5 Things Not to Miss in Belgium

België. Belgique. BelgienIt’s a country I never really thought to put on my bucket list, but peer pressure had me buying a cheap plane ticket from Ireland with fellow students in 2010. Much to my surprise, I fell a little bit in love, and now I’ve been twice!

You don’t have to know French, Dutch or German to enjoy Belgium. Here’s a list of my favorite Belgian things from the combined experiences of both trips.

1. The chocolate. I know it’s stereotypical. But do you really want to return home and have to reply “I don’t know,” to the inevitable question “How’s the chocolate?”

The good stuff will inevitably be pricy, so grab a (small) box of that for Mom and Dad, but get the cheap stuff for yourself — it’s just as good! You can get a chocolate mix by weight at Colruyt, and probably other grocery stores, as well. (Just check the labels to make sure you’re getting Belgian chocolate!)

Baby made of Belgian chocolate, Brussels, Belgium

How many larger-than-life-size babies made of chocolate have you bought? Yeah, me neither.

Chocolate shop, Bruges, Belgium

A chocolate-y tourist trap in Bruges. A place I’d really, really like to be trapped.

And though it will be painfully touristy, try the waffles. If you’re strong enough, you can skip the chocolate and fruit toppings to take the touristy edge off the purchase. Or so I was told. I wouldn’t know — I doused that fried bread in chocolate!

Belgian waffles, Brussels, Belgium

It’s like an ice cream truck. But with waffles!

Try the fries (“frites”with mayonnaise, too!

2. Open air markets. You could not avoid them if you tried. But don’t try! The markets in Brussels are fantastic, and I’m sure other cities have them, too. My favorite was the flea market on Place du Jeu de Balle in the Marolles. (Marolles is an ancient district in Brussels.)

I bought a ring at the Brussels flea market that I still wear nearly every day — 3 years later.

Belgian open air market, Brussels, Belgium

Rings for everybody!

After my friend Katie & I bought from this man, we talked a bit. Some of the best conversations of your life will be 50%(or more) “broken” English. (I prefer the term “second-language English.”) This guy asked where we were from. We said, “The United States.” His reply? “Ohhh! Elvis!”

He also told me that the ring I’d just purchased was all the way from Mexico. Travel halfway ’round the world to buy jewelry from your home continent? Wamp wamp. But we also saw a tiny Billiken figurine, the mascot of my alma mater, which is rare to find anywhere else! That’s what you get from a Belgian flea market: good or bad, surprises galore!

3. Kriek. It’s cherry beer. No other explanation necessary.

Kriek beer, Leuven, Belgium

See how red it is? And the head is a pretty pink! Note: Not just for girls!

4. The buildings. The buildings of Belgium are beyond words. You could scrutinize a single building for hours and not see every detail.

Brussels. Leuven. Ghent. Bruges. Wherever you are, wander. Even if you don’t know the language. Especially if you don’t know the language! One of my most memorable experiences was when I went in search of the Brussels flea market by myself. I didn’t know a word of any of Belgium’s official languages. That was the strongest feeling of freedom I’ve ever experienced.

Moral of the story: You don’t need a map of tourist destinations when the buildings are this pretty.

Leuven City Hall, Leuven, Belgium

Leuven City Hall.

Grand Place, Brussels, Belgium

The Grand Place in Brussels.

Grand Place, Brussels, Belgium

The other side of the Grand Place in Brussels.

Gravensteen Castle, Ghent, Belgium

Castles are buildings, too! Gravensteen Castle in Ghent.

Oh, and if you’re in Leuven, take a wander through the béguinage, a tiny walled town where women (who were not nuns) lived and worked together. Read all about them here. There are béguinages in Bruges, Ghent and many other cities, too.

5. Bike riding. Belgium is obsessed with bikes. No joke.

Bikes in Ghent, Belgium

So. Many. Bikes. In Ghent.

Bikes in Belgium

It was like a parking lot for bikes. This went on for row after row after row.

So hop on a bike (rentals are everywhere) and join in the fun! See a whole lot more, a whole lot faster.

If you’re near Leuven, Heverleebos is a great place for a ride. Just be prepared to get very lost and spend a few hours trying to get back to the city. (Or just bring a better map than we did.)

Heverleebos, Leuven, Belgium

Because one of me on a bike is not enough of a danger.

Heverleebos near Leuven, Belgium


So, if you’re headed for Belgium, don’t worry! No matter what city you’re headed for, it’s probably going to have all these great things!


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  1. Love this piece…wanna go! There is dark choclate, right?

  2. Becky says:

    Annie, you are the luckiest girl I know. I want to be you! love love

  3. Great post! I adore Belgium and such wonderful people too. One thing I love about Belgium is the moules frites – to die for!

  4. I’ve never been to Belgium but this architecture makes me want to go!

  5. Suman says:

    So good ‘not to see’ the usual checklist. Great post and helpful with personal insights. Travelers should do this more often. Which month did you visit Belgium?

    • Annie says:

      Thanks so much! I was in Belgium in February the first time, and October the second time. It was great both times, but superbly beautiful in the fall!


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