While its capital Brussels and the canals of Bruges are major tourist magnets, the rest of this diverse little country unduly goes largely unnoticed.
When traveling, its modest size is undoubtedly an advantage – getting from place to place is easy, affordable and fast. Here’s our guide on how to explore Belgium in its entirety, from the dunes of the coast to the rolling hills of the Ardennes.
Explore Belgium in comfort by train
As the birthplace of train travel in Europe – the first train to ever leave continental Europe did so from Brussels to Mechelen in 1835 – it’s no surprise that Belgium is best explored on rails. Thanks to a dense rail network that even includes small coastal and rural towns such as Knokke and Dinant, every corner is within reach in no time. The fact that the longest stretch of track is only 280 km (174 mi) speaks for itself, and if you take Brussels as your starting point, no destination is more than two hours away.
How and where to buy tickets
The trains run frequently and are operated by SNCB/NMBS. Tickets can be purchased at the ticket office in stations and at vending machines (watch out for Antwerp and Liège stations, two architectural marvels) and, even more easily, via the website or app, for which you need a credit card or Paypal.
As the prices are fixed, it doesn’t matter when you buy your ticket – ideal for those who prefer to travel spontaneously. Tickets are half price on weekends and if you’re traveling with a friend you get two for the price of one until August 31, 2022 with the duo ticket. Another budget option is the 10-ride rail pass (€87/$92 for 10 single rides) which can be used for multiple people. The SNCB application allows you to consult in real time the times of departure and arrival, the occupation of the trains and all types of disruptions – beware of strikes. Pack a picnic if you fancy a snack along the way as there are no dining cars. Large pets and bicycles are welcome for a small fee.
Discover the Belgian coasts with its panoramic coastal tram
Belgium’s flat, sandy coastline, dotted with small towns, is home to the longest tram in the world: De Kusttram. Since 1885, its 67 km (41.6 mi) runs have linked De Panne to the French border with Knokke and its magnificent nature reserve near the Netherlands. With 68 stops, the coastal tram invites you to get on and off to discover, for example in Ostend, where Marvin Gaye wrote the emblematic sexual healing. A day pass for the scenic ride is available for €7.50 (US$8.20).
Road-trip Belgium by car or motorbike for maximum freedom
If you want total independence, renting a car is the solution. All the major agencies (Sixt, Hertz, Europcar, etc.) have offices all over Belgium, but prices have increased significantly due to the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. Intercity travel is often quicker by train, as traffic jams on Belgian motorways can be heavy and not just at rush hour. Finding a parking space in the Brussels district of Ixelles, for example, can turn into a nightmare, especially in the evening.
If you drive on a Belgian motorway at night, you might be surprised by how bright it is – the entire motorway system lights up at dusk, using over two million bulbs. There are no tolls on Belgian roads but speeding tickets are expensive. Another thing to watch out for is the signage, which will be in Flemish or French depending on the region. Sometimes the city names don’t share any similarity (like Mons/Bergen), leaving plenty of room for missed outings.
While in Belgium cars are mainly used to get from point A to point B, the Belgian Ardennes, in the south-east of the country, with its valleys, rivers and forests, offers many roads panoramic. The region is particularly popular with motorcycle enthusiasts and clubs. Two-wheelers can generally be rented from April to October, and to rent any type of vehicle you must be over 21, have a valid license for the vehicle concerned and have a credit card.
Pedal in the heart of cycling for a slow travel experience
In Belgium, birthplace of legendary cyclist Eddy Merckx, cycling is a national sport. Flanders is the heart of cycling, and during the Tour of Flanders and the Tour de France, the pubs will be full of enthusiasts glued to the screens.
The country is proud of a considerable network of long-distance cycle paths. In Flanders alone it comprises 13,000 km (8,078 mi). The paths are clearly marked, safe, often forbidden to cars, and populated by families and amateur teams. It’s a great way to experience Belgium when you’re not in a rush as it gives you the chance to mingle with the locals during your stops at brasseries and restaurants along the way.
With the aim of giving tourist cycling a boost, the Flemish authorities have recently added nine themed cycle routes to the network – the coastal route leads along the sea, the Scheldt route follows the riverbanks and the road of the western front 14-18 is perfect for the story. bitten. A good option for bike rental is Blue-bike, which is present in 60 stations.
Why the car is still my favorite way to travel
I love the flexibility of traveling by car, especially as someone who likes to get off the main roads to aimlessly explore an area. If you want to hike in the Hautes Fagnes nature reserve or enjoy the panoramic view of the Tombeau du Géant, a car is useful.
My favorite scenic route is the road between Dinant and Namur, wedged between the river on one side and the cliffs on the other. Car-sharing company Green Mobility offers electric cars for day trips for around €60 (US$65) – it’s eco-friendly and, with rising fuel prices, it makes financial sense.
Accessible travel in Belgium
Travelers with reduced mobility should not encounter many problems in Belgium. Belgian Rail offers assistance when boarding or disembarking at 132 stations, a service that can be booked in advance free of charge. In 2013, Visit Flanders won two awards for accessible travel, and Leuven was recently mentioned in the EU Access City Awards for mainstreaming accessibility. In Wallonia, pay attention to the Access-i logo which assesses the practicality of a hotel, a visit, an event or a site. For more information, see Lonely Planet’s Accessible Travel Resources page.