Belgium. You have tasted its beer, and you think you’ve had its waffles. You crave its chocolate and truffles, while you link it to the most underrated vegetable in the world. But you don’t know Belgium. The most beautiful place you have never been, Belgium hasn’t exactly been known for being one of the sexier countries in Europe- until now.
It’s not so much that Belgium deserves your adoration (this is inevitable), but rather you are due an experience so divinely departed from anywhere else. To know Belgium is to uncover the finest cultivations Europe has to offer. It is the journey that will tingle your senses. The taste, the sight, the scent, sound, and feel; more than any other destination, you will find yourself taken aback by its enchantment.
For a country the size of Maryland, Belgium is more than just its capital city of Brussels. Cities like Antwerp, Bruges, and Ghent are must-sees, and given their close proximity to Europe’s central hub, they’re only a hop, skip, and a jump away.
Where gastronomy, culture, and art is met with unparalleled romanticism, the northern region of Belgium known as Flanders rivals its European neighbors in France and the Netherlands- and wins. Encompassing all of the architectural beauty one might see from Amsterdam to Rome, the Belgian scenery is eclectic and rich in history. The cuisine, although similar to French fare, exceeds all others in its vast selection of beer, chocolate artistry, and sizable portions. Think France on steroids, without the attitude (or the roid rage). A nation known for shuffling the world’s diamonds, love begins and ends in Belgium, making it an ideal location for a magical honeymoon. And if you can’t forget Paris, it’s only a 90-minute train ride away from Brussels.
Brussels :: Bruxelles
Language Spoken: French, but everyone speaks English.
Photo Opp: Manneken Pis, the famous Belgian bronze sculpture of what appears to be a cupid-like boy urinating into a fountain’s basin, has become a highly popular and photographed figure in Brussels. Standing only about 2 feet high, the unusually hydrated little guy is typically found stark naked. For a bare statue, the not-so-modest figure has quite the wardrobe. Hundreds of outfits he has worn are on display at Maison du Roi, but if you’re really lucky, you may catch him clothed in something special. Either way, he’s totally Snapchat worthy.
Claim To Fame: The origin of the finest chocolates and beer in the world, and home to the European Union.
Bet You Didn’t Know: The Adventures of Tintin and The Smurfs hail from Brussels, and the city is widely regarded as the comic strip capital.
Best Bang For Your Buck: Starting at just €1at street food kiosks, a Liege waffle is an absolute must. Smother it with strawberries, chocolate, and whipped cream if you must, but be sure to try it with just a dusting of sugar as well. You won’t regret it.
Go here: Grand-Place, also known as Grote Markt to the Dutch, is the main square and center of beauty in Brussels. This wide-open cobble locale is surrounded by opulent architecture, and is home to the city’s town hall. Perhaps the most remarkable landmark in all of Brussels, it is also among the greatest spots to hang out and kick back with a waffle.
Romantic Night Out: Be sure to pop by Bonsoir Clara in downtown Brussels. This ultra-chic, non-touristy restaurant is relaxed, romantic, and seriously delicious. The sashimi of salmon is marinated to perfection, and their rack of lamb is quite possibly the best you will find in Europe.
Do this: Every Saturday, chocolatier Laurent Gerbaud personally hosts a chocolate tasting and workshop in the kitchen adjacent to his renowned storefront. This crash course in chocolate will not only deliver everything you’ve ever wanted to know about chocolate (and the trade secrets that make it so great), you will walk away with a heaping stash of fine chocolates that you will have had the opportunity to prepare personally.
Antwerp :: Antwerpen
Distance from Airport: 45 minutes by taxi
Language Spoken: Flemish, but most speak English
Claim To Fame: Forget 47th Street. As the largest diamond district in the world, Antwerp’s Diamond Quarter knows its stones. Where about 84% of world’s rough diamonds have passed through the district, it is more than likely that the ring on your finger has made it to Antwerp before you have.
Shop: Antwerp’s fashionable epicenter consists of a grand eclectic mix of chain retail stores and trendy boutiques. The source of a visionary revolution for fashion in the 1980s, the Antwerp Six put the city on the map as the notably gifted designer collective hit the scene. This internationally recognized breakthrough in haute couture only enhanced the notoriety of the region’s distinguished art culture.
Don’t miss: Antwerp’s Centraal Station is one of the most marvelous railway stations in the world. Conveniently located beside several city attractions including the Antwerp Zoo, a great ferris wheel, and a plethora of shops, it is not to be missed. The exquisite architecture of Antwerp’s Centraal Station is not easily defined by any particular categorical concept or era, which lends well to Belgium’s eclectic structural habitat.
Taste: Every shade of ale at Antwerp city brewery, De Koninck. A far cry from most tours and museums, the brewery has emerged a state of the art interactive experience. As you delve into all the juicy details behind this beloved Belgian beer, encounters with smart technology will take you by surprise at every turn. At the finish line awaits a sampling of beers to taste, where selfies coined as “brewfies” are encouraged.
Check out: The Museum of Modern Art in Antwerp better known as M HKA is a contemporary art museum containing some of the most important exhibits in all of Belgium. Its recent Energy Flash exhibit explored rave culture among European youth in the ‘80s and ‘90s, certain to evoke a reaction from its spectators. Although modest in its size, the museum stands out among the bigwig galleries in the contemporary art world.
Explore: A city easily explored on foot, Antwerp is possibly best experienced by bicycle to gain the full effect. City bike rental kiosks are widely available, and make for a great mode of transportation and sightseeing.
A version of this story written by Samantha Sendor originally appeared in the 2017 Sophisticated Weddings.