I had debated on whether or not to even visit Belgium with so little time left. I feared that it would be so much like the Netherlands that it would be just like paying for a hostel to stay in the same country in which I had an apartment. I decided to go ahead for 3 days and now Iâ€™m really glad I did.
My first stop was Brussels, which is only 2 hours and 23 euros away from Den Haag Holland Spoor. My little research had told me that there was a large, daily flea market called Place de Jeu de Balle in the city until 2 PM every day, so that was my first stop. It was a nice, big market with all sorts of old junk and maybe some treasures. Plus, the surrounding neighborhood is full of antique and vintage shops. Worth checking out if you are there before 2 PM. Next was the Gran Place, which is a very bland name for a big square where the market used to take place. Of course, packed with tourists and commercial chocolate shops. I didnâ€™t stay long. I spent most of the day walking around the city center, which is surprisingly compact and easy to navigate, and eating chocolates and waffles as I came across them.
There are two types of Belgian waffles- the Leige and the Brussels. Leige is sweet, handheld street food that can be topped with various syrups and spreads. The Brussels is usually a more sit-down affair, not sweet in itself but topped with different kinds of sugar, butter, and fruits. Both delicious and worth your time.
Brussels impressed me as elegant and clean. Be aware that, although I think it is in Flemish territory, nearly everyone here speaks French and usually some English. Also, the prices are pretty high, so even though it is cheap to get to Belgium, you can probably expect to spend the same as many other trips. Shopping around a bit for food can bring down your costs, though.
I would also recommend a bar called Delirium. It is near the Gran Place, but you should look it up or plan on asking around to find it- itâ€™s a little hidden. Beer is a big deal in Belgium, and this place stocks over 2,000, so it makes for a fun Belgian experience.
The evening after exploring Brussels I headed to Brugge, an hour away, to check out that small town and because I found a hostel that was half the price of anything Brussels had to offer. Apparently this town wasnâ€™t modified much between 1500 and 1900, so it has a really authentic feel. It is small enough to get a feel for in a day and you can easily see all of the sights in 1 or 2 days.
For me, this place was like a mini-Prague because of the way the entire town was like a single old relic. It was fun just to walk around in the back streets and get lost, since the place is so small and surrounded by a ring of canals. A note: They are speaking Flemish here, so any Dutch will help and their English is good, too.
Gent is between Brugge and Brussels, so I stopped there on my way back to the Netherlands via Brussels. Itâ€™s size is also between the two other cities and I think it is less touristic than either. While it has been modified somewhat more than Brugge, it still has a 12th century castle and at least 4 or 5 huge old grand churches. I was only there for about 6 hours, but it was enough time to walk around and look at the major sights and have a meal. If you want to do some more mainstream shopping, I think Gent is the place to be, since it has a good sized shopping street.
In the end, my Belgium trip ended up being a spectrum. Brussels is large, developed, multi-cultural and majestic. Brugge is tiny, quaint, medieval, and feels homey. Gent sits in the middle, with plenty of the old mixed in with some of the new and enough size to get lost but small enough to still walk the whole city. Belgian prices are similar to Dutch ones and the people may speak a similar language, but this place is definitely worth visiting if you have a weekend with no plans.