Think of Belgium and you probably picture its medieval old towns, Brussels’ whimsical Manneken-Pis statue and, of course, Grand Place, widely considered one of Europe’s most beautiful squares. But while its art and architecture may symbolize its rich past, Belgium lives very much in the moment. Dining is a celebratory event, whether it involves drinking one of the country’s countless varieties of beer or sampling its world-famous chocolate.
There are many ways to appreciate Belgium, from soaring above the countryside in a hot-air balloon to cycling alongside the locals down picturesque village streets. Click through our slideshow to see some of the unique experiences you can have on your trip to Belgium.
See Belgium on Two Wheels
Eurocycle runs a seven-day bike and boat trip through the Flemish countryside, stopping in Antwerp, Ghent, Bruges and more. Consider renting an e-bike, where an electric motor helps your pedaling and turns hills into flats. BikeTours.com also offers a handful of bike vacations in Belgium.
Make Your Own Chocolate
Choco-Story, a chocolate museum in Bruges, offers a number of hands-on workshops for adults or families, including lessons on making pralines, truffles and mendiants. Workshops last 30 to 60 minutes and also include entrance to the museum.
Check Out the Comics
Beyond the museum, visitors can appreciate the “ninth art” on the walls of Belgium’s cities. Brussels has a comic strip walk that includes not only illustrated walls but also comic shops and galleries. Antwerp has also recently launched a series of comic murals around the city; you can check out the map online to craft your own walking tour, or book a three- to four-hour guided excursion to see all 10 walls.
Soar in a Hot-Air Balloon
Bruges Ballooning departs from Bruges, offering views over this charming historical city and the surrounding countryside. HotAirBalloon.be is another option, launching not only from Bruges but also from Ypres, Ghent, Ostend and Tournai.
Dine with a Local
Brussels is one of the top cities on the site, and dinners here range from free to more than $100 per person (with most costing $20 to $30). It’s not all Belgian food either; when we last checked the site, we saw everything from Indian to Portuguese. You’ll enjoy good food and companionship, and learn the secret attractions of Belgium from someone who calls it home.
Relax in a Salt Cave
This “salt spa” consists of two dimly lit orange- and ocher-colored rooms. The temperature is in the low 70s Fahrenheit, the humidity between 40 and 60 percent. You lie back in a deck chair, taking in the saline air. A 12-minute session is long enough for the salt to work its magic, though some visitors recommend as long as 40. You can extend the experience even further in the adjoining salionarium, where you rest on a bed of warmed bricks. You’ll emerge both soothed and invigorated, ready to take on more of Belgium’s attractions.
Have a Beer
For those who can’t get enough of Belgium’s favorite beverage, consider attending a beer festival. The options are numerous, including the Bruges Beer Festival, held each February, and the Zythos Beer Festival, held near Leuven in April. You can also take dedicated beer tours with companies such as Belgianbeerme.com, which includes itineraries centered on the most popular beer festivals.
See the Deadly Weapons of War
Because of the danger involved, tourists do not accompany them into the field. But if you’re interested, you can contact the Ypres Tourist Office to help you set up a visit to the unit’s headquarters in Ypres. (Visit ToerismeIeper.be/en.) You can see the memorial to the bomb disposal members who’ve died, along with some of the defused souvenirs of World War I.
Solve a Mystery
The first Escape Hunt opened in Bangkok in 2013, and the Brussels branch opened a year later. The game is now played in dozens of cities around the world. Each branch offers different challenges, so even if you’ve played it before, the Brussels game may be new to you. The complete experience lasts about 90 minutes. It’s great for playing with friends and family, and for whiling away a rainy day in Brussels.
Best Time to Go to Belgium
Belgium on a Budget
–written by Susan Farewell
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