Since arriving to Europe
Dalton and I have both been ridiculously excited about visiting Belgium. A land famous for tasty beers and dark chocolate… However with so many incredible things to do in Belgium, where do you even begin?!
Our trip began with a long weekend in Amsterdam (where I fell head over heels in love – read more here) where we then took the train South into Brussels. We had about 4 days in Belgium and decided to root ourselves in the capital and explore the country via day trips on the train. Being the country is so small and public transport fairly cheap, this was a very viable option for our short trip.
Instead of regaling you with tales of our time there, I thought instead of trying something a bit different. Belgium for us was quite easily broken up into a few categories: Beer, Chocolate, Bruges and Brussels. So without further ado, here are my
Things to Do in Belgium (and to skip)
MY #1 RULE: DO NOT (I repeat) do not go to Belgium and restrain your intake of beer and chocolate. You might as well not go. Seriously people. Let your hair down and enjoy yourself because I promise – every calorie you consume will be 100% worth it. Don’t restrain yourself. Indulge. And then pick it back up afterwards. Please, I beg you.
Do try as many different beers at as many different bars as possible.
Belgium is famous for it’s incredible, artistic beer styles – each so very different and equally as delicious. Not only are the beers fun to taste, but their history is fascinating as well. The Trappist monks are the ones truly responsible for Belgium’s claim to beer fame (weird, huh). Hundreds of years ago they started producing beers in order to support their monasteries and in turn created fabulous beers that are still highly sought after today!
Do your research/buy a guide book/go on a tour for beer tastings
With so many different beers, so many different breweries and so many different bars, it can be really hard to figure out how to track down the best. I would definitely recommend doing some research or (even easier) purchasing this book – Around Brussels in 80 Beers. It’s awesome because not only does it talk about the different beers, but includes cool interesting bars to drink them in!
If you’re feeling like you want an even more immersive experience, we did a tour with Global Enterprises where our wonderful, dry and sarcastic guide walked us around Brussels, taking us to different bars and teaching us about the different beers. It was really a great afternoon and I highly recommend it!
Don’t expect to visit the Trappist Breweries without a car
Dalton and I have this dream of visiting each of the Trappist breweries in Belgium, but that dream wasn’t realized on this past trip. We quickly learned that each of these monasteries are quite remote and to get there you definitely need your own transportation. Also be warned that the majority of them do not let visitors inside, as it is still a completely functional, working monastery. Definitely on the itinerary for our next Belgium trip! If you do have a car check out this road map!
Do visit Cantillon brewery in Brussels
So bummed we didn’t make it here either – but every single thing I’ve heard about this place is that it is a must visit when visiting Brussels. It’s a working brewery/museum where you get to see the traditional and bizarre ways that many breweries in Belgium began making beer. A must for our next trip to Belgium.
Don’t expect to stay sober while beer tasting in Belgium
Belgian beers are typically between 6 -12% alcohol. Enough said.
Do drink these beers
(click on any of the names to learn more about them!)
- Westvleteren 12 [Trappist]
- “Angels pissing on your tongue.” A cheeky bottle whose label is no label. The trappist beer that has won the World’s Best Beer many years in a row.
- Cantillon Gueze 100% Lambic
- A definite for beer geeks. The gueze is such a mysterious style – why not try the truly authentic version. Be prepared for the flavors.
- Orval [Trappist]
- Great story behind the fish & the ring. Also great beer. A must try.
- Rochefort 10 [Trappist]
- Really any of the Rochefort’s will do.
- Rulles Estivale
- A great example of summer, seasonal Belgian beer
- Westmalle Tripel [Trappist]
- The creators of the style – only fair to give theirs a try.
- Saison Dupont
- Dupont – the creators of the Saison style – a good intro into Belgian beer.
- Gouden Carolus Tripel – Brouwerij Het Anker
- My FAVORITE beer of the trip. Ahhh… A wit/tripel/orange peel. There may or may not be one in my fridge right now….
- Barista Chocolate Quad – Brouwerij Van Honsebrouck
- You always need a little chocolate love on a list (I mean it’s Belgium, right?) So tasty.
Do add me on Untappd -> username SydPaulsen
So I can then share the joy you experience while you drink these incredible beers. For those unaware, Untappd is essentially a personal beer log + social media for beer drinkers = completely awesome.
I will admit, I know quite a bit more about beer than chocolate and so I believe I could have somewhat managed the beer scene with just a book, but thanks to a tour, my eyes were opened to a whole world of chocolate that I never knew existed. We did our tour with the same company Global Enterprise and ended up with our same great, dry and funny guide where we spent the morning chocolate tasting, chocolate making and learning which chocolate was and was not for sharing. It was a great tour where our chocolate tastings went from lowest to highest quality and I learned so much about chocolate making, chocolate quality and how to properly appreciate chocolate (the last bit was obviously the best).
Don’t think that the chocolatiers in Grand Place are the best
Do attempt to appreciate the difference in taste between chocolate from different countries
Really who knew that chocolate from Vietnam, Madagascar and Africa could taste SO different. Really blew my mind – let it blow yours too.
Don’t stay for more than a day (but do go!)
Bruges is absolutely stunning and definitely worth a visit while you’re in Belgium. However many people accurately describe it as a museum more than a city. It doesn’t feel as though there is too much ‘real life’ happening and after wandering around for half a day we felt pretty satisfied with our time there. Make sure there is a lot of space on your SD card though – it’s absolutely stunning.
Do climb the Belfry (bell tower)
The museum (which is the Bell Tower) costs 8 euro to enter, but it is super interesting and you get fabulous views of the city. This was our favorite stop in Bruges and I would do it again next time I visit. Take a moment to admire the bell mechanisms at the top.
Do visit Grand Place
Grand Place is the center square and calling it magnificent is an understatement. Never have I been so surrounded by incredible buildings that are sparkling in gold. Yes, it is a bit of a tourist trap, but you’ll be sorely disappointed if you don’t go take a look while you’re there.
Do grab a local bite to eat in the seafood district
Our last meal in Brussels was at De Noordzee – La Mer du Nord, a cute and fast, local seafood place where you order your meals and they cook it right in front of you. There is an oyster bar next door that has great seating, so no matter if you’re in a hurry or wanting a lazy meal this place is great. Just be ready to try some crazy dishes – razor clams, fried croquettes and more – you’ll leave feeling like you’ve definitely eaten like a local.
Don’t just visit Manneken Pis
The bizarre little peeing boy statue you see is everywhere… But did you know that there is also Jeanneke Pis and Het Zinneke?! The little peeing girl and the peeing dog?! Quite hilarious and not surrounded by gawking tourists – these statues are way better than Mr. Manneken (no offense).
Do eat waffles. Don’t be too picky.
Seriously. Just buy the first waffles you see and keep going. We waited till almost the last day to try them (as we wanted to make sure we got the best ones) and quickly learned they are all very delicious. Why not just start your waffle education in the beginning and then make your own decision as to what is the best?
Do visit Atomium
It’s weird, I do admit. A massive atom in Belgium. But it’s really pretty neat and there are some trippy light shows inside. But my number one recommendations is to get a drink and appetizer at the restaurant on top and try not to cringe at the miniature Europe below.
Do eat at these restaurants
Just do it.
- Peck 47 Rue du Marche aux Poulets 47
- Amazing brunch, great bloody mary’s
- Davi Thai / Au Lotus Thai Rue Jules Van Praet 20/31
- Right next to each other, both tasty thai food
- Balls & Glory Lakensestraat 171
- Who knew meatballs could be so good. Yes, there a few of them. Yes, you should still go.
Do drink at these bars
- A La Becasse Rue de Tabora 11
- Order the Lambic Doux (aka white pitcher)
- Delirium Impasse de la Fidelite 4A
- Beer is so-so, but a fun visit none the less. Also right next to Janneken Pis
- Moeder Lambic Fontainas Place Fontainas 8
- Loved this spot! Great atmosphere and good beer list.
- A La Mort Subite Rue Montagne-aux-Herbes Potageres 7
- Translates to Sudden Death. Really neat, super old bar.
- Poechenellekelder Rue de Chene 5
- Literally every surface inside is covered in puppets. Grab a seat at the table in the very back. Enjoy the company of your life-sized doll friend. Wait for him to magically come to life.
- Le Cirio Rue de la Bourse 18
- Beautiful, elegant interior. Try to get a seat next to the cat.
- BrewDog Brussels Putterie 20
- Yes, I said it. Maybe get a bit of that alternative style beer after drinking the Belgium beer. Great spacious atmosphere in a good location near the central train station.
Okay okay, so we obviously had far too much fun in Belgium and gained a collective 500 lbs. But you know what – it was SO worth it. And I cannot wait to go back. Huge thank you to Jen, Dalton’s mom, who made this trip the indulgent experience it was. We typically don’t have the means to travel like we did on this trip (tours, tastings, excessive beer & chocolate) and I will always look back on it as such a special, unique time.