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(MCT)—Known for its chocolate, waffles and beer as well as its lace and in-season mussels, Belgium brings a wealth of old-world charm to the European tour experience. Those who fear it’s out of financial reach should be pleasantly surprised to learn just how affordable the country can be for the budget traveler. Follow these thrifty travel tips for an affordable Belgian vacation.

Transportation: John Wetmore, a television producer for Pedestrians.org—an awareness organization focused on the unique issues of walkers and bikers—points to the public bicycle access system known as Villo, for cheap transport in Brussels. With nominal daily and weekly fees, and only 30 euros for a one-year pass, visitors are allowed unlimited bike rides for a duration of 30 minutes or less. Access cards track check-outs and returns, as well as any minor overage fees. For access to trams and buses, Rail Europe offers the Brussels Card. With one-day rates starting at $41, tourists are allowed unlimited transportation on the city’s buses and trams.

Entertainment: The Brussels Card also provides free access to all major museums, and as much as a 25 percent discount on other typical tourist attractions, restaurants shops and bars. On the other hand, for the best deal on a tour of Bruges, vacationers should put on their walking shoes. With a city center named a world heritage site by UNESCO and an abundance of photogenic canal scenes, this city is arguably one of the most charming in Europe. It’s also easily strolled across in roughly an hour. Free walking tour brochures featuring multiple routes are available from the tourism office. Of note is the beautiful Bruges town hall, which has been the seat of city’s government for more than 700 years.

Lodging: In historic Bruges, the Hotel Navarra—a Best Western Premier hotel–offers travelers a chance to stay in an historic mansion that once greeted Napoleon Bonaparte. Rooms start at 107 euros and come with free Wi-Fi and breakfast buffet, as well as access to an indoor swimming pool, sauna and fitness center. For cheap digs in Brussels, Giovanna Gentle of Hostelbookers.com hails the Albert Inn. Overnight accommodations at this quiet venue include free parking and breakfast starting at $48 per person. Located a mere 150 feet from the metro and only five stops from the Brussels Midi train station, this establishment makes a great launching point for daily sightseeing excursions.

Theriault is the best-selling co-author of the book “10,001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget,” and founder of TrekHound.com, a website for independent travelers.

© 2011, McClatchy-Tribune News Service.

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