Three top tips for living in Belgium
Use the public transport system. Belgium’s roads – particularly in and around the cities – tend to be crowded. The public transport system is good, generally efficient, and good value. I would also encourage visitors to hire a bike to explore a city or the countryside. Flanders in particular is generally flat and has good cycle paths (although not yet as good as in the Netherlands!).
Don’t be afraid to look beyond the usual touristic sights and places to visit. There are lots of unusual, lesser known places to visit and sights to see, some of which I describe in my blog.. It’s the same with museums. It’s great to visit the big fine arts and history museums in the country, but there are hundreds of small museums, sometimes run privately or as a hobby, that are well worth visiting.
Learn the local language; it will help you integrate. Having said that, most people speak English, especially in Flanders, and are keen to try it out.
Why should people come to Belgium?
It has an excellent healthcare system, with GPs available promptly and top-class hospitals, particularly in the cities.
Its education system is solid with an emphasis on learning and discipline in an encouraging environment. All four of our children were educated in the Flemish education system, right from the age of three, so I have direct experience of its values.
It’s a small country but is incredibly rich in history and nature. You could spend years exploring the beautiful cities of Brussels, Ghent, Antwerp, Mechelen, Bruges and Leuven, while if your interest is nature you will appreciate the hills, forests and pretty little villages in the Ardennes, or the low heathland of Limburg.
Finally, the country is centrally located so it’s easy to travel to other European countries, particularly by train.
The best things about Belgium
As an enthusiastic hiker and cyclist. one of the greatest inventions coming out of Belgium is the Walking Route Network (wandelknooppuntnetwerk) or its equivalent, the Cycling Route Network (fietsknooppuntnetwork). The system originated in the Limburg mining industry. Underground junctions were numbered, and arrows indicated the tunnels leading to the next numbered junctions. It was first transferred to cycle routes and then expanded to walking routes. The concept has gradually spread throughout Belgium and has also been extended to many areas of the Netherlands. The crux of the system is that it allows you to cycle/walk from one numbered junction to the next one. At each junction a signpost points you in the direction of the two or three next junctions. This leads to a much more flexible way of cycling/walking around the countryside than by following stipulated routes. Now you can mix and match to create your own cycling/hiking route. Obviously before you set out, a little preparation is necessary. Cycling and walking network maps are available from tourist offices, town halls and bookshops. Or you can go online at Fietsnet.be or Wandelknooppunt.be.
As for other great things about Belgium, you might like to read my response to travel writer Bill Bryson who in a recent book said there was little of interest (“bugger all!”) to see in Belgium! I put him right (although I doubt if he’s seen my response).