Brussels, a with a population of 1 million people, is second only to New York as the most international city in the world. It is the center of the European Union, the birthplace of Audrey Hepburn, and houses the world’s largest law court.
For such a small city, it sure packs a punch.
After arriving in Brussels, make your way to the cultural and tourist heart of the city: Le Grand Place. It is truly one of the most stunning squares in Europe, complete with gold facades, white marble, and City Hall. A free (though tip based) walking tour departs the square every morning at 10 am, operating in a variety of languages, including English.
The speedy, two hour tour will orient you with the entire city; it seems that nearly every sight possible is included. Get ready for a whirlwind visit of Le Maison du Roi, the stock exchange, the comic art scene, the opera, St. Nicholas’ Church, and the Royal Square among others. Don’t worry, there will be plenty of time to go back and visit your favorites at a more leisurely pace!
As the morning comes to a close, it is the perfect time to tap into the foodie scene of Brussels. Brussels has some of the best street food in the world, with waffle, french fry, and hot chocolate stands adorning almost every corner. Pop in for a sweet treat or a savory snack and be on your way, there is a lot more to see today.
Make your way to the metro, central train station is the closest to Le Grand Place. It is time to visit the Atomium, often dubbed the Eiffel Tower of Brussels (although why it is called that, I am still not sure).
After a short 20-minute metro ride, you will reach the imposing structure that was built for the 1958 world fair. It was meant to symbolise the democratic will of Belgium, a faith in progress, and belief in a better future fueled by technological advances.
While buying your tickets, you will be encouraged to also visit Mini-Europe, adjacent to the Atomium, but I suggest you to skip it. Mini-Europe is overcrowded and overpriced; it comes off like a tackier, small scale version of Disneyland, without the thrilling rides, sweet treats, or characters. Instead, make the most of your metro ticket and take a turn in the Parc de Laeken. The perfectly manicured gardens and imposing Oak trees make for a welcome change of scenery from the bustling city center. The juxtaposition with Atomium itself only enhances the natural beauty. Then, once you have gotten your fill of greenery, make your way back to the city center.
No trip to Belgium would be complete without a beer tasting. For moderate prices and a great location, try Au Brasseur, located on a side street off Le Grand Place. For only €19 you receive a great selection of five Belgian beers. Settle in for a few hours and watch the street performers and setting sun.
Relaxed and refreshed, it is time to head to another unexplored section of the city. The Belgian Royal Palace, Palais de Justice, and European Union Headquarters await you. Once there, you will be rewarded with stunning views of the city and awe inducing architecture.
The Palace is the official royal residence of King Philippe and Queen Mathilde of Belgium. However, do not get too excited about catching a glimpse of royalty, as the royal family actually resides at the Palais de Laeken on the outskirts of the city. The Royal Palace in the city center serves as a headquarters for affairs of state.
Le Palais de Justice is the most important court building in Belgium. It was constructed between 1866 and 1883 and cost an astonishing 45 million francs. It is said to be the largest building built in the 19th century.
Next up is the EU headquarters, their physical presence standing out from the rest of Brussels thanks to their shiny facades and imposing heights. If you walk down the stairs to the base of the building, you can learn a lot of European history. The EU has commissioned a permanent exhibit explaining the history, formation, and modern uses of the EU.
After this array of impressive architecture, saturated with history, you cannot leave Brussels without trying some of their world acclaimed mussels. Walk along any busy street in Brussels and you will find a myriad of restaurants offering the local delicacy. However, if you are looking to try quality mussels on a budget, head to Mer du Nord, a fish stand with multiple locations. It offers fresh mussels as well as an assortment of other seafood for €12. If you are hoping to indulge in a sit down meal but can’t blow your budget, amble towards Chez de Leon on on Rue de Bouchers–one of the busiest thoroughfares in Brussels. Although in an ultra-touristy location they serve up set menus of beer, mussels, and fries for only €13.
If you have a little bit more money to spend try Le Zinneke, for €36 you can get a four-course set menu that includes drinks. What’s more, if you show up before 8:30 pm, you get 25 per cent off your entire meal.
Finally, for those of you foodies looking to splurge on an all-out meal in Brussels, there is no place better to go than Le Marée, a Michelin starred restaurant specialising in traditional Belgian cuisine with a twist. Then, keep the food tour going with a trip to a local bar. Delirium is a Brussels fan favorite, occupying an entire street in the center of the city, it is perfect for those looking to make friends with locals and enjoy a night out.
For anyone who is seeking a quieter night, try O’Reilly’s Irish Pub. Despite its name, it serves up scores of traditional Belgian beers and ciders and is staffed entirely by Irish émigrés. You can expect friendly service and a catchy pop playlist pulsing in the background. Make sure to bring a scarf, because O’Reilly’s is best enjoyed from their rooftop terrace, offering chilly but picturesque views of the city.
If you are looking for the cheapest beer possible in Belgium there is only one place for you. Celtica offers €1 beer all night long, and paired with its live band and central location, it is perfect for those on a budget.
Make your way back to your hostel, as you will need your beauty sleep in order to wake up early and make the most of your last few hours in Brussels! Despite their well equipped public transportation, location is everything.
Try Brussels 2GO4 Quality Hostel, its low price (for Belgium) and location just feet from Le Grand Place make up for its odd choices in decor and inability to accommodate groups of 8 or more. Brussels also has a plethora of airbnb’s to chose from. For two people, Airbnbs in the city center can be found for prices as low as €30.
The next day, start your morning off right with a croissant and coffee at any of Brussel’s bustling cafes. Or if you are in the mood, head to Peck 47 for a lazy brunch. Their smoothies are refreshing and their waffles are a consistent fan favorite.
Today will be jam packed, with stops at all the biggest sights you have yet to see. First up is the Place de Jeu de Balle. A traditional Belgian market, it sells crafts, fresh cut flowers, and local delicacies. Come prepared to haggle, and you can score some souvenirs for a bargain.
The next stop along your path is the Mont des Arts. This hidden gem is one of the most beautiful public parks in Brussels and often features art exhibitions from locals.If you walk to the top of the stairs in the garden you will find one of the most all-encompassing views of the city.
Grab a coffee (again) for a much needed caffeine boost and make your way to Les Serres Royal. A classically styled greenhouse nestled in central Brussels, it was designed in 1873 by Alphonse Balat and reflects the styles of its time. A walk though Les Serres Royal feels like a step back in time with intricate pavilions, cupolas, and arcades waiting around every corner.
Your next stop, Place du Grand Sablon is on one of the most exclusive streets in Brussels, and an antique lover’s dream. Le Place du Grand Sablon houses antique sellers from around the country with exotic finds including jewellry, maps, and more.
A turn around the corner and you find yourself at Saint Nicholas’s Church. This 12th-century church is the oldest in Brussels and conveniently located on the path to your next location, Les Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert. Take a few minutes to tour the inside for some inspiring architecture.
The first covered shopping center in Europe, this glass roofed path of Les Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert is lined with luxury stores and limited addition exhibits. Make sure to pop into one of the numerous chocolate shops that line the street to grab the perfect post-trip treat.
Munching on your chocolate and taking a much needed break, your whirlwind 36 hours are suddenly up, but I would not be surprised if you were already planning your trip back to this breathtaking city.