29 Reasons We Love Belgium
From classic Belgian waffles to fanciful delights like Mini-Europe amusement park, this little country is big on culture, cuisine, and creativity.
Belgium pops off the map, alive with modern, artistic lodgings, unconventional museums, and beloved regional food and beer. During a 10-day trip through Brussels and Wallonia, I made sure to hit the most popular travel sites, including Waterloo, Bastogne, and Brussels, but I also made a point to stray from the traditional spots…and I was glad I did. Ready for a grand tour? Here are 29-plus reasons you’ll love Belgium as much as I did.
Brussels: Chocolate, waffles, and…beer!
Brussels is the home of the European Union and a truly international city. The beautiful Grand-Place and infamous Manneken Pis are must-sees, but for a different perspective, take a bike tour with Pro Velo; it’s a unique way to admire the city’s diverse architecture and chat up a local (provelo.org). My guide, Riet Naessens, gave me a tour focused on the city’s art deco and art nouveau architecture through burgeoning and luxurious neighborhoods I might not have reached on my own. We passed by designs by some of art nouveau’s most famous architects, Victor Horta and Paul Hankar. Stunning glasswork by artist Ernest Delune at Rue du Lac 6, often seen in art history textbooks, was a highlight, as was the Horta Museum, a World Heritage Site. Pro Velo also offers a popular Beer and Breweries tour, which I’d warn beginning bikers against for obvious reasons.
Ingesting and investing in some chocolate while touring Brussels is crucial for any visit. Laurent Gerbaud has some outstanding chocolates, many mixed with tart and sweet dried and candied fruits (chocolatsgerbaud.be). Gerbaud’s interactive workshops offer students the opportunity to make and taste their own concoctions. His shop also has a café, so take a seat and enjoy the full chocolate experience. It’s close enough to do some oh-so-convenient chocolate shop–hopping at Place du Grand Sablon, where many of Belgium’s top chocolatiers have stores.
For another sweet Brussels fix, walk a few feet from the popular naked Manneken Pis statue to feast on a Brussels-style waffle with chocolate, whipped cream, and strawberries at the Waffle Factory (wafflefactory.com). When in Brussels…
Next up: a trip to the Atomium, a bizarre remnant of the 1958 World’s Fair, which might be the very definition of interesting and offbeat. This structure symbolizes an iron crystal expanded 165 billion times and houses an exhibition space. Nearby is another weird find, Mini-Europe, where you can walk among famous European monuments in miniature, including Big Ben and the Eiffel Tower (minieurope.com). Kids are the perfect audience for Mini-Europe—as are adults on the hunt for funny Instagram photos.
Dinant: Paddle through town and discover a new way to make music.
The fairytale-like setting that makes up Dinant is marked by a grand 13th-century church on the banks of the Meuse River, backed by an imposing high cliff where the Citadel rests. To take in nature, go kayaking on the nearby Lesse River with Olivier Pitance of Dinant Adventures (dinant-evasion.be). Small rapids turn to quiet currents and revert back again as you paddle and float by rock outcroppings, lush forests, and medieval castles.
In town, don’t miss the House of Pataphony, where you can expand your mind making music with everyday objects you wouldn’t normally think to “play,” from a chandelier made of cutlery to antique keys (pataphonie.be). The wildly inventive museum was dreamed up by instrument maker Max Vandervorst. It makes sense that it’s located in Dinant, the home of Adolphe Sax, the inventor of the saxophone. You can visit his home, now a small interactive museum (sax.dinant.be). Stay nearby in a castle at La Saisonneraie (from about $168 per night, lasaisonneraie.be), a former château in Falaën that tempts guests with exceptional croissants for breakfast.
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