not far from many attractions, including the zoo, MAS Museum, and Astrid Square.
- The Old Beech. This well-decorated new bed-and-breakfast includes a scenic living room, garden, and room service. In addition to daily breakfast, guests are also provided with chocolate, cookies, fruit and their choice of champagne or wine. They also are offered packed lunches to take with them while they explore the city or countryside.
Bruges has been called “the Venice of the North,” for a lot of reasons. Physically, it resembles Venice with a series of canals going through it. People also say the community has the same low-key creative vibe that they’ve encountered in northern Italy – but with fewer people.
Another nickname it has been given is “The Dead City.” This came about in the 1890s when a travel reviewer declared that Bruges was strange and mysterious, and perfect for someone lonely to come and wander around by themselves, thinking about lost love and life in general.
Today, Bruges has become a great travel destination for those interested in the city as well as the nearby sea. It still tends toward quirky, but there’s plenty to see and do, including a well-preserved medieval village, museums, art galleries, and more.
Things to Do
- Bruges Beer Experience. Part interactive museum, part recreation describes this attraction that tells guests all about the country’s famous brews. This includes a guide to the different ingredients and what distinguishes Belgian beer from others. The tour ends at the gift shop and tasting area. Visitors can also skip the museum part and end up in the bar anyway.
- Belfry. The tallest building in the middle of downtown has been keeping time since the 13th century. It’s fun to look at from the ground at first, or climb the 366 stairs to the top. While some carillons use recorded music, this one uses 47 bells that are played a few times each day.
- Frietmuseum. Continuing the city’s theme of celebrating the off-beat, this particular museum invites guests to consider the amazingness of the frites/French fry. It’s an opportunity to learn about why so many of us love this style of potato worldwide, and why Belgians believe this treat originated here. At the end, guests can sample all sorts of frites combos and other snacks.
- Basilica of the Holy Blood. The historic center of Bruges includes a core that hasn’t changed since the Middle Ages. One area that continues to draw attention is a 12th century Catholic chapel with several holy relics, including a vial of what has been claimed to be the literal blood of Jesus.
Where to Eat
- That’s Toast. If you’ve ever craved more toast before, during, or after breakfast, you may appreciate this unique café that provides toast-based meals until late afternoon each day. You can also wash it down with coffee or fresh-squeezed juice.
- Mozart: More than Just Ribs. This steakhouse provides a selection of meat dishes in a cozy atmosphere, featuring books on the wall to be like a study/library or a train car. The servers also offer to pair your meal with an appropriate Belgian beer.
- Den Gouden Karpel. Being close to the water and near fish markets presents the opportunity for all sorts of fresh fish and shellfish dishes, which you’ll find here. There are plenty of varieties of mussels, oyster and shrimp entrees, plus creative combinations like “Fighting with the Kraken” and bouillabaisse.
Where to Stay
- Charlie Rockets Youth Hostel. If you’re all about being social and traveling with other like-minded folks, this could be the perfect place to have a great time. Accommodations include double rooms or 6-bed dorms with shared bathrooms. Guests can visit the nearby bar and restaurant and enjoy billiards and darts.
- St. Christopher’s Inn Hostel at The Bauhaus. With double rooms or 16-bed dormitories, this location could be great for any sized party. The hostel is next to a bar and restaurant, so it’s easy to get food and drinks. Free hiking tours, bike rentals, and beer tastings are also available.
- Hotel Jan Brito. A former royal residence has been converted into a classy hotel, complete with a courtyard, library, a bar, garden pavilion and fitness center. A large breakfast is served in the library area. Bicycle rental is available.
- Hotel Botherhuis. Guests receive breakfast each morning as well as packed lunches for later in the day. The hotel has plenty of hardwood floors plus private rooms with terraces. It’s located near the train station and near the Jan Breydel Stadium.
- The Notary. This bed-and-breakfast emphasizes comfort and sustainability. Guests can enjoy an infinity pool and hot tub plus in-room minibar. Breakfast can take place in the dining room or the guest room. There’s also an on-site bar. Windows allow guests to see the gardens plus the river.
- Grand Hotel Normandy. The classy hotel includes a classic Norman façade but the rooms are modern. There’s also an indoor heated pool and fitness area. The hotel bar offers liquor and beer, and a large breakfast each morning.
Ghent doesn’t get as much international attention these days when compared to other Belgian cities. But at one time, several centuries ago, it was the largest city in Europe.
Today, it seems fine with the more subdued role: this ultimately means there’s great stuff here but fewer tourists trying to explore all of it at once.
The city has all sorts of beautiful scenery, many museums, community festivals, and a good deal of nightlife to enjoy. There’s also a university here, and the whole place has been designed to be very walkable.
Like Bruges, it has a series of canals and an older downtown core. Although food is a big focus of every Belgian city, Ghent wants to make sure its contributions are noted.
It believes it has more vegan and vegetarian restaurants than London or Paris, and has given itself the title of “veggie capital of Europe.”
Things to Do
- Gravensteen. Many castles are found in the countryside between the major cities. But this sturdy one on the river was built in the center of Ghent in the 1180s for the Count of Flanders. Since it has been used for everything from a justice center to a factory. Public tours can provide info about its history and the city.
- SMAK. The Municipal Museum of Contemporary Art shows that art keeps moving forward. It includes a blend of newer artists specializing in minimalism, conceptual art, and pop art, as well as other interesting and provocative exhibitions from around the world.
- The Paterschol. Formerly considered a rough part of town, the area has been gentrified and is now known as the place where many restaurants and cafes of all styles are located, plus plenty of street art.
Where to Eat
- Oak. Though the look and feel focuses on minimalism – white tablecloths and little décor — the restaurant has developed a good reputation for quality and precision.
- Max. The historical record is spotty on who first cooked the first Belgian waffle. Some say it originated in Brussels for the World’s Fair in 1958 and then later was taken to the World’s Fair in Seattle in 1962. The owners of Max say they came up with all of it years earlier, and have the waffle irons to prove it. Whether or not this claim is true, there’s no doubting the popularity of this sit-down waffle-only restaurant.
- Mr. Sato. Contemporary Asian cuisine is what this place is all about. Diners can enjoy all sorts of taste combinations in a relaxed and casual environment.
Where to Stay
- Hotel ClassEco. This hotel offers triple rooms with shared bathrooms, which can be handy for families or groups. It’s near the train station. Guests can visit the garden and use the barbecue equipment and shared kitchen.
- Guestrooms Bij Het Station Van Drongen. Free bike use, a garden, and a sun terrace on a quiet street can help make a stay here peaceful and guests feel refreshed during their sightseeing. They can also access a kitchen and shared bathroom.
- Snooz-Ap Holiday and Business Flats. These air-conditioned apartments could be useful for business or pleasure. They include fully-equipped kitchens, dishwashers and oven, plus a microwave and refrigerator.
- One Two Four Hotel and Spa. The comfort level is high here, with spacious rooms, concierge service, and a continental breakfast each morning. Guests can also enjoy walking in the garden, looking at the city from their balcony, or visiting the spa.
- Yalo Urban Boutique Hotel. There’s plenty to love about these accommodations, including large rooms, soundproof walls, extra-long beds, great views of the city and river, and a breakfast. Some rooms have balconies.
- Gepettos. This bed-and-breakfast in the historic center of town has been in operation since 1947. Guests have private rooms and can even use a private entrance. Each room has a coffee machine. There’s also a picnic area and garden on-site.
So, Where Should You Stay in Belgium?
|🎉 Best for Nightlife||Brussels|
|💎 Best Area for Shopping||Antwerp|
|🖼️ Best for Museums||Bruges|
|💰 Most Budget-Friendly Area||Ghent|
The overall charm of Belgium seems to be a constant, but each community offers something unique to travelers. The modern, dynamic kingdom is proud of its past and is also poised for great things in the future, whether on the political side or the food side.
So, with so much to see and do, what are you waiting for — book your trip today and experience for yourself all that Belgium has to offer. Happy travels!