Belgium is one of Europe’s underrated gems.
Towns and cities stuffed with medieval buildings, soaring bell towers and meandering canals tell of its rich history. And the best beer, chocolate and waffles in the world are reasons enough to visit Belgium.
Furthermore, as this is a small country, it is possible to cover a lot of ground in just one week. But how should you make the best use of your precious week in Belgium?
This is where I can help. Based on multiple visits, I have crafted a one-week Belgium itinerary that will allow you to see the very best that this country can offer, without feeling frazzled in the process.
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Planning Your Week in Belgium: Travel Tips
My top tip for spending a week in Belgium is to pick a few cities in which to base yourself, using them as hubs to visit other destinations as day trips. As you won’t have to spend time moving between hotels, not to mention packing and unpacking, this helps you make the most of your precious time.
This is a small country and is blessed with an excellent train network that runs frequent services between the main cities. Furthermore, the centres of all of the places mentioned in this Belgium itinerary are within walking distance of the train station.
You can plan your train journeys here.
Where should you base yourself in Belgium?
Thanks to its excellent train connections, Brussels is one of the best cities to base yourself in Belgium. However, if you are in Belgium for one week, I recommend splitting your time between Brussels and Ghent, Antwerp or even Bruges. My preference is Ghent but Antwerp and Bruges are also good choices.
WHERE TO STAY IN BRUSSELS
To make the most of your time in Brussels, especially if you are a first-time visitor, stay in the city centre, close to the Grand Place and Brussels Central station.
Here are my recommendations:
I stayed at this elegant boutique hotel in the heart of the city centre. It was a peaceful refuge and just two minutes from the train station,
Here are some other choices of accommodation that may suit other tastes and budgets:
This 3-star guesthouse close to Brussels City Hall has garnered fabulous reviews. Breakfast is included in the room rates.
If you are up for a glamping experience on the doorstep of the Grand Place, this could be just the thing.
None of these places takes your fancy? Click here to find other great accommodation choices in Brussels.
WHERE TO STAY IN GHENT
When choosing accommodation in Ghent, base yourself in the city’s historic centre to be close to the attractions included in this itinerary.
These are my recommendations:
Snooz Ap Holiday & Business Flats
I stayed at this superb apartment in the heart of the historic city centre. The washing machine, Nespresso machine and roof terrace were welcome bonuses.
Here are some other choices of accommodation that may suit other tastes and budgets:
For a first-rate accommodation choice that is closer to the train station, take a look at this 4-star B&B.
Ready to treat yourself? If so, stay at this guesthouse housed in a historic building in the heart of the city.
>>> None of these take your fancy? Explore other great accommodation choices in Ghent here.
READ THIS NEXT: Where to Stay in Ghent, Belgium: The Best Areas for All Travellers
How many days do you need in Belgium?
If you are visiting Belgium as a city break to Brussels, then two days will allow you to hit its highlights, leaving room to try its beer, chocolates and waffles.
However, Belgium is so much more than Brussels. As a minimum, five days in Belgium will allow you to explore Ghent and Bruges and plus a few other cities.
Spend one week in Belgium and you will be able to visit all of these cities as well as some lesser-known places such as Leuven, Hasselt and Mechelen.
What is the best time to visit Belgium?
For mild weather, fewer crowds and cheaper accommodation, visit Belgium between March and May, and in September and October.
During the summer months (June – August), you can look forward to warmer days and nights and more festivals. The flipside is that there are a lot more visitors.
Although winter in Belgium can be damp and grey and dreary, the twinkling lights and mulled wine of its Christmas markets will lift your spirits.
How to get to Belgium
Brussels, the capital city, is Belgium’s main international transport hub.
Most flights to Belgium’s capital land at Brussels International airport, 14 km northeast of the city centre. From here, regular trains run to the city’s three main railway stations.
Brussels-Charleroi airport, 50 km south of the city centre, serves budget airlines. There is a shuttle bus service from here to the city centre.
Brussels is also a major international train hub, including the Eurostar train from London. You can even visit Brussels as an easy day trip from London.
One Week Belgium Itinerary
Your week in Belgium is one of two halves. You will use Ghent as a base for the first three of four days, moving to Brussels for the second half of the week.
Of course, you can switch these around.
If you are travelling to Belgium by Eurostar, select “Brussels-Midi /Zuid + any Belgian Station” as your destination. This includes forward travel to and from Brussels to any station in the country on the same day as your Eurostar journeys.
Belgium itinerary: map
If you find it helpful to map things out, here’s one showing the stops on this Belgium itinerary.
DAY 1: GHENT
Why visit Ghent?
Ghent is picture-postcard perfect. It has oodles of history and culture, friendly locals, glorious architecture and meandering canals. It is also home to a lively bar scene and to a growing number of breweries.
Best of all, Ghent attracts a fraction of the visitors that descend on its showier neighbour, Bruges.
READ THIS NEXT: One Day in Ghent, Belgium: Itinerary + 20 Awesome Things to Do
Best things to do in Ghent
GAZE AT THE MYSTIC LAMB IN ST. BAVO’S CATHEDRAL
Jan van Eyck’s masterpiece, the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, aka The Ghent Altarpiece, has been restored to its former luminous glory and is sited in the cathedral’s Villa Chapel.
ADMIRE THE VIEW FROM ST. MICHAEL’S BRIDGE
This Ghent landmark offers the best vantage point from which to admire the city centre and its iconic quays, the Graslei and the Korenlei.
CLIMB GHENT’S BELFRY
Ascend to the viewing platform at the top of the UNESCO-listed Belfort of Ghent for a bird’s eye view of the city centre.
TAKE A BOAT TOUR ON GHENT’S CANALS
Learn more about the city on a relaxing 50-minute trip along Ghent’s canals.
>>> CLICK HERE TO BOOK YOUR GHENT BOAT TOUR
VISIT THE CASTLE OF THE COUNTS
Venture behind the forbidding walls and turrets of Het Gravensteen to learn more about Ghent’s history and for fabulous views over Ghent’s city centre.
JOIN A BEER TOUR WITH A LOCAL
This excellent beer tour was my favourite thing to do in Ghent. Liselot, our enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide, introduced us to five types of Belgian beer in three bars.
>>> CLICK HERE TO BOOK YOUR TOUR
Ghent travel tips
Depending on what you plan to do, the CityCard Gent can be excellent value. As ever, do the maths to see if it is likely to save you money.
READ THIS NEXT: Is the Ghent City Card Worth It
Ghent St. Peter’s Station is a 30-minute walk to the historic city centre. However, tram line 1 runs from the station to the city centre every ten minutes.
DAY 2: ANTWERP
Travel time from Ghent to Antwerp by train: 1 hour
Why visit Antwerp?
With its striking modern architecture, hipster coffee bars, superb restaurants and vintage clothing shops, Antwerp is Belgium’s capital of cool. However, this modern city retains reminders of its 16th Century golden age with magnificent medieval churches and Rubens legacy.
Best things to do in Antwerp
SEE THE RUBENS QUARTET IN THE ONZE-LIEVE-VROUWEKATHEDRAAL
Antwerp’s Cathedral of Our Lady is one of Belgium’s finest Gothic churches and is home to four early paintings by Peter Paul Rubens.
EXPLORE ANTWERP’S GROTE MARKT
Close to the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal is the Grote Markt, which is lined with restored medieval guildhalls and the Stadhuis.
VISIT THE UNESCO-LISTED MUSEUM PLANTIN-MORETUS
Occupying the former mansion of the 16th Century printer Christopher Plantin, this museum is another work by Rubens and the world’s two oldest surviving orienting presses.
VISIT RUBEN’S HOUSE (RUBENHUIS)
Antwerp’s favourite son lived in this mansion for most of his adult life and it was restored and opened as a museum in 1946. Its permanent collection includes works by Rubens as well as his peers and contemporaries, including Anthony van Dyck.
DAY 3: BRUGES
Travel time from Ghent to Bruges by train: 30 minutes
Why visit Bruges?
Bruges deserves its many accolades. With its tangle of medieval buildings lining a labyrinth of narrow canals, this is one of western Europe’s most beautiful cities.
Try to ignore the tourist crowds. You would be crazy to spend a week in Belgium and not visit Bruges.
Best things to do in Bruges
TAKE A CHOCOLATE TOUR OF BRUGES
Crammed with more than 70 chocolate shops, Bruges is a chocoholic’s dream. Do your own DIY chocolate tour of Bruges to taste the best and learn more about Belgian chocolate at Choco-Story.
READ THIS NEXT: Top 10 Chocolate Shops in Bruges, Belgium You Must Visit
CLIMB THE BELFORT
At the heart of Bruges is its Belfort, which occupies the south side of the Markt. Climb the narrow belfry staircase to the roof for fabulous views over the city.
VENERATE THE PHIAL OF THE HOLY BLOOD
Helig Bloed Basiliek (Basilica of the Holy Blood) is named after one of the holiest relics in medieval Europe, a phial purporting to hold a few drops of Jesus’s blood.
CRUISE THE CANALS OF BRUGES
See the best of this UNESCO-listed city by taking a cruise along its waterways.
TAKE IN THE VIEW AT ROZENHOEDKAAI
A strong contender for the prettiest location in Bruges, the much-photographed Quay of the Rosary marks the spot where the Groenerei and Dijver canals meet.
DAY 4: BRUSSELS
Travel time from Ghent to Brussels by train: 35 minutes
Why visit Brussels?
Brussels is the Marmite of Belgium: you will love it or hate it. Whilst I don’t hate it, I’m not that keen on it either. But what is beyond doubt is that Brussels is one of the best bases in Belgium for day trips by train.
The city is not without its charms.
It is lively and cosmopolitan. Brussels’ Grand Place is jaw-dropping, it has some of the best Art Nouveau architecture to be found anywhere and some charming squares.
READ THIS NEXT: One Day in Brussels: Itinerary and Best Things to Do
Best things to do in Brussels
ADMIRE THE BUILDINGS OF THE GRAND PLACE
Home to Brussels’ gable-roofed guildhouses and its Hôtel de Ville, this UNESCO World Heritage site is one of Europe’s most magnificent squares.
STROLL THROUGH THE MONT DES ARTS
This landscaped garden and stone staircase connects the Lower Town and Upper Town. From its terrace, there are fine views of Brussels.
TAKE TIME OUT IN THE PLACE DU PETIT SABLON
The small and pretty Place du Petit Sablon is a refuge from the busy city and close to the lovely Church of Our Lady of Victories at the Sablon (Notre Dame du Sablon).
STOP FOR COFFEE IN ROYAL GALLERIES OF SAINT HUBERT (GALERIES ROYALES SAINT-HUBERT)
These magnificent glass-vaulted galleries form one of Europe’s oldest and finest indoor shopping arcades. This is a great spot to stop for a coffee or a refreshing Belgian beer.
DELVE INTO ART NOUVEAU AT THE VICTOR HORTA MUSEUM
Housed in the former residence and studio of Victor Horta, one of the movement’s leading lights, this museum is an Art Nouveau wonderland.
HAVE THE BEST WAFFLE OF YOUR LIFE
You cannot leave Belgium without trying a waffle and one of my favourites was at Aux Gaufres De Bruxelles. Grab a pavement table and savour.
DAY 5: LEUVEN
Travel time from Brussels to Leuven by train: 25 minutes
Why visit Leuven?
The small university city of Leuven is one of Belgium’s treasures.
It has a UNESCO-listed library, Belgium’s oldest botanical garden and a magnificent town hall. But it is perhaps best known as the home of Stella Artois beer.
READ THIS NEXT: One Day in Leuven, Belgium: Top 10 Things to Do
Best things to do in Leuven
TOUR LEUVEN’S STADHUIS
Leuven has one of the most magnificent Gothic town halls that I have ever seen, giving the one in Brussels a run for its money. Today, the Stadhuis is used mainly for weddings and other functions, but you can visit its historic rooms on one of the daily tours.
ADMIRE THE LAST SUPPER IN ST. PETER’S CHURCH
Across Grote Markt from the Stadhuis is Sint-Pieterskerk (St. Peter’s Church), which is home to The Last Supper by Dirk Bouts. This exceptional piece of 15th Century art shows Christ and his disciples in a typical Flemish dining room.
VISIT LEUVEN’S UNIVERSITY LIBRARY
For the price of one ticket, you get to visit the library’s magnificent wood-panelled reading room and climb its 74-metre tall bell tower for sweeping views over Leuven.
STOP TO SMELL THE ROSES IN LEUVEN’S BOTANICAL GARDEN
Founded in 1738 by the University of Leuven, the tranquil Leuven Botanical Garden (De Kruidtuin Leuven in Dutch) is the oldest botanical garden in Belgium. Covering an area of over two hectares, it has a wide variety of trees, plants, flowers and shrubs.
READ THIS NEXT: Visiting De Kruidtuin Leuven: The Oldest Botanical Garden in Belgium
EXPLORE LEUVEN’S GREAT BEGUINAGE
The UNESCO-listed Groot Begijnhof of Leuven is it is one of the largest remaining beguinages in the Low Countries. This labyrinth of cobbled streets, straddling two canals is a wonderful area to stroll around.
DAY 6: HASSELT
Travel time from Brussels to Hasselt by train: 80 minutes
Why visit Hasselt?
Although Hasselt is a longer day trip from Brussels, it is well worth it. This unassuming small city has the largest authentic Japanese garden in Belgium, some of the best street art in Belgium and a museum dedicated to Belgian gin.
READ THIS NEXT: 10 Reasons to Visit Hasselt: Belgium’s Hidden Gem
Best things to do in Hasselt
RELAX IN JAPANSE TUIN HASSELT
Covering an area of six acres, the Japanese Garden of Hasselt is the real deal. Designed as a traditional 17th Century garden, it has ponds filled with koi carp, a tea house, a Shinto shrine and a peace bell. Visit in late Spring for the dazzling display of cherry blossom.
READ THIS NEXT: Chasing Cherry Blossom in Japanse Tuin Hasselt
DISCOVER BELGIAN GIN AT THE JENEVER MUSEUM, HASSELT
Learn more about jenever, a Belgian gin, when you visit the Jenever Museum Hasselt. At the end of the self-guided museum tour, conduct a spot of empirical booze research at the tasting bar with your free shot.
READ THIS NEXT: For The Love of Gin: Visiting the Jenever Museum Hasselt, Belgium
DISCOVER HASSELT’S STREET ART
Hasselt is one of Europe’s great street art cities and you can explore its murals on a self-guided tour. Simply download the free Street Art Cities app.
EXPLORE HASSELT’S BEGUINAGE
Hasselt’s beguinage is another of the 13 in Belgium that have been collectively designated a UNESCO World Heritage site and was home to beguines until 1886. Today, it is the site of the House for Contemporary Art, Design & Architecture.
DAY 7: MECHELEN
Travel time from Brussels to Mechelen by train: 30 minutes
Why visit Mechelen?
Home of the primate of Belgium and the country’s ecclesiastical capital, Mechelen is brimming with charm and history. This hidden gem is an easy day trip from Brussels and is mercifully crowd-free.
READ THIS NEXT: 11 Awesome Reasons to Visit Mechelen, Belgium
Best things to do in Mechelen
EXPLORE MECHELEN’S BEGUINAGES
Mechelen has two beguinages. Klein Begijnhof (Small Beguinage)) was the first to be founded, with beguines living there from 1256.
Mechelen’s UNESCO-listed Groot Begijnhof (Large Beguinage) was founded at the end of the 16th Century and features a Baroque church and many convents.
REFLECT ON BELGIUM’S DARK PAST
During the Nazi occupation of Belgium (1940 – 1945), Mechelen’s Dossin was chosen as the transit point for those destined for the concentration camps of eastern Europe. These dark times are recalled over three floors at Kazerne Dossin, the excellent museum across the road from the barracks.
STROLL ALONG THE RIVER DIJLE
Explore Mechelen by walking along the Dijle Path. This pontoon walkway extends from the charming Haverwerf as far as the city’s Botanic Garden.
TASTE THE LOCAL BREW
Gouden Carolus, one of Belgium’s best beers is brewed in Mechelen. Learn more on a 90-minute tour of Het Anker brewery, which includes tasting two of their Gouden Carolus beers and a small present.
More Destinations for Your Brussels Itinerary
Not everyone has the same interests and tastes, and perhaps some of these cities don’t rock your boat. If that is the case, here are a few other destinations you should consider adding to your Belgium itinerary.
DINANT – As pretty as a picture postcard, Dinant lies alongside the River Meuse in the Ardennes and is where Leffe beer began.
YPRES – The heart of the World War I battlefields
OSTEND – For rolling sand dunes and the chance to dip your toe into the chilly waters of the North Sea.
TOURNAI – Home to a magnificent UNESCO-listed cathedral (undergoing restoration in 2022)
LIÈGE – For some of the best waffles and beer in the world.
A 5-Day Brussels Itinerary
But how should you adapt this itinerary if you have only five days in Belgium?
To maximise your time, I recommend sticking with one base. Faced with a tough choice, I would plump for Ghent and visit Brussels, Bruges, Leuven and Antwerp as day trips.
The downside of using Ghent as a base for day trips is that its train station is not as conveniently located as those in Brussels. However, if you want to stay in Ghent’s historic centre and don’t fancy walking to the train station you can hop on the frequent tram service.
Is Belgium Good for Solo Travel?
Belgium is an easy solo travel destination. It is compact, has an excellent transport infrastructure and has both history and hipster culture in spades.
You need not be lonely as a solo traveller in Belgium. There is a lively bar and restaurant scene and taking a beer tour in either Brussels or Ghent is an excellent way to meet other travellers.
A priority for women who are travelling alone solo travellers is staying safe as a solo traveller.
As a whole, Belgium is a relatively safe solo travel destination. That said, I found that the immediate vicinity of Brussels Centrale station was not too pleasant after dark. Ghent felt far more relaxed.
In recent years, there has also been the threat of terrorist attacks.
As ever, a little bit of common sense goes a long way. Although Belgian cities have low crime rates, remain vigilant. Keep your belongings close to you and use your hotel safe to store valuables.