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What You Need to Know Before Visiting Belgium
A primer on current conditions and tips to stay safe and prepared before planning a getaway.
If you're contemplating changing your summer travel plans in light of the recent terrorist attacks, here's what you need to know before you go.(Getty Images)
If you're wondering if it is safe to travel to Belgium in light of the terrorist attacks in March, you're not alone. Across the globe, travelers are contemplating whether or not to plan a trip to Brussels given the current U.S. State Department travel alert across Europe, which is set to expire on June 20, 2016. Here's what you need to know before planning a trip, and precautionary measures you should take to remain safe when traveling to and throughout Belgium.
What You Need to Know About Belgium
Belgium is a small country in Western Europe that spans 11,787 square miles, which means every corner of the country is reachable within about two hours of Brussels. French, Dutch and German are widely spoken languages throughout the country, though many of Belgium's 11 million residents speak some English. Renowned for its cultural gems, food, beer and cycling, the country has long held a place on the world traveler's map. One of the most famous regions in the country is Flanders, where you'll find many of Belgium's most historic destinations, including Antwerp, the diamond capital of the world, the beautiful canaled town of Bruges, hip and artsy Ghent and the country's vibrant capital, Brussels. This region also has a stellar reputation for being home to the country's top hotels, a flourishing fashion scene, numerous festivals, Michelin-starred chocolatiers and world-class beer.
The Countryside Remains Safe
Cycling is an important business in Belgium, particularly within the Flanders region. And despite the recent threats across Europe, this area is recognized as a safe place to visit. The locals' love for cycling culminates in the annual public gathering for Tour of Flanders, which celebrated its 100th anniversary days after the March tragedy. Thanks to flat terrain across the region, cyclists can quickly bike between the country's major cities within a few hours. The Flandrien countryside is especially ideal for the cyclist looking to enjoy miles of unspoiled nature far removed from cars and pedestrians, across wide, bike-friendly roads. Flanders is also home to the Eddy Merckx route, which is among the most popular cycling routes in the world. Along the way, you can expect to find a bicycle network filled with hills and cobblestone sections. The region also boasts world-class cycling shops and cycling museums, as well as medieval churches and castles.
[Read: How to Fly Through Airport Security.]
Brussels Airport Has Reopened
Transportation within Belgium has begun to get back to normal, and almost all long-haul airlines have returned to the country's international airport. Though the damage caused by the March attacks is not yet fully repaired, passengers are now able to check in at the departures hall. The airport aims to improve its abilities dramatically or be fully operational before the peak 2016 summer travel season. Also, local service to and from the airport is operating as normal and all train stations throughout Brussels are operational. However, travelers are limited to individual access gates for added security measures. For those traveling to the country via high-speed train, Eurostar and Thalys are operating as usual.
Still, take into account the heightened security measures in place at Brussels Airport. When traveling to or from the country, the airport asks travelers to arrive at the airport three hours ahead of your scheduled departure time. It is also recommended that you pack light, expedite your travel process by checking in online, bring a printed copy of your ticket or boarding pass and have your passport ready upon arrival. And keep in mind that as an additional security measure, only passengers with confirmed flights are admitted in the airport's departures hall.
What You Can Do to Stay Safe
The security alert has been lowered from 4, the highest alert level, to 3 for the region. With enhanced security measures, make sure to give yourself extra time when visiting major historical sites and public spaces, and when utilizing public transportation. Also keep in mind that as a result of the enhanced security measures, permanent patrols are in place by the police in Brussels and many areas of the city are not accessible to the public.
If you plan on traveling to Brussels, make sure to take precautionary measures, such as making copies of your passport, airplane tickets and driver's license. Also make sure to establish an emergency contact. Another important step is signing up for the U.S. State Department's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. STEP is a free service that gives you real-time updates on country-specific warnings and alerts. Aside from enrolling in STEP, make sure to receive up-to-date information available through the Belgian Crisis Center.
About En Route
Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.
Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.
Edited by Liz Weiss.
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