Brussels, the capital of Belgian chocolate and probably one of the most underrated cities in Europe. We think that Brussels gets a lot of bad rep, or even not enough attention at all. With other great cities like Amsterdam and Paris for neighbours, it almost comes as no surprise. Who would stop in ‘boring Belgium’ anyway?
Well, we will tell you why.
Belgium, and Brussels in particular, is far from boring! Besides its unique architecture, delicious chocolate and hundreds of craft brew beers, there is just so much stuff to discover.
How many days do you need to visit Brussels?
We spent a long weekend in Belgium and 2 full days in Brussels. Personally, we thought that 2 days was enough to see all of the main sights, eat well and sample some of the local brews. If you’re really into shopping or you want to spend a lot of time at the Atrium, you could easily do 3 days.
What to do in Brussels? The highlights!
As we’re just not that into museums, we discovered the majority of the city on foot and just soaked up the atmosphere. Here are some of our highlights:
The Grand Place
The real highlight and spectacle for the eyes, this is where you will find the majority of tourists in Brussels. The Grand Place is as majestic as the name suggests and numerous cute streets lead off it.
A must-do in Brussels but beware of what looked like pickpockets in this area. At least they looked like the pickpockets in Paris.
An absolute icon in Brussels, the Manneken-Pis is quite simply a statue of a little boy having a tinkle. We warn you now that the whole thing is tiny and hardly worth the hype, but a must-do in the Belgian capital.
If you’ve not had your fill of weeing monuments, head to Jeanneke-Pis (the little girl) or even Zinneke-Pis (the dog lifting its leg on the pavement).
Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert
You won’t be spending much money at the Royal Galeries if you’re on a shoestring budget, but a bit of window shopping is always free! Follow the crowds and try to take a few photos, avoiding the many bobbing heads.
Notre-Dame du Sablon
It might not be as impressive as Notre-Dame in Paris, but Notre-Dame du Sablon still has a lot going for it! You can go inside for free and have a look around. It’s a good spot to have a little rest or warm up if it’s cold outside!
The Royal Palace and Gardens
We headed straight for the gardens because you can only visit the palace between July and September. Plenty of autumn leaves made the gardens look particularly pretty in the afternoon sun.
Square du Petit Sablon
This was one of our favourites in Brussels! The impressive church is just across the road from the Square du Petit Sablon, where perfectly trimmed hedges and 100% symmetry await you!
Just along the road from the Square du Petit Sablon is the Place Royale. From here you can get a good view of the Palais de Justice and the lower part of Brussels.
Saint Catherine’s Square is a bit off the beaten track, but this is why we liked it so much. Try one of the seafood specialities on the main square or browse some of the little shops that are not as busy as in the centre.
We did go to the atomium but felt that it was a bit of a waste of time. Once there, we were discouraged by the long queues and although it is described at Brussels’ equivalent of the Eiffel Tower, we were not convinced. At least we got to have a waffle before getting the tram back to the centre.
What to eat and drink in Brussels?
The best chocolate in Brussels
Brussels is the chocolate capital and the huge amount of chocolate shops doesn’t let you forget about it! There are many chain chocolate shops that we recognised, as well as a few independent ones. Pierre Marcolini is recognised as one of the best chocolate shops in Brussels, but Leonida’s is more affordable and a firm favourite in France too.
Speculoos biscuits from Maison Dandoy
Maison Dandoy is constantly rammed with shoppers buying their famous cinnamon biscuits. We got a little box to share with colleagues for about 6 euros! The shop is generally considered as a must visit.
There are two types of waffles: the Brussels waffle (often referred to as the Belgian waffle) and the Liege waffle. We are personally bigger fans of the latter which is more yeasty and contains sugar pearls.
You can get a waffle on almost any street corner for a couple of euros, but rumour has it that Maison Dandoy sells the best ones.
Vol au vent
You see vol au vents on so many menus in Belgium and they do it well. Before you start thinking about those mini appetisers your mum made in the 80’s, these are actually a main dish and not necessary in the cup shape we know. If you’re into pastry, chicken and creamy mushroom sauces, this is for you!
Half-way between a chicken stew and a soup. You also see this on almost every menu in Brussels.
Meatballs, but rather than a tomato sauce, they are served in what can only be described as a gravy. We loved them!
Cassonade de bœuf
Go to the right place and this will be one of the best stews you’ve ever tasted! Beer is mixed in with the broth to give a lovely rich taste. Our mouths are watering just thinking about it.
Is Brussels expensive to visit?
Starting at 50 euros a night, we found that accommodation was quite expensive in Brussels, but you shouldn’t forget that we went during a bank holiday weekend that ramped up the prices.
As for eating and drinking, we found that the city was very reasonable. Small beers start at 2 euros and main dishes averaged around 12 euros (based on the restaurants we ate at). Snacking in the street was also fairly reasonable, with waffles selling at around 1.50 euros.
If we’ve managed to give you a taste of the Belgian capital, head to our second article (coming soon!), dedicated to the best places to eat and drink in Brussels!