I was 20 the first time I visited Belgium, and although I was eager to drink Belgian beer and other cocktails legally (I wouldn’t be able to do so for another year in my country), I didn’t know a lot about alcohol. Certainly I was ignorant about Belgium beer or any beer for that matter, telling my friend Jill, bluntly, that I hated it when I arrived at her home in Antwerp.
More than a decade later, I still love Belgian beer brands like Duvel and Hoegaarden (and the occasional Stella), although I must admit experience has proved I actually don’t like beer all that much. Indeed, while Belgium remains an amazing destination for beer lovers, and Belgian beer is amazing, my memories of the country—I’ve been back two times since my first trip—tend to gravitate elsewhere.
So, in addition to testing out all the Belgian beer brands when you next visit Belgium (and you should), here are a few other fun things you can do.
Ride a Boat Through the Venice of the North
If you love the idea of boating through the canals of a medieval city, but hate the idea of dealing with throngs of tourists in Venice, the Belgian city of Bruges is a nice compromise. What’s more is that canals are only the beginning of Bruges’ allure. Order some delicious fries (they’re technically Belgian, not French) from Chez Vincent, then climb to the top of the Belfry to enjoy a priceless panorama.
Savor Godiva in the Grand Place
Godiva has become a ubiquitous chocolate brand around the world, but it began as a humble shop on Brussels’ Grand Place. If chocolate is not your thing (you soulless animal!), Brussels is still full of amazing attractions, whether you take a selfie in front of the “Peeing Boy,” make a day trip to the strange Atomium or stroll through the idyllic Cinquantenaire park.
Sun Yourself on a Freezing Beach
Belgium might have a well-deserved reputation as a beer tourism hot spot, but it’s certainly not the first place that comes up when you Google “best beaches.”
To be sure, while you probably won’t be getting a tan (or even a good base) on the beaches of Oostende, you will see Belgians frolicking on the sand (and even some in the water!). Down a pint of Palm Belgian beer and join them!
Get Drunk on Museums
I’m not usually a museum fan, but the Belgian city of Antwerp has enough museums that at least a few pique my interest every time I visit. From the high-tech centered Museum Aan de Stroom (a waterfront, sandstone building that’s also a great Instagram spot), to Fotomuseum Antwerp and the decades of photography it surveys, to the open-air modern art extravaganza that is the Middleheim Sculpture Museum, you can get “museum-drunk” in Antwerp, in addition to getting actually drunk.
Visit a Fairytale Castle
When you think of European castles, you probably think of Germany’s Neuschwanstein Castle or even the one that apparently belonged to Dracula in Romania. Of course, if you’ve ever been to Ghent, you realize that 10th-century Gravensteen, its picturesque moat and the view you can enjoy from its towers are only the first reason you feel like a fairytale when you’re here.
The Bottom Line
Belgium is an amazing destination for beer lovers, and while the rest of the country’s attractions might be even more enjoyable drunk, you don’t need to drink beer here to have a good time.
From gorgeous historical cities, to charming natural scenery, to iconic Belgian chocolate, there’s more to the home of Stella than Stella, although be sure to sample some Belgian beer before you head home.
Robert Schrader is a travel writer and photographer who’s been roaming the world independently since 2005, writing for publications such as “CNNGo” and “Shanghaiist” along the way. His blog, Leave Your Daily Hell, provides a mix of travel advice, destination guides and personal essays covering the more esoteric aspects of life as a traveler.