Belgium has attractions out of proportion to its diminutive size. From medieval cities and abbeys where the monks run their own breweries to forested hills and famous World War I and II battlegrounds for contemplation and remembrance, it’s a little country that packs a big punch.

Brussels’s vibrant, cosmopolitan atmosphere and multicultural beat make it much more than simply the administrative hub of Europe. The city was home to a number of greats, including Victor Horta, Jacques Brel, René Magritte, Georges Remi (better known as Hergé, creator of Tintin), and a whole host of other famous people you thought were French. It brims with museums that celebrate its famous sons and daughters. But for all its world-class restaurants, architecture, and art, the city keeps a relatively low profile; that means that you’ll still have plenty of breathing room to relish its landmarks, cobbled streets, and beautiful parks.

With around a million inhabitants, Brussels is arguably the only place in Belgium that really deserves the title of city in the truest global sense. And it has the grand boulevards and palaces one would expect from a European capital. In terms of sheer size, Antwerp is the closest thing to a rival that Brussels has, although the two differ greatly in character. While Belgium’s capital draws in tourists galore to gape at its grand squares and Art Deco buildings, its sister city remains more of a shopping destination, littered with high-fashion boutiques and enough diamond stores to bankrupt even the most prudent of billionaires. Although, some would argue that while Brussels has all the sights, Antwerp __is where the cool kids go.

In terms of history, Brugge and Gent are both beautiful ancient towns whose heritage has been well preserved through the ages. On a more manageable scale than their larger cousins, you’ll find quaint cobbled streets, medieval monuments, and even more great dining options. Their beauty is no secret though, so you’re unlikely to be visiting alone. Gent, and particularly Brugge, can get exceedingly crowded during the summer months, but even then there are quieter corners and it’s fairly easy to give the masses the slip. The weather may be fickle in the quieter, colder seasons, but the crowds are a lot thinner; it’s then that you can feel the rhythm of life as it was many centuries ago.

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