If you’ve ticked Brussels and Bruges from your list and are wondering what else Belgium has to offer, a weekend trip to Ghent and Antwerp just might do the trick! Both are picturesque, well-preserved medieval cities, best explored by foot. Artists (most notably the famous Flemish Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens), traders, and noblemen once ruled these cities. Here are my top tens!
(10) Handmade Chocolates
I mean, really. Please tell me how can one resist chocolates when travelling in Belgium. It’s somewhat impossible. They’re too tempting! We gave in to our choc-temptation at the Chocolaterie Van Hoorebeke in Ghent, a family run business known for their handmade pralines. No regrets here!
(9) Marriott Hotel Ghent
Don’t let the modern facade fool you. This Marriott’s like no other. Overlooking Korenlei and Graslei, this hotel is all medieval outside, and when you step in… BOOM!! Welcome to the 20th century! All modern and sleek. Quite an interesting contrast.
(8) Belgian waffles
Like a moth to a flame, I thoughtlessly obliged to call of these golden treats. Freshly-made, sweet, and with that delightful crunch, these waffles paired with a decent cup of coffee make for a great afternoon snack. I didn’t really care much for chocolate, nutella, or the melange of fruits/toppings. They are good enough plain… or with a bit of whipped cream.
(7) Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp
This Gothic-style, Roman Catholic church in Antwerp is a world Heritage site, home to quite a few works by Baroque painter, Rubens. We paid a small fee to get in, which goes directly to the maintenance and restoration of the church. It saddens me that some churches in Europe are now museums, no longer places of worship.
(6) Adoration of the Mystic Lamb
This Van Eyck brothers’ creation is said to be (one of) the most coveted painting of all time, having been victim of thievery nearly a dozen times. I’m baffled by why it’s so popular. To the average person, there isn’t anything extraordinary about it. We visited the St Bavos Cathedral in Ghent to see what all the fuss was about. Ehhh. Maybe it’s just me not being too keen about Flemish art (no offence to any Flemish painters or art lovers there of).
(5) Grote markt, Antwerp
A few steps away from the Cathedral of our Lady of Antwerp, is the heart of the city: Grote Markt. Buzzing, busy, and a showcase of those well-preserved guildhalls, this market reminds me of the Grand Place in Brussels.
(4) Graffitti Alley
Off the beaten track in Ghent! Our free walking tour took us here, Werregarenstraat, a ‘hidden’ alley of wall to wall coloruful modern works of art. This place is such a contrast from the classic, medieval architecture Ghent is famous for.
(3) Antwerpen Centraal train station
How many cities do you know have ‘train station’ as the numero uno Tripadvisor ‘Thing(s) to do’? I know only one, and the Antwerp station certainly is a cut above the rest! So many visible levels, marble floors, intricate domes… Details not typically seen in train stations. Here’s an interesting tidbit: This station is a hundred years old!
(2) Meat-fest at Amadeus
Ahhh yes. “The Place for Ribs”, a tourist trap that we happily indulged in. The restaurant itself is full of eclectic decoration and hungry diners! It is difficult to say no to unlimited, tasty, tender meat and unlimited baked potatoes. Did I mention that the food is unlimited? It’s not the greatest piece of meat I’ve ever had, but it was good value for money. Plus there’s always some (smug) satisfaction in snagging a seat (sans reservation) in an uber popular restaurant.
(1) Ghent at Night
Ghent city centre is already pretty in the daytime, but it completely transforms into a magical blast-to-the-medieval-past dream at night. Illuminated Ghent is breathtaking. Dozens of tourists and photographers layer up, snapping away. My favourite photo stop is Graslei, where row of historical buildings, reflected in the still river, made for a postcard picture.