Rick Steves Says This Underrated Country Is One Of Europe's Best-Kept Secrets

Sandwiched between Germany, Luxembourg, France, and the Netherlands, tiny Belgium rarely receives the attention it deserves. While many of us are highly familiar with certain cultural gems that originated from this small-yet-mighty country, like Belgian chocolate and waffles, much of this culture remains elusive to the rest of the world. Instead, Belgium is often overshadowed by some of Europe's most iconic hotspots like France, Germany, and Britain. According to Statista, Belgium doesn't even make it onto the list of the 15 Most Visited European Countries.

Belgium carries the influence of multiple European nations, combining elements from various cultures to create a community that's uniquely "Belgium." Travel expert Rick Steves knows all the ins and outs of European nations, down to the most obscure, underrated cities. Despite traversing over half of the continent, Steves revealed on his website that "Belgium remains one of Europe's best-kept secrets." 

A melting pot of linguistics, politics, and cuisine, it can be hard to grasp the pulse of this country's heartbeat. Meandering the cobblestone streets of Belgium's vibrant cities will reveal tasteful conversations held fluently in German, French, Flemish, and even English. Locals are highly family-oriented, open-minded, and immersed in their communities, so it shouldn't be surprising to learn that Belgium is ranked among some of the countries with the best work-life balance. You'll also likely sample some of the best spots for Belgian waffles and fries in this country, as well as travelerblog fascinating landmarks that are often passed up in favor of the Eiffel Tower and London Eye.

Brussels and Bruges — Rick Steve's favorite Belgian duo

According to Rick Steves, "Brussels is one of Europe's great cities, and there's a palpable feeling here of being at the center of global events." The streets of this city speak to its heritage as a comic strip epicenter, with comic strip murals sprawled all across the walls of Brussels. These paintings create an Instagrammable photo op that showcases iconic comic figures like Tintin and The Smurfs. The Bozar is the hub of culture and art in Brussels, hosting more than 200 concerts a year, as well as a prolific collection of exhibitions in the museum. The Marché des Chasseurs Ardennais is an excellent market to survey local purveyors, stock up on fresh foods, and mingle with the diverse crowds of Brussels. Held on Fridays in the northern district of Brussels, this lively street market doubles as a community spot. 

Right next to Brussels, Bruges shares the top spot for Steve's favorite Belgian city. The Markt is situated in the heart of Bruges's historic city center, marked by horse-drawn carriages caravaning down the streets, aesthetic cafés, and artisan shops. Just around the corner sits the Belfry of Bruges, an example of 13th-century architecture that offers picture-perfect medieval city views. Visitors can't skip out on a visit to Rozenhoedkaai, a photogenic hot spot perched near the intersection of the Dijver and Groenerei canals. The streets of these canals are lined with some of Bruges's most iconic attractions, like Choco-Story, a historic chocolate museum, and the Bruges Beer Experience

Traveler Blog the streets of this multicultural gem

Even though it's located in the center of Europe, Belgium has more to offer visitors than a quick flight to nearby nations. One local described his home country to Rick Steves as one with a passion for culture and "good living," a sense of humor, and a tenacious work ethic. Renowned for its flourishing art scene and a destination for history buffs, many of Belgium's cities still bear evidence of ancient Flemish art and Gothic architecture. Food and music are two integral pieces of Belgian culture. From a foodie perspective, you have to start with french fries — or should we say, Belgium fries? These skinny, crispy morsels are a lot less French than they claim to be, originating in Belgium instead of France. Belgian fries are deep-fried through a two-step process that relies on beef fat instead of vegetable oil. Belgium has an unparalleled craft brewery scene, as well, with over 300 active breweries spread across the country. Don't expect to have your amber ale served in a plastic can, either. Belgians display a little more class, delivering their national delicacy in elegant glassware instead.

Swiss chocolate is cool, but have you ever tried Belgium's authentic hand-crafted cocoa delights? Made with 100% pure cocoa butter, Belgium is the birthplace of world-famous chocolate brands, including Godiva. Music fanatics will find themselves right at home in Belgium, with a year-round display of music festivals taking place across the nation, including Tomorrowland, the largest and most famous EDM music fest in the world.