Taking to the road for a tour across Belgium means exploring a way of life where tradition and modernity mix and join German and Latin influences, through architectural treasures, delicious gastronomic specialities, a wide variety of diverse landscapes and an incomparable choice of beers (to be consumed in moderation)!
Here is the itinerary for a getaway in Belgium, which leads you along the canals, from its capital, Brussels, to the shores of the North Sea, across 4 must-see cities, to discover all the faces of a small but surprisingly exotic kingdom, the birthplace of the comic strip and homeland to offbeat humour, the flat country celebrated in Jacques Brel’s songs, beyond the conventional clichés, bringing together many cultural and natural gems.
Leaving Brussels, a European capital city
Renting a car guarantees you the ability to travel with no set schedule, at your own pace, choosing your own road map. Why not start your journey with a stay that’s both cultural and trendy in the European capital?
Because even though it’s spread out over 19 communes and has over a million people, Brussels remains a human-sized destination with a way of life that gives it a particular charm.
Even though you have to park your car to visit, take the time to stroll around the famous pedestrian Grand Place of Brussels, the “most beautiful square in the world” according to Victor Hugo. A reputation evidenced by the beautiful facades of the guild houses, the charming streets of the sacred islet and the lush green parks that dot the city.
From there, continue your urban stroll it the heart of an exceptional architectural kaleidoscope, where all paths lead to a museum, a historic monument or a civil building combining Flemish classicism, Gothic style and Art nouveau.
In addition to the wealth of its architectural heritage, Brussels is full of little restaurants where you can enjoy traditional Belgian cuisine, generous and convivial. Treat yourself, for example, to the famous Flemish carbonade simmered in beer or “hochepot”, the local stew.
And always in moderation, pay tribute to the creativity of Belgian brewers by checking out an “estaminet”, a popular cafe with a typical atmosphere offering a wide selection of beers.
On the road of historical treasures to Ghent
In less than an hour, you can travel the 50 kilometres between Brussels and Ghent… Often wrongly overlooked in favour of Bruges, Ghent nevertheless has some attractive features itself.
The multi-faceted Jewel of Flanders is romantic, lively, historical and gastronomic all at the same time, and it’s an essential stop on your driving tour along the road of canals.
When you arrive, take advantage of the friendly and secure underground car parks that allow you to leisurely stroll along the waterfront or in the old neighbourhoods of this Gothic medieval town with poetic charm. From the cathedral which houses the famous “Adoration of the Mystic Lamb” by the Van Eyck brothers to the St. Michel quarter by way of the canals, the historic town centre of Ghent certainly doesn’t lack in interest.
Before leaving for Bruges, enjoy a gourmet break in the Old Fish Market, which is a restaurant complex today, offering you a taste of waterzooï, a local chicken- or fish-based speciality served as a soup with cream or butter.
The Canals of Bruges: a required stop on your tour
There are several possible routes linking Ghent to Bruges: by motorway or through the Flemish countryside, take N9, which leads to the coast. Once you have the castle of the Counts of Flanders behind you, the road travels a few dozen kilometres before you can immerse yourself in the romantic and picturesque charm of the “Venice of the North”.
Be tempted by a boat ride on the canals, around which the magnificent Gothic-style civil and religious monuments were built. And don’t miss a visit to some of the must-see sites that make Bruges a true open-air museum, the birthplace of Flemish art and a UNESCO Historic Heritage site: the belfry, the museums, the Quai of the Rosary, and many others.
Before resuming your road trip, make one more stop on the shores of Minnewater Lake, also called the Lake of Love, and let the Beguinage work its charm.
Cross the finish line on the beaches of Knokke
There are several choices of routes to take to Knokke, each being about twenty kilometres. Choose the quiet roads instead of the heavy tourist and local getaway traffic on the sea motorway to Knokke, a posh seaside resort with fine sand dunes that stretch along the coastal border with the Netherlands.
If you like fish and other seafood, the culinary specialities of the Belgian coastline will delight your taste buds: in addition to the traditional dish of fried mussels, enjoy some sole meunière or shrimp-stuffed tomatoes, available in traditional or nouvelle cuisine styles.
Whether you hit the road with friends or family, you’re keen on culture or looking for a piece of nature, you will find something to satisfy all your desires. At the heart of this charming movie set, shopping in the lively commercialised streets, visiting museums or art galleries in Belle Epoque-style neighbourhoods, jet-set evenings at the casino or hours relaxing on the wide beaches…