By Rick Steves
By Rick Steves
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Format:ebook $13.99 $17.99 CAD
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Inside Rick Steves Belgium: Bruges, Brussels, Antwerp & Ghent you’ll find:
- Comprehensive coverage for spending a week or more exploring Belgium
- Rick’s strategic advice on how to get the most out of your time and money, with rankings of his must-see favorites
- Top sights and hidden gems, from the European Parliament and Flanders Fields to boutique breweries and cozy bars with perfect Belgian fries
- How to connect with local culture: Lose yourself in the work of the Flemish masters, sample fine chocolates, and sip craft beers with friendly locals
- Beat the crowds, skip the lines, and avoid tourist traps with Rick’s candid, humorous insight
- The best places to eat, sleep, and relax
- Self-guided walking tours of lively neighborhoods and incredible museums
- Detailed maps for exploring on the go
- Useful resources including a packing list, Dutch and French phrase books, a historical overview, and recommended reading
- Over 300 bible-thin pages include everything worth seeing without weighing you down
- Complete, up-to-date information on Bruges, Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent, and more
Special ebook features:
- Easily navigate listings with quick searches, plus website links and zoom-in maps and images
- Personalize your guide by adding notes and bookmarks
Map: Map Legend
ABOUT THIS BOOK
WHEN TO GO
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Traveling as a Temporary Local
Digging into a dish of mussels while seated on a sunny square beneath the outline of a lacy medieval spire...you’re in Belgium.
This book presents the best of Belgium—its great cities, fine food, rich history, and sensuous art, as well as the modern scene that makes Belgium the face of Europe today. You’ll see the predictable biggies and experience a healthy dose of Back Door intimacy. Bruges—once mighty, now mighty cute—comes with fancy beers in fancy glasses, lilting carillons, and filigreed Gothic souvenirs of a long-gone greatness. Brussels—the de facto capital of Europe, with a low-rise Parisian ambience—exudes joie de vivre, from its tasty cuisine to its love of chocolate and comic strips. Design-forward Antwerp thrills with window displays of ladies in high-fashion couture, as well as ladies in bras and panties in its racy red light district. In Ghent, you’ll find a richly detailed Renaissance altarpiece amid a vibrant urban landscape. Belgium offers all this and more. (Did I mention chocolate?)
Along with sightseeing, this book gives you tips on how to save money, plan your time, and ride Belgium’s excellent rail system, as well as recommendations on hotels, restaurants, shopping, and entertainment.
This book is selective, including only the top sights. The best is, of course, only my opinion. But after spending more than half of my adult life exploring and researching Europe, I’ve developed a sixth sense for what travelers enjoy.
Belgium is ready for you. Like sampling a flavorful praline in a chocolate shop, that first enticing taste just leaves you wanting more. Go ahead, it’s OK...buy a whole box of Belgium.
Use this legend to help you navigate the maps in this book.
ABOUT THIS BOOK
Rick Steves Belgium is a personal tour guide in your pocket. Better yet, it’s actually two tour guides in your pocket: The co-author of this book is Gene Openshaw. Since our first “Europe through the gutter” trip together as high-school buddies in the 1970s, Gene and I have been exploring the wonders of the Old World. An inquisitive historian and lover of European culture, Gene wrote most of this book’s self-guided museum tours and neighborhood walks. Together, Gene and I keep this book up to date and accurate (though for simplicity, from this point “we” will shed our respective egos and become “I”).
This book is organized by destinations. Each is a mini-vacation on its own, filled with exciting sights, strollable neighborhoods, affordable places to stay, and memorable places to eat. For destinations covered in this book, you’ll find these sections:
Orientation has specifics on public transportation, helpful hints, local tour options, easy-to-read maps, and tourist information. The “Planning Your Time” section suggests how to best use your limited time.
Sights describes the top attractions and includes their cost and hours. Major sights have self-guided tours.
Self-Guided Walks take you through interesting neighborhoods, pointing out sights and fun stops. Self-Guided Tours lead you through Belgium’s most fascinating museums and sights. In Bruges, choose from a city walk and tours of the Groeninge Museum and Sint-Janshospitaal Memling Collection; in Brussels, take a Grand Place walk, an Upper Town walk, and a tour of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts; in Antwerp, stroll through the city center and tour the Rubens House; and in Ghent, walk the core of the old town and visit St. Bavo’s Cathedral, home of the renowned Ghent Altarpiece.
Sleeping, Eating & More is a one-stop compendium describing my favorite hotels (from good-value deals to cushy splurges), eating options (from inexpensive cafés to fancy restaurants), shopping neighborhoods and tips, and fun things to do after dark. The “Connections” section outlines your travel options by train, bus, and plane (with detailed information on Brussels’ airports).
The Belgian History chapter gives a quick overview of the country’s past and a timeline of major events.
The Practicalities chapter near the end of this book is a traveler’s tool kit, with my best advice about money, sightseeing, sleeping, eating, staying connected, and transportation (trains, buses, driving, and flights).
The appendix has the nuts and bolts: useful phone numbers and websites, a holiday and festival list, recommended books and films, a climate chart, a handy packing checklist, and Dutch and French survival phrases.
Throughout this book, you’ll find money- and time-saving tips for sightseeing, transportation, and more. Some businesses—especially hotels and walking tour companies—offer special discounts to my readers, indicated in their listings.
Browse through this book, choose your favorite destinations, and link them up. Then have a prachtig trip! Traveling like a temporary local, you’ll get the absolute most out of every mile, minute, and dollar. As you visit places I know and love, I’m happy that you’ll be meeting some of my favorite Belgian people.
This section will help you get started planning your trip—with advice on trip costs, when to go, and what you should know before you take off.
Your trip to Belgium is like a complex play—easier to follow and really appreciate on a second viewing. While no one does the same trip twice to gain that advantage, reading this book in its entirety before your trip accomplishes much the same thing.
Design an itinerary that enables you to visit sights at the best possible times. Note festivals, holidays, specifics on sights, and days when sights are closed or most crowded (all covered in this book). For example, many museums in Bruges are closed on Mondays. To connect the dots smoothly, read the tips in Practicalities on taking trains and buses, or renting a car and driving. A smart trip is a puzzle—a fun, doable, and worthwhile challenge.
Make your itinerary a mix of intense and relaxed stretches. To maximize rootedness, minimize one-night stands. It’s worth taking a long drive after dinner (or a train ride with a dinner picnic) to get settled into a town for two nights. Every trip—and every traveler—needs slack time (laundry, picnics, people-watching, and so on). Pace yourself. Assume you will return.
Reread this book as you travel, and visit local tourist information offices (abbreviated as TI in this book). Upon arrival in a new town, lay the groundwork for a smooth departure; get the schedule for the train, bus, or road you’ll take when you leave.
Even with the best-planned itinerary, you’ll need to be flexible. Update your plans as you travel. Get online or call ahead to learn the latest on sights (special events, tour schedule, and so on), book tickets and tours, make reservations, reconfirm hotels, and research transportation connections.
Enjoy the friendliness of the Belgian people. Connect with the culture. Set up your own quest to find the best local beer, lace doily, or handmade praline. Slow down and be open to unexpected experiences. Ask questions—most locals are eager to point you in their idea of the right direction. Keep a notepad in your pocket for confirming prices, noting directions, and organizing your thoughts. Wear your money belt, learn the currency, and figure out how to estimate prices in dollars. Those who expect to travel smart, do.
Five components make up your trip costs: airfare to Europe, transportation in Europe, room and board, sightseeing and entertainment, and shopping and miscellany.
Airfare to Europe: A basic round-trip flight from the US to Brussels can cost, on average, about $1,000-2,000 total, depending on where you fly from and when (cheaper in winter). Consider saving time in Europe by flying into one city and out of another; for instance, into Brussels and out of Amsterdam. If you’re sticking to Belgium, you’re never more than about two hours from Brussels’ international airport. Overall, Kayak.com is the best place to start searching for flights on a combination of mainstream and budget carriers.
Transportation in Europe: For getting around, you’re best off enjoying tiny Belgium’s excellent and affordable train system. Trains travel several times hourly between its major cities. It costs about $10 for a ticket from Ghent to Brussels. If you plan to rent a car, allow at least $230 per week, not including tolls, gas, and supplemental insurance. If you’ll be keeping the car for three weeks or more, look into leasing, which can save you money on insurance and taxes for trips of this length. Car rentals and leases are cheapest if arranged from the US. Rail passes normally must be purchased outside Europe but aren’t necessarily your best option—you may save money by simply buying tickets as you go. Don’t hesitate to consider flying—a short flight can be cheaper than the train (check www.skyscanner.com for intra-European flights). For more on public transportation and car rental, see “Transportation” in Practicalities.
Room and Board: You can thrive in Belgium on $125 a day per person for room and board. This allows $20 for lunch, $30 for dinner, and $70 for lodging (based on two people splitting the cost of a $140 double room that includes breakfast). That leaves you $5 for frieten, beer, or chocolate. To live and sleep more elegantly, I’d propose a budget of $145 per day per person ($20 for lunch, $40 for dinner, $5 for snacks, and $80 each for a $160 hotel double with breakfast). Students and tightwads can enjoy Belgium for as little as $60 a day ($30 for a bed, $30 for meals and snacks).
Sightseeing and Entertainment: In big cities, figure about $10-15 per major sight (Royal Museums, Rubens House, climbing Bruges’ bell tower); $5-10 for minor ones (beer tour or chocolate museum); $10-20 for guided walks, boat tours, and bike rentals; and $30-60 for splurge experiences such as concerts, special art exhibits, and big-bus tours. An overall average of $25 a day works for most people. Don’t skimp here. After all, this category is the driving force behind your trip—you came to sightsee, enjoy, and experience Belgium.
Shopping and Miscellany: Figure $1-2 per postcard, tea, or ice-cream cone. Shopping can vary in cost from nearly nothing to a small fortune. Good budget travelers find that this category has little to do with assembling a trip full of lifelong and wonderful memories.
So much to see, so little time. How to choose? With affordable flights from the US, minimal culture shock, almost no language barrier, and a well-organized tourist trade, Belgium is a good place to start a European trip. Depending on the length of your trip, and taking geographic proximity into account, here are my recommended priorities for a great week in Belgium:
|4 days, add:||Brussels and Ghent|
|6 days, add:||Antwerp|
|7 days, add:||Flanders Fields (near Bruges) plus time to just slow down|
WHEN TO GO
For tourist hotspots like Bruges, peak season is summer, especially June and early July. Business towns like Brussels, Antwerp, and Ghent tend to be more crowded in spring and fall. With long days, lively festivals, and sunny weather, summer is a great time to visit despite the crowds in places like Bruges. It’s rarely too hot for comfort. Plus, Brussels’ fancy business-class hotels are deeply discounted in the summer.
Late spring and fall are also pleasant, with generally mild weather and lighter tourist crowds (except during holiday weekends—see here).
Travel from late October through mid-March is cold and wet, as coastal winds whip through the low, flat country. It’s fine for city visits, but smaller towns and countryside sights feel dreary. Some sights and TIs keep shorter hours, and many outdoor activities vanish altogether.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Your trip is more likely to go smoothly if you plan ahead. Check this list of things to arrange while you’re still at home.
You need a passport—but no visa or shots—to travel in Belgium. You may be denied entry into certain European countries if your passport is due to expire within six months of your ticketed date of return. Get it renewed if you’ll be cutting it close. It can take up to six weeks to get or renew a passport (for more on passports and requirements for Belgium, see www.travel.state.gov). Pack a photocopy of your passport in your luggage in case the original is lost or stolen.
Book rooms well in advance if you’ll be traveling during busy months or any major holidays (see here).
Call your debit- and credit-card companies to let them know the countries you’ll be visiting, to ask about fees, to request your PIN if you don’t already know it, and more. See here for details.
Do your homework if you’re considering travel insurance. Compare the cost of the insurance to the cost of your potential loss. Also check whether your existing insurance (health, homeowners, or renters) covers you and your possessions overseas. For more tips, see www.ricksteves.com/insurance.
If you plan to hire a local guide, reserve ahead by email. Popular guides can get booked up.
If you’re bringing a mobile device, download any apps you might want to use on the road, such as translators, maps, transit schedules, and Rick Steves Audio Europe (see here).
Check for recent updates to this book at www.ricksteves.com/update.
Traveling as a Temporary Local
We travel all the way to Belgium to enjoy differences—to become temporary locals. You’ll experience frustrations. Certain truths that we find “God-given” or “self-evident,” such as cold beer, ice in drinks, bottomless cups of coffee, “the customer is king,” and bigger being better, are suddenly not so true. One of the benefits of travel is the eye-opening realization that there are logical, civil, and even better alternatives. A willingness to go local ensures that you’ll enjoy a full dose of Belgian hospitality. And with an eagerness to go local, you’ll have even more fun.
Europeans generally like Americans. But if there is a negative aspect to the Belgian image of Americans, it’s that we are loud, wasteful, ethnocentric, too informal (which can seem disrespectful), and a bit naive.
My Belgian friends place a high value on speaking quietly in public places. Listen while on the bus or in a restaurant—the place can be packed, but the decibel level is low. Try to adjust your volume accordingly to show respect for the culture.
While Belgians look bemusedly at some of our Yankee excesses—and worriedly at others—they nearly always afford individual travelers all the warmth we deserve.
Judging from all the happy feedback I receive from travelers who have used this book, it’s safe to assume you’ll enjoy a great, affordable vacation—with the finesse of an independent, experienced traveler.
Thanks, and have a goede vakantie and a bon voyage!
Belgium at a Glance
Belgium falls through the cracks. Wedged between Germany, France, and the Netherlands, and famous for waffles, Smurfs, and a statue of a little boy peeing, it’s no wonder it can get lost in the mix.
But Belgium rewards with richer sights than you might expect—and fewer tourist crowds. You’ll encounter some of Europe’s finest cuisine, including the best beer, creamiest chocolates, and tastiest French fries. Belgium’s town squares bristle with soaring spires and warm-brick gables. Its museums house lush paintings celebrating the glories of everyday life. From funky urban neighborhoods to tranquil convents, from old-fashioned lace to high-powered European politics—little Belgium delights.
With nearly 950 people per square mile, Belgium is the second most densely populated country in Europe (after the Netherlands). When viewed from space, Belgium shines at night as a single patch of light—a phenomenon NASA astronauts call the “Belgian Window.”
Despite its small size, Belgium is diverse. It’s divided—linguistically, culturally, and politically—between French-speaking Wallonia in the south and Dutch-speaking Flanders in the north, with bilingual Brussels in between. (“Flemish,” the Dutch spoken in Belgium, is even more guttural than textbook Dutch—insert your own “phlegmish” pun here.) And, because of its international business and political connections, more than 25 percent of its residents are foreigners who speak English as their common language.
Belgium is at the crossroads of Western Europe, where Romance languages meet the German world, and where the Protestant north meets the Catholic south. It was born as a merchant entity in medieval times (c. 1300-1500), when energetic traders made it one of Europe’s richest, most cosmopolitan, and sophisticated lands. On the other hand—located as it is in the cross fire between larger powers—it’s also been Europe’s battlefield. From Charlemagne to Napoleon, from the Austrian Habsburgs to Germany in two world wars, this country has paid a heavy price.
But tiny Belgium has survived by producing savvy businesspeople and excellent linguists, and by welcoming new trends. I recently asked a local, “What is a Belgian?” He said, “We are a melting pot. We’re a mix culturally: one-third English for our sense of humor, one-third French for our love of culture and good living, and one-third German for our work ethic.”
Belgians have a directness that some find refreshing (and others find brusque). They revel in their wry, sardonic sense of humor—it can be hard sometimes to tell whether they’re putting you on. The art of the comic strip is deeply respected—the Smurfs and Tintin were created by Belgians. If you ask a twentysomething Belgian what career they’re pursuing, and he says “comic books,” nobody snickers.
Belgians are said to be born with a “brick in their stomach”—meaning they feel a deep-seated need to own a house, decorate it just so (hence the abundance of furniture shops), and invite their friends for dinner. Belgians are social, meeting up at sidewalk cafés or cozy pubs after work. On a beautiful spring day, it might seem like nobody here has a job—they’re all outside drinking beer.
This book showcases several destinations in this surprisingly diverse country. Bruges is the Belgium of the past—a wonderfully preserved medieval gem that once was one of the largest cities in the world. The thriving towns of Ghent and Antwerp—also former medieval powerhouses—demonstrate how the country has rebounded to again be a global trendsetter. The Flemish countryside shows off Belgium’s peasant foundation, and a visit to Flanders Fields gives a powerful glimpse into Belgium’s traumatic experience in World War I.
- On Sale
- Jun 13, 2017
- Page Count
- 364 pages
- Rick Steves