This post is a travelguide to Backpacking Belgium and the best things about Belgium for the independent budget traveller.
Why Backpacking Belgium?
My Southern neighbour Belgium is so nearby and always lurking me to come. Less than three hours by train from the Netherlands, it’s in fact perfect for food loving backpackers like me.
Belgium is full of lovely cities with old historical centers full of cosy restaurants. Belgium cuisine is a delight and there are so many delicacies to indulge in.
After several visits I made a list of the best things about Belgium including some of the best Belgium food experiences.
The 10 best things about Belgium for lovers of history and cities
1: Romantic Bruges
If you are in Belgium you must definitely visit Bruges. For me, it is my favourite place in Belgium. It’s a small city without a specific old town center, rather the whole place brings you back to medieval times. Every street and corner offers new picture perfect scenes. Add several old churches, romantic canals, nice restaurants and plenty off shops offering Belgian delicacies like chocolate and waffles. What else do you want?
2. Medieval Ghent
Another charming city with plenty of historical churches and a nice old town is Ghent. During the Middle Ages this was one of the richest and most powerful cities in Europe. Now it is a student city popular among the Belgian youth. Make sure you stop here and join the students in the many restaurants near the canal at the Korenmarkt.
Read more at Bel Around the World for the best things to do in Ghent.
3. Brussels, the capital of Europe
Even after several visits throughout the years, Brussels is a city I am always looking forward to. Old churches, beautiful buildings and plenty of restaurants. During my last visit I was lucky to see the bi-annual flower carpet in the big market. I have never seen Brussels this busy.
At other times the big market is more quiet and every time the view still takes my breath away. Brussels is the capital of Europe. One can visit the European Parliament, the Atomium and of course both Manneken Pis and the female Janneken Pis. Janneken Pis is more hidden, so make it your mission to find her through the old cobble stoned streets of the old town center.
If you want to know more about Brussels check this post on 30 free things to do in Brussels.
4. The student city of Leuven
Leuven has the oldest catholic university in the world and is a true student city. Even though the city was damaged in both World Wars, the historic center has been well-preserved. The lively, dynamic city is worth a visit.
5. The Diamond city of Antwerpen
Antwerp is close to the dutch border, yet I was there only twice. A pity as the city is fun, beautiful and offers all the Belgium delicacies you want. Antwerpen is also the world leading diamond city and more than 70% of diamonds are traded here. The old town in Antwerpen is just as scenic as most other historical cities in Belgium.
6. The french city of Namur
Namur is the capital of french speaking Wallonie and knows a long history. The Romans already settled down at its strategic locations where the river Sambre joins the Meuse. There is a citadel with beautiful views on the town.
The best things about Belgium for nature lovers
7. The forest & hills in the Ardennes
Another highlight of my Belgium trips is the Ardennes. A region of densely forested hills and cute villages. It’s an excellent destination for the outdoor lovers. There are plenty of opportunities such as hiking, mountain biking and rock climbing. You can also visit the worlds smallest city Durbuy, wander around medieval castles in the picturesque town of La Roche en Ardenne or watch the spectacular views from the Citadel in Dinant .
The best places to stay in the Ardennes can be found in Airbnb. We stayed on a farm near Dinant in the middle of the countryside. Our host was very friendly and even invited us over for dinner one evening.
The best things about Belgium for food lovers
One of the best things about Belgium is the food and therefore I wrote this special section on the best things about Belgium for food lovers.
8. Try Belgium waffles
Once in Belgium, forget about your diet. Belgium food is amazing and one thing you should definitely try are the waffles. Waffles come with a variety of toppings like cream, strawberries or chocolate. Skip lunch, sit back and fill your stomach with a sweet waffle.
9. Tasting Belgian chocolate
Another reason to forget about your diet is chocolate. I am a strange person that is actually not that fond of chocolate, but Belgian chocolate is something else and makes even my mouth water. Since 1635 Belgium is one of Europe’s most important producers of chocolate. You can watch the production in action in one of the chocolatiers where you can also taste the huge variety of different praliné’s on offer.
10. Tasting Belgium Beer
I actually do not drink and so far haven’t found anything alcoholic that I like the taste of. Untill I was in Belgium and I tasted Kriek, a cherry beer. Belgium has the biggest variety of beers in the world so sit down at a café and try something new.
Backpacking Belgium by train
The train is one of the cheapest and most comfortable ways to travel in Belgium. There are frequent train connections between the major cities of Brussels, Ghent, Bruges, Antwerp and Leuven.
There are three kind of trains. The intercity trains are fastest and only stop in the major cities. Local trains are the slowest and stop at every station. Interegional trains are in between.
Check the most recent timetable at the site of the Belgian Railways where you can also easily buy your ticket online. If you travel in the weekends you can apply for the cheaper weekend ticket. And if you travel more than 10 times you might want to consider the Belgian Rail Pass.
Backpacking Belgium on a budget
Belgium does not need to be an expensive destination. For cheap accomodation there are backpacker hostels available and Airbnb also has some great places to stay on a budget.
I already mentioned that the train is a budget friendly way to travel through the country with discounts in the weekends.
For cheap eats it is best to avoid the restaurants in the touristic centers of town. Try to find more local places to eat in the backstreets. Not only will this save you money, the food will be better too.
When to visit Belgium
Summer is without doubt the best time to visit Belgium. Other good times are spring and autumn. Winter is cold, but if you dress warm it is very well possible. Don’t miss the christmas markets in this time.
Ellis is a travelblogger from the Netherlands with over 20 years of experience as an independent budget traveller in more than 50 countries. She has a Master degree in Cultural Anthropology and Global Health with a specialization in South Asian cultures and the Caucasus.