Belgium, officially the Kingdom of Belgium, is a federal monarchy in Western Europe. It is a founding member of the European Union and hosts the EU’s headquarters as well as those of several other major international organisations such as NATO. Belgium covers an area of 30,528 square kilometres (11,787 sq mi) and has a population of about 11 million people.
Cities in Belgium
Brussels is quickly gaining a reputation as one of Europe’s must-see destinations. With its central location in the heart of Europe, Brussels is easily accessible by air or high-speed rail from neighboring countries. It is an international metropolis – a mosaic of languages, cultures, and traditions – and the home of the European Union, NATO and hundreds of international organizations. Among the most celebrated attractions are the Grand Place, Europe’s most beautiful medieval square lined with guild houses. Originally built in the 13th century, the square is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Every other year for two days (it will occur be in 2014) the Grand’Place is decked out in an amazing flower carpet, made up of 1 million begonias.
Known for its vibrant nightlife, its funky bars and restaurants and numerous festivals, Belgians see Antwerp as the “capital of cool.” The Antwerp Fashion Academy produced a group of avant-garde designers who made a big splash on the fashion scene in the 1980′s and became known as “The Antwerp Six”. Antwerp is also an art-loving city with which the name Rubens is eternally linked. More than 400 years after the birth of this brilliant painter, it is still possible to see the extent to which Rubens left his mark on the city. Funky nightlife, historical buildings, and the biggest diamond center in the world, Antwerp offers something for everybody.
The historic center of Bruges is on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites and is teeming with places of interest. With the city center closed off to cars, all the stunning beauty and culture of this unforgettable city can be easily explored on foot, by boat along quiet canals, or by horse-drawn carriage on cobblestoned streets. Although Bruges is a small city, it is filled to the brim with architectural and artistic treasures, folklore, chocolate shops, lace boutiques and fine restaurants. Two popular places in the city are The Beguinages (on the UNESCO World Heritage list, it is the home of the nuns of the order of Saint Benedict) and the Halve Maan Brewery, a family-owned brewery and creator of the famous ‘Brugse Zot’ beer.
If you ask a Belgian where they like to travel within their own country, many will tell you about the friendly city of Ghent. With most of the town center closed to cars, they will probably also tell you that Belgium’s third largest city is best explored on two wheels or by boat along the elegant canals. Ghent is an unassuming, un-touristy city filled with university students, linger-as-long-as-you-like cafes, well-priced restaurants and vibrant energy. It’s a city with great mustard, Stropke beer (which is Flemish for noose), and the ten-day Ghent Celebrations held every year in July where the inhabitants go all out with theater performances, concerts, singing, dancing, and drinking.
Liege, the largest French-speaking city in Belgium after Brussels, is a historical city situated along the Meuse River. In the fall of 2009, the city welcomed the opening of a stunning, new train station, which brings visitors to Liege from Brussels in 1 hour, Maastrict, Holland in 20 mins and Paris in 2 hours. Designed by the world-renowned architect Santiago Calatrava, it’s a prime example of Liege’s modern transformations. Just outside the city, visitors have easy access to the Blegny mines and the Henri Chapelle American Military cemetery, the largest in Belgium.
Namur, the capital of Belgium’s French-speaking region, sits along the Meuse River and is just 1-hour by car or train from Brussels. This impressive fortified town is surrounded by one of Europe’s largest ancient citadels, first built during the 3rd and 4th centuries, and later reconstructed during the 13th and 14th centuries. For shopaholics the city is popular for its many fabulous boutique shops. Just outside of Namur, the towns of Dinant and Wepion offer a wonderful day trip to visitors with an explorer’s spirit.
In this town close to the Luxembourg border, thousands of American soldiers died fighting in WWII during the Battle of the Bulge. Their legacy lives on in the hearts and minds of locals and they take it upon themselves to remember the sacrifice those soldiers made for them and their town. On the Grand Place of Bastogne, there’s a Sherman Tank from the 11th US Armored Division.
Located just 1 hour from Brussels, Mons is a city rich in history and tradition. The town hall building on the Grand Place of Mons, constructed between 1458 and 1477, has a Belfry, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Van Gogh also spent some time near Mons before moving on to Provence. His house, an authentic and preserved environment, now houses a permanent exhibition of reproductions and an audio-visual show in various languages, including English.