Brussels (Bruxelles), the capital of Belgium, is famous for its Grand Place, a magnificent square surrounded by ornate baroque guild houses. The city is equally proud of its curious 17th-century Manneken-Pis: a statue of a naked boy urinating in the street. The outstanding Museum of Ancient Art and the Museum of Modern Art are filled with great paintings by former city residents such as Rogier van der Weyden, Bruegel, and Magritte, and Brussels' opera house is one of the finest in Europe. Other key sights are the Atomium, a steel structure modelled on the atomic structure of iron, and the Galeries Royales St Hubert, one of the first shopping arcades in Europe. Brussels is a major international city, where both NATO and the European Union are based. Brussels also offers a huge variety of parks, from the formal Brussels Park, next to the royal palace, to the romantic Bois de la Cambre where rowing boats can be rented.

Antwerp (Antwerpen), a busy Flemish port on the River Scheldt, is one of the most fascinating maritime cities in Europe, with a wealth of superb architecture and art. The most important sights are the Rubenshuis (the former home of the 17th-century Flemish painter Pieter Paul Rubens), the Museum Plantin-Moretus (a beautifully preserved 17th-century printing works), and the Gothic cathedral. The Royal Museum of Fine Art houses a magnificent collection of paintings by Rubens, Van Dyck, and other Flemish Masters, and the National Maritime Museum, located in a waterfront castle, has splendid model ships and antique maps. In recent years, Antwerp has become known internationally for its fashion through the work of the Antwerp Six, a group of innovative fashion designers. The city is also famous for its vibrant nightlife and boasts more than 2,000 drinking establishments ranging from antiquated Flemish taverns to chic modern bars.

Ostend (Oostende) has been an important port since the Middle Ages and is now used mainly by Channel ferries sailing across the English Channel. It became a favourite resort of Belgian royalty in the 19th century and developed into a fashionable town with a casino and other elegant buildings. Though no longer visited by royalty, Ostend is still a bustling beach town with excellent fish restaurants and comfortable cafés offering shelter from the wind. The main attraction is the Museum voor Schone Kunsten, with an excellent collection of modern art. The Belgian Expressionist James Ensor lived in Ostend: his former home, which is crammed with curious hats and seashells, is now a museum. The casino is famous for its opera and concerts, and the Hippodroom Wellington is regularly used for horse racing.


Camping de Durnal

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For centuries Belgium has been influenced by its larger neighbours. This region has been fought over in countless wars and occupied by many different foreign powers, including the dukes of Burgundy, the Spanish Habsburgs, and the French. Some of the fiercest battles in European history have been fought on Belgian soil: Waterloo in 1815, the Ypres Salient between 1914 and 1918, and the Battle of the Bulge in 1944. After centuries of foreign domination, Belgium finally gained independence in 1830. This small kingdom grew into one of the most prosperous countries in Europe, particularly under King Léopold II, who used wealth from the Congo to embellish Brussels, Antwerp, and Ostend. Devastated by two world wars, Belgium was a founding member of the European Economic Community and NATO; most of the institutions of the modern European Union are located in Brussels.

The country is divided by a language line that runs from east to west just south of Brussels. To the north lies the prosperous Flemish-speaking region of Flanders, while to the south is the French-speaking region of Wallonia. The capital, Brussels, is mainly French-speaking, although officially is bilingual.

Its tumultuous history has given modern Belgium a fascinating diversity of architecture, art, and cuisine, exemplified in the four great historic cities: Brussels, Antwerp, Bruges, and Ghent. These bustling centres boast a rich heritage of paintings—from the works of the van Eycks, Rubens, and Rembrandt to those of the Surrealist painter Réné Magritte—and a wealth of magnificent buildings, from the dazzling baroque of Grand Place in Brussels to the swirling art nouveau excesses of Victor Horta. They also offer some of the best restaurants and cafés in Europe. Rural Belgium also contains the vast forests of the Ardennes, and along the Flemish coast there are a string of traditional beach resorts. Each region in Belgium has its own special cuisine, while almost every town has a local beer worth sampling. The country is also famed for its lace-making and its luxurious chocolates, sold in the specialist shops found everywhere in the larger cities.

Travellers With Disabilities
There is not a great deal of accessibility to public buildings or public transport in Belgium. However, Croix Rouge de Belgique can coordinate loans of specially adapted equipment to travellers with disabilities, as well as give advice. They can be contacted at Service Handynet pour Handicapés, rue Joseph Stallaert 1, 1060 Brussels, tel: +32 2 344 25 34. Vlaamse Federatie van Gehandicapten (VFG) offers information on special holidays for travellers with disabilities and can be contacted at 32 rue St Jean, 1000 Brussels, tel: +32 2 511 50 76. The Belgian Tourist Office publishes a pamphlet of camping and caravanning sites, indicating those which provide facilities for travellers with disabilities.

Metro, buses and trams
Buses are the cheapest method of public transport in Belgium. Further information and bus schedules can be obtained from local tourist offices. Trams are the most interesting but also the slowest method of getting around Brussels, Antwerp, and Ghent.

The metro is usually the fastest way to get around Brussels. The system, operated by STIB, is clean, modern, and stylish, and runs from 06.00 to 24.00. Tickets can be bought singly or in five- and ten-journey magnetic cards from tourist offices, metro kiosks, certain newsagents, or STIB information offices in the Porte de Namur, Midi, and Rogier stations. They can also be used on buses, and trams in Brussels. Special day passes are available, which include unlimited travel on the metro, buses, and trams until midnight of the day you purchase them. For further information on the metro, trams, and buses in Brussels, tel: +32 2 515 20 00.

Cross-Channel services operate from Ostend or Zeebrugge. Boat trips can be made along the canals in Bruges and Ghent.

Public Holidays
1 January: New Year's Day
Easter Monday
1 May: Labour Day
Ascension Day
Whit Monday
21 July: Independence Day
15 August: Assumption Day
1 November: All Saints' Day
11 November: Armistice Day
25 December: Christmas

Entry Requirements
Citizens of the European Union (EU), as well as citizens of Andorra, Liechtenstein, Malta, Monaco, San Marino, and Switzerland, can enter Belgium with a valid passport or official identity card. Other nationals should consult the Belgian embassy or consulate in their country of residence before departure, for any visa requirements.

Emergency Phone Numbers
Police: 101
Alternative pan-European emergency number for all services: 112

Time zones
Central European Time (GMT plus one hour). Clocks are put forward one hour from the last Sunday in March to the Saturday before the end of October.
Vehicle documents
Check with your motor vehicle insurance company regarding any insurance documents you will need and whether additional motor insurance is required. Make sure you have a red warning triangle in the car in case of an accident or breakdown. The international registration letters of your country of residence must be displayed at the rear of the car.
Rules Of The Road
Carry your full valid driving licence or International Driving Permit, vehicle registration documents, and insurance documents with you in the car at all times. Although a Green Card is not mandatory, it is still advisable. Traffic drives on the right. Cars entering a road from the right have priority, unless indicated otherwise. Seat belts must be worn by both front- and back-seat passengers. Children under 12 years of age are not allowed to travel in the front seat if there is room in the back seat. Headlights must be dipped in towns and on open roads at night. Cars from the United Kingdom must fit headlights with an anti-dazzle strip. The limit of alcohol in the blood while driving is 50 mg per 100 ml (5g/l). Fines for traffic infringements may be delivered on the spot.

Roads, Tolls And Speed Limits
Motorways are toll-free in Belgium. In more rural areas, roads are less well-maintained which makes for slower journeys. Speed limits are 120 kilometres (75 miles) per hour on motorways and all two- and three-lane carriageways, 90 kilometres (56 miles) per hour on other roads outside built-up areas, and 50 kilometres (31 miles) per hour in built-up areas.

Driving Tips
Watch out for trams while driving in Brussels, Antwerp, and Ghent, as they tend to appear suddenly and must always be given the right of way. For reports on weather and road conditions, telephone 0900 27 003.

Use the orange-coloured emergency telephones located on motorways and trunk roads to report accidents or breakdowns. There are three motoring organisations that can provide assistance in the event of a breakdown: Touring Club de Belgique (TCB), rue de la Loi 44, Brussels, tel: (02) 233 22 11; Royal Automobile Club de Belgique (RACB), rue d'Arlon 53, Brussels, tel: (02) 287 09 00; and Vlaamse Automobilistenbond, Sint-Jacobmarkt 45, Antwerp, tel: (02) 253 63 63.
Electrical Devices
The electrical current in Belgium is 220 volts AC. Round, two-pin plugs are used. An adapter is essential for UK and Irish appliances.