Don’t let Belgium’s relatively small size fool you – this country probably has more to do per square mile than most other places on earth. And best of all for the traveler, it’s a comparatively easy place to get around and English is widely spoken. The country is divided into two ethnic regions, Dutch-speaking Flanders to the north and French-speaking Wallonia to the south. Dividing them is an imaginary east-west line that bisects the country at Brussels, which is claimed by both. Although this is a major political conundrum for the Belgians, for the traveler it’s inconsequential.
Brussels is quickly gaining a reputation as one of Europe’s must-see destinations. With its central location in the heart of Europe, Brussels is easily accessible by air or high-speed rail from neighboring countries. It is an international metropolis – a mosaic of languages, cultures, and traditions – and the home of the European Union, NATO and hundreds of international organizations, English is widely spoken, making it a great place for even a novice French-speaker to get by without an issue.
The historic center of Bruges is on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites and is teeming with places of interest. With the city center closed off to cars, all the stunning beauty and culture of this unforgettable city can be easily explored on foot, by boat along quiet canals, or by horse-drawn carriage on cobblestoned streets. Although Bruges is a small city, it is filled to the brim with architectural and artistic treasures, folklore, chocolate shops, lace boutiques and fine restaurants.
Namur, the capital of Belgium’s French-speaking region, sits along the Meuse River and is just 1-hour by car or train from Brussels. This impressive fortified town is surrounded by one of Europe’s largest ancient citadels, first built during the 3rd and 4th centuries, and later reconstructed during the 13th and 14th centuries. For shopaholics the city is popular for its many fabulous boutique shops.
Known for its vibrant nightlife, its funky bars and restaurants and numerous festivals, Belgians see Antwerp as the “capital of cool.” The Antwerp Fashion Academy produced a group of avant-garde designers who made a big splash on the fashion scene in the 1980?s and became known as “The Antwerp Six”. Nowadays, the academy continues to churn out new, hot talent.
In this town close to the Luxembourg border, thousands of American soldiers died fighting in WWII during the Battle of the Bulge. Their legacy lives on in the hearts and minds of locals and they take it upon themselves to remember the sacrifice those soldiers made for them and their town. On the Grand Place of Bastogne, there’s a Sherman Tank from the 11th US Armored Division.
If you ask a Belgian where they like to travel within their own country, many will tell you about the friendly city of Ghent. With most of the town center closed to cars, they will probably also tell you that Belgium’s third largest city is best explored on two wheels or by boat along the elegant canals.
along the Meuse River. In the fall of 2009, the city welcomed the opening of a stunning, new train station, which brings visitors to Liege from Brussels in 1 hour, Maastrict, Holland in 20 mins and Paris in 2 hours. Designed by the world-renowned architect Santiago Calatrava, it’s a prime example of Liege’s modern transformations.
Less than an hour from Liege is the city of Spa, a picturesque Belgian town often referred to as the “Pearl of the Ardennes,” nestled in a wooded valley surrounded by rolling hills and countless rivers and springs. Having given its name to all spas, visitors from across Europe have traveled to Spa for its healing hot spring water treatments since the 14th century. For some travelers a trip to Spa must include a visit to the relaxing Thermes de Spa for any one of the many modern spa treatments.