If you're looking to get a flavour of Belgium, you need to try Brussels and Liege. Combining the traditional Flemish influences you'd expect with great sites, culture and night-life, these cities create an authentic experience that will stay with you.
The capital city of Brussels is just one of 19 municipalities that make up the Brussels - Capital Region. Perhaps best known for being the centre of EU politics, it has a surprising edge that manifests itself in a strong alternative scene.
A mere hour away by train is Liege. This university city is renowned for its cultural heritage and as you walk the streets you'll feel the history oozing out of the buildings.
Exploring these destinations together is definitely advised for a perfect long-weekend that gives you both old and new Belgium.
Brussels boasts many travel networks that make it easy for tourists to get around. Visitors can explore the city by either metro, tram or bus throughout the day.
The metro network is comprised of four lines that give travellers easy access to many of the city’s best sights. To make exploring easier, MOBIB card are available that works similarly to London’s Oyster and simply needs to be scanned at stations. Other options include the JUMP paper card, which simply needs to be stamped on every mode of transport used. These can be purchased for however long you need, ranging from one trip to three days of travel.
In Liege, walking is an easy way to get around and there are plenty of green areas to explore on foot. If you do fancy giving your legs a rest, most visitors rely on buses to get around. These are operated by TEC and cover most of the city, while the Liege-Guillemins Train Station offers many services to local areas.
If you don't have long to spare, you want to make sure you see all the top sites in both cities. In Brussels, this means Manneken Pis, Grand Place, the Comic Book Route and the Place du Grand Sablon.
Manneken Pis is the famous bronze sculpture that has inspired many a fountain in ponds across the world. This naked boy relieving himself into the fountain base has been a landmark in Brussels since around 1618 or 1619 and can be found at the junction between Rue de l'Étuve/Stoofstraat and Rue du Chêne/Eikstraat. Manneken Pis is surrounded in legend but in modern times it has come to symbolise the rebellious nature of the capital.
From here, wander over to Grand Place. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it's considered one of the most beautiful town squares in Europe and is recognised by its medieval, ornate buildings that border the area. While you'll want to see this place during the day to take in the architecture, it's particularly magical when it's lit up at night, so be sure to return during the evening.
In sharp contrast to the history of Manneken Pis and Grand Place, the Comic Book Route brings out the edgy side of Brussels. There are over 50 bright and beautiful comic strip murals in the city, which pay homage to famous characters like Tintin. Believe it or not, comics are a huge part of the Belgian culture and if you follow the route you'll start to see more of what the real Brussels looks and feels like.
Your final stop in the city has to be the Place du Grand Sablon. While this area is a history-lover's dream, it's also filled with quirky restaurants, boutiques and - crucially - chocolatiers. If you're a fan of shops, fill your boots here because once you're in Liege you'll be too busy with all of the cultural hot spots.
Liege Cathedral, Collegiate Church of St Bartholomew, Grand Curtius and la rue du Carré are just some of the sites you have to see in Liege. If you don't mind a climb, you should also add the Mountain of Bueren to that list.
Liege Cathedral has its history in revolution. Originating in the 10th century, it was systematically destroyed and reconstructed, before taking its current form in the first years of the 19th century. If nothing else, Liege Cathedral will whet your appetite for the Collegiate Church of St Bartholomew, which dates back all the way to the 11th century. This Mosan-style building is a prime example of the eclectic architecture of the Meuse Valley. It combines classic features like the baptismal font, with Mayan/Egyptian influences and post-modern design. Consequently, the church is a real visual stimulant.
Fans of Mosan art should head over to Grand Curtius - a museum of decorative arts and archeology. The building itself is something to behold, with its eye-catching red brick. It was originally built as a mansion in the 16th century for Jean Curtius, who was an industrialist. Now, Grand Curtius is filled with famous pieces by the likes of Jean Del Cour and Ingres.
If you want a bit of a break from churches and art, take a walk around la rue du Carré. It's the medieval centre of Liege and you can soon get lost in the historic alleyways that are lined with artisanal shops.
The energetic view seekers among you should complete the day by climbing the Mountain of Bueren. This 30 degree slope has an epic 374 steps from top to bottom. However, when you get to the top it's got great views and if you go on the first Saturday of October candles will be placed strategically up the stair to create mesmerising patterns.
Brussels is big on beer. There are even tours you can join to sample the best the city has to offer. However, if you go nowhere else, be sure to make a stop at Brasserie Cantillon. This is a historic brewery that is close to the Station Gare du Midi/ Zuidstation in the south-west of the city. It's family owned and the beer is made with exclusively organic wheat.
If this isn't your thing, there's a wealth of restaurants and bars around the city, such as Le fou chantant, which is a favourite with locals. Le Falstaff is also worth a visit, as it's the oldest cafe in Brussels and was part of the Art Nouveau scene.
Things are a bit calmer in Liege but the Place du Marche has lots of bars with outside seating, making it perfect for summer.