Though it often flies under the radar, Belgium is a fascinating country with plenty of attractions to keep visitors busy. Especially visitors who love waffles and chocolate (aka, anyone with a pulse).
But before you hop on that plane, bus, or train, these are a few things to know about Belgium before you go:
Things to Know Before Visiting Belgium
1. Belgium is in the European Union.
In fact, Brussels is considered the de facto capital of the EU. What does that mean for you? Well, other than having the chance to visit the EU parliament buildings while in Brussels, it means you won’t need to clear customs if you’re traveling from another EU nation.
2. Belgium’s currency is the Euro.
Being a part of the EU also means that Belgium’s local currency is the Euro. You can find the current exchange rate here.
3. Belgium is roughly the size of Maryland.
Though Belgium has plenty of awesome cities (like Ghent, Bruges, Brussels, and Antwerp), it is actually a really small nation. No matter where you’re based, most of the country will be accessible as a day trip.
Further Reading: How to Make the Most of a Day Trip to Bruges, Belgium
4. Belgium is well-connected by train.
In most cases, the most efficient way to travel around the country is by train. The primary train operator in Belgium is Belgian Rail. You can see ticket schedules and pricing here.
Further Reading: A Guide to Traveling Belgium by Train
5. Lots of languages!
Depending on where you go in Belgium, you can expect to hear different languages. The most common languages are Dutch, French, German, and Flemish. But we had no trouble getting around using English.
Side note: If you want to try out some local phrases, be sure you know which language is dominant in the region. A shopkeeper almost bit Sam’s head off for addressing her in French when we happened to be in a predominately Flemish-speaking area. We stuck to English after that!
6. Tipping is not mandatory.
As Americans, we are pretty much used to tipping people if they so much as sneeze in our direction. But in Belgium, service workers are paid a livable wage. So tipping is not usually necessary unless the service was simply spectacular.
Note: At restaurants, a 10-15% gratuity is often automatically included, so be sure to check your bill carefully before deciding whether or not to tip.
7. (Free) Bathrooms are scarce.
We’ve never visited a country that had fewer public bathrooms than Belgium. And even on the rare occasion we saw a public bathroom, they often charged a small fee (even in train stations). We usually ended up popping into a café and ordering a drink simply so we could use the bathroom! (Of course, drinking a ton of caffeine didn’t exactly help the problem…)
Our advice is to always use the bathroom when you eat at a restaurant or café, since they are typically free for paying customers.
8. The weather isn’t always great.
Though we expected gloomy weather when we visited Ireland, we were surprised by how overcast and rainy the weather was in Belgium. And we were told rainy weather is quite common.
Be sure to toss a rain jacket and umbrella in your luggage so you are prepared for drizzly days.
9. Many shops close on Sundays.
If you’re traveling over the weekend, keep in mind that many shops and restaurants close on Sundays.
10. The waffles and chocolate really are amazing.
To be honest, we didn’t know much about Belgium before we started planning our trip. But we did know that waffles and chocolate are two of the things associated with Belgium. And if that’s not a good enough reason to book a flight to Brussels, what is? After a week of excessive eating field research, we can report that the waffles and chocolate are every bit as delicious as we hoped they’d be. In fact, my mouth is watering just thinking about the deliciousness we consumed on our trip.
So if you’re on a low-carb, low-sugar diet, we don’t recommend visiting Belgium. But if you want to try something that tastes like happiness, sunshine, and rainbows, loosen that belt and dig in!
11. Churches are everywhere.
I don’t think we’ve ever visited a country that had more beautiful churches, and most of them are free to tour. Our favorites were St. Nicholas’ Church in Ghent and Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula in Brussels.
12. (Many) Belgians have a quirky sense of humor.
We found that many of the Belgians we interacted with had a quirky, off-beat sense of humor. I guess we shouldn’t have been too surprised considering Brussels has entire museums dedicated to sewers and underwear and it’s most iconic symbol is a statue of a little boy peeing.
13. Beautiful city squares everywhere.
Some of the most beautiful city squares in the world are in Belgium. The most spectacular of all, though, is the Grand Place in Brussels. Truly dazzling.
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