Flanders, Belgium is located in Western Europe. Bordering the North Sea between France and the Netherlands, Belgium is about the size of Maryland and Flanders roughly the size of Connecticut.
It is an international metropolis – a mosaic of languages, cultures, and traditions. Brussels hosts over 80 museums, numerous tourist attractions, a vibrant nightlife, countless restaurants and shopping opportunities. Brussels is also the ultimate European city. As the headquarters to the European Union and NATO, it is often referred to as The Capital of Europe. The starting point for any visit to Brussels is the Grand Place which was built as a merchants' market in the 13th century. It serves as the center of the city and hosts numerous concerts and festivals, including the Ommegang pageant held every year in July. Every other year for two days (next time will be August 2016, then 2018...) the Grand Place is decked out in an amazing flower carpet, made up of one million begonias.
The heart of Bruges (written “Brugge” in the Dutch language), surrounded by an almost continuous ring of canals, is the best preserved example of medieval Flanders. So picture postcard perfect is the city center, known as 'the Venice of the North', that it is virtually impossible to take a bad photograph. With the city center closed off to cars, all the stunning beauty and culture of this unforgettable city can be easily explored on foot, by boat ride along quiet canals, or by horse-drawn carriage over cobblestone streets. Although Bruges is a small city, it will easily take more than one day to explore all of its architectural and artistic treasures, folklore, chocolate shops, lace boutiques, and local restaurants. The historic center of Bruges is on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites and is teeming with places of interest. Bruges is so magical that it's akin to a film set. This seems appropriate given that the 2008 film ‘In Bruges’ was filmed on location in the city. This film, starring Ralph Fiennes and Colin Farrell, features two hit men holing up in the city after a difficult job.
Belgium's ‘so cool it’s hot’ city has received a lot of well-deserved attention lately, especially since becoming one of Europe’s Cool Capitals. Always creative - in the 16th and 17th century, the city was home to great masters such as Rubens and Anthony Van Dyck; in the 20th and 21st century, to fashion designers like the world-famous Antwerp Six. There are always a lot of cultural activities, but the city is also well worth a visit for its excellent restaurants, bars and clubs, as well as for its shopping. Much like Antwerp diamonds, the city sparkles with an impressive range of architecture from medieval buildings in Art Nouveau styles to the contemporary Courthouse.
Mechelen is a small and picturesque city that is big on charm and history but is probably best known for its carillon school. Here students from all over the world come to learn to play church bells. One of the most pleasant experiences to have in Mechelen is to sit outside on the terrace of a cafe sipping a local beer while listening to the delightful bell music coming from the sky. It is a city thriving with quaint shops, car-free areas and amazingly pleasant little squares. The grace of centuries-old palaces and majestic churches appeals to everyone. Mechelen is a city for all ages. Young people can actively enjoy themselves in the Toy Museum or the Tivoli Children's Farm, whereas the young at heart can entertain themselves at the Anker, one of the oldest operating breweries in Belgium. There are also many parks and gardens to stroll in, and the boat trip to these parks from Mechelen Central Station is not to be missed. Mechelen has no less than 336 listed buildings and monuments including eight gothic and baroque churches from the 14th century through the 17th century.
Whether you’re looking to quench your thirst for knowledge or just your thirst, Leuven is the ideal place. This youthful town, less than half an hour by train from Brussels, is home to one of Europe’s oldest universities (KU Leuven), and history is present on every street corner. A few lucky students even have the distinct privilege of living in the 13th century stone beguinage (begijnhof) selected as a world heritage site by UNESCO. And where there are students...there is beer! Leuven is Belgium’s reigning brewing capital – no small feat in a country that produces hundreds of delicious varieties. Leuven is the headquarters of ABInbev, the world's largest brewing company, famous for Stella Artois beers. Centuries of Flemish tradition and craftsmanship lie behind Leuven’s premium brews. More info on all beer related activities in Leuven. The university, one of the oldest and most important in Europe, has its roots in the center of Leuven, and its historic college buildings dominate many of the squares and streets. The university and its 28,000 students and professors have a special tie with Leuven, which has existed since the university’s founding in 1425. Leuven is a great place for the curious traveler with time to explore. It is an intimate city; any spot can be easily reached on foot or by bicycle.
“Here’s a secret within a secret: Ghent might just be the best European city you’ve never thought of visiting, in a country that continues to be criminally overlooked.” - Lonely Planet 10 places to visit in 2011. If you’re the type who prefers exploring away from the tourist hordes, funky Ghent is definitely the place to go. Ghent is praised for its brilliant mix of a wonderful past and a vibrant present. Here hides one of Europe’s finest panoramas of water, spires and centuries-old grand houses. But this is no place to simply kick back. It’s also Flanders’ biggest university town, which means linger-as-long-as-you-like cafés, well-priced restaurants and a laid-back atmosphere. Under the watchful eye of Gravensteen Castle or Castle of the Counts, the city boasts an Opera House, 18 museums, 100 churches and over 400 historical buildings. The most visited site in Ghent is the famous polyptych, The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, painted by the brothers Jan and Hubert van Eyck in 1432. It still hangs in its original location, the St. Bavo Cathedral. The locals, while intensely proud of their city, are very modest and would never brag about its merits. One reason, perhaps, why it has taken so long for the rest of the world to discover this little gem.