Belgium travel guide
The “boring” tag is laughable – Belgium, pretty and creative, is one of Europe’s most underrated travel destinations. Beer, chocolate and moules-frites might be the starting points for many first-time visitors, but while you’ll eat and drink well, the country’s other selling points are no less weighty.
Medieval cities like Brussels, Bruges, Antwerp and Ghent play home to some stunning architecture, while a military legacy that covers everything from Waterloo to WWII holds its own interest. It’s compact, easy to travel around and boasts no fewer than 60 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. On top of that it hosts riotous festivals like they’re going out of fashion and has a world-class arts heritage, to boot.
What Belgium isn’t, however, is straightforward. Divided into three regions − Flanders (the predominantly Dutch-speaking north), Wallonia (the predominantly French-speaking south) and the capital region of Brussels – it’s still very much split down linguistic lines. Even Belgians themselves will often refer to their homeland as an “artificial country.” In many ways, this only makes the place more fascinating.
Flanders is filled with museums and medieval architecture, its countryside studded with white-washed hamlets and paved with miles and miles of cycling paths. Its North Sea coastline offers opportunities to try land boarding or kitesurfing. Wallonia, meanwhile, follows a slower pace. Steeped in folklore, its main towns have a faded French elegance and are ideal jumping-off points for exploring the rolling hills of the Ardennes. In both halves of the country, there are some genuinely beautiful landscapes.
Brussels itself is a blend of Art Nouveau mansions and gleaming skyscrapers, art galleries and flea markets, “fritkot” chip stands and Michelin-starred restaurants. Made up of 19 communes − from the chic Ixelles district to up-and-coming Anderlecht − it’s a city with many faces. Each quarter offers a different take on the personality of “Europe’s capital,” which is apt in itself: in Belgium, very little matches the monochrome preconception.
30,528 sq km (11,787 sq miles).
11,401,889 (UN estimate 2016).
370.9 per sq km.
Constitutional monarchy. Federal state comprising three autonomous regions.
King Philippe since 2013.
Prime Minister Charles Michel since 2014.
220 volts AC, 50Hz. European plugs with two round pins are standard.
Last updated: 19 September 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
There will be no change to the rights and status of EU nationals living in the UK, nor UK nationals living in the EU, while the UK remains in the EU.
Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Belgium. Attacks could happen anywhere, including on public transport and transport hubs and in other places visited by foreigners. You should be vigilant in public places and follow the advice of local Belgian authorities. The Belgians assess that there is a serious and real threat (level 3). Police operations are ongoing and there have been a number of police raids and arrests, relating to past and potential terrorist attacks.
Security operations are likely to be carried out at short notice. You should remain vigilant and follow the instructions of the Belgian authorities. Police have asked the public not to comment on police operations on social media. You can find more information on the Belgian Crisis Centre website and Twitter channel.
Public events and busy public areas across Belgium are likely to see additional security. Some public events may be cancelled and some tourist attractions closed. Contact event organisers for information on whether specific events are going ahead.
Travelling via Calais? Check our travel advice for France.
Up to 1.8 million British nationals visit Belgium every year. Most visits are trouble-free. Take out travel and medical insurance before you travel.
If you need to contact the emergency services, call 112.
If you’re travelling to commemorate First World War centenary events, see this information and advice page to help plan your trip and make sure it’s safe and trouble free. Some sites will become extremely busy at certain times of the year, and some may have access restrictions.
When visiting former WW1 battlefields in north west Belgium, stay on the footpath and exercise caution if you see anything that looks like shells or munitions. Unexploded shells have recently been uncovered. Move away from the site and call the police emergency number 112 to report any incidents.
European summits and demonstrations often take place around the Schuman area. They can cause some disruption and access to the British Embassy and the British Consulate General can be affected. Check local news and transport sites: train & metro info and also road info.
Theft and pick pocketing is a problem in crowded areas. Take care of your belongings and passports at all train stations in Brussels. See Crime
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission.
The Overseas Business Risk service offers information and advice for British companies operating overseas on how to manage political, economic, and business security-related risks.
Safety and security
Petty crime rates are similar to the UK, but on the increase. You should take sensible precautions to protect yourself and your belongings.
Take only the minimum amount of cash, credit cards and personal ID necessary when you go out. As far as possible leave jewellery, other valuables and documents in a secure place like a hotel safe. Avoid carrying money, bank/credit cards and your passport in the same bag or pocket. Leave a photocopy of your passport and itinerary with a contact in the UK. Enter next-of-kin details into the back of your passport.
In the event of theft, contact the nearest police station and get a police report. If you lose your passport, you should also contact the British Embassy in Brussels. If you have difficulty reporting the theft of your cards to your UK card issuer, you can ask the Belgian group ‘Card Stop’ (telephone: +32 (0) 70 344 344) to send a fax to your UK card company to block your card. Alternatively, if you have Belgian issued bank/credit cards, Card Stop will be able to block them.
Be vigilant and take extra care in major railway stations, and on public transport, particularly late at night. Thieves and muggers operate around the Brussels Gare du Midi/Zuidstation (Eurostar terminal), Gare du Nord and Schuman (the EU quarter). Pickpockets also operate on international trains, mainly Paris-Brussels and Amsterdam-Brussels.
Never leave luggage unattended. There have been reports of luggage being stolen from the racks at the end of carriages in high-speed trains (TGV and Thalys), usually just before the doors close.
Do not leave valuable items visible in your car, even when you are in it. Keep car doors locked and windows secure at all times. It is increasingly common for thieves, usually on motorbikes, to break a window and snatch valuables from the front or back passenger seat when the vehicle is stationary at traffic lights. Car jacking, especially of up-market vehicles, remains a risk.
If you wish to drive in Belgium you must have a valid UK driving licence, insurance and vehicle documents. If you are driving a vehicle that does not belong to you then written permission from the registered owner may also be required.
Traffic is fast and Belgium’s accident rate is high mainly due to speeding. In 2015 there were 755 road deaths in Belgium (source: Department for Transport). This equates to 6.7 road deaths per 100,000 of population and compares to the UK average of 2.8 road deaths per 100,000 of population in 2015.
Speed traps, cameras and unmarked vehicles are in operation throughout the country.
Drivers must give absolute priority to vehicles joining a road from the right, even if they have stopped at a road junction or stopped for pedestrians or cyclists. Exemptions to this rule include motorways, roundabouts, roads sign-posted with an orange diamond within a white background, and drivers who are attempting to join a road after having driven down a street in the wrong direction.
Trams have priority over other traffic. If a tram or bus stops in the middle of the road to allow passengers on or off, you must stop.
There is a speed restriction of 30 kms/hr in school areas, which is valid 24 hours (even when schools are closed), unless indicated otherwise. The start and finish of these zones are not always clearly marked.
Fines have increased dramatically (up to € 2,750 for exceeding the speed limit by40 km/h and a possible court appearance for exceeding the speed limit by more than 40km/h). If you are unable to pay an on the spot fine your vehicles may be impounded. More detailed information is available on the Embassy website.
Don’t drink and drive; frequent alcohol checks are made. Less than 0.05% alcohol in the bloodstream is allowed (a lower level than in the UK). A blood sample will be taken if you refuse to be breathalysed. Fines are heavy depending on the degree of intoxication and range from € 1,100 to € 11,000. In certain cases driving licences have been confiscated immediately.
Using a mobile phone while driving is not allowed; the use of ‘hands free’ equipment is allowed.
Information on road travel (in French) can be found on the website of Le Soir.
Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Belgium. Attacks could happen anywhere, including on public transport and transport hubs and in other places visited by foreigners. You should be vigilant in public places and follow the advice of local Belgian authorities.
There have been a number of high profile terrorist attacks across Belgium. On 25 August 2017, a man attacked 2 soldiers with a knife in Brussels. On 20 June 2017, Belgian security forces helped prevent a suspected terrorist attack at Brussels central station. On 6 August 2016, 2 police officers were attacked with a machete in the city of Charleroi. On 22 March 2016 co-ordinated terrorist attacks killed 32 and injured hundreds more at Brussels Zaventem airport and on the metro system.
The main threat is from extremists linked to Daesh (formerly referred to as ISIL). Daesh has claimed responsibility for attacks in Belgium.
Brussels hosts a number of international institutions (EU and NATO) and government and foreign embassy buildings which are sensitive locations.
There is considered to be a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals, from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time.
Find out more about the global threat from terrorism, how to minimise your risk and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.
Local laws and customs
According to Belgian law, you must have some form of identification with you at all times.
Possession of drugs and trafficking in drugs are serious offences.
It’s illegal to wear in public places (parks, buildings, public transport, on the street etc) clothing that hides a person’s face largely or completely. People wearing such clothing (eg the burka and nikab) risk a fine of up to €137.50 and/or detention for up to 7 days. There’s no exemption for tourists.
The information on this page covers the most common types of travel and reflects the UK government’s understanding of the rules currently in place. Unless otherwise stated, this information is for travellers using a full ‘British Citizen’ passport.
The authorities in the country or territory you’re travelling to are responsible for setting and enforcing the rules for entry. If you’re unclear about any aspect of the entry requirements, or you need further reassurance, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
You should also consider checking with your transport provider or travel company to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.
Your passport should be valid for the proposed duration of your stay; you don’t need any additional period of validity on your passport beyond this.
Holders of British passports endorsed ‘British Citizen’ don’t need a visa to enter Belgium. If you intend to work or remain in Belgium for more than 3 months you must apply to the local communal authorities for a residence permit.
Those with other types of British nationality should check entry requirements with the Belgian Embassy in London.
UK Emergency Travel Documents
UK Emergency Travel Documents are accepted for entry, airside transit and exit from Belgium.
Visit your health professional at least 4 to 6 weeks before your trip to check whether you need any vaccinations or other preventive measures. Country specific information and advice is published by the National Travel Health Network and Centre on the TravelHealthPro website and by NHS (Scotland) on the fitfortravel website. Useful information and advice about healthcare abroad is also available on the NHS Choices website.
If you’re visiting Belgium you should obtain a free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) before leaving the UK. The EHIC isn’t a substitute for medical and travel insurance, but it entitles you to state provided medical treatment that may become necessary during your trip. Any treatment provided is on the same terms as Belgian nationals. If you don’t have your EHIC with you or you’ve lost it, you can call the Department of Health Overseas Healthcare Team (+44 191 218 1999) to get a Provisional Replacement Certificate. The EHIC won’t cover medical repatriation, ongoing medical treatment or non-urgent treatment, so you should make sure you have adequate travel insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment and repatriation.
If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 112 and ask for an ambulance. If you are referred to a medical facility for treatment you should contact your insurance/medical assistance company immediately.
The currency of Belgium is the Euro.
Travel advice help and support
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission. If you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad, contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London on 020 7008 1500 (24 hours).
Foreign travel checklist
Read our foreign travel checklist to help you plan for your trip abroad and stay safe while you’re there.
The FCO travel advice helps you make your own decisions about foreign travel. Your safety is our main concern, but we can’t provide tailored advice for individual trips. If you’re concerned about whether or not it’s safe for you to travel, you should read the travel advice for the country or territory you’re travelling to, together with information from other sources you’ve identified, before making your own decision on whether to travel. Only you can decide whether it’s safe for you to travel.
When we judge the level of risk to British nationals in a particular place has become unacceptably high, we’ll state on the travel advice page for that country or territory that we advise against all or all but essential travel. Read more about how the FCO assesses and categorises risk in foreign travel advice.
Our crisis overseas page suggests additional things you can do before and during foreign travel to help you stay safe.
Refunds and cancellations
If you wish to cancel or change a holiday that you’ve booked, you should contact your travel company. The question of refunds and cancellations is a matter for you and your travel company. Travel companies make their own decisions about whether or not to offer customers a refund. Many of them use our travel advice to help them reach these decisions, but we do not instruct travel companies on when they can or can’t offer a refund to their customers.
For more information about your rights if you wish to cancel a holiday, visit the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website. For help resolving problems with a flight booking, visit the website of the Civil Aviation Authority. For questions about travel insurance, contact your insurance provider and if you’re not happy with their response, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Registering your travel details with us
We’re no longer asking people to register with us before travel. Our foreign travel checklist and crisis overseas page suggest things you can do before and during foreign travel to plan your trip and stay safe.
Previous versions of FCO travel advice
If you’re a British national and you have a question about travelling abroad that isn’t covered in our foreign travel advice or elsewhere on GOV.UK, you can submit an enquiry. We’re not able to provide tailored advice for specific trips.