Life in Belgium
As the OECD tells us, "Belgium performs well in many measures of well-being relative to most other countries in the Better Life Index. Belgium ranks above the average in work-life balance, income and wealth, housing, civic engagement, education and skills, subjective well-being, health status, jobs and earnings, and personal security but below average in environmental quality".
But there is much more to experience in Belgium.
The coast, the Ardennes, cities of Art where History meets people and vice versa... so many things to enjoy, depending on your taste and desires.
Belgium already loves you.
Flanders offers a dizzying array of entertainment, sport and culinary experiences!
Plenty of entertainment
Every Flemish city has an impressive range of entertainment on offer, including theatre, concerts (classical, rock, jazz and world music), discos, clubs and cinemas.
In addition, throughout the year there are numerous festivals and heritage events as well as a wide range of activities for all the family organised by various local clubs and associations.
Details of all such happenings are provided in magazines available at newsstands, in free hand-outs from cultural venues and on a growing number of websites.
- http://www.tento.be/ (only in Dutch)
- http://www.use-it.be (in English)
An A to Z of sport and leisure
Virtually every municipality in Flanders has its own swimming pool, sports complex and leisure facilities, including tennis, for which Belgium has gained something of a reputation in recent years!
Most universities and some larger companies have their own sports facilities and compete against each other in a number of disciplines and events.
And of course local clubs organise courses in anything from aikido to Zen Buddhism.
Shop till you drop
Antwerp is internationally renowned for its fashion, including creations by a number of emerging and established Belgian designers.
Naturally, major international chain stores can be found in towns and cities throughout Flanders, but avid shoppers will soon discover that there are many less mainstream shops, too.
Popular shopping streets include:
Meir in Antwerp;
Nieuwstraat/Rue Neuve, Avenue Louise and Antoine Dansaertstraat/Rue Antoine Dansaert in Brussels;
Veldstraat in Ghent;
Bruul in Mechelen; and
Bondgenotenlaan in Leuven.
On Saturdays, however, these streets can get pretty crowded. You have been warned!
Food, glorious food!
Flanders is famous for its food and drink and Flemish people really enjoy eating out. So there are eateries catering to all tastes, styles and budgets, including truly top-notch gourmet dining.
Generally speaking, Flemish cooking is very similar to classical French cuisine, with a few Mediterranean or Asian touches here and there. But regardless of your personal dietary preferences or requirements you will find restaurants and shops that cater to them.
Belgium is renowned for its stupendous choice of beers, with hundreds brewed in Flanders alone. The best-known brands, of which we are rightly proud, include Stella Artois, Leffe and Duvel.
If you aren’t already acquainted with these wonderfully refreshing and highly imaginative beverages, a stay in Flanders will give you the perfect opportunity to discover the full range on offer.
Flanders also boasts three top Trappist beers, brewed for centuries by monks at Westvleteren, Achel and Westmalle.
Other Flemish specialities
Another traditional Flemish drink is gin, which flows copiously at the ubiquitous December Christmas markets. Hasselt is the Flemish gin capital and also home to a Gin Museum.
Most visitors to Flanders will be aware of Belgium’s reputation for world-class chocolates, which abound everywhere, but cake and pastry fans won’t be disappointed either. Many Flemish people have a sweet tooth, so it’s no surprise that Flanders is a cake and pastry paradise, offering a breath-taking assortment of mouth-watering delicacies.
If your stomach isn’t rumbling already, then it ought to be, because Flemish gastronomy is unforgettable!
Sweet and savoury !
The Wallonia-Brussels Federation produces quality food, and boasts an impressive range of local products. Among them, waffles, chocolate and cheese are the most famous specialties, but you might also want to taste our well-known beef (the “Blanc Bleu Belge”) and Ardennes ham, or end your meal with a slice of rice-cake. From Verviers to Tournai, each city has its own delicacies! A Walloon certification label (Bistrot de Terroir®) has recently been created to identify pubs and cafés serving local produce, and thus help foodies support the local market.
However, Belgium is mostly famous around the world for its beers, so do not leave the country before enjoying a glass of Chouffe or Botteresse, two award-winning beers particularly appreciated by Walloons, or one of our many “trappist beers” such as Chimay, or even a “gueuze” or cherry-flavoured “kriek” from Cantillon, a Brussels brewery.
Fashion, design and shopping
Brussels has several famous fashion designers, such as Jean-Paul Knott, Clio Goldbrenner or Jean-Paul Lespagnard. It is also internationally recognized as a fashion city thanks to its renowned fashion design schools (La Cambre, Atelier Lanneaux, etc.). Many Belgian fashion brands are famous abroad; you may have heard of Delvaux handbags or the classy collections from the prestigious Maison Natan.
In Brussels, the main shopping streets are the Rue Neuve, the Avenue Louise, andthe boulevard de Waterloo. However, if you prefer hunting out antiques and vintage clothes, we advise you to wander around the shops in the Marolles neighbourhood. On the Grand Sablon square close by, you will find our master chocolate-makers and, at the weekend, a charming antique market.
One country, many types of scenery
Flanders has its coast, and Wallonia has its Ardennes, a vast forest area in the south of Belgium and the favorite holiday destination of many Belgians. In the province of Luxembourg (which belongs to Belgium despite its name!), you will find several wildlife parks, hiking paths, and the “smallest city in the world”, Durbuy. Get lost in its enchanting corn maze, whose scenery and theme change every year!
While Brussels is famous for its shops and design, you should not forget that it is also the capital of Europe; many institutions, such as the European Parliament and the European Commission, thus have their headquarters in the city. As Brussels is a capital and an international city, its population is particularly cosmopolitan and you will hear many different languages spoken there, particularly in neighbourhoods close to the European institutions.
Brussels is also renowned for its cultural life, and music and art are omnipresent. The city has an opera house, many concert halls offering classical or pop concerts and a popular world music festival, Couleur Café, that is held in early July and gathers artists from around the world. Bozar (the centre for fine arts), designed by Victor Horta, is also worth a visit, as is Flagey, a cultural centre offering concerts and films. Last but not least, Brussels is said to have more than a hundred museums; the most famous are unquestionably the Magritte Museum, the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, the Royal Museums of Fine Arts or the Cinquantenaire Museum.
Namur is another very important city in Belgium. As capital of Wallonia, it is especially popular in September, when Walloon culture is celebrated there during what we call les Fêtes de Wallonie. This is the perfect place to taste “peket”, a strong alcohol flavoured with juniper berries.
Liège, in the East of the country, is definitely worth a visit. We recommend that you go by train to Liège-Guillemins, the impressive train station designed by Santiago Calatrava and inaugurated in 2009. From there, you can walk or take a bus to the city centre and admire the recently refurbished Royal Opera of Wallonia, located in the heart of the city. Finally, end your tour with a visit to the Grand Curtius museum, and discover the history of the “cité ardente”.
Mons is definitely another city you should visit if you are interested in culture, as the city was European capital of culture in 2015. Mons is particularly popular on Trinity Sunday thanks to the Doudou, a lively folklore festival famous for its traditional processions.
Charleroi is another city you may have heard of. Once a prosperous industrial city, it is now enjoying a revival thanks to renovation work and citizens’ initiatives. Moreover, Charleroi, just like Brussels and Belgium in general, has always been associated with famous cartoonists. All around the city, you will find funny and colourful statues of cartoon characters that brighten up the landscape. Charleroi is also famous for its modern dance centre Charleroi Danse, and its photography museum.
Still in the province of Hainaut, Binche is another city you should not miss, especially at carnival time (end of February). The Binche carnival has been proclaimed a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO, and thousands of people gather there to admire the Gilles, listen to the orchestras and collect oranges; a great atmosphere is guaranteed! If you enjoy processions and costumes, you should also go to the festivals in Malmedy and Stavelot: you won’t regret it!
A visit to Louvain-la-Neuve, a modern university town, is also a must for Tintin fans, as the Hergé museum is located there.
Finally, Wallonia also features an incredible number of music festivals, such as the Ronquières festival, the Esperanzah world music festival in Floreffe and the international rock festival in Dour (near Mons). Finally, French pop music fans will enjoy the Francofolies de Spa, a family festival which takes place in the namesake city, whose thermal baths are also well worth a visit.