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Must-see destinations in Belgium

Belgium map Google

Brussels is a great city with lots of things to do. We’ve written several blogs about this, like this one with a few great ideas to (re-)discover the city. We always recommend newcomers to go out there and explore as much as possible. Not everything at once, but to take some time every weekend to visit yet another part of town. It’s hard to imagine, but once you have had enough of Brussels, there is an entire country out there to discover too!

At Expat Club we are experts in discovering new things. By far most of our trips go out of Belgium, and for daytrips especially the surrounding countries. We do have a few trips in Belgium, such as our kayaking trips and the war trips to Bastogne and Ypres. For the latter ones, we feel it is essential to join our group, simply because we arrange the very best guides to show us around on the battlefields. But we do understand that you may not be interested in war-related trips, or you don’t feel like paddling down a river. At the same time you may not feel like going abroad.

In those cases it’s time to leave Brussels and get to know Belgium a bit better. If you have a car, you will have total freedom to go anywhere you would like. And if you don’t have your own motorised vehicle, in that case you can rely on one of the world’s densest railway systems that take you to all corners of Belgium (particularly in combination with countless bus services).

 

Belgium Railway Map

Belgium’s Railway Map – One of the world’s densest networks (source: NMBS website)

 

With a country waiting for you to be explored, it begs the questions “Where to go?”. When I just came to Belgium in 2010, my wife and I just loved putting one destination on the GPS and totally not listen to the indications. When the thing said right, we went left. And when it said to follow this highway for 20km, we simply left on the first exit. Just driving and slowly but steadily coming closer to where we need to be but without any plan whatsoever to go there in the most direct way. It was fun and it made us discover so many new and lovely places. I can imagine, however, this is not your type of weekend activity and would just like to go straight to one single place. Specifically for you Expat Club has written a new e-book, full of ideas of places you can visit on your, either by car or by train.

Belgium highway road

Belgium has a highway network of almost 1800km, and a total road network of 152.000. | by Michiel1972 (own work), via Wikimedia Commons

 

Larger cities

Of course Brussels is Belgium’s capital ánd largest city, followed by Antwerp, Ghent, Charleroi, Liège, Bruges, Leuven, and Mons. Cities give a great impression about a country. In Belgium it’s especially the diversity and incomparability of these large cities that give you an idea of this country.

Liège
Liège is a beautiful city in Wallonia located on the River Meuse where it merges with the river Ourthe. It is known for being the former industrial backbone of Wallonia and is part of the ‘Sillon Industriel’. Despite it being a working class city, it is still a great place to visit! You will get to learn all about its past concerning the medieval times and also more recently how it was affected during WW2.

Liège in Belgium

Liège may not be the first city you think, but we guarantee you there are lots of interesting things to see here.

 

Smaller towns

Besides the larger cities, also the smaller towns around the country will give you a great idea of what Belgium has to offer. In case you follow my strategy of “just driving around” you will certainly bump into a few beautiful little towns. Here is one of the best.

Durbuy
A small cobbled town located in the Belgian Ardennes with stunning views and surrounded by nature. The Ardennes is a fantastic place to visit for some peace and tranquillity  and escape the city. Self-proclaimed “the smallest city on the planet” it is a lovely place to visit. Situated on the Ourthe river, the small town center has many restaurants and cute shops.

Durbuy Belgium

The world’s smallest city, Durbuy. Of course just a marketing gimmick, but it’s a lovely place to visit.

 

War sites

Our shared history is unfortunately one of war, oppression and bloodshed. Belgium has seen several big wars. Waterloo and World War I & II. At Expat Club we believe that you must really see these sights and therefore they take in our top spots in our must-see trips.

Ypres
Ypres stood right in the path of the Germany’s planned route to sweep through Belgium and France in the First World War. This brought the British Empire to war as it interfered with Belgium’s neutrality in the war established in the Treaty of London. The city was at war between 1914-1918. At Expat Club we visit Ypres once a year around the 11th of November, with a visit to the superb In Flanders Fields Museum, a 3,5 hours guided bus battlefields tour, a visit to Ypres centre and the attendance of the Last Post ceremony at 20h00.

Ypres West Flanders

Ypres was the epi-center of WWI battlefields in Belgium.

 

Theme parks

Everyone deserves to feel like a child again once and a while. Luckily Belgium has several great theme parks. Some are for the entire family, whereas others are more for the younger ones (like Plopsaland). Our favourite one? Luckily at just a short drive from Brussels!

Walibi
The most highly rated theme park in Brussels, a great place for a family excursion. Boasts over 40 attractions ranging from child friendly to adrenaline junky. The theme park is located on the outskirts of Brussels about a 30 minute drive from Schuman.

Walibi Belgium

by Jérémy-Günther-Heinz Jähnick (own work), via Wikimedia Commons

 

Zoos

Although Belgium is rather small, there are several amazing animals parks. Antwerp and Mechelen are both reachable within an hour. The next one is possibly one of the most beautiful zoos in the world. Totally recommended indeed.

Pairi Daiza
Pairi Daiza is a privately owned zoo home to over 4,000 animals spread over 55 hectares big. The zoo, formally known as Paradisio, was opened back in 1993 as a bird garden but has since grown to house a mass variety of animals. It is the only zoo in Belgium with panda bears. No doubt it is one of the most beautiful zoos you will ever see. A true gem at just one hour from Brussels.

Pairi Daiza zoo

The Pairi Daiza zoo is only 1 hour from Brussels. It’s possibly one of the most beautiful zoos in the world.

 

Nature

Belgium is much more than cities, smaller towns, castles, and zoos. It is foremost also a country with amazing nature. We all know the large Ardennes, which covers a major part of the country, but there are a few designated (national) nature parks that are more than worth exploring on a nice weekend day.

Kalmthoutse Heide
Enjoy boundless enjoyment in Grenspark Kalmthoutse Heide! This diverse and dynamic nature reserve is located on both sides of the Belgian-Dutch border and consists of heathlands, fens, forests and land dunes.

Kalmthoutse Heide Belgium

The Kalmthoutse Heide is incredibly beautiful when the heath is blossoming.

 

Castles & abbeys

Our friends from Cheeseweb say there are more than 400 castles open for the public in Belgium. They give a great impression of the past (and present) wealth in Belgium. Some are easy to visit and close to Brussels, such as castle Gaasbeek, while others can be found in the far corners of the country.

Beloeil
The castle of Beloeil is located in Hainaut near the French border. It is often called the “Belgian Versailles” because of its style and its gardens. In addition, the castle has a library with more than 20,000 books ranging from the invention of printing to the present day. It is a place worth exploring. Being close to Brussels, it is ideal for a relaxing day out.

Beloeil Castle | © Marc.vandersmissen (own work), via Wikimedia Commons

 

At Expat Club we always advise to plan things to do during the weekend. That means, plan beforehand. Because your work week goes very fast, and on Friday evening you are probably very tired and don’t feel like planning something last minute. On Saturday you should go shopping, because during the week you can’t go shopping due to the limited opening hours, and if Sunday is maybe not the most inviting weather, then Netflix is a great alternative. But the truth is, from Friday evening to Sunday evening is just 48 hours, but those are the hours you have the opportunity to discover both Brussels and Belgium. Go out there! Discover!

Expat Club organises a lot of events and trips. We make it easy for you to explore this city and country, as well as the countries around Belgium. This way you won’t have to organise everything yourself, while you can be certain of a pre-screened activity or destination. But even we can’t be everywhere at the same time, and sometimes you just feel like doing something on your own. In those cases maybe you would like to learn a bit more about the places you we recommend for you. Download our latest e-book with some great tips!

 

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Originally from the Netherlands, but lived in several other countries in three continents before moving to Brussels in 2010. I am the founder and director of Expat Club and often your host for the many events that we organise.

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