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    Culture, History, Nature, and Sweets: 4 Must-Visit Places in Belgium

    A military assignment to Belgium is a unique opportunity to explore some of the diverse spots in this trilingual country.

    Belgium is only about the size of Maryland, but within that small space, it has a variety of fascinating places to visit. With rich culture, exceptionally well-preserved historic architecture, tranquil green spaces, and plenty of sweet treats, there’s a lot to love about Belgium.

    Here are four of the places you shouldn’t miss while you’re there!

    1) Bruges

    This beautiful medieval city about 60 miles northwest of Brussels is the capital of the West Flanders area. It’s one of the top places to visit in Belgium for several reasons.

    Scenic cityscape with a medieval tower Belfort and the Green canal, Groenerei, in Bruges, Belgium

    Belfry tower and the Green canal, Groenerei, in Bruges, Belgium. Photo from iStock.com/KavalenkavaVolha

    Bruges is often called the Venice of the North because of the many canals winding through the city. It’s incredibly picturesque, with more than 80 bridges connecting the narrow cobblestone streets across the waterways.

    You can enjoy a day in Bruges by simply wandering the historic center, but the city and surrounding area have world-class museums and dozens of castles. Many of the castles offer tours or even allow overnight guests.

    Bruges is also known for its production of exquisite lace. The numerous lace stores in town are great places to shop for gifts and souvenirs of your time in Belgium. If you’re interested in learning more about how the lace is made, visit the Lace Centre, which has a museum, demonstrations, and workshops.

    Among the culinary specialties to try while you’re in Bruges are the fries (served with mayonnaise) and the delicious waffles. You can purchase either of these from food carts in the Markt Square or other spots throughout the old town as you stroll through the city.

    Finally, if you love chocolate, don’t miss the Choco-Story museum!

    2) Antwerp

    Antwerp is a port city less than thirty miles north of Brussels. Since the 16th century, it has been known as the diamond capital of the world, so while you’re there, wander through the Diamond District to see the hundreds of diamond and jewelry shops.

    Brabo fountain on market square in Antwerp, Belgium

    Brabo fountain on market square in Antwerp, Belgium. Photo from iStock.com/Vladislav Zolotov

    More recently, Antwerp has become Belgium’s hip, vibrant second city that warrants at least a day trip or weekend getaway.

    Many visitors to Antwerp arrive via train (it’s less than an hour from Brussels), and Antwerp’s central train station, Antwerpen Centraal, is a first look at the city’s grandeur. The domed station is reminiscent of a cathedral and considered one of the most beautiful train stations in the world.

    Start your visit at the Het Steen Castle, a stunning, centuries-old fortress that houses the Antwerp Visitor Center. A short distance away is Grote Markt, a large square surrounded by 16th century buildings, including the ornate city hall. It’s one of the central points of the city and a top spot for dining, drinking, and people-watching.

    Antwerp also has several interesting museums, including the Plantin-Moretus, which boasts some of the world’s oldest printing presses, and the very unique, 10-storey MAS Museum. Another top attraction is the Meir, Antwerp’s famous shopping street and Belgium’s pedestrian-only version of 5th Avenue.

    Like Bruges, Antwerp also has a chocolate museum! It’s called Chocolate Nation, and it’s conveniently located directly across from the train station.

    3) Hoge Kempen National Park

    Opened in 2006, Hoge Kempen was the first national park in Belgium. It’s in the northeastern part of the country and makes the perfect escape from city or duty station life.

    Mechelse Heide, National Park Hoge Kempen, Limburg, Belgium.

    National Park Hoge Kempen, Limburg, Belgium. Photo from iStock.com/NAPA74

    Hoge Kempen offers hundreds of miles of trails for mountain biking, road cycling, horseback riding and hiking. There are plenty of short day treks, including a trail that you must walk barefoot. But you can also challenge yourself by hiking the entire National Park Trail, which is 110 km (68 miles).

    There are nine entrances to the park, and you should choose which one to use based on what special features or activities you want to access.

    Explore the Hoge Kempen website to learn more about this unique place in Belgium!

    4) Bastogne

    Bastogne is a must-visit for anyone interested in WWII history. It was the site of Battle of the Bulge, the last major German offensive on the Western Front.

    World War II memorial "Mardasson" in Bastogne, Wallonia, BelgiumWorld War II memorial "Mardasson" in Bastogne, Wallonia, Belgium. Photo from iStock.com/bbsferrari

    Start your visit at the Bastogne War Museum. Plan to spend at least two or three hours exploring the exhibits and watching the accompanying movies, all of which are very well done and worth the time. Outside the museum is the stately Mardasson Memorial, which honors the soldiers who fought in the bloody Battle of the Bulge.

    After the museum, visit Bois Jacques, the nearby woods where you can still see the many foxholes used by American soldiers in December 1944. Other WWII-related sites to visit in the area include Bastogne Barracks and the 101st Airborne Museum.

    Located in southeastern Belgium, Bastogne is about a two-hour drive from both Brussels and Chievres Air Base. It’s also an easy day trip from the Kaiserslautern area.

    Get more tips for your trip to Bastogne- Day Trip to Bastogne: WWII History in Belgium

    Belgium is small, but it has a lot to offer, and most destinations are within a couple hours by train or car. Another bonus is that Brussels is on the Eurostar train line that runs to London, so after exploring your host country, you can easily visit some top destinations in the UK!

    4 Must-Visit Places in Belgium

    Stephanie Montague


    Stephanie Montague

    Stephanie Montague is the founder of Poppin' Smoke, a website dedicated to helping members of the military community take advantage of their travel-related benefits. She has been traveling and living abroad with her husband since he retired from the Army in 2015. Through Poppin’ Smoke, Stephanie shares everything she and her husband learn about Space-A travel and using military benefits while abroad. Also, through her Facebook group, U.S. Military Retirees and Veterans Living Overseas, Stephanie facilitates a large and growing community of veterans who are interested in living overseas after their military career.

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