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The Multi-Cultural Cities of Belgium

Famously known as a land of wonderful food and many varieties of beer, Belgium has seen a frequent melding of cultures for the last 2000 years. Bordered by the North Sea, France, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands; the country now consists of French-speaking Wallonia in the southern region and in the north the predominantly Dutch culture of Flanders. While the country is divided by language between the Flemish and the French, common denominators exist among the Belgian people including friendliness and a joy of life. 

The mixture of chic restaurants, designer shopping and an active nightlife alongside the eclectic Belgian culture and architecture makes the city of Brussels a popular tourist destination. Reflecting the open public market space of the 17th century, the La Grand-Place showcases art and design in both its privately held structures and its former commercial significance within the city. A visit to The Palace of Brussels provides historical perspective and a glimpse at current history while viewing the workplace of the king of Belgium. 

Located near Brussels where the Sambre and Meuse Rivers meet, the charming city of Namur has been the victim of many invasions throughout history. This French-speaking capital of Wallonia was assaulted first by the Romans and most recently during World War II. Famous Belgian artist, Felicien Rops was born here and the city houses a museum bearing his name. The historical building features his work in all of its stages of development and provides a view of his life. The Citadel in Namur has served as a focal point for invaders and provided defence for the city over the years. It is accessible by visitors and is an integral part of the city’s history. Dinant, located south of Namur on the Meuse River, draws tourists to the Collegiate Church of Notre-Dame, a structure that was destroyed and rebuilt in 1227 in the Gothic style. 

Although established on the Scheldt River, Antwerp is considered a seaside retreat and is Europe’s second biggest port. Often referred to as the diamond capital of the world, this Flemish city revels in its modern feel even though the Renaissance period is still quite apparent in the form of monuments and architecture. Dutch-speaking Antwerp is the most populated region in Belgium and is the capital of Flanders. Completed in 1518, the Cathedral of Our Lady houses four important Christian pieces by Flemish artist Sir Peter Paul Rubens. Founded in 1843 and one of the oldest in the world, the Antwerp Zoo has been a long-time leader in the areas of education and science. 

Thousands of tourists flock every year to the historical site of Napoleon’s Battle of Waterloo in the small town bearing that name. A primary attraction in Belgium, there are many museums within the city of Waterloo that depict the battle, and an annual re-enactment is held every June. The restored city of Ghent retains the rich feel of its past when it was one of the most powerful and thriving centres in Europe. While the Middle Ages are still evident in the imposing architecture seen around the city, Ghent is home to a large population of young people. Dining options in Ghent range from Turkish fare found in the northern part of the city to local favourites such as mussels and dark Belgian beer. Finding friendly personalities, historical charm and great cuisine is assured no matter where one travels in Belgium.