Discovering Brussels: Unveiling the Allure of Belgium’s Capital

You may not know this but I live just 4 hours drive away from Brussels. It took me seven years of living in Germany and I finally decided to visit this Belgian capital. I had no idea what this city was like, except I knew of just Belgian chocolate, Belgian Waffles, and Belgian beer.

I mean, when we talk about the beauty of iconic European cities, people mention Paris, Amsterdam, Prague, or Rome – but hardly anyone ever mentions Brussels, right? So, is Brussels worth visiting? Let me introduce the city and I will talk about it from a traveler’s perspective based on my experience.

Introducing Brussels

A Pretty Street in Brussels
A Pretty Street in Brussels

Nestled at the heart of Europe, Brussels, Belgium’s capital, is a city that effortlessly blends rich history, modernity, and cultural diversity. After all, it’s also considered the capital of the EU. Yes, the European Commission, the European Council, the Council of the European Union, and the European Parliament are all headquartered in Brussels.

Brussels is a city of many different languages with a multi-lingual population. French and Flemish Dutch are the official languages and of course, people speak English too.

If you look at the map, you will notice that Belgium is surrounded by the Netherlands, Germany, France, and Luxembourg on the sides and one part faces the North Sea. That’s also one of the reasons why Belgium has a multicultural population. The city is called “Bruxelles” in French and “Brussel” in Dutch.

1) Brussels’ Iconic Square – Grand Place

Yes, all European capitals and even not-so-iconic cities have beautiful town squares, but the one in Brussels is often considered to be the grandest of them all. Brussels’ city center is called the Grand Place.

Brussels Grand Place - the iconic center
Brussels Town Hall at Grand-Place – the iconic center via Unsplash

Grand Place is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the central square of Brussels, the Grand Place, or Grote Markt, stands as a testament to the city’s medieval grandeur. Surrounded by opulent guildhalls, the Town Hall, and the King’s House (Maison du Roi), this square is a mesmerizing blend of Gothic and Baroque architecture.

Dominating one side of the square is the Brussels Town Hall. This Gothic masterpiece dates back to the 15th century and features a 96-meter tall tower with a statue of Saint Michael, the city’s patron saint, perched at the top. You will see the spire of Brussels town hall from some of the nearby streets as a nice backdrop.

Visitors can explore the interior of the Town Hall and marvel at its opulent rooms, including the Gothic Room and the Maximilian Hall.

Brussels Main Square - Grand-Place
Brussels Main Square – Grand-Place

The ornate facades of the guildhalls, adorned with gold leaf and intricate sculptures, create a visual spectacle. Each guildhall has its own unique design, representing the prosperity and craftsmanship of the various guilds that once dominated Brussels.

Opposite the Town Hall stands Maison du Roi or the King’s House, also known as the Breadhouse (Broodhuis in Dutch). The building’s facade is an outstanding example of Neo-Gothic architecture. Today, the King’s House houses the Brussels City Museum, where visitors can delve into the city’s history through various exhibits and artifacts.

December Afternoon in Grand Place, Brussels
Maison du Roi in Grand Place with a Christmas tree on a December Afternoon

Both Brussels City Museum (Maison du Roi) and Brussels Town Hall (Hôtel de Ville de Bruxelles) are the two most striking buildings and they look like they are competing against each other because they are on opposite sides of the square.

The Grand Place is not just a picturesque square; it’s the beating heart of Brussels, hosting vibrant events and festivals throughout the year. It takes on a magical aura in the evening when the buildings are beautifully illuminated. The play of light accentuates the architectural details, creating a romantic and enchanting atmosphere.

Honestly, if you do nothing in Brussels but just explore the Grand Place, you will be fully satisfied for your first visit.

Grand Place, Brussels, Belgium
Grand Place, Brussels, Belgium via Unsplash

2) Brussels is Weird: Manneken Pis & Jeanneke Pis

Brussels is somewhat weird. Weird doesn’t mean bad but is usually funny. Let’s talk about the Manneken Pis & Jeanneke Pis statues.

Manneken Pis statue in Brussels dressed up for Christmas
Manneken Pis statue in Brussels dressed up for Christmas via Unsplash

The Manneken Pis statue isn’t big but is funny. It is near the Grand Place, the 55 cm Manneken Pis statue captures the whimsical spirit of Brussels. It is just a statue of a child peeing in a pool and represents the “irreverent spirit” of Brussels.

This diminutive bronze sculpture has become a beloved symbol of the city, with its wardrobe changed regularly in homage to various themes and occasions.

There are many funny stories about the origin of the Manneken Pis statue and for me, the best one is that a man lost his son and he declared that when he finds him, he will donate a statue of him to the city doing whatever the kid was doing at that time.

Jeanneke Pis bronze statue in Brussels
Jeanneke Pis bronze statue in Brussels via Unsplash

Jeanneke Pis is also a pissing statue but is newer and was made as a counterpoint for Manneken Pis. It is a 50 cm bronze statue of a little girl with pigtails peeing in a pool. Brussels, how weird are you?

The locals toss coins into the basin of Jeanneke Pis that get collected by a non-profit organization called Horizon-Espoir ASBL.

3) The Hill of the Arts: Mont des Arts

Mont des Arts in Brussels
Mont des Arts in Brussels via Unsplash

Mont des Arts, or the “Hill of the Arts,” is a cultural and artistic complex located in the heart of Brussels, Belgium.

It is situated between the historic town center and the uptown neighborhoods of Brussels, offering stunning views of the city. The Mont des Arts is not only a beautiful green space but also a hub for museums, exhibitions, and cultural activities.

One of the highlights of Mont des Arts is the panoramic view it offers of Brussels. Visitors can climb the stairs to the elevated platform and enjoy breathtaking vistas of the cityscape, including the iconic Atomium in the distance.

The view from Mont de Arts in Brussels
The view from Mont des Arts in Brussels via Unsplash

The Mont des Arts is home to the Royal Library of Belgium, a significant cultural institution. The library houses an extensive collection of books, manuscripts, and documents, making it a valuable resource for researchers and scholars. The library building itself is an architectural masterpiece.

Apart from the library, the Mont des Arts is known for its well-maintained gardens and green spaces. Visitors can stroll through the landscaped lawns, and flower beds, and enjoy a peaceful retreat from the bustling city life. The gardens provide a scenic setting for relaxation, picnics, and outdoor activities.

4) Belgian Waffles, Chocolate, and Beer

Eating a waffle in Brussels
Eating a waffle in Brussels

No visit to Brussels is complete without indulging in its world-famous Belgian waffles. From street vendors to quaint cafes, the aroma of freshly baked waffles wafts through the city streets, inviting you to savor this delightful treat.

What I like about the Belgian waffles is that they are light and airy, yet crispy. The ones that I’m used to eating in Germany feel more cake-ish.

If you don’t have a sweet tooth, you can also try the savory waffles that are with cheese, kind of like sandwiches. My husband ordered one with cheese, chicken, and chili and it was yummy. Mine was with dark chocolate and my daughter had a plain one. I found mine to be the tastiest.

La Belgique Gourmande chocolatier in Brussels
La Belgique Gourmande chocolatier in Brussels via Unsplash

If you are a chocoholic, then you would love Belgian Chocolate. Brussels is a chocolate paradise with dozens of shops scattered across the city.

For a full-on immersive experience, consider visiting a chocolate factory or doing a chocolate-making workshop. Here are two that I recommend:

To find the best chocolatier in Brussels, you don’t have to go out of your way because when you visit Grand-Place, you will see some chocolate shops right there. Check out:

  • Elisabeth Chocolatier near Manneken Pis statue,
  • Neuhaus Chocolates Bruxelles Grand Place,
  • La Belgique Gourmande, and
  • Chocolate Mary.

Of course, the world-famous Godiva Chocolatier is also here at Grand-Place but why eat something that you will anyway find all over the world? (My first taste of Godiva was in the USA). Discover the artistry of Belgian chocolatiers and treat your taste buds to exquisite pralines.

Brussels has an amazing beer scene - Belgian Beer
Brussels has an amazing beer scene – Belgian Beer via Unsplash

Enough about chocolates, let’s talk about the famous Belgium beer. I particularly enjoy the brown ales and Flemish red ales.

If you’d like an extraordinary beer experience, then I recommend you book a 2.5-hour-long beer-tasting experience. It is actually a very nice way for solo travelers to meet a group of people and enjoy the nightlife in Brussels because beer is the perfect icebreaker, and you can continue drinking together after the beer-tasting session ends.

Here are some places where you could possibly find the best beer in Brussels:

  • La Porte Noire,
  • Little Delirium,
  • Brussels Beer Project,
  • Moeder Lambic Fontainas, and
  • Beer Capital Brussels.

Try an array of Belgian beers, each with its unique flavor profile, in a beer hall or a bar to discover the one that you love the most.

5) Brussels has Interesting Landmarks

Palais Royal, the Royal Palace of Brussels Brussels
Palais Royal, the Royal Palace of Brussels Brussels via Unsplash

Brussels is a treasure trove of Art Nouveau architecture, with buildings like Victor Horta’s Hôtel Tassel and Hôtel Solvay showcasing the city’s architectural prowess. Take a walking tour through the neighborhoods of Ixelles and Saint-Gilles to immerse yourself in this artistic movement.

Many historical buildings in Brussels were destroyed when it became the capital city of a new country in the 19th century. This was done to make way for new buildings that were built between 1880 and 1980.

Palais Royal or Royal Palace of Brussels is a stunning building. Marvel at the neoclassical splendor of the Royal Palace, the official residence of the Belgian monarch. While the interior is only open to the public during some summer days, the exterior and surrounding park are worth a visit.

Saint Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral, Place Sainte-Gudule, Brussels, Belgium
Saint Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral, Place Sainte-Gudule, Brussels, Belgium via Unsplash

St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral is a beautiful Gothic cathedral. It is named after the patron saints of Brussels and dates back to the 11th century. The intricate stained glass windows, detailed sculptures, and imposing spires contribute to the cathedral’s architectural significance.

Brussels also has its own arch – the Cinquantenaire Arch. It is a triumphal arch built to commemorate Belgium’s 50th anniversary of independence. Situated in Cinquantenaire Park, the arch is a stunning example of neoclassical architecture and features a central arch flanked by colonnades and sculptures.

European Parliament building is worth a visit too. Brussels serves as the de facto capital of the European Union, hosting the European Parliament. Take a guided tour to gain insights into the workings of this vital institution shaping the future of Europe.

Congress Column in Brussels
Congress Column in Brussels

Another notable landmark in Brussels is the Congress Column or Colonne du Congrès. It is a 47-meter column that was built from 1850 to 1859. It was created to commemorate the 1830 National Congress that created Belgium’s first constitution.

How can I not mention Atomium, a futuristic structure in Brussels? It is an iconic landmark representing an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times.

Atomium in Heysel Park symbolizes Belgium’s post-war industrial prowess and is an unmissable stop on your Brussels itinerary. It offers panoramic views of the city from its spheres and houses intriguing exhibitions about its history.

6) Marvels of Comic Culture

Comic Mural in Brussels
Comic Mural in Brussels via Unsplash

Believe it or not, Brussels is the comic strip capital of the world. Walk around here and you will see many murals and graffiti featuring comic heroes. My favorite comic “Tintin” originated in Belgium’s weekly “Le Petit Vingtième”.

Surprisingly enough, I saw a place right next to my lunch restaurant which was just just dedicated to comic exchange and tradeoffs. I felt like that’s something that the characters of Big Bang Theory would approve of.

Brussels also has a Comics Art Museum where you can dive into the vibrant world of comic books. From Tintin to The Smurfs, this museum celebrates Belgium’s significant contribution to the world of comics.

If you’d like to attend a comic festival, then look out for BD Comic Strip Festival, Made in Asia, and Comic Con Brussels.

7) Place du Jeu de Balle Flea Market

If you’re a fan of antiques and quirky finds, head to the Place du Jeu de Balle, home to a famous flea market. Explore the stalls brimming with vintage treasures, adding a unique touch to your Brussels experience.

Situated in Brussels’ Marolles district, the Place du Jeu de Balle Flea Market is like a vintage treasure hunt waiting to unfold. Dating back to the late 19th century, this market has an irresistible charm that draws both locals and tourists into its labyrinth of stalls and curiosities. Picture cobblestone streets, a mishmash of eclectic goods, and a buzzing atmosphere that’s as lively as Brussels itself.

Here, you can unearth a trove of treasures—antique furniture with stories to tell, quirky collectibles, and funky second-hand threads that could make your wardrobe pop. The market’s semi-casual vibe encourages strolls, letting you strike up conversations with passionate vendors who know the ins and outs of their trade.

What makes the Place du Jeu de Balle Flea Market truly special is its blend of history and contemporary flair. It’s a place where you can snag a piece of the past while savoring the dynamic energy of the present.

Whether you’re a vintage enthusiast or just out for a casual browse, this market promises a delightful experience, turning every visit into a charming escapade through Brussels’ cultural kaleidoscope.

8) Brussels Christmas Market is Magical

Christmas Time in Brussels
Christmas Time in Brussels – Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert

If you are visiting Brussels when the Christmas Markets are on, then you are going to love it. I visited Brussels in December when the Christmas Markets were on. I was pretty impressed with the city at that time because even the trams were Christmas-themed.

Brussels transforms into a winter wonderland during the festive season. The Christmas market at the Grand Place, adorned with lights and decorations, offers a magical atmosphere and the chance to sample seasonal treats.

Christmas Lights on the street in Brussels
Christmas Lights on the street in Brussels

Arrive at Grand-Place and see the Christmas decor. The best time would be to come here right before it gets dark and see how the lights are turned on one by one, and everything sparkles.

I also saw a Christmas tree that was hanging from one of the historical buildings here next to the Brussels City Museum (Maison du Roi).

Grand-Place at Christmas Time, Brussels
Grand-Place at Christmas Time, Brussels

During Christmas time, there is a hidden gem in Brussels. It is a small spot called Christmas Fairies, where you can see a view of the Grand-Place. You can also buy a drink here and meet Santa and his elves.

9) Summer in Brussels is Fun

Parc du Cinquantenaire in Brussels
Parc du Cinquantenaire in Brussels via Unsplash

In the summer months, you can escape the bustling city center and unwind in Parc du Cinquantenaire or Josaphat Parc. Both these parks are scenic, well kept and are perfect for picnics, and leisurely walks.

Parc du Cinquantenaire is nice for exploring the impressive arch that dominates its center. Josaphat Parc has a nice brunch restaurant inside called La Laiterie. You can sit outside in the summer months and drink mimosas with your brunch. I visited it in winter and noticed that it is cozy and they make the perfect winter cocktails with gin, caramelized orange, and Cointreau.

10) Getting Around Brussels is Easy

Tram in Brussels
Tram in Brussels

I visited Brussels with my little girl and husband, and we all found the public transportation super simple. Navigating Brussels is a breeze with its efficient metro system and well-connected train stations.

It is cheaper to purchase a Brussels Card for free entry to numerous museums and unlimited public transportation. But even if you don’t, you can use your European bank card on the machines that are inside the trams or buses.

Brussels Nord train station
Brussels Nord train station

We used all sorts of Public transport in Brussels – trams, buses and trains. Additionally, we traveled a lot using app-based bike or e-scooter rental services like Tier and Bolt. We did walk a lot but I’d say the entire city isn’t as tiny as Amsterdam so you can’t rely on just waking.

If you are landing at Brussels Airport, know that is an international hub. It is easy to reach the city from the Airport with an intercity train. Plan your arrival and departure with ease, setting the stage for a seamless journey.

11) Perfect Base for Exploring Bruges, Ghent, and Antwerp

If you are spending a few days in Brussels, why not make a day trip to the nearby places to see in Belgium? I’m talking about the stunning Bruges, Ghent, and Antwerp.

Brussels to Bruges is a one-hour trip one way on InterCity train, 40 minutes to Antwerp, and 35 minutes to Ghent.

Of course, it is possible to do it yourself but for an easier experience, you may want to consider booking a day trip where you don’t have to make much effort but just go with a group of people on a tour bus.

Drawbacks of Visiting Brussels

Sunset view from Mont des Arts in Brussels, Belgium
Sunset view from Mont des Arts in Brussels, Belgium via Unsplash

While Brussels has its unique charm and attractions, like any destination, it’s important to be aware of potential drawbacks.

If you are looking for a “party” city, then please know that Brussels isn’t for you, you’d be better off in Berlin, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Belgrade, London, Prague, Lisbon, Hamburg, Bucharest, or Budapest. Brussels has bars and clubs but they are a bit subdued.

Brussels is known to be relatively more expensive compared to some other European cities. Accommodations and dining can be pricey, especially in the central areas. But if you go to Paris or Hamburg or Amsterdam or Rome, they aren’t at all cheaper than Belgium. But places like Budapest, Lisbon, or Bucharest will be.

If warm weather is your high priority, then Brussels may not be a fun destination for you because the weather is unpredictable – just like Amsterdam, Paris, London, or Berlin. For warm weather, pick something in Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece, Cyperus or Turkey. I live in Germany and I can now handle bad weather pretty well so it didn’t bother me.

Where to Stay in Brussels?

I had booked an entire apartment during my stay in Brussels. It is called Living Home Brussels and is conveniently located in Schaerbeek. It was right next to the Princess Elisabeth tram station. Note that Schaerbeek isn’t in the center but is just an 8-minute tram ride away.

Living Home Brussels - apartment stay
Living Home Brussels – apartment stay

What I didn’t like about our accommodation at Living Home Brussels was that the toilet was outside the apartment near the staircase. The shower was inside the bedroom but was a completely see-through glass cubicle. Everything else was ok about this accommodation.

This place was otherwise pretty comfortable but I’m just so used to having an en suite toilet and bath, and it came as a total shock to me that I had to step out of the room to go to the toilet.

If you want to stay in the center, then I recommend “Motel One” – it is pretty, more affordable than many others, and very conveniently located.

Due to its amazing location, decent price, and lovely rooms, the rooms at Motel One sell out pretty fast, so if you are heading to Brussels then you might want to book a room here as soon as possible.

Conclusion: Is Brussels for You?

Is Brussels Worth Visiting - Pin it
Is Brussels Worth Visiting – Pin it via Unsplash

If you are looking for a European city that effortlessly blends its historic charm with modern vibrancy then you will enjoy your time in Brussels. Whether you’re captivated by the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Grand Place, indulging in delectable Belgian chocolates and waffles, or navigating the halls of the European Parliament, Brussels has something to offer every traveler.

So, is Brussels worth visiting? Without a doubt, yes. This underrated city stands as a testament to the richness of European destinations, providing a unique blend of history, culture, and culinary delights that will leave a lasting impression on any visitor. Plan your Brussels adventure, explore its hidden gems, and unravel the layers of this enchanting Belgian capital.

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