Updated on April 4 2022- Belgium is still imposing 10 days quarantine for all tourists including those fully vaccinated. Check their official Covid website and plan accordingly.
Mighty Mite is the word for Belgium – Little yet too powerful. If you have already gone through our other posts, you may think,” Having visited Belgium for a day, what tips these guys can give?” This post is 25% of our experiences, 75% from our friend Keerthi, living in Amsterdam since 2016. He has travelled to different towns in Belgium multiple times. So trust us here.
Here is a list of things you must know before heading to Belgium as a first-timer.
- Tourist Visa for Indians
- Safety & Scams
- Using Debit and Credit Card.
- Cell Phone Network and Wifi
- Type of Power sockets
- Public Hygiene and Toilets
- Roads and Transport
- Food and Beverages
- Alcohol and Smoking
- People and Language
- What to see in Belgium and when
- Tipping Culture.
- Expenses – Is it a budget-friendly country for tourists?
- Paying for your meals – The Dutch system
Belgium Tourist Visa for Indians
The EU Flag on a Gothic church in Bruges
Belgium is one of the Schengen countries. Brussels is home to the EU. If you have Schengen Visa, you can travel to all 26 Schengen countries. In India, Vfs Global is your place to get Belgium Visa if it is the first country you land during your Europe trip.
Safety & Scams
Is Belgium safe for tourists?
Most things are free in Bruges. Some agents try to charge you for it in the name of sightseeing
Keerthi says that Pickpocketing and theft here are less compared to in Paris. I feel it is less than in Athens, But you have to be careful in crowded tourist places. Belgium stands in 17th position out of 163 nations on Global Peace Index as of 2020. The capital city Brussels is the home of the European Union headquarters. So Belgium is safe for all kinds of tourists. But sadly, Like most European countries face terrorism threats, Belgium faces the same. From 2016 until 2020, there have been two incidents of terror attacks.
Belgium was the second country to legalise same-sex marriage in 2003. So it is one of the besT LGBT communities friendly places to travel. The Belgian pride parade usually happens sometime between the second week of April and the Midweek of May. When we went in May 2018, the Pride parade was just over; the celebration was still on.
A stranger followed me and tried to make some conversations forcibly in Brussels & a Belgian rescued me from him
Silver Jubilee Park in Brussels
After overloading ourselves with the most delicious waffles, we were walking near the jubilee park. A man wearing a rainbow scarf approached me. I thought he must be asking for money or food. I said sorry and moved on. He began to follow us & kept on talking to me with a broad smile on his face. We went to a departmental store to buy some coke and Juice.
He came inside the store too. He kept speaking in a language that I didn’t understand and came to hold my hands. I said, “please stop harassing me. If you want food, I can get you some.” He was smirking and speaking something. Coming very close to my face, he tried to grab my hand. I got rude and said, go away. The store manager saw what was happening and sent him outside! What did he want? Food or Me? I don’t know.
Tourist Scams in Belgium
The major landmark that is equally dumb is Mannekin Pis of Brussels
The only scam we witnessed, to which we didn’t fall, was – Paying charity for some fake organisations. A well-groomed man/woman approaches you with some form that looks legit that says Help the poor, help orphans, You need to be there for refugees, etc. Most times it is fake. Be firm, say no firmly and don’t bother to do charity on the streets even if they show their paperwork and bills. This is the most common scam throughout Europe (or maybe the world?)
Antwerp mainly suffers from agents selling fake Diamonds. Be sure of the buyer and avoid mediators or brokers. The other scams you should be aware of are the common ones – Taxi fares, horse chariots, and overpriced restaurants.
The ride on Horse Chariots on the streets of Bruges may sound like a “Taking you back in Time” experience. But they are pricey, noisy and you can’t go into the less crowded narrower side lanes.
Euros. You can’t exchange INR for Euros at any place in Belgium. You may sometimes be asked to show proof of hard cash at the Immigration office. Buy Euros from India itself. You can’t exchange INR for Euro once you enter EU nations.
Using cards for payment
All international bank Credit and Debit cards work. Most restaurants and departmental stores accept card payments. Keep some change handy to use washrooms.
Network and Wifi in Belgium
We bought two Lyca Mobile SIM for each of us in Greece. The plan we opted for included international roaming in the Schengen countries. with lots of data packs. It worked perfectly throughout. Keerthi has been using Lebara since 2016. The reachability is good even in the remote villages of the Netherlands and Belgium.
Type of Power sockets used in Belgium
Is Belgium a clean country?
Perfect streets for wandering in Bruges
- Public hygiene– You can not complain about public Hygiene in Belgium. I still wonder how Grand Place square remains spotless even with thousands of tourists flocking in every day. The Silver Jubilee park was so clean and neat that we could lay down on the grass without hesitating.
- Tap water is good for drinking.
- Toilets: This is where the struggle part comes to Indians in two ways. First one – you hardly find Public toilets as such. You can use any restaurant toilet by paying 0.5Euros (Almost 40 INR!. Paying 40 INR to pee and poop is a lot for us). Secondly, all EWCs are without jet sprays. You have to use tissue paper to wipe your ass. So carry a recyclable plastic bottle, fill it with water in the restroom, use it and trash it in the bin.
Public Transport in Belgium
Belgium follows right lane driving. You can easily travel 230 to 250 km in two hours between the cities. But be prepared to face traffic jams in Brussels. One happy news is that nobody honks like how we do when stuck in traffic. Motorbikes are not a common thing here. If someone has a motorbike, it means luxury, and it is solely used for travelling in leisure. Cars are everyone’s essential. Toll fees can be paid by electronic toll tags or cash.
Is Belgium food for cycling?
Unlike the Netherlands, cycle tracks aren’t that convenient in Brussels. Still, cycling is a better option to explore the towns.
Railways in Belgium
Trains Connect most of the important cities. You can buy either a daily pass or weekly pass and even a group pass based on your requirements online or at the train stations. The Eurail passes are most travellers’ favourite. It is useful for travellers only for those who are travelling in Europe for months together across various nations without fixed plans. So do the math before buying these expensive Eurail tickets.
Cruises to Belgium
Antwerp is the boss of all ports in Belgium. Amsterdam to Antwerp cruising is famous among luxury travellers. Though the canals of Bruges seem to be ideal for daily commuting through boats, locals prefer buses.
There are five international airports! Comparing Belgium’s size and the number of airports, it is tremendous! So reaching the town by air is super easy and expensive.
Belgium Food and Beverages
- Oh my good lord – It is heaven filled with Fries and waffles. Belgium fries are supposedly the best in the world. It was as good as what I had in either Netherlands or Greece! The usual breakfast is with bread and cheese. (Dutch cheese is often used). Muscles and shrimps were served in every street-side restaurant.
- Beverage – Beer, Hot chocolate and Coffee. Belgian beer is one of the best beers in the world. So if you are a beer person-You are in for a treat.
Alcohol and Smoking in Belgium
Smoking in public is common. But at tourist places, usually, nobody smokes in the open areas. Restaurants also have designated smoking zones. Beer is the proud product of Belgium. Most restaurants serve beer, and the Bruges beer we had was nowhere comparable to any other beer we had ever had in our life to date.
Belgians and Language
Keerthi finds Belgians similar to Dutches. Neither grumpy nor friendly. They are up to themselves. You can expect Hi and Good morning from a stranger, but conversation beyond that is rare with locals. We even found the cafe owners to be non-smiling! We felt as if we were not welcomed in that cafe in Bruges, but that is their nature.
Language- three official languages in Belgium are Dutch( most common), French, and German. You can manage with English in tourist places and cafes. But it might get tricky in the remote villages with only English.
What to see in Belgium and when?
When –The best time to visit – April to June. After June, heat waves are common in most of Central Europe these days ( Thanks to humans, global warming). Christmas time may be great, but crowded and more expensive.
What to see in Belgium
Before you think of places to see, think of Belgium’s size – 30500sqkm. My home state, Karnataka, is six times bigger than Belgium. Egypt is 33 times bigger than Belgium, while California is 14 times bigger than Belgium. Seven days in Belgium is a good time to explore Belgium beyond Brussels. Keerthi says If you are on a short trip trying to see two or more countries in that time, pick places carefully different from each other. You may find similarities between a few Belgian towns similar to some German towns.
We visited Bruges and Brussels. Our friend Keerthi has visited more. So here is a brief of each town in a nutshell that helps you pick the places for your short trip to Belgium.
List of beautiful Belgium places to visit
- Bruges – Sleepy Town with Cinderella type of bridges and castles. I loved every minute spent here. This is where the song “Char Kadam” from PK was filmed. Read our post” Movie Maniacs journey through the MovieVerse” to know more.
- Ghent – A sleepy town like Bruges, with fewer tourists. It is famous for colleges and universities. So the nightlife vibe is great here.
- Antwerp: Famous for its diamond cutting industry. Consider this if you want to visit museums and a factory that demonstrates diamond cutting.
- Halle: Brussels is a place for waffles, beautiful history, and historical buildings, including art nouveau buildings. The village Halle is close to Brussels and is famous for the Blue forest.
- Liege – The best part of this town is the stairways that take you to the mountain. The view of the city from there is impressive.
- Spa – Keerthi visited this solely for the F1 track! So if you are an F1 race enthusiast, look for particular events and plan the visit.
- Castle of Bouillon – Near the France border, this huge riverfront castle with a tiny village at its foothill can be a stopover for a road trip to Northern France from Southern Belgium.
Tipping Culture in Belgium.
Not expected neither at restaurants nor for the taxis. ! Most people don’t leave the few cents back after the bill.
Is Belgium expensive for tourists?
When you compare Greece and Belgium as a tourist, Belgium is cheaper. You spend a lot on sailing, ferries and other touristy things in Greece. In Belgium, the trains and trams connect various cities making it cheap, faster and best for the tourists. Belgium has lots of free stuff for its citizens and tourists. From the train station to Bruges, the shuttle bus was free. Few museums in Brussels and Bruges keep it open free of cost on particular days. Research well before all these to save money
The hotel rooms, meals and drinks are costlier than in Greece. This adds up, making the expense go higher than that of Greece. The Summary is – Belgium isn’t a budget-friendly country, even with BnBs and hostels.
Dutch system for paying in Belgium
Most Belgians likely follow the Dutch system when it comes to paying for food. So when you go out for lunch/dinner with Belgians, though you were invited by someone- very likely you will pay for yourselves.
Got more tips to reduce the budget to travel to Belgium? Let us know in the comment section below.