Despite its modest size, Belgium has a lot to offer tourists – medieval castles, modern architecture, a world-famous fashion industry, outstanding cuisine, and more than 1000 beer brands – it’s true. Belgium isn’t just home to one official language, it boasts three! While more than half of Belgians are English-speaking, be mindful that not all public signage will be in English. That said, here are our top tips to help you make the most of a trip to Belgium.
Planning a trip to Belgium
Pack a raincoat in your suitcase.
Belgium experiences a lot of rainfall because it is situated between the North Sea and the Atlantic ocean. The temperature rarely goes above 22°C (72°F), so you should pack rain gear no matter what time of year you visit.
Make the most of your vacation by seeing as much as possible.
There are plenty of destinations to see in Belgium, and it’s simple to travel between them by car or train. We recommend spending time in several cities so that you can get a taste of everything the country has to offer. Bruges is a great place to walk around and get lost in the quaint streets, Antwerp has excellent museums and fashion boutiques, Hoge Kempen National Park is perfect for hiking, and Brussels’ Grand Place is recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage site.Most cities are within a few hours of one another, making it easy for travelers to cover a lot of ground quickly.
It’s always a good idea to bring some extra money with you when you travel, just in case.
In Belgium, public restrooms that don’t charge are practically non-existent. The majority of public places cost money to use the restroom, and very few accept credit cards. Make sure you have some euros and change on hand before leaving your hotel or restaurant – it costs an average of €0.50 (US$0.54) per trip to the washroom .
Instead of taking a taxi, use public transportation when you first get to Brussels.
Taxis in Brussels are among the most costly in Europe, with a cab ride between Brussels Airport and the city center costing at least €3 (US$3.30) per kilometer. While we wouldn’t discourage people from spending money after a long-haul flight, the city’s excellent bus, tram, and subway system will get you almost everywhere you want to go from 6am until midnight every day of the week, including into town from the airport (for as little as €7/US$7.35 in total). Consider renting a bike through one of several local bike-sharing programs like Villo! and Billy Bike if you want to go cheap and ecologically friendly transportation.
Don’t be too hasty to rent a car
In Belgium, you can drive from one end of the country to the other in a few hours and virtually all of the country’s highways are well lit at night. Rental cars are also simple to come by thanks to car-sharing apps like Poppy and Cambio, which make it very convenient to rent a vehicle on the fly.
Driving in Belgium, on the other hand, might be quite a challenge. Signage is mostly monolingual, with names varying based on the language being spoken. Aachen may appear on Belgian signage as Aix-la-Chapelle, Gand is the Flemish city of Ghent, and Lüttich is also Liège, Luik, and Lüttich.
When in doubt, speak English
In Belgium, Dutch, French, and German are recognized as official languages. Flanders in the north primarily speaks Dutch (particularly the Flemish dialect), while southern Wallonia speaks French. In Liège’s eastern territories, German is the language of preference. Brussels (also known as Brussel and Bruxelles) is officially bilingual; it speaks both Dutch and French.
With language being such a big part of Belgium’s cultural identity debate, it is best to speak English if you are unsure of what the dominant tongue is wherever you go. You will probably find that most people can speak English very well anyway, especially in places like Antwerp and Brussels.
Belgium’s Social Rules
Recycle according to Belgian standardsBelgians place a high importance on recycling. In fact, Belgium has the highest recycling rate for household packaging throughout all of Europe (an super 94.9%). Although you should make an effort to recycle and reduce your waste when traveling away from home, it’s especially important to do this when visiting Belgium.
You don’t need to tip in Belgium
You aren’t expected to tip in Belgium because the service staff earn a livable wage. Usually, 10-15% is added to restaurant bills automatically as a standard courtesy. But, if you want to leave more gratuity because you received exemplary service, feel free! Just leave extra money on the table when you finish your meal.
Greet the person by extending your hand.
What is the proper way to say “good morning” in Belgium? It depends on where you are. The majority of people in Brussels would take a handshake rather than a kiss, while the most of individuals in French-speaking Wallonia prefer to turn their cheek for one. To be cautious during these Covid-aware times, we recommend extending your hand to see what happens.
Ensure you stop by the store this Sunday to pick up your groceries.
If you don’t have time during the week, don’t expect to stock up on food or buy souvenirs on a Sunday. Because the majority of Belgians are Roman Catholics, many businesses are closed on Sundays, including major grocery stores and banks.
There’s nothing quite as relaxing as kicking back with a cold beer after a long day. Belgium has over 300 breweries, and over 1000 different Belgian brews exist. As a result, drinking while you’re there is practically an obligation (and you may be looked down upon if you order a glass of wine instead of a homegrown brew at the local pub). Pilsners, witbier, and Trappist ales are just a few of the beers available.
Belgians are passionate about their glassware, so don’t try to drink your Duvel from anything other than an authorized vessel. You’ll find plenty of options to choose from, including tulips and flutes, goblets and tankards.
Health and safety precautions to take when visiting Belgium
Is it legal to drink tap water in Belgium?
You can drink the tap water in Amsterdam and some people say it’s even better than bottled water. Bring a reusable water bottle with you to help reduce plastic waste.
You can feel good about yourself.
In 2003, Belgium became the second nation in the world to legalize same-sex marriage, and its long-held progressive beliefs and vibrant nightlife make it a popular choice for LGBTIQ+ tourists. Brussels has long been at the heart of the action – La Demence, a dance event that attracts partygoers from all over the world 12 times per year, is held there. Bruges and Ghent are two other cities that are getting in on the action.
Have fun, but be wary of petty crime.
Although Belgium is considered a safe country overall, tourists should still be cautious of pickpockets and thieves in crowded areas. Unfortunately, there has been an uptick in terrorist attacks throughout the country in recent years, so visitors should take extra care when visiting Brussels – home to international organizations such as NATO and the EU.