A common misconception is that Belgium is boring – but we’re here to tell you this is definitely not the case! Intriguing cuisine, high culture and amazing beer make the cities of Belgium, and Flanders in particular, some of the best short break destinations in Europe; while still remaining somewhat off the beaten track. Best of all, travelling via Eurostar from London you can be there in just 2 to 3 hours. Take a look at some of the best places to visit, sights to see and things to eat on a Eurostar short break in Belgium.
How to get there: The journey from Brussels to Ghent St Pieters station with Belgian Railways takes around 30 minutes. Then take Tram 1 to the city centre or jump in a taxi.
Mustn’t miss: Gravensteen. The castle of the Counts of Flanders is an icon of the city and one of its most popular attractions. Unlike most castles in Britain, the Gravensteen is intact and gives great views from the top of the battlements.
What to eat: Waterzooi. This creamy stew originated in Flanders in the middle ages and is made with fish or chicken and vegetables including carrots, onions, leeks and potatoes. Accompany it with a Gentse Strop beer.
Fascinating fact: The Ghent Altarpiece, also known as the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb is considered a masterpiece of European art and is displayed in St Bavo’s Cathedral. During the Second World War it was moved to Germany on Hitler’s orders and hidden in a salt mine in Austria. It was recovered after the war by the “Monuments Men” as depicted in the 2014 Hollywood film starring George Clooney and Matt Damon.
How to get there: It’s a 40-minute journey from Brussels to Antwerp Centraal station although InterCity services may be faster. The station is close to the city centre and the diamond district.
Mustn’t miss: Antwerp Zoo. First opened in 1843 making it one of the oldest in the world, the zoo is home to penguins, hippos, gorillas, giraffes, elephants, lions and flamingos.
What to eat: Antwerpse Handjes. These speciality biscuits are made with marzipan and Elixir d’Anvers (a herbal liqueur). Their hand shape refers to the legend of Silvius Brabo and the giant Antigoon which is apparently how Antwerp got its name.
Fascinating fact: The Cathedral of Our Lady is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and contains major works of religious art by Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens. The church’s tower is the tallest in the Low Countries at over 120 metres and its largest bell, Karolus, weighs over 6 tonnes.
How to get there: It takes around 1 hour to travel from Brussels to Brugge with Belgian Railways. The station is located on the edge of the city and the walk to Markt square takes around 10-15 minutes.
Mustn’t miss: The medieval Belfort is the city’s most famous landmark but for something more unusual, head to the Basilica of the Holy Blood on Burg Square. The church contains a crystal phial said to contain the blood of Jesus Christ. Whether you believe the legend or not, it’s an intriguing sight and can be viewed every Friday before and after Mass.
What to eat: Bruges is well known for fries, waffles, mussels and chocolate and they’re all worth trying while you’re there. For something heartier, try Stoverij, a Flemish beef stew made with beer and served with fries or crusty bread.
Fascinating fact: Bruges’ local beer is called Brugse Zot and is brewed at the Halve Maan brewery in the city centre. The brewery recently completed a 2-mile pipeline – the first of its kind anywhere in the world – to take its beer to a bottling plant in the suburbs.
How to get there: Journey time from Brussels is around 75 minutes. Oostende Station is located in the city centre; a short walk from the beach, hotels and attractions.
Mustn’t miss: The beach. Belgium is maybe not that well known for a seaside break, but Ostend is blessed with a long sandy beach, right next to the city centre. If sand isn’t your thing, you can stroll along the promenade and enjoy the sea views.
What to eat: Shrimp croquettes. Fish and seafood is very much the order of the day in Ostend, with fresh catches landed in the harbour straight from the North Sea. A favourite with the locals (always a good sign) are shrimp croquettes, usually served with salad and fries.
Fascinating fact: Marvin Gaye lived in Ostend! The legendary soul singer found a new lease of life in Belgium after struggling with depression, drug addiction and the end of his association with Motown Records. He recorded one of his most famous songs ‘Sexual Healing’ in Belgium and visitors to Ostend can follow in his footsteps with the multi-media ‘Midnight Love Tour’, named after his final album.