A land, whose specialties include ubiquitous beers and delicate chocolates, Belgium is often perceived to be dull. The image that it’s simply a staid haunt for business executives and Eurocrats, or the gateway to the rest of Europe, reinforces the idea. But Belgium is a prime destination if you’re interested in countryside, culture and history, served up alongside a huge proportion of highly acclaimed restaurants serving everything from haute cuisine to moules-frites to Belgian waffles. Easy to travel around, this pocket-sized country is divided by the Flemish north (Flemish-speaking) and the Walloon south (French-speaking). Brussels, the capital, is the heart of the country and the European Union. Expanding outwards from the brilliant Gothic architecture of the Grand-Place, this cosmopolitan city contains numerous interesting museums and many fine eateries. The Manneken Pis statue is the place to pose for a photograph and laugh incredulously at others doing likewise. Ostend, in the north, is a popular seaside resort with a long sandy beach, bustling harbor and shops to explore. With its canals and cobbles, thirteenth-century Bruges is one of Europe’s finest examples of a medieval town and home to some impressive art collections. Antwerp is renowned for diamonds and throughout all these towns it’s difficult to escape the bars and pavement cafes. The south holds great appeal for outdoorsy types – the forested Ardennes is a nature-lover’s paradise cut by rivers and gorges where walking opportunities abound. How dull is that?
Area: 30,528 sq km (11,787 sq miles)
Geography: Belgium is bordered by France, Germany, Luxembourg and The Netherlands. The landscape is varied; the rivers and gorges of the Ardennes contrasting sharply with the rolling plains which make up much of the countryside. Notable features are the great forest of Ardennes in Flanders near the frontier with Germany and Luxembourg and the wide, sandy beaches of the northern coast, which run for over 60km (37 miles). The countryside is rich in historic cities, castles and churches.
Language: The official languages are Dutch, French and German with English widely spoken.
Credit Cards: All major credit cards are accepted.
Travelers Checks: Widely accepted.
Banking Hours: Mon. to Fri 9am-4pm
Air: Belgium’s regional airline, DAT (Delta Air Transport) has launched its new European airline SN Brussels Airlines (SN)
Approximate flight times:
London to Brussels is 50 minutes
New York to Brussels is 7 hours
Chicago to Brussels is 12 hours
Los Angeles to Brussels is 16 hours
Londonto Antwerp is 50 minutes
Brussels Zavertem (BRU) (www.russelsairport.be) Trains depart every 15 minutes to the city (travel time 20 mins.), returning from Gar Centrale and Gare du Nord. Bus services run to and from the city every 45 minutes. Taxis to the city cost approximately EUR 30.
Antwerp (ANR) (Deurne) (www.antwerpairport.be) Bus services run frequently to Central Station (travel time 20 mins) and Brussels Airport. Taxi services are available and cost approximately EUR 10.
Ostend(OST) (www.ost.aero), 5km (3 miles) from the city, car parking, car hire, foreign exchange, restaurant, bar.
Social & Business Customs
Belgian cuisine is often compared to French but has its own flavor and history. Each region in Belgium has its own special dish.
Restaurant bills always include drinks unless they have been taken at the bar separately. Local beers are excellent and there are 400 (+-) of them. Two of the most popular are Lambic, which is made from wheat and barley, and Trappist. Under a new law, the majority of cafés now have licenses to serve spirits. Beers and wines are freely obtainable. No licensing hours.
As well as being one of the best cities in the world for eating out (both for its high quality and range), Brussels has a very active and varied nightlife. It has ten theatres producing plays in both Dutch and French. Brussels’ 35 cinemas, numerous discotheques and many nighttime cafés are centered on two main areas: the uptown Porte Louise area and the downtown area between Place Roger and Place de la Bourse. Nightclubs include the famous Le Crazy, Chez Paul, Maxim and Le Grand Escalier; jazz clubs include the Brussels Jazz Club and Bloomdido Jazz café. Programs and weekly listings of events can be found in the BBB Agenda on sale at tourist offices. This also covers information on the many festivals that take place in Brussels itself. The other large cities of Belgium, such as Antwerp, Leuven, Mons, Ghent, Kortrijk and Naur, all have similar (though less extensive) nightlife facilities. Liége is noted for its Walloon opera and for having several theatrical troops, Ghent for its ‘illuminations’ while Namur has a large casino complex. Other cities with casinos are Ostend, Blankenberge, and Chaudfontaine.
Special purchases include ceramics and hand-beaten copperware from Dinant; Belgian chocolates; crystal from Val Saint Lambert; diamonds; jewelry from Antwerp; lace from Bruges, Brussels and Mechelen (Malines), woodcarvings from Spa and bandes dessinées (comic-strip books) by a number of talented Belgian cartoon artists from Brussels. Main shopping centers are Brussels, Antwerp, Bruges, Ostend, Namur, Mons, Liége, Ghent and Mechelen.
Mon-Sat 9am-6pm/7pm. Department stores often remain open longer, up to 9pm on Friday.
Flemings will often prefer to answer visitors in English rather than French even if the visitor’s French is good. It is customary to bring flowers or a small present for the hostess especially if invited for a meal. Dress is similar to other Western nations depending on the formality of the occasion. Smoking is generally unrestricted.
a 16% service charge is usually included in hotel or restaurant bills. Cloakroom attendants expect EUR 0.5, porters approximately EUR 1 per piece of luggage. A tip is generally expected in Taxis.
Suits should always be worn and business is conducted on a formal basis with punctuality valued and business cards exchanged. Office hours: 8:30am-5:30pm Monday to Friday
The weather is seasonal with warm summers and cold winters when snow is likely.