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Location
Flag
Quick Facts
Capital Brussels
Government Federal parliamentary
democracy under a
constitutional monarch
Currency Euro (EUR)
Area 30,510km
Population 10,414,336 (July 2009 est.)
Language Dutch (official) 57-60%,
French (official) 40-43%,
German (official) less than
1%
Religion Roman Catholic 75%,
Protestant or other 25% -
most people aren't
religious.
Electricity 230/50Hz (European plug)
Country code +32
Internet TLD .be
Belgium
From Wikitravel
Belgium (http://www.visitbelgium.com)
(Dutch: Belgi, French: Belgique, German:
Belgien) is a low-lying country on the North
Sea coast in the Benelux. With the majority of
West European capitals within 1,000 km of the
Belgian capital of Brussels, and as a member of
the long-standing international Benelux
community, Belgium sits at the crossroads of
Western Europe. Its immediate neighbours are
France to the southwest, Luxembourg to the
southeast, Germany to the east and the
Netherlands to the north.
Contents
[+] Understand
History
Terrain
Climate
Electricity
Regions
Cities
Other destinations
[+] Get in
Entry requirements
By plane
By train
By car
Carpooling
By bus
By ship
From France
From Germany
From the Netherlands
[+] Get around
By train
By bus/tram
By car
Car Hire
By thumb
See
JetairFly - Billets
Avion
Le Moins Cher sur 100+
Destinations Rservez
partir de 29,99 !
jetairfly.com
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Time Zone UTC +1
Do
Talk
[+] Buy
Currency
Items
[+] Eat
General rules
Specialities
International
[+] Drink
Water
Beer
Jenever
Pubs
[+] Sleep
Budget
Hotels
Learn
Work
Stay safe
Stay healthy
Contact
Respect
Get out
Understand
Belgium is a densely populated country trying to balance the conflicting demands of
urbanization, transportation, industry, commercial and intensive agriculture. It imports large
quantities of raw materials and exports a large volume of manufactured goods, mostly to the
EU.
History
Belgium is the heir of several former Medieval powers, previously named Belgae (or Belgica
reference to the Roman Empire period), and you will see traces of these everywhere during
your trip in this country.
After the collapse of the Carolingian Empire in the 9th century, the territory that is nowadays
Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg, was part of Lotharingia, an ephemeral kingdom
soon to be absorbed into the Germanic Empire; however, the special character of "Lower
Lotharingia" remained intact in the feudal Empire : this is the origin of the Low Countries, a
general term that encompasses present-day Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg.
The widely autonomous fiefdoms of the Low Countries were amongst the richest places in
Medieval Europe and you will see traces of this past wealth in the rich buildings of Bruges,
Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent, Leuven, Tournai, Mons, etc. These cities progressively fell under
the control of a powerful and ambitious family : the Dukes of Burgundy. The whole realm of
the dukes extended from the Low Countries to the borders of Switzerland. Using wealth,
strategy, and alliances, the Dukes of Burgundy aimed at reconstituting Lotharingia. The death
of the last Duke, Charles the Bold, put an end to this dream. However, the treasures of the
Dukes of Burgundy remains as a testimony of their rules in Belgian museums and landmarks.
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The powerful Habsburg family then inherited from the Low Countries. Reformation is the
reason that Belgium and Netherlands were first put apart: the northern half of the Low
Countries embraced Protestantism and rebelled against the Habsburg rule, while the southern
half remained faithful to both its ruler and the Catholic faith. These two halves roughly
corresponds to present-day Belgium and Netherlands.
Belgium was called Austrian Netherlands, then Spanish Netherlands, depending on which
branch of the Habsburg ruled it. The powerful German emperor and Spanish king, Charles
V, was born in the Belgian city of Ghent and ruled from Brussels. Many places in Belgium
are named after him, including the city of Charleroi and even a brand of beer. Every year, the
Brusselers emulates his first parade in their city in what is called the Ommegang.
Belgium was briefly a part of the Napoleonic Empire. After Napoleon's defeat, a large
Kingdom of the Netherlands was created, comprising the whole of the Low Countries.
However, the religious opposition still remained and the split was aggravated by political
differences between Belgian liberals and Dutch aristocrats. Belgium became independent
from the Netherlands in 1830 after a short revolution and a war against the Netherlands.
It was occupied by Germany during World Wars I and II and has many war graves near the
battle zones, most of them are around Ieper (in English archaically rendered as Ypres, with
Yperite another name for mustard gas due to intensive use there in WWI). It has prospered
in the past half century as a modern, technologically advanced European state and member
of NATO and the EU. Tensions between the Dutch-speaking Flemings of the north and the
French-speaking Walloons of the south have led in recent years to constitutional amendments
granting these regions formal recognition and autonomy.
Terrain
Flat coastal plains in northwest, central rolling hills, wooded hills and valleys of Ardennes
Forest in southeast.
Climate
Temperate; mild winters, cool summers; rainy, humid, cloudy. Average annual temperature
between 1976-2006: 10C
Electricity
Electricity is supplied at 220-230V 50Hz. Outlets are CEE7/5 (protruding male earth pin)
and accept either CEE 7/5 (Grounded), CEE 7/7 (Grounded) or CEE 7/16 (non-grounded)
plugs. Older German-type CEE 7/4 plugs are not compatible as they do not accommodate
the earth pin found on this type of outlet. However, most modern European appliances are
fitted with the hybrid CEE 7/7 plug which fits both CEE 7/5 (Belgium & France) and CEE
7/4 (Germany, Netherlands, Spain and most of Europe) outlets.
Travellers from the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, Italy, Switzerland and
other countries using 230V 50Hz which use different plugs simply require a plug adaptor to
use their appliances in Belgium.
Travellers from the US, Canada, Japan and other countries using 110V 60Hz may need a
voltage converter. However, some laptops, mobile phone chargers and other devices can
accept either 110V or 230V and so only require a simple plug adaptor. Check the voltage
rating plates on your appliances before connecting them.
Regions
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Cities and regions in Belgium
Belgium consists of three federal regions, listed from North to South:
Flanders
The northern,
Dutch-speaking
region of the
country. It
includes well
known cities like
Antwerp, Ghent
and Bruges. The
Flemish provinces
are (from west to
east): West-
Flanders, East-
Flanders,
Antwerp,
Flemish-Brabant
and Limburg.
Brussels
The bilingual
capital region of
the country and
headquarters of
the EU.
Wallonia
The southern, French-speaking region, incorporating a small German speaking region
in the east near the German border. The Walloon provinces are (from west to east):
Hainaut, Walloon Brabant, Namur, Lige and Luxembourg.
Cities
Belgium has a very high rate of urbanization and has an astonishing number of cities for such
a small territory
Brussels Belgium's bilingual capital and the unofficial capital of the EU. Today one
of the most multicultural cities in Europe. Brussels has a nice historic centre around the
famous Grand Place with its Gothic town hall and baroque guild halls. Other popular
destinations are the Atomium, one of the symbols of Belgium, the European quarter,
the palace of justice, the Saint Michael and Gudula cathedral, the stock exchange, the
royal palace, "manneken pis" and the art nouveau houses of Victor Horta. Brussels
houses some important museums, such as the Magritte museum, the comic museum
and the royal museum of fine arts.
Flanders
Antwerp (Dutch: Antwerpen, French: Anvers) Belgium's second largest city, along
the Scheldt river, is landmarked by the enormous Gothic cathedral of Our Lady and
especially known for four things: Rubens, diamonds, fashion and the port, the second
largest of Europe. Places of interest are the Grote Markt, with the renaissance city hall
and stair shaped guild houses, the central station, the Plantin-Moretus museum, the
MAS museum, the zoo and te Royal Museum of Fine Arts.
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Bruges (Dutch: Brugge) One of Europe's wealthiest cities in the 14th century,
nicknamed the 'Venice of the north' because of the canals and romantic atmosphere.
The historic centre is mainly medieval, including the famous belfry, a Beguine and the
Groeningen museum. Quiet at night, Bruges offers lots of small guest houses and family
businesses greatly outnumbering chain hotels. Damme and Lissewege are popular
towns to visit in the environs.
Ghent (Dutch: Gent, French: Gand) Once one of Europe's largest cities, Ghent is
now a perfect mixture of Antwerp and Bruges: a cosy medieval centre with canals, a
lot of churches and a great castle, yet with a lively student population, a modern art
scene and some great festivals. The Gothic Saint Bavo cathedral houses the Lamb of
God, one of the masterpieces of Flemish medieval painting.
Leuven (French: Louvain) A small city dominated by one of Europe's oldest
universities. Beautiful historic centre and a lively nightlife. Leuven is also known as the
home of Stella Artois and Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world's largest brewing
company.
Lier (French: Lire) Charming Flemish city situated along the Nete river with a
beautiful Beguine, a belfry, stair-shaped houses, a Gothic cathedral and small medieval
streets.
Mechelen (French: Malines) An important medieval city with a nice historic district
around the St. Rumbolds cathedral, famous for its carillon school, the oldest and
largest in the world.
Tongeren (French: Tongres) The oldest town in Belgium along with Tournai,
Tongeren lives up to its promise.
Ieper (French: Ypres) Once one of the largest cities in the Low Countries, now
best known for its destruction during the First World War, marked by memorials and
cemeteries (Flanders Fields Country, see below).
Wallonia
Binche- Walled town that is famous for its carnival.
Charleroi- Although the name Charleroi Brussels-South Airport suggest otherwise,
Charleroi is not a suburb of Brussels, but is actually the largest town in Wallonia (being
marginally larger than Lige). Sadly, it is not the kind of town that most people would
want to visit, unless theyre into heavy industry and urban decay (in which case it is
paradise). Nonetheless, those who venture into the centre will be surprised to find it is
friendly and relaxed (and to find that there are also some nice buildings).
Dinant A small town with a cathedral and citadel in a stunning natural setting on the
Meuse river, Dinant is a popular spot for adventure sports such as canoeing and rock-
climbing which best visited in winter. Dinant is known as the place where Adolphe Sax
invented the saxophone.
Lige (Dutch: Luik, German: Lttich) The cultural hub of Wallonia - which sits on
the banks of the wide river Meuse - is a many sided city that is definitely worth visiting
if you are in Belgium. Besides some industrial scars, it is undeniable that Lige has a
unique character, an eclectic mix of architecture from the middle ages to the present, a
dramatic setting, exciting night-life, a number of museums, and varied natural
surroundings to boot!
Mons(Dutch: Bergen)- Also known as the Bruges of Wallonia, Mons historic centre
is simply stunning!
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Namur (Dutch: Namen) The political capital of Wallonia, Namur is a classy town
of around a 100,000 inhabitants, that boasts a tidy, well preserved old centre and an
impressive citadel at the confluence of the Sambre and Meuse rivers. Similarly to
Lige, Namur has a a dramatic setting and impressive natural scenery in its immediate
surroundings.
Spa - The elegant small town in the Ardennes which put the word spa into spa-town.
Tournai(Dutch: Doornik)- The oldest town in Belgium along with Tongeren, Tournai is
a pleasant town on the banks of the Escaut (Scheldt) with an impressive four-towered
cathedral.
Verviers (pop: 55,936) -- Overlooked by almost everyone, Lige's little brother to the
east was one of the first towns in the world outside Great Britain to be mechanically
industrialised in the early 19th century, when British entrepreneur William Cockerill
(and his son John) set up shop there in 1799. Verviers -- which is set in the dramatic
valley of the Vesdre -- also contains many traces of its pre-mechanical history, which
dates make to medieval times. While the town might not be everyone's cup of tea, it
will certainly prove fascinating to many others!
Other destinations
Ardennes the most sparsely populated region in Benelux, this is a hilly countryside
region covered with forests, tiny nature-stone villages and castles, such as the one of
Bouillon or Durbuy.
Fondry des Chiens
Waterloo
Tyne Cot Cemetery
Abbeys a lot of them famous for brewing beer, such as Orval, Chimay, Postel,
Floreffe or Val Dieu.
Get in
Entry requirements
Belgium is a member of the Schengen Agreement.
There are no border controls between countries that have signed and implemented this treaty
- the European Union (except Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania and the United
Kingdom), Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Likewise, a visa granted for any
Schengen member is valid in all other countries that have signed and implemented the treaty.
But be careful: not all EU members have signed the Schengen treaty, and not all Schengen
members are part of the European Union. This means that there may be spot customs checks
but no immigration checks (travelling within Schengen but to/from a non-EU country) or you
may have to clear immigration but not customs (travelling within the EU but to/from a non-
Schengen country).
Please see the article Travel in the Schengen Zone for more information about how the
scheme works and what entry requirements are. Citizens of the above countries are
permitted to work in Belgium without the need to obtain a visa or any further authorisation
for the period of their 90 day visa-free stay. However, this ability to work visa-free does not
necessarily extend to other Schengen countries.
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By plane
Brussels Airport (http://www.brusselsairport.be/en/) (also known as Zaventem due to the
town in which it is mainly located) is Belgium's main airport (IATA code BRU). It is not
located in Brussels proper, but in surrounding Flanders. The airport is the base of the national
airline Brussels Airlines [1] (http://www.brusselsairlines.com/). Other full-service airlines
use BRU, as well as budget carriers such as Vueling [2] (http://www.vueling.com/), JetairFly
[3] (http://www.jetairfly.com/) and Thomas Cook[4] (http://www.thomascookairlines.com/).
There is a train ( 7.80) running every 15 minutes to Brussels centre, taking 25
minutes, some of them continuing to Ghent, Mons and West Flanders.
STIB-bus lines number 12 and 21 (4 at the vending machine/6 on board) depart
every 20 to 30 minutes for Place Luxembourg (European Parliament district). The bus
stops at NATO and Schuman (for the EU institutions) on its way to the centre.
De Lijn-bus lines 272 and 471 (3 on board) depart every 30 to 60 minutes for
Brussels North Station, just North of the city centre. These buses also serve NATO.
A taxi to the centre of Brussels costs around 35 - cheaper if booked in advance.
Taxis bleus: +32 2 268 0000, Taxis Autolux: +32 2 411 4142, Taxis verts: +32 2
349 4949.
There are also two trains (8.10) per hour to Leuven, taking 14 minutes, and two
trains (10.40) per hour to Antwerp, taking 43 minutes.
Brussels South Charleroi Airport[5] (http://www.charleroi-airport.com) (IATA code
CRL), about 50km south of Brussels, mostly serves low-cost carriers, such as Ryanair [6]
(http://www.ryanair.com/) and Wizzair [7] (http://wizzair.com/). You can get to Brussels
Gare du Midi on a coach in about an hour (13 one way, 22 return). If you're going to any
other part of Belgium, buy a combination bus+train ticket via Charleroi Sud train station from
the TEC vending machines outside the airport for at most 19.40 one-way.
However, if you are really stuck, it is not unusual for taxi drivers to take credit cards. The
price of a taxi ride to Brussels is a set fare (approximately 95 as of May 2006) and you can
check with the taxi driver if he will accept your credit card(s) or not.
Antwerp Airport [8] (http://www.antwerpairport.be/) (IATA code ANR) has some
business flights, including CityJet [9] (http://www.cityjet.com/)'s reasonably priced link to
London City airport.
Ostend Airport & Lige Airport have a limited selection of flights by JetAirFly (varying
every season), but mostly receive business, charter & cargo flights.
Flights to airports in neighbouring countries might be worth considering, especially to
Amsterdam Schiphol Airport which has a direct rail link to Brussels, also making stops at
Antwerp and Mechelen. Some low-budget airlines (Ryanair, Easyjet) offer a limited selection
of flights to Eindhoven, Maastricht, Kln & Lille, all of which have a selection of public
transit options to Belgian cities.
By train
There are direct trains between Brussels and:
Luxembourg (normal trains, running every hour)
Rotterdam, The Hague (normal trains, running every two hours)
Paris, Kln/Cologne, Aachen, Amsterdam (Thalys [10] (http://www.thalys.com/))
Lyon, Bordeaux, Paris-CDG airport and many other French cities (TGV Bruxelles-
France [11] (http://www.voyages-sncf.com/)).
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London, Ebbsfleet, Ashford, Lille and Calais (Eurostar [12]
(http://www.eurostar.com/)). Tip: If going to another Belgian city opt for the "any
Belgium Station" ticket (5.50 one-way in 2nd class), and your local transport is
included in your Eurostar ticket. Depending on the distance this may work out cheaper
than getting a separate ticket. Note: Passengers travelling from the UK to Belgium go
through French passport/identity card checks (done on behalf of the Belgians) in the
UK before boarding, rather than on arrival in Belgium. Passengers travelling from
Lille/Calais to Brussels are within the Schengen Area.
Frankfurt, Kln/Cologne (ICE [13]
(http://www.bahn.de/p/view/international/englisch/international_guests.shtml))
Basel, Switzerland, via Luxembourg (normal trains, 2 daily)
They connect with domestic trains at Brussels' Gare du Midi/Zuidstation, and with all
Eurostar or ICE and some Thalys tickets, you can finish your journey for free on domestic
trains. For all high-speed trains, you need to book in advance for cheap fares, either online
or using a travel agency. There are no regularly scheduled sleeper trains anymore.
You might want to check the TGV connections to Lille too. The trains from the rest of
France to Lille are more frequent and usually cheaper. There is a direct train connection from
Lille Flandres to Ghent and Antwerp. If your TGV arrives in Lille Europe, it will take a 15
min walk to the Lille Flandres railway station.
Plan your trip with the Deutsche Bahn timetable [14]
(http://reiseauskunft.bahn.de/bin/query.exe/en). It has all domestic and international
connections across Europe.
Smoking is no longer allowed in Belgian trains.
By car
Major European highways like the E-19, E-17, E-40, E-411 E-314 and E-313 pass through
Belgium.
Carpooling
The cheapest way to get to Belgium (3/100km) from anywhere in Europe if you are a little
flexible and lucky is usually taxistop [15] (http://www.taxistop.be)
By bus
You can get to Belgium from all over Europe on Eurolines [16] (http://www.eurolines.be)
coaches. International busses have stopovers in Antwerpen, Brussels north-station, Leuven
& Liege.
Due to the Bosnian war in the 1990'ies there are bus companies serving the Bosnian
diaspora, which provide a cheap and clean way of getting to the other side of the European
continent. Semi tours [17] (http://semi-tours.com) runs three times per week from various
destinations in Bosnia and Hercegovina to Belgium and the Netherlands, Off-season approx.
(132) for a return ticket.
By ship
There is an overnight ferry to/from Zeebrugge from Hull in England, but it is not cheap.
There's also a vehicle-only daytime service from Oostende to Ramsgate in England.
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Map of Belgium
From France
There are domestic
Belgian trains that
terminate in Lille (station
Lille-Flanders).
Between the De Panne
terminus of the Belgian
railways (and the Coast
tram Kusttram) and the
French coastal city of
Dunkerque, there is a bus
line run by DK'BUS
Marine: [18]
(http://www.dkbus.com/).
It may, however, be
operating only in certain
time of the year. It is also
possible to take a
DK'BUS bus which goes
to the closest possible
distance of the border and then cross it on foot by walking on the beach and arriving
at a convenient station of the Coast tram, such as Esplanade.
From Germany
You can take a bus between the train stations of Eupen (Belgium) and Aachen
(Germany) which is quite fast and less expensive than doing the same trip on an
international train ticket.
From the Netherlands
For a list of border-crossing buses between Belgium and the Netherlands, you may
consult the list at [19] (http://www.xs4all.be/~rvdborgt/bus/belgie.html).
In order to avoid paying for an international train ticket on the route between
Amsterdam and Antwerp, you can get off in one of the border stations of Essen
(Belgium) and Roosendaal (the Netherlands) and walk to the other on foot. You can
follow the main road between the two places and will need to walk some 10
kilometers in a flat and open, though particularly uninhabited terrain.
Apart from being a peculiar result of ancient European history, the town of Baarle
(formally Baarle-Hertog in Belgium and Baarle-Nassau in the Netherlands) is a
possible change point, since the town's main bus stop Sint-Janstraat is operated by
both Flemish (Belgian) and Dutch buses.
The Flemish (Belgian) company De Lijn operates a border-crossing bus between
Turnhout in Belgium and Tilburg in the Netherlands, both of which are termini in the
respective country's railway network.
There's a bus (line 45) operated by the Flemish (Belgian) company De Lijn going
between the train stations of Genk (Belgium) and Maastricht (the Netherlands).
There is another bus (line 20A) departing from Hasselt, going to Maastricht. A train
connection is non-existing in this place, but it is being built at the moment.
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Get around
Being such a small country (300 km as its maximum distance), you can get anywhere in a
couple of hours. Public transport is fast and comfortable, and not too expensive. Between
larger cities, there are frequent train connections, with buses covering smaller distances. A
useful site is InfoTEC [20] (http://www.infotec.be/index.aspx?Language=english), which has
a door-to-door routeplanner for the whole country, covering all forms of public transport
(including train, bus, subway and tram).
A look on the map may suggest that Brussels is a good starting point to explore Antwerp,
Ghent, Brugge, Namur and Leuven on day trips. Antwerp is popular among those who want
to be in a cosmopolitan place, and Ghent is tops with those who like a good mix of open-
minded provincialism. Lige is beautiful, but too close to Germany to be a good base for day
trips. Mechelen is considered boring by tourists, but has a very good brand new youth hostel
next to a train station with trains to everywhere else every 30 mins.
To do some local sightseeing, especially in Flanders, a lot of infrastructure is available for
cycling. Bikes can be rented virtually everywhere. In the country side of Wallonia,
mountainbikes are available, and rafting is popular along the border with Luxembourg.
By train
Most of Belgium is well connected by train, run by NMBS (SNCB in French) [21]
(http://www.b-rail.be/) with most of the main routes passing through Antwerp, Namur or
Brussels. This is where you'll arrive on international trains, and both can be reached by train
from Brussels airport or by coach from Antwerp or Charleroi airport. Transfers are very
easy. Note that all ICE and some Thalys tickets allow free same-day transfers by
domestic trains to any other Belgian station. Also, there are Thalys trains from Paris directly
to Ghent, Brugge and Oostende with no need to change in Antwerp or Brussels. From
London (by Eurostar) you need to switch in Brussels for Antwerp, Leuven or Ghent, but for
Brugge, you can change at Lille (France) with no need to make the detour via Brussels. Both
in Lille and Brussels the staff are very helpful and willing to smile.
Destinations are listed at stations in the language of the locality. For example, if travelling
from somewhere in Flanders to Lige, this will be listed as 'Luik', the Flemish for Lige. If
travelling from a French-speaking area to Antwerp, it will be listed as 'Anvers', from a
Flemish-speaking area 'Antwerpen'. The exception is Brussels, where destinations are listed
in both languages.
Announcements on board trains reflect the official language of the region that the train passes
through. In Flanders, all announcements will be in Dutch; similarly in Wallonia, all
announcements will be in French. In Brussels, announcements will be in French and Dutch.
Brussels has 3 stations, and all three have two names in French / Flemish: Bruxelles-Midi /
Brussel-Zuid, Bruxelles-Central / Brussel-Centraal and Bruxelles-Nord / Brussel-Noord.
Many trains stop at all 3, but some trains (Eurostar, Thalys) only stop at Bruxelles-Midi /
Brussel-Zuid.
When travelling during rush hour, delays between larger cities are to be expected (5-15
minutes). Nevertheless, delays of more than 30 minutes are extremely rare.
Normal fares on Belgian trains are cheap compared to Germany or the UK, with no need
nor a possibility to pre-book or reserve. 2nd class fares don't go much higher than 20 for
the longest domestic trips, and 1st class costs 50% extra. Trains can get very full during the
rush hours, so you might need a 1st class ticket to get a seat at those times. You can buy
normal tickets online [22] (http://buy.b-rail.be/) or in stations, but not usually in travel
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agencies. If you want to buy a ticket on the train, you have to warn the train conductor and a
supplement will be charged, unless ticket offices in the departure station are closed. In the
train station, you can pay with cash or credit card. Not buying a ticket can cost you up to
200. Return tickets are 50% cheaper at the weekend.
Normal tickets are sold for a designated day, so there is no extra validation when you step
on a train.
There are several possibilities to keep the ticket price low. First of all, for people younger
than 26, one can buy a 'Go-Pass 1' for one trip at a fixed price of 6, no matter the distance.
However, this ticket needs to be ordered on the internet and printed beforehand. The
cheapest option if you're planning several train trips is a Go Pass [23] (http://www.b-
rail.be/nat/E/tarifs/passes/go/index.php), which gives you 10 single 2nd class trips (including
train changes if necessary) for 50. It's valid for a year and can be shared with or given to
other people without any restrictions. The only problem is you have to be younger than 26,
but there's a more expensive version for older people called a Rail Pass. This costs 76 for
2nd class or 117 for 1st. When using these passes make sure you have filled in the line
before you get on the train (strictly speaking: before you enter the platform). The train
conductor can be very picky when the pass is not correctly filled in. However, if you address
train station staff before boarding, they will be glad to help you.
The NMBS website has a searchable timetable [24] (http://www.railtime.be) with delay
information, and a fare calculator [25] (http://www.b-rail.be/cgi-script/tarif/tarif_nat.cgi?
lang=E). You can also find a map of Belgian railways and stations [26]
(http://www.loughrigg.org/b-rail/full1.gif).
As in other European countries, timetables usually change on the second Sunday in
December. Those changes are usually limited to introducing a few new train stations and
adding a few regular lines. No lines have been discontinued in a very long time.
By bus/tram
Buses cover the whole country, along with trams and metro in the big cities. Most routes
cover short distances, but it is possible to go from city to city by bus. However, this is much
slower and only slightly cheaper than taking a train.
There is also the Kusttram (Coast Tram) [27] (http://www.dekusttram.be/), which runs for
68 km along almost the whole Flemish seaside from Adinkerke, near the French border, to
Knokke-Heist, near the Dutch border. As such, it is the most convenient way to travel from
Oostende to Zeebrugge. A full end-to-end trip takes approximately 2 hours. Trams run
every 10 minutes during the summer and every 20 minutes during the winter.
Within cities, a normal ticket for one zone never costs more than 2.00, and there are
various travelcards available. Note that local transport is provided by different companies:
STIB/MIVB in Brussels [28] (http://www.stib.be/), De Lijn [29] (http://delijn.be/) in
Flanders and TEC [30] (http://www.infotec.be/) in Wallonia, and, outside Brussels, they
don't accept each others' tickets. Tickets are cheaper when bought at ticket machines.
Most tourists will not need the bus companies, as it is much more user-friendly to take trains
between cities and go on foot inside them. Only Brussels and Antwerp have a subway, but,
even there, you can make your way around on foot. The historic centre of Brussels is only
about 300 by 400 m long. Antwerp is much bigger, but a ride on a horse-pulled coach gives
a better view than the subway.
By car
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Belgium has a dense network of modern toll-free motorways, but some secondary roads in
Wallonia are poorly maintained. (The only place where you have to pay toll is the
Liefkenshoektunnel in Antwerpen. A good alternative to circumvent the often congested
Kennedytunnel) Signs are always in the local language only, except in Brussels, where they're
bilingual. As many cities in Belgium have quite different names in Dutch and French, this can
cause confusion. For example, Mons in French is Bergen in Dutch; Antwerp is called
Antwerpen in Dutch and Anvers in French; Lige in French is Luik in Dutch and Lttich in
German, and so on. This even applies to cities outside Belgium; driving along a Flemish
motorway, you may see signs for Rijsel, which is the French city of Lille or Aken, which is
the German city of Aachen. Exits will be marked with the word 'Uit' (out) in Flemish areas,
'Sortie' in French areas and 'Ausfahrt' in German-speaking ones.
Drivers in Belgium should also be aware of the "priority from the right" rule. At road
crossings, traffic coming from the right has the right of way unless otherwise indicated by
signs or pavement markings. You're most likely to encounter such crossings in urban and
suburban areas.
In Belgium the motorway signs are notoriously inconvenient, especially on secondary roads.
There is no uniformity in layout and color, many are in bad state, placed in an awkward
position or simply missing. A good roadmap (Michelin, De Rouck, Falk) or a GPS system is
recommended. Also Belgian roads are always in a state of disrepair. They are however
VERY WELL LIT, as this is a remainder of the 80's. Expect good lighting and bad driving.
Car Hire
Some hire cars come equipped with sat nav but it's a good idea to request this when you
book your car. It's probably the most reliable way to get from A to B in Belgium. This way
you will get to see some of the sites of Belgium, as flat as it may be, but architecture in the
towns is something to be admired. You will be pleasantly surprised at just how clean the
towns and villages of Belgium are. Drive through on any afternoon and you will see people
caring for the street in front of their homes - a real, backdated village community feel.
Speed traps are positioned along roads frequently and drink driving of only small amounts
comes with serious penalties, such as 125 Euros on the spot fine for 0.05 per cent and 0.08
per cent. Over that amount of alcohol in your system and you face anything up to 6 months
imprisonment and loss of driving licence for 5 years.
By thumb
The best place for hitchhikers. Just ask for a lift! Having cardboard signs with towns' names
on it can really help to get a quick lift.
Leaving Brussels: Heading South (e.g. Namur) get to the underground station named
'Delta'.
Next to it you have a huge 'park and ride' and a bus stop. Hitchhiking near the bus stop
should get you a ride in less than 5 minutes during traffic hours.
Heading to Ghent/Bruges: Good spot near the Shopping Mall called 'Basilix' in
Berchem-ste-Agathe. You can reach this place with the bus N87.
An alternative spot to go to the north is in Anderlecht, near the Hospital Erasme/Erasmus
(Metro station Erasme/Erasmus.)
Heading to Lige/Hasselt: Take the pre-metro to the station 'Diamant' in Schaarbeek.
When leaving the station you should see a lot of outgoing cars just below you. Just
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walk and follow the roadsigns mentioning 'E40'. You should arrive in a small street
giving access to a road joigning the E40 (the cars are leaving a tunnel at this point).
Just hitchhike on the emergency lane at this point, in the portion near the tunnel. Cars
should still be riding slowly at this point and see you are visible to them, so it's not that
dangerous.
Leaving Louvain-la-Neuve (University) to Brussels (north) or to Namur (south), stand
at the roundabout next to exit/entrance "8a" near to "Louvain la Neuve-centre" road
signs. Quick lift guaranteed. Avoid exit 7 or 9, since they have far less traffic.
See
Mostly known for its key role in European Union administration, the small nation of Belgium
might leave you surprised by its rich and gorgeous heritage. It boasts a number of
fascinatingly historic cities packed with medieval and Art Nouveau architecture and famous
for their long traditions in arts, fashion and fine dining. If you've seen the best of them, the
Belgian countryside offers anything from sandy beaches to the densely forested hills and
ridges of the Ardennes.
Brussels, the country's vibrant capital, is a modern world city with a highly international
character. It combines massive post-modern buildings in its European Quarter with
impressive historic monuments, such as the World Heritage listed Grand Place, surrounded
by guildhouses and the Gothic town hall. There's Laken Castle and the large St. Michael
and St. Gudula Cathedral, dedicated to the cities patron saints. The Royal Palace is a
more recent but no less grand structure. One of the city's most famous landmarks is the
Atomium, a remarkable steel structure and remnant of the 1958 World's Fair. And yet, with
all those magnificent sights at hand, many travellers' favourite is a tiny bronze fountain in the
shape of a peeing boy: the curious Manneken Pis.
Perhaps the most popular of the Belgian cities is Bruges. Much of the excellent architecture
that arose during the towns Golden Age, roughly the 14th century, remains intact and the old
centre is a valued UNESCO World Heritage Site. Among its most prominent landmarks is
the 13th century belfry, where the carillonneur still rings the bells on a daily basis. With
countless other noteworthy monuments, Bruges is a highly popular destination and get a bit
overcrowded during holidays. And then there's Ghent, which in ages past was one of the
wealthiest cities in Northern Europe. Although larger and much busier than Bruges, its
excellent medieval architecture can definitely compete. Its beguinages, belfry and former
cloth hall are World Heritage Sites. Or visit Antwerp, the country's current place to be as it
is a hotspot of the Belgian fashion, clubbing, arts and diamonds scenes. Nevertheless, the
city's timeless old centre is right up there with the others, boasting the countries most stunning
cathedrals. Other pleasant cities with good sights include Leuven, with the oldest Catholic
University still in use, Mechelen and Lige.
For hiking, biking and camping, head to the rugged hills of the Ardennes with their tight
forests, caves and cliffs. They are home to wild boar, deer and lynx and hide a number of
friendly villages, lots of castles and a few other notable sights. The impressive caves of Han-
sur-Lesse, the castle of Bouillon and the modern Labyrinth of Barvaux are some of the
best picks. The city of Namur makes a great base from where to explore the Ardennes and
has some fine sights itself too. The city is beautifully located along the rivers Meuse and
Sambre and from the ancient citadel you'll have a great view over town.
The Belgians brought forward a good number of world famous masters of art, and their love
for arts is still today reflected in the range of fine arts museums. The Muses Royaux des
Beaux-Arts in Brussels and the Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten in Antwerp
(closed for renovation until the end of 2017) are just a few excellent examples. However, the
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In Flames performs at
Graspop 2008
Atomium
Belgians love museums, with over 80 of them in the capital alone. Besides arts, they display
anything from history and folkore to industry and technology. As some of the worst fighting
of both World Wars took place on Belgian territory, there's also a large number of
memorials and museums dedicated to those dark times, along some humbling military
cemeteries.
Do
Ducasse de Mons : yearly parade in the city of Mons that celebrates the release of a
legendary dragon (which is displayed every year in the city)
Ommegang : a parade in Brussels that celebrates the beginning of the reign of Charles
V of Habsburg. It takes place on the stunning cityscape of the Grand Place and
involves thousands of stunts in period costume.
Zinnekeparade : the biennial celebration of the Brusseler's spirit - the theme changes
each time and involves costumes & chariots made by volunteers and locals.
DOCVILLE - International Documentary Film Festival, Naamsestraat 96, 3000
Leuven, +32-16-320300, [31] (http://www.docville.be/). International
Documentary Film Festival in the beginning of May, with national and international
competition in the city of Leuven. Selected films have a focus on cinematography. 4.5-
6 euro. edit
Graspop Metal Meeting, [32]
(http://www.graspop.be/). Yearly heavy metal
festival held in the town of Dessel, in June. edit
Carnival de Binche [33]
(http://www.visitbelgium.com/mediaroom/BincheCarnival.htm) - Three days in
February the town of Binche is transported back to the 16th century for one of the
most fantastic festivals of the year. Highlighted by music parades and fireworks, the
climax of this event is when the Gilles appear on the Grand Place and throw oranges
to the spectators. This infamous festivity has been classified as part of the world's
cultural heritage by UNESCO along with its renowned Gilles.
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Rock Werchter [34] (http://www.rockwerchter.be) - end of June, beginning of July,
Werchter.
Dour festival [35] (http://www.dourfestival.be) - "European Alternative Music
Event" - 12-15 July 2007 - Dour.
Pukkelpop [36] (http://www.pukkelpop.be) - mid- august
Atomium built for the 1958 Brussels World Fair (Expo 58), it is a 102 meter tall
representation of an atomic unit cell. More precisely, it is symbolic of a unit cell of an
iron crystal magnified 165 billion times. Nine steel spheres 16 meters in diameter
connect via tubes with elevators 32 meters long.
Gentse Feesten [37] (http://www.gentsefeesten.be), 2nd half of July. Huge, ten day
long street festival in the historical center of the city of Ghent. The biggest street
festival in Europe, with theater, music in all genres, techno parties, and so on - Gentse
Feesten
Activiteiten Gent & Antwerpen, Rerum Novarumlaan 132 (Merksem), 0475 /
696 880, [38] (http://www.janplezier.be/bedrijfsuitje-activiteiten-gent/). Great
boattours around Ghent and Antwerp. edit
24 hours cycling, Louvain-La-Neuve Louvain-La-Neuve is in the Wallonia not far
from Brussel, it's a small pedestrian city created in the 60's for the french-speakers
students. Every year, in October, they organized a bicycle competition. Actually, the
course is a pretext to enjoy the event... And to drink beers. This party is one of the
most important consumption of beers of the whole Europe.
Belgian Beer Tour Belgian Beer Tour is a tour operator specializing in tours of
Belgium breweries. It offers a great way for beer lovers to visit their favourite
breweries and discover new ones. The tours cover a wide range of beers and appeals
to connoisseurs and amateurs alike.
International Short Film Festival Leuven, Naamsestraat 96, 3000 Leuven,
+32-16-320300, [39] (http://www.shortfilmfestival.org/). International Short Film
Festival with many foreign guests and directors. Focus on the best Flemish and
European short films. 4.5-6 euro. edit
TomorrowLand, De Schorre, Boom, [40] (www.tomorrowland.be). edit
Bokrijk, Genk. A reconstructed 19th century village brings history here alive. edit
Talk
Belgium has three official languages: Dutch, French and German.
Please note that although Belgium has three official languages, that does not mean that all of
them are official everywhere. In fact, language is one of the most politically sensitive/divisive
issues in the country, and it may be considered offensive and unappreciated to speak the
"wrong" language (particularly French and Dutch) at the "wrong" region. The only official
language of Flanders is Dutch; Brussels has both Dutch and French as its official languages
albeit the lingua franca is French. The only official language of Wallonia is French, except for
the nine municipalities (including the town of Eupen and its surroundings) of the German-
speaking Community.
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A number of inhabitants of Wallonia, particularly the older generations, speak the Walloon
language. This language, while not official, is recognized by the French Community of
Belgium as an "indigenous regional language", together with a number of other Romance
(Champenois, Lorrain and Picard) and Germanic (Luxembourgian) language varieties.
If you need to fill out government forms or submit documents in support of your application
for government services (e.g. a visa, resident permit), please take note that you need to give
your responses in French, Dutch or German. The government does not recognise responses
in any other language.
English is widely spoken by the younger generation of Dutch-speaking Belgians. In contrast,
French-speaking Belgians rarely speak much English, though it is a much better (and less
bitter) bet to use compared to Dutch. Consequently, one can get around Flanders without
much problem speaking English, but if travelling around Wallonia, bringing a phrasebook
along is highly recommended.
Likewise, foreign TV programmes (including news interviews to foreigners) and films are
subtitled to Dutch in Flanders (except those catering to young children), and dubbed to
French in Wallonia.
Buy
Currency
Belgium has the euro () as its sole currency along with 24 other countries that use this
common European money. These 24 countries are: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia,
Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, the
Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain (official euro members which are all
European Union member states) as well as Andorra, Kosovo, Monaco, Montenegro, San
Marino and the Vatican which use it without having a say in eurozone affairs and without
being European Union members. Together, these countries have a population of 327 million.
One euro is divided into 100 cents. While each official euro member (as well as Monaco,
San Marino and Vatican) issues its own coins with a unique obverse, the reverse, as well as
all bank notes, look the same throughout the eurozone. Every coin is legal tender in any of
the eurozone countries.
Items
Belgian chocolate: A long tradition has given Belgian chocolate a superior refinement
process that is recognized worldwide.
Laces in Bruges
Designer fashions in Antwerp
Jewelry in one of Antwerps many jewelry shops
Beer
Belgian comic books and related merchandising, especially in Brussels
Eat
Belgians like to eat. Belgium is famous for its good cuisine and people like to go to
restaurants frequently. Best description for Belgian food would be "French food in German
quantities".
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Restaurants at Rue des
Bouchers/Beenhouwersstraat, Brussels
Moules et frites/Mosselen met friet,
Brussels
General rules
As anywhere else in the world, avoid the tourist traps, where the touts are trying to get
you in the restaurants. You will get
average to bad quality food for average
to high prices, and, at busy times, they
will try to get rid of you as soon as
possible to make space for the next
customer. A good example of this is the
famous "Rue des
Bouchers/Beenhouwersstraat" in
Brussels in this picture.
Belgium is a country that understands
what eating is all about and can be a real
gastronomic paradise. You can have a
decent meal in about every tavern, from small snacks to a complete dinner. Just pop
into one of those and enjoy it.
If you want to eat really well for not too much money, ask the local people or the hotel
manager (that is, supposing he does not have a brother restaurant-manager) to give
some advice for a good restaurant. Not a bad idea is to find a restaurant or tavern a
little bit outside of the cities (if advised by some locals) they are usually not too
expensive but deliver decent -> high quality food. And ordering the specialties during
the season will be both beneficial for your wallet and the quality of the food.
Quality has its price: since the introduction of the euro, price for eating out in Belgium
nearly doubled. Expensive food like lobster or turbot will always cost a lot of money
at any restaurant. But you can also find some local and simple dishes, rather cheap
and still very tasty (such as sausages, potatoes and spinach). Normally a dinner (3
dishes) will be around 30 - 50 eurosm depending your choices of food and restaurant.
And for cheap, greasy food, just find a local 'frituur', it will be the best Belgian Fries
you'll have had in ages.
Specialities
A number of dishes are considered distinctly
Belgian specialities and should be on every
visitor's agenda.
Mussels are a firm favorite and a side-dish of
Moules et frites/Mosselen met friet (Mussels
with French fries). The traditional way is to
cook them in a pot with white wine and/or
onions and celery, then eat them up using only
a mussel shell to scoop them out. The top
season is September to April, and as with all
other shellfish, do not eat the closed ones.
Belgium's mussels always come from the
nearby Netherlands. Imports from other countries are looked down on.
Balletjes/Boulettes are meatballs with fries. They will either be served with a tomato sauce
or with the sauce from Lige, which is based on a local syrup. For this reason they will often
be introduced as Boulets Ligeois.
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Frikadellen met krieken are also meatballs, served with cherries in a sauce of cherryjuice.
This is eaten with bread.
Stoemp is mashed potatoes and carrots with bacon and sausages. It is a typical meal from
Brussels.
Stoofvlees is a traditional beef stew and is usually served with (you have guessed it already)
fries.
Witloof met kaassaus/Chicons au gratin is a traditional gratin of chicory with ham and a
cheesy bechamel sauce, usually served with mashed potatoes or croquettes.
Konijn met pruimen: rabbit cooked in beer and dried plums.
Despite the name, french fries (frieten in Dutch, frites in French) are proudly claimed as a
Belgian invention. Whether or not this is true, they certainly have perfected it although not
everybody agrees with their choice of mayonnaise over ketchup as the preferred condiment
(ketchup is considered to be "for kids").
Every village has at least one frituur/friterie, an establishment selling cheap take-away fries,
with a huge choice of sauces and fried meat to go with them. The traditional thing to try is
friet met stoofvlees, but remember the mayonnaise on it .
Waffles (wafels in Dutch, gaufres in French) come in two types:
Gaufres de Bruxelles/Brusselse wafels : a light and airy variety.
a heavier variety with a gooey center known as Gaufres de Lige/Luikse wafels.
The latter are often eaten as a street/ take-away snack while shopping and therefore can be
found at stands on the streets of the cities.
Last but not least, Belgian chocolate is famed around the world. Famous chocolatiers
include Godiva, Leonidas, Guylian, Galler, Marcolini and Neuhaus, but the best stuff can be
found at tiny boutiques, too small to build worldwide brands. In nearly all supermarkets, you
can buy the brand Cte d'Or, generally considered the best 'everyday' chocolate (for
breakfast or break) among Belgians.
International
As a small country in the centre of western Europe, the cuisine is influenced not only by the
surrounding countries but also by many other countries. This is also emphasized by many
foreigners coming to this country to make a living here, for instance by starting a restaurant.
You can find all types of restaurants:
French/Belgian: A traditional Belgian restaurant serves the kind of food you will also
find in the best French restaurants. Of course there are local differences: at the coast
(in France as well as in Belgium) you have a better chance to find some good seafood,
like mussels, turbot, sole or the famous North Sea shrimp. In the southern woods of
the Ardennes (remember the battle of the Bulge?), you are better off choosing game
or local fish like trout.
English/Irish: There are Irish bars and pubs everywhere and Belgium is no exception,
try the Schuman area of Brussels for more Irish pubs than you can shake a stick at.
There is also an English pub just off of Place de la Monnaie in central Brussels.
American: There are McDonald's or lookalikes in most every town. The Belgian
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variant is called "Quick". You may also find a local booth serving sausages, hot dogs
or hamburgers. Try it: the meat tastes the same, but the bread is much better. Ketchup
in this region is bland and made with less sugar (even the Heintz brand). Pizza Hut,
Domino's, and Subway also have establishments. There are no real American
restaurants, although there is an American bar on the Toison d'Or in Brussels that
serves food.
Mexican: Only in the cities and rather costly for only medium quality. ChiChi's (near
Bourse) and Pablo's (near Port des Namur) serve Mexican American food, neither of
which would be considered a good value by American standards. ChiChi's uses
reconstituted meats. Pablo's uses higher quality meat, but you pay a premium for it.
Chinese: They have a long tradition of restaurants in Belgium. Rather cheap, but an
acceptable quality.
German/Austrian: Maxburg in the Schuman area (next to Spicy Grill) makes a good
schnitzel.
Greek/Spanish/Italian: Like all over the world, nice, rather cheap, with a good
atmosphere and typical music (Greek: Choose meat, especially lamb) (Spanish:
Choose paella and tapas) (Italian: Choose anything).
Japanese/Thai: You usually find them only in the cities and they are rather expensive,
but they give you great quality. The prices and the quality are both satisfying in a
concentrated cluster of Thai restaurants near Bourse station. Avoid Phat Thai though if
you don't want disruptions - as they let pan handlers and flower pushers enter and
carry out their "work".
Arabic/Moroccan: Rather cheap, with a great variety of local dishes, especially with
lamb; no fish or pork or beef.
Turkish: Rather cheap, with a great variety of local dishes, especially with chicken and
lamb and also vegetarian dishes, dishes with fish are rare; no pork or beef.
Belgium offers a wide selection of other international restaurants.
Drink
Water
Tap water is drinkable everywhere in Belgium, but most restaurants do not serve it. Hot
spring or some other mineral water is typically served and costs about 2 euro per bottle.
Beer
Belgium is to beer what France is to wine; it is home to one of the greatest beer traditions in
the world. Like other European countries in medieval times, beers were brewed in a huge
variety of ways with many different ingredients. In addition to the standard ingredients of
water, malted barley, hops and yeast, many herbs and spices were also used. This activity
was often done in monasteries, each developing a particular style. For some reason, uniquely
in Belgium many of these monasteries survived almost into modern times, and the process
was handed over to a local commercial brewer if the monastery closed. These brewers
would often augment the recipe and process slightly to soften the taste to make it more
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marketable, but the variety survived in this way. These beers are called Abbey beers and
there are hundreds and hundreds with a range of complex tastes unimaginable until you've
tried them.
The Trappist label is controlled by international law, similar to that of Champagne in
France. There are only six Trappist Abbeys in Belgium that produce beer qualified to be
called Trappist. In order to carry the Trappist label, there are several rules that must be
adhered to during the brewing process. The beer must be fermented within the walls of the
abbey, the monks of the abbey must be involved in the beer-making process, and profit from
the sale of the beer must be directed towards supporting the monastery (similar to a non-
profit organization).
Belgium offers an incredible diversity of beers. Several well known mass-produced Belgian
beers are Stella Artois, Duvel, Leffe, Jupiler, Hoegaarden. The names given to some beers
are pretty imaginative: eg Verboden Vrucht (Forbidden Fruit), Mort Subite (Sudden Death),
De Kopstoot (Head Butt), Judas and Delirium Tremens.
Warmly recommended are also Kriek (sweet and sour cherry beer) and, for the Christmas
season, Stille Nacht (Silent night).
Plain blond draughts (4%-5,5%): Stella Artois, Jupiler, Maes, Cristal, Primus, Martens,
Bavik.
Trappist ales (5%-10%): Achel, Chimay, Orval, Rochefort, Westvleteren, Westmalle.
Geuze: Belle-Vue, the lambic Mort Subite (Sudden Death), Lindemans in Sint-Pieters-
Leeuw, Timmermans, Boon, Cantillon, 3 Fonteinen, Oud Beersel, Giradin, Hanssens, De
Troch.
White beers: Hoegaarden, Dentergemse, Brugse Witte.
Jenever
The city of Hasselt is well known in Belgium for it's local alcoholic beverage, called
jenever. It is a rather strong liquor, but it comes in all kinds of tastes beyond your
imagination, including, but not limited to, vanilla, apple, cactus, kiwi, chocolate and much
more. Hasselt lies in the east of Belgium, and is about one hour away by train from Brussels
or Antwerp.
Pubs
Pubs, or cafs, are wide spread. They all have a large variety of alcoholic and non-alcoholic,
hot and cold beverages. Some serve food, others don't. Some might be specialised in beer,
or wine, or cocktails, or something else. As from July 1st 2011, smoking in pubs is forbidden
by law.
Sleep
Budget
Couchsurfing, [41] (http://www.couchsurfing.org). has a lot of members in Belgium
edit
Vrienden op de fiets, [42] (http://www.vriendenopdefiets.nl). If you are travelling in
Flanders by bicycle or by foot, there is a list of 260 addresses where you can stay at
private homes with bed and breakfast for no more than 19,00 per person per night,
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although you must also pay 8 for membership of this scheme. edit
Hotels
Belgium has many fine hotels. Capital Brussels has countless rather expensive business hotels
catering to the European Union's bureaucrats, and while you can usually get a good room for
under 100, prices can spike if there's a big EU shindig in town.
Learn
The different stages of education are the same in all communities:
Basic education (Dutch: basisonderwijs; French: enseignement fondamental),
consisting of
Pre-school (kleuteronderwijs; einseignement maternel): -6 years
Primary school (lager onderwijs; enseignement primaire): 6-12 years
Secondary school (secundair onderwijs; enseignement secondaire): 12-18 years
Higher education (hoger onderwijs; enseignement suprieure)
University (universiteit; universit)
Polytechnic (hogeschool; haute cole)
Education is organized by the regions (Dutch-speaking Flanders on the one hand, French
and German speaking Wallonia on the other) and the small federal district of Brussels has
schools run by both the Flemish and Walloon authorities. Both states recognize independent
school networks, which cater to far more students than the state schools themselves. Most
Flemish students go to a Flemish Catholic school. However, every independent school needs
to follow the official state curriculum, and catholicism in Flanders has long been extremely
liberal anyway.
Work
Having one of the highest labour taxes in Europe, Belgium is struggling to reposition itself as a
high-tech country. In that struggle, Flanders is far ahead and much wealthier than Wallonia, in
contrast to the previous decades, where Wallonia's steel industry was the main export of
Belgium. Highly skilled people will have the most chance to find work, and knowing multiple
languages (Dutch, French, English and perhaps German) is almost a standard requirement.
Interim offices providing temporary jobs are flourishing in a search to avoid the high labour
taxes.
Belgium has one of the highest tax rates in the world. An employer who pays a salary about
1500 a month actually pays another 1500 or more in taxes. Where does this money go
to? It goes to the social network. People only pay a small charge for healthcare, for example.
And the budget for education, arts and culture is enormous. The budget for defense is
however very tiny.
Although Belgium is undesirable for building wealth, it's a good place for someone who
already is wealthy to reside because there is very little capital gains tax (some forms of capital
gain is not taxed at all).
Stay safe
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Except for certain neighbourhoods in central Brussels and the outer edge of Antwerp (the
port and docks), Belgium is a safe country. Belgians are somewhat shy and introverted, but
generally helpful towards strangers.
For those landing in Charleroi and Lige, those are the regions that boast the highest crime
rates in Southern Belgium. But if you keep an eye on your belongings, and avoid wandering
alone at night, nothing really serious is likely to happen to you.
Muslims and people of North African ancestry may experience mild resentment, a problem
that is particularly acute in Brussels and Antwerp. The Burqa is illegal in public.
Marijuana laws are quite lenient - possession of up to 5 grams or one female plant is
decriminalised but confiscated.
The emergency phone number in Belgium (fire, police, paramedics) is 112.
Stay healthy
In the winter, like most other European countries, only influenza will cause you a
considerable inconvenience. No inoculations are needed to enter or leave Belgium.
Contact
Belgium has a modern telephone system with nationwide cellular telephone coverage, and
multiple internet access points in all cities, free in most libraries. Also in multiple gas stations,
NMBS/SNCB train stations and diners on the highways there is Wi-Fi available.
Many cafs offer free WiFi nowadays, but don't write it on the door for whatever
reason...
if you can't find any you can always fall back on Quick or McDonalds which both
offer free WiFi.
Respect
Don't associate the country with the European Union, or at least don't tell Belgian
people about it. Although the EU has chosen to put most of its headquarters in
Belgium, it doesn't mean that Belgians have anything to do with it. Most Belgian
people don't care about the EU any more than an other person in another country in
the continent. Foreigner's perception of Belgium as being 'the EU country' is not only
strange to Belgians but also very offensive to them because it sounds like you bypass
them to focus on a organization in which they are just one country amongst 28 (don't
forget, the EU also has institutions headquartered in other countries too). You
wouldn't call the United States 'the UN country' just because the UN has its
headquarters in New-York, so don't do the same to Belgium.
Belgians don't like to talk about their income or politics. You must also avoid asking
people about their views on religion.
The Flanders-Wallonia question or dispute and the high number of separatist and
extreme-right votes in Flanders are controversial topics and you must avoid asking
people about their views on these as well. Keep any opinions or biases to
yourself.
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Do NOT try to speak French in Flanders, and Dutch in Wallonia! Speaking the
"wrong" language can be considered very offensive in the two regions, and you will
either be ignored or at worst get an icy response and substandard service. However,
the closer you get to the language border this will happen less frequently. The situation
is also less intense within the legally bilingual Brussels though French is usually a better
bet there. Across the country, the lingua franca between both Flemings and Wallons
has become English especially among the younger generations, to avoid being spoken
to in the "other language". That is why as a tourist, it is best to start a conversation in
English or the "correct" language, that is Dutch in Flanders and French in Wallonia.
Do NOT tell the Walloons (and most of the people of Brussels) that they are French.
Most Walloons, despite speaking French, are not and do not consider themselves
French and dislike being associated with their neighbour France.
And for the same reason, do NOT tell the Flemish (and also the people of Brussels)
that they are Dutch. Most Flemings, despite speaking Dutch (Flemish), are not and do
not consider themselves Dutch and dislike being associated with their neighbour the
Netherlands.
Belgians in general are very proud of their comic book artists. The "Belgian school of
comic books" is hailed as a national pride. In Belgium, comic books are valuable
books printed with a hard cover. There are dozens of beautiful yet expensive
merchandizing items, and the Belgians are fond of them. A plastic figurine of a comic
book character or a special artwork of a hailed comic book artist would be a perfect
gift for your Belgian friends and in-laws, for example.
Giving tips shows that you were content with the service given, but you are certainly
not obliged to do so. It is sometimes done in bars and restaurants. Depending on the
total, a tip of 0,50 to 2,50 is considered generous.
It is considered EXTREMELY IMPOLITE in Belgium to give unwarranted advice.
Belgian people are usually quiet and good-humoured but they will surprise you with
big anger if you jump in to give them your opinion on what they are doing without them
asking for it. Do not tell people what they should do with their life in Belgium, ever.
Have respect for the things that are made in Belgium (or at least considered to be
made). For example, you have to be respectful for the Belgian made fries.
Get out
For party-minded people, Belgium can be great. Most cities are close to each other and are
either large urban areas (Brussels, Antwerp) or student areas (Leuven, Lige, Ghent), etc. In
this little region, you will find the most clubs, cafs, restaurants per square mile in the world.
A good starting point can be places with a strong student/youth culture : Leuven around its
big university, Lige in the famous "carr" district, etc. You can expect a wide variety in
music appreciation, going from jazz to the better electronic music. Just ask around for the
better clubs and there you will most likely meet some music fanatics who can show you the
better underground parties in this tiny country.
The government has a mostly liberal attitude towards bars, clubs and parties. They
acknowledge the principle of "live and let live". As long as you don't cause public
disturbance, vandalize property and get too drunk, the police will not intervene. This also one
of the main principles of Belgian social life, as this sort of behaviour is generally considered
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offensive. Of course, in student communities this is more tolerated, but generally, you are
most respected if you party as hard as you like- but with a sense of discretion and self-
control.
Officially, drugs are not allowed. But as long as you respect the aforementioned principles,
you are not likely to get into serious trouble. Beware though, that driving under the influence
of alcohol and drugs is not tolerated and traffic laws are strictly enforced in this matter.
Especially in the weekends on main roads, you have a good chance of being stopped for an
alcohol control.
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