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This post covers the top things to do in Brussels, plus where to stay, and what to eat and drink in Brussels.
I ended up visiting Brussels twice on my European adventure. This was surprising as at the beginning of my trip, Belgium wasn’t even on my radar. But I really enjoyed the city and there were plenty of things to do in Brussels to keep me entertained. Seeing as I spent nearly a week in the city altogether, I thought I would compile a list of what to do in Brussels. Whether you’re spending a week or a weekend in Brussels, this post is filled with the best recommendations.
Where to stay in Brussels
Firstly, let’s talk about where to stay in Brussels. Formerly known as Sleephere Brussels (what it’s called on Hostelworld, which seemed to have better rates than the official website), Captaincy Guesthouse is amazing. There was only room for 12 people and I stayed in the 4-bed female dorm, which was located in the loft space. The large room with single beds had the biggest bathroom I’ve ever seen located steps away. Breakfast every morning included fruit, fresh bread and sometimes pastries. The owner, Karel and his beautiful dog, Oasis would be at the table every morning too. He’d talk to us about our plans and offer suggestions. He was extremely friendly and hospitable. I highly recommend staying with him when in Brussels. I’ve also stayed at Generation Europe Youth Hostel, which wasn’t as good, but it’s another option if Captaincy has no vacancies.
Here are my other favourite hostels in Europe & my hostelling tips
Things to do in Brussels
1. Do a free walking tour
I did a free walking tour in nearly every city I visited in Europe. The one I chose in Brussels was a Sandemans New Europe Tour. It went for a little over three hours, with a 20-minute break included. My guide was a Scottish guy called Fraser and he was fantastic. He had an awesome sense of humour and you could tell he was passionate about his adopted home. We visited a lot of Brussels’ main attractions too. I highly recommend doing one to learn more about the city’s history and to get some local insider tips!
2. Check out the view from Mont des Arts
A historic square near Brussels city centre, Mont des Arts has one of the city’s best views. From here, you can see Brussels’ Dutch-influenced architecture and the towering Town Hall. This was the end point of the free walking tour mentioned above.
3. Visit the Atomium and Mini-Europe
One of the top things to do in Brussels is visit the Atomium. It was an attraction I didn’t get to visit in Brussels. The day I was going to go it ended up bucketing down with rain, so I didn’t feel like an outdoor adventure. It’s about 30 minutes by public transport from the city and was originally built for the World Fair in 1958. There are eight levels spread over five spheres. Mini-Europe is a miniature park located at the Atomium’s foot too. You can purchase Atomium tickets here.
4. Say hi to Manneken Pis
If you haven’t heard of Manneken Pis, where have you been hiding? The tiny bronze statue of a boy urinating is world famous. He gets visited by hundreds of people daily and he has a closet filled with a thousand different costumes. There are two other statues in Brussels inspired by Manneken Pis: a girl called Jeanneke Pis, who was locked up in an alley when I visited. Zinneke Pis is also a statue of a urinating dog.
5. Visit the Tintin Boutique
I happened to walk past the Tintin Boutique multiple times on my first stop in Brussels, but I knew I had to visit once I returned. Tintin was from Brussels, so it’s only right to pick up a souvenir when in the city. The boutique is stocked with postcards, books, figurines, t-shirts and more.
6. Marvel at Brussels’ Grand Place
Brussels’ Grand Place, or Grote Markt, is the heart of the city and an UNESCO World Heritage Centre. It’s a beautiful square surrounded by ornate buildings. The Dutch architecture and golden details that glisten in the sunlight were unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. The Town Hall is the most domineering building, while the others have their construction dates emblazoned on the front. They are home to restaurants, cafes and shops. But I found myself always being able to navigate my way around the city from Grand Place.
7. Go to a museum
Like most European cities, one of the best things to do in Brussels is visit one of its many museums. I heard good things about the Musical Instruments Museum and the Royal Museum of Fine Arts. But other popular options include Horta Museum, BELvue Museum, Magritte Museum, the Museum of the City of Brussels and Autoworld. For a museum with a difference, visit Schaerbeek Museum of Beer.
8. Stroll by the Royal Palace
When I first saw the Royal Palace, I thought it had the least amount of security I’d ever seen. Our tour guide then told us that although its the Belgian King and Queen’s official palace, they live in the Royal Palace of Laeken, on Brussels’ outskirts. Nonetheless, it is a beautiful building to admire.
9. Visit the Palais du Justice
Although the Palais du Justice is still Belgium’s most important court building, there are many parts accessible to visitors. Check out the view of Brussels from Poelaert Square, where the building’s main entrance is located. Then step inside to see the impressive interior.
10. Go for a walk through Parc de Bruxelles
Located near the Royal Palace, Parc de Bruxelles is always bustling with locals and visitors. It looked especially good in fall when the leaves change colour, but apparently it hosts many festivals and events in summer too. Although this urban park is easy to reach from the city centre, other parks to visit in Brussels include Parc du Cinquantenaire, Leopold Park and the Botanical Gardens.
11. Check out European Parliament
I walked from the city to European Parliament one day, to check out the building and surrounding area. It was cool to see where it all happens, but then I walked back via Rue de Luxembourg and discovered a foodie haven. There was a food market, food trucks and plenty of cafes and restaurants.
12. Find some murals
One of my favourite things to do in Brussels is spot street art. The city actually has many comic strip-inspired artworks and other murals spread throughout the city. On my last day I did follow this Comic Strip Walk guide on Google Maps for a little while and discovered some cool pieces I never would have seen on my own, like a Manneken Pis mural.
13. Visit the Belgian Comic Strip Centre
If you haven’t quite got your comic fix yet, check out the Belgian Comic Strip Centre. It says it’s “just as much a tribute to the pioneers as a glimpse of contemporary comics art.” The Smurfs and Tintin lead the way, but there are permanent and temporary exhibitions the whole family will enjoy.
14. Go on a day trip
It was so easy to do a day trip from Brussels. With some friends I met at my guesthouse, I visited Bruges. We just turned up at Central Station, an assistant helped us buy tickets, and we were on a train in about 10 minutes. It takes about an hour to get to Bruges and it cost €15 for the return trip. I loved Bruges. We spent our time drinking hot chocolate out of bowls, feasting on fries and waffles, and wandering the picturesque streets and canals. Other day trips from Brussels include Ghent and Antwerp, but Bruges is my favourite.
15. Wander Sablon
Known as Brussels’ historic upper district, Sablon is a great place to spend time outside of the city centre. On the weekends, the Place du Grand Sablon transforms into a fantastic antique market. There’s also Belgium’s Jewish Museum, the Sablon Notre-Dame Church and Square du Petit Sablon.
16. Window shop
Well, you could actually do some shopping on Rue Neuve, which is home to Europe’s favourite chain stores and receives 43,000 visitors daily. But Galeries Saint-Hubert is more about the window shopping, with its delicious chocolate shops. Avenue Louise is also known for its luxurious boutiques. There’s Chaussée d’Ixelles as well, which is Brussels’ second busiest shopping street.
17. Visit a market
Besides the antique market in Sablon, other markets to visit include the daily flea market at Place du Jeu de Balle, the Sunday market at Gare du Midi and the Place Chatelain market on Wednesday evenings.
What to eat and drink in Brussels
18. Belgian chocolate
A local told me that although there are plenty of expensive chocolate shops lining the streets in Brussels, the best Belgian chocolate is lining the shelves in the supermarkets. So I sampled quite a few flavours and brands, but focused on praline, of course. Check out my personal favourites: Guylian, Côte d’Or and Galler. I’ve also heard Dolfin chocolate is a must.
19. Fries at Fritland
On my walking tour, our guide told us that Fritland has the best fries in Brussels. So naturally we went there for lunch after our tour. There was quite a line for a Friday lunchtime, but it moved quickly. Meal options include fries, fries and sauce, and other dishes like sandwiches and crumbed chicken. The secret to Belgian fries is that they are double fried, which means they are extra crispy. This is exactly how I like my fries, so naturally I was in heaven and went back on more than one occasion.
20. A half and half at Le Cirio
When we got back from Bruges, my new friends recommended heading to Le Cirio, as they’d visited the previous night. A cool brasserie with 20th century decor and hilarious servers, Le Cirio also do a half and half drink: half white wine and half champagne. Our server poured the drinks at our table and daringly filled each flute to the top. Although I’ve never been a white wine drinker, I did enjoy this drink and this restaurant.
21. Belgian waffles
Ah, Belgian waffles. They’re almost as good as Belgian fries 😉. Traditionally, Belgians don’t eat the waffles topped with everything (cream, fruit, chocolate, etc). They eat the €1 Liege waffle, which is a sugary snack. Or the Brussels waffle, which is a traditional waffle sprinkled with icing sugar. Naturally I sampled all of them. There are waffle stores located everywhere around the city.
22. A €1 beer from The Big Game Brussels
On the other side of the stock exchange building from Le Cirio, The Big Game Brussels is known for its excellent drink specials, including €1 beers. What more could you want?
23. Visit Drug Opera
When I walked past this building in Brussels, I instantly fell in love with how well decorated it was for the holidays. Drug Opera has a large menu filled with Belgian beers, cocktails and food.
Along with waffles, fries and chocolate, Belgium is known for its beer. Delirium Café hold the Guinness World Record for having the most varieties of commercially available beer on offer: 3,162 beers. Good luck picking a drink off that menu!
25. All-you-can-eat ribs at Amadeus
On my second visit, my roommate mentioned Amadeus to me. Unfortunately, they are only open for dinner so I didn’t get to eat all-you-can-eat ribs, but hopefully, you will enjoy it for me.
26. Fish and chips at Bia Mara
This has to be my favourite Brussels restaurant. Bia Mara is a casual place that serves the best fish and chips in Brussels. I actually tried the panko-crumbed chicken with garlic truffle sauce and it was perfection. The chicken was moist and the seaweed-salted chips were perfectly crispy. Highly recommend visiting when in Brussels.