If you’re like me and you think that artisan chocolate, craft beer and waffles are the best things in the world then you should go to Belgium. So here’s my 48 hour travel guide on things to do in Brussels!
Seriously, book your ticket now!
Arrival & check in
Where you want to stay very much depends on your budget. As I was travelling solo I opted for 2G04 hostel which honestly looked more like a boutique hotel than a hostel and is located 2min away from Grand Palais so you can walk pretty much everywhere.
First things first – The waffles
Who wants to explore the city on an empty stomach? I will tell you who – no one. It’s time for waffles!
I took Lonely Planet recommendation and headed to Mokafe which is located at probably the most beautiful shopping pavilion you will ever see – Galeries-St Hubert. The café slightly reminded me of little Parisian cafes and even though I didn’t have very high expectations (nor did I really know how a really good waffle has to taste) but oh god… it was AMAZING. Remember that locals only put sugar powder on their waffles so if you are going for a whipped cream and strawberries kinda lunch you might as well just write ‘TOURIST’ on your forehead. Unless, of course, you want to embrace it… nothing wrong with that.
Want to kill two birds with one stone? At St Hubert, you can find pretty much all the famous artisan chocolatiers, from Mary and Neuhaus to Pierre Marcolini. However, bear in mind that artisan chocolates come with a price tag. You probably will end up paying at least €15-20 for a small box of chocolates. Locals say that artisan chocolate doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s better, so if you don’t feel like paying €20 for a box of chocolates, just go to a local supermarket and look for Belgian chocolate brands such as Galler, Cote d’Or, Guylian, Godiva or Leonidas. Yes, I know, this exactly why I don’t have abs, but honestly, Belgium is not a place to try and develop them. Sorry to disappoint you…
The Royal Quarter
As you have another full day in Brussels, I would suggest starting your journey with the Royal Quarter and you can conquer the city centre the next day. I found the city quite small, so I walked pretty much everywhere and started my journey with Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula which reminded me of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.
You can then climb up the Mont des Arts to see a beautiful sunset (well… if you are travelling in winter) and don’t forget to stumble across the ‘Old England’ museum of musical instruments (I am not into musical instruments so I didn’t go there but the building itself is stunning. It has a rooftop café where you can admire the panoramic views and enjoy a cup of coffee).
Then head to the Place du Petit Sablon which I personally found very interesting. It’s a little garden surrounded by 48 bronze statues representing medieval guilds. I spent a good half an hour wandering around, trying to guess which statue represents which guild. Then up up the hill to Palais de Justice which will open another beautiful panoramic view of Brussels.
Then take the lift to get to the ground level and off to Eglise Notre-Dame de la Chapelle.
The EU quarter
I guess you kind of need to see the EU parliament. I mean if you think about Brussels that’s one of the first things that come to your mind, right? I have to say the EU quarter wasn’t particularly impressive. Not to me anyways. It was just a big area of tall glass buildings and loads of international people in their suits. If you would like to visit European parliament you can do this individually or as part of a group.
And to end your evening, the last stop on your agenda should be Parc Cinquantenaire. It reminded me of Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, so I thought it definitely had to be seen. I visited Brussels in November so it was quite dark by the time I got there and the park doesn’t have any street lights. Honestly, it was so dark that I started remembering all my dad’s advice about not walking alone in the dark as I might get murdered and chopped into pieces. The funny thing is that the park was just full of runners and no one else. I don’t know, maybe Belgians like running in the dark or maybe they just take their fitness very seriously. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose.
The most important part of your day – Beer tasting
Ok, let’s just be clear I don’t encourage anyone to drink, really…. However if you are in Belgium it would be a sin not to try some of that famous Belgian beer. Be careful though, it’s sooo deceitful.
I’ve noticed that they only serve it in half pints and I think they have a good reason for it. Dark beer in Belgium can be as strong as 11%. Not too sure how that classifies as beer but have a few of those and you are guaranteed a good hangover.
So where to go for the best Belgian beer? I won’t recommend any special overpriced beer tasting tours because there is only one place you need to visit – the Delirium. This bar serves over 2000 types and is a Guinness World record holder for… yes, the number of different beers they have on offer! So if this doesn’t sound like a good beer tasting experience to you, then I don’t know what does. Honestly, if you haven’t been to Delirium whilst in Brussels, then you haven’t been to Brussels at all.
And if you still feel like you haven’t seen enough today, then walk down the alleyway by the Delirium and you’ll see Jeanneke Pis, little sister (or girlfriend) of the famous Manneken Pis.
City centre walking tour
So if you visited Delirium the night before and made it to a 10am City centre walking tour, then I would like to pat you on a back! It’s tough.
I highly recommend free walking tours, especially if you are pressed for time. It will show you around the city centre and will tell you all the history you need to know behind the Grand Palais, Town Hall, Galeries Saint Hubert, Manneken Pis, The Royal Square and more. I would recommend booking your tour with Sandemans. (Well that’s at least what I did).
And honestly, if you are hungover… they also run tours at 1.30pm and 4pm every day. You are welcome.
MIMA or/and the Atomium
One of the things I always do when I travel I try to go to the local modern or contemporary art museum. Mainly because that’s what interests me, so if you are into contemporary art you should spend a couple of hours at MIMA. It’s based in the former brewery and has permanent and temporary exhibitions. The entry is €9 and more information about current exhibitions can be found here.
Or if you are into architecture and temporary event structures then visit the Atomium. It’s slightly outside of the city centre, but you can easily get there by metro (takes approx 40min from the Grand Palais). I would say that it’s definitely an icon of Brussels, however, my tour guide said that it’s just a failed attempt to build something as spectacular as an Eifell Tower. Let’s agree to disagree on this.
It’s true that similarly to the Eifel Tower, the Atomium was built for the World’s Fair. However, I personally think that the structure is unique in its own way and shouldnt be compared to the Eifel Tower. They also rent this space for events! As an Events Planner, I find this very impressive. Just imagine having your conference or a little drinks reception there! Anyways… It’s €12 to get in and you have to book your 2 hour slot online. They were not too strict on 2 hour slots when I visited it but it might be because it was November and it wasn’t exactly a peak tourist season.
The second most important part of your day – Dinner time!!!
Let’s be honest you can’t leave Brussels without having some Moules et frites and if you don’t like seafood then I can’t help you. I was recommended Chez Leon-rue des boucher, however I didn’t have a chance to visit it, so if you do, please let me know whether it was any good!
Pro tip: If you are in Brussels during winter months or Christmas season DO NOT MISS the light show at the Grand Palais. It’s absolutely gorgeous! The Christmas Market opens at the end of November and is only 2min away from the Grand Palais. Grab some gluhwein and soak in the atmosphere!
Jeu De Balle Flea Market
If you have a few hours to kill before your flight or your train journey home head to Jeu De Balle Flea Market. It’s one of the most famous flea markets in Brussels and the world’s only antique market that is open 365 days a year. You are sure to find some hidden gems there!
Check out and plan your next destination
Brussels is so easily accessible from pretty much anywhere in Europe. Take Eurostar to Paris, London or Amsterdam. Or take a train and continue your journey to Luxembourg or Germany. Or maybe visit Bruges? Oh I definitely need to add that one to my bucket list!