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Lonely Planet Belgium & Luxembourg

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Lonely Planet: The world's leading travel guide publisher

Lonely Planet Belgium & Luxembourg is your passport to the most relevant, up-to-date advice on what to see and skip, and what hidden discoveries await you. Explore Unesco listed belfries in Bruges and Tournai, savour Belgian pralines at a Brussels chocolatier, or stroll along the river gorge in Luxembourg City; all with your trusted travel companion. Get to the heart of Belgium & Luxembourg and begin your journey now!

Inside Lonely Planet's Belgium & Luxembourg Travel Guide:

  • Colour maps and images throughout
  • Highlights and itineraries help you tailor your trip to your personal needs and interests
  • Insider tips to save time and money and get around like a local, avoiding crowds and trouble spots
  • Essential info at your fingertips - hours of operation, phone numbers, websites, transit tips, prices
  • Honest reviews for all budgets - eating, sleeping, sight-seeing, going out, shopping, hidden gems that most guidebooks miss
  • Cultural insights give you a richer, more rewarding travel experience - history, culture, politics, religion, art, comic strips, music, architecture, cuisine, beer.
  • Over 40 maps
  • Covers Brussels, Bruges, Ghent (Gent), Antwerp, Mechelen, Tournai, Liege, Luxembourg City and more

eBook Features: (Best viewed on tablet devices and smartphones)

  • Downloadable PDF and offline maps prevent roaming and data charges
  • Effortlessly navigate and jump between maps and reviews
  • Add notes to personalise your guidebook experience
  • Seamlessly flip between pages
  • Bookmarks and speedy search capabilities get you to key pages in a flash
  • Embedded links to recommendations' websites
  • Zoom-in maps and images
  • Inbuilt dictionary for quick referencing

The Perfect Choice: Lonely Planet Belgium & Luxembourg, our most comprehensive guide to Belgium & Luxembourg, is perfect for both exploring top sights and taking roads less travelled.

  • Looking for a guide focused on Bruges & Brussels? Check out Pocket Bruges & Brussels a handy-sized guide/handy-sized guides focused on the can't-miss sights for a quick trip.
  • Looking for more extensive coverage? Check out Lonely Planet's Europe guide.

About Lonely Planet: Since 1973, Lonely Planet has become the world's leading travel media company with guidebooks to every destination, an award-winning website, mobile and digital travel products, and a dedicated traveller community. Lonely Planet covers must-see spots but also enables curious travellers to get off beaten paths to understand more of the culture of the places in which they find themselves.

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Brussels

ePub

Pop 1,200,000

Belgium's fascinating capital, and the administrative capital of the EU, Brussels is historic yet hip, bureaucratic yet bizarre, self-confident yet unshowy, and multicultural to its roots. These contrasts are multilayered – Francophone alongside Flemish, and Eurocrats cheek-by-jowl with immigrants. And all this plays out in a cityscape that swings from majestic to quirky to rundown and back again. Organic art nouveau facades face off against 1960s concrete disgraces, and regal 19th-century mansions contrast with the brutal glass of the EU’s Gotham City. This whole maelstrom swirls out from Brussels’ medieval core, where the Grand Place is surely one of the world’s most beautiful squares.

One constant is the enviable quality of everyday life, with a café-bar scene that could keep you drunk for years. But Brussels doesn’t go out of its way to impress. The citizens’ humorous, deadpan outlook on life is often just as surreal as the canvases of one-time resident Magritte.

 

Bruges & Western Flanders

ePub

Language Dutch

The smallest of towns in this region feature fabulous medieval city centres, complete with belfries and begijnhoven. Bruges and Ghent top the bill, but even lesser-known places such as Oudenaarde and Veurne retain wonderfully picturesque town squares. Ypres and Diksmuide are charming, too, and all the more extraordinary for having been meticulously rebuilt following WWI. Scars and souvenirs of the Great War remain poignant attractions in the surrounding countryside, which also grows hops for some of Belgium’s trademark beers. Western Flanders is not a place of spectacular scenery, but Belgians love this region for its extensive sandy beaches, which provide relief from the sombre sight of battlefields.

A De Stove

A In ’t Nieuwe Museum

A Restaurant Pegasus

A Den Gouden Harynck

 

Antwerp & Eastern Flanders

ePub

Dutch

This region’s undisputed centre is dynamic Antwerp, a historic port and diamond-trading city currently basking in a third golden age that has made it one of Europe’s more unlikely design and music hubs. Flush with a globally significant fashion, drinking and clubbing scene it may be, but it also retains a small-city friendliness and ease.

Other historic cities on an even more intimate scale include resurgent, reinvented Mechelen, sweet little Lier and self-confident college town Leuven. Lier, Turnhout and lesser-known Diest have arguably Belgium’s best begijnhoven, and lovable Tongeren claims to be Belgium’s oldest settlement.

The towns and cities of this region may be its main attraction, but the southeastern Haspengouw and Hageland do deliver some pretty, undulating hillsides green with orchards and even a few vineyards. And, as always, there are scattered castles to be found lurking in forgotten valleys and villages. Note that here ‘Eastern Flanders’ refers to the eastern half of today’s Flanders region, not that of the historic Flanders county.

 

Western Wallonia

ePub

Language French

With rolling farmland and small woods crowning the brows of low hills, the landscapes of Western Wallonia form idyllic Northern European perspectives. Yet the region's history is unbelievably turbulent: the area has been a battleground for millennia. Fine historic cities, notably Tournai and Mons, have loads to offer, especially since Mons' year as European Capital of Culture in 2015 endowed it with some striking new museums. Waterloo, where the future of Europe was forcefully debated, rejuvenated its museums and opened a smart new exhibition to mark the battle's bicentenary in the same year. Post-industrial cities such as Charleroi are yet to be similarly revitalised, but exploring this region's rural nooks, and discovering its notable beers, quirky corners and riotous festivals, is highly worthwhile.

A La Bonne Auberge

A Le Cigalon

A La Petite Madeleine

 

The Ardennes

ePub

Languages French (& German around Eupen)

If you’re looking for outdoor activities, fresh air and greenery, head for Belgium’s southeastern corner. Here you’ll find meandering rivers, dramatic cave systems, forested hills and deep valleys. There are some really special landscapes, with picture-perfect castle-topped medieval towns crowded into sweeping bends in a verdant-banked river. Eating is also great in the Ardennes, with pâtés, hams and other piggy products to the fore.

There's a wealth of things to see and do. It's Belgium's best zone for outdoor activities, while Stavelot, Malmedy and Eupen burst with revelry during their fabulous carnivals. Some of the Meuse Valley cities look dauntingly grimy, but they have plenty of attractions as well as lots of hidden history beneath the careworn exteriors.

Main towns are accessible by train and bus but to really appreciate the rural highlights you’ll need a car or strong cycling legs.

A La Calèche

 

Luxembourg

ePub

Consistently ranked among the world's top-three nations in both wealth and wine consumption, life in little Luxembourg seems good. But all the lax taxation and bank headquarters conceal an absolutely charming slice of northern Europe. The capital has a fairy-tale quality to its Unesco-listed historic core, memorably perched along a dramatic cliff top. Beyond, you’ll rapidly find yourself in rolling part-forested hills where a string of beguiling villages each form attractive huddles beneath stunning medieval castles. Then there’s all the fun of the fizz in Moselle wine country and some loveable walks to take in the pretty micro-gorges of Müllerthal. All in all, this little country has plenty of surprises. That’s some achievement given its wholesale destruction during WWII, a sad history remembered in war museums across the country.

A Le Sud

A La Cristallerie

A La Distillerie

 

Understand Belgium & Luxembourg

ePub

Belgium & Luxembourg Today

Getting on with getting on as Belgium quietly decentralises and scandal ripples through the Grand Duchy.

History

New nations with historic Low Country legacies of creative genius and entrepreneurial verve, not to mention playing host to other people’s wars.

The Belgian People

The linguistic to-and-fro never fails to be interesting, pious but progressive and increasingly multicultural.

Creative Cuisine

Moule-frites and waterzooi, third wave coffee and Luxembourgeoise whites: getting the most out of the menu.

Belgian Beer

From Trappists and Abbey brews, to pale ales and lambics, there’s a beer for everyone. And a glass for every beer!

Arts & Architecture

Van Eyck and Van Dyck, Breugel and Rubens meet art nouveau flourishes, comic-strip heroes, conceptual jokesters and some of Europe’s best DJs.

 

Belgium & Luxembourg Today

ePub

Belgium's unique and tumultuous history has bequeathed its citizens a multilingual state. While this is a source of great cultural richness, and a two-destinations-for-the-price-of-one bonus for travellers, it's also increasingly the cause of tension and political rifts within the country. Luxembourg, the world's only remaining grand duchy and it's most wealthy (it has the highest GDP per capita of any nation), has had its genteel wrist slapped for its controversial taxation regime; it also finally fell into step with its European neighbours by legalising same-sex marriage in 2014.

Belgians went to the polls to elect a new government in what proved to be a historic election in 2010. With no grouping of parties managing to form a workable coalition, the country coasted along with only a caretaker leader for a record-smashing 541 days. The final compromise was extraordinary (and extraordinarily Belgian). The greatest number of votes (17.4%) had gone to the N-VA, a conservative, Dutch-speaking party with Flemish nationalist leanings. Yet after a year and a half of talking, the eventual choice for prime minister was Elio Di Rupo, neither right wing nor Flemish but a socialist, openly gay French speaker.

 

History

ePub

The current nation states of Belgium and Luxembourg first appeared on the political map of Europe rather haphazardly in the 19th century. Little Luxembourg only emerged from under the Dutch umbrella due to a quirk in royal inheritance rules. And when an opera kick-started Belgium’s independence in 1830, nobody thought that the country would last. Some still doubt that it will. However, the fascinatingly tangled history of the ‘Low Countries’ goes back way before such shenanigans.

57–51 BC

Julius Caesar’s invading Roman legions find unexpectedly stiff resistance from brave Belgae warriors around Tongeren.

AD 466

Clovis, the uniting king of the Frankish clans, is born near Tournai. His conversion to Catholicism has lasting effects throughout the region.

980

Liège becomes an independent prince-bishopric, a status it keeps for over 800 years.

1196

The counties of Namur and Hainaut go to war in one of many regional battles over inheritance rights.

 

Belgian People

ePub

For Luxembourgers, French-Letzeburgesch bilingualism is a day-to-day necessity that's worn very lightly. But in Belgium, language is a defining issue. Belgium’s population is basically split in two, a split that can, broadly speaking, be traced back to the break-up of Europe after the decline of the Roman empire. Dutch-speaking Flemish make up about 60% of the population, mostly in the country’s north – predominantly flat Flanders (Vlaanderen). In southern Belgium – Wallonia (La Wallonie) – the population mostly speaks French, albeit a variant that sounds slightly comical to Parisians. To complicate matters, in Wallonia’s Eastern Cantons (Ost Kantonen) live around 70,000 German speakers. And then there’s Brussels: officially bilingual but predominantly French-speaking and geographically surrounded by Flanders.

French-speaking locals describe themselves as Belgians and only rarely as ‘Walloons’, which would imply speaking one of the almost-folkloric Walloon languages. However, most people in Flanders consider themselves primarily Flemish in a way that is equivalent psychologically, though not linguistically, to the self-image of Scots within the UK. Everything from the media to political parties is divided along language lines. And the result is a remarkable and growing lack of communication between Wallonia and Flanders. Francophones tend to stereotype the Flemish as arrogant and humourless; the Flemish see Francophone Belgians as corrupt, lazy or feckless, an exaggerated image jocularly accepted by some southerners. A century ago, Wallonia was Belgium's wealthier half, but its heavy industries slumped in the 1970s. Meanwhile, Flanders invested in 'new' businesses and its massive ports boomed from increasing global trade. Many in Flanders resent financially propping up the now poorer south, a tendency only increased by global economic woes. Flemish nationalists increasingly call for greater autonomy or even Flemish independence. Contrastingly, Walloon nationalism is virtually unknown and, while TV immerses most Francophone Belgians in French popular culture, very few would actually consider joining France in the event of a national split. Indeed Francophone Belgians are far more disparaging of the French than of their Flemish cousins.

 

Creative Cuisine

ePub

Belgium’s multilayered identity is seen nowhere more strongly than in its cuisine. Upmarket restaurants in Belgium or Luxembourg once served straightforward French-influenced cooking, and many still do, but they've been joined by a new wave of globally influenced gastronomes who often draw on French technique but riff on Flemish traditions and reference flavours from their latest trip to Spain or Japan. Flemish favourites are far from neglected, but Belgium’s big cities also sport an incredible array of cuisines, both in dedicated restaurants and on pub and cafe menus. Italian food is ubiquitous and joined by many Thai and Vietnamese dishes that are more and more likely to be authentically spiced and sauced.

The most iconic Belgian meal must be that hearty portion of mussels and chips, moules-frites (or, in Dutch, mosselen-friet). Forget forks – eat them local-style using an empty mussel shell as a pair of tweezers and remember that fresh mussels open spontaneously during cooking, so if you find one hasn't opened, don't force it as it might be off. Less recognised but every bit as archetypically Belgian is waterzooi, a cream-based, soupy stew traditionally made with chicken or fish, and incorporating potatoes and vegetables so you won't need a side dish.

 

Belgian Beer

ePub

No other country has a brewing tradition as richly diverse as that of Belgium, with beers ranging from pleasant pale lagers to wild, wine-like Flemish reds and lambics. But its the ‘angels and demons’ that draw the connoisseurs: these big bold brews often derive from monastery recipes and conjure the diabolical with names like Forbidden Fruit, Judas and Duvel (devil). The most famous of all, six Trappist beers, are still brewed in active abbeys. With alcohol levels coming in at between 7% and 11% alcohol by volume, such brews are designed to be sipped slowly and savoured, certainly not chugged by the pint. For that, you have the standard Belgian lagers, notably Jupiler, Maes and Stella Artois – what you’ll get at any café (pub/bar) if you just ask for a pintje/bière – which perhaps can’t rival their German or Czech counterparts, but are deliciously drinkable none the less.

Based in Leuven, AB.InBev (www.ab-inbev.com) is the world's biggest brewer with a 25% global market share. It owns brands from Budweiser to Boddingtons, Labatt to Löwenbräu and Belgo-Luxembourg trademarks including Stella Artois, Leffe, Hoegaarden, Jupiler, Diekirch and Mousel. The giant conglomerate’s Belgian origins stretch back to 1366.

 

Arts & Architecture

ePub

Although Belgium has only been Belgium since 1830, the region’s cities have been at the forefront of the arts for much of the last seven centuries. Bruges was the centre for the 'Flemish Primitives', Antwerp the base of superstar Pieter Paul Rubens, and Brussels an early centre for both art nouveau and surrealism. The country continues to have a vibrant cultural life, with globally recognised contemporary-art stars, a flourishing electronic-music scene, great modern dance and an endearing devotion to the 'ninth art': the comic strip.

Blossoming in 15th-century Bruges was a group of groundbreaking painters who pioneered a technique of painting in oil on oak boards, adding thin layers of paint to produce jewel-bright colours and exquisite detail.

They became known collectively as the Flemish Primitives. Not all were Flemish and their work was anything but primitive: the name derives from the Latin primus, meaning first, an indication of their innovative and experimental approach. Perhaps the greatest such work still extant is the world-famous Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, a multi-panelled altarpiece in Ghent's cathedral by one or both of the Van Eyck brothers.

 

Directory A-Z

ePub

Accommodation ranges from camping grounds and budget hostels through B&Bs, rural options and midrange hotels to top-end hotels.

Availability varies markedly by season and area. May to September occupancy is very high (especially at weekends) along the coast, in Bruges and in popular villages of rural Luxembourg and the Ardennes. However, those same weekends you’ll find hotels cutting prices in business cities like Brussels, Liège, Mechelen and Luxembourg City.

National taxes are invariably included, but several towns add a small additional stadsbelasting/taxe de séjour (city tourist tax), which might add a euro or two to the tally.

At most B&Bs and some hotels, reductions for longer stays are fairly common, while some places demand a minimum two- or three-day stay, especially at key times of the year.

Many options include breakfast. Many hotels (especially in rural areas) offer demi-pension (half-board) deals including breakfast and a set lunch or dinner. Some popular places in touristy areas of the Ardennes will only rent rooms on a demi-pension or pension complète (full board) basis during key summer weekends. Grander rural getaways increasingly offer séjour gastronomique options, accommodation plus various meals that are often high-end, four-course affairs.

 

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