Belgium has been on my doorstep and on my list of places to visit for over a year now. For some reason, because it was so close it never felt that exciting. How wrong I was. After my first visit to Antwerp I was ready to move in. Belgium people (on average) speak THREE languages. Flemish (basically Dutch) French and English. I just sat there in awe as waitresses would translate into three different languages depending on who would enter the restaurant wondering what I had been doing with my life. As some of you may know, I have now visited Belgium three times this year, and I see something new every-time. So far, I have only really seen Ghent and Antwerp. Antwerp has become one of my new favourite places to visit, and we can get there on a train in under two hours from Amsterdam. Gent and Antwerp are very close together, and I truly recommend seeing them both. You can also very easily get to Brugge from Ghent (roughly half an hour train ride). I guarantee we did not even scratch the surface of the treats to be seen in these cities, but here is everywhere we went and recommend.
Antwerp is Belgium’s second largest city, and really stole my heart. It’s a fusion of industry and art. The size of the city juxtaposes with its gezellig (cosy) corners. My biggest tip is to get on your comfortable shoes and just start walking around. Stop for coffee and beers and explore every avenue. Once you arrive at the opulent train station (don’t forget to look up at the ceiling) head straight to the cool neighbourhoods like the centre, the Old Town or Zuid (South) district. We stayed in an Airbnb in the Vrijdagmarkt area.
Panoply Books & Records, secondhand bookstore.
Think Twice, secondhand clothing stores dotted around the city
Melting Pot Kilo, secondhand clothing weighed and priced by the kilo
Plantin- Moretus Museum. Planting and Moretus were two of the first printers on an industrial scale, this museum is all about the printing press and its development throughout Belgium and the world. Imagine a world before printed books and newspapers.
Museum aan de Strom, a warehouse full of interesting exhibitions. There’s a panoramic viewing point to view the city from.
To Eat & Drink:
Frituur Chips: Firstly you’re in Belgium, get yourselves some frittes or as we Brits call them, chips. The best chips I have had in a long time is from this vegan friendly little chip shop tucked away. Giant portions, an excellent playlist including Britney herself, and vegan snacks even a jackfruit Flemish stew.
Cafe De Kat, Wolstraat 22: I didn’t see any cats when I was there, but this place is super cosy and quiet with a great selection of Belgium beers, perfect for an afternoon sundowner/ existential crisis.
Bar Ami: We stumbled upon this place after craving Mexican on one of the national holidays when everything was closed and loved it. Great selection of tacos and tomales (including vegan pulled pork tacos) and cocktails/ beers.
Bistro Bar 2, Vrijdagmarkt 19,: This place doesn’t have great Google reviews but we had a very nice lunch here outside. A tad on the pricey side but if the outdoor area at the front is open and its warm it’s a wonderful local square to sit in. There’s also a cool little vintage shop on this square worth a browse.
Ghent is an incredible medieval town on the water, decorated with little cafes and restaurants. The city centre is also car-free so you can peruse to your heart’s content.
The Design Museum; we were escaping the heat (it was a 35 degree weekend), but this museum was pretty cool. They have a whole floor on sustainable design too!
Take a boat ride; either by kayak or a tourist boat it is a great way to see the city.
Visit the Castle of Counts: the medieval castle is quite difficult to miss and if you don’t want to pay the entrance fee you can have a good look around the outside of the castle instead.
Go to some secondhand markets. Check what is on during your stay. St Jacobs “prondelmarkt”, “Prinsenhofrommelmarkt” (once a year flea market extravaganza) and the Ajuinlei seoncdhand bookmarkt are some of the most famous markets Ghent has to offer.
Grab some mustard that has a recipe from 1790. Head to Groentenmarkt, to pick up some mustard from Tierenteyn Verlen. This is one of the things we didn’t have time for and I really regret not doing.
To Eat & Drink
Have a drink in this microbrewery situated on Oudburg 70a, lots of great beers to try including a magnificent sour porter.
Get something sweet at Au Merveilleux de Fred. We actually treated ourselves to a night here on our first visit. The rooms were beautiful, the location perfect and we woke up to the smell (and taste) of freshly baked croissants. What more could you want? If you want to book it seems to only available through booking.com and to pre-warn you need to first enter through the bakery as there is no reception ( you then get a key card for the side door).
Klokhuys – my parents went here for a traditional Flemish stew and said it was superb!
Have a coffee at Simon Says
Plus+ If you need a healthy lunch spot after those chips head here.
If I am being really honest, for me, a couple of hours in Brugge was enough. When I visited Brugge, it was super crowded and difficult to move and it felt like everywhere for food was really overpriced. The architecture is beautiful, and I am sure some people out there are going to eye roll me for saying this, but I was so looking forward to seeing Brugge , and I felt slightly underwhelmed. I am not great in crowded places though. Don’t take my word for it, go and see it yourself. To save money, I had a quick box of pasta Pasta Maria. You can easily head here from Ghent, spend a few hours and go back to Ghent afterwards. Walk everywhere and enjoy the sites.
I know I have a few Belgium readers, so I would love to hear where you would recommend in each cities, leave a comment or send me a message.