With international travel finally back on the cards this summer and restrictions gradually beginning to ease, many of us are looking ahead to that next long-awaited luxury getaway. And, with Belgium currently on the government’s amber list, it might not be long before we’re able to explore Belgian shores once again. Although the UK is still classed as a ‘red zone’ by Belgium, thus restricting entry for British nationals until further notice, as Europe ramps up its vaccination efforts and moves collectively closer to beating the ongoing outbreak, things are certainly looking up.
So, if you long to stroll the streets of Brussels or meander the canals of Bruges, then there’s no time like the present to get planning. From five-star luxury hotels to an excellent foodie scene – not to mention the extensive range of designer shopping boutiques, quaint cafes and historic sights – there are few better choices for an autumn city break. Here, we take a look at where to go and how to spend your time in Belgium.
Belgium is the ultimate destination for history geeks and chocolate lovers. Image credit: Brian K/Bigstock.com
Most international flights from across Europe land at Charleroi Airport, which is the hub for airline Ryanair and offers excellent connections to just about anywhere else you might want to go on the continent. With the best on-time performance, lowest percentage of lost bags and lowest charges, flying into Charleroi is the most seamless way to get your Belgian adventure started. Located just a 45-minute drive from the capital city of Brussels, getting to Charleroi Airport for your return flight is easy, too – simply book a shuttle or taxi service through one of the local companies for a comfortable and timely ride. Filbco is rated one of the best.
Where to visit
Today, Charleroi is a a must-visit destination, as its cultural heritage and historic landmarks make it a city worth ticking off your list. Charleroi itself is often overlooked as a tourist destination in favour of nearby Brussels, but it’s certainly worth making a quick stop here on your way through to check out the local sights. An industrial city with an interesting history, it doesn’t quite match the charm of Bruges – but for those looking for a realistic insight into the past, it’s an interesting day out.
Founded in the middle of the 17th century, it was previously home to prehistoric tribes that participated in commercial activities, but today its cultural heritage and historic landmarks make it a city worth ticking off your list. Head to the central Place Charles II to see the Art Deco style city hall, which features a belfry with a carillon chiming fragments of Belgian folk songs, then take a stroll over to the square to take in the gold-leaf mosaic of St. Christopher’s church. The Museum of Fine Arts – which focuses on 19th – 20th century artists, is also worth dropping by.
The capital of Belgium is a fascinating city which features stunning architecture and awe-inspiring history at every turn. Although it has a distinctively business-like feel to it – and understandably so, seeing as it is the ministerial centre of the EU – it nonetheless offers a relaxed and laid-back vibe that is accentuated by its many pubs and bars. A haven for the beer lover, there are plenty of locally-brewed varieties to sample as you make your way around the city – although if you consider yourself more of a wine connoisseur, then there are plenty of chic and sophisticated wine bars, as well as a selection of great fine dining eateries to choose from, too. Manneken Pis, located just off the main square, is perhaps the city’s most iconic sight. You might be surprised to find that it lacks somewhat in stature, but is worth paying a visit to, nonetheless.
Nearby, the 15th Century Grand Palace is surrounded by six impressive guild halls, with a flower market bringing the centre of the square to life at the weekends. The Notre Dame du Sablon – a spectacular 14th century Gothic Cathedral – is home to a Madonna statue believed to have healing powers, and attracts many visitors and tourists from around the world as a result.
Located a little further afield but still close enough to pack into a short city break, Bruges is a magical city that oozes historical charm. You can take the train here from Charleroi Airport or from central Brussels for around €17 – €24 – the journey time is under three hours in total, including transfers. Bruges’ quaint, cobbled streets and medieval architecture are undoubtedly worth the effort, and with its cosy little squares and quiet canals, it’s a breath-taking sight to behold indeed. Here, you can spend a relaxing few days sampling the best Belgian chocolate, waffles and beer whilst soaking up the atmosphere of one of the most romantic cities in the world. It feels a world away from both Charleroi and Brussels and offers a full immersion into the middle ages, showcasing iconic Flemish art, step-gabled facades and many, many turrets.