When planning a weekend away, Brussels, to be honest, was never not on our list of places to visit for some reason. But we ended up spending a weekend here. It started with wanting to see The World of Hans Zimmer. Once we learned that it was touring, we checked the dates and locations. There were no UK dates (at the time) and Brussels was the closest one to us. Since flights were reasonable, we booked our flights and decided to spend a weekend at the capital of Belgium.
We were pleasantly surprised by Brussels! It is definitely a good destination for a weekend or short city break with its beautiful historic old town, museums, and famous Belgian waffles and frites. Not to the mention Belgium chocolate and beer. It has everything you could ask for a city break. Although the native languages are French and Dutch, mostly everyone we encountered spoke English too. I guess it is no surprise as Brussels is a capital of the European Union too.
Here are our Top 10 Very Best Things to Do & See in Brussels from our weekend visit. In this trip, we visited only few museums (there are many to choose from) and spend more time wondering the streets and tasting the local delicatessens. Most of places on our list could be reached on foot from the main square, only couple required a public transport. So if you plan a trip to Brussels, you may want to include our suggested highlights in your itinerary.
1. The Grand-Place
The Grand-Place, a historical central square dating back almost 300 years, is a beating heart of Brussels. It certainly leaves an impression with its magnificent coronet of 17th century guild houses and decorative civic buildings. No surprise that it is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Museum of the City of Brussels is located here as well.
Many visitors and tours start exploring Brussels from here. We were no exception and joined a ‘free’ walking tour (pay-what-you-want). Sometimes, we like to take a relaxed guided tour as it is a great way to get your bearings and learn about the place in a short time. You can always leave the tour or return to the places for more in-depth exploration after the visit. We joined the Viva’s Tour which lasted two hours and showed the main highlights of central Brussels.
Grand Place looks stunning in a day and in the evening. Make sure you come back to the square in the evening as well.
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We visited Brussels in March so missed out on the fabulous Floral Carpet Festival. It is held every two years in August and thee square is filled with flowers in various motif arrangements. I am sure it would be a great sight to add to your itinerary, if visiting in August. There are other festivals like Beer Festival in September or Ommegang in July worth noting too.
2. Manneken Pis or ‘Pissing Boy’
The Manneken Pis, a famous sculpture of a pissing boy, was smaller than expected but a true crowd magnet. Actually, there were three pissing statues close by. The Pissing Boy is probably the most known of all the three. It is the oldest one as well, dating back to 1600s. On our visit it was in an outfit! It actually gets dressed up regularly. What a weird thing to do, no? The other two were Jeanneke-Pis (the girl version) and Het Zinneke (the dog version). These two were trickier to find but the guy on the tour we took pointed them to us.
I neither liked nor disliked the pissing statues. I found them to be a bizarre thing attracting so many people! Anyway, the Pissing Boy was literally just couple minutes from the Grand-Place. You will probably need only 5 minutes to see it and you will be on your way.
3. Cinquantenaire & Triumphal Arch
The Parc du Cinquantenaire is a huge park with an impressive Triumphal Arch. The park has been built in in 1880 for the 50th anniversary of Belgium’s independence. The park is also home to Art & History Museum, Autoworld, and The Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History. You can see Brussels from each angle in this park!
It is outside the central Brussels but can be reached on foot. However, to save time we tried electric scooters.
Couple words on the electric scooters. They are easy to use. You just download an app, register your card, scan the barcode on the scooter and you are set up to go. It was good fun to try them but…Short trips were actually more expensive with them than with a bus. But most importantly, lots of pavements, especially in the old town, were bumpy and uneven, making the ride unpleasant.
4. Street Art & Comic Spotting
You may not know but some of the world’s most famous comics, such as ‘The Adventures of Tintin’, ‘The Smurfs’ and ‘The Adventures of Astérix’, originated in Belgium. There are over 50 massive street wall murals celebrating these comics. Just wonder the streets of Brussels and try to spot them! The most famous one of Tintin and the first is on the Rue de l_Etuve. You can also visit the Belgian Comic Strip Center for even more exhibitions of comics.
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If you have more time or really like comics, check this detailed Comic Strip Route for self-guided tour by S Marks the Spot. It is a great free activity to do. We were happy with the murals we spotted while wondering the Brussels in the time we had.
5. Heysel Park & the Atomium
The Atomium was built in 1950s for the Brussels World’s Fair Expo. The structure is over 100metres tall so you will easily spot it. The Atomium is further away from the city centre so you will need to use public transport. We used a metro. It was close to the concert venue so we visited it during the day and late in the evening. It is definitely a unique structure and becoming an iconic one associated with Brussels. There is also a museum and a restaurant.
6. Famous Belgian Waffles, Chocolate & Frites
The thought of the them makes me hungry! It is a must try while in Brussels. There are many places that you can try waffles and lots of combinations to choose from. Most people recommend Maison Dandoy but the queues were long, so we gave up and went elsewhere. If don’t fancy waffles, get a mug of Belgian hot chocolate or head to Galeries Royales Saint Hubert, which are home to the most famous Belgian chocolatiers. The galleries itself are beautiful to see.
Belgian Frites (not French as they argue!) should be on your foodie list while here too. There were many food stalls to try them. Maison Antoine is probably Brussels’ most iconic and world famous friterie to get authentic Belgian frites. Expect to stand in a queue!
7. The European Quarter- Parlamentarium
As you may know Brussels is the capital of the European Union. Hence, there is a congregation of EU buildings here. Parlamentarium is Europe’s largest parliamentary visitors centre. This was the one of the museums that we thought we must visit. The entrance was free and you get and audio guide (all languages of EU countries were available). We though the museum was very good and super informative on the history of Europe and life of the European Union with thoughtful multimedia displays. It is just outside central Brussels but within a walking distance from the Grand-Place.
Also, just behind the museum is the Parc Leopold. It is a quiet park but with lovely fountain and lots of birds. Great spot to unwind and grab a quick lunch.
8. Mont des Arts or Kunstberg
Mont des Arts ("hill of the arts") is name for the beautiful gardens set in the backdrop of historic buildings. It is a great spot for the panoramic view of Brussels, just make sure you go to the top of stairs. There are lots of art museums close by such as the Royal Museums of Fine Arts, Magritte Museum, the Musical Instrument Museum.
9. Parc de Bruxelles & Palais de Bruxelles
We love parks! If it is not raining, we always try to spend some time in parks of cities we visit. Parc de Bruxelles is the largest and most popular park in the central Brussels. It has some interesting deco lamp posts and fountains. You can also see Palais de Bruxelles (The Royal Palace of Brussels) from here.
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Palais de Bruxelles (The Royal Palace of Brussels) is open (free) for the public visits in the summer, except Mondays. As we visited in March, we only had a quick look from outside but learnt about it on the walking tour I mentioned earlier.
10. Delirium Café- Guinness World Record Bar
Brussels boasts not only for its high-quality food but also for a selection of beers. Delirium Café is famous for holding the world record for the availability of the most varieties of commercially available beer. In 2004 the number was 2,0004 of different beers from around the world! Don’t worry if you do not drink alcohol, there are many non-alcoholic ones to choose from too. The bar has a lovely atmosphere and live music too.
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If you fancy to try drinks at several places, join a beer tasting tour. There are many to choose from, check on TripAdvisor for recommendations. It is a great way not only to taste different beers but also to learn about Belgium’s beer history. I was expecting during our trip, so we gave the tour a miss.