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Brussels: A modern metropolis with medieval charm

Often called the “Capital of Europe,” Brussels offers more than meets the eye. Step back in time and explore a city perfect for foodies, history buffs, and day-trippers alike.

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Brussels wasn’t supposed to be on my Euro-trip itinerary, but after some last-minute changes, I found myself in a city I hadn’t previously given much thought to. And what a mistake that was; over the next few days, I would learn that while we might think of waffles and chocolate, Belgium is a country steeped in culture, rich in history, and a beautiful mix of modern metropolis and medieval architecture.

Its residents have always known this, and they are eager to share their country with travelers. Martine Roegies was born and raised in Belgium and now works as a Senior Airport Service Agent for Delta at the Brussels airport. “With Belgium being so rich in languages, you know there’s some fascinating history to explore,” she said. This was certainly true in my case, as I learned that Belgium has three official languages: Dutch, French and German. This melting pot of languages and cultures has influenced everything from architecture to food.

After my Delta flight landed, I made my way to the Grote Markt, Brussel’s epicenter, in search of a snack (I’d been vehemently told I must try frites from a street cart) and instead found myself transported to the 1600s. Stunning gold-leaf buildings-built ages ago reflected the sun, the cobblestones probably able to tell stories I couldn’t even begin to fathom. And while things have changed over the centuries, today’s Grote Markt still pulses with activity.

A Delta employee stands on the riverfront in Brussels.

Seasons in Brussels

It was November, so I just missed out on seeing the square in all its Christmas glory, though Roegies tells me winter is one of the best times to visit. “You have magnificent Christmas markets in several cities. Brussels was voted the Most Beautiful Christmas Market in Europe in 2022,” she explained.

Roegies says the weather varies throughout the four seasons. “In autumn, you can enjoy the beautiful colors of the woods in The Ardennes while hiking and sipping on a local beer.” Spring and summer are pleasant, with many locals taking up a favored pastime. “In spring, you may enjoy one of the many cycling tours organized around the country. The Tour of Flanders is the most famous one of them all, but you have many more to choose from,” she said.

Things To Do

A view from the Gravensteen Castle overlooking the city in Ghent.

The ease of travel in Belgium is amazing – Brussels is small and easily navigable, with a public transportation system that is clean, swift and reliable. Almost everyone speaks English, so I advise asking locals about the best places to go. They never once steered me wrong! “The many medieval cities such as Bruges, Ghent and Dinant are a must-see,” said Roegies. That was music to my self-proclaimed history buff ears. And better yet, they are easy to get to, in under an hour by train.

  • Bruges - From the moment I spied the Belfry in Bruges, it truly felt like I had stepped into a fairy tale. Canals crisscrossed the small town; the scent of fresh Belgian waffles permeated the air. I took a canal tour narrated by a local, and though it was cold (they’re open-air boats), the views and history lessons were priceless.
  • Ghent – Only 30 minutes by train from Brussels, this medieval town makes for the perfect day trip with stunning scenery. I highly recommend the Gravensteen castle tour, which takes a spin on traditional audio tours and is instead narrated by a comedian.
  • Battlefields of Flanders – This area is scattered with cemeteries for the thousands of soldiers who died. “Located around Ypres, [the battlefields of Flanders] are very touching and very much worth a visit when you are interested in history,” said Roegies.
  • Waterloo – Likewise, another iconic piece of history where Napoleon was defeated. Roegies tip for visitors is, “From the top, you have an excellent view over the countryside.”

Eating and Drinking in Brussels

A Delta employee enjoys a meal of moules frites in Brussels

“Belgium has over 1,500 different beers. Some are local and can only be bought and drunk in their own little village,” explained Roegies. Beer culture was indeed massive in Belgium and paired well with most of the dishes I tried. One of the things I loved most about the trip was that every meal felt like an event.

  • “Known all over Belgium are the ‘Frietkoten’ (fries shop). This tradition started back in the 19th century as mobile stalls,” said Roegies. “These days, you still have some of those, but others now look more like small snack bars or takeaway restaurants.”
  • Flemish stew – It was chilly during my time in Belgium, but thankfully, I warmed up with Flemish beef stew, a hearty local specialty made with a thick beer sauce.
  • Moules Frites – Mussels and fries; this became a personal favorite meal of mine, and I tried as many variations as possible. These big mussels are typically served in huge individual cauldrons with different sauces (think white wine, garlic butter, or vegetable broth) and crispy fries on the side. You won’t regret dipping your fries in the extra broth!

Medieval Cities, Modern Charm

No matter where I found myself in Belgium, I felt transported to a different place and time. But the people of Belgium remain kind, friendly and willing to help you explore the best of what their country has to offer, which only adds to its charm.

A nighttime view of the town of Ghent near Brussels

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Belgium, though I shouldn’t have been, and now it’s climbed to the top as one of my favorite European destinations. If you’re looking for a less crowded and touristy vacation with endless culinary delights, historic sites and a welcoming culture, Belgium is the place for you.

Getting to Brussels with Delta

You can fly directly to Brussels Airport (BRU) from Delta’s hub at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) year-round, seven days a week. We are all about personalizing your travel experience as much as possible, which is why we offer four different seat options on our international flights. Customers can choose from Delta One, Delta Premium Select, Delta Comfort+, and Main Cabin.

We’ve recently brought back a customer favorite, and passengers in Delta One can once again experience the signature dessert cart. This beloved trolley includes plated desserts, fruit and cheese plates, and a build-your-own ice cream sundae. Those seated in Delta Premium select will be treated to enhanced menu options, a special ‘bubbles and bites’ service before your main meal, and a premium snack basket.

If all of this excites you, you can book your perfect Belgian adventure right now through Delta Vacations for a unique trip tailored to you. I can promise you’ll find much more than Belgian waffles and chocolate. But full disclosure, some Belgian chocolate still happily found its way into my bags on the way home.  

 

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