Many of you know Belgium for its beer, waffles and chocolate, but there’s more to the country than that. From architecture to museums to outdoor markets in the summer, this charming country has a lot to offer. While you can find similar offerings in cosmopolitan European cities nearby such as Paris and Amsterdam, they aren’t as walkable as Belgian cities.

Having been to Belgium 4 times and having spent three months in total in the beautiful country, I recommend first-timers to spend at least five days to see the major sights of the key cities in the country. Here’s my insider’s guide to Antwerp, Brussels and Bruges!

First Timer’s Guide to Brussels

If you’re arriving at Brussels Zaventem Airport, head to the train station, get a ticket to Bruxelles-Midi, the station closest to the city centre of the Belgian capital. There are several hotels in the city, I would recommend Warwick Brussels for its convenient location — only 5 minutes away from the city centre. And you can head to the rooftop bar for some booze with a breathtaking panoramic view of the city.

Day 1 in Brussels

Walk to the Grote Markt/Grand Place and marvel at the opulent architecture surrounding the main square. Even though Brussels is part of Flanders, the Dutch-speaking region of Belgium, most people in the city speak French. Start your morning proper at Maison Dandoy and tuck into what some people say are the best waffles in town.

I wandered around the city at my own pace, starting from the centre as most attractions were within walking distance from each other. From Grand Place, I walked to Mont des Arts, a historic site with a meticulously sculpted public garden situated between the Grand Place and Royal Palace.

I then walked to Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert, a beautiful 19th-century shopping arcade lined with cafes, boutiques and chocolateries. You can take a leisurely stroll through the 100-metre gallery for some shopping or tea-time snack.

My friends took me to dinner at Neutnigenough, a small brasserie serving Belgian beers and Belgian dishes. I ordered the Rundvleesstoverij (Flemish beef stew), a traditional Belgian dish. I thoroughly enjoyed the rich flavour of the stew and the fork-tender chunks of beef. The crispy golden brown fries were perfect for mopping up the gravy with!

Maison Dandoy

Maison Dandoy Tea Room  Visitor Info

Address: Rue Charles Buls, 14, 1000 Bruxelles

Operating hours: Monday – Sunday, 11 am – 6 pm

Nearest train station: Bruxelles-Central

Mont des Arts

Mont des Arts

Address: Rue Royale 2-4 – Koningstraat 2-4, 1000 Brussels, Belgium

Operating hours: Daily, 24 hours

Nearest train station: Bruxelles-Central

Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert

Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert Visitor Info

Address: Galerie du Roi 5, 1000 Brussel, Belgium

Operating hours: Daily, 24 hours

Nearest train station: Bruxelles-Central

Neutnigenough

Neutnigenough Visitor Info

Address: Rue du Lombard 25, 1000 Bruxelles, Belgium

Operating hours: Monday – Friday, 5-10:30pm, Saturday & Sunday, 12-10:30pm

Nearest train station: Bruxelles-Central

Day 2 in Brussels

After getting the touristy stuff out of the way, it’s time for some culture. Indulge in art, film, music and art exhibits at Bozar, the Center for Fine Arts.

 Who doesn’t love Belgian waffles?

Don’t leave the city without visiting its most famous landmark, the Atomium, which also serves a museum with a permanent exhibition titled Expo 58. The exhibition recounts the history of the structure and how it became Brussel’s most iconic landmark. There’s an escalator inside that connects different spheres of the Atomium, which will make you feel like you’re in a sci-fi movie.

Nearby, the Mini-Europe Miniature Park is a fun way for a birds-eye view of Europe from a new perspective! You can also see the Atomium from there.

Atomium AtomiumMini-Europe

Bozar

Bozar  Visitor Info

Address: Rue Ravenstein 23, 1000 Bruxelles, Belgium

Operating hours: Monday – Wednesday & Friday, 10 am – 6 pm | Thursday, 10 am – 9 pm

Atomium

Atomium  Visitor Info

Address: Square de l’Atomium, 1020 Bruxelles, Belgium

Operating hours:

10am – 6pm (ticket office closes at 5.30pm).

December 24th and 31st:  10am – 4pm (the ticket office closes at 3.15pm).

December 25th and January 1st: from 12pm – 6pm (the ticket office closes at 5.30pm).

Mini-Europe

Mini Europe Visitor Info

Address: Bruparck, B-1020 Brussels (Laken)
Infoline: +32 (0)2/478.05.50 / Tel. +32 (0)2/474.13.13

Operating hours:

9.30am – 6pm most days. Check their website for seasonal operating hours as it closes earlier or later during certain periods.

Annual Closure:  From 07/01/2019 > 08/03/2019 incl.

Ticket office closes one hour prior to closing of the park.

Practical Info

Children aged 4 and younger are complimentary.

Mini-Europe by night and musical fireworks take place every Saturday from mid-July to mid-August, from 9:30 PM to midnight.

Two hours is recommended to enjoy the entire park.

Buy tickets for Mini-Europe Miniature Park here.

See Top Hotels in Brussels

Guide to Antwerp on Foot

Take a train from Brussels to Antwerp Centraal, a big beautiful Insta-worthy railway station. From there, it’s a 15-minute walk to the Meir, the city’s main shopping street which connects you to Antwerp’s historic centre. Its 16th and 17th-century architecture is a stark contrast to the relatively modern buildings in the shopping street.

Where to Stay in Antwerp? Hilton Antwerp Old Town is right smack in the middle of both the old and the new parts of the city centre. Closer to Antwerp Centraal station are Antwerp Inn Hotel and Leonardo Hotel, which are a mere 10-minute walk to the city centre.

Day 1 in Antwerp

Antwerp is known for being a fashionable city, and it’s no surprise that its main shopping street is lined with high street stores, designer boutiques as well as small independent ones.

If you’re tired from all that shopping in the Meir, go to the end of the street and turn into Groenplaats, the main square of Antwerp, where you can rest your feet.

The stunning Cathedral of Our Lady is nearby, and from there, you can easily walk to the historic centre.

 Cathedral of Our Lady

Groenplaats

Groenplaats Visitor Info

Address: Groenplaats 21, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgium

Operating hours: Monday – Friday, 10 am – 5 pm | Saturday, 1 0am – 3 pm | Sunday, 10 am-4 pm

Nearest tram stop: Antwerpen Melkmarkt

Food in Antwerp

For a snack, go to Frituur No. 1, the oldest fries shop in Antwerp, for Belgian street food right in the historic centre. It’s my go-to for a snack any time of the day, especially when I’m craving some salty fried food! There are several selections of different sauces you can have with the fries, but the fries with meat sauce (Stoofvlees) is delicious and very traditional.

Frituur No. 1

Avoid the tourist trap restaurants and eat at De Bomma, which serves mussels and other traditional Belgian dishes that taste like the ones made by a Belgian grandma. I had a big pot of Mussels with white wine all to myself and drank every last drop of that tasty broth!

De Bomma

Frituur No. 1

Address: Hoogstraat 1, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgium

Operating hours: Monday – Saturday, 11 am – 4 am | Sunday, 11 am – 12 am

Nearest tram stop: Antwerpen Suikerrui Steenplein

De Bomma

Address: Suikerrui 16, 2000 Antwerp, Belgium

Operating hours: Monday – Sunday, 12 pm – 10 pm

Nearest tram stop: Antwerpen Suikerrui Steenplein

 

Day 2 in Antwerp

From the historic centre, walk to Hendrik Conscienceplein, a 17th-century square.

You can also walk to Vlaaikensgang, a 16th-century street. History surrounds you on every street, in every corner.

At the end of Grote Markt, you’ll reach a pier where you’ll see Het Steen, a remnant of a medieval city gate by the water. I love walking by the castle and sitting by the water to watch the sunset every time I’m in Antwerp; it makes me feel completely at peace.

Het Steen

A friend took me to Pelgrom, a Game of Thrones-like dungeon for a drink. I got transported back in time to the medieval era as I walked deeper into the bar. It’s definitely not an experience I could get anywhere else, and it was one that I enjoyed.

Pelgrom

Het Steen

Het Steen

Address: Ernest van Dijckkaai, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgium

Operating hours: Daily, 24 hours

Nearest tram stop: Antwerpen Suikerrui Steenplein

Pelgrom

Pelgrom

Address: Pelgrimstraat 15, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgium

Operating hours: Tuesday – Friday, 6 pm – 9:30 pm

Nearest tram stop: Antwerpen Groenplaats

 

Day 3 in Antwerp

If you’re into architecture, take a tram to Berchem and walk to the posh district of Zurenbourg where you’ll see beautiful 19th-century Art Nouveau townhouses. It was definitely a feast for my eyes, coming from a city full of high rise buildings and skyscrapers.

Nearest tram/train station: Antwerpen-Berchem

If you happen to be in Antwerp on a Saturday, get some fresh produce, coffee, pastries and Moroccan street food for cheap at the Exotic Food Market on Theaterplein. Walking through the market took up half my day but I had a belly full of delicious food and a big smile on my face.

Exotic Food Market

Exotic Food Market

Address: Nieuwstad, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgium

Operating hours: Saturday, 8 am – 4 pm

Nearest tram stop: Antwerpen Stadspark

See Top Hotels in Antwerp

Day trip to Bruges

From Antwerp, you can take a day trip to Bruges, a picturesque medieval city that’s commonly mistaken for a theme park. The town is cute, charming and quaint, although its medieval structures were mostly restored in the 19th century.

Like Antwerp and Brussels, you can walk to the city centre from the train station. The Burg Square is worth a visit for its gorgeous Gothic architecture!

I took a peaceful stroll along the canals and slowly made my way back to the city centre where I dropped by a few chocolateries and sampled some of the finest chocolates Belgium has to offer. A trip to Bruges wouldn’t be complete without doing that!

Burg Square

Burg Square Visitor Info

Address: Burg 15, 8000 Brugge, Belgium

Operating hours: Daily, 24 hours

Nearest tram stop: Brugge Vismarkt

See Top Hotels in Bruges