five days in belgium spring 2022

Brussels Grote Markt

We spent five days in Belgium in early May 2022 exploring the towns of Antwerp, Ghent, Bruges and of course Brussels.  We based ourselves in Brussels and rode the trains to the other towns.  Bruges seemed like Disneyland without the rides while Brussels was fun to explore.  Ghent was also fun to explore while Antwerp fell a little short in “wow” factor compared to the three.

The Language

Belgium speaks four languages, depending on where you are.  Most people speak English.  In Brussels, people spoke French.  Closer to the Netherlands, like in Bruges, people speak Flanders or Dutch.  While closer to the German border, we were told that people speak Deutch. Knowing a few phrases in these languages would be advantageous in breaking the ice if you need to approach a local with a question or ask for help. 

Getting Around Belgium

Belgium is a postage stamp sized country (well in comparison to the USA).  It has an area of about 11,800 square miles (something like 108 x 108 miles) so exploring this country can be done from just one base.  We were able to get to the other towns/cities from Brussels on one train ride from the Brussels Central Station.

We purchased a train ticket from the vending machine at the Central Station every time we went (unlike Amsterdam which offered one, two and three day passes of unlimited rides).  Fortunately though, a duo ticket can be purchased from the vending machine.  The duo ticket is one ticket but covers the ride of two people and is cheaper than purchasing individual tickets.  Purchasing a duo ticket is not very intuitive from the vending machine.  An attendant that was stationed outside the ticket office had to help us the first time we bought the duo ticket.


The articles we searched the night before about places to see in Antwerp did not lie about its Central Station.  It’s the most impressive we have seen.  It’s just huge and open unlike most central stations where the bulk is underground making you feel like you are in a bunker.  It is difficult to describe Antwerp’s Central Station but all I remember is looking up and around with my mouth uttering the word “wow”.   

Antwerp Train Station

Once out of the Central Station, we started walking towards Grote Markt or the town square.  Along the way, we walked through pedestrian-only Meir Street. There are shops on both sides of the street and plenty of people.  We also noticed a lot of jewelry shops on this street.  

Unlike the other three towns/cities we visited, the attractions in Antwerp are not clustered together.  So there was a bit of walking involved that made our half day a bit short to see all the attractions mentioned on the Internet.  Though trivial, walking past modern buildings to see the next attraction just takes out the fun in exploring.

Antwerp’s Grote Markt which is the town square is a must see.  Its city hall and other old buildings line the square’s periphery.  There is a fountain in the middle of the square.  There are also some benches that line the east side of the square facing city hall.  Perfect place to have a snack and slow down a bit.  

Grote Markt in Antwerp

We are not museum people and have seen so many churches in our travels that we do not sometimes bother going inside to take a peek.  We look for unique sights and places.  One such place is the Elfde Gebod, or in English the 11th commandment.  It’s a restaurant/pub where the walls are decorated with religious paintings and statues.  It’s as if you are being blessed to indulge in your favorite drink.  Something unique.

Some of the religious decorations inside Elfde Gebod

We did visit the Het Steen Castle. All I remember about the castle is that it’s not big and that is where we obtained our walking tourist map from the visitor center that’s housed inside.  Quite odd that the visitor center is not near the train station. 


Bruges is a different story.  Old town Bruges is wonderful.  It’s like being in Disneyland without the rides.  The buildings are old and have similar architecture to old towns in the Netherlands.  What is nice about it is that at every turn there is something different to look at or admire.  

Unlike Antwerp, there is a tourist office right off the train station (smart!).  The attendant provided us with a walking map and was very helpful in answering questions.  Old town Bruges is compact and very walkable.  It did not take us long to reach the town square, maybe 15 minutes at a touristy gawking pace.  There was already a crowd but became busier as the day went.  It got really busy in the afternoon as we headed out. 

Restaurants line the periphery of the main square in Bruges

I realize there is no mention of what to see in Bruges.  It’s not needed.  There are plenty of internet articles floating around.  All I can say is if there is one place to visit in Belgium, it’s Bruges!

Mussels with white wine and fries at Poules Moules Restaurant in Bruges
Chocolates sold in tins like the colorful houses in Bruges Grote Markt


Old town Ghent is quite a walk from the Ghent Sint-Peters train station so we decided to buy a tram ticket.  We did not know that the tram goes around the old town Ghent and even in front of the Gravesteen.  Gravesteen is a medieval castle.  Oddly enough, the tourist office is housed in a building across the castle tucked among the restaurants.  We were able to get a walking map from the tourist office and hit all the spots shown on the map including the Korenmarkt, Grote Markt, St. Bavo’s Cathedral, The Belfry, St. Michaels Church and a lot more that kept us entertained.   

Bikes line the Korenmarkt Street in Ghent

We even took a 40 minute boat tour after our walk.  Perfect time to rest our legs before the ride back to Brussels.  The tour took us to the places we already saw earlier.  The only advantage of the boat tour is that our tour guide provided a different perspective and a little history of the structures in Ghent.  One such tid-bit that stuck with me was about St. Michael’s church.  St. Michael’s Church is the largest in Ghent.  It was supposed to be the tallest but its foundation was soft that prevented its steeple to be constructed any higher.  Looking at the church, we can see that it looks unfinished as it does not have the pyramidal steeple unlike St. Bavo’s church.

Boat ride at Leie River in Ghent
Inside St Michael’s Church in Ghent


You can’t be in Belgium and not explore Brussels.  Though the attractions we found from searching the Internet are spaced apart, the path we ended up taking was through the old part of the city and kept us entertained.  Our first stop was the Royal Palace where we watched the changing of the guards.  Then it was off to Notre Dame Cathedral and the Justice Palace.  The Justice Palace is huge and stout.  Its pillars and foundation are the size of buses, maybe bigger.  Too bad it has not been maintained as the exterior is stained and there are weeds growing.  Next was the flea market but when we got there around 2PM it was already over.  The vendors have already packed up and left.  

Royal Palace, Brussels
Justice Palace, Brussels

The next stop was the Manneken Pis which is a statue of a little boy peeing.  There were a lot of tourists taking selfies in front of Manneken Pis.  Conveniently enough there were a couple of waffle stalls stationed near the attraction and people were lining up for it.  A short walk from the Manneken Pis is the Grote Markt which is the most impressive of all the Grote Markts we have seen between Belgium and the Netherlands.  The Belgians seem to like gold as the buildings we saw starting with the Royal Palace up to the Grote Markt have gold colored trims or decorations.  

Manneken Pis, Brussels
Belgian waffles by Manneken Pis, Brussels
Brussels’ Grote Markt

The last two stop was St Michael and Gudule Cathedral which has a lot of history ranging from the Prince of the former Netherlands, Charles V, being proclaimed the King of Spain in 1516 to the wedding of Prince Laurent of Belgium and Princess Claire in 2009.

St Michael and Gudule Cathedral, Brussels


Belgium may be a small country but its attractions are big.   For us, Burges tops the list of must see in Belgium.  Next is Ghent but only edging Brussels by a hair.  If you have limited time, we suggest at least set aside time to explore these three places,  They are unique in their own special way and you’ll remember the fun time you will have while exploring these places like we did.