Hi everyone! I’ve already written all about such European hotspots as the Netherlands, Ireland, and Barcelona, but how about beer and chocolate-friendly Belgium? Let’s take a trip to the capital city of Brussels, perfect for a weekend stay in a larger European itinerary.
Belgium is divided into a culturally French portion and a culturally Dutch portion, with Brussels, Bruxelles in French, containing a mix of the two. You could condense a visit to this city into a day trip, but a full weekend would allow you to take your time and really see it all! If you plan on sticking around even longer, tack on a trip to a nearby city like Bruges.
Ok, let’s get started, here’s 10 fun things to do in Brussels!
1. Behold the Atomium
Towering over Heysel Park, the Atomium is a 100-meter sculpture of a molecule, unveiled during the 1958 World Fair. Looking like it was transported right out of a 60’s-era superhero comic, this structure is open for visitors to enjoy panoramic views of the city or eat a luxury meal. The restaurant inside the Atomium is not exactly a budget-friendly option, but if you’re saving up for a unique experience, having dinner inside a giant metal atom might be the right choice!
2. Explore the Grand Place
Right in the center of Brussels, you’ll find a beautiful town square, which is home to lively markets, art installations, and more, depending on the time of year. Grab a Belgian beer al fresco and marvel at the gothic architecture of the 15th century Town Hall building and its neighbors. I’d definitely recommend coming twice, once during the day and once at night, to enjoy a bustling square in the sunshine, then take in the magical illumination of the buildings after dark.
3. Take a peek at Manneken Pis
After you’ve enjoyed the Grand Place, walk a couple of minutes to the strangely famous statue, Manneken Pis. Now, this is not a grand statue by any means. This little boy is 2-feet tall, typically surrounded by a crowd, which means you might end up asking yourself…what’s the big deal, anyway? Well, for one thing, the Manneken Pis has a wild history, from playing a role in distributing drinking water in the 1400s, to surviving a 1965 French bombardment, to being stolen several times from 1745 to 1965. He’s such a point of Brussels pride that he’s been dressed up in tiny costumes over 1,000 times!
4. Enjoy the Musical Instruments Museum
Located in a 19th-century Old England department store, the Musical Instruments Museum (MIM) is home to over one thousand instruments to admire. The building itself is an art nouveau and neoclassical masterpiece, while the instruments inside are arranged in four galleries: traditional instruments, keyboards, historical information, and mechanical instruments. There’s also a concert hall on the eighth floor, so check ahead of time for any upcoming performances!
5. Kick back in the Parc du Cinquantenaire
Translated to “50th anniversary Park,” the Parc du Cinquantenaire came to be in 1880, celebrating the titular 50th anniversary of Belgian independence. You’ll walk in through the majestic Triumphal Arch, then relax in one of many gardens, or wander along a winding pathway. You can also visit one of the nearby Royal Museums of Military or Art History. Better yet, lay out a blanket and have a picnic!
6. Visit the Royal Palace
Did you know Belgium had a royal family? You can visit the Belgian monarchy’s old stomping grounds, the Palais Royal in Brussels. Even though the Royals moved out of Brussels to Laeken about a century ago, this palace still serves a political and symbolic purpose. It’s open for visitors only in the summer months: mid-July until early September. You can go inside from Tuesday to Sunday from 10:30 AM to 5 PM. Check out the ornate furnishings, beautiful art, and touch of history!
7. Jump into a comic strip
In addition to the murals of Tintin you’ll find all around the city center, the most famous residing at the comic strip wall at Rue de l’Etuve, Brussels is also home to the Comic Art Museum/Comic Strip Center. Tourists looking to enjoy some poppy street art should take a walk around the comic strip wall, and die-hard comic fans can explore a range of permanent exhibitions and temporary displays at the museum itself.
8. Eat up!
After all that walking around and sightseeing, you’ve got to stop for a bite. Of course, Belgium is known for its waffles, and you’ll see vendors selling these delightful snacks all over the city. You can grab one of these on the go, or pinpoint hotspots like the small but popular Vitalgaufre or the lovely Maison Dandoy, famous also for its ice cream! Still, waffles aren’t your only attraction here, with lots of options for fine Belgian chocolate. You’ve got Godiva, of course, as well as luxury Maison Pierre Marcolini.
9. Drink up!
At the end of a long day of touring and chowing down on some waffles, you’ve got to wash it all down with a good Belgian beer. You’ll get them in pretty much any bar or café that suits your fancy, but you can also spring for an entire beer tasting tour! You’ll be able to enjoy a fun, boozy night while learning the history of the local drink.
10. Check out the Magritte Museum
If you’re a fan of surrealist art, and of course of René Magritte himself, then don’t forget to schedule a visit to the Musée Magritte. This is the world’s largest collection of Magritte’s art, including The Treachery of Images (aka the “ceci n’est pas une pipe” one), as well as The Son of Man (you know, the man with an apple for a face). Meander about on your own, or take a guided tour for extra information!
Sounds pretty fun, right? I know! I’m about ready to hop on a train and roll on over to Brussels this very weekend. If you’ve got any other fun recommendations for this city, be sure to leave them in the comments below!
Don’t forget to see what else Europe has to offer, and save on your budget by spending time in the 10 cheapest European destinations!