When I think of decadent chocolates, beers, top restaurants, vintage markets and medieval buildings, Belgium tops my list as a-must visit. This is my fourth time to explore Brussels and I never get tired of the attractions this cosmopolitan city has to offer. Two years ago when I was there in September, it was the yearly Car-Free Sunday where motorists are encouraged to give up their cars for a day. Car traffic not being allowed in the Brussels Region from 9:30 am till 7:00 pm. It’s almost surreal how good the feeling is walking along the empty streets. Numerous activities take place during the day like push bike riding, flea markets and street parties, it’s so much fun!
Brussels is full of top attractions and a self-guided walking tour is one of the best ways to venture out around the Old Town. There are lots of areas where you can have a seat or perhaps enjoy a Belgian waffle or chocolate. The public transport network is efficient so it’s easy to travel around.
GRAND PLACE (GROTE MARKT)
Registered on the Unesco World Heritage List in 1998, Grand Place is with out a doubt one the most beautiful medieval city centre squares in the world. Grandeur, elaborate baroque style, gothic architecture and opulent ornamentation, this square will leave every visitor in awe. Night time is equally as stunning when The Guild Houses, The City Hall (Hôtel de Ville) and The Maison du Roi (Museum of the City of Brussels) and many others become illuminated in spectacular fashion.
LES GALERIES ROYALES SAINT- HUBERT
Galerie de la Reine and Galerie du Roi
This Florentine Renaissance style arcade is elegant and very classy! Take a delightful stroll inside this glass-covered shopping centre. Feast your eyes with an array of Belgian chocolates, spoil yourself with high-end brands, taste Belgium offerings in one of the restaurants/cafes and much more. Built in 1847, Les Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert is the first glazed shopping arcade in Europe. The galleries are divided into three parts, the Queen’s Gallery, the Gallery of the King and the Galerie des Princes.
Between the rue de L’Étuve and rue Chene
I’d say if you haven’t seen this little bronze statue you’ve not been to Brussels! He is tiny but can draw a throng of tourists. During major events and festivals in Brussels he also dress up for the occasion. Many legends have surrounded this tiny statue, according to one, he reputedly extinguished a bomb destined for the Grand Place by simply passing his water over the sizzling fuse and thus saved the city. Designed in 1388 the best known landmark in Brussels was put in place as a fountain to supply drinking water to the neighbourhood. Jeanneke-Pis, is the sister of Manneken Pis located near the Grand Place.
JARDIN DU MINT DES ARTS
Gare Centrale, Putterie
Manicured and well-maintained gardens with beautifully lined trees, at the entrance is the King Albert I statue. The garden has plenty of park benches, a great place to sit down after a day’s walking. Elevated, it offers panoramic vantage points over Brussels, particularly the Old Town and the City Hall spire. Sadly on this last visit, I noticed graffiti all over the base of the horse statue, a shameless scourge that seems to continue throughout Europe.
ROYAL PALACE OF BRUSSELS
Rue Brederode 16, 1000 Bruxelles, Belgium
Located next to Brussels Park is the majestic Royal Palace of Brussels, the official palace of the King and Queen of Belgium. Rich in history, the tour inside the palace offers visitors a glimpse into the past. The ballroom is extensive with an exquisite myriad of sparking chandeliers making the room feel like a fairyland, it’s simply breathtaking, a must tick-off your list!
When to visit: The palace is only open to the public for a few months during the summer, from the 21 July (the national bank holiday) until the beginning of September. The Palace opens from Tuesday until Sunday at 10:30 am and closes at 5:00 pm. On Monday the Palace is closed.
Square de l’Atomium
Enter a sci-fi world! These big silver balls connected by silver rods may look like a film set from Star Trek but they were built for the World Fair of Brussels in 1958. This monumental landmark represents the symbol “Iron” enlarged 165 billions times! It is almost 102 meters high and has nine spheres. Today Anatomium is one of Brussels most iconic images. So what’s inside: there are permanent exhibitions to be discovered, travel by futuristic elevator, enjoy sweeping views of Brussels from the top, and sumptuous bites at the restaurant. Entrance fee €16.00 per adult, discounted tickets apply to Seniors, Children and Students. Note, it’s cheaper to book online. From the city centre, it is easily accessible by public transport tram or metro to Heysel station.
Belgian Waffles: The question, what is the capital of Belgium? Guess what’s is the answer: Waffles! No trip to Brussels is complete without a Belgian waffle either as simple as it comes, or with a ton of topping delights. Though no wee wee as the little Boy may suggest!
Belgian Chocolates: Immerse yourself with fine and decadent chocolates. Shops are literally everywhere. You can even visit the Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate (Musee du Cacao et du Chocolat) which is located near the Grand Place to learn about chocolate history and chocolate-making process.
Belgian Beers: During my first visit in Belgium, I asked for a glass of beer. I was utterly surprised when the barman handed me a menu, their list was extensive. Although I’m aware of the popular brands, I ended up having a Chimay Blue at 9% ABV dark ale, very potent! Beer in Belgium varies from pale lager to amber ales, lambichbeers, Flemish red ales, sour brown ales, strong ales, and stouts. In 2016, there were approximately 224 active breweries in Belgium. Cheers!
TRANSPORT IN BRUSSELS
If you arrive in Brussels by high-speed train, the three major stations are Brussels North aka Gare du Nord (FR) or Noordstation (NL), Brussels Centrale aka Gare Centrale (FR) or Brussel Centraal (NL) and Bruxelles-Midi/Zuid aka Gare du Midi (FR) or Zuidstation (NL). Midi is the ideal starting point for your journeys to nearby France, Netherlands, United Kingdom, Germany and Luxembourg connecting travellers to the entire Belgian domestic railway network. Brussels is a bilingual city and most places have Dutch and French names.
There are two international airports in Brussels, the Brussels Airport (BRU) and Brussels South Charleroi Airport or Charleroi Airport(CRL). Located in Zaventem, the Brussels Airport is a 20 minute ride by train from the city serviced by buses and taxis/ride share etc. Charleroi Airport on the other hand is also serviced by transport options but travelling time is around 50 minutes, it’s far so plan for this. Another option is by train to Charleroi then transfer to a bus for the airport. If you’re catching an early flight at Charleroi Airport it is best to stay close to Brussels Midi train station where the Flibco bus originates or in Charleroi. Taxi fare to Charleroi airport from Brussels city centre is around €90. There is a merit to book your seat in advance as customers with an online reservation are given priority and it’s cheaper than buying from the driver on-board on the day of travel, also for what ever reason, if the bus gets full you could miss your flight.
Navigating around Brussels can easily be done on foot if your hotel is within reach of the city centre. But if you prefer public transport, you can catch the Metro, Bus and Tram as options to get around.
What is your favourite spot(s) in Brussels to visit and why? Leave a comment below. Thank you.