I did a wild thing back in the summer which resulted in this trip. I sent a tweet to my travel twitter asking for company for a trip to anywhere in Europe. I was pleasantly surprised when I got 3 responses and the next thing I knew, we had booked a girls trip to Belgium! My travel pals were Ella (heyparadis.com), Yasmin (yasmintells.com) and Caroline (traveleatslay.com) . Bearing in mind that we were essentially strangers prior to this trip, there was no telling how it would pan out. Luckily for us, Ella had grown up in Belgium so knew all the places to hang out and appreciate Belgian culture…we were in a treat!
We travelled in the last week of July with the Eurostar from London St Pancras directly to Brussels Centraal Station. This was my first time taking this train (a getaway of firsts it seems)! They advise you to arrive at least an hour before your train takes off and I would do so as the queues were crazy so we just made it! The trains are quite nice and fares are cheaper if you’re under 26. We also invested in a 10 trip train ticket for anywhere in Belgium which is €77 for adults or €52 for under 26s.
We stayed in the student town of Gent which is about a 30 minute train ride from Brussels. Gent is a lovely, quaint town and was a great place for our base due to its affordability. We stayed in a great studio which was a short walking distance to the city centre but also right next to a tram stop (options are key!)
The day we arrived was the last day of the Gentse Feesten (Gent Festival) which was on from the 13th – 22nd July. This year was its 175th anniversary. The whole city is transformed into food and drink stalls with different music stages to suit different tastes and ages (my favourite being Pole Pole which showcased hip hop, salsa and turned into a club night).
There are a lot of traditions which are observed during the festival. One interesting one is the men walking around town in white shirts with nooses around their neck. These are the Guild of Noose Bearers who commemorate the Revolt of Gent to pay their respects to the rebels who were paraded through the streets in this way when they were caught. A less historical but fun tradition was Belgians wearing pink elephant hats (the pink elephant is the symbol for their delirium beer!).
“Nie neute, nie pleuje” a motto we saw around town which translates as no whining, no folding. It essentially means that you can’t complain and have to keep going!
We also had our first taste of a Belgian beer (Hoegaarden which also comes in fruity flavours – €2.80 for one!!) and Belgian fries from a fritkot.
After the festival, we did plenty more sightseeing around the city.
Gravensteen castle is a gorgeous medieval castle which we passed by most days. It was previously home to the Counts Flanders until the 14th century and is now a historical landmark. Fun fact – you can get married here for only €600 per half an hour!
There’s a trio of buildings which are best photographed in golden hour. They are:
1. St Niklaas Church. It features the beautiful monochrome and gold designs with pieces of art hung up which seems to be classic in Belgian churches. It is free to wander around inside.
2. Belfry Tower. It is where the dragon was supposedly kept to keep watch of the city. It’s free for kids and those with a city card, €2.70 for 19-25 year olds €8 for 26 and over. It has 4 levels – the first one is reached by stairs and with the other 3, you have the option of a lift. Each floor has a different display and explanations relating to the tower and at the top, you have an incredible view over Gent.
3. St. Bavo’s Cathedral (Sint Baafskathedraal) – a magnificent building which is free to enter. It had one of the most extravagant altars that I’ve ever seen. In the crypt, there are displays of priests clothing and old cups etc. For €4, you can enter to see the blood of Jesus too.
A chilled way to see the city is on a boat tour! It only costs €7.50 for an hour or so and the multilingual guide share plenty of knowledge along the way. On the day we did our tour it was a scorching 38 degrees so they provided us with umbrellas for shade!
Generally a lot of time is spent along the river, either with a drink during golden hour or just messing about as we did in the pics below (don’t try this at home guys!!)
If you love street art like me, you have to check out Werregarenstraat or “Graffitistraatje” which is an alley with graffiti. So many artists have contributed and they are all super talented for sure!
The capital city of Belgium and of the EU. We spent half a day here wandering its beautiful cobbled streets. Did you know that many famous cartoon characters such as Tintin and the Smurfs are Belgian? You’ll see murals dedicated to them around town.
Galeries Royales St Hubert is a gorgeously expensive shopping mall with designer shops and also great chocolatiers. It’s worth wandering in just to appreciate its architecture if nothing else.
Next up, Grand Place (Grote Markt) which is Brussels’ main Square. Here you have the Town Hall, the King’s House, the Museum of Brussels plus a few pricey touristy restaurants. The square has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site for 20 years! As you can imagine, it’s incredibly busy but worth a visit to check out the golden designs.
I did not expect Brussels to have the most bizarre monument I’ve ever seen. It’s called Manneken Pis and is a little boy having a piss. And there isn’t a real story behind it as confirmed by Ella and a passing tour guide!
We ended our afternoon at Place des Martyrs or Martelarenplein – Martyrs Square. It is slightly removed from the hustle and bustle of the city so is a great place to chill. It has great historical significance as there’s a crypt here where many who died in the Belgian Revolution are buried in.
This is a cool city and is the heart of fashion and diamonds in Belgium. It also had the most fancy train station of all the places we visited this week! The name means “throwing hand” and this is related to the legend of the giant who would cut off your hand and throw it into the river if you refused to pay the toll to enter the city!
We went on a walking tour around the city starting at Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal or Our Lady Cathedral (a Roman Catholic one). One of its towers is still being built but it’s an amazing building nonetheless. There is a fee to go inside if you fancy a tour. Outside is a statue of an orphan boy lying down with his dog – nello and patrasche. It’s a sad story as they both eventually died of hunger in the cathedral!
Next up was the Market Square which has the statue of the giant throwing a hand!
St Peter’s Church was the first Belgian Church we went inside to check out. Don’t let the simple outside fool you as inside has beautifully monochrome with gold designs. Also they had incredible art pieces inside – here it depicted Jesus’ life story painted in a series by various painters.
This was the longest train journey from Gent, taking a good few hours each way. Spa is in the South which is predominantly French speaking compared with Dutch in the North. Spa is the hometown of spas (as Bath is for Baths). It is also where the Belgian F1 race takes place!
It is a small town which can be seen in a few hours. From the tourist centre, you can get a map which gives you a route to follow to see the key points.
There is a funicular which takes you up to one of the spas and offers great views of the town. (€1.50 one way). The climb up is quite quick but it was so hot that we only walked down to ease the sweating (10 minute walk down).
There is a tourist train which for €6 takes you through the forest to the natural springs. You can collect some water to drink from Source de la Gérontère. Spa Baristat is the source for sparkling water.
This city is picturesque and was one of my favourites along with Gent. Within the city wall, all the old architecture is preserved and it’s so cute! Brugge is known for its lace and artisanal chocolate.
We walked through Minne Vater Park to pass through the nuns place before getting into town. This city is perfect for a boat ride as you can appreciate it all in one go (€8). Another popular way to see the city seemed to be on sedgeways.
We bought the majority of our chocolate from here for a decent price of 20 pieces for €10. The free tasters were a perk too! I tried rose chocolate for the first time and I’m sadly not a fan..it’s not quite its own flavour but let me know if you’ve ever had it.
We sat for lunch in the main square and were treated to live music by buskers.
A beautiful Church to visit here is Basilica of the Holy Blood which is free to enter.
Food and drink
Belgian fries (not French fries FYI) are delicious and will come with most meals. You can also buy them to take away from fritkots.. try it with this delicious spicy mayo.
Belgian waffles are heavenly! Holiday calories don’t count so feel free to enjoy. The best ones we had were from yoghito in Gent train station.
Belgian chocolate is a must!
We also tried the traditional Belgian beef stew which is served with fries and is so delicious! This one was at De witte leeuw restaurant by the river in Gent.
Belgian beer is tasty and very cheap! I’ve already mentioned the Hoegaarden and delirium tremens which I tried but also the brugse zot (local to Brugge).
We ate 3 times at Le Pain Quotidien for breakfast! We had tried most of the menu by the time we left Belgium. My favourite was the Manhattan – smoked salmon, bread, soft boiled egg, ricotta cheese, juice and tea for €9.99.
Gust is a cool brunch place to come to in Gent (booking is highly recommend). I had the green waffles below (made with courgettes). They also have more typical choices such as American pancakes, eggs etc.
Brunch at Wasbar in Gent (a restaurant where you can get your laundry done whilst eating!). Various bagels and side salads with the most refreshing drink for a sweltering day!
And finally, the mother of all meals during our trip. We went to Amadeus which is an All you can eat ribs (YES) place. The ribs are fire but that jacket potato with the butter is on another level. And it’s just under €18 for this! We only managed 2 rounds!
So our Belgian trip was filled with great food and drink, culture, sunshine, lols, the usual travel drama and plenty of content creation. Travelling with fellow bloggers means you have an understanding for photo time and you learn so much about everyone’s travel styles. I can’t wait to read how the others cover this trip too!
Have you ever done a bloggers trip before? If not, I hope this inspires you to plan one!