Trips to Belgium are all about world-class chocolates and beautiful buildings, right? Although there is indeed no shortage of delectable treats to consume while in the awe-inspiring Western European country, it’s also an underrated hotspot for thrillseekers looking for activities just outside the usual tourist routes. And as anyone who has biked the hillsides of Bruges or eaten a gourmet meal high above the cityscape of Brussels can tell you, the tastes of Belgium come to life after a full day of adventure. Here are some options to consider for those looking to spice up a trip to Belgium with a few exciting activities.
Biking in Belgium is not to be missed (particularly in Ghent and Bruges).
You don’t have to be preparing for the Tour de France to enjoy the pleasures of cruising around Belgium on two wheels, and it also happens to be a great way to both see the countryside and work off a few Belgian ales. A terrific option for many visitors is to tackle the Gouden Carolus route, a sensational 58-kilometer bike path that begins at Het Anker brewery in Mechelen and cruises past a series of iconic national monuments and buildings. After sipping the malty ale Het Anker is known for, visitors bike past the palace of Margaret of Austria and alongside tranquil waterways on their way to a famous single-malt whiskey distillery in Blaasveld. Travelers usually return to Het Anker to finish the route, although other paths are only 27 or 48 km for anyone not ready for the whole thing.
For a different type of eye candy, the Concrete Canvas Tour is a stunning trip through the heart of the art districts in Ghent. Known for being a hub for street artists, the back-alleys are a rolling canvas that is constantly updated with new and colorful masterpieces, which is why the Concrete Canvas Tour never looks the same twice. It’s also a very manageable 14 kilometers. If street art isn’t for you, however, Ghent has a handful of other outstanding bike routes, including a chateau route just outside the city that takes visitors past medieval fortresses and more beautiful countryside. Picking up a bike in cycling-friendly Ghent also couldn’t be easier, as you can scoop one up for a very low price at either rail station (Dampoort or Gent-Sint-Pieters).
Bruges also isn’t exactly lacking in terrific biking options either, specifically the Castle Triangle Route that connects a series of palaces and castles on a beautiful tour outside the city. Although at about 50 kilometers you might not want to do it in one day, it’s a comfortable ride with nice stops along the way that is known for being great for adventurous families. With bikes being very simple to get ahold of in Belgium and all sorts of memorable paths awaiting, the hardest part might be choosing only one or two routes.
Getting high in Brussels (literally).
It can be thrilling in itself to experience the world-renown flower carpet of Brussels, which culminates in a festival that brings about a million different flowers into the majestic Grand Place for a stunningly colorful display. But there are plenty of other ways to experience Brussels if you don’t happen to make the event, which only occurs every other summer.
An option growing increasingly popular in Brussels is to link up with a running tour (or just create your own route). A light jog can take you to all the icons of the city while you work up a sweat, allowing you to cover more ground and hone in on the places you want to come back to later on. Running tours—typically in the six to the ten-mile range—are particularly great for those who want to save time while still seeing the highlights of Brussels, and you’ll probably feel less guilty about the seconds of Belgian chocolates you’re going to be having later in the day.
But for a totally unique experience, how about hanging on an elevated platform overlooking the city and tasting creations by some of the best chefs in Belgium? “Dinner in the Sky” is a concept that first started more than a decade ago and involves being raised on a crane a few stories up from the ground, where you’ll sit with about 20 or so other diners and get served by famous chefs as you look out over Brussels. If that sounds a little too harrowing, scampering to the top of the Palace de Justice with a picnic lunch/dinner of authentic Belgian cuisine can be another easy way to rise above the crowds while enjoying the cityscape (it’s also free).
For next-level thrillseekers, joining the popular trend of “escape rooms” can be an exciting way to dive right into a unique and memorable experience. Brussels is loaded with difference escape-room adventures, which generally involves you being trapped in a room with strangers and trying to find enough clues to escape. Not for the claustrophobic, the escape-room games have all kinds of creative themes as well, including rooms devoted to classics like Alice in Wonderland. If you want to shake up your trip and meet some locals and travelers alike, heading to a Brussels escape room can be the perfect option. Many are also family-friendly and don’t take long (often around an hour), so if it turns out escape rooms are not your glass of ale, you can quickly be on to your next activity.
The dizzying world of Tomorrowland.
Belgium is also an internationally known country when it comes to summer festivals, with the enormous, electronic-music heavy Tomorrowland leading the way. Started in 2005 and held in Boom, Tomorrowland has regularly been dubbed one of the top music festivals in the entire world and is a staggering display of EDM that lasts a couple of weekends in the middle of the summer. The Extrema Outdoor is another spectacular display of EDM that has gained international fame, although Belgium has plenty of other major music festivals outside the world of electronica as well.
A much more mellow but equally as lively festival, the Couleur Café in Brussels, brings together a variety of types of music, including hip-hop, reggae, and different international flavors from all over. There are plenty of more traditional parades and concerts as well, but the vibrant and modern festivals can be a direct conduit to the contemporary pulse of the country.
No shortage of inspiring hikes.
A classic adventure experience is to pick your way through the best hiking trails of a country or city, and Belgium and its enchanting collection of old-world masterpieces are no different. Although Belgium is a terrific biking country as well, the series of excellent hikes make it an ideal place to experience at a walking pace. For the more committed hiking thrillseekers, the An derBerglanke (on the mountainside) is an intense but gorgeous glimpse of the countryside in East Belgium, taking hikers past about 14 kilometers of pristine Belgian wilderness, rivers, lakes, and even a remote castle (Reinhardstein). There are plenty of other outstanding hiking options as well, particularly in the east near the German-Belgian border.
Hiking through the many urban landmarks is another exciting way to see the most famous parts of the country. Though every major city in Belgium has a great hiking option or two, completing the 5km trek around Bruges is an easy way to see the many wonders of the classic medieval city, from the iconic architecture to the long stretches along the city’s famous canals. On the more challenging end of the spectrum for urban hikes, the trail through Antwerp should take you a full afternoon to complete (it’s about 14 kilometers) and offers the perfect showcase of the ancient port city of Flanders.
The old and the new.
The postcard-worthy medieval architecture tends to be the major selling point for Belgium, where you can find some of the unique and beautiful cities in all of Europe. But for those with an adventurous spirit, Belgium can also be a terrific place to toss away the typical game plan for an entirely different type of experience. From escape rooms and countryside bike tours to jumping into some of the biggest music festivals in the world, the Belgian way of life is an outstanding combination of the ancient and modern worlds. While you absolutely should experience all of the things Belgium is famous for (especially if you have a sweet tooth and love classic European cities), there are plenty of other ways to keep the blood pumping and mix in some thrills as you flesh out an unforgettable Belgian holiday.