The cities of Belgium
Brussels aside, Belgium is littered with beautiful cities that are just waiting to be explored. Bruges, in the north of Belgium and not far from the coast, has canals to match Amsterdam, fairytale spires soaring into the sky, and cobbled lanes leading to pretty market squares. It can get incredibly crowded so aim to go midweek out of season if you can to enjoy its magic without being crushed at every turn.
Ghent, in Western Flanders, also has a medieval feel with the added bonus of top quality museums such as the Design Museum, the Industrial Archaeology Museum, and the Museum of Contemporary Art. The canals in Ghent are just as picturesque as Bruges and there is a 12th century castle to admire. Also tourists have not cottoned on so much to this city so go there while it is still relatively peaceful.
One of the great cities in the southern part of Belgium is Liege with its many religious masterpieces in the form of churches, three major museums, and a curious underground stream. Ypres is the city in Belgium where WWI is most remembered due to about 30,000 Allied soldiers perishing there on the front line. The Flanders Fields Museum gives a detailed insight into the atrocity.
The Belgium of today
Belgium has two distinct halves, not so much the North/South divide, more the Dutch-speaking half versus the French-speaking half. Flanders is the north part of Belgium where Dutch is the first language. Here the land is flat but interspersed with glorious cities. Wallonia in southern Belgium is French orientated and has a more rural feel with the best things to experience being cave exploring, outdoor activities and nature reserves.
The people of Belgium do define themselves by which half they live in but do so with a quiet sense of confidence and often surreal humour. They are proud of their art history that reaches back to the 15th century with the Flemish Primitives. But true to form, it is not all classical stuff; comic strips are held in high esteem by adults as well as children, Tintin being the most famous, as well as the blue Smurfs.
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