Back in March, I went to Belgium and took the opportunity to stay two days in the capital city of frites, chocolate, beer, comic books and Europe: Brussels!
I had no expectations of this city at all. I grew up in France, so I was very aware of the rivalry between France and its neighbouring country. I should say, France love to make fun of Belgium! If you have lived or spent time with the French, you will know that they love to poke fun at their neighbouring country. So, I decided not to prepare my visit like I usually do. I really liked how cosmopolitan and lively the city felt.
- 1 Stroll across the Grand-Place
- 2 Watch the Manneken-Pis
- 3 Watch the Atomium
- 4 Eat your way through Brussels
- 5 Check out the Comic Strip Walk
- 6 Join a walking tour
- 7 Check out the architecture
- 8 Get some retail therapy
- 9 Day trips from Brussels
- 10 Practical Information
Stroll across the Grand-Place
Like most Flemish cities, the main square is where all the important things happen. Brussels’ Grand-Place will leave you stunned by its magnificent architecture with a mixture of Gothic and Baroque style buildings. The Guild houses are beautifully decorated with sculptures and gilded carvings. The City Hall with its little funkiness and imposing tower dominate the square. It is believed that the architect committed suicide after noticing his colossal error (the building is not symmetrical) in the conception of the building which resulted in another tower being added at a later stage. Completing the impressive buildings is the Museum of Brussels which completes perfectly the other buildings despite the different designs.
Watch the Manneken-Pis
Most countries have a big imposing monument that symbolises their country: New York has the Statue of Liberty, Paris the Eiffel Tower or Barcelona the Sagrada Familia. For Brussels, the emblem of the city is a tiny little pissing boy. The Manneken-Pis is a public fountain. Although the little boy sculpture is naked, it is often dressed to celebrate some important events. He to have more than 800 outfits. Sadly for me when I visited, he wasn’t wearing any clothes! No one knows for sure the true origin of this little statue but it sure draws a big crowd. Especially when he is wearing clothes or urinating beer or wine! Did you know that the Manneken Pis as a sister and a dog? You can find Jeanneke-Pis on Rue des Bouchers. The dog, Zenneke-Pis can be found in the corner of Rue des Chartreux and Rue du Vieux-Marché-aux-Grains. Contrary to Manneken-Pis and Jeanneke-Pis, Zinneke- Pis is not an active fountain.
Watch the Atomium
The Atomium was built during the Brussels World’s Fair in 1958 and represents an iron crystal atom enlarged 165 billion times. It is possible to visit the inside since it hosts permanent and temporary exhibitions, shops, a restaurant in one of its spheres and a nice view over Brussels. However, I am happy to admire it from the outside. With its 102 meters of height and 9 spheres connected together by tubes, the Atomium halfway between a sculpture and architecture is not only the symbol of Brussels but also Belgium.
No trip to Brussels will be complete without discovering the city’s gourmet food. Between chocolate, waffles and fries, Brussels has no shortage of yummy food. First in your food discovery is the museum of chocolate – Choco-Story Museum – which invites you to discover the story of chocolate. All chocolate lovers will love this place where you can watch a master chocolatier demonstrate how to make pralines. Off course you will be able to taste some of the mouthwatering chocolate. Chocolate is not the only speciality in the country. The Belgian capital is also famous for fries, mussels (moules-frites) and waffles. You will see waffles everywhere in the city from restaurants, coffee houses, street stalls and vans. There are even street nicknames “waffle streets” due to its abundance of waffles restaurants. I found that the most delicious waffles were the simple and plain sugary one. Belgian do not joke with their fries, it’s maybe why they have the best in the world. Fries are long, crispy on the outside but soft on the inside. Fritland always has a long queue. In any case, foodies should not leave Brussels without trying out the 3 combos: beer, fries and waffles.
Fritland – 49 Rue Henri Maus, Brussels 1000
Check out the Comic Strip Walk
Belgium is known for its comics strips. You have not one but two museums dedicated to it: le Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinée and MOOF (Musée de la Bande Dessinée et des Figurines) However, you don’t have to visit the museums to see the comics.
There are dozens of murals scattered in the city allowing you to discover the many Belgian cartoonists and their characters like the famous Lucky Luke, Asterix and Obelix, Boule et Bill etc …
There is a map that takes you to the places where you can find comic strips but you can also discover them as you wander along the city.
Join a walking tour
The best way to discover a new place is by allowing yourself to get lost but if this is too much for you, why not join a walking tour? It’s a great way to discover the city’s highlights with the expertise of a local guide. The tours are always informative and entertaining. I joined a tour with Sandemans’ and we had lots of fun. The guide was knowledgeable and witty. Although the tour is a free tour, you are expected to give a tip, generally around €5.
Check out the architecture
Brussels has some great architecture, a good example will be at the Grand-Place. However, you can see impressive buildings throughout the city from Art Nouveau architecture to more recent styles. The Musical Instrument Museum, for example, is located in the impressive Old England Building which was once a department store (1899). If you are a music lover, you will like this museum which has an incredible collection of musical instruments.
Just moments away from the museum is the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula. You will notice the resemblance to Paris’ Notre Dame. The edifice hosts events like coronations, royal weddings and funerals.
Get some retail therapy
No city break will be complete without some shopping therapy. if you are looking to bring souvenirs back home, then chocolate is a must buy. Godiva does delicious chocolate at reasonable prices. For clothes shopping, head to the galleries. There are three: Galeries St-Hubert, Galeries du Roi and Galeries de la Reine.
Day trips from Brussels
Planning your trip:
To help you plan your trip to Brussels and Belgium, visit the Brussels Tourist Centre – VisitBrussels.
Brussels has superb air, road and rail connections. Flights to Brussels Airport and Brussels South Charleroi Airport are offered by a number of airlines. Eurostar and Thalys trains arrive into the centre of town at Brussels-Midi/Zuid station.
I hope you have found these Brussels attractions interesting and that you will give Brussels a try. If you have already been to Brussels, what was your experience like? I’d love to hear in the comments below!