The Flemish region of Belgium might be small in size, geographically speaking, but the fact that its major towns and cities including Bruges, Antwerp, Ghent, Mechelen and Leuven, as well as Brussels are located very close together, means there’s plenty of scope for a multi-city break. Up for a weekend adventure? Here are five ways to get up close and personal with the towns and cities of Flanders…
Rich, creamy pralines? Yes, please. Slab of deliciously dark chocolate? Get. In. My. Belly. In the home of Belgian chocolate you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing a chocolatey memento from Flanders. Between leading chains such as Godiva and Neuhaus and quirky chocolate boutiques like The Chocolate Line (Bruges and Antwerp), there are plenty of places to sample the local goods.
Flanders’ chocolate-making tradition can be traced back to the nineteenth century when the Swiss pharmacist Neuhaus settled in Brussels and began sweetening up their bitter pills by coating them in chocolate. These days, Belgian chocolate is famous around the world for its premium quality and you can learn all about its history at dedicated museums such as Choco Story in Bruges and Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate in Brussels.
Get your bearings in Brussels with a trip down memory lane. The Comic Strip Walk, a street art tour that celebrates classic Belgian cartoon characters including Tintin and The Smurfs is definitely well worth the effort. The highly-instagramable trail features over 50 colourful outdoor paintings, with new additions appearing all the time in the most unexpected corners of the city. Maps of the murals are readily available throughout the Belgian capital.
If you’re travelling as a family or you’ve only got a day or two to explore Brussels, it’s the perfect way to cover a lot of ground over a short amount of time. Tip: Fuel up at street food stalls between stops. Go for traditional Belgian Fries slathered in mayonnaise or waffles topped with whipped cream and berries. Heaven.
Belgium is up there as one of the beer capitals of Europe, boasting over 1500 different beers from ales and berry-based beers to Abbey and Trappist beer and the famous Lambic and Gueze brews. There’s no better way to immerse yourself in the local beer culture than at one of the many beer festivals that take place year-round in cities across Flanders. September’s Belgian Beer Weekend is Brussels’ biggest beer festival, with over 50 breweries showcasing their frothy delights on the Grand Place.
Break out your best ‘Blue Steel’ pose, Flanders takes its fashion seriously. In Antwerp, Ghent and Brussels you’ll be bowled over by the choice on offer, in fact, it’s probably wise to save a little extra space in your luggage for that must-have pair of shoes or new winter coat. From huge flagship stores to hipster-friendly flea markets and cool concept stores, these cities are paradise for dedicated followers of fashion. For the best buys in Antwerp, stock up on handcrafted jewellery and one-off pieces by young, up and coming designers. Bargain hunting? Head to Veldstraat in Ghent for an extravaganza of high street stores. In Brussels, Rue Neuve, the pedestrianized street just north of Grand Place is fashion central. If you can’t find what you’re looking for here, it probably isn’t worth having.
From epic summer music gatherings such as Tomorrowland (held annually in Boom, close to Antwerp) to local festivals steeped in medieval tradition, Flanders certainly knows how to throw a good party. No matter what time of year you visit, there’s an excuse to get involved in lively outdoor events. More than 280 music festivals roll into towns and cities across Flanders each summer, playing host to the biggest bands and live sets in Europe. Autumn equals beer festivals galore, while every November, cities across the region transform into winter wonderlands, with Christmas markets, complete with twinkling Christmas trees, ice skating rinks and fairground attractions brightening up the town squares. Choirs, parades and concerts all add to the magic. And the festive fun doesn’t end there. December sees some of the biggest New Years Eve celebrations in Europe, with huge fireworks displays lighting up the skies over the Belgian capital.
- Fiona Hilliard