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TOP 10 Things to Love about Belgium

Are you planning to visit Belgium soon? Or maybe you’re considering moving here for work or migrating here for good. Would you love and enjoy your stay here? Or maybe you’re thinking that maybe you will regret or even hate coming here. And if you have read my previous post about What is it really like to live in Belgium, you probably start to wonder if Belgium is even a good place to visit or live in.

Whether you are thinking about visiting here or planning on moving here, this post will gonna show you what are the things to LOVE about Belgium. You might be surprised to know what it has to offer.

Without further ado, here are my 10 TOP THINGS TO LOVE ABOUT BELGIUM.

WHAT TO LOVE ABOUT BELGIUM

1. CHOCOLATES

Who doesn’t love chocolates? I think I haven’t met anyone yet who says they don’t like chocolates. If you have a sweet tooth like me and soon gonna come here, then you are in for a treat.

Belgium is world-renowned for its chocolates, and it is one of the major chocolate manufacturing centers in the world. The words truffles and pralines are always associated with Belgium. In fact, praline was born here in Brussels.

But some may wonder, what is a praline anyway? A praline is a soft chocolate shell with a delicious filling inside, either almond or hazelnut, crème fraîche, or buttercream.

Its shell is usually made using milk chocolate, pure dark, or white chocolates. The filling is made from a mixture of almond or hazelnut, sugar, and vanilla. Another variation is a mixture of crème fraîche or buttercream with coffee and sometimes even liquor.

The flavor and texture combination for which pralines are known, which helped them gain their fame, is really unique on its own. Now, over 100 years later since it was created, the praline has become not only an export product of Belgium but also adds to Belgians’ pride.

Manon Chocolate
Soft, creamy inside of Manon chocolates

The Manon pictured above is an example of praline variety. It has a perfect blend of fresh cream, enriched with caramelized hazelnut pieces and the sweetness of Belgian chocolate. The airy sensation of the cream and the nutty note of the hazelnuts are a surprising combination that makes it one of the favorites of chocoholics like me!

Manon chocolates
Neuhaus Manon Lait, Manon Noir, Manon Choco Vanille and Manon Choco Café

They say that once you’ve tried the high-quality Belgian chocolates, you’ll never be the same again. Let me tell you – this is so true! After trying different kinds of chocolates here, I realized that nothing compares to Belgian chocolates. It’s really one of a kind!

Wanna know why? Let it melt on your tongue and enjoy its effect on your senses – the intoxicating effect of chocolates will make you want to have more. They say women are particularly sensitive to this effect, so more and more women chocolatiers are being born.

DID YOU KNOW? Chocolate contains magnesium and other brain-stimulating substances that can significantly improve your mood. So remember: If you are feeling blue, all you have to do is eat chocolates!

Up to this day, Belgium is still one of the largest producers of chocolates around the world. And a significant number of chocolate firms in Belgium still produce chocolate pralines by hand, without the aid of modern production equipment.

Indeed, the chocolate and the chocolate-making process is part of Belgium’s heritage. And with over 500 chocolatiers and around 2,000 chocolate shops all around the country, you can definitely find something that pleases your palate.

Yes, one reason to love and enjoy your stay in Belgium!

2. WAFFLES

The Belgian waffle is another reason why you will love this country. Who doesn’t love waffles anyway?

Belgium has two different types of waffles. One is called Liège waffle (or Gaufres de Liège). The other one is Brussels waffle (or Gaufres de Bruxelles). But most people just called them Belgian waffles.

Although both of them are leavened by yeast and cooked on the waffle iron, each one has its own distinctive characteristics, including its shape and the iron used for cooking. Let’s see their profiles.

Brussels Waffles (Gaufres de Bruxelles)

Brussels waffles (Gaufres de Bruxelles) are made of a thin, yeast-leavened batter mixed with egg whites. They are lighter and soft inside but crusty outside. It is usually served with a dust of icing sugar or whipped cream. The waffle iron used to bake them has bigger squares and deeper pockets too.

Brussels Waffle
Brussels Waffles are light and airy

Liège Waffles (Gaufres de Liège)

The Liège waffle is smaller in shape compared to the Brussels waffle. It has rounded, uneven edges and is thicker and chewier. They are best to be eaten warm and straight from the hot iron.

Warm Waffle
Liège waffles are smaller, thicker, and sticky because of the pearl sugar that melts while it is being cooked

When visiting Belgium, the waffle here is impossible to miss. As you roam around the city trying to see tourist places, you will quickly notice an irresistible smell. You will have a hard time resisting the inviting smell of caramelized sugar which makes your mouth water. It will surely make you want to run to the nearest vendor and devour this burning hot Belgian specialty.

Warm Waffle food cart
You can find many stalls and vans selling warm waffles

Battle of the Batter – Who wins?

Some say that Liège waffles are the more popular variety. Probably because of the captivating aromas you can smell as you stroll around the city and small villages. Thanks to the chunks of pearl sugar added to the dough, which gives Liège waffle a unique caramel flavor and a crispy golden coating.

Although Brussels waffles don’t have a distinctive aroma like the Liège, it is also a popular choice for many locals and tourists alike especially if they prefer to eat with toppings like fresh fruits, chocolate fondue, whipped cream, etc.

Who wins between the two batters? Well, I will let you decide on that.

Fun Fact: Unlike the Americans that eat their waffles during breakfast, Belgians usually eat their waffles as an afternoon snack.

Liège waffles can be enjoyed with a variety of toppings

In most tourist places, you will find Belgian waffles being presented with a variety of toppings to choose from. Although this is hard to resist, in my opinion, the best way to enjoy and appreciate the true flavor of this Belgian specialty, is by eating them plain. After that, you can spoil yourself with whatever topping you want.

Whatever season you arrive here, you can always enjoy the authentic Belgian waffles, either plain or with toppings, hot or cold. No need to sit down in a coffee shop. You can even buy individually packed waffles from the local grocery stores and bring them back to your loved ones back home.

waffles on the go
You can buy waffles in the supermarkets to bring back home to your family and friends

Indeed, Belgian waffles have truly conquered the hearts and stomachs of so many people around the world because of their exquisite taste and inimitable smell. This makes it one of the things you’ll gonna love and enjoy while in Belgium!

Have you been to Belgium and tried their waffles? Which one did you try? How was your experience?

3. Fries

French fries or Belgian fries? Which one is correct?

French fries or Belgian fries
French fries or Belgian fries?

The french fries—though indisputably a fry— is actually not French. The Belgians claim that fries originated in Belgium. And they have good reasons for doing so. What we recognize today as french fries are thought to have come from the region of Namur, on the southeast side of Belgium.

It was believed that the birth of the fries comes from the French-speaking region of Namur. Villagers here were fond of eating fried fish caught from the River Meuse. When the river froze in 1680, the fish-deprived villagers had the idea of frying the potatoes instead. So they cut potatoes into the shape of fish, fried them, and used them as a substitute for their favorite dish – fried fish.

The Belgians claim that their fry was incorrectly named by the American soldiers during WW1. It was believed that when the soldiers arrived, they saw and tasted the delicious fries. And since the dominant language of that region is French, they called these tasty fried potatoes “French fries”, and voila! The birth of french fries!

French Fries or Belgian Fries?

Although it is too late to change the name of French fries to Belgian fries, still, the Belgians wanted the fries to be known as their own. Some years ago, they petitioned UNESCO to endorse the fry as an official icon of Belgian cultural heritage. Not only that, the proud Belgians did sign a petition to Make fries Belgian again!, thus, asking America’s most-trusted online dictionary to change the term “French fry” to “Belgian fry”, or to at least introduce the term ‘Belgian fry’ in the American language.

Belgium is also home to the world’s first and only Fries Museum in the world, and it is located in the city of Bruges. So all of the pointers mentioned above are what makes Belgium the REAL OWNER of the best, world-renowned, and famously disputed FRIES in the world!

Indeed, Les Frites (for the french-speaking Belgians) or Frieten (for the Dutch-speaking Belgians)  have essentially become far more than just a snack originating in Belgium. It is one of the national symbols of Belgium and an essential part of the country’s rich culture and history. All of this adds another reason to love and enjoy your stay in Belgium!

4. Belgian Beers

Water, barley, hop, and yeast combined. How can something so simple have such a profound influence here and around the world? 

According to history, Belgian beer was made long before the country became Belgium. It is believed that residents here started brewing beers during the 1800s mostly because drinking water at that time was often very unsanitary which made people ill. Most people – including monks and children– drank a weak table beer instead. Later on, they also add a bit of flavor called gruit – a mix of some herbs. Sometimes they add hops too which then acted as an effective preservative.

To this day, Belgian brewers keep on growing.

The Belgians used four types of fermentation methods for brewing their beer, which is unique in the world – spontaneous, warm, mixed, and cool fermentations. Which resulted in a wide range of colors, tastes, and alcohol levels.

Some Belgian beer types are:

  • pils or pale lager
  • bock
  • tripel or strong pale ale
  • dubbel or double ale
  • blonde or golden ale
  • brown ale
  • amber ale
  • red ale
  • white or wheat beer
  • lambic beers (gueuze or fruity),

The two most popular ones are the Trappist and Abbey beers. But you might wonder: Isn’t it that TRAPPIST and ABBEY are the same? I myself was confused at first, so I researched a bit and found out that:

A Trappist is an abbey beer, but an Abbey beer is not necessarily a Trappist.

Trappist Beers

TRAPPIST beers are abbey beers that are STILL brewed by Trappist monks, while ABBEY beers are beers that were ONCED brewed by monks, but are now being brewed by secular breweries, either on the monastic estate or in reference to the abbey.

Until now, there are very specific rules for what qualifies as a Trappist beer. There are three (3) conditions that must be met in order to use the name Trappist as a label on a bottle of beer.

  1. The brewery must be inside a monastery where monks are still living
  2. It must be brewed under the supervision and responsibility of the monks
  3. The majority of the revenue or profits produced must be dedicated to charitable work under the monastery’s social programs.

When these 3 criteria are met, a certification is issued, and the Trappist label can be now used on the bottles of beer.

Abbey Beers

ABBEY beers are defined as basically any monastic or monastic-style beer. The word ‘Abbey’ came to represent any beer similar to those of the monastic varieties. In other words, it can be called a non-Trappist beer. When compared to the Trappist beers, an Abbey beer has less strict rules to follow:

  1. The brewery must have a link with the abbey in which they used its name. Whether it is the location of the abbey, the recipe used, or a license issued by the monks in the past.
  2. They must pay their dues to the Abbey whose name it bears.
  3. The brewery must give the Abbey a right of inspection in several areas concerning its beer production

How many Trappist breweries still exist today?

In previous years, there are only ten (10) known breweries that precisely meet the three qualifications, six (6) of which are in Belgium, two (2) in The Netherlands, one (1) in Austria, and one (1) in the US.

But last year, Belgium’s Achel brewery lost its label as a Trappist, when the last living monk there was moved into another monastery, in Westmalle, making the list of Trappist breweries around the world down to nine (9).

What happened to Achel brewery clearly describes the difference between a Trappist and Abbey beers. When monks still live in that Abbey (or monastery), they supervise the brewing process, hence the beers they produced qualified to be labeled as Trappist. When the last monk left the monastery, Achel brewery still produces beers, but it may no longer qualify for certification as a Trappist, but rather, they are now to be considered as an Abbey beer.

FUN FACT: Westmalle – the first Trappist brewery in Belgium – started its production of beer around the end of 1836. It was initially created exclusively for monks, and is ‘dark and sweet.’

Different kinds of Beers
You can find a wide variety of Belgian beers in local grocery shops for a cheaper price

Belgian beer comes in all colors, flavors, and alcohol percentages. From high to very low alcohol content, to spontaneous and mixed fermentation. From light to dark, and from fruity to sour – there is definitely something for everyone to enjoy.

Belgian Beers Comes With Its Own Glasses

One thing that I love about Belgian beers is that pretty much every single well-known beer has its own unique glass to go with it. From branded lager glasses to the Trappist beers that have unique glasses. There are several types and shapes of beer glasses such as tulip, flute, goblets, and chalices. Using a particular glass shape is essential in bringing out the specific characteristics and aromas of each beer, so adhering to the rules of pouring the beer ONLY to its specific glass will make the beer tastier and even more enjoyable.

There’s one particular glass that fascinates many. You can’t help yourself but talk about it when it’s being served at your table. The Pauwel Kwak beer has a unique hourglass-like glass that goes with a wooden holder. Its wooden holder ensures that the glass doesn’t fall over and that the beer won’t spill all across the table.

Kwak-Beer
Pauwel Kwak on its glass and wooden holder

Indeed, Belgian beer has a rich history that makes it all the more captivating. Its brewer’s history throughout the years has helped promote the unique brands that they have created, thanks to the hard work and commitment of the brewers themselves. And just as how significant beer has been to the country, Belgian beer has been added to UNESCO’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2016.

Did you know? Belgium has around 1,500 beer brands and more than 700 different taste profiles? So if you want to taste all the different beer tastes available here, you will need to drink one bottle of a different kind every day for around two years!

So whether you are here for a few days or even longer, you’ll have the possibility to try and taste a new beer. Another good reason to love and enjoy your Belgium stay and hopefully will keep you from coming back here.

5. Coffee Beans

Aside from brewing beers, Belgium is also brewing something else that smells so good – coffee beans. This should not surprise us, since Belgium has chocolates and waffles. What better way to enjoy these Belgian specialties while sipping freshly brewed coffee, right?

Europe has to import almost all of its coffee beans directly from bean-producing countries around the world. And Belgium is Europe’s third-largest importer of green coffee. Thanks to its perfect location, Antwerp, Belgium’s seaport is rightly situated at the intersection of the two major European coffee cultures – the Mediterranean’s stronger coffee culture as well as the less strong variety that are preferred by the Scandinavians. Making Belgium the major hub in re-exporting coffee beans around Europe.

Because of that, Belgium is now known for its huge diversity in coffee bean roasting. Depending on your taste, there are many locally known Belgian roasts to choose from: Rombouts, Graindor, Douwe Egberts, and Jacqmotte to name a few.

Over the years, the arrival of new coffee-making methods keeps on evolving. From traditional brewing methods to the very fancy espresso machines that are very popular today. It was here that the not-so-famous individual coffee filter was introduced to the public at the 1958 World Fair in Brussels.

Although there are only a few countries have embraced this coffee-making method, it is still very popular and widely used here. You can buy a disposable single coffee filter at any local supermarket, usually in 10 pieces packaging.

disposable_filter
One dose coffee filter is perfect for home or office use.

This individual coffee filter allowed coffee drinkers to prepare one (1) cup of filtered coffee just in minutes, perfect for single persons at home and can be easily brought to your office too. I find this is a cheaper option if you don’t want to spend money on a coffee brewing machine. All you need is to pour boiling water, and voila! Your perfect brewed coffee in less than 2 minutes!

1_cup_filter_coffee
Each filter cup has the right amount of ground coffee needed for one cup of coffee

Up to this day, roasting coffee is still a growing market in Belgium. Here you will find many small roasting companies that are worth trying. As well as some nice, cozy coffee bars and cafés.

Corica Brussels is one perfect place to find excellent selections of coffee beans right in the heart of Brussels. Either you just want to taste one of their arabica coffees while sitting at a table or buy your fresh beans as well. They have 28 different arabica coffees to choose from.

corica
CORICA – Comptoir Oriental des Cafés

Library cafés are also becoming more popular here. What better way to enjoy your favorite coffee as you read your favorite book, right?

Whether you are here as a tourist or staying here for a while, I am sure you can easily find a nice coffee shop where you can sit down and enjoy your waffles or/and chocolates while sipping a hot freshly brewed coffee. Indeed, coffee is another reason to enjoy and love your stay in Belgium.

6. Diamonds

Diamonds? Yes, you heard it right. Aside from being the major hub of importing and re-exporting green coffee beans, Antwerp’s seaport is also importing and exporting something that is extremely precious – diamonds. A staggering 84% of the world’s mined diamonds end up in Antwerp. That is why Belgium is also home to the world’s largest and leading diamond center – the Antwerp Diamond Exchange.

Antwerp has been the center of the diamond trade worldwide for more than 550 years! There you will find 70 nationalities that are active in the diamond industry. This diversity of nationalities creates a unique atmosphere that makes Belgium even more cosmopolitan.

The heart of the diamond industry in Antwerp is based in the Diamond District, right next to the city’s Central Station. It is primarily Jewish and Indian diamond merchants that cut these precious stones into all different forms and sizes. A good reason why diamond-lovers from all over the world favor Antwerp’s perfectly symmetrical polished diamonds compared to others.

Diamond Shop
Antwerp is known for its diamonds
Diamonds
Diamonds are a girl’s best friend

This has given the city the top position in international diamond trading especially when the highest quality is concerned. Therefore, diamond prices in Antwerp are always the best that you can find anywhere within the market. Definitely one good reason why you’ll gonna love and enjoy your trip to Belgium.

INSIDER TIP: If you are planning to buy diamonds in Antwerp, don’t be shy to bargain. If you can come early morning when the shops are just opening, try to bargain with the price, you might be surprised with what you could have from your hard-earned money.

7. Architecture

If you are an Aesthete (someone who loves and appreciates works of art and beautiful things), I am sure you would definitely love and enjoy your stay here. Why?

Belgium is known for being the land of architectural wonder. From Romanesque all the way to Futuristic architecture, Belgium has it all. The country is full of architectural gems.

Here you will find a real example of architectural progression with several shifts in design throughout history, creating a rich cross-section of European heritage and design.

Here’s the proof:

  • Romanesque – Nivelles’ Collegiate Church of Sainte Gertrude
  • Gothic – Town Hall of Leuven, Brussels Grand Place Tower
  • Renaissance -Rumbeke Castle, Antwerp Town Hall, Bruges Old Civil Registry
  • Baroque – Sint Carolus Borromeuskerk in Antwerp, St. John the Baptist at the Béguinage
  • Neo-classical – Royal Palace, Palais du Justice, Cinquantenaire, Margritte Museum
  • Beaux-Arts – Museum of Fine Arts in Brussels
  • Art Nouveau – Hotel Tassel, Cauchie House, Old England Building
  • Brutalism – Royal Library of Belgium
  • Neo-Futurism – Atomium, Berlaymont building, European Parliament Building

When it comes to architecture, Belgium became known for the beautiful examples of Art Nouveau. Victor Horta – one of the founders of Art Nouveau is Belgian. He constructed the famous Hôtel Tassel in Brussels, built between 1892 and 93, and is often considered the first Art Nouveau house in Belgium.

Hôtel Tassel
Hôtel Tassel is the first Art Nouveau building designed by Victor Horta
mim
Another Art Nouveau building – Old England which housed the Music Instrument Museum
Royal Library
Brutalism architecture – The Royal Library of Belgium

One way to enjoy the beautiful architectural buildings here is by taking the time to walk around the city. Whether you only have one day to spend or a couple of days, you can quickly recognize the country’s rich architectural heritage.

Some of the beautiful areas to walk around are Grand Place, Petit & Grand Sablon, and Avenue Moliere to name a few. Antwerp and Brugge are also rich in different architectural buildings.

Whether you are an aesthete or not, I’m sure you will enjoy the architectural designs here, giving you another reason to love and enjoy your stay in Belgium.

8. Castles

Belgium only covers an area of 30,689 km2 (11,849 sq mi). But this small country is not only rich in architecture but also boasts an incredible supply of castles.

Belgium has a reputation for having the greatest number of castles per square kilometer compared to any other country in the world. Whether it’s an exaggeration or not, I’m sure you will be fascinated when you’ll get the chance to visit some of the castles here.

They say there are approximately 3,000 castles scattered all over Belgium, from the northern Flanders region all the way to the southern region of Wallonia.

Of course, many of Belgium’s castles are relatively modern structures, meaning English speakers might consider those being ‘palaces’ instead of castles.

However, there’re still lots of impressive Medieval castles that are easy to reach, thanks to the excellent public transport system.

But why so many fortresses? Belgium is a relatively modern country and gained its independence only in 1830.

Many castles in Belgium were already in existence centuries before the Belgian nation was established.

Some of the oldest castles, including the La Roche-en-Ardenne Castle in the Luxembourg Province and the Beaufort Castle in Namur, date back to the ninth century when castles began proliferating in Europe.

Belgian castles include both the fortified structures which were used for defense and battle in the Middle Ages and imperial residences such as palaces and mansions owned by Belgian royalty and nobles.

In the French-speaking Wallon region, the highest concentration of castles can be found in Liège and Namur. In the Middle Ages, both of these provinces were frequent targets of invasion due to their strategic location along the River Meuse.

Meanwhile, castles in the Dutch-speaking Flanders region are relatively younger and more modern compared to those in Wallonia. Many of them were built in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The Brussels-Capital Region lays out over 20 castles including the Royal Palace of Brussels and the Royal Castle of Laeken.

But the most glorious of them all is the Stoclet Palace, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2009. The Stoclet Palace was designed by Austrian architect Josef Hoffmann in 1911. The Stoclet family still owns and occupies the palace until now, so the mansion is not open to the public.

Bouchout Castle, inside the Botanical Garden of Meise
De Viron Castle
De Viron Castle in Dilbeek

Some of the tourist favorites are the Royal Palace in Brussels, Gravensteen Castle in Gent, and the Citadel of Namur. However, if you are staying in Brussels, there are also some beautiful castles that are worthy of your time like the La Hulpe Castle, De Viron Castle, and Beersel Castle.

Beersel Castle
15th Century Medieval Castle of Beersel, Belgium
Gravensteen Castle in Ghent

Unfortunately, you can’t visit all 3,000 castles in Belgium but at least some 400 of them are open to the public either as a museum, a hotel, bed & breakfasts, or even castle restaurants. And the best place to start is right here in the capital.

Indeed, visiting a castle even it is only on the outside premises will certainly make you feel as if you stepped right inside of a fairytale. Certainly one of the reasons to love and enjoy your stay in Belgium.

9. Education System

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10. Health Care System

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There you go, my top 10 lists about what to love about Belgium. When you come here, either for a quick visit or to stay here for a while, I am sure you will find something that you’ll love and enjoy. And if you’ve been to Belgium, let me know what did you love the most during your stay, thanks!

Until the next one…

4 thoughts on “TOP 10 Things to Love about Belgium”

  1. I love everything about Belgium…
    Chocolate, Belgian Fries, Famous Belgian Waffles, Architecture, Culture, and most of all Diamonds,
    Belgium has a lot to offer..
    I have experienced it myself and I will do it again.

    1. Thank you for appreciating Belgium Charmend, it is indeed a small country but definitely full of beautiful things waiting to be discovered. Hope you can come back again.

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