Interesting Cities to Visit in Belgium
Friendly, cosmopolitan, and playfully irreverent, bilingual Brussels is a patchwork quilt of lively neighborhoods. At its historic center, you'll find the beautiful medieval guildhalls that the city is known for, as well as its most famous resident, Manneken Pis, the iconic statue of a little boy having a wee. Not just the capital of Belgium, Brussels is also the seat of European Parliament, which adds to the city's multi-culturalism. Brussels hosts a number of fantastic annual LGBTQ+ events, from its Belgian Pride in May (the first major European Pride of the season) to Belgium Bear Pride and the Pink Screens Queer Film Festival in the fall. And the massive gay party La Demence, held about 12 times a year at Fuse, is a Brussels institution, drawing men from across Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Germany and beyond for more than 30 years. Brussels is centrally located and with Belgium being such a small country, it's also quite easy to visit most destinations below as a day trip from Brussels.
Europe's diamond capital and its second biggest port city, Antwerp is also an important center of fashion, art and northern European nightlife. The crown jewel of Belgium's Flanders region, Antwerp was the site of IGLTA's annual convention in 2010, and every year hosts the LGBTQ+ spectrum-spanning Unicorn Festival in July, as well as Antwerp Pride in August.
With a gorgeous historic city center that seems to have emerged right out of a storybook (which earned it UNESCO World Heritage Site status), Bruges is Belgium's top destination for tourists. The pretty city's canals have led many to call this "the Venice of the North," and its year-round slate of lively arts, food and music festivals means there's always something happening in Bruges.
Once the second biggest city in northern Europe, today Ghent still oozes medieval Flemish charm, but thankfully draws fewer tourists than its spotlight-hogging sister Bruges just to the northwest. Ghent abounds in Renaissance treasures like the famed 15th century Ghent Altarpiece at St. Bavo's Cathedral, but the city's large student population keeps its vibe young.
Interesting Attractions to Visit in Belgium
The rolling hills, rugged ridges and dense forests of Belgium's southeastern Ardennes region make it a big favorite with hikers, bikers and campers. Caves are another main attraction, carved out by underground rivers cutting through limestone over the course of millennia and now filled with dazzling stalagmites and stalactites.
CASTLES & CHATEAUX
It's said that Belgium has even more castles per capita than France, and visiting them is a hugely popular pastime for Belgian travelers. Though they're spread across the entire country, some of Belgium's finest castles are clustered around the Wallonian city of Namur, including the fairy tale-esque Château de Vêves and the lushly gardened Château de Freÿr.
THE FLEMISH COAST
Belgium's sandy North Sea coastline is one of its most scenic areas, and it's prized by locals and visitors alike for its great biking, swimming, sailing, fishing, horseback riding and even surfing. The entire length of the 42-mile coast (including 15 diverse resorts) is connected by the world's longest tram line, which operates at least every 20 minutes throughout the year.
Hugging the French border, the ancient Wallonian city of Tournai is one of Belgium's oldest, having served as the first capital of the Frankish empire starting in the 5th century. Today this pretty city is a history lover's dream, the highlights being its medieval Belfry and its five-towered Gothic and Romanesque Notre Dame Cathedral, both UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Experiencing Belgian Food
Belgium's cuisine is among world's tastiest, heavily influenced by both its Flemish and Wallonian halves. Moules-frites, or mussels and fries, is the country's most famed national dish, but another not to miss is carbonade flamande, a beef stew that's similar to the French beef bourguignon. Frites (or fries) on their own are a national gastronomic pursuit unto themselves, most commonly topped with mayonnaise or andalouse, a Belgian blend of mayo, tomato paste and peppers. The Belgian wafel has deeper grooves than its American waffle counterpart, all the better for holding Belgian-favored toppings like whipped cream, Nutella and fresh fruit. (The Liège version, known as gaufres de Liège, is often served plain, since pearl sugar has already been added into the batter.) Belgian chocolate is of course second to none, with a number of top brands like Leonidas, Neuhaus and Wittamer consistently turning the creation of fine chocolate into a delectable art form. Belgian beer is also among the planet's most beloved, with a long and unparalleled tradition that's now being perfectly complemented by the best in brewing innovation, creating a dizzying variety of world-class lagers, ales, stouts and everything in between.
Safety Consideration for LGBTQ+ Visitors to Belgium
Belgium is consistently ranked among the most welcoming countries on Earth for LGBTQ+ travelers, and it boasts a long track record of LGBTQ+ acceptance. In 2003 it became the world's second country to adopt marriage equality, and same-sex adoption was fully legalized here in 2006. Belgium ranked 2nd on ILGA-Europe's 2019 Rainbow Index of national LGBTQ+ equality laws and policies, and tied for 4th on the 2019 Spartacus Gay Travel Index. LGBTQ+ travelers should face no discrimination in Belgium's cities, though it's always best to remember that prejudice can happen anywhere, and that attitudes in the countryside may be less progressive.
LGBTQ+ Travel Tips for Belgium
Brussels and Antwerp both have strong and thriving LGBTQ+ scenes, and both regularly host events that draw LGBTQ+ visitors from across Europe and the world. The Belgian Pride in Brussels draws some 100,000 attendees every May, and is the first major event of the European Pride season. Antwerp Pride happens in August, and the city also hosts the popular and very diverse Unicorn Festival in July. In the fall, Belgium Bear Pride and the Pink Screens Queer Film Festival both come to Brussels. In May 2019, the first Trans*March took place in Brussels, and Ghent hosted the first Queer Pride Gent (the Dutch spelling of its name).
Dan Allen is a longtime LGBTQ+ travel journalist and author whose love affair with Belgium began when he covered Brussels and Antwerp for his very first travel articles nearly two decades ago. Since then he's visited and written about Belgium countless times, often on weekend trips from nearby Berlin, where he lived for three years. Now based in Los Angeles, he's a regular contributor to NBC Out, Passport, Edge Media Network and the Los Angeles Blade, as well as mainstream travel outlets like TravelZoo and American Way.
Featured image by @eddyvoyage365