Famed for its medieval towns, creative and innovative cities and delicious yet potent Belgian beers, Belgium is a tiny country with a lot to offer. Situated in western Europe, Belgium shares borders with the Netherlands, Germany, France and Luxembourg, and has a coastline on the North Sea. The most popular cities to visit on a tour of Belgium include Bruges, Ghent, Antwerp and Brussels.
The county is divided into three distinct regions: Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels-Capital, the latter of which is the smallest yet most populous. Home to a mixture of both Dutch and French speakers, plus small pockets of German-speaking inhabitants, Belgian culture is a combination of all three influences. Furthermore, the Belgian capital of Brussels is known throughout the world as the headquarters of the European Union. A trip to Belgium is the chance to immerse yourself in both the traditional charms and modern atmosphere of one of Europe’s most compact and easy to explore countries.
The best time to visit Belgium is during the summer, especially if you want to make use of the extensive network of cycling paths that connect the main cities to the idyllic villages and landscapes of the Belgian countryside. On the other hand, winter often brings a dusting of snow to this lowland country, creating fairytale scenes in Belgium’s medieval cities, such as Bruges or Antwerp.
History of Belgium
Home to 60 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Belgium packs a cultural punch for a country of its size. Since Roman times, the story of this country has been a tale of invasion and conquest, and its collection of ruined castles, Roman roads and medieval cities offers the chance to uncover this fascinating history. Walking through the atmospheric streets of ancient Bruges or admiring the Citadel of Namur, it’s clear to see that a vacation to Belgium is a journey through history.
Belgium, as we know it today, did not come into existence until 1830, following the Belgian Revolution when it gained independence from the Netherlands. Already, this part of Europe was known for its wealth, thanks to its trade connections and sea routes. King Leopold I was the first king of Belgium and the day of his coronation is still celebrated every year on the 21st of July. During the 20th-century, Belgium emerged as a colonial power in Africa and also acted as a battleground during the two World Wars.
Today, Belgium has one of the highest stands of living and quality of life in Europe. Furthermore, it is ranked as one of the safest countries in the world.
Nature in Belgium
The lowlands of Belgium have a lot to offer for nature lovers. From the lush valleys and meandering rivers of the Ardenne to the remote High Fens, inhabited by wild boar and deer, a vacation to Belgium offers plenty of chances to get in touch with nature. Furthermore, the country plays host to around 350 species of birds. The best places to experience the great outdoors in Belgium are in its forest reserves, natural parks and nature reserves.
One such natural attraction is the Hoge Kempen National Park, the largest protected area in Flanders. This forested national park contains more than 6,000 species of flora and fauna and is home to a number of lakes, pine forests and flowering heathlands. It is best enjoyed on a leisurely hiking trip or a bicycle ride.
Another top natural sight to visit if you travel to Belgium is the High Fens-Eifel National Park. A designated natural reserve since 1957, it’s the most famous natural area in the country. High Fens is home to the highest point in the country and is characterised by woodland and moorland. There’s a rich concentration of wildlife here, including deer and wild boar.
A bird-spotting paradise, Zwin Nature Reserve is situated on the Belgian coast, close to the Dutch border. With spectacular sea views, it is an important breeding ground for sea birds and also plays host to an array of migratory bird species.
Finally, Sonian Forest, in the southwest of the country, is home to some of the most iconic landscapes in the country. This vast forest was once a favourite hunting ground of the imperial Habsburg family, and today it is a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site. Home to beautiful beech and oak trees, it featured heavily in Renaissance-era artworks and is best enjoying in the autumn, when the leaves are awash with warm autumnal colours.
Culture in Belgium
The land of chocolate, Moules-Frites, Trappist beers and Tintin, Belgium is filled with so many excellent foods, drinks, traditions and sights, it’s impossible to not fall in love with this proudly European country.
As well as the interesting fusion of French, Dutch and German culture, Belgium is known for its vibrant folklore, presented in the frequent local festivals. Take the Carnival of Binche, with its masked Gilles, or the Giants and Dragons Procession of Ath, for example.
Belgian cuisine is utterly delicious, and if you travel to Belgium, don’t be surprised if you gain a few pounds thanks to the mouthwatering dishes on offer here. Mussels and chips, waffles, french fries, and chocolate are just a few of the foods which Belgium prides itself on.
The country also possesses a long history of producing some of the finest painters in Europe. The religious art of Van Eyck and the Baroque legacy of Rubens are among the most notable. The country is home to an array of fantastic museums such as the Groeningemuseum in Bruges and the Oldmasters and Magritte museums in Brussels. The Comic Art Museum is another fantastic art space where you can trace the origins of Belgian heroes such as Tintin.