Belgium? Yes! Wedged between Germany, France, and the Netherlands, Belgium is a charming, attractive vacation spot– and one of Europe’s most underrated destinations. This small, sophisticated country is home to a unique mix of delightful towns and bustling cities, history and culture, beautiful landscapes and fine lace – and let’s not forget its outstanding beer, delectable waffles, and creamy chocolate which are welcome fare any time of the day!
Brussels, the cosmopolitan capital of Belgium and of Europe, has more than a hundred museums as well as many concert halls, theatres, cultural centers, and art galleries. It is home to the art of Belgian artist, Rene Magritte, and the Royal Palace, the official administrative residence of the Belgian monarchy, with its neoclassical façade. Brussels is considered a green city with half the city made up of parks, woods, and other lush green spaces – and one of the largest pedestrian zones in Europe. For panoramic views of the city, take the elevator up the Atomium, a unique architectural creation and the iconic remnant of the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels, and float high above the city. And, in addition to the many chocolatiers offering mouthwatering treats and the craft microbreweries, indulge in the chips – the ultimate crunch delicacy which Brussels is famous for. A trip to Brussels wouldn’t be complete – oddly enough – without a visit to its well-known and celebrated Mannekin Pis which is a 17th century bronze statue of a young boy peeing – a statue laden with legends that bring it to life.
Antwerp is Belgium’s up-and-coming “second city” and the de facto capital of Flanders, Belgium’s Dutch-speaking region. A port city, Antwerp was once one Europe’s most important trading cities and has, in recent decades, regained its edgy, creative spirit. Antwerp is home to top-tier museums, such as the MAS (Museum aan de Stroom) and the 17th– century Rubens House, where there are period rooms displaying works by the Flemish Baroque painter, Peter Paul Rubens, who made Antwerp his home. Much of the historic architecture in Antwerp is in the Flemish Renaissance style, as evidenced by the Cathedral of Our Lady -a soaring medieval cathedral, and the Grote Markt, an inviting main market square in the old town. Historically the diamond capital of the world, Antwerp’s Diamond Quarter occupies close to a square mile of the city.
With spiky golden architecture, cobblestone streets, vivid time-tunnel art, and picturesque canals, Bruges – nicknamed “the little Venice of the North” – is a delightful tourist destination. Biking along the canals is a favorite activity in Bruges as are canal cruises. Its city center – Burg Square – features a 14th –century City Hall. Nearby, the Markt Square, with its many lovely restaurants and cafes, features a 13th century tower with a 47-bell tower which jingles several times an hour and an 83 meter tower with panoramic views.
Ghent, another popular tourist destination in Belgium, is well-known for its historic quarter, art and design museums, massive cathedral with the Van Eyck altarpiece, and medieval monasteries – alongside a touch of hipster funkiness. Visit the mysterious medieval Castle of the Counts where you’ll find the moat and defense systems largely intact, and wander through Ghent’s large public squares and marketplaces where you’ll find international stores alongside authentic boutiques. Gastronomes will delight in the local cuisine in the newly revitalized Patershol restaurant quarter.
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