With over 90 museums, some 2,000 wonderful restaurants, and the lovely Dansaert shopping district to explore, there's plenty to do right in Brussels. But Belgium is a compact country -- it doesn't take more than an hour by train to visit most of the major highlights -- so plan your trip to take advantage of all the country has to offer.
Belgium has two regions: Wallonia (www.visitbelgium.com), which is French-speaking, and Flanders (www.visitflanders.us) where Flemish (similar to Dutch) is spoken. But, don't worry; many residents also speak English.
Art in the Park: Fondation Folon (Ferme du Château de La Hulpe, Drève de la Ramée 6 A, La Hulpe; tel. 02/653-3456; www.fondationfolon.be)
Jean-Michel Folon was a fabulous, 20th-century, Belgian painter, illustrator and sculptor. Not as well known as his compatriot, the surrealist painter René Magritte (www.musee-magritte-museum.be), although they both liked to paint men in hats. Folon was celebrated for his beautiful watercolors, his posters on behalf of important causes and his whimsical sculptures.
Folon's artwork is displayed in Château de La Hulp's ancient farmhouse in Solvay Park, about a half-hour from Brussels. After you've viewed the collection, enjoy lunch at the adjacent café, Taverne de L'Homme Bleu (tel. 02/654-0059), and take a stroll through the magnificent park.
Getting There: I'm a firm believer in public transportation, but this trip is easier by car (about 30 minutes) and you could combine it with a visit to Waterloo, ten minutes away.
TEC Bus #366 from Ixelles: Etangs d'Ixelles on Ave. du General de Gaulle in Brussels to La Hulpe Etang Solvay, about an hour. (Bus directions on the Fondation website are incorrect.) TEC Bus info only in French (www.infotec.be/index.aspx?PageId=631734022642174032).
In the park, follow the path that leads to your left, signage to the Fondation is limited.
A Bad Day for Napoleon: Waterloo Battlefield (Route du Lion 315, Waterloo; tel. 02/385-1912; www.waterloo1815.be/en/waterloo)
It's always thrilling to be in a spot where world history was made.
The Battle of Waterloo was one of the most important in European history. It marked the fall of Napoleon and paved the way for a new era of peace in Europe.
On June 18, 1815, Napoleon, the Duke of Wellington, Field-Marshal Blücher and 350,000 soldiers met on this battlefield, which has been preserved in its original state. You can take a tour, see reenactments, and learn more about the events leading up to the battle. But, you don't have to be a military history buff to enjoy a visit to this beautiful and fascinating sight.
Getting There: This trip is easiest by car (see note, above).
TEC Bus #365a or W outside Brussels Midi (South) train station to Braine L'Alleud (Route de Nivelles, not Waterloo stop), about 45 minutes. Then, walk or taxi to the Waterloo Battlefield Visitors' Center.
Antwerp gets a bum rap similar to Philadelphia's, but it's a hidden gem. Known for diamonds, which are just dull stones until cut and polished, this city became famous for the "Antwerp cut," said to give diamonds more sparkle. Browse the diamond district near the beautifully-restored Central Station but purchase from a shop in the Diamond Jewelers Association (www.adja.be).
Antwerp is also a fashion center thanks to the "Antwerp Six," a group of avant-garde fashion designers. Shop in the Sint-Andries neighborhood. Pop into Louis (Lombardenstraat 2; tel. 03/232-9872), the store that launched the Sixers' careers, Dries van Noten's flagship store, Modepaleis (Nationalestraat 16; tel. 03/470-2510), and Coccodrillo (Schuttershofstraat 9A; tel. 03/233-2093) which stocks the Antwerp designers' hip footwear. Better yet, go with a personal shopper (Personal Shopping, 3-hr. minimum, €275, extra hr. €75; Tanguy Ottomer; tel. 049/425-4159; www.tanguyottomer.com).
Stay longer than a day at the hip, conveniently-located Park Inn (Koningin Astridplein 14; tel. 03/202-3170; www.rezidorparkinn.com) and dine at the spectacular Het Pomphuis (Siberiastraat z/n; tel. 03/770-8625; www.hetpomphuis.be). Another unique dining experience for groups: De Lokeend (General Belliardstraat 11; tel. 03/231-8016; www.lokeend.com) -- diners in a fabulous, private home.
Getting There: Train from Brussels Gare Centrale station to Antwerp, about 30 minutes.
Famed for its medieval city center and canals, Bruges is now more on the map than ever due to the 2008 film In Bruges. But popularity has its downside; Bruges' charm is a bit diminished from the onslaught of tourists. It also suffers from another side effect -- once lovely, little local shops have turned into tourist traps.
To catch a glimpse of Bruges' true beauty, rise early and/or stay up late to stroll the cobblestone streets free of the maddening crowds. But, nothing can spoil chocolate -- there are some 40 shops to choose from. Start at the Chocolatier Van Oost (Wollestraat 11; tel. 050/33-1454; www.chocolatiervanoost.be).
Sup at Cafedraal (Zilverstraat 38; tel. 050/340-845; www.cafedraal.be), which serves better Bouillabaisse than Marseille, and overnight it at the fashionably-decorated Romantik Pandhotel (Pandreitje 16; tel. 050/340-666; www.pandhotel.com).
Getting There: Train from Brussels Gare Centrale station to Bruges, about an hour.
If you have time for only one day trip from Brussels, let it be this one. Ghent is the real deal. It has everything Bruges has -- canals, unbelievable architecture -- just on a slightly larger scale with fewer tourists.
Take a boat ride on the canals. Admire the cityscape of Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo and Neo-Classical architecture. Marvel at the magnificent, 13th- to 17th-century guildhalls along the banks of the canals.
Wander around, then relax at any number of lovely, sidewalk cafés, taverns or brasseries. Try inexpensive Mosquito Coast (Hoogpoort 28; tel. 09/224-3720; www.mosquitocoast.be) overlooking the canal; the more stylish Korenlei Twee (Korenlei 2; tel. 09/224-0073; www.korenleitwee.be) or the elegant Café Theatre (Schouwburgstraat 5-7; tel. 09/265-0550; www.cafetheatre.be) next to the opera house, known for its moëlleux, a cake with melted chocolate inside.
Be sure to stay for nightfall when all the buildings and monuments are illuminated. The Ghent Marriott (Korenlei 10; tel. 09/233-9393; www.marriott.com), with a hi-tech interior in an historic building, is right in the heart of it all.
Getting There: Train from Brussels Gare Centrale station to Ghent (Sint-Pieters station), about 35 minutes. Then, Tram #1 into the center city, 7 mins.
Transportation Options in Belgium
Brussels has three train stations (South, Central & North). The trains you'll need for these trips leave from the Gare Centrale; the trains are frequent and inexpensive. Schedules and fares at: SNCB (www.b-rail.be).
All the major rental car companies are in the Arrival Hall at the airport and, in the city centre, at Brussels Midi (South) Station: Avis (www.avis.com), Europcar (www.europcar.com), Hertz (www.hertz.com).
Talk with fellow Frommer's travelers in our Belgium Forum today.