When people visit Belgium, they usually visit Brussels. In most of the countries, the capital receives the majority of visitors, and that’s often a shame. If you ever have a chance to visit Belgium and spend more than 24 hours here, go and spend some time outside of Brussels as well. Listed in this post are three Belgian cities we love the most, visit most often and suggest to anyone who asks for travel recommendations.
Brussels is a special city – French-speaking but situated in Flemish region. EU institutions have headquarters here and their employees as well as other foreigners living here, give Brussels very international, multicultural, and diverse vibe. Most of the people in Brussels speak English, and if you stop a random person on the street to ask for directions, it’s very likely that the person is a foreigner just like you.
It’s true that the capital is different from the rest of the country. In general, capitals are the biggest cities in a country. They are often more developed, and more internationalized. Thus, they don’t provide a truly authentic experience of a country, or at least they don’t paint a complete picture.
Our Top 3 Cities in Belgium (outside of Brussels)
So, here are three Belgian cities we like the most, visit most often and suggest to anyone who asks what to do while in Belgium. If you ever visit Belgium visit at least one of these and you’ll be glad you did.
Each of these cities is quite different than the others. They are all in Flemish region and easily accessible from Brussels by train (our preferred transportation method) which makes them a convenient day trip destination.
Bruges is an old city with narrow cobbled streets, medieval buildings, and water canals. The city is located in the northwest of Belgium about 75 minutes by train from Brussels. It’s not far from the train station to the city center, and we didn’t have to worry which way to go. We just went with the flow; everyone was on their way to the heart of this beautiful city.
We walked down the streets, but you can explore the city from a boat as well. Snacking on french fries and chocolate pralines is a must here, and if you are curious about the history of Belgian chocolate pralines or french fries museums. In nice weather, it’s worth to climb the stairs of the belfry to have a look at the city from the tower’s top.
We have been to Bruges in every season. Spring and summer were my favorites, but winter has it’s charm as well. Especially in winter, we enjoyed the lunch in this soup kitchen, other times we enjoyed Belgian fries from the stand on the main square.
As a university city, Ghent is full of life, young people and things to do. We like to walk its streets, check out cute shops, restaurants, and markets. We once did the tour of the Gravensteen – 10th-century castle, where we explored the fortress and checked out historical weapons collection. The city is especially lively in summer, during the Ghent Festival which lasts for 21 days.
A trip to Ghent is always a good idea. Since it’s so close to Brussels (only 30 minutes by train) it’s doable as a half day trip as well. Ghent is smaller than Brussels; therefore it’s more condensed. All shops, restaurants, bars and things to see are close to each other and you can make one loop around the city center to see almost everything. While in Ghent, don’t forget to try a local candy Cuberdon (also known as Ghent’s nose).
This charming seaside Belgian city is small, stylish, and a little bit posh. During summer and especially hot summer days, it’s full of people, Belgians as well as tourists. It took us an hour and 45 minutes by train from Brussels, and when we got off the train, we had a feeling we are not in Belgium anymore. The city has a more relaxed atmosphere and very southern feeling.
From the train station, we took the Lippenslaan street which goes all the way to the beach. We passed by charming little shops, bakeries, cafes and restaurants many of which were difficult to resist. So we surrendered, we are in a vacation city after all 😉
When we arrived on the beach, we relaxed instantaneously. The beach is long and wide; one can sit down and relax, go for a swim (if you dare) or go for a long walk or bike ride on a promenade along the sea. At one the end of the promenade is the Zwin, lagoon with dunes, salt marshes, and salt pans.
Which cities or towns do you plan to visit next? We have a big trip coming up, and I guess until then we won’t travel much but let’s see.