World famous chocolate, the best waffles and an endless choice of beer should be more than enough solid reasons to add Belgium to your travel bucket list!
We only had a weekend in Belgium due to us having no holiday left from work, oops! Luckily for us though we’re only an hour’s plane journey away, and by now we’re pretty good at drinking our way around a new place in a couple of days! We managed to visit both Brussels and Ghent, spending a full day in each city. For us, we would recommend spending longer in Ghent (we would have if we had the time), the bars have the same endless beer choices as Brussels but tasted so much better overlooking the canal in the sunshine!
Our go to budget airline (good old Ryanair) offer cheap enough flights from the UK to Brussels South Charleroi airport pretty much all year round. We flew out after work on a Friday evening and arrived in Brussels at around 10.30pm. Because we landed so late, we decided to book a hotel in Charleroi rather than travelling into Brussels.
Leonardo Hotel Charleroi City Center was around a 10-minute taxi journey from the airport so it’s ideal for a stopover! That being said, we weren’t impressed with the greeting from the taxi drivers outside the terminal! Be prepared to get ripped off here as there are no other transport options to get into town late at night and the drivers know it! The whole experience was far from welcoming!
Despite our late arrival in Charleroi we were still able to get in one quick beer (obviously) just before the restaurant next door to the hotel closed. Jupiler was our first beer on Belgium soil and Nat’s favourite of the trip! The fact Jupiler is Belgium’s answer to a cheap beer when all the UK has to offer is Carling makes us super sad ☹ Head here for our list of must try Belgium beers!
The Leonardo hotel is conveniently within walking distance of Charleroi Sud train station, which was ideal for our early train journey to Brussels the following morning. We booked our tickets through the trainline app. Its so easy to book European rail tickets on the app and it saves the need for paper as the tickets are just scanned directly from your phone 😊
The central station in Brussels is Bruxelles-Midi and there is a direct train from Charleroi Sud which takes approx. 50 minutes. If you’re in Brussels for longer than a weekend and don’t have an early check in time to drop your bags, we would recommend using Luggage Hero, so you can spend the day exploring luggage free. At October 2019, code: 2FREE gives you 2 hours free storage 😊
Belgium’s capital city is a food and beer lovers dream, so don’t expect to go home from a weekend in Brussels without gaining a few pounds. The city is packed full of history and anyone who is interested in architecture will love checking out all of the photo-worthy Gothic and Baroque style buildings on the walks between waffle shops and beer halls 😉
Things to do
The centre of Brussels is relatively small, so it’s easily doable to see it all in one day. Here’s a few places we suggest you check out:
- Grand Place: The highlight of Brussels! The UNESCO world heritage site is the central square of the city and should be number one on your sights to see. Make sure you head there both in the day and when the sun’s gone down.
There aren’t any bars in the square, so we followed the locals and grabbed some good quality beers from a convenience store (for a couple of euros each) and enjoyed these perched on one of the ledges around the edge of the square.
The other suggestions below are all within a 10-minute walk from the Grand Place (we used this as our main reference point). Brussels is an easily walkable city, so no public transport is required.
Moving on to one of Nat’s favourite things…
You should be eating a minimum 3 Belgium waffles a day 😉 Our top picks for places to indulge your sweet tooth are:
- Maison Dandoy: Sat just off one of the side streets from the Grand Place, the pricier option but their waffles and coffee are worth it. Expect long wait times as this is pretty popular, but they do have outdoor seating for the warmer weather.
- La Funambule (cash only!): Located opposite the Manneken Pis statue, this little shop has an amazing selection of waffle toppings to choose from their window display! There’s nowhere to sit so we recommend grabbing your waffle to go and sitting somewhere outside to enjoy them.
- Waffle Factory: Although this is actually a chain, it’s still ranked as one of the best waffles in Brussels. You can watch the bakers making the waffles unlike other waffle stores and they provide something different with the Lunchwaf (a waffle stuffed with lunch meats and veggies).
We won’t mention how many beers you should be trying a day, or how many we had! Our top picks for bars and cafes are:
- Moeder Lambic: This was our favourite place to have a beer in Brussels! Their craft beer selection is amazing, coupled with a modern, cosy setting with the best bar area we’d seen. Their meat platters looked delicious too!
- Au Brasseur (cash only!): This bar had a really traditional feel, we imagine it is always busy due to its central position just past the Hard Rock Café down the street from Grand Place. The perfect location to grab a table outside and people watch the day away. Try the 6-beer taster for a taste of Belgium’s most famous brews. Great value for money with very generous servings for a tasting board, which means you can get away with sharing one with your beer buddy!
- Delirium Café/village: No trip to Brussels would be complete without a visit to Deliruim! This is the bucket list bar that boasts the world record for the greatest number of beers available. We would recommend visiting all the bars in the ‘village’ as each has something unique to offer. Our personal favourite was a little dive bar downstairs from the main taproom, which is decorated with bottles, glasses and plenty more beer related décor. It also has live music in the evenings for when you end up hanging around all day trying to get through as many of the 3000 beers on offer as you can.
- Toone (cash only!): A real hidden gem of a pub in the heart of Brussels. Quaint and charming with a great selection of beer and a puppet theatre! Puppet show performances are on Thursday to Saturday evenings (bear in mind they are in French). It can get very busy in the evenings so try and go in the afternoon if you can.
We chose to base ourselves near the station again (in the Saint-Gillies area) as we planned to catch another early train to Ghent the following morning. This time we booked an Airbnb and although it cost £46/ night for a room and shared bathroom, we still saved significantly compared to city hotel prices.
Money saving tip: If you are travelling around try and plan it so you’re not in the capital on a weekend (mainly Saturday night) as accommodation is already going to be expensive enough and for those of you who haven’t yet used Airbnb, using the link below will save you £25 off your first booking !
Ghent is just a half an hour train ride away from Brussels and you can catch a direct train from Bruxelles-Midi to Gent-Sint-Peters station. The centre is a short tram ride away and you can catch one from just outside the train station, head towards Wondelgelm on line 1 and get off at Korenmarkt for the medieval centre.
Ghent is often overlooked by people visiting Belgium, which is a real shame. With its medieval old town and canal side bars that rival Amsterdam, Ghent is a great lesser known destination to visit!
Everything we’ve picked out below is within walking distance of Korenmarkt and you can easily cover everything in a day.
Things to do
The main things we would recommend checking out in Ghent are:
- The views from the Belfry Tower: The views from the 91-metre-tall tower of Het Belfort Van Ghent are not to be missed! For only €8 you can head up the tower for a great panorama of the old city and St Nicholas Church. You can climb the stairs to the top of the tower but there is a lift at the first level which will take you up to the top for no extra charge!
- Gravensteen: This 12th Century castle is city’s most famous landmark. It has a reasonable entrance fee that includes an audio tour of the Castle, which is very different to any audio tour we have listened to before, it’s actually quite funny at times as well as factual! We would recommend picking this up as there are no information boards around the castle. The view from the top of the main tower looking out over the roof tops is definitely a bonus.
- St Michael’s Bridge: One of the best views of the old city is from St Michael’s Bridge, with a 360-degree vantage point to snap some cool shots of the canals and St Michael’s Belfry with Gravensteen in the distance. Head here at dusk when the lights come on for the best selfie backdrop.
Most importantly the bars we would recommend checking out are 😉:
- Dulle Griet: This was our favourite bar in Ghent, it had a Delirium style vibe with a cosy atmosphere. With 500 different beers to choose from, the staff are more than happy to share their knowledge, the most helpful bartenders we came across in Belgium! And for the perfectionists, the beer always comes in the corresponding branded glass, which you can then purchase on request.
- Kaffee The Planck (cash only!): This pub is in such a unique setting based on a converted barge. Really nice indoor and outdoor seating areas and reasonably priced considering you’re on a boat.
- Trollekelder: Is another pub located in a cool setting within a 200-year-old building, they also have a nice outdoor seating area with views of the nearby Cathedral.
- Meraki: We were lucky enough to grab one of the tables here right on the edge of the River Lys, we didn’t even need to venture inside due to the rapid table service. Definitely a place for a summer drink!
- Het Waterhuis aan de Bierkant: One of Ghent’s traditional pubs and another one for the beer loving tourist! There are 160 beers to choose from, but the stars of the show are the three home brews Gandavum, Klokke Roeland and Mammeloker.
- ‘t Dreupelkot: Next door to Waterhuis is this gin lovers paradise! A traditional jenever café with over 200 gins to choose from, including 50+ that are homemade and distilled in house. The terrace outside along with Waterhuis, overlooking the river, is a great spot to enjoy a drink in the sun.
Journey home 🙁
We caught the train back to Bruxelles-Midi early evening to catch the (Flibco) airport shuttle bus back to Brussels South Charleroi airport. The bus runs every 30 minutes and operates from 3.30am to 10.30pm. The journey time is just under an hour. It was very easy to pre-book tickets online (we did this on the train journey back) and also handy for us as we hardly ever carry cash!
We did find the tickets pricey at €15 each for a one-way ticket, so if you are lucky enough to be travelling in a big group you should enquire into taxi prices first. The bus stop is located just outside Bruxelles-Midi station and the google maps location is accurate, check it out here if needed.
If you have more than 2 days in Belgium…
We would recommend a day in the beautiful city of Bruges, again easily accessible from Brussels being only an hour train ride away. Another one of Belgium’s best-preserved medieval cities with a historic centre lined with cobbled streets and canals, much like Ghent. We will definitely be returning to Belgium to check out Bruges for a weekend, hopefully around Christmas time so the festive markets are in full swing!
We hope you have as much fun exploring Belgium as we did! Just remember that Belgium beer is strong, so drink responsibly! (ish…)
Click here for the Belgium beer bucklist to tick off for yourselves and add to your Instagram stories 😊 Make sure to tag us @backpacksandbeverages !
Lots of drunken hugs,
Joe & Nat xxx