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First-Timer’s Guide to Belgium- Things to Do in Belgium

By Two Monkeys Travel - Contributor August 6th, 2022 Posted in Europe Travel Blog, Travel Blog, Travel Guides 45 Comments

Belgium is a country a lot of people simply pass through or, when they do visit, they tend to stick to the two B’s: Brussels and Bruges. Here are Things to Do in Belgium that you must not miss!

First-timer guide to Belgium
National Botanical Garden, Meise

I won’t deny that these two cities are definitely worth a visit, but there’s so much more to our little country and that’s why I’ve put together this first-timer guide to Belgium.
The first-timer guide to Belgium: 9 things to know, see and do

1. The official languages are French, Dutch and German, but English will do

The language situation in Belgium is complicated and it is true that there are people who’s native language is French and who refuse to speak Dutch when a Dutch speaking person visits the French speaking part of the country and vice versa. However, in general we quickly adapt when we hear someone doesn’t speak our language, especially when we notice the person is visiting from abroad. I’ve even heard expats complain that they can’t learn Dutch or French because we always immediately switch to English (sorry about that).

First-timer guide to Belgium
Gaasbeek Castle

2. Not all Belgian chocolate are good

First Timer's Guide to Belgium Things to Do in Belgium
Photo by
jpellgen (@1179_jp)

I know this might come as a shock, but not all Belgian chocolate is good. Most of it is, but just like with any product, we also have cheap mass produced chocolate bars that sell for €0,30 in the supermarket. You can pretty much be sure that those won’t be that great. If you want to properly experience Belgian chocolate it’s imperative that you go get some from a real chocolatier. Can’t find one? Bakers sometimes sell chocolate from real chocolatiers as well and in the supermarket you can’t go wrong when you buy Côte d’Or. It’s the brand with the elephant. Take the milk chocolate with nuts bar. You won’t regret it. But I digress.

3. Belgium has plenty of UNESCO World Heritage Sites

If you’re someone who likes to check off UNESCO sites, Belgium might be interesting for you. Officially we only have 11 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, but in fact we have many more. That’s because the 32 belfries of Belgium are counted as just one UNESCO site. Will you attempt to see them all?

Related Article: Looking for affordable accommodation? Check out our Agoda for great deals.

4. Ghent is better than Bruges

First-Timer's Guide to Belgium- Things to Do in Belgium
Photo by Fenners1984 CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

There, I’ve said it. I like the city of Ghent better than Bruges. Don’t get me wrong – I like Bruges as well, but Ghent is more lively, more real. The historical center of Bruges could be the scene of a fairytale, but it’s also quite touristy and when you leave the historical center there really isn’t that much to see. In Ghent, however, there’s something cool around every corner. This city is the perfect mix of historical buildings, great museums, delicious restaurants, reviving coffee shops, edgy street art and more. My recommendation? Spend two nights in Ghent and make a day trip to Bruges from there, it isn’t that far by train.

Check out some of the cool and cheap tours you could do in Ghent

Check out some of the cool and cheap tours you could do in Bruges

First-timer guide to Belgium
Gravensteen Castle, Ghent

5. You might not like Brussels the first time you visit

I’d rather warn you so that you don’t get your hopes up. There are plenty of people who fall in love with Brussels, but there are just as many who despise the city after a first visit. It’s important to know that, even though there’s tons to see and do as a visitor, Brussels is first of all a city that people live and work in. It’s also a city consisting of several sometimes very distinct neighborhoods which makes it hard to love as a whole. When you come visit (and you should), make sure to do your research. There’s really something for everyone in Brussels, but it’s not always as easy to find as it might be in other cities.

Check out some of the cool and cheap tours you could do in Brussels

6. We are the country of music festivals

First Timer's Guide to Belgium Things to Do in Belgium
Photo by Stephen GidleyCC BY 2.0

In a few years time, Tomorrowland has grown to be a worldwide phenomenon, but Belgium was already ruling the festival landscape way before that. It starts in spring and ends in fall, but summer is when things get really crazy. In July and August you can usually choose between at least three different festivals every weekend. Every itself respecting city or town seems to have one and a besides from the really big ones, a lot of them are free.

7. We might live next to the Germans, but our transportation system doesn’t reflect that

A lot of people seem to think that because of our proximity to Germany, their efficiency reflects on us. It doesn’t and that clearly shows when you make use of public transportation here. There’s plenty of it – you can take buses, trains and trams everywhere – but it often runs late and the national railroad company NMBS is notorious for its strikes. I don’t want to scare you off and you probably won’t even have to deal with it if you’re only visiting for a short time. It’s just something to take into account.

8. It can be any kind of weather all year through

I’m sure you’re not expecting tropical temperatures when you book a trip to Belgium, but it’s still good to know that the weather here is never predictable. It can be 12°C in January, freezing in March, 25°C in May and 17°C and raining in July. You just never know. Best is to pack some layers and always bring a rain jacket or umbrella. You’ll see: if you bring it, you won’t need it, but if you don’t…

9. Leuven is not the same city as Louvain-la-Neuve

I couldn’t leave my hometown out of this list, now could I? Over the years I’ve welcomed several travelers to my hometown Leuven and more than once have they told me that they’d almost taken the wrong train or that they couldn’t find information on the sights and activities in Leuven because they’d thought it to be the same city as Louvain-la-Neuve. So let me briefly explain: The University of Leuven used to consist of a Dutch speaking and a French speaking part. When the language barrier was determined in 1962, Leuven officially became Dutch speaking and so more and more people thought the university should be strictly Dutch speaking as well. This discussion escalated and turned into a national problem too complicated to explain here, but one of the results was that the university was split in two and the French part moved to Louvain-la-Neuve (“New Leuven”), which was founded especially for that purpose.

First-timer guide to Belgium
Park Abbey, Leuven

Wow, that was a serious note to end on, wasn’t it? I do hope that this first-timer guide to Belgium has given you a better idea of our country and some useful tips to plan your own trip here. There’s so much to see and do that it would be a shame not to come.

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About the Writer:

first timer guide to belgiumSofie is a freelance writer, translator and travel blogger who takes people with her on her travels in Belgium and beyond. Her blog Wonderful Wanderings focuses both on the must-sees and daily life, on the big attractions and the places you’d never find by yourself. You can connect with Sofie on Facebook and Instagram.

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45 thoughts on “First-Timer’s Guide to Belgium- Things to Do in Belgium

  1. My english is awful so great to know to know how beligians are very diversed in english. I can survive french so I better go to french areas. Haha

    1. Not a bad idea, Jaime. When are you planning visit Belgium? Let us know so we can give you some tips and guides for first timer.

    1. Glad you like it, Gerry. This is perfect for first timers in Belgium. Are you planning to go here?

    1. Cool, Riza. Visit Belgium and enjoy its heritage sites – one of the awesome things to do in the country.

  2. Luckily I’ve tasted great Belgian chocolates so far. Wanted to go back here and do these thingsy you shared

    1. When did you visit Belgium? Glad you had great chocolates. Drop a comment here when will you go back to Belgium and do these things to do.

  3. Three languages which are widely used in europe; makes it easier to travel there. Would love to visit Belgium soon.

    1. Sounds great, Jim? Better go to Belgium and let us know if you have some question from our guide here.

  4. All I want is a Belgian waffle. Haha. I am amazed how many wonderful things about Belgium. Pinning this for my future guide.

    1. Have a lot of Belgian Waffle in Belgium, Anne. Wish you can visit Belgium too and try these things to do.

  5. Such a great post! You are introducing Belgium very well. I am glad that I can speak English, when I visit it, because I don’t speak France, Dutch or German. My brother visited Brussels recently for work and he liked it there. But Belgium has so much more to offer. Thank you for creating this guide, It’s very helpful.

    1. Glad your brother liked Brussels. You are welcome as English speaker in Belgium, Rodanthi. This will make it easyier for you to tour and do lots of things.

  6. I have been to Brussels and loved it, surprised to hear that some people might not like it. Totally have the other places you have listed here on my things to do in Belgium next time. And their waffles, alright I am hung now lol
    xx, Kusum

    1. Amazing, Kusum. Yes, not all can like Brussels for the first time. Waffles unlimited in Belgium and bulks of things to do.

  7. I love belgium and when I’m in Brussels I always visit Pierre Marcolini. I love that chocolate!

    1. Nice choice, Sabine. Hope you can come back to Belgium and see the other cities and do more things.

  8. I have never been to Belgium but it looks like a beautiful country to visit. You statement, “Not all Belgium chocolate” actually made me giggle! I know its true, it really stands to reason, still it made me giggle! 🙂

    1. Hehe. Try to take the best belgian chocolates. haha. Come and see Belgium, KatR. You’ll love it.

  9. I have been to Belgium a couple of times and loved it every single time. I would mention Antwerp on your list, it’s a pretty, pretty town, similar with Brussels but more quiet and safe. And with amazingly chocolatiers, haha. 🙂

  10. I have always really wanted to visit Belgium. Some great tips here! 🙂 I’ll pin to remember later.

  11. I’ve visited Leuven before and really loved it! You come from such a beautiful town 🙂 The botanical gardens are so pretty!

  12. These are really good tips. I have never been to Belgium but this is a great start if I ever get over there. I also agree that not all Belgium chocolate is delicious!

  13. I visited Belgium a few years ago and loved it! I did not get the opportunity to do many of these thing as I was only there a few days- will check them out next time.

    1. Better go back to Belgium, Bella. When you decided when to go, check these things do for your guide. 🙂

  14. Ahhh it’s always refreshing when I hear English is welcomed in a country! I suck at speaking other languages besides English and hate it when I travel places where English is a no-no….

    1. Haha. I know how you feel, Courtney. But sometimes we really need to adapt with the coutry as we are all visitors anyway. Basic lines could help a lot and we can enjoy more these things to do in Belgium., for instance.

  15. I was born in Hannover and I love Germany even if I live now in the UK. German people love their language but they are also very helpful when it comes to tourists. Berlin is one of the most amazing cities in Europe and for sure a must visit one!

  16. It looks stunning! I have to admit I’m disappointed that not ALL Belgian chocolate is amazing 😉

    1. It’s okay, Lana. There are still hundred things to do in Belgium aside from chocolate tasting. 🙂

  17. Bruges is cute bit Ghent is better I agree. As for the chocolate, also agree 100%. I have had AWFUL Belgian chocolate. Beautiful photos, you got nice weather!

    1. Better get some chocolates from chocolatier and taste the best belgian chocolate. Haha. When did you visit Belgium and what were the things you do?

  18. Love this article! Belgium is one of my favourite countries in Europe because it’s compact and easy to get around, plus there is so much to see, eat and drink. Can’t wait to return for some moules and frites, chocolate and beer!

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Written by Two Monkeys Travel - Contributor

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