Belgium tends to fall victim to misunderstanding.

"Don't they all speak Dutch?", "Brussels is boring," and the dreaded "I thought (fill in the blank) was French." But this multi-faceted nation is worth being understood. With its northern Flemish and southern Walloon influences, there may be some tension between cultures and governing bodies, but its people are primarily, and proudly, Belgian. Charming small cities and the natural beauty of the Ardennes provide stunning scenery, while Brussels is not only the nation's capital but also home to the most important institutions of Europe. As the seat of the European Union and NATO, it holds tons of international professionals (who you can find looking to blow off steam after work). That being said, its relaxed culture means that the country was also able to go 589 days in 2010 and 2011 without an elected government.

As far as Belgian specialities, it's to all chocolate, waffles, Belgian (not French) fries, and admittedly excellent beer. Moules-frites, jenever, carbonate flamande, and waterloo provide more fodder for the imagination and the stomach. As far as art, the Dutch masters have nothing on the Flemish Primitives like Jan van Eyck and Breughels, or surrealists like Magritte. And as far as cities, Belgium is home to some undiscovered gems; they're underrated as hipper, cheaper, and less touristy alternatives to the typical Eurotrip itinerary.


DESTINATIONS

BRUSSELS

BELGIUM


ESSENTIALS

VISAS

Police in Austria are reliable if you need assistance, but always have your passport with you when interacting with police officers, as they may ask to see it. Under Austrian law, you must either have your passport with you, or be able to produce it within one hour.

SAFETY AND HEALTH

Tipping: Belgium has fairly liberal attitudes regarding alcohol with no legal drinking age. You must be 16 to buy your own alcohol (18 for spirits), it's perfectly legal for someone else to buy alcohol for someone under 16. Public drunkenness, however, is frowned upon. Belgium's attitude toward even soft drugs is traditional and conservative. Marijuana is illegal and not tolerated.

MONEY

Tipping: In Belgium, service charges are included in the bill at restaurants, so there is no need to leave a tip, as waiters are paid fully for their service. If you do receive excellent service though, leaving a 5-10% tip would be appreciated. Tips in bars are uncommon and cab drivers are typically tipped 10%.

Taxes: The marked price of goods in Belgium includes a value-added tax (VAT). This tax on goods is generally levied at 21% in Belgium, although some goods are subject to higher rates. Non-EU citizens who are taking these goods home unused may be refined this tax. When making purchases, be sure to ask and fill out a VAT form and present it at a Tax-Free Shopping Office, found at most airports, borders, or ferry stations. Refunds must be claimed within six months.