Some of Europe’s finest medieval cities of Brussels, Antwerp, Bruges, Leuven and Ghent are situated in Belgium. The home of the European Union also packs a lot of art, architecture and history into its confined borders.
Being home to many important institutions including Nato and the European Union, Brussels is not only the capital of Belgium, it is also considered unofficially the capital of Europe.
Every two years, the Grand Place (Grote Markt) in Brussels (voted the World’s Most Beautiful Square), is covered with a carpet of nearly one million begonias, with a different theme of decoration chosen each time.
The main sightseeing attractions in Brussels are the Grand Place, the Atomium (now a museum) and Manneken Pis (bronze statue). Mini Europe, near the Atomium, features reproductions of 80 cities and 350 buildings, including the Eiffel Tower, the Berlin Wall, Big Ben, the Acropolis and the Doge’s Palace. Afterwards, visitors can relax in one of the many bars while enjoying a glass of Belgium beer and a Brussels waffle.
Antwerp is the diamond capital of the world but, sadly, there are no free samples for visitors. It has maintained this position since the 1500s and nowadays, 70 per cent of all global diamonds are cut and traded in Antwerp (this trade is valued at RM360 million per day). Don’t miss the Gothic Cathedral of Our Lady in the city centre, the Rubens House Museum and the Museum voor Schone Kunsten (with the world’s best collection of Rubens’ paintings).
HIDDEN TOURISM GEMS
Medieval Ghent is a hidden gem and one of the country’s best-kept secrets. With its sensational street art, amazing Castle Gravensteen and medieval street patterns, Ghent is definitely not to be missed when travelling in Belgium. Don’t leave the city without having tasted the traditional cuberdon, also known as “neuzekes”. This purple raspberry-flavoured candy has its origin in Ghent and is sold in many places in the city.
The clock also stopped in Bruges centuries ago. This quaint and ancient town is the home of the Flemish school of art. Take a canal trip to appreciate all the town has to offer.
Tomorrowland is one of the world’s biggest and most recognised electronic dance music festivals. Music lovers have booked online months ahead for this year’s festival from July 20 to 29. It covers two weekends, caters for 400,000 visitors and hosts more than 1,000 artistes spread over 17 different stages.
Belgians eat their fries (frites) with their fingers, preferably, or with a small plastic fork. They’re served with a sauce like ketchup, mayonnaise or mustard plus more exotic varieties like andalouse, samurai and joppiesaus. Both Belgium and France claim ownership to potatoes fries but naturally the people of Belgium argue theirs are superior.
Belgium is synonymous with fine chocolates. With names like Guylian, CÙte d’Or, Neuhaus and Leonidas, 2,000 chocolatiers and Callebaut, the world’s biggest chocolate factory, Belgium has stamped its ownership on chocolate.
Unlike the American version of waffles that are best known for their lavish toppings, Belgian waffles are a traditional street food eaten without anything on top. In Belgium, the treat is the waffle itself because they are so well made. There are two types — the Brussels Waffle and the Liege Waffle. Whereas the Brussels version wows patrons with its perfect rectangular shape and lighter-than-air texture, the Liege version is made with a dough similar to that of brioche. Pearl sugar is mixed into the dough and when cooked on an iron, the pearls melt and caramelise, forming big bites of crisp, browned sugar.
Nine of the world’s 100 best beers are Belgian and the world’s best beer destination is Belgium. With over 450 beers, almost every style of beer has its own uniquely shaped glass and using the correct glass is considered to improve its flavour. When it comes to beer, drinkers in Belgium prefer quality over quantity.
Population: 11.4 million
Area: 30,528 km2 (Malaysia is 330,803 km2)
Languages: Dutch, French and German
THE COMPETITION: Belgium is in Group F of the World Cup against Panama, Tunisia and England.