A lot of people supposedly find Brussels quite ‘boring’ but we really love Belgium’s beautiful capital city – there are so many things to do here, so much so that we’ve visited 4 times in as many years. The ease of getting here from London and other European hubs on the Eurostar train and our love of seafood and dark beer makes it a fantastic weekend break!
Brussels is really laid back and does not take itself too seriously. It also boasts some stunning architecture and some of the best beer in the world. The city is really small and compact which means you can get around easily by foot with no need for hop-on hop-off buses or the Metro.
Here is a rundown of the very best of Brussels and our favourite places to visit:
Things to do in Brussels
Step back in time at the Grand Place
Europe’s most magnificent main square is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The cobbled Grand Place is lined with gorgeous historic buildings including the opulent guildhall and two large edifices (the gothic Hôtel de Ville, and the King’s House). The square should be viewed both during the day, and at night when it is lit up (sometimes with light and music shows).
If you visit during the run up to Christmas you will find a pretty seasonal market and ice rink, and every two years in the summer the square is covered in a ‘flower carpet’. Tip: for a cheap drink with a view, purchase a 3 Euro coffee from Starbucks and enjoy it on their outdoor terrace. Surely this has to be one of the best Starbucks with a view in the world?
Laugh at the Manneken Pis statue
The iconic Manneken Pis is a 60cm tall bronze sculpture of a little naked boy and embodies the Belgians’ mischievous sense of humour. He urinates water into the fountain’s basin underneath and draws many crowds of visitors keen to get a selfie with him.
His clothes are changed twice a day by mysterious helpers and he is said to have a wardrobe of over 1000 different outfits (he sounds quite Kardashian…). You can find the statue near the Grand Place at the junction of the Rue du Chêne/Eikstraat and the pedestrian Rue de l’Étuve/Stoofstraat.
Explore the Sablon neighbourhood and sample posh chocolates
Brussels is well known for its superb chocolate, and the historic neighbourhood of Le Sablon is a great place to find some of the poshest chocolate brands. Pierre Marcolini, Godiva, Neuhaus and Wittier all have lovely boutique stores here selling some beautiful (but pricey) boxes of treats. Aside from the chocolate shops, Le Sablon has numerous art galleries, parks and restaurants, and every weekend holds an antique market next to the Church of Our Lady of Victories at the Sablon.
Drink Belgian beer
Brussels is also famously known for it’s delicious Belgian beers, and the city has a large number of fine drinking establishments (with a great mixture of modern, quirky and historic bars). Delirium Café boasts over 3,000 different beers and was inducted into the Guinness Book of World Records in 2004. À la Mort Subite has a fabulous Art Nouveau interior, whilst Poechenellenkelder has a large collection of theatre puppets on display. Here are some of the best bars you need to check out:
- À la Mort Subite | Rue Montagne-aux-Herbes Potagères 7
- Delirium Café | Impasse de la Fidélité 4A
- Goupil le fol | Rue de la Violette 22, 1000 Bruxelles
- Le Cercueil | Rue des Harengs 10-12, 1000 Bruxelles
- Poechenellekelder | Rue du Chêne 5
- À la Bécasse | Rue de Tabora 11, 1000 Bruxelles
- Toone | Impasse Schuddeveld 6, 1000 Bruxelles
- Moeder Lambic | Rue de Savoie 68, Saint-Gilles
- Floris | Impasse de la Fidélité 11
We joined a ‘Chocolate and Beer tasting walking tour’ with Brussels Journey on the Saturday afternoon of our weekend trip. The tour lasted 4 and a half hours and takes you to 4 different chocolate shops and 3 bars/pubs. It was great fun and we would highly recommend it.
Click here to read our blog post about this tour
Stroll through the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert
This is Europe’s first covered shopping gallery which opened back in 1847. The walkway is 200 metres long with glass panelled ceilings and houses around 54 different stores including cafes, chocolates shops, leather goods and the Théâtre du Vaudeville.
Spot the many comic strip street art murals
Walk around the city and you’ll spot several huge murals painted onto the sides of buildings. The artworks feature popular Belgian comic strip characters including Tintin, Captain Haddock and Snowy. There are many other great street grafitti/artworks in Brussels to be found with one of my personal favourites being the huge colourful Mannekin Pis mural. Pop into the tourist Information office and ask for a street art map.
Relax at the Garden of the Mont des Arts
The garden of Mont des Arts is a beautiful public space planted with many flowers, and surrounded by museums and cultural centres including the Royal Museums of Fine Art and the Museum of Cinema (Cinematek). Head to the top of the hill for stunning views of the gardens towards the Grand Place.
Get your geek on at the Belgian Comic Strip Centre
This museum is dedicated to the comic strip and housed inside a beautiful Art Nouveau industrial building designed by Belgium’s Victor Horta. Here you will find an entire section dedicated to Belgium’s famous cartoon character hero Tin Tin, plus a section devoted to Hergé, as well as other favourites such as The Smurfs, Nero and Lucky Luke. There is an excellent gift shop selling many souvenirs, books, figurines and posters.
Address: Rue des Sables 20, 1000 Bruxelles
Devour some Belgian waffles
Cheap and seriously tasty, you cannot leave Brussels without indulging in a sweet waffle. Basic waffles start from around 2 Euros, but if you want to spend a bit more you can add extra toppings including Nutella, caramel, strawberries, kiwi fruit, nuts, sprinkles, whipped cream and chocolate sauce (although the more you pile on, the harder it is to eat!). Head to ‘waffle street’ (Rue De L’Etuve) for a large choice of vendors.
Enjoy an alfresco seafood and wine brunch at Mer du Nord
Mer du Nord is a bustling outdoor seafood joint located in the picturesque Place Sainte-Catherine. Order a glass of white wine along with some tapas sized plates of calamari, clams, oysters, fish soup and shrimp croquettes (which all come served with grated cheese and croutons). The food is a little on the expensive side, but is fresh and delicious.
Note: this is not a sit down experience – you eat your food at one of the standing tables across the street. Expect long queues of hungry locals and tourists at peak times.
Opening times: Tuesday – Saturday: 11am – 6pm, Sunday: 11am – 8pm
Address: Rue Sainte-Catherine 45, 1000 Bruxelles
Check out the Royal Palace of Brussels
The Royal Palace of Brussels is the official palace of the King and Queen of the Belgians, and the the capital’s most iconic building. The doors are open for tourists for a limited time during the summer months (usually from late July to early September). You can admire the gardens and the architecture from the outside though!
Address: Rue Brederode 16, 1000 Bruxelles
Admire the art nouveau ‘Musée des Instruments de Musique’
This museum is housed inside a spectacular Art Nouveau building and has a collection of around 7,000 historical musical instruments. We didn’t have time to go inside but when we next return we want to head up to the restaurant on the top floor as apparently the view is amazing (we’ve been told the food is not amazing however – so go for a drink instead).
Opening times: Tuesday – Friday, 9:30am – 5pm and Saturday– Sunday 10am – 5pm. Entry fee: Adults: €10. Address: Rue Montagne de la Cour 2, 1000 Bruxelles
Order ‘Mussels from Brussels’ at Chez Leon
This family-owned restaurant was established in 1893 and is famously known for it’s ‘Moules Frites’ (mussels and fries) and their own house beer, the Pelforth (5.5% abv). Chez Leon is a tourist favourite and you will usually find long queues during peak hours. The seafood here its pretty good, I recommend trying the grilled mussels dish that is topped with garlic and cheese (dirty but yummy!).
If you are visiting on a weekday (Monday to Friday) you can get 50% off your bill when you book your table online through Thefork.com. Alternatively you can find flyers for 15% off food and drinks (for any day of the week) in many hotel foyers.
Address: Rue des Bouchers 18, 1000 Bruxelles
Shop for souvenirs at La Boutique Tintin
This is the official Tintin gift shop in Belgium and has an impressive array of memorabilia (books, t-shirts, keyrings, postcards, watches, stationery etc). Some of the prices for the figurines however will make your wallet quiver in fear! Address: Rue de la Colline 13, 1000 Bruxelles
Eat some tasty Belgian frites
Frites are another item of food that Belgium is famous for! Belgians traditionally eat them with small plastic forks, served in a paper cone. They are usually accompanied by a dollop of sauce – standard sauces being ketchup or mustard, but sometimes served with Andalouse (Belgian sauce made with mayonnaise, peppers, lemon, and tomato) or Samourai (mayonnaise with Tunisian chilli, spices, tomatoes and bell peppers). Belgian frites are usually thick cut and double fried which makes them crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.
Stroll through the Sainte Catherine neighbourhood
This lively and trendy neighbourhood is a 7 minute stroll from the Grand Place and a seafood lovers paradise. Here you’ll find the Mer du Nord seafood stall, plus numerous other fish, crab and lobster restaurants located around the reflecting pools. There is a lovely main square with many nearby food trucks, bars and cafes, plus the Cathedral of Sainte Catherine.
Browse the vintage market at Halles de Saint-Géry
The indoor and outdoor vintage market is held on the first Sunday of the month in the former market hall of Saint-Géry (which has been beautifully renovated). You’ll find many vintage and second-hand items, including clothing, accessories, jewellery, vinyl records, small furniture, and toys, along with music from retro DJ’s, plus food and drink from Café Des Halles.
The surrounding area has many popular bars and restaurants and can get very busy during the summer months. It is worth noting that Café Des Halles is open every day inside the market hall and serves beer!
Opening times: First Sunday of the month 12pm to 7pm.
Free entry. Address: Place Saint-Géry 1, 1000 Bruxelles
Go tacky souvenir shopping
Brussels has some excellent tacky souvenir shopping if you are into that kind of thing (we LOVE our magnet and s*** postcard collection!). The huge selections of magnets in the gift shops are a collector’s delight, plus the large array of just plain awful Mannekin Pis merchandise will make you ‘pis’ yourself with laughter.. Other bad souvenirs you can find include Beer slogan t-shirts and glasses.
Cute gift shops
If you prefer a more classier shopping experience, we found this super cute ladies clothing and gift shop called Appart N17 on Rue des Grands Carmes. We wanted to buy everything in here!
Things to do outside Brussels
If you have some extra time in the city, then there are lots of day trips from Brussels which you can easily access by train. There are lots of things to do in Bruges and things to do in Ghent – Bruges is only an hour away, whilst Ghent is just 30 minutes.
How to get to Brussels
We took the Eurostar from London St Pancras train station to Brussels Midi station (you can also reach Brussels on the Eurostar from Paris). The journey took just 2 hours and the cost for a return ticket was £60 (leaving London on a Friday night and coming back 7am on a Monday morning).
From Brussels Midi station it is only a short trip (a few stops on the metro) into the centre of Brussels. The city also has 2 airports with many low budget airlines flying here.
We stayed at the popular ‘cheap and cheerful’ chain Hotel Ibis. The double room cost £140 (160 Euros) for 3 nights (which I booked a few months in advance). The location is in the awesome Saint Catherine neighbourhood, which is only a few minutes walk from De Brouckère metro stop and 7 minutes walk from the Grand Place.
The room was basic and comfy, but the rate but did not include breakfast or a refrigerator. There is a huge choice of bars, shops, cafes, supermarkets and restaurants all within walking distance.
Weekend in Brussels – good to know
Languages spoken – Belgium has three official languages: Dutch, French, and German
Currency – Euros
Love Belgian beer? Try the Bermondsey Beer Mile in London >
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