Belgium has more than its fair share of world-class art, medieval cities, quaint towns, gothic cathedrals, town halls and castles. The cities renowned for their fantastic art and culture are Antwerp, Bruges and Ghent. To the south in Wallonia, are the rolling hills of the Ardennes, and the cities of Liege, Namur, and Tournai.
Visitors can indulge themselves in fine cuisine and chocolates as well as making a start on getting through more than 350 beers the country has to offer!
Population: 10.3 million
People: 58% Fleming, 31% Walloon, 11% other
Religion: Roman Catholic 75%, Protestant or other 25%
Languages: Dutch, French
Government: Federal parliamentary democracy under a constitutional mon
Antwerp is a splendid city with numerous architectural highlights, most of which date from the 16th and 17th centuries. The past is also represented by the numerous paintings of Peter Paul Rubens who lived in the Antwerp of the early 17th century. Antwerp is considered the diamond centre of the world with the diamond district located in the Jewish part of the city. The fashionable area of Antwerp near the Meir shopping street is also worth a look.
A cosmopolitan city with different cultures, Brussels has two official languages. The best place to start on your visit is the historic market square, Grand Place, with its splendid guild houses and the impressive Gothic Town Hall. Brussels is home to both the European Union Parliament and NATO, as well as a wealth of international trade and finance companies.
Ghent has several museums, abbeys, dozens of churches and historical buildings to showcase its impressive past. Worth seeing is St Bavo’s cathedral with the world famous painting The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb by Jan van Eyck and also the Castle of the Counts, once the medieval fortress of the Count of Flanders.
Abbaye Notre Dame d’Orval
This monastery is home to the Cistercian monks who operate successful beer, bread and cheese-making industries. Orval is best associated with its Trappist brew but it also produces a raw, pressed cheese, according to a procedure developed in the last century by Trappist monks of Port-du-Salut. Only the ruins of the 12th century abbey and a small museum located in an 18th-century cellar are open to visitors.
Within Ypres is the war memorial inscribed with the names of 55,000 British and Commonwealth troops lost in the First World War. The Menin Gate was considered a suitable place for such a memorial as it was a place that many men had passed through on their way to the trenches.
Planckendael is Belgium’s largest animal park, covering almost 100 acres. The park has a respected breeding programme with frequent koala births among its proud boasts.
Pilgrimmage site for Christians with many people travelling to pay homage to a tiny statue of the Virgin Mary, housed in a baroque basilica built in the early 17th century.
Best time to go
The peak season is July and August, when the weather is at its best but prices are obviously higher. Off-season travel presents some cheap travel options and accommodation, and places are generally less crowded.
The country’s climate is moderate, with few extremes either in summer or winter, but if visiting out of season, it would be a good idea to pack a raincoat for the frequent showers the country experiences.