Belgium

Grand Place, Brussels

La Grand Place, or De Grote Markt in Dutch, is surrounded by beautiful guildhalls and other buildings dating from the 14th to 17th centuries. One side is dominated by the ornate medieval town hall, a masterpiece of Gothic architecture. Grand Place was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its outstanding blend of architectural and artistic styles. The square is busy with tourists and locals at all times of year, but especially in August of alternate years, when the center is filled with the 75- by 24-meter Flower Carpet, made up of more than 700,000 cut begonias. Tip: you'll get the best full view of the beautiful designs from the balcony of the town hall.



The Canals and Belfry of Bruges

Bruges began on the banks of the river Reie, and as it grew, so did a series of waterways connecting it to the Zwin estuary and the North Sea. Today, the canals are beautiful reminders of Bruges history, and cruising or walking along them is one of the most popular things to do in Belgium. You can download a walking tour map from the tourism website to explore the inner canals, where you'll find beautiful views of picturesque bridges and glimpse into hidden gardens. Or tour the canals by boat, which you can take from any of five landings. Among the most recognizable sights in Belgium are the beautiful belfry and Halle, which dominate the main square of Bruges. Dating from the medieval era, this impressive building once functioned as the main town market hall and has been wonderfully preserved, allowing visitors a real taste of the architectural might of the Middle Ages. Climbing the 366 winding and narrow steps of the belfry is one of the favorite things to do in Belgium. Once at the top, the views of church spires and steeple-roofs provide one of the country's best-known panoramas.

The Battlefields of Flanders

For many visitors, Belgium's role on the front line of World War I, and in particular the Battlefields of Flanders around Ypres are the main reason for a journey here. Not only important historically, the battlefields are a major pilgrimage site. The preserved trenches run for kilometers around the town of Ypres, while this area is also scattered with vast cemeteries for the thousands of soldiers who died here. The Tyne Cot Cemetery (British) and Langemark's German War Cemetery are both solemn reminders of the brutal fighting that took place here during the Great War.



Ghent's Gravensteen and Old Town

This hugely impressive fort was once the grand home of the counts of Flanders, who took their inspiration for castle-building from the bulky castles the Crusaders built in Syria. Today, Gravensteen is one of Europe's best surviving examples of a moated fortress and has been incredibly well-preserved. Its strong and impressively thick and high walls soar up from the waters of the river Lieve right in the middle of the old town of Ghent, rising above the rooftops of the surrounding streets. Inside, the vast arched halls and chambers contain exhibits of medieval life, but it's the castle's architecture itself that is the real star of the show. Climb up the staircase to the roof for panoramic views across town before strolling through Ghent's charming stone-paved streets.


Horta Museum and Town Houses

Victor Horta was the most influential architect and designer of the early 20th-century style known as Art Nouveau. Several of his stunning buildings survive in Brussels and now constitute a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Begin at the Horta Museum, located in his former home and studio, which have been preserved as he designed them, with the original stained glass, mosaics, wood work, and decorations. Horta was a pioneer in this artistic revolution that maximized and diffused natural light and incorporated themes from nature in its sinuous curves. Horta's aesthetic included attention to every detail of construction and decoration, from the design of the house to its furniture and even the decoration on hinges and doorknobs. The two joined buildings of his house and studio show Art Nouveau at its height, and his four major town houses - Hôtel Tassel, Hôtel Solvay, Hôtel van Eetvelde, and Maison & Atelier Horta - are also included in the UNESCO site.