Backpacking Belgium: the best about Belgium
This post is a travelguide to Backpacking Belgium and the best things about Belgium for the independent budget traveller.
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.
Why Backpacking Belgium?
Belgium is full of lovely cities with old historical centers. 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 hsang around and offer lots of culinary delights.
For such a small country, Belgium really has a lot to offer, even when it comes to the outdoors. The Ardennes in the southeastern part of Belgium will reward any nature lover with its rugged terrain and dense forests.
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
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 or this local’s guide to Brussels.
4. The student city of Leuven
Leuven has the oldest catholic university in the world and the largest university in Belgium. As a result it is a young and dynamic student city. Leuven was an important trade center in the middle ages. Once the university opened its doors in 1425 it was also a center of art and knowledge in Belgium. Even though the city was damaged in both World Wars, the historic center has been well-preserved.
5. The Diamond city of Antwerpen
Antwerp is a historic 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 70% of diamonds are traded here. My favourite part of Antwerp is the great market square with its 16th century guildhouses. 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.
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.
Backpacking 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.
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.
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. 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.
From Brussels there are also high speed trains to Amsterdam (Thalys, Eurostar and Intercity) and trains to Paris.
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.
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9 thoughts on “Backpacking Belgium: the best about Belgium”
From an Aussie’s perspective, the country is also full of fabulous military history. I am not sure why this country is not higher on people’s ‘must-see’ lists. Thanks for capturing so many highlights in this post. Mel
Its hard to narrow down to just 10 isnt it – Second the above ! Belgium should be higher on peoples travel bucket list…I’d go just for the waffles and weird statues!
Wat een ontzettend leuke blog heb jij! Ik ben weliswaar geen backpacker, maar reis wel al jaren in mijn eentje door verschillende continenten en vind jouw verhalen echt een aanvulling en aanbeveling.
Love blogs that teach you new things! Great tips and fantastic photos!
One thing I like about Europe so much that you’ve highlighted here is how easy it is to get around to different countries! Living in the US, I’m always envious of this fact! I hadn’t considered Belgium before, but Ghent and its history is fascinating. And, of course, I’ve never met a waffle or chocolate I didn’t like…thank you!
So many great ideas for a return trip to Belgium. We spent a few days in Bruges, but longed to see Brussels. Now we have to add Ghent to the list.
I love Belgium, so easy to get to and travel around. Ghent is top of my list to discover next.
Oh this brings back so many memories but also highlights many places still to discover for this Kiwi girl. We loved Ghent, Bruges and Brussels and look forward to returning one day. Thanks for sharing.
Wonderful list! Bruges is one of my favorite places – like walking into a fairytale!