Road Trip Belgium: Fall In Love With Europe’s Hidden Gem

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Belgium is a fantastic destination for a road trip, offering plenty of historic, culinary, and cultural experiences. Whether you’re interested in exploring medieval cities, savoring delicious food, or visiting ancient castles, Belgium has something for everyone.

Embarking on a road trip through this often-overlooked European treasure is an excellent way to make the most of this tiny country which packs a punch, and its compact size means you’re never driving for too long.

Our Belgium road trip guide has info on top destinations and activities, plus a few hidden gems too. Plan your perfect Belgium road trip itinerary and fall in love with this small country which has so much to see and do!

things to do in Belgium

Explore Historic Cities

Belgium’s historic cities offer a fascinating journey through time, where cobblestone streets, medieval buildings, and centuries-old landmarks tell the stories of the past.

From the grandeur of Brussels to the medieval splendor of Bruges, the vibrant arts scene in Ghent, and the historic industrial powerhouse of Liège, Belgium’s cities are a tapestry of the country’s diverse history.

Brussels

Brussels, the bustling capital of Belgium, is a vibrant blend of historic charm and modern flair. Known for its iconic landmarks like the Grand Place, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the Atomium, a landmark modernist building, the city centre offers unique and eclectic architecture.

Visitors can explore the Royal Palace, stroll through the picturesque Parc du Cinquantenaire, and indulge in world-famous Belgian chocolates and waffles.

The city’s dynamic cultural scene is on show in its numerous museums, art galleries, and the European Parliament, making Brussels a must-visit destination for both history enthusiasts and contemporary explorers.

RELATED POST: Brussels in One Day: The Best Itinerary, Map, Guide & Tips

historic buildings surrounding a large city square full of people at night

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Ghent

Ghent, often overshadowed by its more famous neighbors, is a hidden gem that combines medieval charm with a lively, youthful energy.

This picturesque city boasts an impressive collection of well-preserved historic buildings, such as the imposing Gravensteen Castle and the stunning St. Bavo’s Cathedral, home to the renowned Ghent Altarpiece.

Ghent’s vibrant arts scene, bustling markets, and scenic canals offer a perfect blend of culture and leisure. Whether you’re wandering through the quaint streets of the Patershol district or enjoying a boat ride along the Leie River, Ghent provides a captivating experience for all who visit.

historic Durch buildings along a canalside

Bruges

Bruges, often referred to as the ‘Venice of the North,’ is a fairy-tale city renowned for its old town full of enchanting canals, cobbled streets, and medieval architecture.

The historic city center, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a treasure trove of Gothic buildings, including the majestic Belfry of Bruges and the Basilica of the Holy Blood.

Visitors can take a leisurely boat tour through the winding canals, hire a bike, and visit the iconic windmills of Bruges, savor Belgian beer at a traditional brewery, discover the tranquil Beguinage, or explore the charming Markt Square.

With its timeless beauty and romantic ambiance, Bruges offers an unforgettable journey into the heart of Belgium’s rich cultural heritage.

RELATED POST: Best Things to Do in Bruges: 23 Amazing Highlights

square with a central tree surrounded by traditional Dutch buildings

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Antwerp

Antwerp, the second largest city in Belgium, is often described as the ‘diamond capital of the world’ due to its longstanding history with the diamond trade.

This vibrant port city on the Scheldt River, offers a unique blend of historical grandeur and contemporary urban life, making it a fascinating destination for travelers seeking both culture and modernity.

Antwerp’s history dates back to the Middle Ages, and its past is evident in its stunning architectural landscape. The city’s skyline is dominated by the majestic Cathedral of Our Lady, a Gothic masterpiece that houses works by the renowned Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens.

The Grote Markt, or Great Market Square, is another architectural gem, surrounded by opulent guildhalls and the ornate Town Hall, a fine example of Flemish Renaissance architecture.

cobbled street lined with tall buildings and a bike in the foreground

Liege

Liège is often referred to as the ‘Cité Ardente‘ or ‘Fiery City. A vibrant and dynamic destination on the banks of the Meuse River in eastern Belgium, Liège is known for its rich industrial heritage.

Today, the city has transformed into a bustling cultural hub that offers a unique and compelling experience for travelers seeking to discover the heart of the French-speaking region of southern Belgium

The city boasts impressive landmarks such as the Prince-Bishops’ Palace, a remnant of its medieval past, and the futuristic Liège-Guillemins railway station, designed by the renowned architect Santiago Calatrava.

Visitors can explore the lively Carré district, famous for its nightlife and vibrant atmosphere, or delve into the local culture at the Grand Curtius Museum, which houses an extensive collection of art and artifacts.

cobbled steps going down past houses into an urban environment

Indulge in Belgian Cuisine

Belgium is a gastronomic paradise renowned for its diverse and delicious food offerings. From the world-famous waffles and fries to its rich beer culture and delectable chocolates, Belgium’s culinary delights are a significant part of its cultural identity.

Waffles: A Sweet Delight

Belgian waffles are synonymous with indulgence, and they come in two main varieties: the Brussels waffle and the Liège waffle.

The Brussels waffle is rectangular, light, and crispy, with deep pockets perfect for holding toppings like whipped cream, strawberries, and chocolate sauce. The Liège waffle, on the other hand, is rounder, denser, and sweeter, with caramelized sugar pearls that create a delightful crunch.

One of the best places to experience Belgian waffles is in Liège, where you can taste the original Liège waffles. The local bakeries and street vendors here offer some of the best examples of this sweet treat.

If you’re staying in the capital, the Place du Jeu de Balle flea market area is a great spot to find authentic Brussels waffles, and Maison Dandoy near the Grand Place is renowned for its traditional waffles.

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waffles with different toppings on display in a shop

Belgian Fries: The Perfect Snack

Belgian fries, often (but incorrectly) called French fries, are a beloved snack in which locals take great pride. Unlike their thinner French counterparts, Belgian fries are thick-cut and double-fried to achieve the perfect crispy exterior and fluffy interior. Traditionally served in a paper cone topped with a sauce (of which there are many to choose!), these fries are a must-try.

Antwerp is a top spot for frites and Frituur No. 1, located in the heart of Antwerp, is a favorite place for locals and tourists to enjoy the iconic Belgian snack.

In Brussels, Maison Antoine in the Etterbeek neighborhood is one of the most famous fritkots (fries stand) in the city, offering a wide range of sauces to accompany your fries.

person shaking a large metal pan of frites

Beer: A Rich Brewing Tradition

Belgium boasts an unparalleled beer culture, with a brewing tradition that dates back centuries. The country is home to over 1,000 beers, including famous styles such as Trappist ales, lambics, and saisons.

Belgian beers are known for their complex flavors and high quality, often brewed by monasteries or small, artisanal breweries. Bruges and Ghent are both great destinations for beer enthusiasts.

The historic town of Bruges is home to De Halve Maan Brewery, which offers tours and tastings of its renowned Brugse Zot beer. In Ghent, the Dulle Griet pub offers an extensive selection of Belgian beers, including many rare and specialty brews.

Chocolate: A Taste of Luxury

Belgian chocolate is world-renowned for its high quality and exquisite taste. The country’s chocolatiers are masters of their craft, creating everything from pralines and truffles to innovative chocolate sculptures. The combination of premium ingredients and meticulous craftsmanship makes Belgian chocolate a true luxury.

The Sablon district in Brussels is home to some of the most famous chocolate shops, including Pierre Marcolini and Neuhaus. A visit to the Belgian Chocolate Village Museum also offers an immersive experience into the world of Belgian chocolate.

In Antwerp, The Chocolate Line, operated by the renowned chocolatier Dominique Persoone, is a must-visit for its unique and adventurous chocolate creations.

different types of chocolate truffles in large metal bowls

Exploring the Magnificent Castles of Belgium

Did you know that Belgium has the most castles per square kilometer in the world? This tiny country is packed with a wealth of stunning castles, each with unique history, architecture, and charm.

From medieval fortresses and romantic châteaux to grand palaces and stately manors, these magnificent structures offer a captivating glimpse into Belgium’s cultural heritage and aristocratic past.

Gravensteen Castle: Ghent’s Medieval Marvel

Gravensteen Castle, also known as the Castle of the Counts, is located in the heart of Ghent and is one of Belgium’s most iconic medieval landmarks. Built in the 12th century by Count Philip of Alsace, this imposing fortress was a symbol of power and prestige for the Counts of Flanders.

With its sturdy stone walls, turrets, and battlements, Gravensteen Castle offers visitors a glimpse into the medieval way of life. Explore the castle’s dark dungeons and grisly Torture Museum, climb its winding staircases, and enjoy panoramic views of Ghent from its ramparts.

Large stone castle with round turreted towers and a main crenellated building surrounded by a moat

Château de Veves: A Hidden Gem in Wallonia

Veves Castle is a hidden gem nestled amidst the rolling hills of the Ardennes in Wallonia. This fairytale castle, dating back to the 13th century, is renowned for its romantic turrets, towers, and picturesque setting.

Surrounded by lush forests and meandering streams, Veves Castle exudes an air of enchantment and tranquility. Visitors can explore its elegant interiors, which feature opulent furnishings, medieval tapestries, ornate frescoes, and beautiful manicured gardens and grounds.

large stone house with four round towers topped with conical metal roofs

Château de Belœil: A Stately Residence in Hainaut

Beloeil Castle is a magnificent stately home located in the picturesque town of Beloeil in Hainaut. Dating back to the 14th century, this elegant castle is still inhabited by the princely Ligne family, who have lovingly preserved its historic interiors and extensive art collection.

Visitors can explore the castle’s ornate rooms, which feature exquisite furnishings, tapestries, and works of art. The surrounding park and gardens, designed by renowned landscape architect André Le Nôtre, provide a tranquil setting for leisurely walks and picnics.

elegant palace with many windows in a moat

Discover Belgium’s Festival Scene

Belgium’s festival scene is a lively and integral part of its cultural landscape, offering a diverse array of events that cater to all tastes and interests.

From world-renowned music festivals and traditional cultural celebrations to colorful parades and unique local events, Belgium’s festivals provide a captivating glimpse into the country’s vibrant culture.

Music Festivals: A Sonic Wonderland

Belgium is home to some of the world’s most celebrated music festivals, drawing crowds from around the globe. Tomorrowland, held in Boom, is perhaps the most famous, renowned for its extravagant stages, top-tier electronic dance music acts, and an atmosphere of pure euphoria.

Rock Werchter, neat Leuven, is another major music event that offers a diverse lineup featuring rock, pop, and indie artists, making it a must-attend for music lovers of all genres.

Cultural Festivals: Celebrating Heritage

Belgium’s cultural festivals showcase its rich traditions and vibrant heritage. The Ommegang Festival in Brussels, held annually in July, is a historical pageant in the Grand Palace that dates back to the 16th century, featuring medieval reenactments, parades, and folklore.

The Binche Carnival, which takes place in the lead-up to Lent, is a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage event. The carnival is famous for its Gilles, costumed figures who throw oranges to the crowd for good luck.

people wearing red and white clothing with red socks and black shoes

Beer Festivals: A Toast to Tradition

Belgium’s deep-rooted beer culture is celebrated through various beer festivals held across the country. The Belgian Beer Weekend in Brussels which takes place annually in September is a highlight, offering an extensive selection of the country’s best brews in the iconic Grand Place.

Another notable event is the Bruges Beer Festival, where beer enthusiasts can sample a vast array of local and international beers in the picturesque setting of Bruges.

Four storey building with many windows by a canal with a boat moored outside

Unique Local Festivals: A Taste of the Unexpected

Belgium also hosts numerous quirky and unique festivals that reflect its eclectic culture. The Gentse Feesten in Ghent, held annually in July, is a ten-day extravaganza of music, theater, and street performances, transforming the city into a vibrant cultural hotspot and attracting millions of visitors with its diverse program of entertainment.

The Zinneke Parade in Brussels is a biennial event that features imaginative and colorful processions, highlighting the creativity and diversity of the city’s residents.

In Ostend, Ostend at Anchor is held annually in May. This maritime festival celebrates Ostend’s seafaring heritage with tall ship parades, boat races, and nautical-themed activities.

Seek Out Belgium’s Hidden Gems

Beyond the well-trodden paths of Belgium’s famous cities and attractions lies a wealth of hidden gems and lesser-known spots that offer a unique and authentic experience.

Exploring these off-the-beaten-path destinations provides an opportunity to connect with the country’s culture and history in a more intimate and personal way.

Ardennes Forest: Belgium’s Natural Wonderland

The Ardennes Forest, a verdant and picturesque region in southeastern Belgium, is a paradise for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. Stretching across rolling hills, dense woodlands, and meandering rivers, the Ardennes is renowned for its stunning landscapes, from dense forests and expansive meadows to dramatic cliffs and tranquil rivers.

This diverse topography provides the perfect setting for a wide range of outdoor activities and is also the location of Signal de Botrange, the highest point in Belgium.

Hiking and biking trails crisscross the region, offering routes for all levels of experience, and the Lesse and Ourthe rivers are ideal for water sports, offering gentle currents for beginners and more challenging sections for experienced paddlers.

Scattered through the forest are historic sites, nature reserves, and charming villages, making the Ardennes a hidden gem that offers adventure, tranquility, and a glimpse into the past.

RELATED POST: Autumn in Europe: 23 Stunning Destinations for Fall

rolling countryisde with fields of hay bales and trees

Belgium’s Coastline: Find a Slower Pace

Belgium’s coastline may be relatively small compared to some of its European neighbors, but what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in character and charm.

Stretching just over 65 kilometers along the North Sea, Belgium’s coast offers a delightful blend of sandy beaches, lively resorts, picturesque dunes, and charming seaside towns.

Belgium’s coastline of beautiful beaches offers a perfect setting for sunbathing, swimming, and seaside relaxation. The most popular beach resorts with locals include Knokke-Heist, Blankenberge, Ostend, and De Panne, each offering a unique atmosphere and amenities.

Belgium’s coastal towns are steeped in maritime history, with charming harbors, fishing villages, and historic landmarks to explore. The Mercator in Ostend, a beautifully preserved sailing ship, offers a glimpse into Belgium’s seafaring past, and the Navigo National Fisheries Museum in Oostduinkerke provides insights into the region’s fishing traditions.

Visitors can also explore the coastal dunes and nature reserves, such as the Zwin Nature Park, which offers hiking, birdwatching, and nature photography.

long beach with people flying kites

Dinant: The Jewel of the Meuse Valley

Nestled along the banks of the Meuse River, Dinant is a picturesque town that captivates visitors with its stunning scenery and historical charm.

The town is dominated by the impressive Citadel of Dinant, perched high on a cliff and offering panoramic views of the surrounding area.

Dinant is also the birthplace of Adolphe Sax, the inventor of the saxophone, and visitors can explore his legacy at the Maison de Monsieur Sax Museum. A boat cruise along the Meuse River provides a tranquil way to take in the natural beauty of the region.

colorful houses and an onion domed church along a river with a high cliff backdrop

Durbuy: The Smallest City in the World

Durbuy, often touted as the smallest city in the world, is a charming and picturesque destination that feels like stepping into a fairy tale. Its narrow cobblestone streets, medieval architecture, and lush greenery create an enchanting atmosphere.

Visitors can explore the topiary park, which features meticulously sculpted hedges, or enjoy outdoor activities such as hiking and kayaking in the surrounding Ardennes forest. Durbuy’s quaint cafés and local craft shops add to its allure as a perfect getaway spot.

village houses along a cobbled street and a stone wall with a tower behind

Tournai: A Historical Treasure

Tournai, one of the oldest cities in Belgium but much less visited than its better-known neighbors, is rich in history and architectural splendor. The city boasts an impressive collection of Romanesque and Gothic buildings, including the UNESCO-listed Notre Dame Cathedral.

The Belfry of Tournai, another UNESCO site, offers stunning views of the city and a glimpse into its medieval past. The Museum of Fine Arts, designed by Victor Horta, houses an extensive collection of artworks, including pieces by renowned Belgian artists.

Tall creamy stone clock tower

Mechelen: A City of Cultural Richness

Situated in Flanders, Mechelen is often overlooked by tourists, yet offers a wealth of cultural and historical attractions. The city’s centerpiece is the imposing St. Rumbold’s Cathedral, with its towering belfry that provides breathtaking views after a climb up its 538 steps.

Mechelen is also home to the moving and poignant Kazerne Dossin, a museum and memorial dedicated to the history of the Holocaust and human rights. The city’s vibrant street art, delightful squares, and riverside walks add to its appeal.

historic buildings with typical Dutch gable ends in front of a large tower

Driving in Belgium

Belgian drivers are considerate behind the wheel and the road system here is well maintained.   

  • You must have at least 3rd party insurance for your vehicle. You do not require a green card to prove you have vehicle insurance cover if your vehicle is registered in the UK or another EU country.
  • You must hold a valid driving license. You may need an International Driving Permit depending on where your license was issued.
  • You must display a sticker on the rear of your car identifying the country in which your vehicle is registered unless this is incorporated into your number plate.
  • Lights must be adapted for driving on the right.
  • You must carry a warning triangle and a high-visibility reflective jacket. Although it’s not compulsory for vehicles registered outside of Belgium, we also recommend you carry a first aid kit and fire extinguisher.
  • There are no toll charges for cars or motorhomes and campervans on Belgium’s roads.
  • In Belgium, motorists drive on the right and overtake on the left. When overtaking a cyclist or moped rider there should be a distance of least one metre between them and the overtaking vehicle.
  • If you are driving in a city, trams have priority over cars, as do passengers getting on and off.
  • Priority is given to the right; drivers must stop for traffic joining from the right. Marked by an inverted ‘yield’ sign with a red ‘X’ in the middle, the rule means that cars coming from the right always have priority unless a yellow diamond sign or other priority road sign has been posted. This does not apply on motorways, roundabouts, and roads sign-posted with an orange diamond within a white background.
  • Navigation systems that highlight the presence of speed cameras are permitted in Belgium. However, any equipment that actively searches for such devices or impacts on police equipment is prohibited. 
  • There are Low Emissions Zones (LEZ) in Antwerp, Brussels, Ghent, Mechelen and Willbroek. You must register for LEZ access prior to entering the zone. Click here for more information.
  • Make sure you know the spelling of your destination in both French and Flemish or you may well miss a sign; did you know that Antwerp is Anvers in French?  Better yet, use a sat nav on your road trip of Belgium!
  • If you are stationary, do not start and leave your engine running as you can be fined.
Belgium at night seen from space
Belgium’s roads are lit 24/7 along 100% of its network, it’s so bright you can see it from space!

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