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Belgium
Belgium

Discover Belgium, as astonishing as it is surprising

Belgium in short

In a nutshell

The destination that immediately springs to mind when you think of a stay in Belgium is, of course, its capital (also the European capital) Brussels. Easy to get to, it is nonetheless elusive and hard to pin down, sometimes even for its own inhabitants! The city surprises with its magnificence. It's full of surprises. Far from being an open-air museum, it's a dynamic, eclectic city that's sure to please!

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The best thing about going to Brussels is not to have any particular vision of it, because the city seems to take a malicious pleasure in never offering the face that we expect of it. A case in point? The most obvious is of course Manneken Pis. The statue of this rambunctious little boy, known the world over, who feels no shame in peeing in front of everyone, disappointed many when they saw it in situ... Belgian humour? Perhaps. In any case, it's a good lesson for tourists, who realise that what's interesting isn't often obvious, and that you have to look at what you're not shown. Brussels should be discovered in this way, without presuppositions, by getting lost. The European capital, which is almost more like a small provincial town, then reveals all its riches. And there are plenty of them. Whether it's culture, gastronomy, festivals or architecture, Brussels is sure to turn heads. But don't let that stop you from admiring the Grand-Place and its magnificent facades.

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Less surprising but just as impressive, Bruges offers visitors what they came to see: a magnificent medieval city centre surrounded by canals, rightly earning it the nickname "Venice of the North". Whether on foot, in a horse-drawn carriage or by boat, Bruges is a constant source of wonder. Its built heritage, both civil and religious, is a real delight for architecture lovers. Among the must-see sites in this "Venice of the North" are the Grand-Place and its belfry, the Place du Bourg where you'll find the Palace of the Franc of Bruges, the Town Hall and the Basilica of the Holy Blood, the Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy and the Lodge of the Burghers, just some of the architectural masterpieces you can admire.

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If you're looking for originality in an architecturally distinctive setting, Antwerp is the place to be. Known as the legendary city of diamonds, Antwerp is far from monolithic. Behind the Baroque buildings and the warm, serene atmosphere, Antwerp conceals a turbulent, cosmopolitan character that is reflected in an explosive mix of the best of Europe's major cities. A fashion mecca with an influential fashion school and numerous designer boutiques, Antwerp attracts the best in designers and architects, and has quickly become a shopper's paradise.

© SilvanBachmann / Shutterstock

Outside these major tourist cities, you can also take advantage of the Belgian regions for a breath of fresh air! The North Sea offers an iodised setting, with long stretches of beach stretching as far as the eye can see. To the east of Liège, on the Hautes Fagnes plateau, peat bogs, fields of herbs and spruce trees stretch as far as the eye can see. A discovery trail offers a walk. Walk on duckboards and discover the flora and fauna. In the centre of the plateau, visit Belgium's highest point, the Signal de Botrange, 694 m high. From the top of its tower, it offers a magnificent view.

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The must-sees

All the must-sees

How to get there?

Belgium is a small country on the French border. If you're close by, opt for the car. From Paris, allow less than an hour's flight or less than 2 hours by train. From the south of France, regular flights take around 1h30 to reach the Belgian capital.

Brussels

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Where to stay?

Of course, Belgium's major tourist cities have magnificent hotels to suit many people.

Practical information

Getting to Belgium

It takes 55 minutes to fly from Paris to Brussels, which is 300 km from the French capital. The Thalys train links Paris to the Belgian capital in 1 hour 25 minutes. By car, allow 4 hours between Brussels and Paris.

Airports

Brussels International Airport (known as Brussels Airport since October 2006) is 14 km from Brussels, and taxis to the airport cost around €25. Alternatively, the City Airport Express train serves the city every quarter of an hour for around €2. The Flemish public transport company Delijn also provides bus services to Brussels city centre.

Language

59% of Belgians speak Dutch, 40% French and 1% German. But most people speak English, so don't worry if you don't speak Dutch in Bruges!

Formalities and visa

An identity card or passport (even if less than 5 years old) is sufficient for French nationals. In principle, there are no border controls between Belgium and France. However, since the attacks on France and Belgium in 2015 and 2016 respectively, there have been random checks. Particularly at certain airports. If you are travelling to Belgium from Nice, for example, you will have to go through a police check before you can board the plane. So make sure you have a valid identity card or passport with you.

Currency

The currency is the euro, divided into 100 cents. Banks are open from 9 a.m. to 12.30 p.m. and from 1.30 p.m. to 3.30 p.m. from Monday to Thursday, and until 4 p.m. on Fridays. Otherwise, many ATMs accept international credit cards. VISA works in most hotels, restaurants and shops, but don't forget to mention that few Belgians use VISA as a regular payment card, unlike the French!

Getting around

If you're close by, don't hesitate to opt for the car. The country is small and the motorways are numerous, free and well-equipped. On the other hand, avoid traffic in city centres. You'll easily find parking spaces. In Flanders, signs indicate French cities in Dutch: Parijs for Paris, Rijsel for Lille. You only need a French driving licence to hire a car. Car hire agencies are located in major cities, airports, railway stations and even in some medium-sized towns.

If your programme includes very few towns to visit, prefer the train, as it is fast, frequent and inexpensive (Thalys offers an all-Belgian station (TGB) fare, which allows you to travel on SNCB lines within 24 hours of your Thalys journey). Trains can be combined with bicycles. Two-wheel hire companies are located in most stations. West Flanders has a very good network of cycle paths. The country is flat. When your destinations are not served by rail, consider taking the bus. In Brussels, walk instead. Otherwise, buses and trams criss-cross the city. As for the metro, it's a veritable museum of contemporary art, and it criss-crosses the whole city!

Health

Before you leave, don't forget to ask your CPAM for a European Health Insurance Card so that you can be reimbursed for any medical expenses you incur on your return.

Taxes and tips

In hotels, restaurants and taxis, service is included. You may thank them with a tip, but there is no obligation to do so.

lightbulb_outline Editor's tip

Don't hesitate to strike up a conversation with the Belgians. True to their reputation, they are warm and welcoming, and you won't miss a chance to have some fun.

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