For our first trip to Belgium as a family, we planned a simple itinerary of a few days that allowed us to visit several locations within easy reach of each other. We landed in Brussels and from here we began our first taste of this splendid country, then we moved south to visit Dinant and some historic breweries for the day. We continued north, always visiting Ghent in the day and then dedicating 3 days to the unhurried discovery of beautiful Bruges.
Brussels: the chocolate city
The first taste with Belgium was for us with its capital. The first day the weather wasn't exactly on our side, but we still took a walk around the city.
We didn't have much time at our disposal, but the city offers several interesting museums, such as the one dedicated to Magritte or the one on musical instruments, housed in the unusual and characteristic themed building. From here we continued to Mont des Art, an urban complex characterized by a series of important buildings and a beautiful modern park. Here the viewpoint over the city is really pleasant.
We continued our walk until we reached the Galeries Royales St. Hubert, splendid shopping arcades covered by a glass dome that house elegant shops and chocolate shops.
A walk along its various sections is not to be missed, perhaps even in the evening to appreciate them illuminated. Inside, you will also find some branches of the best chocolate shops in the city, among the many we chose to try Neuhaus, which has had its historic headquarters here since 1857. We are sure the inventor of pralines will win you over too with his delicious chocolates, so it will be impossible to leave without at least one small box to take home!
Continue on your walk towards the small statue Jeanneke-Pis (in Flemish, which means "little girl peeing"). It is located right in front of the Delirium Cafè, entered in the Guinness Book of Records as the place with the largest number of beers to choose from (over 2,000). Organized in different environments, it offers the opportunity to taste local and sometimes unusual beers, we have chosen the Delirium tremens, which takes its name from the place and the Blanche des Neiges, both very good.
We then wandered a bit away from the center to visit the imposing Gothic-style Cathédrale des Sts Michel et Gudule. It is certainly also worth a visit inside to appreciate the beautiful stained glass windows.
From here we returned towards the center to reach the beautiful Grand Place (or Grote Markt), bordered by the houses of the guilds, the Town Hall and the Maison du Roi (the House of the King). It deserves to be seen both in the evening, when it is decorated with lights and sound effects during the Christmas period, and during the day, when you can better notice the golden and elegant details of its buildings.
It was already getting dark, but we wanted to continue on foot a little longer to reach a symbol of this city: the statue of the Manneken-Pis, the male version of the baby who pees. A group of passionate volunteers takes care of the statue, which actually has a real wardrobe with which it is dressed every day, we found it in this sailor version! Along the way, take advantage of a stop in the shop dedicated to Tin-Tin, the famous character from Belgian comics. You can't miss it, it's near his mural!
Although not in the centre, the Sablon district, with its characteristic square, is also worth a visit. The neighborhood takes its name from the yellow sand that was once found in this area, when it was still outside the city walls. The triangular square, in the center of which is the Minerva fountain, is surrounded by elegant historic buildings that house several antique shops and three renowned chocolate shops. Among these we tried the delicious Wittamer pastry and chocolate shop, of which we tasted the delicate chocolates and the more commercial Leonidas.
Also in the heart of the city but not quickly reachable on foot, there are two other unmissable attractions, which we have only observed from the outside: the Royal Palace, the official residence of the King of Belgium and the European Parliament.
Finally we went to closely observe the Atomium, an imposing construction that represents the 9 atoms of a unit cell of iron. It was created specifically for the 1958 Expo, it was only supposed to last 60 years, but in fact it is now one of the symbols of the city. The structure can be partially visited and temporary exhibitions are set up in a sphere.
Dinant and the nearby breweries
Dinant is a small town about 1h by car from Brussels. It is famous for being the birthplace of a beer that is also well known in Italy: Leffe. We included it in our tour because we were impressed by the beautiful Collégiale Notre Dame de Dinant, which overlooks the Meuse River.
You can visit it quite quickly and after some wonderful shots of the city from the opposite bank, we crossed the Charles de Gaulle bridge, decorated with numerous colored saxophones, since its inventor was born right here. In memory of Charles de Gaule's passage through the city, you will also find a statue not far from the bridge. In addition to the Collégiale Notre Dame de Dinant, the city also boasts a citadel perched on the hill, which we have not had the opportunity to visit and the sax museum.
We continued with a visit to the Leffe headquarters. Housed in an abbey now converted into a museum and hotel, it tells the story of beer and its links with the city of Dinant through numerous videos. It was quite interesting as a first introduction to the history of beer in Belgium and ended with a tasting of their beers, including some types not available in Italy.
From here we continued by car to the impressive Maredsous Abbey, a neo-Gothic style Benedictine monastery. A few steps away you can visit the brewery of the same name, taste and buy their delicious beers and some local products. We opted for the tasting of 4 beers: a great way to figure out what to buy next!
Before returning, we also had time for a brief visit to Namur, the capital of Wallonia. We got there when it was already dark and we contented ourselves with a walk around its center and visiting the market in Places d'Armes.
Worth a mention, if like us you stay in an apartment, the beautiful Maison Saint-Aubain delicatessen: a paradise for lovers of meat, charcuterie and cheese!
Our trip to Belgium continues in the next article dedicated to Ghent and Bruges!
Before your trip
- How to move around? We moved between the different locations by car, to have more flexibility. The drive are relatively short and the roads flowing, absolutely feasible even if you have small travelers with you. We landed in Brussels, which is in fact the center of the route, and there we conveniently rented a car at the airport
- How many days? To complete our tour without too much haste, 6 days are more than enough. Brussels has a lot to offer. We dedicated just over a day to it, leaving out museums and visits to attractions. Half a day is enough for Dinant, but the province of Namur deserves a little more time
- Where to stay? We preferred to stay in an apartment booked with airbnb. Traveling with little Enea it was much more convenient to be able to dine at home. We chose the Sablon square, due to its location, convenient for reaching the historic heart of the city, also simple for the car park and the various shops under the house. The apartment turned out to be a real gem. Arranged over two floors and tastefully furnished by Clara, an interior designer. It is a place where we will return with pleasure!