When a country is famous for its beer and chocolate, experienced a major cultural moment with surrealism, has soccer as its most popular sport, and bred the inventive minds that created the Smurfs, you know a vacation there will offer some surprising and fun experiences. Belgians have long had a reputation as irreverent rebels, and it’s a tradition that continues to this day in everything from the clothes of local designers to the music festivals that fill its cultural calendars.
This six-day itinerary to Belgium emphasizes the country’s lighter side. You can leave the visits to Gothic cathedrals and the country’s encyclopedic art museums for another time. This trip is for those more interested in sampling beer and waffles, exploring by bike, and meeting locals both at a soccer match and on the dance floor. You’ll start in Brussels, then head to the seashore at Ostend, and end at the city of Liège.
The carrier you’ll take to get to Belgium, Brussels Airlines, shares the same playful spirit as the country, with colorful Art Nouveau-inspired aircraft, and even a series of custom-designed planes based on Belgian icons like painter René Magritte and cartoon character Tintin. Other planes proudly host fan flights for the Belgian national soccer team, the Red Devils, as well as party flights to the electronic music festival, Tomorrowland—complete with gate parties and live DJs onboard. It’s pure Belgium inside their airplanes as well, making for the perfect introduction to this European playground.
Itinerary / 6 days
DAY 1Fly to Belgium
In Premium Economy Class, you’ll enjoy touches that are limited to Business Class or higher on some other airlines. You can watch the latest movies—including recent Belgian comedies—on 13.3” screens and keep your devices charged with individual AC and USB power plugs. When you’re ready for some shuteye, the wider Premium Economy seats that recline a generous 40°, as well as the quiet atmosphere of its separate section of the aircraft, assure that you’ll arrive in Brussels rested and ready to explore Belgium after a night aboard this boutique hotel in the air.
DAY 2Arrive in Brussels
After you’re settled in your room, head to the Magritte Museum. Here, you can explore the world’s largest collection of works by one of Belgium’s most famous artists, René Magritte, whose surrealist paintings are often humorous and haunting at once. Continue on to another site that feels surreal in its own way, the Atomium, a whimsical monument of retro-futurism. This 335-foot-tall structure of nine stainless-steel-clad balls, each with a diameter of 60 feet, was built for the 1958 World’s Fair and is modeled after an iron molecule. Ascend to the highest of them for panoramic views of the city.
Part of the fun of being an adult is that if you want to have a lunch of fries, no one will tell you no. Fortunately, mouth-watering frites are easy to find in Belgium. Maison Antoine, in the European Quarter, is a kiosk that’s been satisfying locals with some of the city’s best frites, as well as burgers and brochettes, since 1948.
In the afternoon, learn all about one of Belgium’s most famous culinary contributions on a self-guided Capital of Beer tour. Stops include the Biertempel store, where you’ll find some 650 different Belgian beers, and historic bars like the Greenwich Taverne, where Magritte himself would often go when he was in the mood for a beer on tap.
Both Antwerp and Brussels have emerged in recent years as Europe’s best cities for nightlife, with clubs where the music lasts into the early hours of the morning. Among the most popular: the Fuse, Zodiak, and Bloody Louis. You might want to schedule your trip around one of Brussels’ many music festivals, like the Summer Festival in August (which celebrates theater and street art, along with plenty of musical performances) or the Electronic Marathon in October. And don’t forget about those party flights to Tomorrowland, in July.
DAY 3Brussels by Bike
Another famous Belgium boy is celebrated at the Tintin boutique near the Grand Place. The store sells an array of souvenirs inspired by the young reporter and adventurer created by Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi.
In the evening, head off on a pub crawl to some of the many bars devoted to beer. Delirium boasts that it holds the official Guinness world record for the most beers at any bar, with more than 2,000 different varieties on tap and in bottles. As you explore it and other beer-centric bars, order some Belgian pub-food favorites like meatballs, croquettes, and fries to soak up those lagers and ales.
You can also check out a soccer—er, football—match this evening (depending on teams’ schedules, of course). When Belgium’s national team, the Red Devils, are at home, they usually play at the King Baudouin Stadium (right by the Atomium). The home stadium of the local team, Anderlecht, is Constant Vanden Stock, about a half-hour on public transport from the city center.
In the 19th century, Ostend was known as a seaside resort for royals and aristocrats—the neoclassical Royal Galleries that connect the beach and the Hippodrome Wellington racetrack are survivors of that era. Today, however, the city today has a decidedly laidback atmosphere.
First, visit the Wapenplein Market where you can buy fixings for a picnic lunch, and then head to the 5.5-mile-long beach (you could also spend another day cycling along the Groen Lint, an 18-mile-long bike path). Keep your eyes open for both the remains of World War I coastal defenses and some 40 murals and other art installations located through Ostend and in the open spaces near the city.
In the evening, enjoy one of Belgium’s signature dishes, mussels with fries, at De Mosselbeurs or Ostend Queen. (If you’d rather opt for chicken, Koekoek is a local favorite.) After dinner, Botteltje and Tao Bar are two of Ostend’s most popular bars. Just as in Brussels, Ostend has a number of festivals to choose from. TAZ is a 10-day festival with theater and musical performances, usually at the beginning of August, while Paulusfeesten, the city’s largest and most famous festival, takes place later that month. The Filmfestival Oostende, in September, features Belgian, international, and independent films.
Start your day perusing either the market of La Batte (which runs along the Maas River), or Saint-Pholien (just outside the city center) for one-of-a-kind vintage finds. La Batte takes place on Sundays and Saint-Pholien on Fridays. At both markets, you’ll find food stalls and musical performances alongside the various vendors.
Head to lunch at the Place de Marche, where restaurants set tables outside on sunny days, and linger over a coffee or beer.
In the afternoon, stretch your legs as you climb the 400 steps up the Montagne de Bueren. Along the way, take a break for a gaufre liégeoise, the local variation on the Belgian waffle. Unlike the ones you’re most likely to find in Brussels, those in Liège are made with a brioche dough, creating a denser and chewier consistency, and come covered with pearl sugar that caramelizes when cooked. Once you reach the top of the mountain, take in the views of the city and the Maas River.
In the evening, head to the Le Carré neighborhood and explore its maze of streets lined with bars and cafes, sometimes so full that the crowds spill into the streets, especially on weekends.
DAY 6Return Home
Yet even as you plan your return, your Belgian experience isn’t not over yet. The party continues aboard your boutique hotel in the air on Brussels Airlines. Settle back into your spacious Premium Economy seat to enjoy more Belgian beer, great entertainment on the large