Updated: 12/5/19 —
Belgium is sometimes a tricky place to explain to people who haven’t experienced it for themselves. I personally don’t know anyone with a burning desire to go there; and it’s probably on very few bucket lists. Being in Belgium is a fantastic, lovely, pleasant experience… but finding a particular reason to go there isn’t always easy. I mean, it’s not a destination like, say, London where I can easily come up with 9 ¾ reasons to visit in under just as many seconds.
Unlike the hustle and bustle and packed-itinerary potential of cities like Paris, Rome, or Amsterdam, 4 days in Belgium is more like an actual vacation—a time to just wing it, chill, drink a crapload of beer and eat a crapload of the foods that make life worth living: waffles, chocolate, and mayonnaise-covered french fries. Bonus points when you can get it all from one street stand. [picture hilarious cabbage patch gif here.] Belgium is a country full of cities that are full of badass places to catch a buzz, killer spots to eat lunch, and so-stupid-gorgeous-you-can’t-freaking-be-real canal-side patios to just sit and watch the world float by.
This is something I understand now, though at the time I was clearly on a mission to fill every hour of every day (with beer, lolz). Hence, visiting four different cities in just 4 days in Belgium. I look at every one of my quick trips as an audition. Sometimes I leave feeling I’ve seen enough, satisfied with simply getting to scratch off another country; but other times those couple of days are more akin to cube of cheese on a toothpick at Costco—a small sampling, a teaser, encouraging me to return and spend more time. That tends to always happens with cheese. And countries where beer is made by monks.
4 DAYS IN BELGIUM | BRUSSELS
Brussels… I’m just not that into you. The rest of Belgium? You’re perfect! Never change!
It’s true. Brussels just didn’t do it for me. It’s the Ed Sheeran of Belgian cities. Everyone else seems to like it but I just couldn’t get over its weird rapping and grammatically incorrect lyrics. Uhh, what I meant to say was: all the trash and the overwhelming feeling that I was about to be violently robbed.
A lot of people do like Brussels but what I experienced was a dreary, cold, trash and graffiti-covered city full of men who gave me the heebie-jeebies, and an overwhelming and constant feeling that something big was about to go down. The adjective that comes to mind is “post-apocalyptic”. I’m a very (if not the most) uncompromising traveler when it comes to trusting your gut and my gut told me to stay on my guard in Brussels, Ninja Turtle-style, ready to karate-chop a mofo at the drop of a waffle.
The problem with experiencing Brussels as a post-apocalyptic wasteland is that visiting the city is a necessary evil. Brussels is the capital of Belgium, the capital of the European Union, and it’s going to be the base for all plane and train travel during your 4 days in Belgium. But! There’s a bar that holds the Guinness record for offering the most varieties of beer so… you won’t want to skip it completely.
WHERE TO STAY IN BRUSSELS
Even though I visited four different cities during my 4 days in Belgium, I stayed in Brussels three of those nights, masochist that I am. After much consideration, I chose to stay at the Meininger Hotel Brussels City Center. It’s sorta like the anti-European hostel in that this place—located in a former brewery—is ENORMOUS. The rooms are enormous; the hallways are enormous; the common areas are enormous; but your total bill will be teeny-tiny. There’s a (you guessed it, enormous) hotel bar area, I could walk everywhere I needed to go, there’s no need to compromise for personal space, and it’s the only place in Brussels I felt actually safe.
Check out more reviews on Tripadvisor | Book your room here!
WHERE TO EAT & DRINK IN BRUSSELS
As far as eating in Brussels went, I had real crap luck. I know there are good places to eat in Brussels—I do read other travel blogs. (If you have dining recommendations for Brussels, let me know!) The one and only real meal I had in Brussels… nothing on the menu was translated even remotely correctly so what you ordered was a complete mystery. I somehow ended up with fried cheese sticks and ketchup and a man singing opera outside my window for all of Belgium to hear.
Drinking though—that’s a whole ’nother story. Besides being the capitals of both Belgium and Europe, Brussels is nothing if not the capital of kickass places to drink. Don’t leave Brussels without visiting:
Delirium Café | The brand featuring the cute pink elephant boasts the most beers in one joint and has the Guinness record to prove it. The bar itself is down an (obviously creepy) alley and I stopped counting at 4 floors? The place is, as must be everything in Brussels, enormous and the selection is even enormous-er. I asked the bartender for a beer list and he dropped what I thought was the Yellow Pages down in front of me with the force of a Looney Tunes anvil. Any thicker and that thing would’ve crashed through to China. I panicked and ordered the signature Delirium Tremens and I ain’t even mad.
A La Mort Subite | A bar that dates back to 1928 and makes you feel like you’re still there. This (enormous) place is straight out of your every art deco dream with fancy, bow-tied waiters and pink beers you’ll never stop thinking about.
Brasserie du Lombard | Get the Kwak in all its weird-ass glory or just choose randomly from the infinite beer options. Also, you can eat here! One ENORMOUS problem Brussels has is that the majority of the bars don’t serve food. Brussels, you are the weakest link—goodbye!
WHAT TO SEE IN BRUSSELS
Umm, you tell me. So sue me; I’m spoiled. I’ve become accustomed to visiting major European cities bursting at the seams with world class museums, world famous monuments, and worthwhile sites to see. I was more than a little unimpressed by what Brussels has to offer visitors. For the love of God, two of Brussels’ most famous “must-see” sites are the statues of a little boy taking a piss and of a girl herself taking a squat. I mean, If I wanted to see a set of tiny genitals taking a piss I’d save the travel cash and simply offer to walk my neighbor’s chihuahua.
Neither of these are out of the way (the girl is in the same alley as Delirium Café) so if you simply want to see them to have seen them, I understand that. That’s what I did, shamefully.
Manneken-Pis | A much-smaller-than-you-think fountain of a boy pissing that was, in the 15th century, the major source of drinking water in the city. So much eww. For whatever reason, like any Chihuahua owned by anyone ever, they put different outfits on it every now and then. Jeanneke-Pis is the female version that was commissioned in 1985 and therefore has no historical importance. So… you’re saying it’s revolting and embarrassing and nothing more?
Atomium | The *enormous* atom built for the World’s Fair in 1958. You can go in and up—five of the nine spheres are open to the public with lookout points, a restaurant, and a lot of exhibition space.
Grand-Place of Brussels | The city’s main square and a UNESCO World Heritage Site made up of buildings mostly dating back to the 17th century. It’s here you’ll find the gorgeous ‘flower carpet’ every other August and a pretty good Christmas market (so I’m told) but mostly it’s just full of people awkwardly trying to get a photo of the place which is virtually impossible.
I did Brussels all wrong; I know that. I knew nothing about the city and I’m sure I missed out on so much. (Right?) If you’re into experiencing Brussels in a much better way than I did, I’d recommend booking a tour and letting someone who knows the area take over. Check these out:
- Brussels Half-Day City Tour
- Small-Group Brussels Beer Tasting Tour
- Brussels Hop-On Hop-Off Tour
- Brussels Chocolate Walking Tour and Workshop
4 DAYS IN BELGIUM | GHENT
The decision to spend a day in Ghent was sort of a last minute one, having had my fill of waiting to be mugged in Brussels. Ghent is only about a twenty minute train ride from Brussels Central Station—so of course I mistakenly got on the one that took a full hour. I went to Ghent with no plan and no idea of what there was to see there, I only knew it was awesome ‘cause my brother said so. Regardless, I was pretty sure there was beer there, so where’s the harm?
WHERE TO STAY IN GHENT
Had I known more of what to expect during my 4 days in Belgium, I would’ve planned it much differently. Instead of using Brussels as a home base, mostly relying on day trips, I would’ve just packed up and stayed the night in each town I visited—moving through the country like a plastic bag in a gust of wind. I didn’t stay the night in Ghent but I really wish I had. Of all the 4 cities I visited during 4 days in Belgium, Ghent is the one I wish I’d spent more time in. Forget unpacking and getting comfortable in one spot. My advice to you: spend some time in a city then move on to the next, unpacking your bag only because you can’t find a damn thing you put in there. If you decide to stay overnight in Ghent, here are some great places to check out:
NH Gent Belfort | This is the best selling hotel in Ghent and I’m totally staying here next time. Belgium has totally spoiled me in terms of large spaces I can walk around naked in. This place is right in the city center and has everything you could possibly need–including something called the “Lazy Sunday” package. Nail. Head. I’ve stayed at other European NH hotels and I’ve always had great experiences. Read reviews on Tripadvisor | Book your room here!
Ghent River Hotel | Because I’m a sucker for wood beams and exposed brick that make me feel like I’m living it up medieval style, that’s why. This is another hotel in a great location plus they advertise “2 meetings room and a crypt (up to 100 people)” so… better grab your plot soon! Read reviews on Tripadvisor | Book your room here!
Hotel Monasterium PoortAckere | That’s Belgian for “THEIR DINING HALL LOOKS LIKE HOGWARTS!” It’s located in Ghent’s historic center and is located in a former neo-gothic monastery dating from the year 1278. They offer bike rentals and, I’m only assuming, eternal salvation. Read reviews on Tripadvisor | Book your room here!
WHERE TO EAT & DRINK IN GHENT
Be wary of my advice here—I’m pretty sure I ate horse.
The Great Butcher’s Hall | My first stop after arriving in Ghent was food. I’m not sure why or how but I ended up at the Great Butcher’s Hall without any hesitation. Like I was helplessly pulled in by a beer magnet or a charcuterie tractor beam. I had a delicious (horse or not) “discovery of East Flemish meats and cheeses” and a beer that, even though I have no idea what it was, was still better than any beer you’ve ever had.
Some nameless food stand | Bear with me here. Attached to the Great Butcher’s Hall a little ways down (maybe it’s actually part of it? I know surprisingly little for someone so willing to dole out travel advice.) is a walk-up window of glorious Belgian food products. Eat here and eat all the things. Still hungry after my meal of “maybe-horse”, I stopped here for some traditional Belgian frites and bitterballen, my new love. Do I wish I’d also gotten the 2.5€ to-go order of escargot? Absolutely. It’s my biggest regret to date. The guy in line behind me said that stand serves the best frites in Belgium and I don’t disagree.
Het Waterhuis aan de Bierkant | Probably the best spot to drink a beer in Belgium. The interior is small and was super crowded when I went but the patio is where you want to be anyway. It’s big and right there on the water. It’s here that I tried *maybe* my favorite beer of all time: Gruut Blonde. Gruut is a beer made and sold only in Ghent that uses a “special mixture of spices called gruut” instead of hops. Life. Changing.
Another nameless food stand | Look, my point here is: don’t even bother trying to find a restaurant in Belgium. All the best food is found on street corners and at walk-up windows. Here I got yet another chocolate-covered waffle and a bag of cuberdon. Cuberdon is a traditional raspberry-flavored Belgian candy, invented in Ghent, with a sugary crust outside and a gooey inside. Melts in your mouth; becomes an indistinguishable squished purple mess in your coat pocket.
WHAT TO SEE IN GHENT
From what I hear, there’s a lot to see in Ghent if you can bring yourself to put down your beer mug. Having no official plan, I simply wandered the city, making a mental note of all the places I wanted to see on my next 4 days in Belgium.
Gravensteen | The very well preserved 10th century castle that has everything you want in a medieval castle: huge doors, a moat, and a “museum of judicial objects”, i.e. fun ways to kill people.
St. Bavo’s Cathedral | The gothic 10th century cathedral that’s home to the world famous Ghent Altarpiece, the most stolen piece of art in the world and believed to be the most influential painting ever made. I mean, Hitler stole it and that guy only wanted the best swag. The Monuments Men took it back, but still.
Belfry of Ghent | The tallest belfry in Belgium built in the year 1313, nothing unlucky about that. Head up to the top for just 8€ and panoramic views of all the bars you’re going to drink at later. If you make it out in one piece, mwahaha!
As with Brussels, I should’ve taken a more proactive approach to my Ghent sightseeing, letting someone who knows what the hell is going on lead me around. If you’re in same boat (that’ll be funny in a second), check out these tours:
- Belgium Beer Tasting Tour in Ghent | I’ll always recommend a beer tour.
- Guided Boat Trip in Ghent | Since this trip I’ve become hooked on taking river and canal tours. Ghent would be a great place to take one!
4 DAYS IN BELGIUM | DINANT
During my 4 days in Belgium I decided to take a side trip to a different country altogether: Luxembourg. One thing I really liked about this tour was that on the way back from Luxembourg to Brussels, we stopped off for a tour of Dinant, a small, charming Belgian city you’d probably never otherwise get to see. It’s not even on my Google map. (And after that, we stopped on the highway to pick up a stray dog and wait for the police and its owner to arrive. Yay humanity!)
WHERE TO STAY IN DINANT
As with Ghent, my time in Dinant was brief and I didn’t stay overnight. But like I said before, I definitely would have loved to have spent a night here. If you’re into independently drinking your way through Belgium, here are some suggestions for where to stay in Dinant:
ibis Dinant Centre | Right on the river with great views. It’s the best-selling hotel in Dinant and is rated as the best place for solo travelers. Also, according to the pictures on Booking.com, one of the rooms comes with its very own ghost. Read reviews on Tripadvisor | Book your room here!
La Belle Étable | If you’ve ever wanted to live like a thoroughbred on an 18th century farm, this freaking adorable B&B is for you. Read reviews and book your room here!
WHERE TO EAT & DRINK IN DINANT
Having just had a huge lunch in Luxembourg (my first cheeseburger in ten years—I call it the “Luxemburger”) I didn’t eat in Dinant but did drink a beer (gasp!) at a great spot.
Café Leffe | If you know anything about beer that doesn’t have the word “Lite” on the label, you’ve heard of Leffe. The Leffe brewery/abbey is actually right down the road so the beer couldn’t be fresher. Café Leffe is right on the river with great views all around. But mostly the fresh beer thing. Bonus points to the staff who, after seeing me try to stealthily sneak a beer coaster into my purse, then brought me a whole stack of all different designs “for my collection”.
WHAT TO SEE IN DINANT
Notre Dame de Dinant | A 13th century gothic cathedral right there on the riverbanks. I can’t find any “official” information on it, but we walked in right off the street to check the place out. It has an onion-shaped bell tower, one of the largest stained glass windows in Europe, and your tour guide can tell you more.
The Citadel of Dinant | High on the cliff behind the cathedral is the town’s citadel that you can get to by either cable car or climbing the 408 beer calorie-burning steps. Tour the citadel’s dungeons, kitchens, and the weapons museum, and get great views of the surrounding area. “Hey, I can see my next beer from here!”
Maison Leffe | Because sometimes we do wanna see how the sausages are made. The 7€ admission price includes a brewery tour, tasting, and “a gift” that I’ve never wanted so badly in my life even though I haven’t a clue what it is.
Let’s get Sax-y | Dinant, Belgium just so happens to be the birthplace of Adolphe Sax, the inventor of the saxophone. Take a walk over the town’s main bridge and check out all the sax art (I call this “Sax 5th Avenue” but the town of Dinant does not) or follow this map to check out all the sax in the city.
If you’re at all interested in visiting Dinant as a stop between Brussels and Luxembourg (with a tour company that keeps dogs from getting hit on the highway), I definitely recommend this tour I took with Viator:
4 DAYS IN BELGIUM | BRUGES
…is not a shithole. It’s a charming little town reminiscent of the Middle Ages and that’s why we love it. And Viggo Mortensen. After three nights in Brussels it was finally time to move on, to the city I most looked forward to during my 4 days in Belgium. I’ve never heard a bad thing about Bruges (other than Colin Farrell calling it “a shithole” but he didn’t even give it a chance) and I also have nothing negative to impart. The town is utterly perfect. Historical architecture, ridiculously perfect patios, easily walkable, and beer beer beer beer beer (to the tune of Rihanna’s “Work”).
WHERE TO STAY IN BRUGES
I loved the place I stayed in Bruges so much I wrote an entire post about it which you can read here:
I was so lucky to have been hosted by St. Christopher’s Inn at the Bauhaus, a European hostel chain whose Bruges location has a Belgian beer bar. Even better, they have a nightly beer tasting led by a professional, not someone like me who just shouts, “Drink!” every sixty seconds. The location is perfect and they, too, offer private rooms for those of us who don’t like to share. Check out more reviews on Tripadvisor | Book your room here!
WHERE TO EAT & DRINK IN BRUGES
Anywhere and everywhere. Just choose a place; I guarantee it will be delicious and come with a sick view. If you think I’m kidding, you clearly haven’t been to Bruges. But you’d be right to judge; I do kid a lot.
Uilenspiegel | Have lunch on the patio and enjoy one of Bruges cutest canal views you’ll spend half your time photographing your food in front of. If you can’t tell, Belgium made me never want to eat or drink indoors again. I simply had the soup of the day, some bitterballen, a Bruges Zot, the local beer, and a heaping helping of their free Wi-Fi.
De Halve Maan Brewery | The producers of Bruges Zot and the only brewery in Bruges’ city center. They offer tours, have a great terrace on which to drink, and, most importantly, they have a TWO-MILE BEER PIPELINE that shoots beer from the brewery across town into their bottling plant. Yes, I said “beer pipeline.” They also have a “quadrupel”–as in, not a dubbel, not a tripel, but a quadrupel. Hello? Can you say “one and done”? Now try saying it in Dutch because I bet it’s hilarious.
The Chocolate Line | You’re not crazy—it’s true that I haven’t mentioned a single place to get good Belgian chocolate in this entire post. Besides not really liking chocolate that much (I KNOW WTF IS WRONG WITH ME), I also have a severe nut allergy. And as much as I like taking risks in life (see this, this, and this post for examples), I don’t really like taking risks with my ability to breathe and/or live, so I stay away from chocolate altogether. However, my travel buddy–Julianne from It’s Five O’Clock Here–does not have to worry about anaphylaxis and enjoyed the hell out of some chocolates here.
2be | No, my cat didn’t walk across the keyboard again. 2be is a bar in Bruges that I discovered during my canal tour since its terrace is really only visible from the water. As our boat floated by, everyone on the terrace waved and smiled and it took me half a second to realize that’s where I needed to be next. 2be is a… unique place. If you can get past the Smurfs murals and bathroom sink that is literally a fish tank, the canal-side patio and beer selection is everything.
St. Christopher’s Inn | $5 pizzas and free breakfast with your stay!
WHAT TO SEE & DO IN BRUGES
Just everything | Bruges is a place, much like Venice, Italy, where every street and around every corner is something to make you go, “Ooh look!” Unlike Venice, shop vendors don’t cuss at or chase you down the street for not buying anything in their stores, but that’s a blog post for another day.
After arriving in Bruges, drop off your bags and simply walk. Make it your plan to just roam and get utterly lost, the only event in which I could ever win a gold medal. Bruges’ historic center is small enough that you won’t end up too far away from your hotel and you’ll easily be able to find your way back. The fact that I’m not still strolling Bruges cobblestone streets almost a year later is a true testament to this fact. Admire the architecture, pop into a cathedral or two (the Basilica of the Holy Blood has a vial that contains the blood of Jesus Christ… allegedly), and don’t miss the colourful Market Square. And then that other market square. There are two, one of them is called Markt, and I was constantly confused. If you prefer not to just stroll without purpose, check out this tour:
Canal Boat Ride | Walking through Bruges is interesting, but cruising through Bruges is a whole ‘nother level of cool. You can call it Pimp My Day in Bruges, if you want. Canal rides are available seemingly everywhere in Bruges. Grab a spot on the nearest one whenever you’re ready to go but know they stop taking passengers around 5:00 pm(ish?). They’ll wait for you if they see you running down the street towards them though, frantically waving your arms—Nice people in Bruges who probably understand you’ve been drinking all day.
Climb the Belfry | If you’re like me and always want to get the highest view in town, don’t miss out on climbing the bell tower. The wait can be long most times so go first thing in the morning if you prefer to avoid human interaction at all costs. Up here you get 360° views of Bruges and the absolute bejeezus scared out of you if you’re standing under the carillon’s 47 bells when they go off. It’s 366 steps to the top and there’s a museum on your way up—or on your way down because what are we not gonna do? Jump. (Please watch In Bruges so I don’t sound like such a freak here. )
Check out the windmills | I. Love. Windmills! On the edge of town you’ll find four windmills spread out as far as you can see that have been here since the end of the 13th century. One of them, the Sint-Janshuis Mill, is open to visitors and is still used to grind flour. (Wait just a minute; flour isn’t used in beer-making! What’s going on here?) Being located outside the city’s main center, these windmills get missed by a lot of visitors. Lucky for me, they’re right around the corner from St. Christopher’s Inn so I was able to hang out here at sunset—another reason you should stay the night in cool cities.
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