Belgium is divided into three regions and three communities that exist next to each other. Besides its strongly globalized economy the country is famous for beer, chocolate, waffles and french fries. French fries were actually first made in Belgium. It’s capital and largest city is the very impressive Brussels.
Brussels‘ ornate Grand-Place at the heart of the city has shops and cafes inside 17th-century guild houses, and the intricate Gothic Hotel de Ville (town hall) with its distinctive bell tower. It also feature almost daily colorful flower markets. The surrounding area has numerous stores and restaurants, many specializing in delicious chocolate and waffles.
Brussels has many lovely parks and some ornate palaces including the Royal Palace near Brussels Park. Brussels also serves as the “de facto” capital of the European Union, hosting the major political institutions of the Union. Another impressive area includes the Cinquantenaire triumphal arch and the surrounding park and museums. The Belgium Military Museum is one of those located by the arch. Make sure to visit the Atomium, a tall modernistic structure built for the 1958 World’s Fair consisting of nine steel spheres connected by tubes. It is a model of an iron crystal cell. Brussels has over 80 museums including the impressive Royal Museum of Fine Arts.
The Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula is a huge Roman Catholic church that features statues depicting the stages of the cross as well as numerous saints. The stone facade with it’s imposing Gothic style towers are 64 meters tall. Outside of the most impressive Vatican in Rome and Sevilla Spain’s incredible Cathedral, this sculpture filled Cathedral is right up there with the most impressive Cathedrals I’ve ever visited anywhere.
Along with a few other canal-based northern cities, such as Amsterdam and Stockholm, it is sometimes referred to as The Venice of the North. Bruges has most of its notable medieval architecture buildings still intact. A must do when visiting is to take a guided canal boat tour around the town. The numerous small boats are always filled with tourists and constantly circumvent the city’s canals.
You can walk the beautiful pedestrian friendly streets and town square, all full of shops, numerous restaurants and later take in the enlightening canal boat tour. Visit the many historic churches, like the Church of Our Lady, as well as it’s most famous landmark the 13th-century belfry, housing a municipal carillon comprising 48 bells. Bruges is one not to miss and it’s a short train ride from Amsterdam.
Amsterdam, the Netherlands (also known as Holland), is famous for its flat landscape, many canals, tulip fields, windmills, cycling routes and free-spirited nature.
The city center streets and surrounding canals with small bridges are filled with people walking and many riding their bicycles… Amazingly there are actually more bikes in the city than people! When walking make sure to look both ways, not just for cars, and not to stand in a bike lane, or you might end up getting run over.
Amsterdam, is home to numerous lovely museums, two special ones are the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum. For any fan of Vincent van Gogh, this is a must visit. This high-tech museum has not just hundreds of his works, but a detailed timeline history of his life as a painter.
The national Rijksmuseum is dedicated to Dutch history and art. Also don’t miss the Anne Frank house, now a museum, where she wrote her diary while the family hid from the Nazis during WWII. One tip before visiting, get your tickets online before you get there, with an assigned time, it will save you from a long line.
Canal-side mansions and a many works from artists including Rembrandt and Vermeer remain from the 17th-century “Golden Age” of Dutch art. Amsterdam is also known for its coffee houses that legally serve pot, as well as the “Red Light” district, where legalized prostitution is located. Standing behind large glass windows these ladies will try to entice walkers by to go inside and join them.
The town of Lisse is another short train ride from Amsterdam. It is home to the world famous Keukenhof Gardens which date back to the 15th century. The focus in the park is on the 7 million spring-flowering bulbs of tulips, daffodils and hyacinths that fill over 32 hectares with color and fragrance. The best time to see the tulips in bloom starts around mid March and ends mid May. If you are planning a visit make sure it’s during this season.
You don’t have to be a nature lover to be fascinated by these magnificent gardens that seem to never end. Set in a forest-park atmosphere, it truly is a marvelous experience, while the flowers almost look unreal, they’re all real… really nature at it’s best.
There’s also a windmill you can visit and restaurants to sit and enjoy the beauty. I can’t stress enough that this is one garden not to miss if you ever visit Amsterdam during the bloom season.
These cities and towns of Belgium and The Netherlands make for quite a colorful and entertaining trip, one you’ll surely enjoy visiting the counties of the Benelux.