While we have all heard about Belgium chocolates and beers, Belgium has never been on the travel maps of many Indians holidaying in Northern or Western Europe.
In April earlier this year, I traveled to Belgium with my husband and two friends (a married couple). We chose to travel during spring, but we realised that the European spring is as cold as the Indian winter (at least for us girls). If you are planning a visit, plan to travel in summers – June to September would be an ideal time. But even in the cold and wet weather, Belgium did not let us down. There is so much that this little country can offer, you just need to know where to start.
Make Brussels (the capital of Belgium) your base for 3 to 4 days
The city of Brussels has many charming and beautiful attractions. The Grand Grote Markt – Brussels’ central square, is lined with gothic and ornate baroque structures that housed members of Belgium’s powerful guilds centuries ago. This UNESCO World Heritage Site will give you a feeling that you have walked straight in to the sets of a period film based in the 15th century.
Beware of the expensive, touristy shops and cafes around the Grote Markt. For more authentic, less expensive shopping there are daily and weekend markets. Near Du Grand Sablon Hotel, next to the church there is a flea market with antiques every Saturday and Sunday morning. The flea market is quite small but it is worth a visit, you just might find something of interest.
Across the road from the flea market is the mecca of chocolate in Brussels. Pop into the many chocolate shops in the area for a free taste of what’s on offer. Some of the shops charge for tasting (yes they do!), so be careful. We stocked up from Neuhaus and Leonidas, they have amazing chocolate spreads, in all varieties.
A couple of blocks from Grote Markt is the ‘Pissing Boy‘ also known as Petit Julien. The boy’s statue is probably Brussels’ most photographed statue and interestingly it is only 60 cm high. When you see it, you might wonder what the big deal is about but this tiny bronze sculpture has become a symbol of the country. A click with the ‘Pissing Boy’ can be quite a wait, so be patient.
The Royal Palace is located a little further out from the city center / Grote Markt. It is the Belgian kings official home and it overlooks the Brussels park. It is famous for the one million vibrant begonias that are brought in and arranged one by one into a pattern, creating a masterpiece that ends up looking like a Turkish rug. There are a few waffle trucks located between the Palace and the park. Buy a waffle to accompany you for your walk around the park.
Brussels is also a haven for comic book enthusiasts. the Belgian Comic Strip Center in Brussels pays homage to a Belgian passion of cartooning. Tintin and the Smurfs are the most famous Belgian comic strip characters but the museum also displays artwork of over 650 cartoonists. Even if you are not a fan of comics, I would suggest that you go. This one is a must-do!
Of course Belgium is known for its beer so when beer is the question, Moeder Lambic is the answer. They have Belgian as well as international beers to go with the food they serve. Besides the beer, the good thing about this cafe is that it has a friendly ambience, it is not expensive and it is not a tourist trap.
To experience some traditional food, I would recommend you do not give Fin de Siècle a miss. You might have to wait up to an hour to get a table, but it’s worth it! Hot and packed, it has great food (and beer) and a lively atmosphere. Don’t ask for a menu because there isn’t one. All the offerings are on giant blackboards along the walls. The pork knuckle in mustard sauce and carbonade (meat stew) was delicious. And, it is cash only payment, so be prepared.
I would say ‘now’ would be a good time to start planning your trip for the next European summer season. Share your experience, I would love to exchange notes!