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Did You Know…?

  • More than 450 type of beer are made in Belgium.
  • The saxophone was invented around 1840 by Adolphe Sax, a Belgian instrument maker.
  • The word spa comes from the Belgian town of Spa.
  • The country counts more castles per square mile than any other.
  • Belgium produces 172,000 tons of chocolate a year and has 2,000-plus chocolate shops.

Of chocolate and diamonds

Belgium offers a lot of variety for a land no larger than Maryland. It is noted for beer and chocolate, fine dining and diamonds (think Antwerp), canals (think Bruges) and fine art — the woven and the painted kinds.

At different times, several European countries wanted a piece or all of Belgium, so today, Austrian, Spanish, French and Dutch influences are visible in the architecture and the Belgian lifestyle. It is a poetic turn of events then that all those nations and others made Belgium home to the European Union and NATO, as well as numerous international trade and finance companies.

Belgium offers the same charms — beautiful countryside and cities, historical attractions, cultural events and the like — of many of its neighbors but in a smaller package. However, it is not a mirror image of other European destinations. For one thing, it is to a degree two countries in one, peopled by the Dutch-speaking Flemings and French-speaking Walloons. Indeed, there are three official languages, including German, and English is widely spoken.

When tourists come, they are attracted in part by features particular to Belgium.

For example, the country is famous for its cuisine, so visitors come to eat. Some popular dishes are made with beer, and for good reason: Hundreds of different beers are brewed in Belgium, some with very unusual flavors. And no visitor with a sweet tooth can pass up Belgian chocolates. Several of the country’s festivals have a food-related focus, as well.

This also is the land of the Flemish artists well known to anyone even moderately interested in art: Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Peter Paul Rubens, Sir Anthony Van Dyck and Jan van Eyck, among others. Today, Rubens’ atelier and house are a museum. Belgium also is known for its tapestries, especially those from Tournai dating from the 15th and 16th centuries. Visitors can shop for modern variants.

Finally, the country was the setting for the Battle of the Bulge late in World War II. There are still those drawn to the cemeteries and other sites important to the Second World War.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Attend a beer festival. At the Christmas Beer Festival in Essen, you can sample more than 100 brews. Or, at the Big September Beer Festival in Denee, attend a workshop on pouring beer. At several, eat foods made with beer.
  • Rent a boat and find your way along one of Belgium’s rivers or canals. These offer you both the Belgian countryside and a unique way to sightsee in cities. Or, charter a yacht with skipper for a trip out to sea.
  • Plan an itinerary built around any of several routes marked specifically for cyclists, and visit the Eddy Merckx bicycle factory.
  • Take cooking classes. There are plenty on offer.
  • Go kayaking on the River Lesse or the River Meuse. Ride the rapids on the River Ourthe.
  • At the Ardennen Poteau ’44 Museum at Poteau-St.Vith, tour part of the Battle of the Bulge site riding an American or German halftrack (vehicle with caterpillar tracks on the back but standard wheels in front).

Things to do for Centrics

  • Experience hydrotherapy, saunas and Turkish baths in the town call Spa. Or, take the waters at the Chaudfrontaines Spa Center, in an 18th century castle.
  • Sample a wide range of specialty beers. Varieties include cherry, chocolate and raspberry, but choices also include lambic beer, which is the country’s best known.
  • Plan an itinerary, or book a tour, with chocolate as its theme.
  • Take a guided tour of Ghent by boat on the city’s canals. Or, rent a yacht in Ghent for a day of travel along St. Martens Latem and Deurle villages.
  • Go horseback riding in the countryside or even in Brussels. Combine the countryside riding with a stay in a B&B, a farmhouse or even a ranch.
  • Get a taste of a huge omelet (made with 10,000 eggs) at the annual Giant Omelet celebration in Malmedy (August). Or, celebrate other foods, such as the potato in Florenville (October) and shrimp in Oostduinkerke (June).

Things to do for Authentics

  • For distinctly Belgian products, buy lace or tapestries. Or, shop for diamonds.
  • Golf at Belgium’s oldest course, the Royal Golf Course in Tervuren, or at any of a number of others.
  • Visit World War II cemeteries — Ardennes America Cemetery in Neuville-en-Condroz and Cemetery Henri-Chapelle at Hombourg — where a total of 13.320 Americans are buried, several thousand of whom died at the Battle of the Bulge.
  • Tour a chocolate factory (there are lots to choose from), see how the chocolates are made, have a taste, then buy plenty to take home. Tour a brewery, too.
  • Travel through Belgium on a luxury barge cruise.
  • Attend church services at the Beguinage Church in Bruges. The beguinage, in the Middle Ages, was the residence for women who chose a religious life but who could leave and marry if they wished.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Belgian Tourist Office at (for French-speaking Belgium) and the Tourist Office for Flanders-Brussels at (for Flemish-speaking Belgium).