I’m not going to lie, I straight-up love Belgium. Why? Well, for two main reasons. Firstly, I am particularly partial to the Belgian portfolio of food and beverage. Whether it be Belgian beer, frites, beer, chocolate, beer, waffles, beer, or mussels, they are every bit as good as everyone hypes them up to be, and all have an uncanny way of tasting even better when enjoyed within the northern European nation’s borders. Basically, if a food or beverage item has the world ‘Belgian’ in front of it, you know your taste buds are in good hands.
Secondly, in my opinion, Belgium crams more ‘European-ness’ into one small place than any other country on the continent save Switzerland, but since the Swiss can’t compete on fries and beer, they lose. From the canal-crossed and Dutch speaking Flanders in the north to the French feeling and speaking rolling hills of Wallonia in the south, and of course the all-business yet still quirky capital of Brussels in the middle, the country is overrun with Europeany places.
I recommend a stop in Belgium to anyone coming to Europe, and while many people take up this advice, they typically end up funneled into Brussels or Bruges exclusively. And that’s fine, because both places are great albeit a little cliche. I personally found that I didn’t truly fall for Belgium until I dug slightly deeper, and here are a few of the best places in Belgium to go besides those two if you wan’t to do the same.
If you like your towns picturesque, Dinant includes in its proposal to impress you a cliff-side citadel looming (and when I say “looming”, I mean it in the nicest possible way) over an onion-topped riverside cathedral. Dinant’s location in the heart of the Ardennes Forest makes it a great base for outdoor activities like hiking and floating excursions, and those who prefer cultural thrills will love the fact that Dinant is the birthplace of Adolphe Sax – the inventor of the saxophone – and the fact that the aforementioned looming citadel was home to a historic battle in World War I. Dinant honors Sax by scattering lots of colorful saxophones around town which are absolutely perfect for cheesy photos and the town’s riverside cafes are the ideal place for whiling away afternoons.
Home to a buzzing student population often sporting a buzz, a town square dubbed the ‘longest bar in the world’ due to the abundance of watering holes, and hands-down one of the most beautiful buildings in all of Europe, Leuven should definitely be way more famous than it is. The town hall and its two-hundred-plus statues handily beats Brussels’ in the beauty department and its Beguinages, which are little hidden courtyards where religious women used to live, are secluded maze-like escapes from the world outside. Stella Artois, one of the world’s most famous average beers, is brewed here, and a tour of the brewery is a signature activity of the few and proud travelers who take the time to see Leuven. I’d probably say skip the brewery and just hang with the college kids, though.
If you only had one place to go in Belgium, I would probably send you to Ghent. Their Castle of the Counts is probably the exact thing that comes to mind when you hear the word castle, and the ever-so-scenic riverside Graslei is probably the most beautiful stretch of medieval buildings in the entire country. Ghent is also home to the famous art work Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, and while it is undergoing restoration at the moment, two-thirds of it can still be viewed and posed for a selfie in front of at St. Bavo’s Cathedral. Throw in an enchanting nighttime lighting display that cloaks the town’s many medieval buildings, and you’ll see why Ghent is beloved – and subsequently kept a secret- by nearly all who visit. Except me, because I went there and now I am telling everyone about it.
Oh yeah, if you go to Ghent, you should stay here, it rules.
This post originally appeared on TravelPulse