A COMPLETE GUIDE TO BRUSSELS
Updated: Dec 28, 2018
View from Mont des Arts
Often named as Europe’s capital, Brussels is mostly known for being home to most of the EU Institutions and also as the place, where everything concerning Europe happens. However, Brussels has a fascinating history which dates back to the 11th century and this is more than obvious to its visitors, after a quick look to the buildings and the cobbled alleys of the historical district.
At this point, it’s fair to say that Brussels is among Europe’s most underrated capitals as almost everyone thinks about it as “business” trip destination or a layover city, rather than a “leisure” travel destination. We, however, searched a bit deeper than the surface and found a handful of stuff that might be useful during your stay in Brussels and came up with this (hopefuly) complete guide:
Belgium is a trilingual country, as French, Flemmish and German are all official languages. Most signs in Brussels are however only written in French and Flemmish and you should expect all employees in shops and public services to speak at least those two languages. That’s the reason why you’ll see that most metro stations have 2 names: in fact it’s the same word written in both French and Flemmish. English is also widely spoken by Belgians.
By plane: If you choose to fly to Brussels, you will either land at Zaventem Airport, where you’ll get the train to the city from, or at Charleroi Airport. The second one is popular for hosting low budget flights, but keep in mind that you’ll have to take a shuttle bus to Brussels from there, as there’s no train connection. The shuttle bus ticket can cost up to 14 euros and the ride lasts no more than an hour.
By train: Brussels is perfectly connected with its nearby cities by train. If you wish to go to Brussels from Paris, London or Amsteram, taking the train might be a wiser choice. Check Eurostar and Thalys, for detailed information and make sure to pre book your tickets according to the “the earlier the better” rule.
Brussels is a quite walkable city but at some point, you’ll need to use public transport as well. The best choice is to visit stib.be and choose the visitor/tourist ticket that’s best for you, according to the time you’re planning to spend in Brussels and the things you wish to see.
Taxis are only available on demand, which means you won’t see them out on the street quite often. You’ll need to call a taxi if you need one, or find a taxi stand and get into one. We used Autolux Taxi during our visits to Brussels and got really satisfied by their services.
If you prefer to move around by bike, Villo! is the most commonly used public bicycle rental programme, with several stations all over the city.
The Grand Place
Apart from the EU Institutions, Brussels also happens to be home to one of Europe’s most beautiful squares: the Grand Place. We dare you to visit it, look around you and try to find just one building that’s no jaw-droppingly beautiful. The Grand Place-a UNESCO World Heritage Site- used to host the city’s syndicates and is where the Town Hall and the Museum of the City of Brussels are situated, nowadays. You’ll find several cafes, restaurants, bars and souvenir shops both on the square and all over the streets around it, but keep in mind that the closer a shop is to the Grand Place, the pricier it gets.
Brussels' Town Hall, at Grand Place
The Manneken Pis
Let us warn you that this is definitely one of the most unusual and odd sites in Europe. It’s actually nothing more than a small bronze statue of a young boy, who…urinates. Yes, that’s right. One of the numerous legends behind it has it that the boy once urinated over a huge fire that threatened Brussels and thus the city was saved. The little boy not only has a sister, somewhere in the city (look for Jeanneke Pis), but is also given seasonal clothes, according to the occasion. It is of course free to see, but be patient if you want to take a photo with it, as the place is almost always too crowded.
Galeries Royales St Hubert
Even if you don’t intend to buy a single thing, you should still visit the city’s prettiest shopping arcades, and just do some innocent window shopping or a sip some coffee while eating your tarte sucree (*drooling sounds*). They’re located right next to the Grand Place and inside them; you’ll find some of the things that Belgium is famous for, like fine laces, leather bags and chocolate.
Located close to both the Grand Place and the Central Train Station, Brussels’ cathedral is one of the most imposing buildings in the city. Its gothic architectural style on the outside and its impressive stained glasses on the inside, make it a must see in Brussels. Entrance is free and you’ll only need to pay a small amount if you wish to visit the crypt inside it.
Basilica of the Sacred Heart
Another imposing church that you absolutely cannot skip is the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. To many visitors’ eyes, it’s even more impressive and worth seeing than the Cathedral itself, even though it’s slightly less easily approached, as you’ll need to use the metro and walk a bit, in order to get there. Take your time to admire both its external and internal design and don’t double-think paying the 4-5 euros ticket, which will get you up to the church’s terrace, where you’ll have a spectacular, panoramic view of the city from! (Use metro lines 2 or 6 and get off at Simonis station).
View from Basilica's terrace
Apart from the big city vibes, Brussels also offers a good living quality to its residents and visitors with its several parks, three of which have been our favourite ones:
Cinquantenaire Parc, is located near the so called quartier europeen (european neighbourhood) and is home to the “50th anniversary of the Indipendence of Belgium” arch, the Brussels’ Grand Mosque, the Royal Military Museum and the AutoWorld Museum. Do it as the locals and have a picnic in the park, if you’re lucky enough and the sun is up.
Brussels Park, is situated between The Royal Palace and the National Parliament and is another great location to kick back, enjoy a picnic or take a walk.
Jardin Botanique, can be accessed by metro (line 2,6 at Botanique/ Kruidtuin metro station) and is one of the city’s most peaceful places, full of benches, fountains and sculptures. Pay it a visit if you have some extra time left.
Brussles also has to offer more than a few choices when it comes to museums.
Our favourite one was hands down the Chocolate Museum, where we saw how the fine Belgian pralines are made, when and how the cocoa arrived in Europe and what kind of utensils people have been using through the years to drink their cup of chocolate! Tasting some chocolate was of course the best part of our visit!
If you have some more time and wish to visit more museums or if you are not that much into chocolate, then we’d suggest a visit to the Musical Instruments Museum, where you can find….uh musical instruments from all over the world and even get to listen to some melodies produced by them!
Last but not least, Belgium is also known for its tradition in the art of comics (the Smurfs were born here!) and of course there’s a museum about it.
Inside the Chocolate's Museum
We’re usually not very fond of this kind of places, but this one is an absolute exception! The Parlamentarium is actually the EU Parliament’s Visitors’ Centre and offers the most interesting and interactive experience you could have, when it comes to EU politics. It might sound boring but believe us when we say it is not! There is no entrance fee and once you get in, you’ll be given an audio guide available in all of the EU official languages. The excellently trained staff members are discreetly all over the place and totally willing to help you, guide you or answer your questions at any time. Take some time to visit their website for more information and try to include it to your visit, especially if time is not a matter for you (you’ll pleasantly lose track of time in there).
Atomium and Mini Europe
Not our favourite thing to see in Brussels but definitely one of the most recognizable sights: The Atomium! It’s a building constructed in the shape of a unit cell, made for the Expo ’58, which was held in Brussels.
Mini Europe is found in a space right next to the Atomium and is an exhibition of replicas of Europe’s most popular monuments and sites, like the Eiffel Tower, the leaning tower of Pisa, the Parthenon etc. It’s a fun way to spend a free day in Brussels, but be ready to wait on long lines, pay pricey tickets and spend quite some time underground if you don’t own a car, in order to get there (take metro line 6 and stop at Heysel/Heizel).
The Atomium: Brussels' symbol
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK
Waffles, frites, chocolate, beer
No visit to Brussels is complete, if you don’t eat your weight into waffles, frites and chocolate and if you don’t replace coffee, milk and water with beer, beer and beer for at least one day! Say yes to carbohydrates and have no regrets because Brussels! That’s why!
Waffles: You’ll most probably find decent waffles all over the place, but Vitalgaufre was our favourite place! We loved the apple flavoured one!
Frites: When it comes to French Belgian fries, Maison Antoine has the best reputation in town. Don't forget to add some sauce!
Beer: Beer lovers should pay a visit to the Delirium Café, a brewery that offers more than 2000 types of beer! Our suggestion : chocolate beer!
Chocolate: Little needs to be said about Belgian chocolate.
Neuhaus, Mary, Godiva, Leonidas and Pierre Marcolini are only some of the most popular chocolate shops in Brussels. We would suggest La Belgique Gourmande as a budget friendlier yet equally tasty choice (their speculous flavoured choco bites were out of this world).
Ice Cream: Capoue was our favourite artisanal gelato place in Brussels and we could only recommend it. Vannila is maybe the most common ice cream flavour ever, but it's worth tasting it at Capoue as well!
It's waffles' land!
Being a multicultural city, Brussels offers a really wide range when it comes to food. Italian, Japanese, Indian, Portuguese, Greek and Arab are only some of the cuisines you’ll find there.
Le Perroquet has been our absolute favourite place to eat in Brussels (try their pitas), both for its delicious dishes and for its design!
Head to Le Jardin de Nicolas for a more classic style designed all day café-restaurant. Hint: Perfectly located for food/coffee/dessert after your visit to Cinquantenaire Park.
Comme chez soi is said to be the absolute best restaurant in Brussels.
If you wish to take a quick break from your explorations to gain your power back, head to Exki (you’ll find them everywhere). They're quite famous for the fresh ingredients, used on their warm and cold snacks.
Apart from quick lunch and light dinner options, Le Pain Quotidien is a great place for breakfast too! Ask for their double cappuccino, and you’ll get a bowl. A “let’s sip our soup to get warm” kind of bowl!
Our dinner at Le Jardin de Nicolas
On our first visit to Brussels, we chose ApartHotel Adagio Access Brussels, for its central location and simple designed rooms.
On our second visit, we checked in at Chambord Hotel, also ideally located, with rich breakfast buffet and modern yet chic rooms.