The euro is being used in several countries now but while some have joined since the euro was first launched, Belgium was one of the very first countries to take it on.
The euro coins and notes used in Belgium are the same denominations as those used in other countries that use this currency. There are eight coins in total, which are commonly referred to as cents, although officially they are known as euro cents. This just makes it clear as to which currency you are talking about; saying cents makes it more likely someone will assume you are referring to the dollar.
The eight coins are as follows – there are six in cents denominations and two in euro denominations. The euro coins are for one and two euros respectively. The coins marked in cents are the 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 cent coins. Aside from this you also have seven banknotes. The biggest is the €500 note, while the smallest is the €5 note. In between there are the €10, €20, €50 and €100 notes as well.
Before the euro arrived, Belgium used to have the Belgian franc. However when the euro was brought into creation Belgium was one of the first countries to adopt the new currency. This occurred in 1999 when it was used alongside the old franc as so called ‘book money’. From 2002 onwards it was time to say goodbye to the Belgian franc and the euro has been in use ever since.
It is very easy to get euros to support your trip to Belgium. Simply order some euros from your preferred (and ideally cheapest) source of foreign currency before you go. You can also exchange your own currency for euros when you get there, although it is always advisable to have some euros on you before you arrive just in case you need to spend a little cash on drinks or food for example.
You can of course pay for purchases using cards, either credit or debit cards. Visa cards are the most popular in Belgium but you can take a Mastercard too as this is likely to be accepted in many outlets. Debit cards can be a little more problematic but if you have a Maestro or Cirrus card you should be fine.
If you already have a preferred currency converter to use, you can find out how much your own currency is worth compared to the euro. Just input the two currencies with your own one set as the ‘from’ currency and the euro as the one you want to convert to, and enter any specific amount you have in mind. You can then get a quick idea of how far your money will go when you get there.
For those wanting to know more about the country prior to travelling there, the Embassy of Belgium in the UK might be a good place to visit. You can make a virtual visit too of course, at http://countries.diplomatie.belgium.be/en/united_kingdom/. This shows you the site in English to read.
Belgium presents the usual problem in terms of cash and keeping it safe, and that is pickpockets. You can fall victim to them if you visit crowded areas and don’t take the time to keep your valuables safe. Train stations are particularly at risk for pickpocketing as criminals know there will be chances to prey on lots of tourists at these places.
The general advice is to carry everything separately whenever you can. If you have the opportunity to make use of a hotel safe, make sure you do so, especially when it comes to your passport. Many people opt for a money belt as well, which can keep your cash and other valuables much safer than they would be in a pocket. Carry your cards separately to your cash as well if you can.
Belgium is bordered by the Netherlands, Germany, Luxembourg and France, and while it is a relatively small country in relation to some of its larger neighbours, it still has a lot to offer. For example you can explore the north western coast which offers the pretty location of Bruges to visit among others. Bruges is extremely popular and is the capital of the region it is found in. The city centre is historic and charming to visit, and the city is famous for its canals too. It is a popular place to go for a long weekend from many areas in Europe. Don’t miss the Church of Our Lady and of course the famous Belfry of Bruges. You can climb to the top for the price of a few euros, but it is worth the effort to go up the 366 steps.
Brussels is another must see sight if you want to see the capital of the country itself. It is particularly worth seeing some of the museums in the capital, such as the National Museum of the Resistance, the Antoine Wiertz Museum and the charming Brussels Museum of Mill and Food, housed in an equally charming windmill! The Grand Place is an undoubted highlight, especially if you visit when this square is transformed into a carpet of flowers. Even if you don’t get to see this stunning vision you will still find many reasons to go to Brussels. While it is known as the main HQ of the European Union, you don’t have to be into politics to love the city.
Of course many who visit Belgium do so to visit Flanders Fields. This was the area that saw much fighting during the First World War. One sobering event that takes place daily is the Last Post, which is played at Menin Gate in Ypres. This has taken place ever since 1928 and acts as a reminder of those who died as well as a firm desire to maintain peace today.
If you would prefer to see some greenery on your travels, try looking for Bois de la Cambre. This is a well-known public park close to Brussels, and it holds one secret you may not be aware of unless you stumble across the plaque commemorating it. The British soldiers who fought in the Battle of Waterloo played cricket here before taking part in that battle, and there is a plaque under an oak tree here to mark the moment on the land where it took place. The park itself is close to the Sonian Forest, another area that is worth seeing in more detail. The forest was once the home of the brown bear and the wolf among other species, but these have died out in the area. There are still other species doing well here though, including the bat.
One thing you will develop a taste for as you go around the country is Belgian food. You will find many reasons to spend some euros on some of the tastiest dishes available. These include sole meuniere, mussels and of course Belgian waffles (which are practically to die for, so make sure you have a chance to taste them. As is common among many European countries, the food is often influence by neighbouring countries, although Belgium does of course have its own signature dishes as well. The result is a tasty mix of dishes that you won’t have to try hard to make the most of.
One final mention must be given to Belgian chocolate, which is arguably among the best in the world. It is very often the case that their chocolates are handmade and individually designed to appeal to the eye as well as to the taste buds. Pralines are popular too, and you will appreciate the fact that cocoa of a certain quality must be used to create the finished product. It would surely be a travesty not to taste at least one chocolate while you are in Belgium!
Belgium is a country of contrasts in many ways. You can visit cities or relax in the countryside. You can eat chocolate to your heart’s content or sample some of the finer dishes on offer. You can visit sites which have a deep connection to the past and sites which offer a glimpse of the future. Whatever you do you are sure to have a great time in this engaging country.
There are many ways you can spend the euro here too, so it could turn out to be an expensive trip. However a long weekend in Bruges, for example, is just as good as a whole week spent exploring the country at length. Once you know how much time you have to spare in the country, you can look forward to planning a trip you are not soon likely to forget.