Brussels, the capital of Belgium, is often overlooked by travelers. But when you explore this European city, you will see how easy it is to indulge in all its hidden beauty, food, history, and not to miss… chocolate. Here is what you could do in a day spent in this cultural treasure.
Why not start your morning with a true Belgian Waffle. Top it with strawberries, bananas, whipped cream, powdered sugar, Nutella, or anything you like. There are waffle shops all around Brussels, but the best ones can be found on Rue de l’Etuve near Manneken Pis. Try Le Funambule Waffles, this unassuming shop has been in business since 1867 and serve the most delicious waffles I have ever tasted.
Take the morning to wander outside the center of Brussels. Take the A1 line on the Brussels Metro and get off at Haysel/Heizal metro station. Here you will find the giant pavilion known as Atomium. This gigantic structure represents a unit cell of an iron crystal molecule. Its size is 165 billion (yes, with “B”) times bigger than the real thing. Jesus… Sure, standing under these giant spheres will make you feel like an atom. Atomium was built for Expo’1958 in Brussels and it originally was intended to be a temporary structure, but its popularity kept it alive (similar to Eiffel Tower). Climb up to one of its spheres; the view is exceptional, and if there’s good weather, you could see all the way to Antwerp.
Next to Atomium you will find Mini-Europe Park. This “European replica” features miniatures of the famous monuments of Europe at a scale of 1:25. Buildings include the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Big Ben, the Acropolis, the Arc de Triomphe, and the Brandenburg Gate, among others.
If you prefer to stay in the city center instead; then why not spend the morning visiting local sights like Saint Michael and Gudula Cathedral, located at Treurenberg Hill. This is the most esteemed church in Brussels since St. Michael and Gudula are the patron saints of the city. The cathedral has an interesting history that dates back to 1047. In the 13th century it was renovated to it present-day Gothic style, but if you go down to the basement; you will see some of the remains of the original medieval structure.
After enjoying this cathedral, take a short walk towards Parc de Bruxelles (Brussels Park). Walk from end to end along Rue Royale or enjoy this urban park through its many paths, fountains, and leisure spaces. As you walk through the central path of the park, you will see at the end the grandiose Royal Palace of Brussels. Entrance to the palace is free from July to September. The beauty of the interior space truly dignifies what a palace is.
Indulge in true Belgian cuisine –Chocolate. Go to Wittamer at Palace du Grand Sablon. This chocolatier has an on-site café. And it is delicious.
After lunch, take a 10-minute walk along Cellebroersstraat and head over to Manneken Pis. This popular Brussels icon takes the form of a little boy answering nature’s call in a display of irreverent humor. What’s even more interesting is his wardrobe –over 700 costumes (not even I have that many clothes). Every now and then he is dressed to celebrate a holiday or special occasion.
You will be surprised by how small this statue is, but if walk along Rue de l’Etuve towards the Grote Markt (Grand Place), you will see the Broodhuis (Breadhouse, also known as King’s House), where you will find the original Manneken Pis stone statue, which is three times larger than the bronze statue currently displayed on the street. Here you will also see the Manneken’s “closet” on display. Who would have ever thought that a little boy peeing would become the symbol of Brussels?
See the inauguration of one of his costumes on this video. Sorry, it’s not in English; but I have to say… that kid has some pressure there!
Since you are at the Grote Markt, I’m sure you would undoubtedly have noticed the unique beauty and architectural detail of this square and its surrounding buildings. Entering the Grote Markt through one of its unassuming alleys makes you feel like if you’re entering a place that has been preserved in time.
The Grote Markt dates back to the 12th century. In 1695, King Louis XIV of France bombed the area and destroyed all but one of the original buildings –the Town Hall. Today, this building sits the mayor of Brussels and can only be visited with guided tours.
You will definitely find something to do or see at this UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are free concerts every weekend; and every two years, during the month of August, the whole square is filled with a carpet made of flowers.
Feel free to roam around the alleys that surround the square to find all sorts of interesting things like hundreds of chocolate shops (yes, hundreds), interesting Art Nouveau architecture, small typical shops, art stores, museums, Belgian beer shops, and more.
All that walking will make you hungry. Skip the overpriced taverns and restaurants surrounding Grote Markt and head over to Rue de Bouchers. This street is filled with small seafood restaurants with competitive prices. Or, wander around other streets and alleys to find hidden restaurants and cafes. Try the Belgian Fries, they are delicious!
After taking a break to rest your tired feet, you can decide whether a passive cultural night is for you or if the active party scene is what you crave for. If you’re looking to have a relaxing night, head over to La Monnaie and enjoy the opera in this neoclassic theatre. Belgium’s 1830 war of independence broke out during a performance in this theatre; so, you never know what could happen here.
If an active and more sociable night is what you want, then head to A La Mort Subite (A Sudden Death). This Brussels’ favorite serves their branded beer in a traditional setting that hasn’t changed in years. For the party scene, head over to Discotheek Fuse, one of the most famous nightclubs in Europe; or to Louise Gallery, another well-known nightclub.
Brussels counts with a huge variety of accommodations that range from high-end hotels like Hotel le Dixseptième, to small and cozy places like 2GO4 Quality Hostel. Brussels is easy to walk, so if you roam a bit you will find a good night rest in one of the many smaller guesthouses, independent hostels, or whatever “sleeping style” you like; close enough to all the main attractions.