Backpacking Belgium: the best experiences in Belgium
This post is a travelguide to Backpacking Belgium and the best things about Belgium for the independent budget traveller. Belgium is located in the heart of Western Europe and borders The Netherlands, France, Luxembourg and Germany.
Although it is a small country there are many reasons to go backpacking Belgium. Be it the delicious food, the rich culture, the fascinating history or the varied landscape.
I am lucky that Brussels is only 3 hours away by train from my hometown in the Netherlands. The Dutch might have their stereotypes about the Belgiums, but I absolutely love the country.
Why Backpacking Belgium?
So why Backpacking Belgium? Belgium is the perfect destination for backpackers. It is small, easy to travel in there are plenty of things to do.
Let’s start with Belgium’s rich history and vibrant cultural scene. The country is home to some of the most beautiful medieval cities in Europe. Think about world famous Bruges and Ghent, but also the student city of Leuven. Even bigger cities like Brussels and Antwerp are quite fun to hang around in and offer lots of culinary delights.
Belgium is famous for its chocolate, beer, and waffles, and is a foodie’s paradise. The country has more than 1,500 varieties of beer, and its chocolate is considered some of the best in the world. Belgian waffles are a popular street food, and the country’s cuisine is known for its hearty stews, seafood dishes, and flavorful sauces.
For such a small country, Belgium really has a lot to offer, even when it comes to nature. Belgium has a varied landscape, with rolling hills, forests, and sandy beaches. The Ardennes region is particularly beautiful, with its picturesque villages, hiking trails, and outdoor activities.
After several visits I made a list of the best things about Belgium including some of the best Belgium food experiences when backpacking Belgium.
Backpacking Belgium for lovers of history
If you are in Belgium you must definitely visit Bruges. Bruges is famous for its cobbled stone streets and medieval architecture as well as its canals. The city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with many historic churches and buildings such as such as the Belfry Tower and the Basilica of the Holy Blood.
Bruges is my favourite place in Belgium. It’s a small city, but 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? Bruges, is Belgium in a nutshell.
Ghent is not far from Bruges. Both were important trade centers in the Middle Ages and connected to each other by a network of canals. Ghent is the bigger brother here as it was one of the richest and most powerful cities in medieval Europe. The city center is home to many historic buildings, such as the Gravensteen Castle, St. Bavo’s Cathedral, and the Belfry Tower.
Ghent remains a large and important city in Belgium with a vibrant art and culture scene due to its young student population. Make sure you stop here and join the students in the many restaurants near the canal at the Korenmarkt.
Ghent is a foodie’s paradise, with many local specialties and innovative cuisine. You can sample waterzooi (a creamy fish or chicken stew), Gentse neuzen (a cone-shaped candy), and cuberdons (a sweet cone-shaped candy filled with raspberry syrup).
At last, Ghent is trying to be one of the most sustainable cities in Europe, with a focus on green spaces, cycling, and pedestrian-friendly streets.
Read more at Bel Around the World for the best things to do in Ghent.
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.
The student city of Leuven
Leuven is home to one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in Europe, the Catholic University of Leuven. As a result it is a young and dynamic student city.
The university opened its doors in 1425, making it a center of art and knowledge in medieval Europe. The university buildings and the town hall are architectural gems and some of the best examples of the 15th century Gothic style. Even though the city was damaged in both World Wars, the historic center has been well-preserved.
The Diamond city of Antwerpen
Antwerp is a dynamic city, close to the dutch border. It has the largest port in Europe and has therefore always been a multicultural centre of commerce and business attracting merchants from all over the world. Ethnic minorities that once settled in Antwerp include the Armenians, the Jews and Jains from India.
Antwerpen is also the world leading diamond city and more than 80% of the worlds diamonds are traded here. It’s also an important fashion city home to many fashion designers. My favourite part of Antwerp is the Great Market square with its 16th century guildhouses in Baroque style. Here you can really feel its history as a trade hub near the Netherlands.
Antwerpen is a really fun city to be. It is the second largest city of Belgium and besides the historic sights there are also lots of museums and lots of great restaurants to try Belgian cuisine.
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.
The Citadel of Namur is a must-visit attraction in the city. It is a well-preserved fortress that dates back to the 13th century and offers spectacular views of the city. Namur’s historical center is a delightful area to explore. It is home to beautiful architecture, including the St. Aubin’s Cathedral, the Belfry, and the Town Hall. The center is also dotted with charming cafes, restaurants, and shops.
Namur is known for its culinary delights, with a focus on local and seasonal ingredients. Visitors can sample local dishes such as escavèche (pickled fish), tarte al djote (a spinach and cheese tart), and couque de Dinant (a hard biscuit).
Backpacking Belgium for nature lovers
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.
Backpacking 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.
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.
Tasting Belgium 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.
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 travel tips
How to get around Belgium
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. The national railway company is called NMBS, and it offers regular train services throughout the country.
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. Interregional 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.
Buses are another option for traveling between cities and towns in Belgium. They are generally slower than trains but can be more affordable, especially for shorter journeys.
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 go backpacking Belgium
The best time to visit Belgium is from April to June or from September to November, during the spring and autumn seasons. During these months, the weather is generally mild, and there are fewer crowds than during the peak summer season.
In spring, the flowers in the parks and gardens are in full bloom, and the cities come alive with outdoor festivals and events. The autumn season brings vibrant colors to the trees, making it an ideal time for nature walks and hikes in the countryside.
If you prefer warmer weather and don’t mind larger crowds, you can also visit Belgium during the summer months from July to August. This is the peak tourist season, and many popular attractions and cities can be quite crowded. However, there are also many festivals and events during this time, such as the Brussels Summer Festival and the Gentse Feesten.
Winter can also be a beautiful time to visit Belgium, with Christmas markets, snow-covered landscapes, and cozy cafes serving hot chocolate and waffles. However, the weather can be cold and wet
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