Belgium thoughts?

Like others, I’d suggest down-shifting from the 3 locations and settling on two (Amsterdam and Brussels or Bruges). If pressed I’d argue for Amsterdam and Bruges to give you
a) a nice comparison of two countries / cultures
b) a comparison of the big (and at times brash) city, vs somewhere a little smaller / slower

We spent a long weekend in Brussels and I don’t think we needed more time there. Interesting enough but not somewhere we’ve ever thought about returning to.

Amsterdam is different and we’ve returned a number of times (it helps that there are direct flights from our local 3 gate airport). However over the years we’ve chosen to stay further outside the centre, as that appeals to us much more than the centre, which is to be experienced for sure, but can be rather too raw an experience. These days a long weekend might have us get the tram into the centre for a mere 2-3 hours, before heading back to the suburbs (We tend to go for the area immediately south of Vondelpark - Willemsparkweg / De Lairresestraat) and enjoying the more pleasant shopping area on PC Hoofstraat and around.

For a first trip you may prefer to stay centrally, but good if you can find time to see a suburb or two, as they give a very different perspective on the city, and beyond the museum quarter does indeed present a more relaxed (and IMO classier) view of the city. Be aware that in most accomodation (excepting modern hotels) stairs are exceptionally steep, as a result of the old tax that used to be applied according to frontage of houses - so they built them thin and tall!

Stuff in the very centre that I’d recommend

  • Walking round on a sunday morning. It presents a very different vibe to the rest of the week and it’s a super time to wander around the canals
  • Anne Frank’s house - it’s certainly a poignant aspect of this city
  • Red Light district. I do recommend everyone to visit this area if they are in the city, if only once. It really does make you think about the attitudes towards prostitution, and their attempts to make it safe, secure and with medical etc. support vs. trying to hide it and what issues that can allow to prosper. If going, I’d recommend going in the evening, maybe between 8 and 10pm, and just stroll around as so many do. I do recall many years ago being there later, and feeling a distinct change in mood around midnight, as the crowds left and those that remained felt a lot more edgy. On that point, it’s much safer than you’d expect in the evening, but be very careful about having wallets, purses and any valuable tucked tightly away. Pickpockets have long been a problem there, in a way they aren’t in the rest of the city. In addition, despite the liberal attitudes to marijuana, at times the sellers of hard drugs have been noticeable and far from shy about selling their wares, including in times gone by pestering tourists. Although there was a big push to drive them out many years ago, I suspect it’s an ongoing battle to clear them out, so if you encounter it, just don’t reply, walk on by without making eye contact. Warning done, I’ll reiterate my encouragement to go there, even with teenage kids / spouse. It really is a socially important aspect of this city and seeing it for real helps you reassess your own views about whether legalisation or prosecution / forcing it into the shadows is the way to go.
  • Coffee shops (i.e. the marijuana selling ones). This is less of a recommendation. I’ve been in 2-3 but I’m a non-smoker who’s never had an interest in this, and FWIW most were grungy.
  • Albert Heijn supermarket worth a browse, for different stuff and assuming you can bring it home with you, find somewhere that sells dill and mustard sauce. A few countries do this, but there are some great examples in Holland.
  • de Bijenkorf and Hema are the department stores, a concept that isn’t big in Holland.
  • There are some good specialist shops such as Bier Koning, plus a good stamp shop. As with any big city, specialist interests are probably catered for. Hell we even found a water shop on one visit, selling nothing but a vast array of bottled waters. There are also some good chocolate shops dotted around the city.

Stuff a short walk from the centre

  • The 9 streets (named after 9 animals) have some wonderful shops, including on our last trip a couple of interesting wine shops. Other places we’ve enjoyed shopping in include the wonderful (nay legendary) cheese shop Kaaskamer on Runstraat, a very good coffee roaster, the quirky toothbrush shop, antiques shops etc. etc. Take your time wandering these shops / streets at your leisure.
  • Albert Cuypmarkt, Albert Cuypstraat is a very long street market. Not the best street market, but there is some good stuff amongst less interesting stalls and plenty of cheap places for a quick bite to eat / coffee along its route.
  • Vondelpark, ideally on a weekend during the day, Sundays especially good. It’s a large park, easily walked to from the centre and easy to walk around. It’s vibrant and green, in a city where there isn’t a lot of greenery (the neon lighting in the red light district does NOT count)

Plenty of other stuff to do and see, including mainstream stuff I’ve not mentioned. I do definitely recommend getting some time out of the centre, if nothing else to allow the sensory overload to dissipate.

In terms of food, it really is an eclectic selection, covering many cuisines and varying from some very good and innovative restaurants, to some terrifying vending machines (people actually eat what comes out of them?!!!). Our favourite remains a modest Ethiopian place off Overtoom whose address we don’t know, but we’ve been able to remember the directions. Wonderful food and a nice vibe to it as well.

Has anyone done a beer tour of Belgium? Hit any of the Trappist or Monkish breweries?

Make Gent your home base. The IBIS hotel across St. Baafs is cheap and the location is otherwordly. I prefer it over Bruges by a mile.

[Edit: Aaaand I just realized that I’d commented on a 7-year-old post.]

We spent a few days in Bruges. Nobody stays there longer than a day or two. We actually found that 4 days was nice. But definitely no reason to stay longer. Brussels however was old after 2 days. Would go elsewhere for a home base.

Thank you for necrobumping this thread. I should be better at reporting back on the trip to “pay it forward”. We ended up with a pretty full 10-day itinerary w four destinations but it never felt too rushed.

Arrived Brussels around noon tired. Hotel (Hilton) was near the main train station a short walk from the main square. Great location and the room was massive and comfortable. First day we just went on the RickSteves walking tour and had a nice Belgian dinner at a raucous restaurant.

Next morning we went to the SUPER COOL Autoworld car museum. If you’re a car geek, it’s well worth spending 2-3 hours and the park around there is nice. Then we went to the Magritte Museum which was surreal (sorry). It’s a small place and we saw it in maybe 90 minutes. Then some lunch and another museum. This was the fin-de-siecle Museum, which I absolutely loved. The next morning we did something that frankly i was pretty dubious but Jules had read was fun…the Automium on the grounds of the 1958 World’s Fair. It was surprisingly awesome. We did the combo ticket w the nearby design museum which was okay but not a must see. It was chilly, so back to the city center for thick belgian hot chocolate in a place along the Galerie de la Reine and family some down time at the Hotel.

The next morning we left Brussels and did a tour (Quasimodo?) of the WW1 battlefields. This was a fantastic all day tour of battlefields and cemeteries that dropped us at our next destination, Bruges.

In Bruges, our room was a tiny little space above an AWESOME beer bar Cafe Rose Red. They had some really hard to find trappist beers. The room was ridiculously small, but cheap and uber convenient for Dario to chill while we had date night downstairs. I’d stay here again in a heartbeat but it’s not “fancy”. Our time in Bruges was spent doing the typical touristic things; the chocolate museum, the clock tower climb, boat rides around the canals. It’s really a beautiful city that takes on a whole different feel when tour buses depart at sundown. We only spent 2 nights which was plenty.

Train to Amsterdam where we stayed in a nice AirBnB in the 9 Streets area. This location was okay as it was central but we still walked a LOT. Must sees for us: Anne Frank Museum, Verzets/Van Gogh Museum and people watching at the open air market. The city is really picturesque. While there was weed smoking in Brussels, Amsterdam was another level. It’s fine, but outdoor dining can get a little stinky

That’s it. 10 days plus a travel day home was a good pace for the three places plus Flanders battlefields.
4B0C71AC-61DF-4D1B-8E86-FF0E8E1FC40F.jpeg
2F96BDA3-CB53-4640-AC19-1CA5DF66C9CD.jpeg
A0967D3B-9013-4FBF-A994-EC24CF68C607.jpeg

1 Like

Fun to read this thread. Spent many family summer holidays in Belgium where my father grew up in a small town between Bruges and Ghent. As widely noted above, Bruges is a very charming town - essentially a walkable museum of Flemish architecture preserved in time. A leisurely few hours strolling around rewarded with a Duvel and some mussels (and fries!) in a cafe on the market square is a weekly ritual for many Belgians, and for many all the time there needed to appreciate it.

Fifteen minutes from Bruges is the tiny village of Damme. Le Siphon restaurant there is an institution serving local classics such as eel. I thought it was only a legendary place with my relatives but smiled when reading a scene from LeCarre’s Day of the Jackal set there. Bordeaux lovers will especially appreciate some of the steals on their list - https://www.siphon.be/en/menu

For a much livelier, and equally impressive base I would second the recommendations for Ghent. As a university town it has much more going on in the evenings yet still a wonderful place to wander around and explore with both great shopping, restaurants and architecture. A step further in that direction is Antwerp - a larger city with tremendous buzz and a thriving fashion, arts and gastro scene. My cousins who live and work in Brussels travel there often on weekends to enjoy the trendier bars, restaurants and shopping.

Agree that Brussels itself has a lovely, lively center around the magnificent Grand Place, but surrounded by a pretty uninspired sprawl of neighbourhoods not offering much for the visitor. If in Brussels, a short walk north from the Grand Place/Bourse is the Saint Catherine district with some wonderful restaurants. I can’t recommend enough Noordze - essentially a street counter venue with multiple stand up tables, serving some of the best seafood I’ve ever experienced (all fresh from the North Sea).

Also well worth a day trip - Mechelin (fascinating history and a spectacular central market square lined w charming cafes and inviting pedestrian shopping streets to and from), and Leuven (another bustling, beautiful university town many will recognize as the home of Stella Artois). To name a few.

I stayed in Brussels for a few days on a beer trip in 2018. Not the most spectacular European city, but I’d obviously recommend it for the lambic, gueuze, etc. If you happen to be there on a Sunday and want to immerse yourself in beer culture, In De Verzekering Tegen De Grote Dorst is about an hour outside of town: an amazing pub with a mile-long beer list, only open Sundays around church services, and absolutely unmissable if you’re interested in beer.

Otherwise, my two favorite day trips were Ghent and The Hague. Easy by train, and beautiful.

1 Like

Heading to Belgium in the fall (late October) and hitting a bunch of cities. Anyone have any restaurant recommendations in Brussels, Bruges, Antwerp, Ghent or Lier? Some cities are multi night stays, others are day trips but we are always looking for good spots to eat for lunch or dinner.

Thanks in advance!

Reupping my own post to see if anyone has any recommendations. :innocent:

haha , so much nonsense here… Anyway…
Antwerp , Ghent and Leuven are the most fun when you want to combine culture , excellent restaurants and beer . Brussels has great areas but you need to know them . There are areas that look like some shady parts of the Bronx but also very nice ones .
People here are not anti-American at all ( unless you are very loud and drunk… ) , almost everybody speaks english . We have more great restaurants than you can visit in a life time . With great wine lists .
Michelin guide will point you towards them . But you need a reservation well in advance .
Restaurant recommandations :

  • there are 3 restaurants that have 3 stars > Hof van Cleve ( Kruishoutem , not so far from Ghent but you need a taxi ) and Zilte in Antwerp ( spectacular ). Bourly is a recnt one , not as good yet as Cleve and Zilte .
  • In Antwerp , you have the most choices depending on what you want . Most people’s favorite for classic food is het Fornuis . Trendy places include the Jane , le Pristine , Komilfoo , Het Gebaar , Hertog Jan and nebo . Dim dining is a fantastic Japanese restaurant ( sake also ) . Bistrot food : definitely the Vieux Port , For hotels : if you can afford it , the Botanic . Otherwise hotel August ,
  • In Brussels , for wine , go to Comme chez Soi . Bozar is a lot of fun , as is Villa in the Sky . La Paix also in a bad neighboorhood but that should not scare you , it is great .
  • in Ghent , Vrijmoed and Oak .
  • in Leuven ( a student own ) : Eed and Essentiel .
    In the South , l’air du Temps is highly recommended .

In Belgium , most wine is sold not in a shop but by importers , especially Burgundy and Bordeaux . You have to order on the phone and they will deliver it to your hotel . There are some shops in majot cities but they will sell more trendy wines from the new world and countries like Spain .

There are many small cities worth a visit , such as Mechelen and Lier . If you like the north sea and the beach , go to Knokke ( also known for great restaurants ).

Bruges is a city for tourists . It’s very nice but overcrowded . ( unless you like Amsterdam , then you will likely not find it overcrowded … ) . You can see it half a day .

If you only have 2 or 3 days , I would go to Antwerp or Ghent .

1 Like

This is fantastic. Thank you so much. We noticed that it is already difficult to get reservations at some of the restaurants we wanted to go to and we were looking a month out!

My wife and I just returned from Belgium yesterday. It was our first time visiting the country. We flew in and out of Brussels and had a car the entire time. We wanted to limit the number of times we changed hotels, so decided to spend 3 nights in Bruges and 3 nights in Brussels. Our itinerary was as follows:

Day 1 - Morning landed in Brussels, picked up car and drove to Ghent. In Ghent toured St Bavo’s Cathedral (took the tour to see the Adoration of the Lamb altarpiece) and Gravensteen Castel. Stopped for a beer (Westvleteren 12) at De Dulle Griet Beer Hall then continued on to our hotel in Bruges.

Day 2 - Drove from Bruges to Antwerp and back (for dinner at The Jane - more on this below). While in Antwerp, we toured DeKonnick Brewery, Chocolate Nation, Cathedral of our Lady and the Central train station.

Day 3 - Toured Bruges all day, climbed the Belfry, visited the Frite Museum, took a boat ride on the canals, ate a lot of chocolate, bought some bottles of Westvleteren 12 to bring home.

Day 4 - Drove from Bruges to Ypres to see the Menin Gate Memorial and Flanders Field Museum. Then drove to our hotel in Brussels.

Day 5 - Toured around Brussels, visited Mini-Europe and the Atomium. Stopped by the Grand Place, the Mannekin Pis statue and grabbed a few beers in the Delerium village.

Day 6 - Took the self-guided tour of Cantillon Brewery then drove to the Battle of Waterloo Museum and climbed the Lion Hill memorial.

Hotels:
Bruges - We stayed at the Pand Hotel. Great location. We booked the Master Suite which provided more than enough room. Wonderful breakfast each morning and a very helpful staff. We would definitely stay here again.

Brussels - We stayed at the Hilton Grand Place. Very centrally located. Small room, very poorly lit, and very warm (we actually had the front desk send up a fan for the last 2 nights). The entrance is across from the train station and when we arrived there was trash on the ground everywhere. We would probably not stay here in the future.

Meals:
I will highlight 3 restaurants that we would return to

The Jane (Antwerp) - We only booked the trip 6 weeks out and by that time the restaurant was sold out. Reservations open up 3 months to the day and I am told sell out immediately. I really wanted to try this restaurant so we put our name on the waitlist for four of the days that we were going to be in the country. About two weeks before the trip we received an email stating that they had a table for one of the nights. The room was stunning, service was impeccable and the food was fantastic. 12 course tasting menu and a good wine list - we stuck to Champagne and had bottles of Ulysse Collin Extra Brut Blanc de Noirs Les Maillons and Cedric Bouchard Champagne Blanc de Noirs Cote de Val Vilaine at very reasonable prices. This certainly deserves its ranking (#23) on the list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. Also has 2 Michelin stars.

San Cravates (Bruges) - 1 Michelin Star restaurant with a very reasonably priced 4 course tasting menu. Also has a very well priced wine list. We started with a Jacques Selosse Rose. I then ordered a Ulysse Collin champagne only to have the waiter return to tell me they were out of it and then he also mentioned that there was no more bottles of Selosse available either (or at least they did not want to sell me one). Oh well, I was happy to drink some Mugneret Gibourg instead.

Le Rabassier (Brussels) - I normally don’t put too much weight into Trip Advisor rankings, but when I saw this was ranked #1 out of more than 2,300 restaurants in Brussels and had nearly unanimous positive reviews, I decided to investigate. It was a very small (maybe 8 tables) well appointed restaurant run by a husband and wife team. We had the four course black truffle menu and they were not shy about shaving a lot of truffles on each dish. The only negative was that the wine list was also small and rather uninspiring.

Overall Thorughts:
We really enjoyed Belgium. I can not believe how much chocolate we ate. Bruges is every bit as touristy as you would imagine, but still a very quaint city. You can probably see the entire city in 1-2 days. Brussels is a very modern city. There are some very beautiful old buildings but plenty of ugliness as well (lots of trash, graffiti and pan handling). I would probably explore more of the country before returning to Brussels. We only spent about 10 hours in Antwerp (and 4 of those were at dinner). I would certainly like to explore this city more.

3 Likes

I’d say that Herwig knows what he’s talking about, except when it comes to Amsterdam. Think we can forgive him for not knowing better :wine_glass:

1 Like

Haha , Amsterdam is a great city , except for the fact it is full of Dutchmen ( but the girls are great )

Only saw this post now, but you did a nice trip - I live in Brussels, close to Rabassier, and could have told you the wine list is indeed uninspiring. The food seems to hit home with a lot of people, maybe because it’s very classical French. Cosy atmosphere as well. You may want to visit Bozar restaurant next time if you are into perfectly executed classical French - people take the train from Paris to eat there.

I could have given some tips on wine list gems in addition to those given by Herwig, and on the hotel to pick in Brussels.

I have yet to go to the Jane…

@Rich_Salsano feel free to send me a pm - I can help out around Brussels.

A that’s good, means we might see you back in Amsterdam soon sometime!

Funny reading all the dislike of Brussels having lived there, and graduated from high school there. Like any big city it has some areas you just avoid, but Brussels was such a great city to grow up in. We lived in Woluwe-Saint-Pierre, right near the Stokkel stop so wan easy jaunt downtown, and I couldn’t imagine a better city to grow up in.

1 Like

I’m sure it can be a great place to be. Though for touristic pleasure and personally think other cities are a lot nicer.

I also don’t hear much about Liege, but I have had one of my most fun Monday eve turning in to early morning meeting all kinds of crazy kind folks. Maybe the Belgium beer effect. Over the years I have learnt the hard way that there is something more that goes on then just the alcohol when Belgium beers are involved :smiley: