Our essential guides to Brussels, Ghent and Antwerp
Saturday 13 March 2021
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Beer bars & cafes:
No visit to Brussels is complete without hitting up the celebrated Brasserie Cantillon, plus the famous Moeder Lambic and Delirium cafes (there are two of each in the city, and all four offer some of the most unique beer experiences - and beer lists - in the world).
For modern craft beer lovers, bar-bottle shop Dynamo Bar de Soif is one you can’t miss, and Gist serves up delicious beer from breweries the world over - plus, it has a small selection of cask ale hand-pull taps on offer, which is incredibly rare for Belgium.
If you want some art with your beer, locals recommend Poechenellekelder and Theatre Royal de Toone, both classic Brussels taverns adorned with antique marionettes (don’t expect to find me there though, way too creepy), and La Fleur en Papier Dore for lovers of literature and Surrealist art (the walls of the rooms here are decorated with paintings and writings from some of the bar’s most famous patrons).
Food & beer:
Bar-restaurant A La Mort Subite is widely regarded as one of the best places to while away an evening, eating delicious local food and drinking exceptional Belgian beer in beautiful surroundings. Another top food and drink spot is Monk, which is known for its incredible spaghetti and cosy ambience. Restobiere and Beer Circus are go-to places for food with beer - both of these bars are well known for their beer lists, yes, but they also use Belgian beer throughout their food menu.
Things to do:
If you’re reading this magazine, it’s likely you’ll have one of Brussels’ top things to do down already - beer tasting tours and brewery visits! The Comic Strip Murals are another must-see - over 50 murals across the city chart Brussels’ famed history as the home of the humble comic strip. The Atomium is a giant sculpture built for the 1958 World’s Fair Expo, which represents the heavily-magnified atomic structure of an iron crystal (??), and is made up of nine floating balls of steel balanced on a metal frame. No, us neither. It looks super cool and weird though, and each ‘ball’ is its own room with exhibitions, educational displays, and places to eat. And of course, you can’t visit this beautiful city and not see Manneken and Jeanneke Pis, the peeing kid statues, and their peeing dog, Zinneke. Brussels is weird, man.
Beer bars and cafes:
Le Bal Infernal is a used bookshop and bar, offering the cosiest environment in which to enjoy a nice solo-beer and book in the afternoon, an intimate lunch with your date, or a late evening sipping and chatting the night away with friends.
Bar Beenhouwer is a dreamy, open-plan bar with exposed brick and contemporary decor, with one of the best selections of modern craft beer in Ghent. Do yourself a favour and order a cheese and charcuterie platter while you’re there, too.
More traditional Belgian biercafes such as De Dulle Griet (which has the largest beer selection in Ghent), Trappistenhuis (which, you guessed it, specialises in Trappist beer), or the canalside historic spot Waterhuis aan de Bierkant (which used to be a brothel back in the day - raunchy), are all excellent choices. Or, you could head to the troll and fairytale creature-clad 15th century library-turned-basement bar Trollekelder for an excellently whacky time while you sip your Belgian ale.
For something a bit different, ‘t Dreupelkot serves up over 200 different types of jenever (Dutch gin) in a warm and charming old-timey bar. Quirky and speakeasy-themed bar Jiggers, which has popped up on several world/European ‘best bars’ lists, specialises in unique cocktails and has one of the most innovative menus we’ve ever seen.
Food and beer:
Obviously, no trip to Ghent is complete without a quest to find the tastiest frites in the city (De Frietketel is purportedly the best). If your culinary desires stretch beyond the humble potato, head to: De Walrus, a favourite hangout with veggie food, nice beers and a cool atmosphere; Gust, the number one brunch spot for foodies; and Roots for creative, beautiful fine dining.
There’s also De Abt - its primary function is to provide meeting spaces and dining for large groups, but it’s also famed for its Orval menu - a delicious three-course meal of which every dish is infused with the classic Trappist beer.
Things to do:
One of the best ways to spend an evening in Ghent is to bar-hop between the many establishments that offer live music - there are loads of them! Locals recommend Hotsy Totsy or Hot Club for jazz and blues, Cafe De Loge for intimate live sessions, and Charlatan for gigs of all music genres.
There is so much to do and see in Ghent, but your best option is literally to just walk around the city, remember to look up every now and then, and take in the stunning Medieval and Gothic architecture all around you. Gravensteen Castle is particularly remarkable, as are the Graslei and Korenlei harbour ports, which afford some of the greatest views in Ghent.
Beer bars and cafes:
Widely regarded as the best beer bar in Antwerp, Beer Lovers Bar is the place to go if you’re after a modern, hipster-friendly vibe and great contemporary craft brews. Another favourite is Dr Beer which is (unsurprisingly) a top destination for handpicked, beautiful drinks and fun events.
Billie’s Bier Kafétaria is not just a bar, it’s a self-proclaimed ‘true beer tasting room’, where you’re guaranteed to find something to suit any taste. Keep an eye on its website too, since it regularly hosts events and beer festivals. There’s also Spéciale Belge which is one of Antwerp’s best kept secrets, it’s a taproom dedicated to the country’s best independent breweries.
For that cosy traditional Belgian tavern feel, Kulminator is the most popular spot, and it’s not hard to see why. It has a wonderfully eccentric interior, and boasts one of the largest collections of beer in Europe, with around 600 beers to choose from. Oud Arsenaal is another old-school pub that stocks classic Belgian beers and ales, and has retained so much of its original 1920s charm that it’s worth visiting just to soak up the relaxed ambiance.
You definitely won’t be short of options for tasty food in Antwerp, but locals recommend: a quick stop at De Groote Witte Arend for traditional Belgian stew, frites
and a glass of beer (and a marvel at the beautiful building and courtyard, which used to be a convent); Bites and Wines for excellent vegan and veggie food with expertly-paired wines; and Het Gebaar for lunching or brunching on the finest food in a romantic setting - the restaurant is located in the former caretaker’s cottage of Antwerp’s botanic gardens.
Things to do:
If walking around and taking in the traditional Flemish architecture in this bustling city isn’t activity enough, you might consider visiting the Kloosterstraat - a street famed for its antique shops, bric-a-brac stores, boutiques and galleries. Or, go on a hunt to find all of Antwerp’s weird and wonderful statues and sculptures, such as the Lange Wapper giant, the Brabo Fountain (another giant, depicted naked and throwing a severed hand…?), the Hand of Druon Antigoon (again, a severed hand… based on the same legend as the fountain), or the Het Bootje, a building with an Art Nouveau-style protruding boat that has a fascinating story (no spoilers).
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