After months of exploring beautiful new cities in Europe, to be quite frank Belgium was not particularly high on my top countries to go. Yet it was easy to visit on my way from Luxembourg up to the Netherlands so I planned stops in Brussels and Bruges. After only a few days exploring the cities, it quickly became one of my favorite places in Europe! Here are just a few of the reasons why Belgium, particularly Bruges, should not be missed:
Belgian Beer- it is the best in the World. Is this a bold claim? Yes. Does it live up to this impossibly high standard? Absolutely.
Hearing about the legendary Belgian beer I was skeptical that it could be as amazing as the hype even though I was already a fan of Leffe. But the beers certainly exceeded all expectations for both quality and variety. Similar to German beer, the Belgians maintain high standards of quality control on their beer resulting in consistent quality. Pair this with their ability to brew any concoction they can imagine and the end state is a vast selection of delicious beers. My favorite by far from the selection were the Trappist beers. These are brewed by twelve Trappist Monasteries, half of which are in Belgium, that tend to be the highest alcohol content and the best part is that the proceeds go to charities and towards good works. So if you enjoy a cold one every now and again, sit back down and have another- it's for the children! After all as Benjamin Franklin wisely put it, "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy."
The Food- Waffles and Fries are two of the most popular national foods that top this list, but it is easy to eat your way around town through a smorgasbord of delicious snacks. Belgians claim that French fries originated from their country yet during WWII when American soldiers were introduced to the fried potatoes in Belgium they mistakenly thought they were still in France since everyone was speaking French. The soldiers nicknamed the potatoes 'French fries' but the real credit belongs to Belgium. The fries are cut slightly thicker and double-fried before being served as street food or take away steaming hot in a paper cone, doused in mayonnaise or other sauces, and served with a mini plastic fork. Since mayo is my least favorite topping, I asked for a very small portion on my fries. While I hate to admit it, that was a delicious combo and I wished I had let them cover the rest of the fries like everyone else walking around. So when you try this famed national delicacy, be sure to add another few thousand steps on your daily tracker.
The Waffles are another mouth watering masterpiece that is served with every topping imaginable. Some try to make these large crispy treats slightly more healthy by topping them with various fruits while others embrace the guilty pleasure aspect and simply smother them with nutella and whipped cream. Anyway you want it though this classic food is served best in Belgium.
Picturesque Bruges- After a while many of the beautiful European cities begin to blur together, but this one manages to stand out as one of the most picturesque that made me feel like I had stepped into an old Disney storybook. Again, this destination was selected on a bit of whim so I was absolutely blown away by how idyllic this city was. Literally around every cobblestone corner, Bruges has another view that looks like it belongs between the pages of a fairytale filled with swans swimming through the canals by streets lined with detailed and ornate architecture. It is a small city, but it is definitely one of Europe's up and coming spots based on how perfect it seems and how affordable it is to visit. I have never been so surprised by the beauty of a town and could not recommend this quaint city more highly!
Chocolate- while technically this could be wrapped up in the food category, that would not do the Belgian chocolate justice. Chocolatiers dot the streets selling their famous truffles and bars of chocolate. Many offer boxes and have open displays where chocolates can be purchased by weight at the end. I limited myself to six truffles and barely made it around the first corner before devouring the entire mouthwatering box. However, the best part is probably the hot chocolate which is a large chunk on the end of a wooden stirring spoon which is then placed in a cup of fresh steamed milk and served immediately. As I stirred, the creamy and rich hunk of chocolate slowly melted into the frothy milk making one of the richest cups of hot cocoa goodness- worth every damn calorie!
Brussels- deemed the "Heart of Europe" Brussels is not only the headquarters for the European Union, but is a capital city that is brimming with historical and current importance. There are plenty of free walking tours available which I found to be one of the best ways to capture the best of both sides learning about the history of the nation and visiting some of the most notable spots in the city. If you are on a time crunch though be sure to visit the Grand Place and very nearby is the famous Manneken Pis, a very small but beloved fountain of a boy statue peeing into the basin below which is one of the most famous landmarks in the city.
These are just a few of the reasons I fell for Belgium and cannot wait to go back to explore Ghent and attend Tomorrowland!