Guest Author - Julie Fredrick
Often overlooked for more “well-known” European countries, Belgium has finally found its place in the tourism world. Famous for its medieval architecture, Belgium lies at the literal heart of Europe, and proudly boasts more architecture, art, history and food per square centimeter than many other European countries.
The densely populated country that is about the size of Maryland shares borders with France, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Belgium's two largest regions are the northern, Dutch-speaking region of Flanders and the southern, French-speaking region of Wallonia. The capital region of Brussels is officially bi-lingual. German is the official language in a small part of the country, but English is widely spoken by the younger generations.
In stark contrast to its Gothic past, Belgium is a world leader in human rights. Gays and lesbians have rights on par with heterosexuals, and euthanasia was made legal in 2002.
The city of Brussels is one of the world's great cosmopolitan capitals, and is home to both the European Union and NATO. In addition to containing Europe’s most beautiful central square, The Grand Place, Brussels is brimming with trendy bars and nightlife, world-class shopping and hosts numerous exhibitions and festivals each year.
Bruges-is often referred to as “The Venice of the North”. The medieval city is considered by some to be one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. With its well-preserved gothic architecture, the entire center city claims a spot on the UNESCO world heritage list. While visiting Bruges, stroll through the canal-lined streets and shop for textiles.
Antwerp, home of the world’s biggest diamond industry, is the go-to place for high fashion as well as jewelry. While in Antwerp, stop in at the Kulminator bar where you can sample some of the over 500 Belgian beers offered here.
Once the largest city in Western Europe, Ghent is a wanderers dream, with numerous museums and cafés, along with fascinating architecture. The modern town is energetic and chic. While here, take the glass elevator at the fourteenth-century Belfry for a fantastic view of this impressive Gothic city.
Belgium is famous for its chocolate, so a visit to one of the many chocolate shops in the country is a must. Godiva is the best known, but there are many smaller, family-run shops scattered throughout the country. Warning-they close during hot weather.
Are you a beer drinker? You’ll find some of the world’s finest brews in this tiny country. Jupiler, Maes and Stella Artois are the standard, world-class beers, but if you really want to sample the country’s flavors, visit one of the active abbeys that brew the traditional six Trappist beers. Each of the hundreds of beers is served in their own unique embossed glasses, crafted to bring out the best of the taste and aroma.
Belgium is famous for its mussels, waffles and, despite their name, French fries. In order to get the full gastronomic experience of Belgian food, avoid the touristy restaurants (especially the ones with touts that steer you in their direction) and have your meal at a local tavern. You’ll save money and have far superior food. Since the introduction of the EURO, food is relatively expensive in Belgium. However, simple dishes containing sausage, potatoes and/or spinach are inexpensive and filling.
So if you are considering a trip to Europe, don’t overlook Belgium, the truly European Europe. I guarantee that you will be pleasantly surprised.
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