Brussels, much like the country where it sits in, can be small enough that you can cover many places in a single day. It’s often overlooked as merely a crossroad for travelling between Amsterdam,London and Paris, but stay longer in Brussels and you”ll be in for a treat.
I was lucky to have lived here for two years – and with possibility of coming back for an extended stay soon. I must say that Brussels has a special place to me. 🙂
Here are my favourite places in the city:
This Brussels attraction is a tourist hotspot and was voted as the most beautiful town square in Europe. Grand Place’s (or Groot Market’s) preserved Medieval architecture easily transports you to Brussels’ small town beginnings. Stand in the middle of the square and rotate 360 degrees to view the old guildhalls, the breadhouse and the towering Brussels City Hall. Try asking locals to tell you the conversations of the statues on top of the Grand Place buildings and you’ll be in for a funny treat.
The restaurants in the square are pricier than the usual but if you don’t mind spending 1-2€ extra for a drink, sit and order a glass of biere blanche while you people-watch. Though, I best enjoy it by relaxing and sitting in the middle of the square with a supermarket- bought red wine (quality is still very good) and a platter of cheese.
Grand Place is also the city’s most happening place with the Brussels flower carpet happening every other year in August and the Brussels Jazz Marathon every May. But do visit in winter during Plaisirs d’Hiver as the city hall becomes the façade of a stunning music and light show.
I have a love-hate relationship with Gare Centrale. I hate it because it often stinks of garbage but love it because it serves as the gateway to everything in Belgium. With three hours or less of travel time from Brussels to anywhere in Belgium, get a Go Pass (10 train rides for 50€ for under 26/ 74€ for those over 26) for an easy daytrip to various Belgian towns.
Don’t just leave Brussels yet. Wander around the Gare Centrale and catch the street musicians along the main hall for cheap musical treat. And if you are not into classical music, the Brussels from Lady Gaga to the Beach Boys, which is quite relaxing especially after a long day at work.
Parc du Cinquantenaire
On my first day in Brussels, my host took me for a five minute walk to this park and I was amazed that I live so close. And since then, Parc du Cinquantenaire, with its triumphal arch and stunning arcade, became part of my Brussels daily life. This is where I walk on my way to work in the morning, jog in the afternoon and go to read a book or chill-out with my friends on weekends.
Brussels doesn’t have a great cityline, however it is a treat to see the city’s Medieval and modern rooftops from Place Poalaert. Try spotting Brussels city hall or Brussels’ own Basilique du Sacré-Cœur. And if you have perfect 20/20 vision, let’s see if you can spot the Atomium.
In summer, it transforms as one of the locations for Apero Urbains, but don’t get too drunk as the Brussels’ Palais de Justice is just on your right (though, I wouldn’t count on getting imprisoned as it has been in “restoration” for a long time now).
Centro Cabraliego de Bruselas
Just a few metres away from Place Poelaert, Centro Cabraliego de Bruselas, a Spanish tapas place, is a testament to how Brussels is a melting pot of cultures. Here, I can order a Belgian beer and Spanish tapas to a French-speaking bartender and listen to a Scottish guy with bagpipes. And I come with my American, English, French and Taiwanese friends to make our own mini United Nations. But in spite of our different nationalities, we all agree that with its one-euro beers and cheap tapas, this place is worth a weekly visit.
(Photo from natsu)
Brussels’ Musical Instruments Museum
Upon entering the Musical Instruments Museum, they’ll give you a wireless headphone and pamphlet. Many people, including me, did ask: “What am I going to do with this?” From the headphones come the instruction: “go next to a displayed instrument, and the instrument tune will play automatically”.
The interactivity of Brussels’ MIM is entertaining and helped me appreciate the hundreds of musical instruments on show.
A friends” tip actually was to start the tour in the morning and finish the day with a drink from the atelier on top of the museum enjoying a stunning view of Brussels rooftops.
(Photo from magnusfranklin)
Friterie Chez Antoine
One lesson I learned from two years living in Brussels is to never call fries “French”. This classic favourite didn’t originate from France but from Belgium. Belgians love their frites and the best place to enjoy it is in Friterie Chez Antoine.
There are other places to get fries in Brussels, but this local place comes on top of my list. You may wait in line for 10 minutes before you get to order but the queues are there for a reason.
Once you ordered, your fries will come in a cornet and sauce. TIP: Go beyond the usual catsup or mayonnaise and order it with sauce andalouse or the spicy delights – sauce brasil and samurai.
(Photo from Travlr)
In one of Brussels’ small alleys, you can find Delirium. Delirium holds the world-record for having the most number of beers served from a single establishment. Ask for “Une bière s’il vous plait” and they’ll give you a two-inch thick beer menu. Browse the pages to see its 2000 beer selection and take your pick from coconut flavoured beers to Homer Simpson’s favourite beer – Duff. If you’re still clueless, ask the bartender for their advice and you won’t be disappointed.
By midnight, this small bar turns into a local club where the furniture becomes the dance floor.
Stand on one of the tables and chairs and dance until the morning. This place also offers international and French dance mix rarely found in other clubs in Brussels. Specifically watch out when they play a dance mix of Louise Attaque – J”t”emmène au vent as everyone just goes crazy.
This is a place where local and young expats party on weekends so better come before midnight and reserve your dancefloor table.
Amadeo Restaurant and Rue Saint-Catherine
Spot the cow while walking along Rue Saint-Catherine and you’ll enter this quirky restaurant – Amadeo. The interior looks like a library and an American western saloon combined. Get rough and tough (and try to come with an empty stomach) to take full advantage of their affordable eat-all-you-can spare ribs. Truly, the meat-lover in me wasn’t disappointed in Brussels.
After your first rib rack, raise your hand to receive your next one. Though don’t fill yourself with ribs, as the delicious baked potato and its unique sauce should also be sampled and enjoyed.
Try to beat my record of eating seven racks of ribs. Let me know once you get to do it!
Not much into meat? Sample Rue Saint-Catherine’s other restaurants. My advice: head on to Hong Kong delight for its delicious roasted duck, steamed vegetables and its huge dimsum selection.
Have you been to Brussels? What are your favourite places?