Belgium


I currently reside in Brussels, Belgium and have plenty of recommendations on sights, restaurants, and festivals throughout the country. It’s a great country to live in as an expat, and it definitely packs in its fair share of fun– and calories! For the sake of brevity, I’ll just focus on a few places that stand out as unique rather than go in depth on the hundreds of attractions and waffle stands around the country. Be sure to check the regional links above, and come back often for updates!


Brussels / Central Region

First things first — everyone who comes to Brussels will eventually find themselves in the Grand Place, which is definitely worth a visit! It hosts frequent festivals, as well as a beautiful Christmas tree and light show in the wintertime. Every other year in the summertime (July) it displays a massive carpet of flowers. There’s also the famous Mannekin Pis statue just off the Grand Place, as well as the less famous Jeanneke Pis and don’t miss the version with a dog! (Rover Pis). Families might want to go check out the Atomium, which is a huge sculpture of a Helium atom (I think) with a museum inside it. They shoot off great fireworks over the Atomium on certain nights in the summertime.


Food: Be sure to grab a waffle (my favorite is a classic, hot Liege waffle without any toppings… the really dense ones with sugar crystals inside). Also, grab some moules frites (mussels and fries) at any brasserie downtown — classic is with white wine and garlic, but some places will use Belgian gueze and chorizo — which is worth a try! Finally, if you get some frites, try some of the local sauces… my favorites are andalouse or samarri (a spicy version of andalouse). Also, if you go to a local restaurant, look for rabbit cooked in kriek (cherry beer) — it’s wonderful!


Belgian Chocolate: If you want a chocolate fix outside the Grand Place, I recommend heading up to Sablon, which has all of the high-brow chocolate shops (as well as a great market on Thursday nights with local fare). If you want to venture further afield, the Neuhaus Factory Shop offers good deals on bulk chocolate (although the nicely wrapped package chocolate is the same price as you can get downtown). The real benefit to going to the factory; however, is they put out all of their chocolate to sample and you can eat as much as you want (inside the store : )

Fatimah recently took a half-day chocolate-making class (50 EUR) with http://vanessarenard.com/, had a great time and made some amazing chocolate!


Belgian Beer: Belgian beer is as delicious as it is plentiful and strong! While there’s probably a million great spots to try Belgian beers, I’ll just recommend a few– Delirium Cafe has the Guinness record for most beers on offer (2004). Note — it can get super crowded, with warm / sticky air and a college bar feel. Still worth popping into while in town. Cantillion is one of the old-school spontaneous fermentation spots in town and makes some great lambics! They’ve kept an authentic feel to it despite its explosion in popularity in recent years. If you love lambic and can get further afield, I’d also recommend checking out 3 Fonteinen. You can also find Westvleteren around town (Westvleteren 12 has been referred to as “the best beer in the world,” and it is good!) Each beer is usually served in its own special-shaped glass that is ideally suited for it… Kwak comes in a glass that looks like a science project, and Corne is served in a horn. Sante!

Pro tip: Bottle shops downtown Brussels can have a bit of a markup in price. If you’re interested in buying large quantities of souvenir brews, the grocery stores have remarkably good selections!


Recommended Christmas Markets

As with everywhere in Europe, Belgium has some great Christmas markets. They’re all over the place, but I’ve flagged three below that I really enjoyed.

The Brussels Christmas market is large and sprawling, with food, crafts, and a huge ferris wheel, which affords great views of the city. The main action is at Place St. Catherine, although the stalls wind all the way to the Grand Place.

The Bruges Christmas Market is very popular — as you might expect. The quaint charm of Bruges makes it a natural setting to celebrate holiday festivities. Be on the lookout for mulled Kriek– I haven’t found it in any other Xmas markets!
Maredsous Abbey’s Christmas market has more of a local vibe and a cozy atmosphere. They have a small ice skating rink and offer abbey products, as well as wood-cooked salmon.


Recommended Festivals

Belgium has hundreds of festivals throughout the year, especially in the summertime. A few friends have said they want to come visit for “the beer fest,” but that’s tricky, as there is literally a beer fest every weekend throughout the year. As you might expect, these fests get super crowded, so it’s best to arrive when they first open. Here are some fests that I recommend checking out…

Waterloo Reenactment – in late June you can go see a reenactment of the Battle of Waterloo, with Napoleon and all! They also put up loudspeakers to explain what is happening and to pipe in chanting music to make it even more dramatic.
Ommegang Festival — this medieval fest take place in downtown Brussels in July. There are performances in the Grand Place with stilt-fighting, massive costumed figures, beer hand-outs, and more! There are parades around town during this time, as well as medieval games (jousting, knight-fights, etc.) in the nearby Park Royal.

Villers Abbey Beer Fest — this might be my favorite beer fest. It’s in the abandoned ruins of Villers Abbey, which provides a stunning backdrop. They have a bunch of local breweries you won’t find anywhere else, and really tasty food trucks (venison burgers, home-made Parmesan pasta, etc). It’s of the beaten path, so it’s not very crowded. It’s in late June (and makes for a super convenient combo trip from Waterloo battle reenactment).
Billie’s Craft Beer Fest – my other favorite beer fest is Billie’s (BCBF) up in Antwerp (late November). They bring together some of the best craft breweries from across Europe, as well as the United States and a bit of South America. Tickets aren’t cheap, but every brewer brings their A-game and it’s unlimited pours.

Brussels Grand Place Beer Fest – As it’s in the center of Brussels, this beer fest draws heaps of tourists and locals alike. As with many fests, you buy plastic tokens that you use like money. It’s a fun, rowdy atmosphere, and you’ll find all of the big, famous Belgian brewers here. NB — they ring off the standing space, so it gets really crowded.
Eat Brussels Drink Bordeaux – This fest takes place in the Park Royal and combines Belgium’s top restaurants / chefs with Bordeaux’ best wines! A great way to sample some of the high-end restaurants’ food and decide for yourself which ones are worth splashing out for. Also, the Bordeaux wine offers are superb!

Bruges Beer Fest – this is a great place to try a bunch of classic Belgian beers, along with some variants that you won’t find elsewhere. It gets super crowded, but is a first-rate show.