Author Topic: Who's been to Belgium? Got travel suggestions?  (Read 5769 times)

KS

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Who's been to Belgium? Got travel suggestions?
« on: May 30, 2014, 02:22:54 PM »
Just booked tickets for what will likely be our last somewhat spendy international trip for quite a while (kid discussion can't be put off much longer, and we're planning to keep travels cheap and closer to home if and when they arrive). We're headed to Belgium for about 2 weeks in September, and are very excited but still in the early stages of planning. We're hoping 2 weeks will be enough to see quite a bit since it's a small-ish country for getting around. Also if it doesn't lead to a terribly packed itinerary, we are considering checking out Luxembourg on this trip as well since it seems so close by but that's optional.

From a quick forum search it seems a lot of you either currently live there or have been before, so I'd love any insider tips you might have! We usually like to keep our travels a mixture of checking off some of the standard "must see" sights that come up in guidebooks, but also get off the beaten path a bit and escape the tourist crowds if possible. Generally prefer smaller towns and countryside to big cities. Open to renting a car for portions of the trip if that's easier for getting to smaller off-track places, but also quite content to do it all by rail if that makes more sense. Definitely want to do a tour of at least one brewery, since we seek those out on all our trips and Belgium seems an ideal place to find them! Not so much museum people but open to visiting one or two if they're really great ones. Historical sites are good too. We're not sure yet whether we will stay somewhere different every night or try and pick a few "hub" cities to stay in and go out on day trips from there. If feasible the latter would be great in that it's more likely we could do a few apartment rentals since they often have minimum stay requirements. I do like having a kitchen to avoid so many meals out!

Anyway, all that considered, any suggestions? What would you say are "must-see" or "must-do" cities, sights, activities? (bonus points if free or cheap!) Are there any places all the lists recommend but are over-rated and should be skipped? Thoughts on best cities to stay in along the way? Any particular money-saving options unique to Belgium? Etc, etc...

Thanks all!

yyc-phil

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Re: Who's been to Belgium? Got travel suggestions?
« Reply #1 on: May 30, 2014, 02:57:07 PM »
Of course, Brussels, Bruges, Ghent, the castles of Namur, Lieges, and especially the countryside in between are must-see. My wife and I are food tourists and we enjoy walking around the city in search of local markets, visiting sights and landmarks as side dishes as we come across them but we are not necessarily in search of these main tourist attractions. On my next trip to Belgium, I plan to do a beer circuit and hope to try a good number of the 600+ Belgian beers. I am not a beer drinker, but I might become one after that trip. Even for a short two week trip, I would encourage you to visit Luxembourg and if you have time, venture into France to visit Metz and Strasbourg, which is in my mind the most beautiful city I ever visited. To get around, I personally enjoy driving the countryside in that area of Europe, and I found some great car rental rates from Frankfurt and I found that for the two of us, it was cheaper than using the train, even considering the cost of gas. I found the best rates by searching on carrentals.com. If you do go the rental car option and have a credit card that includes insurance, check with the rental car company beforehand to make sure you have what they need. Some car rental companies will demand to see an original letter from the insurance company, addressed to you, stipulating what coverage you have. If you don't present such document, they will automatically charge you the cost of full insurance coverage, even if you decline it.

Kriegsspiel

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Re: Who's been to Belgium? Got travel suggestions?
« Reply #2 on: May 30, 2014, 04:02:13 PM »
Belgium rocks.

Bruges (try taking a tour of the Half-Man brewery) and Antwerp were really fun and have lots of old stuff to check out. Brussels is really busy and bustling, you can do a great pub-crawl there and try all their really tart lambics after you look at the statue of the pissing kid.. The Delerium Cafe is pretty cool too.

You can also visit Bastogne.

Iconoclast

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Re: Who's been to Belgium? Got travel suggestions?
« Reply #3 on: May 31, 2014, 01:27:21 AM »
One of my favorite smaller cities is Namur (Namen in Dutch), with its laid-back attitude. There's a pretty citadel overlooking the city. Try out one of the brasseries (there's a nice one opposite the cathedral) From Namur, you could bike or take a train to Dinant to the South, a smaller town with an even more impressive citadel. If you go to Dinant by bike (great bikepaths next to the Meuse river) and are in the mood for it, you could ride from Namur down to Givet, which is in France. Not that far from Namur is Bastogne, the city of the Battle of the Bulge. There's a museum (the Mardasson) dedicated to the battle there.

Don't forget that Belgium is a small country, and if you are travelling by car, you can be in 4 different countries (France, Holland, Luxembourg and Germany) in one hour or less, if you step on it, European-style. :-) You can also take daytrips by train to Lille in France (2nd biggest French city), Amsterdam (or Delft), or Cologne in Germany. Here's a link to the Belgian train company with more excursions: http://www.belgianrail.be/en/leisure.aspx

In the Netherlands, Maastricht is one of the nicer smaller cities. The inner city is very pretty and there are a number of interesting things to see, such as the remains of the old defense system and the tunnels under and next to the city (3 different tours to be done there, if I remember correctly). Not that far from Maastricht is the Belgian fortress of Eben-Emael, which was one of the biggest structures at the start of WW2 but was taken in hours by the Germans because they landed with glider planes on top of the fortress. (Sorry for rambling on, I'm a bit of a history buff...) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fort_Eben-Emael

Getting around by car might be quicker and less expensive, but in Belgium and the Netherlands, they have double-decker trains which make it easy to take in the countryside, which can be a reward in itself.

In most railway stations in the Netherlands and Belgium, it is possible to rent a bike. Going to bigger cities will mean that you will have a hard time parking a car, or you will be paying a lot for parking it.

I'm not sure whether as a non-resident, you could sign up for a car-sharing program such as Cambio. http://www.cambio.be/cms/carsharing/en/2/cms?cms_knuuid=a77c4fdc-f93c-4313-92b7-58ca9e619583&cms_f4=1&cms_f8=

Feel free to PM me if you need more info.

deborah

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Re: Who's been to Belgium? Got travel suggestions?
« Reply #4 on: May 31, 2014, 01:50:07 AM »
Just remember that they are celebrating(?) the centenary of the beginning of WW1 this year, and of course "The Rape of Belgium" was in August 1914, and much of the western front of the war was on Belgium soil. You may want to check if there is anything going on in the areas you want to visit

Albert

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Re: Who's been to Belgium? Got travel suggestions?
« Reply #5 on: May 31, 2014, 03:00:11 PM »
I've been in Belgium only one week, but Antwerp was by far my favourite city. More than Brugge for sure, not that the latter is not worth going to. Of course it would be crazy not to spend at least one full day (2-3 would not be boring) in Brussels itself.

basd

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Re: Who's been to Belgium? Got travel suggestions?
« Reply #6 on: May 31, 2014, 11:27:32 PM »
I'd recommend Antwerp and Ghent. I've never been to Bruges but from what I've heard it's a bit of a tourist trap.

I didn't find Brussels all that interesting either to be honest (from having been there 4-5 times), it's nowhere nearly as charming as Antwerp or Ghent.

The inner city of Namur is nice indeed and be sure to pay a visit to the citadel. I lived there for four months though, and that was four months minus a weekend too long. I.e., great place to spend a day, maybe two, but that's it.

Personally I'd pick one or two cities to visit and spend the rest of the time in the countryside. There are some lovely small villages to be found in Belgium, the countryside is very pretty in the Ardennes (for hiking, MTBing, etc.) and there are some awesome breweries around the country.

I'm not really a city person though, so YMMV.

I'd recommend against going the American way and trying to fit in Holland, Luxembourg and France in the same trip as well. Slow travel is where it's at.

Luxembourg is worthy of a trip of its own though, it's a great country.

KS

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Re: Who's been to Belgium? Got travel suggestions?
« Reply #7 on: June 02, 2014, 10:07:43 AM »
Thanks everyone! This will help us get a good start in our planning for sure!

Bobberth

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Re: Who's been to Belgium? Got travel suggestions?
« Reply #8 on: June 05, 2014, 12:39:39 PM »
This isn't necessary a suggestion due to the subject, but our friends took us to Breendonk and we toured the WW1 fort that was turned into a concentration camp during WW2.  It's an experience.  With it being a WW1 fort of thick concrete buried beneath soil; the cold, damp, moldy interior really overtakes you.   The eeriness consumes all of your senses and your mind as you make your way through.  Again, it's a bit strange to suggest a concentration camp as a tourist stop, but it is an experience.  Not good.  Not bad.  An experience.  And I am glad that we went for that experience.

former player

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Re: Who's been to Belgium? Got travel suggestions?
« Reply #9 on: June 06, 2014, 07:26:38 AM »
Lots of good suggestions above.

My advice when you are planning your itinerary is that you should be to not be too much constrained by the international borders between Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, North East France and North West Germany, because when you arrive you will find that they basically don't exist.  Languages change within these countries but not necessarily across borders, the currency is the same in all of them, much of the public transport acts as though they don't exist.  If you hire a car and are limited to one country you could well find yourself outside it without even realising (some of the borders/enclaves are pretty weird).  The problem you may find is that the guide books and information are still country-based.  When you get there you will probably find that staying within country boundaries makes little or no sense - there will be other ways to plan your trip which will suit you better.  Think "Low Countries" as your destination.

In Belgium, I think Antwerp is a nicer place to stay than Brussels (possibly coloured by the fact that I used to live in Brussels0.  The site of the battle of Waterloo (just outside Brussels) is still worth a look - there's a large mound to climb to see the actual battle site.  If you want to go to the seaside, try Knokke, which is where the Belgians go.

It sounds like a great trip.  Have fun.

gooki

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Re: Who's been to Belgium? Got travel suggestions?
« Reply #10 on: June 09, 2014, 01:18:15 AM »
Go kyaking. It's a wonderful way to spend a day, and experience the beautiful countryside.

I think we did this one.
http://www.tripadvisor.co.nz/Attraction_Review-g188662-d2552759-Reviews-Lesse_Kayak-Dinant_The_Ardennes_Wallonia.html

kyanamerinas

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Re: Who's been to Belgium? Got travel suggestions?
« Reply #11 on: June 09, 2014, 01:26:38 AM »
we spent a week in bruges and loved it. also did a ypres tour which was pricey but worth it.
eating-wise, if you want to eat out i'd recommend eating out at lunch. a lot of places seem to have better value set-menus then and we found them pretty good value as far as belgium goes. we then made up sandwiches from bits from a supermarket and had a picnic tea sat on a bench overlooking the canals.

Panly

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Re: Who's been to Belgium? Got travel suggestions?
« Reply #12 on: June 12, 2014, 08:46:37 AM »

Whatever you do,  don't forget to visit Leuven.  Right next to Brussels,  small medieval town overpopulated by students, hence loads of activities for those without kids :)



EricL

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Re: Who's been to Belgium? Got travel suggestions?
« Reply #13 on: June 19, 2014, 12:12:49 PM »
If you're into WW II history the north shoulder of the Battle of the Bulge was fought there.  But if not, just about anywhere you go the food if fabulous.  So is the beer.  Some say it's the best in the world.  The Belgians don't follow the old German beer brewing laws so they experiment freely and the results are very flavorful.  The chocolate is awesome too.

mrgrump

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Re: Who's been to Belgium? Got travel suggestions?
« Reply #14 on: June 22, 2014, 01:47:12 AM »
We have lived here for about 6 months and have seen quiet a bit of brussels. We leave to go home Thursday.

Recommendations

The American cemetery at Flanders Field.
Saint Sixtus Abbey to get a beer
The Atomium
Brewery tour at Stella.
Car Museum in Brussels.
Get a waffle from Aroma on the Grand Place, Dandoy and the waffle stand across from the Australian ice cream place near the grand place

Skip....
The beer Museum located on the Grand place.
Hoegaarden brewery tour

2 weeks is a long time in Belgium so I would consider a day trip to London, Paris or Amsterdam as they are all about a 2 hour train ride.

deborah

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Re: Who's been to Belgium? Got travel suggestions?
« Reply #15 on: June 22, 2014, 01:59:18 AM »
Australian ice cream place
I didn't know there was such a thing as Australian Ice Cream. What is Australian about it?

mrgrump

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Re: Who's been to Belgium? Got travel suggestions?
« Reply #16 on: June 22, 2014, 05:52:21 AM »
There is a Kangaroo on the cup? It taste like standard ice cream so I can't really say what's Australian about it other than the kangaroo on the cup and the name of the store is Australian Ice Cream Company or something very similar to that.

Polaria

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Re: Who's been to Belgium? Got travel suggestions?
« Reply #17 on: July 22, 2014, 08:15:13 AM »
About Australian Ice Cream:

Australian Ice Cream is a Belgian company . The founder chose that name because he had an Australian aunt who believed in him and supported him financially.

http://australianice.be/fr/index.html

And the chocolate brand to buy is Côte d'Or, available in every supermarket.

https://www.cotedor.be/produits/produits-list
« Last Edit: July 22, 2014, 08:26:42 AM by Polaria »

viper155

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Re: Who's been to Belgium? Got travel suggestions?
« Reply #18 on: July 22, 2014, 02:44:52 PM »
Instead of a sweet sixteen party my daughter opted for a month long trip to Belgium several years ago. It was hosted by The International Rotary Club and was only $1100.00! About a quarter of what a lot of people around here spend on a 5 hour sweet sixteen, catered party. My daughter has memories that will last a lifetime. She said, like another poster here did, that Bruge was awesome. BTW, there is a very good movie with Colin Farrell called In Bruge with lots of great scenes all around Bruge.
Have a great trip!

KS

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Re: Who's been to Belgium? Got travel suggestions?
« Reply #19 on: July 31, 2014, 01:32:17 PM »
Thank you all for the great info! Our trip has snuck up on us; we are determined to get all our lodgings booked this week so we can breathe a little easier and get to researching more of the smaller stuff, like restaurants and transit schedules and things. What we've decided to do is ~1 week using the trains and focusing on Brussels, Ghent, Bruges (and possibly some excursions near those cities, as time and transit allow). Then the second week we'll get a car and explore the southern region and Luxembourg, by staying in 2 different "hub" places for 3 nights each. We're definitely more the "slow travel" types, so while we want to see as much as we can, we don't plan to hop around to all the neighboring countries even though they are close.

I do have a new question, particularly for those of you who live there: do we need to learn to speak some French/Flemish?  I know many Europeans speak English (and I've read that's especially true in Belgium since they have the two different language regions) but I hate to be that obnoxious American who barges up and doesn't even bother to try speaking the local language. Plus a few of the lodgings we're looking at seem to be hosted by, and mainly cater to, French speakers. I usually like to at least learn the basics (hello, goodbye, please, thank you,  etc) for any country we visit and do have at least that much down in French but that's about it, and no Flemish, aside from being able to recognize a few words that are similar to German.  So my plan was to learn the very basic polite stuff in Flemish and then get a CD for my commute to cram as much French as I can in the next month, which likely won't be a whole lot. Is Belgium generally the kind of country you can get by in English, without being seen as a jerk?

basd

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Re: Who's been to Belgium? Got travel suggestions?
« Reply #20 on: July 31, 2014, 02:53:34 PM »
I do have a new question, particularly for those of you who live there: do we need to learn to speak some French/Flemish?  I know many Europeans speak English (and I've read that's especially true in Belgium since they have the two different language regions) but I hate to be that obnoxious American who barges up and doesn't even bother to try speaking the local language. Plus a few of the lodgings we're looking at seem to be hosted by, and mainly cater to, French speakers. I usually like to at least learn the basics (hello, goodbye, please, thank you,  etc) for any country we visit and do have at least that much down in French but that's about it, and no Flemish, aside from being able to recognize a few words that are similar to German.  So my plan was to learn the very basic polite stuff in Flemish and then get a CD for my commute to cram as much French as I can in the next month, which likely won't be a whole lot. Is Belgium generally the kind of country you can get by in English, without being seen as a jerk?
It depends a lot on the region. In Flanders, most people will speak English, especially the younger ones and those involved in tourism. No need to really learn any Flemish or Dutch (although it's generally appreciated if you try).

In Wallonia, probably not so much. They're very French in that way. Although people in the bigger cities (Namur, Liege) and people dealing with tourists are generally more inclined to understand and speak English. I've lived in Namur for four months and got plenty of exercise in French!

It's really two different countries.

Paul der Krake

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Re: Who's been to Belgium? Got travel suggestions?
« Reply #21 on: July 31, 2014, 06:01:31 PM »
If you like beer, go to the Delirium Cafe in Brussels. Their beer menu is the size of your phonebook, and don't get fooled by the fruity beer that drink like juice, because by the time you realize they're 12% alcohol it will be too late.

You don't need to speak the local language to survive in any real city west of Poland. Maybe learn the basic words regarding transportation and getting around in general to be able to read signs and you'll be fine.

KS

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Re: Who's been to Belgium? Got travel suggestions?
« Reply #22 on: July 31, 2014, 07:21:57 PM »
Thanks basd and Paul! That kind of confirms what I was thinking... for the first half in the Flemish portion we'll be mostly in big cities so it should be less of an issue. The second half will probably be okay at any tourist spots but we may want to know at least some minimal French to get by in the smaller towns/countryside. Stopped by my library on the way home to grab a couple phrasebooks and CDs, but unfortunately the CDs are all "part 2" or intermediate ones so I'll have to try another library and see if I can find one that's better for getting started. Or there's always the internet but I was hoping to make my commute time work for me!

former player

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Re: Who's been to Belgium? Got travel suggestions?
« Reply #23 on: August 01, 2014, 02:59:22 AM »
Polite shows itself in any language, so being polite in American English will largely get you by.  The basics "hello", "goodbye", "please" and "thank you" in a local language will be appreciated - although an acquaintance of mine claimed that the only phrase he needed in any foreign language was "my friend will pay".

If you can, avoid speaking French in Flemish areas (you can usually tell by the street signs which sort of area you are in - generally north is Flemish, south is French, and it gets a bit complicated around Brussels).

Moonwaves

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Re: Who's been to Belgium? Got travel suggestions?
« Reply #24 on: August 01, 2014, 06:06:38 AM »
As someone else mentioned above, check out the situation on insurance for your car hire. As a mustachian you probably wouldn't mind taking just the basic insurance included in the car hire and taking the risk of the high deductible (usually between €1,000 and €1,500) but just in case you're like me and don't want to have the high deductible, or just in case you have the type of problems previously posted about, it is also possible to purchase deductible insurance. I pay about €40 per year and get it from Insurance4CarHire - haven't had to make a claim but for everything else I've found them very easy to deal with and helpful. Since I don't have a car and just occasionally hire one, and this annual cost is about equivalent to paying the extra insurance for less than three days, so it works for me.

Also, bear in mind that there is usually an additional charge if you want to take a rental car to a different country - check it out carefully. It might make more sense to do the Luxembourg part of your trip by train and keep the car part for just within Belgium. For car hire, I now always use autoeurope - I've stopped going directly to any one car hire place as the rates and special offers could never match it.

On the subject of beer, a friend of mine did a beer-tasting afternoon a few months ago. He got a whole load of Belgian beers and we tasted them blind. There's one particular one called gueuze and I'd say don't order a large one until you've given it a try. Seems to be a bit of a love it or hate it kind of beer. One of the others thinks it's the best thing ever. To me, it tasted a bit like cough syrup and I don't think I'd be able to finish a full glass. Rotten stuff.

+1 for In Bruges though, especially if you enjoy dark humour.

Albert

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Re: Who's been to Belgium? Got travel suggestions?
« Reply #25 on: August 01, 2014, 08:51:18 AM »

Also, bear in mind that there is usually an additional charge if you want to take a rental car to a different country - check it out carefully. It might make more sense to do the Luxembourg part of your trip by train and keep the car part for just within Belgium. For car hire, I now always use autoeurope - I've stopped going directly to any one car hire place as the rates and special offers could never match it.

Is that really true? Admittedly my only experience with renting a car and going to another country is from Switzerland, but at least here I'm allowed to take it to all the neighbouring countries (all EU west of Poland in fact) without paying anything extra. I've heard that in the past you couldn't rent in Germany and go to Poland, but perhaps not true anymore. You could probably cross from Belgium into Luxembourg without even noticing the border.

Polaria

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Re: Who's been to Belgium? Got travel suggestions?
« Reply #26 on: August 01, 2014, 09:19:25 AM »
I do have a new question, particularly for those of you who live there: do we need to learn to speak some French/Flemish?  I know many Europeans speak English (and I've read that's especially true in Belgium since they have the two different language regions) but I hate to be that obnoxious American who barges up and doesn't even bother to try speaking the local language. Plus a few of the lodgings we're looking at seem to be hosted by, and mainly cater to, French speakers. I usually like to at least learn the basics (hello, goodbye, please, thank you,  etc) for any country we visit and do have at least that much down in French but that's about it, and no Flemish, aside from being able to recognize a few words that are similar to German.  So my plan was to learn the very basic polite stuff in Flemish and then get a CD for my commute to cram as much French as I can in the next month, which likely won't be a whole lot. Is Belgium generally the kind of country you can get by in English, without being seen as a jerk?
It depends a lot on the region. In Flanders, most people will speak English, especially the younger ones and those involved in tourism. No need to really learn any Flemish or Dutch (although it's generally appreciated if you try).

In Wallonia, probably not so much. They're very French in that way. Although people in the bigger cities (Namur, Liege) and people dealing with tourists are generally more inclined to understand and speak English. I've lived in Namur for four months and got plenty of exercise in French!

It's really two different countries.

I couldn't have said that in a better way.

Brussels is English-friendly as well mainly due to the presence European public servants; I read English is now the city's second language.

If you want to buy beers/ chocolates in a supermarket, try to find a Colruyt; they have a nice selection and they guarantee to have the lowest prices. Be warned, the stores are cash n carry style, but you can buy any quantities (although for most beers you have to buy them by packs).

Some links to their selection:
http://www.collectandgo.be/cogo/fr/branch/391/
http://www.collectandgo.be/cogo/fr/branch/1220/

Pol
« Last Edit: August 01, 2014, 09:36:12 AM by Polaria »

KS

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Re: Who's been to Belgium? Got travel suggestions?
« Reply #27 on: August 01, 2014, 09:56:57 AM »

Also, bear in mind that there is usually an additional charge if you want to take a rental car to a different country - check it out carefully. It might make more sense to do the Luxembourg part of your trip by train and keep the car part for just within Belgium. For car hire, I now always use autoeurope - I've stopped going directly to any one car hire place as the rates and special offers could never match it.

Is that really true? Admittedly my only experience with renting a car and going to another country is from Switzerland, but at least here I'm allowed to take it to all the neighbouring countries (all EU west of Poland in fact) without paying anything extra. I've heard that in the past you couldn't rent in Germany and go to Poland, but perhaps not true anymore. You could probably cross from Belgium into Luxembourg without even noticing the border.

This is an interesting point, I'll definitely read the details of the rental when we book it! We've only rented a car in Europe once, back in 2006, and that was in Ireland so we weren't going to drive into another country without noticing. :) I guess I had been kind of assuming EU countries would work as Albert said, which is similar to renting a car in the US where often it's fine to drive to neighboring states and even across to Canada in some cases. Probably depends on the rental agency, I'll make sure to read all the fine print!

KS

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Re: Who's been to Belgium? Got travel suggestions?
« Reply #28 on: August 01, 2014, 10:00:23 AM »
If you want to buy beers/ chocolates in a supermarket, try to find a Colruyt; they have a nice selection and they guarantee to have the lowest prices. Be warned, the stores are cash n carry style, but you can buy any quantities (although for most beers you have to buy them by packs).

Some links to their selection:
http://www.collectandgo.be/cogo/fr/branch/391/
http://www.collectandgo.be/cogo/fr/branch/1220/

Pol

Thanks for the tip! We always do like to know the best supermarket chain to look out for in any country, as we often do apartment rentals and need somewhere to pick up basics like muesli/milk and picnic lunch supplies, etc.

Moonwaves

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Re: Who's been to Belgium? Got travel suggestions?
« Reply #29 on: August 05, 2014, 04:56:15 AM »
Is that really true? Admittedly my only experience with renting a car and going to another country is from Switzerland, but at least here I'm allowed to take it to all the neighbouring countries (all EU west of Poland in fact) without paying anything extra. I've heard that in the past you couldn't rent in Germany and go to Poland, but perhaps not true anymore. You could probably cross from Belgium into Luxembourg without even noticing the border.
Well then, I should qualify my answer by saying that if you're in Germany and hire a car from Enterprise, it'll cost you extra if you want to go to another country. :) Or at least it did the last time I hired a car, about three years ago. I'd have to check but I think the car-sharing programme I'm a member of (StadtMobil) also has restrictions on travelling to other countries. I'm very close to the Dutch border so it means I have to be careful about assuming I can just go anywhere if I have a car for the day. If I recall correctly the Enterprise charge was something like 25 euro extra per day, so it was a fairly significant cost. At any rate, something it's worth double-checking.

Panly

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Re: Who's been to Belgium? Got travel suggestions?
« Reply #30 on: August 19, 2014, 01:22:51 AM »

usually there is no problem at all taking cars into other countries, except that some rental companies (in Germany) forbid you to take premium brand vehicles into Italy and certain eastern European countries.  They'll make you sign a document featuring a map with all allowed and non-allowed countries. 

Of course, you could decide to ignore that,  but when you've got an accident or the benz gets stolen, you're liable.

 if you rent a MMM kind of car,  there should be no restrictions.

Btw, Belgium appears one of the cheapest countries to rent cars. 

bako_frugal

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Re: Who's been to Belgium? Got travel suggestions?
« Reply #31 on: August 19, 2014, 03:27:25 PM »
From someone who has been to Belgium many many time, I would recommend the Liege, Ghent, Bruges, Antwerpen.  Lier outside Antwerpen is one of the nice towns.  I was never very fond of Brussels. 

If you have time, rent a bike and go to one of the wanderlings (woods) sections.  There are very nice woods throughout Belgium with very regularly spaced pubs.  This is a great way to see the country outside the busy cities.  The area around Liege is what's known for biking and walking paths, but the area to the east of Antwerpen is the one I know (family).

Also if you are willing to be a little spendy take a canal cruise from Antwerpen.  Getting to see the country from the canals is very different from what you see via bus/train.  Just be careful which line you book on.  Quite a few won't have any English spoken, I ended up booked on a French only boat, but it was okay.  Good wine.

The WW1 memorials have started, there are a lot of special exhibits going on.  Some of the Reduit forts that are not normally open will have some limited public openings.  There is a history exhibit in the IBC building in Antwerp that was open when I was there in the spring detailing the history for Antwerp in the war.  Again no English.  If you have never been to one of the concentration camp memorials; Fort Breendonk is worth a visit.

KS

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Re: Who's been to Belgium? Got travel suggestions?
« Reply #32 on: September 22, 2014, 01:13:39 PM »
Just bumping this thread again to thank you all again for the advice, we had an awesome trip! I'll add a couple other observations of my own now in case anyone searches for this later:

-In 2 weeks we did feel like we got to see a LOT of the country, but we could easily have been there longer and taken things a little slower and/or seen more... it's a small country but there is a lot to do and see, not to be under-estimated!

-We were very glad we chose to stay in Ghent rather than Bruges; although Bruges was very nice we felt pretty "done" there in one day trip. (It was also the most tourist-packed of all the places we went by far, which I suppose for some would be comforting since that does make you feel less awkward and in the way as a tourist. Just depends what experience you're looking for.)

-The countryside in the south is gorgeous, totally worth spending some time in for anyone who doesn't require the constant bustle of cities. We preferred the quiet, personally! Also, if you are in the area between Dinant/Namur, our AirBnB host recommended this and we thought it was really fun: http://www.rail-bike.be/  (The guy who sold us our tickets sounded a little surprised to get a couple of Californians out there, and wondered how on earth we had found it, apparently they don't get a lot of Americans coming to do it.)

-A car was fantastic for the southern countryside half of the trip, but we were very glad not to have one for the city half (and super stressed out the day we drove into Luxembourg City). With the car, just getting from point A to B allowed us to pass through a lot of tiny little towns and parts of the country we might not have seen otherwise, and make occasional detours if we saw a signpost pointing to something that sounded cool.

-If you're into war history, the Menin Gate in Ypres and American Cemetery outside Luxembourg City are a couple of beautiful and moving places to pay respects to the fallen, and the newly spruced up museum at Bastogne is jam-packed with information and artifacts, almost to the point of being overwhelming when you first walk in.

-Man, I wish I had learned more French... :) So glad I at least learned what I did! We did fine, and most places we went there was at least one employee who could speak a little English if we needed to ask a more detailed question, but there were definitely a few times when it would have been great to be able to communicate better with some really friendly but French-only people. (And when jet-lagged, trying to decipher the train notifications on the way into Brussels from the airport which were only in French and Flemish.)

Overall, lots of fun, and very hard to come back to the real world and work! Helps solidify those financial goals getting a taste of freedom from the grind. :)