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Belgium

A low-lying country in the Benelux, Belgium (Dutch: België, French: Belgique, German: Belgien) sits at the crossroads of Western Europe. It marries both the historical landmarks for which the continent is famous with spectacular modern architecture and rural idylls, whilst its capital, Brussels, is home to the headquarters of the European Union.

Despite this, Belgium is not without its divisions. On the contrary, Flanders, the northern part of the country that speaks Dutch and Wallonia, the southern, French-speaking area are frequently at loggerheads and it sometimes seems that their quarrels will split the country in two. Yet, despite this apparent incompatibility, the two halves of Belgium come together to form a country that contains some of Europe's most attractive and historical cities and is a true 'must-see' for any visitor to the continent.

Lying on the North Sea coast, Belgium's immediate neighbours are France to the south-west, Luxembourg to the south-east, Germany to the east and the Netherlands to the north.

Understand

Belgium is a densely populated country trying to balance the conflicting demands of urbanization, transportation, industry, and commercial and intensive agriculture. It imports large quantities of raw materials and exports a large volume of manufactured goods, mostly to the EU.

History

Belgium is the heir of several former Medieval powers, and you will see traces of these everywhere during your trip in this country.

After the collapse of the Carolingian Empire in the 9th century, the territory that is nowadays Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg, was part of Lotharingia, an ephemeral kingdom soon to be absorbed into the Germanic Empire; however, the special character of "Lower Lotharingia" remained intact in the feudal Empire : this is the origin of the Low Countries, a general term that encompasses present-day Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg.

The widely autonomous fiefdoms of the Low Countries were among the richest places in Medieval Europe and you will see traces of this past wealth in the rich buildings of BrugesBrusselsAntwerpGhentLeuvenTournaiMons, etc. These cities progressively fell under the control of a powerful and ambitious family : the Dukes of Burgundy. The whole realm of the dukes extended from the Low Countries to the borders of Switzerland. Using wealth, strategy, and alliances, the Dukes of Burgundy aimed at reconstituting Lotharingia. The death of the last Duke, Charles the Bold, put an end to this dream. However, the treasures of the Dukes of Burgundy remains as a testimony of their rules in Belgian museums and landmarks.

The powerful Habsburg family then inherited from the Low Countries. Reformation is the reason that Belgium and Netherlands were first put apart: the northern half of the Low Countries embraced Protestantism and rebelled against the Habsburg rule, while the southern half remained faithful to both its ruler and the Catholic faith. These two halves roughly corresponds to present-day Belgium and Netherlands.

Belgium was called Austrian Netherlands, then Spanish Netherlands, depending on which branch of the Habsburg ruled it. The powerful German emperor and Spanish king, Charles V, was born in the Belgian city of Ghent and ruled from Brussels. Many places in Belgium are named after him, including the city of Charleroi and even a brand of beer. Every year, the Brusselers emulates his first parade in their city in what is called the Ommegang.

Belgium was briefly a part of the Napoleonic Empire. After Napoleon's defeat, a large Kingdom of the Netherlands was created, comprising the whole of the Low Countries. However, the religious opposition still remained and the split was aggravated by political differences between Belgian liberals and Dutch aristocrats. Belgium became independent from the Netherlands in 1830 after a short revolution and a war against the Netherlands.

It was occupied by Germany during World Wars I and II and has many war graves near the battle zones, most of them are around Ieper (in English, archaically rendered as Ypres, with Yperite another name for mustard gas due to intensive use there in WWI). It has prospered in the past half century as a modern, technologically advanced European state and member of NATO and the EU. Tensions between the Dutch-speaking Flemings of the north and the French-speaking Walloons of the south have led in recent years to constitutional amendments granting these regions formal recognition and autonomy.

Terrain

Flat coastal plains in northwest, central rolling hills, wooded hills and valleys of Ardennes Forest in southeast.

Climate

Temperate; mild winters with cool summers. Generally rather rainy, humid and cloudy. Belgium's average annual temperature in the decade between 1976 and 2006 was 10°C - a somewhat meaningless measure for non-meteorologists.

Electricity

Electricity is supplied at 220 to 230V and 50 Hz. Outlets are CEE7/5 (protruding male earth pin) and accept either CEE 7/5 (Grounded), CEE 7/7 (Grounded) or CEE 7/16 (non-grounded) plugs. Older German-type CEE 7/4 plugs are not compatible as they do not accommodate the earth pin found on this type of outlet. However, most modern European appliances are fitted with the hybrid CEE 7/7 plug which fits both CEE 7/5 (Belgium & France) and CEE 7/4 (Germany, Netherlands, Spain and most of Europe) outlets.

Travellers from the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, Italy, Switzerland and all the other countries using 230V and 50 Hz, which use different plugs, simply require a plug adaptor to use their appliances in Belgium.

Travellers from the US, Canada, Japan and other countries using 110V 60 Hz may need a voltage converter. However, some laptops, mobile phone chargers and other devices can accept either 110V or 230V so only require a simple plug adaptor. Check the voltage rating plates on your appliances before connecting them.

Regions

Belgium consists of three regions, listed from north to south:

Cities

Belgium has a very high rate of urbanization and has an astonishing number of cities for such a small territory

  • Brussels — Belgium's capital and the unofficial capital of the EU. Nice historic centre and several museums of interest. One of the most multicultural cities in Europe.
  • Antwerp — Belgium's second largest city, with a giant cathedral, medieval streets and artistic heritage, and a great place for fashion.
  • Bruges — one of Europe's wealthiest cities in the 14th century, it is touristy yet still very authentic, medieval and quiet at night, with small guest houses and family businesses greatly outnumbering chain hotels.
  • Ghent — once one of Europe's largest cities, now a perfect mixture of Antwerp and Bruges: a cosy city with canals, yet with rich history and lively student population.
  • Leuven — a small city dominated by one of Europe's oldest universities. Beautiful historic centre and a lively nightlife.
  • Liège — second largest city of Wallonia, along a wide river, industrial cityscape with hiking and resorts in the nearby hills, it has a very strong, independent character and an exciting night-life.
  • Mechelen — a small medieval city with a nice historic district around the cathedral.
  • Mons - Mons has had the extraordinary privilege of having three sites inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List and one event on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
  • Namur — capital of Wallonia, at the confluence of Sambre and Meuse with the Citadel.

Other destinations

  • Ardennes — the most sparsely populated region in Benelux, this is a hilly countryside region covered with forests
  • Dinant — small city in a stunning natural setting, a popular spot for adventure sports such as canoeing and rock-climbing, best visited in winter
  • Fondry des Chiens
  • Pajottenland, also called the "Tuscany of the north", is a green region west of Brussels, consisting of rolling hills, meadows, small villages and castles. Home of the Geuze beer and great for hiking, biking, and horse riding tours.
  • Spa - the hot water treatments of the spa town that gave its name to all spas in the world has drawn visitors for centuries.
  • Ypres and its surrounding villages — destroyed during the First World War, this former military stronghold is marked by memorials and cemeteries.
  • Kraainem is a municipality with a rich industrial history on the outskirts of Brussels with many historical landmarks, ideally suited for a day trip.

Get in

Entry requirements

Belgium is a member of the Schengen Agreement.

  • There are normally no border controls between countries that have signed and implemented the treaty. This includes most of the European Union and a few other countries.
  • There are usually identity checks before boarding international flights or boats. Sometimes there are temporary border controls at land borders.
  • Likewise, a visa granted for any Schengen member is valid in all other countries that have signed and implemented the treaty.
  • Please see Travelling around the Schengen Area for more information on how the scheme works, which countries are members and what the requirements are for your nationality.

Citizens of the above countries are permitted to work in Belgium without the need to obtain a visa or any further authorisation for the period of their 90 day visa-free stay. However, this ability to work visa-free does not necessarily extend to other Schengen countries.

By plane

Brussels Airport (also known as Zaventem due to the town in which it is mainly located) is Belgium's main airport (IATA: BRU). It is not located in Brussels proper, but in surrounding Flanders. The airport is the base of the national airline Brussels Airlines. Other full-service airlines use BRU, as well as budget carriers such as Ryanair, Vueling, JetairFly and Thomas Cook.

There is a train (€5.10) running every 15 minutes to Brussels centre taking 25 minutes, some of them continuing to GhentMons, Nivelles, and West Flanders and bus lines number 12 and 21 (€3 at the vending machine/€5 on board) every 20 to 30 minutes to Place Luxembourg (European Parliament district). The bus stops at NATO and Schuman (for the EU institutions) on its way to the centre. There are also two trains per hour to Leuven, taking 13 minutes. A taxi to the centre of Brussels costs around €35 - cheaper if booked in advance. Taxis bleus: +32 2 268-0000, Taxis Autolux: +32 2 411-4142, Taxis verts: +32 2 349-4949.

Brussels South Charleroi Airport (IATA: CRL), about 50 km south of Brussels, mostly serves low-cost carriers, such as Ryanair and Wizzair. You can get to Brussels Gare du Midi on a coach in about an hour (€13 one way, €22 return). If you're going to any other part of Belgium, buy a combination bus+train ticket via Charleroi Sud train station from the TEC vending machines outside the airport for at most €19.40 one-way.

However, if you are really stuck, it is not unusual for taxi drivers to take credit cards. The price of a taxi ride to Brussels is a set fare (approximately €95 as of May 2006) and you can check with the taxi driver if he will accept your credit card(s) or not.

Antwerp Airport (IATA: ANR) has some business flights, including CityJet's reasonably priced link to London City airport. Other airports include Oostende, Liège and Kortrijk, but they only handle freight and charter flights.

Flights to airports in neighbouring countries might be worth considering, especially to Amsterdam Schiphol Airport which has a direct rail link to Brussels, also making stops at Antwerp and Mechelen.

By train

There are direct trains between Brussels and:

  • Luxembourg (normal trains, running every hour)
  • Paris, Köln/Cologne, Aachen, Amsterdam (Thalys [1])
  • Lyon, Bordeaux, Paris-CDG airport and many other French cities (TGV Bruxelles-France [2]).
  • London, Ebbsfleet, Ashford, Lille and Calais (Eurostar [3]). Tip: If going to another Belgian city opt for the "any Belgium Station" ticket (£5.50 one-way in 2nd class), and your local transport is included in your Eurostar ticket. Depending on the distance this may work out cheaper then getting a separate ticket. Note: Passengers travelling from the UK to Belgium go through French passport/identity card checks (done on behalf of the Belgians) in the UK before boarding, rather than on arrival in Belgium. Passengers travelling from Lille/Calais to Brussels are within the Schengen Area.
  • Frankfurt, Köln/Cologne (ICE [4])
  • Zürich, Switzerland, via Luxembourg (normal trains, 2 daily)

There are hourly intercity trains from Brussels via Antwerp to Rotterdam and Amsterdam in the Netherlands. This line was due to be replaced by a new high-speed service called 'Fyra' in December 2012, but after two months of unreliable service the new trains were withdrawn for safety reasons as they literally started to fall apart in snowy conditions. The older intercity services are now restored, from Brussels to Amsterdam via MechelenAntwerp, Rotterdam, The Hague and Schiphol. The other direct connection to Amsterdam is the expensive Thalys (book well in advance for reasonable fares). Alternative is to catch a train from Brussels or Antwerp to Roosendaal (NL), where connecting intercity trains to Rotterdam and Amsterdam are available.

International trains connect with domestic trains at Brussels' Gare du Midi/Zuidstation, and with all Eurostar or ICE and some Thalys tickets, you can finish your journey for free on domestic trains. For all high-speed trains, you need to book in advance for cheap fares, either online or using a travel agency. There are no regularly scheduled sleeper trains anymore.

You might want to check the TGV connections to Lille too. The trains from the rest of France to Lille are more frequent and usually cheaper. There is a direct train connection from Lille Flandres to Ghent and Antwerp. If your TGV arrives in Lille Europe, it will take a 15 min walk to the Lille Flandres railway station.

Plan your trip with the Deutsche Bahn timetable [5]. It has all domestic and international connections across Europe.

Smoking is no longer allowed in Belgian trains.

The train fare for passengers 65+ travelling within Belgium is often capped at €6.00 and is valid for same-day return but such a fare may require travel only after 9AM.

By car

Major European highways like the E19, E17, E40, E411 and E313 pass through Belgium.

Carpooling

The cheapest way to get to Belgium (€3/100 km) from anywhere in Europe - if you are a little flexible and lucky - is usually taxistop

By bus

You can get to Belgium from all over Europe on Eurolines coaches. International buses have stopovers in AntwerpBrussels North Station, Leuven & Liege.

Due to the Bosnian war in the 1990s there are bus companies serving the Bosnian diaspora, which provide a cheap and clean way of getting to the other side of the European continent. Semi tours runs three times per week from various destinations in Bosnia and Hercegovina to Belgium and the Netherlands, Off-season approx. (€132) for a return ticket.

By ship

There are overnight ferries to/from Zeebrugge from Hull in England, but they are not cheap. There was formerly a vehicle-only daytime service from Oostende to Ramsgate in England, but it is no longer operating as of 2015.

From France

  • There are domestic Belgian trains that terminate in Lille (station Lille-Flanders).
  • Between the De Panne terminus of the Belgian railways (and the Coast tram – Kusttram) and the French coastal city of Dunkerque, there is a bus line run by DK'BUS Marine: [6]. It may, however, be operating only in certain time of the year. It is also possible to take a DK'BUS bus which goes to the closest possible distance of the border and then cross it on foot by walking on the beach and arriving at a convenient station of the Coast tram, such as Esplanade.

From Germany

  • You can take a bus between the train stations of Eupen (Belgium) and Aachen (Germany) which is quite fast and less expensive than doing the same trip on an international train ticket.

From the Netherlands

  • For a list of border-crossing buses between Belgium and the Netherlands, you may consult the list at [7].
  • Apart from being a peculiar result of ancient European history, the town of Baarle (formally Baarle-Hertog in Belgium and Baarle-Nassau in the Netherlands) is a possible change point, since the town's main bus stop Sint-Janstraat is operated by both Flemish (Belgian) and Dutch buses.
  • The Flemish (Belgian) company De Lijn operates a border-crossing bus between Turnhout in Belgium and Tilburg in the Netherlands, both of which are termini in the respective country's railway network.
  • There's a bus (line 45) operated by the Flemish (Belgian) company De Lijn going between the train stations of Genk (Belgium) and Maastricht (the Netherlands). There is another bus (line 20A) departing from Hasselt, going to Maastricht. A train connection is non-existing in this place, but it is being built at the moment.

Get around

Being such a small country (300 km as its maximum distance), you can get anywhere in a couple of hours. Public transport is fast and comfortable, and not too expensive. Between larger cities, there are frequent train connections, with buses covering smaller distances. A useful site is InfoTEC [8], which has a door-to-door routeplanner for the whole country, covering all forms of public transport (including train, bus, subway and tram).

A look on the map may suggest that Brussels is a good starting point to explore AntwerpGhent, Brugge, Namur and Leuven on day trips. Antwerp is popular among those who want to be in a cosmopolitan place, and Ghent is tops with those who like a good mix of open-minded provincialism. Liège is beautiful, but too close to Germany to be a good base for day trips. Mechelen is considered boring by tourists, but has a very good brand new youth hostel next to a train station with trains to everywhere else every 30 mins.

To do some local sightseeing, especially in Flanders, a lot of infrastructure is available for cycling. Bikes can be rented virtually everywhere. In the country side of Wallonia, mountainbikes are available, and rafting is popular along the border with Luxembourg.

By train

  • Belgianrail.be journey planner. Use this journey planner operated by Belgian Rail to find train itineraries and prices

Most of Belgium is well connected by train, run by NMBS (SNCB in French) [9] with most of the main routes passing through AntwerpNamur or Brussels. This is where you'll arrive on international trains, and both can be reached by train from Brussels airport or by coach from Antwerp or Charleroi airport. Transfers are very easy. Note that all ICE and some Thalys tickets allow free same-day transfers by domestic trains to any other Belgian station. Also, there are Thalys trains from Paris directly to Ghent, Brugge and Oostende with no need to switch trains in Antwerp or Brussels. From London (by Eurostar) you need to switch in Brussels for AntwerpLeuven or Ghent, but for Brugge, you can already switch in Lille (France) with no need to make the detour via Brussels. Both in Lille and Brussels the staff are very helpful and willing to smile.

The trains are punctual and mostly modern and comfortable.

Normal fares on Belgian trains are cheap compared to Germany or the UK, with no need nor a possibility to prebook or reserve. 2nd class fares don't go much higher than €20 for the longest domestic trips, and 1st class costs 50% extra. Trains can get very full during the rush hours, so you might need a 1st class ticket to get a seat at those times. You can buy normal tickets online [10] or in stations, but not usually in travel agencies. If you want to buy a ticket on the train, you have to warn the train conductor and a supplement will be charged, unless ticket offices in the departure station are closed. In the train station, you can pay with cash or credit card. Not buying a ticket can cost you up to €200. Return tickets are 50% cheaper at the weekend.

Normal tickets are sold for a designated day, so there is no extra validation when you step on a train.

The cheapest option if you're planning several train trips is a Go Pass [11], which gives you 10 single 2nd class trips (including train changes if necessary) for €50. It's valid for a year and can be shared with or given to other people without any restrictions. The only problem is you have to be younger than 26, but there's a more expensive version for older people called a Rail Pass. This costs €76 for 2nd class or €117 for 1st. When using these passes make sure you have filled in the line before you get on the train (strictly speaking: before you enter the platform). The train conductor can be very picky when the pass is not correctly filled in. However, if you address train station staff before boarding, they will be glad to help you.

If you're visiting a certain event or concert, be sure to check if your train travel isn't already included in the ticket. Some mayor festivals and concert like Rock Werchter, Pukkelpop or I Love Techno include train travel in the ticket price. For visiting special places like theme parks or museums, inform for the option 'B-Excursions'. That way you buy your entrance ticket and train ticket in one at the train station. This always is low-priced, normally resulting in normal entrance ticket price + only €4-5 for travel. The desk man will surely point you out the details.

The NMBS website has a searchable timetable [12] with delay information, and a fare calculator [13] . You can also find a map of Belgian railways and stations [14] and another one, more detailed, but not printable [15] .

Please note that train schedules usually change around December 10. Those changes are usually limited to introducing a few new train stations and adding a few regular lines. No lines have been discontinued in a very long time.

By bus and tram

Buses cover the whole country, along with trams and metro in the big cities. Most routes cover short distances, but it is possible to go from city to city by bus. However, this is much slower and only slightly cheaper than taking a train. There is also the Kusttram [16], running along almost the whole Flemish seaside from France to the Netherlands—definitely worth a trip in the summer.

Within cities, a normal ticket for one zone never costs more than €2.00, and there are various travelcards available. Note that local transport is provided by different companies: STIB/MIVB in Brussels [17], De Lijn in Flanders and TEC in Wallonia, and, outside Brussels, they don't accept each other's tickets. Tickets are cheaper when bought at ticket machines.

Most tourists will not need the bus companies, as it is much more user-friendly to take trains between cities and go on foot inside them. Only Brussels and Antwerp have a subway, but, even there, you can make your way around on foot. The historic center of Brussels is only about 300 by 400 m long. Antwerp is much bigger, but a ride on a horse-pulled coach gives a better view than the subway.

By car

Belgium has a dense network of modern toll-free motorways, but some secondary roads in Wallonia are poorly maintained. Signs are always in the local language only, except in Brussels, where they're bilingual. As many cities in Belgium have quite different names in Dutch and French, this can cause confusion. For example, Mons in French is Bergen in Dutch; Antwerp is called Antwerpen in Dutch and Anvers in French; Liège in French is Luik in Dutch and Lüttich in German, and so on. This even applies to cities outside Belgium; driving along a Flemish motorway, you may see signs for Rijsel, which is the French city of Lille or Aken, which is the German city of Aachen. Exits will be marked with the word 'Uit' (out) in Flemish areas, 'Sortie' in Walloon areas and 'Ausfahrt' in German-speaking ones.

Drivers in Belgium should also be aware of the "priority from the right" rule. At road crossings, traffic coming from the right has the right of way unless otherwise indicated by signs or pavement markings. You're most likely to encounter such crossings in urban and suburban areas. Observant visitors will notice a lot of cars with dents along their right sides! Drive defensively and your car will avoid the same fate.

In Belgium the motorway signs are notoriously inconvenient, especially on secondary roads. There is no uniformity in layout and colour, many are in bad state, placed in an awkward position or simply missing. A good roadmap (Michelin, De Rouck, Falk) or a GPS system is recommended. Belgium is one of the few countries to solely use the European E numbers on major routes.

As well as fixed speed cameras on motorway and secondary roads the are also average speed cameras that run for a good number of miles on motorways around major cities.

Car hire

Some hire cars come equipped with sat nav but it's a good idea to request this when you book your car. It's probably the most reliable way to get from A to B in Belgium. This way you will get to see some of the sites of Belgium, as flat as it may be, but architecture in the towns is something to be admired. You will be pleasantly surprised at just how clean the towns and villages of Belgium are. Drive through on any afternoon and you will see people caring for the street in front of their homes - a real, backdated village community feel.

Speed traps are positioned along roads frequently and drunk driving of only small amounts comes with serious penalties, such as €125 on the spot fine for 0.05 per cent and 0.08 per cent. Over that amount of alcohol in your system and you face anything up to 6 months imprisonment and loss of driving licence for 5 years.

By thumb

The best place for hitchhikers. Just ask for a lift! Having cardboard signs with towns' names on it can really help to get a quick lift.

  • Leaving Brussels: Heading south (e.g. Namur) get to the underground station named 'Delta'.

Next to it you have a huge 'park and ride' and a bus stop. Hitchhiking near the bus stop should get you a ride in less than 5 minutes during traffic hours.

  • Heading to Ghent/Bruges: Good spot near the Shopping Mall called 'Basilix' in Berchem-ste-Agathe. You can reach this place with the bus N°87.

An alternative spot to go to the north is in Anderlecht, near the Hospital Erasme/Erasmus (Metro station Erasme/Erasmus.)

  • Heading to Liège/Hasselt: Take the pre-metro to the station 'Diamant' in Schaarbeek. When leaving the station you should see a lot of outgoing cars just below you. Just walk and follow the roadsigns mentioning 'E40'. You should arrive in a small street giving access to a road joigning the E40 (the cars are leaving a tunnel at this point). Just hitchhike on the emergency lane at this point, in the portion near the tunnel. Cars should still be riding slowly at this point and see you are visible to them, so it's not that dangerous.
  • Leaving Louvain-la-Neuve (University) to Brussels (north) or to Namur (south), stand at the roundabout next to exit/entrance "8a" near to "Louvain la Neuve-centre" road signs. Quick lift guaranteed. Avoid exit 7 or 9, since they have far less traffic.

See

Mostly known for its key role in European Union administration, the small nation of Belgium might leave you surprised by its rich and gorgeous heritage. It boasts a number of fascinatingly historic cities packed with medieval and Art Nouveau architecture and famous for their long traditions in arts, fashion and fine dining. If you've seen the best of them, the Belgian countryside offers anything from sandy beaches to the densely forested hills and ridges of the Ardennes.

Brussels, the country's vibrant capital, is a modern world city with a highly international character. It combines massive post-modern buildings in its European Quarter with impressive historic monuments, such as the World Heritage listed Grand Place, surrounded by guildhouses and the Gothic town hall. There's Laken Castle and the large St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral, dedicated to the cities patron saints. The Royal Palace is a more recent but no less grand structure. One of the city's most famous landmarks is the Atomium, a remarkable steel structure and remnant of the 1958 World's Fair. And yet, with all those magnificent sights at hand, many travellers' favourite is a tiny bronze fountain in the shape of a peeing boy: the curious Manneken Pis. The Walloon Brabant province, a few kilometers south of Brussels, is certainly worth a visit. There you can visit the Lion's Mound in Waterloo or the beautiful Villers Abbey in Villers-la-Ville.

Perhaps the most popular of the Belgian cities is Bruges. Much of the excellent architecture that arose during the towns Golden Age, roughly the 14th century, remains intact and the old centre is a valued UNESCO World Heritage Site. Among its most prominent landmarks is the 13th century belfry, where the carillonneur still rings the bells on a daily basis. With countless other noteworthy monuments, Bruges is a highly popular destination and get a bit overcrowded during holidays. And then there's Ghent, which in ages past was one of the wealthiest cities in northern Europe. Although larger and much busier than Bruges, its excellent medieval architecture can definitely compete. Its beguinages, belfry and former cloth hall are World Heritage Sites. Or visit Antwerp, the country's current place to be as it is a hotspot of the Belgian fashion, clubbing, arts and diamonds scenes. Nevertheless, the city's timeless old centre is right up there with the others, boasting the countries most stunning cathedrals. Other pleasant cities with good sights include Leuven, with the oldest Catholic University still in use and Liège.

In Wallonia, don’t miss the city of Mons which is the Cultural Capital of Wallonia since 2002. In 2015 the city will have the singular honour of being the Cultural Capital of Europe. Mons is the largest and most important city in the Province of Hainaut, of which it is the administrative and judicial centre. Its primary aim more recently, however, has been to safeguard its heritage to better share it with the growing numbers of tourists to the area. Three major masterpieces, the Belfry, the Neolithic flint mines at Spiennes and the Doudou, all of which have been added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List, can be found in and around Mons.

For hiking, biking and camping, head to the rugged hills of the Ardennes with their tight forests, caves and cliffs. They are home to wild boar, deer and lynx and hide a number of friendly villages, lots of castles and a few other notable sights. The impressive caves of Han-sur-Lesse, the castle of Bouillon and the modern Labyrinth of Barvaux are some of the best picks. The city of Namur makes a great base from where to explore the Ardennes and has some fine sights itself too. The city is beautifully located along the rivers Meuse and Sambre and from the ancient citadel you'll have a great view over town.

The Belgians brought forward a good number of world famous masters of art, and their love for arts is still today reflected in the range of fine arts museums. The Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts in Brussels and the Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten in Antwerp are just a few excellent examples. However, the Belgians love museums, with over 80 of them in the capital alone. Besides arts, they display anything from history and folkore to industry and technology. As some of the worst fighting of both World Wars took place on Belgian territory, there's also a large number of memorials and museums dedicated to those dark times, along some humbling military cemeteries.

Do

  • Mons International Love Film Festival : yearly festival of cinema (February)
  • Ritual Ducasse of Mons : Doudou is the popular name for a week of collective jubilation that takes place in Mons on the weekend of the Trinity each year. There are four key moments: The Descent of the Shrine, The Procession, The Ascent of the Car d’Or and The Battle called Lumeçon (Trinity Sunday).
  • Ethias Tennis Trophy : one of the best challenger of the world! (October / Mons)
  • Ommegang : a parade in Brussels that celebrates the beginning of the reign of Charles V of Habsburg. It takes place on the stunning cityscape of the Grand Place and involves thousands of stunts in period costume.
  • Zinnekeparade : the yearly celebration of the Brusseler's spirit - the theme changes each year and involves costumes & chariots made by volunteers and locals.
  • DOCVILLE - International Documentary Film Festival, Naamsestraat 96, 3000 Leuven, ? +32-16-320300. International Documentary Film Festival in the beginning of May, with national and international competition in the city of Leuven. Selected films have a focus on cinematography. €4.50-6.
  • Graspop Metal Meeting. Yearly heavy metal festival held in the town of Dessel, in June.
  • Carnaval de Binche. Three days in February the town of Binche is transported back to the 16th century for one of the most fantastic festivals of the year. Highlighted by music parades and fireworks, the climax of this event is when the Gilles appear on the Grand Place and throw oranges to the spectators. This infamous festivity has been classified as part of the world's cultural heritage by UNESCO along with its renowned Gilles.
  • Rock Werchter. End of June, beginning of July, Werchter.
  • Dour festival. "European Alternative Music Event" - 12–15 July 2007 - Dour.
  • Pukkelpop. Mid- August
  • Atomium built for the 1958 Brussels World Fair (Expo ’58), it is a 102 metre tall representation of an atomic unit cell. More precisely, it is symbolic of a unit cell of an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times. Nine steel spheres 16m in diameter connect via tubes with escalators 32m long.
  • Gentse Feesten. 2nd half of July. Huge, ten day long street festival in the historical centre of the city of Ghent. The biggest street festival in Europe, with theater, music in all genres, techno parties, and so on - Gentse Feesten
  • Activiteiten Gent & Antwerpen, Rerum Novarumlaan 132 (Merksem), ? +32 475 696 880. Great boattours around Ghent and Antwerp.
  • 24 hours cycling, Louvain-La-Neuve Louvain-La-Neuve is in the Wallonia not far from Brussel, it's a small pedestrian city created in the 60's for the French-speakers students. Every year, in October, they organized a bicycle competition. Actually, the course is a pretext to enjoy the event... And to drink beers. This party is one of the most important consumption of beers of the whole Europe.
  • Belgian Beer Tour Belgian Beer Tour is a tour operator specializing in tours of Belgium breweries. It offers a great way for beer lovers to visit their favourite breweries and discover new ones. The tours cover a wide range of beers and appeals to connoisseurs and amateurs alike.
  • International Short Film Festival Leuven, Naamsestraat 96, 3000 Leuven, ? +32-16-320300. International Short Film Festival with many foreign guests and directors. Focus on the best Flemish and European short films. €4.50-6.
  • TomorrowLand, De Schorre, Boom.
  • Flowercorso Loenhout, Loenhout Centre. one of the largest flower corsos of Belgium. With the title of Royal Corso their theme cars and floats are totally covered with over flowers and go up to 80 feet length. Every year, start of September €2-8.

Talk

See also: Dutch phrasebook, French phrasebook

Belgium has three official languages at the federal level: Dutch, French and German. However, English is widely spoken by the younger generations in the Dutch-speaking areas. In contrast, due to a lack of exposure, English is not as widely spoken in the French-speaking areas, though it is still possible to find English speakers if you try hard enough. You will find that some older people do speak English, especially in Flanders, but it is less likely.

Although Belgium has three official languages, that does not mean that all of them are official everywhere. The only official language of Flanders is Dutch; Brussels has both Dutch and French as its official languages, though French is the lingua franca; and the only official language of Wallonia is French, except for the nine municipalities (including the town of Eupen and its surroundings) of the German-speaking community.

A very small number of inhabitants of Wallonia, particularly the older generations, still speak the Walloon language. This language, while not official, is recognized by the French Community of Belgium as an "indigenous regional language", together with a number of other Romance (Champenois, Lorrain and Picard) and Germanic (Luxembourgian) language varieties.

Buy

Money

Belgium uses the euro. It is one of several European countries that uses this common currency. All euro banknotes and coins are legal tender within all the countries.

One euro is divided into 100 cents.

The official symbol for the euro is €, and its ISO code is EUR. There is no official symbol for the cent.

  • Banknotes: Euro banknotes have the same design in all the countries.
  • Normal coins: All eurozone countries have coins issued with a distinctive national design on one side, and a standard common design on the other side. Coins can be used in any eurozone country, regardless of the design used (e.g. a one-euro coin from Finland can be used in Portugal).
  • Commemorative two euro coins: These differ from normal two euro coins only in their "national" side and circulate freely as legal tender. Each country may produce a certain amount of them as part of their normal coin production and sometimes "Europe-wide" two euro coins are produced to commemorate special events (e.g. the anniversary of important treaties).
  • Other commemorative coins: Commemorative coins of other amounts (e.g. ten euros or more) are much rarer, and have entirely special designs and often contain non-negligible amounts of gold, silver or platinum. While they are technically legal tender at face value, their material or collector value is usually much higher and, as such, you will most likely not find them in actual circulation.

Tipping

Tipping in Belgium is not obligatory as service charge is always included. However, people often give tips as a sign of appreciation. Usually, this is done by paying in bank notes with a total value slightly higher than the price of the meal and telling the waiter/waitress that they can keep the change.

Items

  • Belgian chocolate: A long tradition has given Belgian chocolate a superior refinement process that is recognized worldwide.
  • Laces in Bruges
  • Designer fashions in Antwerp
  • Jewelry in one of Antwerps many jewelry shops
  • Beer
  • Belgian comic books and related merchandising, especially in Brussels

Eat

Belgians like to eat. Belgium is famous for its good cuisine and people like to go to restaurants frequently. Best description for Belgian food would be "French food in German quantities".

General rules

  • As anywhere else in the world, avoid the tourist traps, where the touts are trying to get you in the restaurants. You will get average to bad quality food for average to high prices, and, at busy times, they will try to get rid of you as soon as possible to make space for the next customer. A good example of this is the famous "Rue des Bouchers/Beenhouwersstraat" in Brussels in this picture.
  • Belgium is a country that understands what eating is all about and can be a real gastronomic paradise. You can have a decent meal in about every tavern, from small snacks to a complete dinner. Just pop into one of those and enjoy it.
  • If you want to eat really well for not too much money, ask the local people or the hotel manager (that is, supposing he does not have a brother restaurant-manager) to give some advice for a good restaurant. Not a bad idea is to find a restaurant or tavern a little bit outside of the cities (if advised by some locals) they are usually not too expensive but deliver decent -> high quality food. And ordering the specialties during the season will be both beneficial for your wallet and the quality of the food.
  • Quality has its price: since the introduction of the euro, price for eating out in Belgium nearly doubled. Expensive food like lobster or turbot will always cost a lot of money at any restaurant. But you can also find some local and simple dishes, rather cheap and still very tasty (such as sausages, potatoes and spinach). Normally a dinner (3 dishes) will be around €30-50 depending your choices of food and restaurant. And for cheep, greasy food, just find a local 'frituur', it will be the best Belgian Fries you'll have had in ages

Specialities

A number of dishes are considered distinctly Belgian specialities and should be on every visitor's agenda.

Mussels are a firm favorite and a side-dish of Moules et frites/Mosselen met friet (Mussels with French fries). The traditional way is to cook them in a pot with white wine and/or onions and celery, then eat them up using only a mussel shell to scoop them out. The top season is September to April, and as with all other shellfish, do not eat the closed ones. Belgium's mussels always come from the nearby Netherlands. Imports from other countries are looked down on.

Balletjes/Boulettes are meatballs with fries. They will either be served with a tomato sauce or with the sauce from Liège, which is based on a local syrup. For this reason they will often be introduced as Boulets Liégeois.

Frikadellen met krieken are also meatballs, served with cherries in a sauce of cherryjuice. This is eaten with bread.

Stoemp is mashed potatoes and carrots with bacon and sausages. It is a typical meal from Brussels.

Stoofvlees (or Carbonade flamande) is a traditional beef stew and is usually served with (you have guessed it already) fries.

Witloof met kaassaus/Chicons au gratin is a traditional gratin of chicory with ham and a cheesy bechamel sauce, usually served with mashed potatoes or croquettes.

Konijn met pruimen: rabbit cooked in beer and dried plums.

Despite the name, French fries (frieten in Dutch, frites in French) are proudly claimed as a Belgian invention. Whether or not this is true, they certainly have perfected it — although not everybody agrees with their choice of mayonnaise over ketchup as the preferred condiment (ketchup is considered to be "for kids").

Every village has at least one frituur/friterie, an establishment selling cheap take-away fries, with a huge choice of sauces and fried meat to go with them. The traditional thing to try is friet met stoofvlees, but remember the mayonnaise on it .

Waffles (wafels in Dutch, gaufres in French) come in two types:

  • Gaufres de Bruxelles/Brusselse wafels : a light and airy variety.
  • a heavier variety with a gooey center known as Gaufres de Liège/Luikse wafels.

The latter are often eaten as a street/ take-away snack while shopping and therefore can be found at stands on the streets of the cities.

Last but not least, Belgian chocolate is famed around the world. Famous chocolatiers include Godiva, Leonidas, Guylian, Galler, Marcolini and Neuhaus, but the best stuff can be found at tiny boutiques, too small to build worldwide brands. In nearly all supermarkets, you can buy the brand Côte d'Or, generally considered the best 'everyday' chocolate (for breakfast or break) among Belgians.

International

As a small country in the centre of western Europe, the cuisine is influenced not only by the surrounding countries but also by many other countries. This is also emphasized by many foreigners coming to this country to make a living here, for instance by starting a restaurant. You can find all types of restaurants:

  • French/Belgian: A traditional Belgian restaurant serves the kind of food you will also find in the best French restaurants. Of course there are local differences: at the coast (in France as well as in Belgium) you have a better chance to find some good seafood, like mussels, turbot, sole or the famous North Sea shrimp. In the southern woods of the Ardennes (remember the battle of the Bulge?), you are better off choosing game or local fish like trout.
  • English/Irish: There are Irish bars and pubs everywhere and Belgium is no exception, try the Schuman area of Brussels for more Irish pubs than you can shake a stick at. There is also an English pub just off of Place de la Monnaie in central Brussels.
  • American: There are McDonald's or lookalikes in most every town. The Belgian variant is called "Quick". You may also find a local booth serving sausages, hot dogs or hamburgers. Try it: the meat tastes the same, but the bread is much better. Ketchup in this region is bland and made with less sugar (even the Heintz brand). Pizza Hut, Domino's, and Subway also have establishments. There are no real American restaurants, although there is an American bar on the Toison d'Or in Brussels that serves food.
  • Mexican: Only in the cities and rather costly for only medium quality. ChiChi's (near Bourse) serves Mexican American food but would not be considered a good value by American standards. ChiChi's uses reconstituted meats.
  • Chinese: They have a long tradition of restaurants in Belgium. Rather cheap, but an acceptable quality.
  • German/Austrian: Maxburg in the Schuman area (next to Spicy Grill) makes a good schnitzel.
  • Greek/Spanish/Italian: Like all over the world, nice, rather cheap, with a good atmosphere and typical music (Greek: Choose meat, especially lamb) (Spanish: Choose paella and tapas) (Italian: Choose anything).
  • Japanese/Thai: You usually find them only in the cities and they are rather expensive, but they give you great quality. The prices and the quality are both satisfying in a concentrated cluster of Thai restaurants near Bourse station. Avoid Phat Thai though if you don't want disruptions - as they let pan handlers and flower pushers enter and carry out their "work".
  • Arabic/Moroccan: Rather cheap, with a great variety of local dishes, especially with lamb; no fish or pork or beef.
  • Turkish: Rather cheap, with a great variety of local dishes, especially with chicken and lamb and also vegetarian dishes, dishes with fish are rare; no pork or beef.
  • Belgium offers a wide selection of other international restaurants.

Drink

For party-minded people, Belgium can be great. Most cities are close to each other and are either large urban areas (Brussels, Antwerp) or student areas (Leuven, Liège, Ghent), etc. In this little region, you will find the most clubs, cafés, restaurants per square mile in the world. A good starting point can be places with a strong student/youth culture : Leuven around its big university, Liège in the famous "carré" district, etc. You can expect a wide variety in music appreciation, going from jazz to the better electronic music. Just ask around for the better clubs and there you will most likely meet some music fanatics who can show you the better underground parties in this tiny country.

The government has a mostly liberal attitude towards bars, clubs and parties. They acknowledge the principle of "live and let live". As long as you don't cause public disturbance, vandalize property and get too drunk, the police will not intervene; this is also one of the main principles of Belgian social life, as drunk and disorderly behaviour is generally considered offensive. Of course, in student communities this is more tolerated, but generally, you are most respected if you party as hard as you like- but with a sense of discretion and self-control.

Officially, drugs are not allowed. But as long as you respect the aforementioned principles, you are not likely to get into serious trouble. Beware though, that driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs is not tolerated and traffic laws are strictly enforced in this matter. Especially in the weekends on main roads, you have a good chance of being stopped for an alcohol control.

Water

Tap water is drinkable everywhere in Belgium, but most restaurants do not serve it. Hot spring or some other mineral water is typically served and costs about €2 per bottle. Spa is like bru and chaudfontaine a very famous water brand.

Beer

Belgium is to beer what France is to wine; it is home to one of the greatest beer traditions in the world. Like other European countries in medieval times, beers were brewed in a huge variety of ways with many different ingredients. In addition to the standard ingredients of water, malted barley, hops and yeast, many herbs and spices were also used. This activity was often done in monasteries, each developing a particular style. For some reason, uniquely in Belgium many of these monasteries survived almost into modern times, and the process was handed over to a local commercial brewer if the monastery closed. These brewers would often augment the recipe and process slightly to soften the taste to make it more marketable, but the variety survived in this way. These beers are called Abbey beers and there are hundreds and hundreds with a range of complex tastes unimaginable until you've tried them.

The Trappist label is controlled by international law, similar to that of Champagne in France. There are only six Trappist Abbeys in Belgium that produce beer qualified to be called Trappist. In order to carry the Trappist label, there are several rules that must be adhered to during the brewing process. The beer must be fermented within the walls of the abbey, the monks of the abbey must be involved in the beer-making process, and profit from the sale of the beer must be directed towards supporting the monastery (similar to a non-profit organization).

Belgium offers an incredible diversity of beers. Wheat / white beers (with their mixture of barley and wheat) as well as Lambic beers (sour-tasting wheat beers brewed by spontaneous fermentation) originated in Belgium. For the non-beer lovers, lambic beers are still interesting to try, as they are often brewed in fruity flavors and don't have a usual beer taste. Several well known mass-produced Belgian beers are Stella Artois, Duvel, Leffe, Jupiler, Hoegaarden. The names given to some beers are pretty imaginative: e.g. Verboden Vrucht (Forbidden Fruit), Mort Subite (Sudden Death), De Kopstoot (Head Butt), Judas and Delirium Tremens.

Warmly recommended are also Kriek (sweet and sour cherry beer) and, for the Christmas season, Stille Nacht (Silent night).

Plain blond draughts (4%-5,5%): Stella Artois, Jupiler, Maes, Cristal, Primus, Martens, Bavik.

Trappist ales (5%-10%): Achel, Chimay, Orval, Rochefort, Westvleteren, Westmalle.

Geuze: Belle-Vue, the lambic Mort Subite (Sudden Death), Lindemans in Sint-Pieters-Leeuw, Timmermans, Boon, Cantillon, 3 Fonteinen, Oud Beersel, Giradin, Hanssens, De Troch.

White beers: Hoegaarden, Dentergemse, Brugse Witte.

Jenever

The city of Hasselt is well known in Belgium for it's local alcoholic beverage, called jenever. It is a rather strong liquor, but it comes in all kinds of tastes beyond your imagination, including, but not limited to, vanilla, apple, cactus, kiwi, chocolate and much more. Hasselt lies in the east of Belgium, and is about one hour away by train from Brussels and 50 minutes from Antwerp. Trains go two times an hour from Antwerp.

Pubs

Pubs, or cafés, are wide spread. They all have a large variety of alcoholic and non-alcoholic, hot and cold beverages. Some serve food, others don't. Some might be specialised in beer, or wine, or cocktails, or something else. Smoking in pubs is forbidden by law.

Sleep

Budget

  • Couchsurfing. has a lot of members in Belgium
  • Vrienden op de fiets. If you are travelling in Flanders by bicycle or by foot, there is a list of 260 addresses where you can stay at private homes with bed and breakfast for no more than €18,50 per person per night, although you must also pay €9 for membership of this scheme.

Hotels

Belgium has many fine hotels. Capital Brussels has countless rather expensive business hotels catering to the European Union's bureaucrats, and while you can usually get a good room for under €100, prices can spike if there's a big EU shindig in town.

Learn

The different stages of education are the same in all communities:

  • Basic education (Dutch: basisonderwijs; French: enseignement fondamental), consisting of
    • Pre-school (kleuteronderwijs; einseignement maternel): -6 years
    • Primary school (lager onderwijs; enseignement primaire): 6–12 years
  • Secondary school (secundair onderwijs; enseignement secondaire): 12–18 years
  • Higher education (hoger onderwijs; enseignement supérieure)
    • University (universiteit; université)
    • Polytechnic (hogeschool; haute école)

Education is organized by the regions (Dutch-speaking Flanders on the one hand, French and German speaking Wallonia on the other) and the small federal district of Brussels has schools run by both the Flemish and Walloon authorities. Both states recognize independent school networks, which cater to far more students than the state schools themselves. Most Flemish students go to a Flemish Catholic school. However, every independent school needs to follow the official state curriculum, and Catholicism in Flanders has long been extremely liberal anyway.

Work

Having one of the highest labour taxes in Europe, Belgium is struggling to reposition itself as a high-tech country. In that struggle, Flanders is far ahead and much wealthier than Wallonia, in contrast to the previous decades, where Wallonia's steel industry was the main export of Belgium. Highly skilled people will have the most chance to find work, and knowing multiple languages (Dutch, French, English and perhaps German) is almost a standard requirement. Interim offices providing temporary jobs are flourishing in a search to avoid the high labour taxes.

Belgium has one of the highest tax rates in the world. An employer who pays a salary about €1500 a month actually pays another €1500 or more in taxes. Where does this money go to? It goes to social security. People only pay a small charge for healthcare, for example. And the budget for education, arts and culture is enormous. The budget for defense is however very tiny.

Although Belgium is undesirable for building wealth, it's a good place for someone who already is wealthy to reside because there is very little capital gains tax (some forms of capital gain is not taxed at all).

Stay safe

Except for certain neighbourhoods in central Brussels and the outer edge of Antwerp (the port and docks), Belgium is a safe country. Belgians are somewhat shy and introverted, but generally helpful towards strangers.

For those landing in Charleroi and Liège, those are the regions that boast the highest crime rates in southern Belgium. But if you keep an eye on your belongings, and avoid wandering alone at night, nothing really serious is likely to happen to you.

Muslims and people of North African ancestry may experience mild resentment, a problem that is particularly acute in Brussels and Antwerp. The Burqa is illegal in public.

Marijuana laws are quite lenient, with small amounts only punishable by fines.

The emergency phone number in Belgium (fire, police, paramedics) is 112.

Stay healthy

In the winter, like most other European countries, only influenza will cause you a considerable inconvenience. No inoculations are needed to enter or leave Belgium.

Connect

Belgium has a modern telephone system with nationwide cellular telephone coverage, and multiple internet access points in all cities, free in most libraries. Also in multiple gas stations, NMBS/SNCB train stations and diners on the highways there is Wi-Fi available.

  • Many cafés offer free Wi-Fi nowadays, but don't write it on the door for whatever reason...
  • if you can't find any you can always fall back on Quick, McDonalds, Lunch Garden, Carrefour Planet or Starbucks which all offer free Wi-Fi.

Mobile

Belgium uses the GSM standard of cellular phones (900 MHz and 1800 MHz bands) used in much of the world except parts of the Americas. There are three main companies (Proximus, Orange and Base, and a large number of MVNOs) offering wireless service. The country is almost totally covered.

If you stay for some time, it may be advisable to buy a pre-paid cell phone card that you can use in any phone that supports the GSM standard on the 900/1800 MHz bands. With these cards, incoming calls and SMSes are generally free. You can get SIM cards for the three main companies in dedicated phone shops. SIM cards from the MVNOs are readily available at supermarkets (Carrefour, Aldi, and Colruyt, to name a few, all have their own brand).

All networks provide UMTS and HSDPA (3G) mobile internet coverage, and are presently rolling out a 4G network, mainly in the big cities.

Respect

  • Belgians don't like to talk about their income or politics. You might also be better to avoid asking people about their views on religion.
  • The Flanders-Wallonia question is a controversial topic and might be best avoided too.
  • Do NOT try to speak French in Flanders, and Dutch in Wallonia! Speaking the "wrong" language can be considered very offensive in the two regions, and you will either be ignored or at worst get an icy response and substandard service. However, the closer you get to the language border this will happen less frequently. Across the country, the lingua franca between both Flemings and Walloons has become English especially among the younger generations, to avoid being spoken to in the "other language". That is why as a tourist, it is best to start a conversation in English or the "correct" language, i.e. Dutch in Flanders and French in Wallonia.
  • Do NOT tell the Walloons (and most of the people of Brussels) that they are French. Most Walloons, despite speaking French, are not and do not consider themselves French and dislike being associated with their neighbour France.
  • And, for similar reasons, do NOT tell the Flemish (and also the people of Brussels) that they are Dutch. Most Flemings, despite speaking Dutch (Flemish), are not and do not consider themselves Dutch and dislike being associated with their neighbour, the Netherlands.
  • Finally, the same applies to the 75,000 German-speaking Belgians, who have a heavy historical background with their neighbour Germany.
  • Belgians in general are very proud of their comic book artists. The "Belgian school of comic books" is hailed as a national point of pride. In Belgium, comic books are valuable books printed with a hard cover. There are dozens of beautiful yet expensive merchandizing items, and the Belgians are fond of them. A plastic figurine of a comic book character or a special artwork of a hailed comic book artist would be a perfect gift for your Belgian friends and in-laws, for example.
  • Giving a tip shows that you were satisfied with the service given, but you are certainly not obliged to do so. It is sometimes done in bars and restaurants. Depending on the total, a tip of €0.50 to €2.50 is considered generous.

Hear about travel to Flanders in Belgium from the Amateur Traveler. I recently traveled to 5 cities in Belgium: AntwerpGhent, Ieper, Bruges and Brussels. Each of these historic cities is wonderfully picturesque, even on a grey November day.

Last week, I waxed poetic about all the things I’m going to miss so dearly when I leave Thailand. It might be a temporary goodbye, but believe me guys, there will be tears. Lots of tears.

Still, in the last few weeks I have started to feel those familiar feelings of longing for home. Not quite homesickness, more just an excitement for my annual summer spent stateside.

Travel has exposed to me to so many cultures, values, and ideas that are vastly different from the ones I was raised with. Some, I’ve absorbed deeply and adopted into my own life. Some, man – they’ve made me appreciative of the place that made me. Generally though, the things I miss from home make up a pretty trivial list. (The one I wrote last week was shorter, but much deeper.) I’m crazy grateful for my international life, but these are the things that I can’t wait to get back to.

Passport

1. Diet Coke. From a Fountain.

Guys, I love Diet Coke. I adore it. I drink Diet Coke for breakfast. I drink it before bed. I’ve been known to write letters to the management of establishments that serve Pepsi products and if I had another pet, I would probably strongly consider naming it DC. When I used to doodle floorplans for my dream house, they always featured a sensible floorplan, plenty of windows, and a built-in Diet Coke fountain in the kitchen. (While I can accept that some may prefer drinking Diet Coke out of a can over a fountain, I am immediately suspicious of the judgment of any person who prefers drinking out of a bottle. I mean really.)

But anyway. What’s the problem, you ask? Coca Cola is one of the most widely distributed products in the world, so finding its zero calorie cousin must be no big deal, right? Wrong. Listen up, Taylor Swift and other Diet Coke lovers – your beverage of choice is rarely available outside US borders. This “Coke Light” or god forbid, “Coke Zero,” situation that caffeine addicts are often subjected on international adventures simply does not cut it, though levels of drinkability does vary by region. What gives? While Diet Coke follows a strict formula everywhere it is made and marketed, according to Coca Cola’s FAQ page, “the sweetener blend used for Coke/Coca-Cola light is formulated for each country based on consumer preference.”

You’ve been warned.

Dad's Cake Diet Coke Cake

Diet Coke Cake

Diet Coke

2. Paying with plastic

I love having every transaction automatically logged and recorded for me, I love racking up points, and I love carrying one piece of plastic rather than a wad of paper and coins. Alas, most of the world is still cash-only, including Koh Tao, where there’s not a single establishment that takes credit cards without a 3-4% fee (and that’s for the very very few hotels and dive shops that take them at all.)

Cayman Islands Currency

3. Soft Bedding

Do you ever think, well, my bed is nice, but wouldn’t it be better to just throw a sheet over the tile floor and pop a pillowcase over a nearby rock? If so, you’re in luck – my travels have taught me that much of the world agrees with you. While I managed to wrangle a decent pillow in my current apartment, my mattress could withstand the attack of a runaway jackhammer.

I know some of you might be thinking, oh, but I prefer a firm mattress! Well that is nice for you, but the situation I am dealing with over here goes far beyond anything on the Tempur-Pedic scale. Literally the most exciting aspect of every weekend getaway I’ve had for the last six months has been the possibility that there might be a Western-style mattress waiting for me at the hotel.

Is it so much to ask to feel like I’m falling asleep in a cloud?

Yellow Gray Bedroom Makeovermy childhood bedroom

4. Throwing toilet paper into the toilet

And letting it flush away never to be seen (nor smelled) ever again. This, I believe, is what Oprah was referring to when she talked about “living your best life.”

Rhum Shack, Hopkins Bay, Belize

5. Roaming the Aisles of Joanne Fabric

I have plenty of hobbies that travel well, including yoga, hiking, reading, and scuba diving. Unfortunately, my sticker-making machine never quite seems to fit into my backpack. But when I’m home, you can often find me in a crafting frenzy, spray painting dozens of tiny plastic sharks in the garage when I should be packing for flight, for a vague and non-specific example. Painting, crafting, baking, more crafting… what I wouldn’t do for a few hours at AC Moore.

Shark Jaws Party Favorsout-of-control crafting

6. Twenty Four Hour Everything

Non US Citizens, did you know in the states you can access 24-hour ATMS, gas stations, Chinese food delivery and even liquor stores? US Citizens, did you know that in other places you can’t?

The first nineteen years of my life were spent in ignorant bliss of the rest of the world’s casual attitudes towards opening hours. I have to admit that here in Southeast Asia things are pretty nocturnal and I’m rarely frustrated by a “we’re closed” sign. Europe is a different story.

Like in Iceland, when we desperately needed ibuprofen and found out that it is only sold in pharmacies, and pharmacies are closed on Sundays, and I was like HELLO HAS NO ONE IN THIS COUNTRY HAD A HANGOVER AFTER A SATURDAY NIGHT GONE RIGHT? Or in Belgium, where I spent a week trying to track down my never-recovered-from-customs shipment of festival supplies and was like, um, I appreciate the beauty of the work life balance you all have clearly achieved by being open for like 4.25 hours per week, but what does a girl have to do to speak to an on-duty postal employee around here. Or in Malta when I tried to fill up a gas tank and return a rental car on a Sunday and was met with raucous laughter at the idea that I would try to achieve such ambitious tasks on what civilized people consider a day of rest.

These stories did not end well for me.

Opening HoursYour opening hours are what?!

7. Spa Pedicure Chairs

I know what you’re thinking. How do I find the strength to get through the day? But I’ve been shocked to learn that in many spas throughout the world, when you get a pedicure, they literally just paint your nails without the slightest bit of attention to the rest of the foot. Not a light buff, not a hint of a scrub, not so much as a dip in one of those space-station whirly tub thrones that $20 mani-pedi salons in Brooklyn are lined wall-to-wall with.

Chaweng Spasthe closest I’ve found in Thailand

8. Insert Food Craving Here

I certainly can’t complain about what’s on my plate here in Thailand. But it’s inevitable that no matter where I am in the world and no matter how much I love the local cuisine, I find myself occasionally craving food only available somewhere else. In this case, home.

When I had some friends from Koh Tao visit my hometown of Albany a while back, I brought them to the grocery store as an important part of my itinerary. Being picky about what I get to eat is a luxury of my life in the states. Want to know exactly what farm your free-range CSA eggs came from? Want to be choosy about what brand of organic Greek yogurt you consume? Want to special order a case of your favorite Bully Hill wine, or select a special bottle of cake-flavored vodka to go with your real Diet Coke? Want to linger at the gourmet cheese counter? Buy a dozen non-GMO avocados? Perhaps even drive through Chipotle on the way home? No problem.

On the road, I’m lucky if I’m able to read nutrition labels in my native language, let alone choose between two types of peanut butter or figure out where my meat came from. Believe me, when I leave Thailand I’ll be missing the food here too. But right now, I’m looking forward to a summer of stateside eats. Maybe even eat some guacamole tonight, in my honor. Maybe make it extra salty. I don’t know, I can’t tell you how to live your lives, but I know you’ll do the right thing.

Cafe du Monde New Year's Eveget in my belly, beignets

9. American Niceness

Many of my friends from other parts of the world kind of sneer at this and think that we are being fake with our “have a nice days!” and other saccharine pleasantries but I tell you what, I just love me some American politeness. Maybe they really do want my day to be nice. I want yours to be!

Hackberry General Store Route 66

10. Amazon Prime

Two. Day. Shipping. On. Everything. Need I say more? On and island where a trip to the nearest Apple Authorized retailer or seller of Alex-sized underwear is a twelve-hour journey, it seems like a distant mirage too good to be really true.

Ochopee Post Office

11. Megawatt Lightbulbs

This probably isn’t an issue for the majority of travelers who haven’t lived through a psychologically crippling fear of the dark, but I have yet to find another country as brightly lit as the USA. I noticed this most vividly traveling in Central America, where I heard rumors of crazy high energy costs and even in large cities I always felt like someone had hit the wrong end of a dimmer.

Bonnaroo After Dark

12. Smoking Bans

Admittedly, in general I love the lawless-ness of so many of the countries I travel to. But there’s one piece of legislation this severe-allergy sufferer is ever grateful for – strict indoor smoking bans. I wake up from pretty much every night out here with my sinuses levying a strict punishment for putting them in proximity of cigarettes. The prevalence of smoking at the bar, in transit and even at the dinner table is one of the things that really challenges me about living in Thailand.

Blues Bar, Khao San, Bangkokif only this cat was protected by an indoor smoking ban

13. Serious Hustle

I alarm citizens of other nations on a regular basis simply by walking at a clip that they deem acceptable only for a human being pursued by an apex predator. Travel has slowed me down somewhat, and I’m grateful for it, but I do love the hustle of home. I’m sure any US citizen who has sat in line at OfficeMax watching a high school student collate paper with the efficiency of a drunk sloth would argue that lethargy exists everywhere, but I do think there are few nations on earth that value speediness – and power walking – as much as Americans do.

American Flag in Times Square

14. Singing Along in Bars

In certain parts of the world, the music is one of the highlights of my travels – think Caribbean soca, or Central American reggaeton. Yet here Asia, crimes against music, my eardrums, and the still developing brains of impressionable youth are committed on a daily basis (love you long time though, Job2Do). One thing I really miss is listening to music other than tinny Thai love ballads, aggressive house/techno music or strange selections of American Top 40. What I wouldn’t give for a night of hip hop, classic rock, or funky Motown hits!

Live Music in New Orleans

15. My Dog

I actually thought about making like, every third item on this list MY DOG because that would (A) it’s the kind of lame humor that really tickles me and (B) convey pretty clearly how much I miss my damn dog. Are there any people that don’t think this dog is cute that aren’t also serial killers? Don’t bother looking up the statistics, the answer is no.

Tucker, you have my heart.

Christmas Cocker Spaniel

Cocker Spaniel Love

16. My Nearest and Dearest

In all seriousness, the largest sacrifice I’ve made to maintain my traveling lifestyle is missing out on so much of the day-to-day lives of some of those I love the most. I do manage to cram a lot of hugs into every summer, though.

Family Portraits by My Lens 360 Philadelphia

. . . .

Okay. So things might have gone a tad overboard on the S.S. Silliness up in this listicle. But the truth is the thing I miss the most about America can’t really be summed up in a pithy bullet point. It’s this sense of familiarity, the lump in your throat when an immigration officer hands you back your passport and says “welcome home” after months of wandering.

I can’t wait to hear those two little words. Avocados and employees of craft store retail chains, you’ve been warned.

Upstate New York Travel

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Hear about travel to Flanders in Belgium from the Amateur Traveler. I recently traveled to 5 cities in Belgium: AntwerpGhent, Ieper, Bruges and Brussels. Each of these historic cities is wonderfully picturesque, even on a grey November day. 

Photo: Unsplash

The nightlife scene in Montreal is off the hook. The cultural mashup that makes Montreal unique is reflected in its bar and club scene. There’s many more nightlife spots that would fit on this list, but check these ones out.

Editor’s note: These spots are all taken directly from travelstoke®, a new app from Matador that connects you with fellow travelers and locals, and helps you build trip itineraries with spots that integrate seamlessly into Google Maps and Uber. Download the app to add any of the spots below directly to your future trips.

Jardin Nelson

 Jardin NelsonMontréal, CanadaA charming garden-like terrace in heart of Old Montreal, right in the historic Jacques Cartier Square. Sit on the front terrace and watch the bustling scene and street performers, or in the open-roofed inner courtyard that’s heated during the cooler days. Relax to sounds of some live jazz music and enjoy some tasty crepes, salads, pasta, duck confit or the some traditional Quebec “paté chinois.” Great place for brunch, dinner or just drinks. Note that it’s only open from April to beginning of October. #livemusic #patio

EAT être avec toi

 EAT être avec toiMontréal, CanadaA revolutionary concept: a restaurant/art gallery! This place is decorated street art, murals and sculptures created by Montreal artists. Top local DJs add their sounds to the scene. Open from breakfast until late-night, they have everything from brunch waffles and mimosas to specialty seafood platters. #fine-dining #musicvenue #art

Bord’Elle Boutique Bar & Eatery

 Bord’Elle Boutique Bar & EateryMontréal, CanadaBeautiful “Great Gatsby” themed bar. Fun place for an after-work drink with friends! #classy

Rue Saint-Denis

 Rue Saint-DenisMontréal, CanadaThe main street in Montreal’s Latin Quarter. In the 1800s, the Latin Quarter was where some of the richest Francophones and Anglophones lived. Today, their victorian-style mansions have turned into eateries and entertainment venues. On the lower part of St.Denis street, you’ll find fast food places, specialty stores, theatres and a variety to restaurants including Italian, Japanese, Lebanese and Mexican ones. Photo credit: Jeangagnon via Wikimedia Commons

The Village

 The VillageMontréal, CanadaMassive pedestrian street dedicated to restaurants and gay clubs; this place comes to life at night. Get ready to see leather and latex fanatics mixed in with random groups of friends all dancing in ridiculous night clubs. #dancing #club #nocover

Auberge du Vieux-Port

 Auberge du Vieux-PortMontréal, CanadaA cozy boutique hotel in Montreal’s old port with a European flair and a romantic atmosphere. It’s rooftop bar, Terasse Sur L’Auberge, is open to all and offers panoramic views where you can watch the scene on the bustling St.Paul street, view sailboats on the Saint. Lawrence river, and if you’re lucky, watch the skies light up with a myriad of colors during the International Fireworks Competition. #rooftopbar #hotel Photo credit: Auberge Du Vieux Port – https://www.facebook.com/AubergeduVieuxPort/

L’Auberge Saint-Gabriel

 L’Auberge Saint-GabrielMontréal, CanadaSet in Montreal’s oldest building this restaurant/lounge/terasse’s ambience is simply charming. This medieval cottage was built in 1688; since then, its thick-stoned walls have lived through many tales. Today, it’s one of the classiest and coziest spots in Montreal known for it’s elegance and inviting French dishes. The auberge is also home to Velvet, an underground universe or “speakeasy.” The only way to get there, is to ask the doorman to escort you to the basement’s entrance. After making your way through a stone-walled tunnel only lit with candles, you’ll find yourself in a smoky room with a dance floor, lounge area, top-notch DJs, and beautiful people. Photo credit: L’Auberge Saint-Gabriel – https://www.facebook.com/lauberge.saintgabriel/ #fine-dining #historical #speakeasy #frenchcuisine

Jardins Gamelin

 Jardins GamelinMontréal, CanadaThis “garden” in Place Émilie-Gamlin, is not really a garden. It’s a square that turns into a cool hang out place in summer. It hosts a different free cultural activity or event everyday- music, dance nights, yoga, markets, festivals and more. It’s known for the shipping containers tuned into a bar and the luminous canopy floating above.

Agrikol

 AgrikolMontréal, CanadaWhen you want a taste of summer during a cold winter night, head to Agrikol. Step into the white wooden house, and you’ll immediately feel like you’ve escaped to the caribbean. This Haitian resto-bar features island-style appetizers like Haitian beignets and plantains, and sigature rum-based tropical cocktails. Old-fashioned, jungle-style decor and Haitian music add to the ambiance. #tropical #caribbean #cozy

Brasserie Artisanale L’Amère A Boire Inc

 Brasserie Artisanale L’Amère A Boire IncMontréal, CanadaThey brew commie style Lagers. Beer and cheese pairings will boggle your palette… In a good way. They’ve got a quaint patio out back, perfect for sipping beers in the warm Montreal summers. #cheap-eats #open-late #casual #food

La Distillerie no.1

 La Distillerie no.1Montréal, CanadaGreat little bar with amazing drinks!! Free jar of gold fish at point of order 😍 #free-wifi #montreal #canada

Dieu du Ciel!

 Dieu du Ciel!Montréal, CanadaInsane number of Quebec beers on tap. An excellent local watering hole. We were referred to this place by multiple locals — it did not disappoint. #cheap-eats #open-late #casual #food

BENELUX

 BENELUXMontréal, CanadaExcellent beers brewed in the style of Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg (hence he name Benelux). Located inside of an old bank, they use the bank vault as a place to barrel age beer. #casual #food #cheap-eats #open-late

Le 4e Mur

 Le 4e MurMontréal, CanadaThis is one the coolest places in Montreal. It’s a hidden bar, modeled after speakeasies which became popular during the prohibition era. We can’t tell you where it is. The only way to find out, is to sign up to find out via their website. Then, when you get there, you’ll have to find the secret brick that will open up the wall. Inside, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a glam 1920s underground bar. Be sure to try their amazing old-fashioned drinks. Good luck getting in! #secretspots #speakeasy

Terrasse Nelligan

 Terrasse NelliganMontréal, CanadaWhat better way to spend a nice summer night than on a rooftop with a great view and an amazing drink? This rooftop patio on top of Hotel Nelligan in the heart of Old Montreal offers beautiful views of Old Montreal and the St. Lawrence river, and one of the best sangrias in the city. #rooftopbar Photo credit @ave.hah via Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/ave.hah/

Le Saloon Bistro Bar

 Le Saloon Bistro Bar IncMontréal, CanadaThere’s no other place like this in the city. It’s in the heart of Montreal’s vibrant gay village, and it’s a great place to eat, drink and chill. It has amazing decor, wall projections and a funky supperclub atmosphere. They’re known for their (affordable) traditional and international gourmet plates that all have a twist. Go for brunch, dinner, or their famous “4-7” happy hour for drinks. #fun #affordable #gourmet

Photo: Taylor Nicole

THIS TIME LAST YEAR, I was somewhere in the southwestern United States, driving to Mexico with my boyfriend. When we returned home to Maine in spring, we were told that we missed a bad winter — there wasn’t any snow, it was rainy, wet, and cold every day. This summer, we all had high hopes for a snowy 2017 season — the Farmer’s Almanac had called for one. But November, December, and January came and went with limited snow. February brought back-to-back record blizzards, but the snow burned off in the unseasonable heat that followed them.

The Maine seasons that I grew up with are changing, that’s a fact. They’re shorter, warmer, dryer. It’s not just about the lack of coldness, it’s about the chain reactions that go off because of it. Because our grounds aren’t frozen for as long as they used to be, we’re experiencing a surge in Lyme’s Disease — deer ticks aren’t getting killed off and they’re emerging each spring with an even bigger vengeance than the year before. We have more soil disease, more pests, a completely different growing season.

So is this climate change? Is my home state just experiencing some kind of cycle? Does it even matter which? I asked members of the Matador Network Creator’s Community the same questions about their own beloved places. Here’s what they had to say.

Machu Picchu, Peru

When I first started working as a guide on the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu, the adventure was not just limited to enjoying the beautiful snowcapped mountains, but partly about sorting out the many rivers and creeks that would frequently flood the trails. I remember with some nostalgia the many times I laughed at people falling into the mud or the water in their attempts to stay dry.

High up in the Paramo — the land of humidity, moss, fungus, lichens and orchids — is the buffer zone between the cold Andean grasslands and the semi-tropical cloud forests. The sound of the Andean marsupial tree frogs croaking right after sunset made a beautiful symphony for those camping on the Inca Trail.

I’ve been working for 20 years in these mountains, and it’s very painful to come to terms with all the dramatic changes in the natural landscape that have taken place throughout that time. Many of the streams that used to flood the trails are completely dry. The glaciers are gone forever, and nowadays I rarely hear those frogs in the Paramo.

You don’t have to believe me, just go on a hike to the Salkantay Trek or take the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. If you have an environmentally-conscious guide, they’ll be able to show you proof. If that’s not enough, the deafening sounds of the huge ice blocks falling off the glaciers will remind you of the real and devastating effects of climate change. — Miguel Angel Gongora

Grapevine Canyon, Nevada

1994: I am in the heart of the earth, a delicate canyon holding new and dried grapevines, petroglyphs, cigarette butts, bottle caps and a spring-fed trickle of water no wider than my hand. I won’t tell you how to find this place. Know that it is within range of the vampire lairs of Vegas and Laughlin. Know that from the throat of the canyon, you can watch a three-quarter moon fall slowly to a lilac horizon.

2017: I have continued to climb up into Grapevine Canyon at least once a year since my first visit. The trickle of water has shrunk to the width of my three fingers, two fingers, my thumb, then to nothing. The relatively lush vegetation has dried out. Research shows that the temperatures in the area have increased 2% and more since 2000 and are expected to increase an additional 3.5°F to 9.5°F by the end of this century. Not only is my sense of wonder and beauty being impacted, everything that lives in Grapevine Canyon is in peril — and who knows what horrors lie ahead for this place. — Mary Sojourner

Portage Glacier, Alaska

I have a photo from 1994, aged and slowly losing color, that shows me as a kid with a neon hat crammed over my flyaway hair, standing on a boulder with a vast Alaskan valley behind me. In the right side of the background, you can see a white mass of ice disappearing off the frame. This was Portage Glacier, one of the last summers the terminus of the glacier could be seen from the parking lot and Portage Glacier Visitor Center.

Now, the glacier has receded. Where you could once enjoy Portage Glacier in full view from the visitor center, you must now board a boat and cruise out around the rocky point that hugs the right edge of the vast frozen mass.

One-hundred years ago, Portage Glacier covered the parking lot where my picture was taken. One-hundred years ago, there was no lake to cruise on at all. The visitor center wasn’t even necessary because you could walk right up to the glacier and put your hand on the ice. You could feel the power ice has in shaping geography, even if at a nearly imperceptible pace.

That pace is no longer imperceptible in Alaska, where 99% of glaciers are retreating. The entire face of Alaska is changing as the glaciers that carved this land are melting away. Though we often define home as a building or a community, my home in Alaska includes the great mountains, powerful rivers, and humble glaciers. What will happen to my home when they are gone? — Valerie Stimac

Langtang Range, Nepal

Water is already a scarcity in Nepal and climate change is making it worse. Drought conditions have become more prevalent in recent years with increasing intensity of rainfall during the monsoon season and an absence in other seasons. To cope with the changing climate, some farmers are substituting rice crops for crops that are less demanding of water.

I was in the foothills of the Langtang Range of Nepal and had just spent the day in a village where the tiered rice paddies looked dead from the dryness. The only source of water was a cistern that barely looked bigger than my bathtub at home. I knew that it had to provide water for bathing, cooking, drinking, laundry and watering the animals and crops.

A woman on a hill above the rice paddies was attempting to bathe from a trickle of water coming out of the cistern. She wore a printed dress with the sleeves pulled down to expose her neck and arms, and had the tap on the cistern turned low. She strained to clean herself with the dribble of water even though the relentless dust would have her covered again within minutes. Everyone knows it’s rude to stare, but I did anyway. It was sad to watch her struggle when I knew I could return to my hotel and shower the grit off with more water than she would likely see in a week. The monsoon season was a long way off and this would be her reality for months to come. — Marlene Ford

Belgium

Climate change has had a huge impact on my home country of Belgium. My birthday is in November, and for as long as I can remember, there’s always been snow. My birthday parties always had to be inside because it was too cold to play outdoors. We used to go to school with sleds or have snowball fights from November until February. Back then, we were happy when spring finally arrived with its sun and warmth.

Now, I can sit outside in the sun without a jacket on my birthdays. Even the rest of the winter that follows is not really a winter. I miss those very cold days, the days that ask you to be inside with some hot chocolate. A white Christmas would be nice, too. But most of all, I miss the changing of the seasons. — Sharon Janssens Read more like this: How climate change transformed the Great Barrier Reef, a place I love

AS HUMANS, we’re too often confined to the ground. Our endless fascination with rivers and lakes, Ferris wheels and roller coasters, seas and oceans, parachutes and bungee cords — anything that gets us off our feet — stems from a sort of primal curiosity. It’s in these instances that we feel most alive. The hands-in-the-air, scream-like-you-mean-it kind of alive.

So why should travel be any different? Why should we be restricted to seeing the world only from the earth it rests upon? Answer: We shouldn’t. Grab your snorkeling gear, your canoe, and your boat shoes — we recommend any pair from the Sperry 7 Seas collection — because it’s time to explore 11 incredible cities from a different vantage point. Sunglasses and high SPF recommended.

1. Stockholm, Sweden

Stockholm

Photo: Bengt Nyman

Stockholm is actually made up of 14 islands — it’s a city where downtown water play is allowed and encouraged. There are even more islands scattered all around the Swedish capital and, if you wanted, you could venture out into the archipelago and rent one of the thousands of little dots of land all for yourself. Even the boat ride there will be memorable.

But Stockholm is made for water exploration whether you have the budget of royalty or not. Rent a kayak or canoe and float beneath centuries-old bridges, gaze at City Hall from the water, and get the best shots of Old Town your Instagram could ever dream of. Afterward, hit up a steamboat cruise for dinner — or take it up a notch in a speedboat. Remember: This is the city that hosts World Water Week — taking to the water is both a great idea and a way of life.

2. Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok Chao Phraya

Photo: Ninara

On first impression, Bangkok is a barrage of city lights, temple bells and traffic, wafting scents from food cart vendors. You have to look a bit deeper to see its slower, watery side — but it’s there, busy providing the roots of this vivacious city.

Definitely explore via tuk tuk in the beginning, but then make sure to take a river cruise on the Chao Phraya. It won’t be what you’re picturing — think more along the lines of you and your party hopping in your own private, decked-out fishing boat. River cruises are super common and widely available, meaning you can book your own and still be on budget. You’ll drift past ancient temples, be a part of a floating market, and get a feel for the Siam of the past. Just try to get that feeling on a tuk tuk.

3. Xochimilco, Mexico City, Mexico

Xochimilco trajineras a href=

Photo: Rulo Luna Ramos

Mexico City is built on water, and in the alcaldía of Xochimilco, that’s a very good thing. Picture Venice, but far less cliche (and far more tamales). The once-independent city (now a part of the capital) is built on the shore of Lake Xochimilco and comprises a network of man-made islands and canals — islands and canals so beautiful they’ve earned Xochimilco UNESCO World Heritage Site status.

Find the area less than 20 miles south of Mexico City, where hundreds of colorful trajineras (gondola-like boats) will be awaiting you at one of nine embarcaderos (boat landings). Be sure to bring your camera, light clothing, and your sturdy Sperrys — you’ll want to hop in and out of the boat and onto the “floating gardens” the area is famous for. Look out especially for La Isla de la Muñecas, or “Island of the Dolls.” You’ll know it when you see it.

4. Newport Beach, California, USA

Balboa Island Newport Beach California

Photo: Guwashi999

On the outside, Newport Beach is just another Orange County stop — art galleries, expensive restaurants, and urban modernity — but hop off the PCH and onto Balboa Island and Balboa Peninsula, and things change. Here, you can have two very different days: Grab a famous frozen banana, check out the old-school Ferris wheel and arcades, walk along the harbor, and hop on the open-air ferry to the peninsula and the pier. Cap it all off with a milkshake at Ruby’s, overlooking the Pacific and watching the surfers.

Or get right in the water. Surf, stand-up paddleboard, you name it. Balboa Water Sports rents jet skis year round, and Davey’s Locker does everything from deep-sea fishing to yacht rentals to electric boat rentals, where you’ll be zooming around the harbor with the sailboats or almost-floating with a cool drink in hand. Bonus if you can keep up with the dolphins.

5. Tigre, Argentina

Tigre rowing club Argentina

Photo: David

Tigre sits on the delta of the Paraná. There’s over 5,000 square miles of water here, and the city was once the delta’s crown jewel — a getaway for the Buenos Aires elite. There are little clubs everywhere (called “countries,” after US country clubs), and they exist to show Tigre’s world to visitors. Horseback riding, kayaking, blazing through forests, vegging on a lagoon — it’s all doable. The only problem is this makes it hard to pack — the versatile 7 Seas shoe will be the only way to go in Tigre.

If you only have time for a brief visit, grab a canoe or kayak and paddle along the waterfront. You’ll pass markets, shops, museums, and the ancient Tigre forest. Then, put down your paddles and follow your nose to the nearest asado, or barbecue joint. If there are two things Tigre is built on, it’s water and mean, slow-roasted meats.

6. Trogir, Croatia

Trogir Croatia

Photo: Kamil Porembiński

The city of Trogir takes up an entire island on the south side of Croatia, sandwiched between the mainland and a much larger island, Čiovo. It’s been around for 2,300 years, and it’s on UNESCO’s list for its incredible Venetian architecture. Think red-tiled roofs, palaces, clock towers, and fortresses touching the edge of the sea. It’s the best-preserved Romanesque-Gothic complex in all of Central Europe, and the only way to take it all in is by taking to the waters around it.

Start at Okrug Beach, home of some excellent nightlife. Get in a kayak, start SUPing, or even rent a private charter from Providence Charter & Travel. There’s also nothing wrong with booking it straight to the Blue Lagoon and spending the day relaxing or snorkeling with the turtles — the architecture will be there tomorrow.

7. Zhouzhuang, China

Zhouzhuang China

Photo: Yuya Sekiguchi

China has a few “ancient water towns,” but Zhouzhuang, 90 minutes from Shanghai, is the one to target. Walk through the giant gate, and keep an eye out for two of the 14 stone bridges in particular: the double bridge (two bridges form a right angle over the water), and the Fu’an Bridge, built in 1355. This town is truly ancient — the temples, centuries-old houses, towers, and shops largely date back to the Ming Dynasty.

Getting around town is easiest via the canals. From your boat, watch for the classic courtyards, carved-brick archways, and the architecture of the 1400s Zhang House and 1700s Shen House, the most famous residences in town. Be sure to have a bit of spare change on you, too — when you sidle up to the water markets, you’ll want to score a memento to solidify the memory of paddling the waters of ancient China.

8. Hydra, Greece

Hydra Greece

Photo: Sperry

Hydra is one of the most accessible Greek islands, super easy to reach from Athens. Despite this, it still manages to be its own little world — donkeys are responsible for most of the transportation here, and new construction isn’t allowed. It’s ship-captain mansions, narrow streets, taverns, shops, and view after view — all best seen from the water, of course.

After you arrive via hydrofoil or catamaran (sometimes referred to as “dolphins” or “cats”), snag a water taxi. Zip from island to island, shore to shore, and stake out your preferred spot to go snorkeling, scuba diving, or water skiing. Here, there are no world-renowned museums. No famous landmarks. No ancient ruins. Just you and the call of the water. You brought your sunglasses and your Sperrys, right?

9. Ganvie, Benin

Ganvie Benin

Photo: Göran Höglund (Kartläsarn)

It’s about time this list included a town built entirely on stilts. Turns out Africa has a Venice, too, and it’s called Ganvie. The town sits on Lake Nokoué and only has one building (out of ~3,000) actually on land. To navigate Ganvie, you’ve got no choice but to put on your sailing cap. The locals — old men, young women, small children — get to and fro by canoe, and when you visit, you will, too.

When you’re there, take a moment just to let it all sink in. This is the largest water town in Africa, maybe the world. Paddle over to one of the many markets, spend time picking out a handcrafted souvenir, and watch the children navigate the waters like they’re paddling through air. And don’t worry about figuring out how to rent a boat — since the village is literally on the water, it’s everyone’s only option.

10. Can Tho, Vietnam

Can Tho Vietnam

Photo: Kevin

Vietnam is changing at lightning speeds, but the kind of vibe most visitors seek still resides in Can Tho. Away from the wealth of Ho Chi Minh City and the hubbub of Hanoi, Can Tho — the largest city in the Mekong Delta — still has that water spirit. And that’s why exploring Can Tho on land doesn’t do it justice.

Following the course of the Mekong, you’ll pass the Cai Rang floating market, you’ll hear stories of how schoolchildren wade the tributaries to school, and the floating houses will make you question whether you’re in another world entirely. And when your guide offers you hot tea on a 90-degree day, don’t be surprised, and don’t turn it down — it’s all part of the magic of the Mekong.

11. Bruges, Belgium

Bruges Belgium

Photo: Carlos Andrés Reyes

Put down the chocolate, french fries, and beer — it’s time to see the real Bruges. This city isn’t called “Venice of the North” for nothing. Its canals, the best way to access its medieval past, are lined with stone buildings, brick mansions, winding paths, imposing warehouses, and ornate churches. More than 80 individual bridges span the water. It’s romantic in a way that most cities are not, with that perfect amount of European charm — a city that oozes cozy, slow sophistication.

Get on a canal tour, for sure — many of the houses and buildings are built directly on the water, so you’ll have the best vantage point there is. But try to leave time for a riverboat experience from Bruges to Damme, which will take you out into the Belgian countryside. Hope your feet (and your shoes) are up to the challenge, because there’s a walking path all the way back to Bruges with your name on it — the best of both worlds.

 

Sperry_Logo_NAVY 296 This post is proudly produced in partnership with Sperry shoes.

 

In Belgium, home prices are up and agents say sales are better than ever — despite the recent global recession and terrorist attacks.

TODAY IS THE UN International Day of Human Space Flight. It’s also the 56th anniversary of the first human going into space. On April 12, 1961, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gargarin launched into space, becoming the first human to leave our atmosphere. Since then, hundreds of people have been in space, but it still remains mostly untouched by humans.

That seems to be on the brink of changing: next year, SpaceX will take paying tourists around the dark side of the moon, a place no one has been since Apollo 13. And there’s an okay chance that, in the not-too-far-off future, humans will land on Mars.

In honor of the day, we plunged into the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s Flickr account. It is one of the coolest photo pages on the internet, so we’ve selected a handful to share in honor of space flight. With any luck, we’ll get to see these sights for ourselves someday. 1

Mergui Archipelago

In the southernmost reaches of Burma (Myanmar), along the border with Thailand, lies the Mergui Archipelago. The archipelago in the Andaman Sea is made up of more than 800 islands surrounded by extensive coral reefs. All photos and captions by The NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

2

Hubble reveals heart of Lagoon Nebula

A spectacular new NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image reveals the heart of the Lagoon Nebula. Seen as a massive cloud of glowing dust and gas, bombarded by the energetic radiation of new stars, this placid name hides a dramatic reality. The Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) on the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has captured a dramatic view of gas and dust sculpted by intense radiation from hot young stars deep in the heart of the Lagoon Nebula (Messier 8). This spectacular object is named after the wide, lagoon-shaped dust lane that crosses the glowing gas of the nebula.

3

Fires on Madeira Island

Smoke from several large fires burning on Portugal's Madeira Island were seen blowing over the Atlantic Ocean on Aug. 10 when NASA's Terra satellite passed overhead. Madeira is an archipelago of four islands located off the northwest coast of Africa. They are an autonomous region of Portugal. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured this natural-color image at 8:25 a.m. EDT (12:05 UTC). Places where MODIS detected active fire are located in red.

Intermission

33 places to swim in the world’s clearest water

10 drink recipes you can light on fire

Photo guide to Ireland’s most incredible castles

Sponsored 4

Cyclones across the Pacific

This GOES-West satellite image shows four tropical cyclones in the North Western, Central and Eastern Pacific Ocean on September 1, 2015. In the Western Pacific (far left) is Typhoon Kilo. Moving east (to the right) into the Central Pacific is Hurricane Ignacio (just east of Hawaii), and Hurricane Jimena. The eastern-most storm is Tropical Depression 14E in the Eastern Pacific.

5

A cosmic megamaser

This galaxy has a far more exciting and futuristic classification than most — it hosts a megamaser. Megamasers are intensely bright, around 100 million times brighter than the masers found in galaxies like the Milky Way. The entire galaxy essentially acts as an astronomical laser that beams out microwave emission rather than visible light (hence the ‘m’ replacing the ‘l’).

6

Hurricane Joaquin

Major Hurricane Joaquin is shown at the far eastern periphery of the GOES West satellite's full disk extent, taken at 1200Z on October 1, 2015.

7

Seaweed

Though the above image may resemble a new age painting straight out of an art gallery in Venice Beach, California, it is in fact a satellite image of the sands and seaweed in the Bahamas. The image was taken by the Enhanced Thematic Mapper plus (ETM+) instrument aboard the Landsat 7 satellite. Tides and ocean currents in the Bahamas sculpted the sand and seaweed beds into these multicolored, fluted patterns in much the same way that winds sculpted the vast sand dunes in the Sahara Desert.

8

Sea Ice in Greenland

The MODIS instrument on NASA's Aqua satellite captured this visible image of Sea Ice off eastern Greenland on October 16, 2012.

9

The US covered in snow

NOAA's GOES-East satellite provided a look at the frigid eastern two-thirds of the U.S. on Jan. 7, 2015, that shows a blanket of northern snow, lake-effect snow from the Great Lakes and clouds behind the Arctic cold front.

Intermission

How to say ‘cheers’ in 50 languages

The 24 coolest towns in the USA – 2017

10 images that prove Iceland should be on your bucket list

10

Liege, Belgium

A nighttime view of Liege, Belgium is featured in this image photographed by an Expedition 34 crew member on the International Space Station.

11

Jupiter up close

At about 89,000 miles in diameter, Jupiter could swallow 1,000 Earths. It is the largest planet in the solar system and perhaps the most majestic. Vibrant bands of clouds carried by winds that can exceed 400 mph continuously circle the planet's atmosphere. Such winds sustain spinning anticyclones like the Great Red Spot—a raging storm three and a half times the size of Earth located in Jupiter’s southern hemisphere. In January and February 1979, NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft zoomed toward Jupiter, capturing hundreds of images during its approach. The observations revealed many unique features of the planet that are still being explored to this day.

12

Earthrise

View of the crescent Earth rising above the lunar horizon over the Ritz Crater. Image taken during the Apollo 17 mission on Revolution 66.

13

Bubble Nebula

“As Hubble makes its 26th revolution around our home star, the sun, we celebrate the event with a spectacular image of a dynamic and exciting interaction of a young star with its environment. The view of the Bubble Nebula, crafted from WFC-3 images, reminds us that Hubble gives us a front row seat to the awe inspiring universe we live in,” said John Grunsfeld, Hubble astronaut and associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, in Washington, D.C. The Bubble Nebula is seven light-years across—about one-and-a-half times the distance from our sun to its nearest stellar neighbor, Alpha Centauri, and resides 7,100 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cassiopeia.

14

Volcanic plumes over Mt. Etna

Twin volcanic plumes—one of ash, one of gas—rose from Sicily’ Mount Etna on the morning of October 26, 2013.

15

Canyonlands

The desert southwest US is a showcase of geology. Canyonlands National Park in SE Utah is one such example. In this image, the Colorado River in the upper left corner forms the border of an area of outcrops of Permian (~280 million years old) Cedar Mesa Sandstone. Nearest the river, a series of arcuate faults has created a landscape of extremely narrow valleys. Further east a tributary of the Colorado has eroded the landscape into intricate feather-like drainage patterns.

16

Typhoon Haiyan

Typhoon Haiyan approaching the Philippines

17

Greece

Earth observation views taken from the space shuttle orbiter Atlantis during STS-84 mission.

18

The Orion Nebula

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has helped astronomers find the final piece of a celestial puzzle by nabbing a third runaway star. As British royal families fought the War of the Roses in the 1400s for control of England's throne, a grouping of stars was waging its own contentious skirmish — a star war far away in the Orion Nebula. The stars were battling each other in a gravitational tussle, which ended with the system breaking apart and at least three stars being ejected in different directions. The speedy, wayward stars went unnoticed for hundreds of years until, over the past few decades, two of them were spotted in infrared and radio observations, which could penetrate the thick dust in the Orion Nebula.

19

Van Gogh from space

In the style of Van Gogh's painting "Starry Night," massive congregations of greenish phytoplankton swirl in the dark water around Gotland, a Swedish island in the Baltic Sea. Phytoplankton are microscopic marine plants that form the first link in nearly all ocean food chains. Population explosions, or blooms, of phytoplankton, like the one shown here, occur when deep currents bring nutrients up to sunlit surface waters, fueling the growth and reproduction of these tiny plants.

20

Empty Quarter

White pinpricks of cloud cast ebony shadows on the Rub' al Khali, or Empty Quarter, near the border between Saudi Arabia and Yemen. The lines of wind-sculpted sand are characteristic of immense sand deserts, or sand seas, and the Rub' al Khali is the largest desert of this type in the world. A highland ridge is just high enough to disturb the flow of the lines. In the center of that interruption lies the Saudi Arabian town of Sharurah.

21

The Mississippi

Small, blocky shapes of towns, fields, and pastures surround the graceful swirls and whorls of the Mississippi River. Countless oxbow lakes and cutoffs accompany the meandering river south of Memphis, Tennessee, on the border between Arkansas and Mississippi, USA. The "mighty Mississippi" is the largest river system in North America.

22

Cloud vortices

Cloud vortices off Heard Island, south Indian Ocean.

23

Hubble Sees Monstrous Cloud Boomerang Back to our Galaxy

Hubble Space Telescope astronomers are finding that the old adage “what goes up must come down” even applies to an immense cloud of hydrogen gas outside our Milky Way galaxy. The invisible cloud is plummeting toward our galaxy at nearly 700,000 miles per hour. Though hundreds of enormous, high-velocity gas clouds whiz around the outskirts of our galaxy, this so-called “Smith Cloud” is unique because its trajectory is well known. New Hubble observations suggest it was launched from the outer regions of the galactic disk, around 70 million years ago. The cloud was discovered in the early 1960s by doctoral astronomy student Gail Smith, who detected the radio waves emitted by its hydrogen. This composite image shows the size and location of the Smith Cloud on the sky. The cloud appears in false-color, radio wavelengths as observed by the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia. The visible-light image of the background star field shows the cloud's location in the direction of the constellation Aquila.

You can follow the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center for more pics on Facebook here or on Twitter here

AT MATADOR Network, we always encourage other travelers to visit museums (even the weirdest ones) and check out street art when they are abroad because we know that art is a window into a country’s culture.

This map of famous European artworks created by Reddit user halfabluesky is not going to please everyone (the choice for The Netherlands is already controversial in the comment section), but it is a great way for all of us to learn more about artists and artworks we would otherwise have never heard about — I personally did not know about anything about Icelandic art…now I do! artworks

Map: halfabluesky

Because some of the artworks can be difficult to visualize on the map, the creator listed them. See below.

  • Albania: Holy Mary holding Baby Jesus in her right arm
  • Andorra: Apse fresco of Sant Miquel d’Engolasters church
  • Austria: The Kiss
  • Belarus: The Fiddler
  • Belgium: The Son of Man
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina: Mountain landscape
  • Bulgaria: Rachenitsa
  • Croatia: Roman Woman Playing A Lute
  • Cyprus: Work by Stelois Votsis
  • Czech Republic: The Absinthe Drinker
  • Denmark: The Little Mermaid
  • Estonia: Half Nude in Striped Skirt
  • Finland: The Wounded Angel
  • France: Impression, Sunrise
  • Germany: Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog
  • Greece: Venus de Milo
  • Hungary: The Old Fisherman
  • Iceland: Pingvellir
  • Ireland: Three Studies of Lucian Freud
  • Italy: Mona Lisa
  • Latvia: After Church
  • Lithuania: Tale of the Kings
  • Luxembourg: Stretch of the Moselle at Greiveldange with Stadtbredimus
  • Macedonia (FYROM): Scene from the Paris Psalter
  • Moldova: The Girl From Ciadar Lunga
  • Monaco: Raniero I
  • Montenegro: Our Lady of Philermos
  • Netherlands: The Girl with Pearl Earrings
  • Norway: The Scream
  • Poland: Rejtan
  • Portugal: Fado
  • Romania: Car Cu Boi
  • Russia: Golden Autumn
  • Serbia: The Wounded Montenegrin
  • Slovakia: Work by Albin Brunovsky
  • Slovenia: Pomlad (Spring)
  • Spain: Guernica
  • Sweden: Breakfast Under the Big Birch Tree
  • Switzerland: The Walking Man
  • Turkey: The Tortoise Trainer
  • Ukraine: Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks
  • United Kingdom (UK): The Fighting Temeraire
  • Vatican City: Creation of Adam

1. Aztalan State Park, Aztalan

 Aztalan State ParkLake Mills, United StatesBeautiful scenery and great kayaking

This state park located in Southeast Wisconsin is home to the ruins and excavation sites of an ancient Native American tribe who abandoned the town around 1200 AD. The mounds and stockades located near the Crawfish river give an idea of how the ancient Native Americans lived.

Shelters at Aztalan State Park can be reserved near the park, however camping is not permitted, as Aztalan is strictly a day park only (open from 6AM-10PM). The entrance to the park is located right off Highway Q, not too far from the interstate that connects Milwaukee with Madison.

Aztalan State Park also allows visitors to kayak, canoe, and fish on the Crawfish river. The park’s hiking trails through Wisconsin’s prairie land are quite beautiful.

2. Devil’s Lake State Park, Baraboo

 Devil’s Lake State ParkBaraboo, United StatesHiking, camping, fishing all in Wisconsin’s largest state park. There are 41 miles of hiking trails some of which are pretty challenging. Great spot for a weekend getaway. #hiking #camping

Devil’s Lake is the largest state park in Wisconsin. It has quartzite bluffs that are nearly 500 feet tall which were created by glacial deposit and moraines during the last ice age. Devil’s Lake is the premier rock climbing park in the Midwest.

Devil’s Lake is located near the center of Wisconsin, not too far away from Madison, making access to the park relatively easy. There are multiple campsites at Devil’s Lake, which means great access and easy-to-make reservations. Because the interstate 90/94 runs near Baraboo, the park is only a short drive away.

Devil’s Lake SP has beaches, 29 miles of beautiful hiking trails (go in the fall when the leaves are turning), SCUBA diving, and cross country skiing in the winter.

3. Rock Island State Park, Rock Island

 Rock Island, WIWashington, United StatesGreat backpacking spots and beautiful wildflowers on the island.

Rock Island is a small island in Lake Michigan, off the shore of Wisconsin. The island used to be a colonial settlement with a thriving fish market, but it was hit with an outbreak of Scarlet Fever. Today, the ruins of the village (and the graveyard) remain.

To reach Rock Island, you take the car ferry from Door County to Washington Island. From Washington Island, you drive to another dock slightly more east and board the Karfi (passenger boat only), which will take you to the island a few times a day. There are five big areas designated for campers who are backpacking on the island, but a much larger selection of smaller camping sites — all in beautiful locations.

Pro-tip: the lighthouse on the island (which can be accessed by trekking the five-mile perimeter loop) is a must see. It has a wonderful backstory pertaining to the man who used to take care of it, and is now being maintained by his grandchildren. If you climb to the top of the once used.

4. Lakeshore State Park, Milwaukee

 Lakeshore State ParkMilwaukee, United StatesBeautiful views of the lake as well as the city.

Lakeshore Park is a relatively small park on the lakefront of Milwaukee. It’s perfect for running and walking, and offers scenic views of the lakefront, the Milwaukee skyline and the Summerfest grounds.

Lakeshore State Park is easily reached. The main entrance is directly next to Discovery World, which can be accessed by exiting I-94 for the Port of Milwaukee and taking a right-hand turn. Park on the street if you’re not going to see Discovery World. Unfortunately, Lakeshore State Park is not large enough to offer camping or backpacking sites, but certainly worth the scenery if you’re already in downtown Milwaukee.

Lakeshore Park also has access to little inlet beaches and prairielands — and you can go bicycling and picnicking. There is a long stretch of road near the end of the Park going toward the old, red Lighthouse on which many people choose to bring out their fishing gear and try their luck at some fish in the harbor.

5. Harrington Beach State Park

 Harrington Beach State ParkBelgium, United StatesBeautiful lakeside views and prairie trails

Harrington Beach State Park is located about halfway between Chicago and Green Bay and is known for having waves that crash like the ocean. There is wildlife similar to that of the Wisconsin countryside, numerous hiking trails, a beautiful inland lake, many camp sites, and ruins of an old mill. The park’s highlight is the Nature Center, which has a high-power telescope for some truly incredible stargazing away from the city lights.

Harrington Beach Park is off the Interstate-43. You take the highway that leads from Belgium into the neighboring town of Lake Church, so Harrington is relatively close to the interstate, but once you enter the campsites and hiking trails, it does not feel like it. There are multiple campsites that can be reserved ahead of time and pets are welcome. The camp can also be accessed with day passes that are relatively inexpensive.

Not only does Harrington Beach State Park have access to the beautiful scenery of Lake Michigan, it also possesses an inland lake, Quarry Lake. The lake is part of the history of the Stonehaven mining community, once located where the park is now. The path around Quarry Lake is approximately a mile and a half, filled with delightful stops to observe the native wildflowers and gorgeous scenery of the area.

Rick Steves Belgium: Bruges, Brussels, Antwerp & Ghent

Rick Steves

You can count on Rick Steves to tell you what you really need to know when traveling in Belgium.With this guide, you'll ride bikes over cobblestone streets and embark on cruises through charming canals. Stop and smell the tulips as you hike past whirring windmills. Visit the ultramodern European Parliament. Explore beyond the cosmopolitan bustle of Brussels with trips to Ghent and Antwerp. When it's time for a break, sample fine chocolates or sip local beers—each served in its own distinctive glass.Rick's candid, humorous advice will guide you to good-value hotels and restaurants. He'll help you plan where to go and what to see, depending on the length of your trip. You'll get up-to-date recommendations about what is worth your time and money. More than just reviews and directions, a Rick Steves guidebook is a tour guide in your pocket.

DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Belgium & Luxembourg

DK

Stroll through the bustling city streets, explore the Caves of Hotton, and visit the Euro Space Center when you travel to Belgium and Luxembourg. See history, art, and more in these unique and vibrant countries.

Discover DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Belgium & Luxembourg.

   • Detailed itineraries and "don't-miss" destination highlights at a glance.    • Illustrated cutaway 3-D drawings of important sights.    • Floor plans and guided visitor information for major museums.    • Guided walking tours, local drink and dining specialties to try, things to do, and places to eat, drink, and shop by area.    • Area maps marked with sights.    • Detailed city maps include street finder indexes for easy navigation.    • Insights into history and culture to help you understand the stories behind the sights.    • Hotel and restaurant listings highlight DK Choice special recommendations.

With hundreds of full-color photographs, hand-drawn illustrations, and custom maps that illuminate every page, DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Belgium & Luxembourg truly shows you the country as no one else can.

Series Overview: For more than two decades, DK Eyewitness Travel Guides have helped travelers experience the world through the history, art, architecture, and culture of their destinations. Expert travel writers and researchers provide independent editorial advice, recommendations, and reviews. With guidebooks to hundreds of places around the globe available in print and digital formats, DK Eyewitness Travel Guides show travelers how they can discover more.

DK Eyewitness Travel Guides: the most maps, photographs, and illustrations of any guide.

Lonely Planet Belgium & Luxembourg (Travel Guide)

Lonely Planet

Lonely Planet: The world's leading travel guide publisher

Lonely Planet Belgium & Luxembourg is your passport to the most relevant, up-to-date advice on what to see and skip, and what hidden discoveries await you. Explore Unesco listed belfries in Bruges and Tournai, savour Belgian pralines at a Brussels chocolatier, or stroll along the river gorge in Luxembourg City; all with your trusted travel companion. Get to the heart of Belgium & Luxembourg and begin your journey now!

Inside Lonely Planet's Belgium & Luxembourg Travel Guide:

Colour maps and images throughout Highlights and itineraries help you tailor your trip to your personal needs and interests Insider tips to save time and money and get around like a local, avoiding crowds and trouble spots Essential info at your fingertips - hours of operation, phone numbers, websites, transit tips, prices Honest reviews for all budgets - eating, sleeping, sight-seeing, going out, shopping, hidden gems that most guidebooks miss Cultural insights give you a richer, more rewarding travel experience - history, culture, politics, religion, art, comic strips, music, architecture, cuisine, beer. Over 40 maps Covers BrusselsBrugesGhent (Gent), AntwerpMechelenTournai,  Liege, Luxembourg City and more

The Perfect Choice: Lonely Planet Belgium & Luxembourg, our most comprehensive guide to Belgium & Luxembourg, is perfect for both exploring top sights and taking roads less travelled.

Looking for a guide focused on Bruges & Brussels? Check out Pocket Bruges & Brussels a handy-sized guide/handy-sized guides focused on the can't-miss sights for a quick trip. Looking for more extensive coverage? Check out Lonely Planet's Europe guide.

About Lonely Planet: Since 1973, Lonely Planet has become the world's leading travel media company with guidebooks to every destination, an award-winning website, mobile and digital travel products, and a dedicated traveller community. Lonely Planet covers must-see spots but also enables curious travellers to get off beaten paths to understand more of the culture of the places in which they find themselves.

DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Brussels, Bruges, Ghent & Antwerp

DK

DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: BrusselsBrugesGhent and Antwerp is your indispensable guide to this beautiful part of the world. The fully updated guide includes unique cutaways, floor plans and reconstructions of the must-see sites, plus street-by-street maps of the major cities. The new-look guide is also packed with photographs and illustrations leading you straight to the best attractions.

The uniquely visual DK Eyewitness Travel Guide will help you to discover everything city-to-city, from local festivals and markets to day trips around the countryside. Detailed listings will guide you to the best hotels, restaurants, bars, and shops for all budgets, while detailed practical information will help you to get around, whether by train, bus, or car. Plus, DK's excellent insider tips and essential local information will help you explore every corner of BrusselsBrugesGhent and Antwerp effortlessly.

With hundreds of full-color photographs, hand-drawn illustrations, and custom maps that brighten every page, DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: BrusselsBrugesGhent and Antwerp truly shows you this region as no one else can.

Top 10 Brussels, Bruges, Antwerp & Ghent (Eyewitness Top 10 Travel Guide)

DK

Newly revised, updated, and redesigned for 2017.

True to its name, DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Top 10 BrusselsBrugesAntwerp & Ghent covers all the region's major sights and attractions in easy-to-use "top 10" lists that help you plan the vacation that's right for you.

This newly updated pocket travel guide for BrusselsBrugesAntwerp & Ghent will lead you straight to the best attractions these cities have to offer, from the Grand Palace in Brussels to a restful trip on the Dijver Canal in Bruges, and from the Design Museum Ghent to the high-class fashion of Antwerp. Find the best beer, chocolate, and waffles in the country.

Expert travel writers have fully revised this edition of DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Top 10 BrusselsBrugesAntwerp & Ghent.

   • Brand-new itineraries help you plan your trip to these areas of Belgium.    • Expanded and far more comprehensive, new laminated pull-out map now includes color-coded design, public transportation maps, and street indexes to make it even easier to use.    • Maps of walking routes show you the best ways to maximize your time.    • New Top 10 lists feature off-the-beaten-track ideas, along with standbys like the top attractions, shopping, dining options, and more.    • Additional maps marked with sights from the guidebook are shown on inside cover flaps, with selected street index and metro map.    • New typography and fresh layout throughout.

You'll still find DK's famous full-color photography and museum floor plans, along with just the right amount of coverage of history and culture. A free pull-out map is marked with sights from the guidebook and includes a street index and a metro map.

The perfect pocket-size travel companion: DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Top 10 BrusselsBrugesAntwerp & Ghent.

Recommended: For an in-depth guidebook to BrusselsBrugesAntwerp & Ghent, check out DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: BrusselsBrugesAntwerp & Ghent, which offers a complete overview of these cities; thousands of photographs, illustrations, and maps; and more.

Series Overview: For more than two decades, DK Eyewitness Travel Guides have helped travelers experience the world through the history, art, architecture, and culture of their destinations. Expert travel writers and researchers provide independent editorial advice, recommendations, and reviews. With guidebooks to hundreds of places around the globe available in print and digital formats, DK Eyewitness Travel Guides show travelers how they can discover more.

DK Eyewitness Travel Guides: the most maps, photographs, and illustrations of any guide.

Belgium Luxembourg Maps 716 Michelin (Maps/Country (Michelin))

Michelin

Renowned for over 100 years for their clear, accurate and easy-to-read mapping, Michelin country maps give travelers an overall picture of their route, with practical road and travel information; and city maps containing extensive street indexes orient them quickly so they can find their way to their destination.

Good Beer Guide Belgium

Tim Webb

Recommended reading in the Rough Guide to Belgium, this guide to breweries, beers, and bars is acknowledged as the standard work for Belgian beer lovers, even in Belgium itself Building on 20 years of research, this is not just a beer guide, but a side door into the culture of a nation. Information for tourists traveling to one of the great beer nations includes comprehensive advice on getting there, being there, what to eat, where to stay, and how to bring beers back home. Tourists are guided to more than 600 quirky beer cafés of every style and genre, and also given background history and an insight into all of Belgium's eccentricities. Full-color throughout with both province-by-province and city maps, this guide is suitable for both leisure and business travelers, as well as for armchair drinkers looking to enjoy a selection of Belgian brews from their local beer store.

Belgium - Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture

Mandy Macdonald

Culture Smart! provides essential information on attitudes, beliefs and behavior in different countries, ensuring that you arrive at your destination aware of basic manners, common courtesies, and sensitive issues. These concise guides tell you what to expect, how to behave, and how to establish a rapport with your hosts. This inside knowledge will enable you to steer clear of embarrassing gaffes and mistakes, feel confident in unfamiliar situations, and develop trust, friendships, and successful business relationships. Culture Smart! offers illuminating insights into the culture and society of a particular country. It will help you to turn your visit-whether on business or for pleasure-into a memorable and enriching experience. Contents include * customs, values, and traditions * historical, religious, and political background * life at home * leisure, social, and cultural life * eating and drinking * dos, don'ts, and taboos * business practices * communication, spoken and unspoken

Exercise normal security precautions

The decision to travel is your responsibility. You are also responsible for your personal safety abroad. The purpose of this Travel Advice is to provide up-to-date information to enable you to make well-informed decisions.

Crime

Violent crime is uncommon. However, petty crimes (pickpocketing, purse snatching and mugging) occur at major transportation hubs and tourist sites.  Small groups of criminals have been known to target areas near the Grand Place, as well as public transportation, airports, and the main railway stations in Brussels and Antwerp.  Pickpockets often target passengers boarding or disembarking from public transportation. Do not leave luggage unattended for even a moment.

Be particularly cautious when approached by anyone asking odd questions, spilling food or drink, or telling you someone else has spilled something on your clothes. Carry only a minimal amount of cash and never leave your bags unattended.

Transportation

The train stations Gare du Midi and Gare du Nord in Brussels are major targets for organized gangs. Pickpockets operate on international train lines, such as Paris-Brussels-Amsterdam and Brussels-London.

Organized gangs target people travelling by train or by subway after office hours.

Ensure that valuables in vehicles are kept out of sight at all times. Thieves, often on motorbikes, have been known to break a car window while the car is stopped at a traffic light and snatch valuables from the front or back seat. Carjackings occur in Brussels and the Brabant area.

Always be suspicious if someone offers to help you with a flat tire. These individuals may have punctured the tire themselves and seize the opportunity to steal a bag or other valuable objects while you are distracted.

Consult our Transportation Safety page in order to verify if national airlines meet safety standards.

Demonstrations

As the capital of the European Union and location of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization headquarters, Brussels frequently experiences large-scale protests and widespread demonstrations by various interest groups. Avoid all demonstrations and large gatherings as they have the potential to suddenly turn violent, follow the advice of local authorities and monitor local media.

General safety measures

Exercise normal safety precautions. Ensure personal belongings, passports and other travel documents are secure at all times, especially on public transportation.

Emergency services

Dial the toll free number 112 (also valid for mobiles).

Health

Related Travel Health Notices
Consult a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic preferably six weeks before you travel.
Vaccines

Routine Vaccines

Be sure that your routine vaccines are up-to-date regardless of your travel destination.

Vaccines to Consider

You may be at risk for these vaccine-preventable diseases while travelling in this country. Talk to your travel health provider about which ones are right for you.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a disease of the liver spread through blood or other bodily fluids. Travellers who may be exposed (e.g., through sexual contact, medical treatment or occupational exposure) should get vaccinated.

Influenza

Seasonal influenza occurs worldwide. The flu season usually runs from November to April in the northern hemisphere, between April and October in the southern hemisphere and year round in the tropics. Influenza (flu) is caused by a virus spread from person to person when they cough or sneeze or through personal contact with unwashed hands. Get the flu shot.

Measles

Measles occurs worldwide but is a common disease in developing countries, particularly in parts of Africa and Asia. Measles is a highly contagious disease. Be sure your vaccination against measles is up-to-date regardless of the travel destination.
 

Yellow Fever Vaccination

Yellow fever is a disease caused by the bite of an infected mosquito.

Travellers get vaccinated either because it is required to enter a country or because it is recommended for their protection.

* It is important to note that country entry requirements may not reflect your risk of yellow fever at your destination. It is recommended that you contact the nearest diplomatic or consular office of the destination(s) you will be visiting to verify any additional entry requirements.
Risk
  • There is no risk of yellow fever in this country.
Country Entry Requirement*
  • Proof of vaccination is not required to enter this country.
Recommendation
  • Vaccination is not recommended.
Food/Water

Food and Water-borne Diseases

Travellers to any destination in the world can develop travellers' diarrhea from consuming contaminated water or food.

Practise safe food and water precautions while travelling in Western Europe. When in doubt, remember…boil it, cook it, peel it, or leave it!


Insects

Insects and Illness

In some areas in Western Europe, certain insects carry and spread diseases like Lyme disease, tick-borne encephalitis, and West Nile virus.

Travellers are advised to take precautions against bites.


Malaria

Malaria

There is no risk of malaria in this country.


Animals

Animals and Illness

Travellers are cautioned to avoid contact with animals, including dogs, snakes, rodents, birds, and bats. Certain infections found in some areas in Western Europe, like rabies, can be shared between humans and animals.


Person-to-Person

Person-to-Person Infections

Crowded conditions can increase your risk of certain illnesses. Remember to wash your hands often and practice proper cough and sneeze etiquette to avoid colds, the flu and other illnesses.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV are spread through blood and bodily fluids; practise safer sex.


Medical services and facilities

Medical services and facilities

Excellent healthcare facilities are widely available in Belgium.

Keep in Mind...

The decision to travel is the sole responsibility of the traveller. The traveller is also responsible for his or her own personal safety.

Be prepared. Do not expect medical services to be the same as in Canada. Pack a travel health kit, especially if you will be travelling away from major city centres.

You are subject to local laws. Consult our Arrest and Detention page for more information.

Canada and Belgium are signatories to the European Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons. This enables a Canadian imprisoned in Belgium to request a transfer to a Canadian prison to complete a sentence. The transfer requires the agreement of both Canadian and Belgian authorities.

Dual citizenship

Canadian citizens who have dual citizenship are subject to Belgian laws, such as mandatory voting. To determine your status, contact the Embassy of the Kingdom of Belgium or one of its consulates.

Identification

Carry adequate identification at all times. Keep a photocopy of your passport in case of loss or seizure.

Illegal drugs

Penalties for possession, use or trafficking of illegal drugs are strict. Convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines.

Road travel

You must be at least 18 years of age to drive a car in Belgium. An International Driver Permit (IDP) is recommended for visitors.

A Canadian driver's licence and an IDP are no longer valid once you have obtained residence status in Belgium. Before it expires, you may exchange your driver's licence from the provinces of Alberta, New Brunswick, Ontario or Quebec for a Belgian driver's licence in the Belgian municipality where you reside.

If you hold a driver's licence from another province, you should check with provincial licence authorities whether reciprocal recognition with Belgium has been established. To obtain a Belgian driver's licence, you must pass courses and tests, and expect to wait six months to a year to be able to drive legally and unaccompanied.

Speeding causes many accidents. Strict laws are in place to improve traffic safety. Speed traps, cameras and unmarked vehicles are in operation throughout the country. Fines for exceeding the speed limit are very high and police can collect them on the spot. Vehicles may be impounded for failure to pay.

Penalties for drinking and driving are strict. The legal blood alcohol limit is 0.05 percent. Convicted offenders can expect heavy fines, and driver's licences may be confiscated immediately.

The use of a cellular telephone while driving is prohibited, unless fitted with a hands-free device.

Be aware of the "priority to the right" system, whereby drivers must give way to vehicles approaching from the right at intersections.

Visibility is frequently obscured by rain and fog.

Money

The currency of Belgium is the euro (EUR).

Credit cards are widely accepted and automated banking machines (ABMs) widely available.

When crossing one of the external border control points of the European Union (EU), you must make a declaration to customs upon entry or exit if you have at least €10,000, or the equivalent in other currencies. The sum can be in cash, cheques, money orders, traveller’s cheques or any other convertible assets. This does not apply if you are travelling within the EU or in transit to a non-EU country. For more information on the EU legislation and links to EU countries’ sites, visit the web page of the European Commission on cash controls.

Climate

Flooding is a threat on reclaimed coastal lands protected from the sea by dikes.