Have you been to Belgium yet? It’s been on my list for a while, and we finally made it a reality in December! It was our first international trip in nearly two years, so there was a bit of a learning curve with new (and changing!) restrictions due to the pandemic. If you’re planning a trip to Belgium soon, this post will help you out!
1. Know what language you need to speak.
Belgium has three official languages: Dutch, French, and German. It also has several unofficial languages, such as Flemish, Luxembourgish, and Walloon. Some locals get offended if you speak the incorrect language (although most Belgians know multiple languages), so do a little research before you go! In Bruges, the local language is Dutch. In Brussels, French is the locally accepted language. In Antwerp, you’ll hear Flemish.
Fun fact: Less than 1% of Belgians speak German as their first language because… history, y’all.
Read also: How to Plan a Trip
2. You’ll get around easily using English.
Even with all that said above, if you speak English, you’ll be able to get around very well! Most people in the touristy areas or larger cities will speak English, and they’ll be able to help you out. Just make sure you know the word for “thank you” in the locally-spoken language. You’ll win brownie points with the people who are so kind to you!
Also helpful: Words to Learn in the Local Language
3. The currency is the Euro, however…
The local currency is the Euro, as in many countries within the EU. However, one good thing COVID has given us is the need for “tap” and “contactless” payments. You’ll still want to have some cash on-hand for the few restaurants and attractions that only accept cash, but as long as you have a good fee-free credit card with contactless payment, you can earn points and minimize your exposure to cash that has changed hands a gazillion times.
Earn points and avoid fees? Sign me up!
What to Consider When Applying for a Travel Credit Card
4. It’s the seat of the EU.
That’s right! Brussels, Belgium, is the de-facto capital of the European Union (EU), and you can visit the EU Parliament in Brussels if you like (and if your timing is right). There is no “official” capitol of the EU, but because the EU Parliament is here, it’s considered the “de-facto” capitol. I tried to find a concise sentence or two about why Brussels is home to the EU Parliament and when it became such, but as with all bureaucracy, the truth is complicated and hard to come by! Here is the EU in Brussels Website for more.
Read next: How to Plan Long-term Travel in Europe
5. The trains make it easy to get around.
I do love the train systems in western Europe. They’re smooth, they’re frequent, they’re easy to figure out, they’re affordable, and they’re fun for an American who doesn’t have much opportunity to take trains! If you get confused or a little lost, there’s almost always someone around who can help, and I’ll be honest, I’ve had some of the best food in European train stations! Belgium is easily navigable by train, so use it!
Keep reading: 8 Things You Forgot to Pack for Europe
6. Learn some basic history.
Belgium, as it is now, only became a country as late as 1830. That makes it younger than the United States of America! But Belgium’s cities and culture are far older. It’s always a good idea to learn a little history about whatever country you choose to visit, as it gives you a respect and understanding that you’d miss out on otherwise.
The cities and land that make up modern Belgium have, at times, been their own entities, and have been intertwined with its bordering countries: The Netherlands, France, Luxembourg, and Germany. This is part of why Belgians have different first languages based on region. The Belgian Revolution started in August 1830, and eventually, with intervention by the British and the French, King Leopold I of Saxe-Coburg (widower of Britain’s Princess Charlotte of Wales) became King of Belgium and accepted the new constitution on July 21, 1831.
Whew! I’d like to know how many American teenagers learned and remembered that from their high school history classes. I didn’t!
Read on: What to Know Before You Visit Bruges
7. Belgians are obsessed with mayo the way Americans are obsessed with ketchup.
I don’t like to make blanket statements, but if there’s one commonality I found in almost every savory dish (thankfully not in sweet dishes) it was mayonnaise. It’s supposedly a little different from American mayo (I’m not sure!), but it’s basically served with everything. Fries (or frites)? Mayo comes with that! Sandwich? Hope you like mayo! Want chicken? That comes with a side of mayo, too.
P.S. You can certainly ask for ketchup, but know that it may taste different, and it may not be available at all!
More here: The 5 Foods You Must Try in Belgium
8. You’ll have to fill out a Passenger Locator Form.
Hopefully this will go by the way-side once we all figure out how to live with COVID the way we live with colds, pneumonia, and any number of other viruses and illnesses in the world, but for now, everyone has to fill out the Belgian Passenger Locator Form. You can fill it out up to six months in advance, and if you’re vaccinated, you’ll get a QR code to show as your ticket into hotels, restaurants, museums, and events while in Belgium.
More here: 5 Important Things to Do Before You Travel Abroad During the Pandemic
9. You’ll need the COVID Safe BE app.
With that QR Code from the Passenger Locator Form, you can use the COVID Safe BE app as your pass into indoor activities instead of your paper vaccination card (if you’re American). Many EU countries have their own app, so you can’t use the Belgian app in other countries, and you can’t use another country’s app while in Belgium. Also note that it’s only good for one month for visitors.
Worst case scenario: What to Do if You Have to Quarantine Abroad
Want more? Check out my dedicated Belgium Page for everything you need to plan your trip!
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