CMS hopes the following information will be a helpful resource for conference attendees as they plan their trip; however, it is not intended as a definitive travel guide. Attendees are highly encouraged to conduct additional research pertinent to their own interests and needs.
All travelers are required to hold a valid passport to be admitted to Belgium, and the passport must be valid for at least three months beyond your planned date of departure from the Schengen area. If you are planning to visit or travel through additional European countries, it is recommended to have at least six-month’s validity remaining on your passport. Some airlines and some countries have a six-month rule, so you are encouraged to check with your airline and any country you may be visiting on the way to Belgium to discover their requirements.
Visas are not required of U.S. citizens for entry into Belgium for stays of fewer than 90 days for tourism or business during any 180-day period.
Conference attendees from countries other than the United States are advised to check with their local Belgian consulate or embassy for the most current requirements for passports and visas.
Due to its central location, there are multiple options for arriving to, and departing from, Brussels. Brussels Zaventem Airport (IATA code “BRU”) is Belgium’s main international airport, and it connects to over 200 destinations in 66 countries. Conference attendees may also opt to fly into other European cities and travel to Brussels by train. Eurostar and Thalys high-speed trains can transport riders to Bruxelles-Midi (South) railway station from Paris (@ 1½ hours), London (@ 2 hours), or Amsterdam and Cologne (@ 2–3 hours).
From the Brussels Airport to the Hotel
Zaventem airport is approximately 7 miles from the city center. The Brussels conference hotel does not offer an airport shuttle, but here are a few options for transport from the airport:
Airport Train – If arriving at Zaventem airport, the train station on the lower level of the airport makes it easy to transfer to the city center. Visit this page for timetables and to purchase train tickets. Attendees may wish to consider two possible route options:
Option 1: To Bruxelles Gare Centrale (Central) Train Station. This route takes 17 minutes and costs €10.90 (first class) / €9 (second class) each way. Discounts are available for those over 65 years old. The Brussels Marriott Grand Place is a 10-minute walk or taxi ride from the Bruxelles Central Station. Should you choose to walk, this Google Map of conference locations should be helpful.
Option 2: To Brussels-Midi (South) Train Station. This route takes between 20–25 minutes and costs €12.90 (first class) / €11 (second class) each way. Discounts are available for those over 65 years old. To get to the conference hotel from the Midi station, take the underground tram (line 3 or 4) to Bourse (the third stop, after Lemonnier and Anneessens). Tickets for the tram are only €2.50, and the Bourse stop is just around the corner from the Marriott Grand Place (behind McDonald’s).
Taxis – While it is more expensive to take a taxi from the airport to the hotel, it can be less cumbersome than using public transportation, as you can be dropped directly in front of the hotel. Average taxi fares are about €50–60 each way, and taxis will be waiting in front of the arrivals hall. To avoid scams, it is recommended to use only officially marked, metered taxis from the taxi stand and to discuss the fare with the driver before departing.
Private Car – Depending on the size of vehicle needed, day of the week, and time of travel, the cost of pre-booking a private car through Direct Way or Modern Car can be competitive with taxis — especially if several persons traveling together will be sharing the cost. Advantages of hiring a car include comfort, reliable service, predictable cost, and the convenience of having a driver waiting for you upon arrival.
Public Bus – While it is possible to take a public bus (De Lijn bus company) from the airport to the city center, this is not recommended for our program, as the bus does not drop passengers off at a location convenient to the conference hotel.
Transportation from Brussels to Ghent / Ghent to Bruges:
Private coaches will be provided to transfer conference attendees and companions from Brussels to Ghent, and from Ghent to Bruges. This service is included in the conference registration fee.
Transportation from Bruges:
Attendees must make their own arrangements for departing Bruges at the conclusion of the conference.
Train – Here is a useful website for planning train travel from Bruges to Brussels, Amsterdam, Cologne, Berlin, Frankfurt, London, and Paris. There is direct hourly train service from Bruges to Brussels Zaventem. There are additional regular trains to Zaventem that require a transfer at Brussels North, Central, or South railway stations. The website of the Belgian Railways (NMBS) contains schedule and fare information.
Taxi – It is possible to hire a taxi to the Brussels airport; however, reservations must be made in advance and the cost is approximately €200 (prices may vary throughout the year). Contact information for Bruges taxi companies may be found here.
How Early Should You Depart Bruges?
If you are transferring to the Brussels airport, it is recommended to arrive 2-1/2 to 3 hours prior to departure for long-haul flights and 1-1/2 to 2 hours prior for flights within the Schengen zone. The train journey from Brugge to Zaventem (airport) will take approximately 90 minutes, depending on whether you’ve selected a direct route or will need to change trains at Bruxelles-Midi. Use the “Plan My Journey” tool on the Belgian Railways website to view your options for routes and tick the “Arrival” option.
For those traveling elsewhere in Europe who have pre-purchased tickets, 15 to 20 minutes should be enough time to check the departures board and walk to the appropriate platform (Brugge station is small, with only 5 platforms). If you need to purchase your ticket at the station, give yourself more time, of course.
Euro banknotes exist in seven different denominations: €5, €10, €20, €50, €100, €200 and €500. The euro coin series comprises eight different denominations: 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 cents. The best way to calculate the current value of euros to US dollars is to use this online universal currency converter.
Cash – You may find it useful to have some cash on hand, as not all shops and restaurants are set up to accept debit and credit cards.
Credit Cards – Credit cards such as American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard, and Visa are widely accepted throughout Belgium. Attendees are advised to notify their financial institution(s) of their trip prior to departure to ensure that their cards will work overseas, to make sure they know their PIN number(s), and to be reminded of both their spending limits and any international fees imposed by their banks. Additionally, Belgium almost exclusively uses chip-and-PIN cards, so if your card uses a magnetic strip instead, you may want to ask your bank if they can provide you with a new card containing a chip.
Banks – Most banks in Belgium offer competitive exchange rates, although travelers are advised to check added fees prior to exchange.
ATM’s – Withdrawing money from ATM machines, preferably using a bank affiliated with your bank whenever possible, is an easy way to obtain Euros. ATM’s are widely available in Belgium, and each is labeled with logos indicating which cards are accepted. Helpful hint: if an ATM offers to display a transaction in your home currency, rather than in Euros, always choose to view transactions in Euros. Otherwise, the machine may perform a dynamic currency conversion, resulting in a higher exchange rate.
If you purchase something worth at least €50 at a shop displaying Global Blue Tax Free Shopping signage, you are entitled to a tax refund on your purchase, less an administrative fee. In order to receive the refund you must (1) ask the cashier for a Tax Free form when making your purchase, (2) take your purchases, receipt, and passport to the customs area of your departure airport to have your Tax Free form officially stamped, and (3) proceed to a Global Blue refund counter with your credit card. Your refund will be processed immediately, and your card will be credited. You may ask for a cash refund instead; however, cash refunds sometimes incur additional fees. Complete information regarding the Global Blue program in Belgium, including Tax Free forms, may be found here. Please note: VAT will not be refunded for services such as hotels, restaurants, or taxis.
Tipping is not very common in Belgium, especially in Flanders (the north), as service charges are already included in hotel and restaurant prices. Service workers are generally well paid and so you won't be expected to leave a gratuity. However, if one feels compelled to tip someone for extraordinary service, it is common to round up the bill. A 10% gratuity for taxi drivers is also customary. Gratuities for group tours, meals, and transfers have already been included in the conference registration fee.
Belgium is on the 230V standard at 50Hz. Outlets are built for the Type E [insert E-Plug pic as popup] or Type C [insert E-Plug pic as popup] plug, with two round prongs. Some hotel bathrooms have outlets with both 110V and 220V current, but it is a good idea to always travel with a plug adaptor. Check the label on your electronic equipment to make sure a voltage converter is also not needed.
Belgians appreciate excellent food, and the country is becoming increasingly known as a gastronomic destination. Its restaurants are among the best in Europe, and Belgian chefs and promising chefs-to-be are finding great success with innovative approaches to cuisine. Attendees will enjoy discovering the variety of dining options in Belgium, from Michelin-starred restaurants to cozy pubs to casual street food vendors. Provided one avoids obvious tourist traps, it is rather difficult to fare badly when choosing a place to eat.
With Belgium’s proximity to the North Sea, pescatarians will appreciate the wide availability and selection of fresh seafood. Vegetarians will grow especially fond of Ghent, as the city is known as “the veggie capital of Europe” and was the first city in the world to observe a weekly day of vegetarianism. As Belgium is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world, one can also expect to find a huge range of international cuisines in addition to traditional and European foods.
A Few Traditional Belgian Dishes to Try:
Carbonade à la flamande (aka Stoofvlees) – Beef stew, similar to the French Beef Bourguignon, but made with beer instead of red wine.
Chicon Au Gratin (aka Gegratineerde witloof) – This is a main dish of endive leaves wrapped in ham, topped with béchamel and cheese, and broiled in a casserole dish.
Croquettes Aux Crevettes Grises (aka Garnalenkroketjes) – A croquette made with grey shrimp from the North Sea.
Moules-frites (aka Mosselen-Friet) – Mussels cooked with onions and celery. Usually accompanied with frites.
Stoemp – A side dish of pureed or mashed potatoes mixed with other root vegetables, cream, herbs, and spices.
Tomates aux Crevettes Grises (aka Tomaat met Grijze Garnalen) – A popular appetizer of cold tomatoes stuffed with brown or grey shrimp and mayo.
Waterzooi – A rich stew from Ghent comprising chicken or fish, vegetables, cream, and eggs.
Famous Specialty Consumables:
Chocolate – Belgium is known for making some of the finest chocolates in the world and produces almost 200 tons of chocolates per year. The country boasts over 2,000 chocolate shops, and the quality is high even within the big chains.
Frites (aka “fries”) – Always made from fresh — never frozen — potatoes, and cooked twice at different temperatures, good frites are crispy on the outside and soft inside. Belgians serve them with mayonnaise, and they are available both in restaurants and at street stalls called friteries or frietkot.
Waffles –There is no one “true” Belgian waffle, although most are yeast-leavened instead of using baking powder. There are several different varieties of Belgian waffles, including the Brussels waffle (rectangular, crisp, with deep pockets), Flemish waffle (thin and crunchy), Liège waffle (sweet and chewy, made with brioche dough and pearl sugar), and Stroopwafel (two thin waffle layers filled with caramel syrup). Some shops even offer long waffles on a stick, dipped into chocolate syrup or caramel, with an assortment of available toppings.
Beer – There are over 600 types of beer in Belgium featuring infinite flavor profiles, from complex and spicy Trappist beers to sour lambic to refreshing wheat beers, lagers, and ales. Breweries have been active since the Middle Ages, and the 100+ private breweries in operation throughout the country assure that Belgium maintains its reputation as a beer capital. The average Belgian citizen drinks 200 pints each year, so don’t be afraid to join them and sample a beer or two. If you dislike the taste of beer, don’t worry. Belgium also imports excellent wine and bubbles. In fact, per capita champagne consumption in Belgium is the highest in the world!
The official language of the CMS International Conference is English. English-speaking guides will be provided for all sightseeing tours and excursions.
While many of the world’s citizens appreciate efforts to speak to them in their local tongue, one must be rather careful in Belgium, as the country has three official languages: Dutch, French, and German. You can create hard feelings if you try to speak Dutch in a French region and vice-versa. In Flanders (the northern portion of the country), Dutch is the dominant language, while in Wallonia (the southern region), French is most common. German is spoken by a small percentage of the population living in the eastern portion of Wallonia. Most people in Brussels speak French, although the city is officially bilingual, so signs appear in both languages. Note: Flemish is a Dutch dialect spoken throughout Flanders.
The emergency telephone number for police, fire or ambulance throughout the entire European Union is 112. It can be dialed free of charge from all public and mobile telephones.
A list of medical facilities and English-speaking medical doctors in Belgium may be found on the U.S. State Department’s website.
Be aware that you will likely have to pay out of pocket for any medical treatment, even if your insurance company provides international health care coverage. Make sure to obtain a copy of your bill so that you can file a claim when you return home and be reimbursed.
Belgium is basically safe, and most tourists will visit without incident. Petty theft, such as pickpockets and purse-snatchers, may be found especially near tourist attractions and in railroad stations, airports, and on public transportation. Conference participants should remain alert, aware of their surroundings, and who look like they know where they are going to reduce the likelihood of becoming victims of crime. It is always a good idea to travel with others whenever possible. As in many countries, outward displays of wealth will increase a traveler’s chances of being targeted by thieves. Be sure to safeguard your documents and personal belongings. It is wise to utilize the hotel safe for valuables and keep documents and credit cards separate from currency.
Smart Traveler Enrollment Program:
The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a free service that allows U.S. citizens and nationals traveling abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Enrollees will receive important information from the Embassy about safety conditions in the destination country and will assist the U.S. Embassy in contacting the you in the event of an emergency (i.e., natural disaster, civil unrest, or family emergency). Enrollment also helps family and friends get in touch with you in an emergency.
The country code for Belgium is 32. The area code for Brussels is 2, for Ghent is 9, and for Bruges is 50. When calling from the U.S., you will need to begin by including the exit code of 011. Thus, a call from the USA to Brusssels would look like this: 011-32-2-xxx-xx-xx. Calling a Belgian phone number while in Belgium means that you would not include the exit code or international code, resulting in 2-xxxx-xx-xx.
Belgium is in the Central European Time (CET) zone and is one hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time. Thus, when it is 12:00 noon in Brussels, it is 3:00 a.m. in Los Angeles and 6:00 a.m. in New York.
A useful time zone converter tool may be found by clicking here.
Although professional attire (business casual) is appropriate for conference sessions, plan to include more casual, comfortable clothing for tours and excursions. Be sure to pack comfortable walking shoes, as moderate amounts of walking will be necessary throughout the trip. Further, it is advisable to wear shoes with a sure grip, as streets and pedestrian walkways can become quite slippery when wet. It is always a good idea to be prepared with an umbrella in case of rain.