At first, I didn’t know if I wanted to spend a weekend in Brussels because I didn’t know what to expect from this city. We decided to go and find out and, yes, Brussels deserves a visit.
Where is Brussels?
Brussels is the capital of Belgium and the capital of Europe. Brussels is located more or less in the centre of Belgium and is surrounded by France, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.
What to do in Brussels?
1 La Grand Place
La Grand-Place has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998. The name Grand-Place means big square and it is very big, maybe the biggest in Europe. On top of that, it is beautiful and very impressive. You will find Gothic-style buildings dating from the 17th Century. In one part of the Grand-Place, you will find the Hotel de Ville (Town Hall) and La Maison du Roi (City Museum). You should also visit at night to see the magical lighting.
2 Hotel de Ville (Town Hall)
The Town Hall is part of the Grand-Place and definitely deserves a visit. It is a Gothic-style building and the most extravagant in the square with dozens of arched windows and sculptures of monks. The interior is a mix of Gothic and Renaissance architecture. If you want to visit inside, you need to buy tickets at the Tourist Office which is situated on the Grand-Place.
3 Les Galleries Royale of Saint-Hubert
The Galleries Royales is one of the best places to visit! You can walk inside and imagine you were the King or the Queen. These galleries transport you back in time and you can sense this atmosphere as soon you enter inside. Today, the galleries are home to nice shops, restaurants, elegant cafés and cultural spaces like the theatre or cinema. This was the place where writers, including Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas, and painters came to meet. If you want to avoid the crowds, you need to come here early to take pictures without no-one around.
Delirium is a bar in Brussels where you can find any type of beer. Beer is very popular in Brussels like wine in France. This bar has the Guinness World Record for the number of different beers on the menu. They have more than 2,000 beers from around the world but also beer specialities from Belgium. For example, you can try Trappist beer, or you can even taste some more original flavours like chocolate or banana! If you don’t know which beer to choose, just ask the staff and they will guide you with their recommendations.
5 Les Serres Royales (Royal Greenhouses)
The Serres Royales are the best greenhouses in Brussels. These majestic greenhouses are impressive even if the beautiful flowers aren’t to your taste. If you love photography, this is a good place to visit and you won’t be disappointed. No matter if you are a pro or amateur, you will come back with plenty of great photographs. The greenhouses are only open for one month from May to April.
6 Basilica of the Sacred Heart
The Basilica of the Sacred Heart is the largest church in Brussels and the fifth largest in the world (89 meters tall and 167 meters long). It was constructed in an Art Deco style. The first stone was laid in 1905 but the Basilica was not finished until 1977 owing to the two World Wars. If you are looking for the best view of Brussels, you can climb to the top of the dome. From here, you can access the observation deck which offers a 180-degree view of the city. You can also visit the Basilica itself and your ticket includes entrance to a museum. This Basilica is beautiful, but the downside is the distance from the centre of Brussels. The Basilica is quite far from the city centre and you should check before you decide to visit.
7 Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinee (The Belgian Comic Strip Centre)
Brussels is famous for beer but also for comic strips. Many comics strips were created here, like Tintin. If you like comic strips, I recommend you visit the Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinee (The Belgian Comic Strip Center). This museum is in the heart of Brussels and it is dedicated to the ninth art. They change the exhibitions on a regular basis and this museum is great for all the family.
8 Palais de Justice (the Palace of Justice)
Usually it isn’t good to go inside this building as it is for criminals! However, you must go inside to see it. The Palais de Justice is one of the largest buildings in the world and it is impressive (160 meters by 150 meters covering a surface area of 26,000 square meters). You can’t miss it! The building is one of the highlights of Brussels and you can see it from almost anywhere. If you want the best view of the Palais de Justice, you should go to Poelaert Square where the main entrance of the Palais is located. If you think the Palais de Justice is just a nice big building to look at, you are wrong. Inside is even better! Imagine a room where the ceiling is 100 meters (328 ft) above you. On top of that, it is free to enter and it is one of my favourite places to visit.
9 Place Poelaert
After visiting the Palais de Justice, it’s a good idea to go back to the Place Poelaert to enjoy the sunset. This is the best place to take a nice picture of the sunset in Brussels and you don’t need to climb to the top of a building.
10 Musee Royaux des Beaux Arts (Royal Museum of Fine Arts)
The Musee Royal is perfect for art lover, with a collection of 20.000 artworks, it can keep you busy. You will find inside sculpture, painting and drawings From the 15th to the 21th century. The fin arts are divided into 6 different part.
11 Manneken Pis (Urinating Boy)
The Mannekin Pis is one of the most popular attractions in Brussels. It is a small bronze fountain statue. When I say small, it is small – just 61 cm (24 inches). There are many stories about the origins of the statue. Some people say a little boy saved the town by urinating on explosives. Others say the son of a tourist was missing, and the villagers helped the father to find him and the father offered the Manneken Pis statue to say thank you.
For the locals, the Mannekin Pis isn’t just an attraction, it’s part of Brussels life. The Mannekin Pis has an outfit for every occasion! The statue’s wardrobe is huge from Santa costumes to national costumes from around the world.
Did you know that there is also Jeanneke Pis which is a fountain statue of a girl urinating? You will also find a statue of a urinating dog, but he’s urinating against a bollard on the pavement!
12 Brussels food
The food in Brussels is great and you can’t go wrong, whether you choose a nice waffle for tea or mussels and chips.
- Moules Frites (Mussels and Chips): This is a speciality and you can eat them everywhere in Belgium. The classic way is to eat them is cooked in onions, carrots, celery, white wine (a la mariniere). This is my preferred way. You can also have mussels cooked in tomatoes. My tip is to use the shell of one mussel to eat the others. Basically, the shell of your mussel is your new fork. Locals eat mussels like this, as do I.
- For tea or dessert, you should try a Belgium waffle which are fresh and tasty.
- Les Frites: Chips (fries) are another speciality of Brussels and believe me they are very good. The chips are cooked twice to give them a crispy outside and a soft inside. You can buy them on the street and eat them while you walk.
- Carbonade (beef stew): Carbonade is another speciality from Brussels. It is a beef stew but made with beer and cassonade (brown fine sugar). If you like Boeuf Bourginon, you will love the carbonade. It’s best eaten with mashed potatoes.
13 Maison du Roi (City Museum)
Located on the Grand-Place, this museum is dedicated to the history of Brussels. You will find paintings, sculptures, prints and scale models. The original Manneken Pis statue is here as well. The building itself is a piece of art. All of the museum’s buildings were listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1936.
14 Atomium and Heysel Park
One of the most iconic places in Brussels is the Atomium. The Atomium was created for the Universal World Exhibition in 1958. Today, the Atomium is the most popular tourist attraction in Brussels. The shape of the building is impressive with its big spheres linked by tubes. You can walk inside the tubes to access the spheres. Inside the spheres, there is an exhibition to enjoy. The building is old, but it keeps a modern look outside and inside it is even more futuristic. This is definitely an attraction to visit. In the top sphere, you will enjoy a splendid panorama of Brussels. Added to that, you could enjoy lunch inside the panoramic restaurant which is 95-meters high. Don’t forget to combine your visit with a walk around Heysel Park and Mini Europe.
15 Mini Europe
If you’d like to visit all of Europe in a couple of hours, Mini Europe is the place to go. You will be welcomed by a miniature version of Big Ben and your tour will continue around some of the most majestic places in Europe. There are 350 model replicas of European sights and an interactive multimedia game. Next to Mini Europe is the Atomium, so why not combine the two attractions whilst you are here?
16 Street art
As you may know, Brussels hosts a lot of artists, but did you know that you can enjoy impressive Street Art whilst you walk? There is plenty of Street Art on the walls of buildings around the city, including comic-style paintings. Put your phone in your pocket and open your eyes and you will discover some fabulous examples of Street Art.
The best shopping street in Brussels is the Rue Neuve which is the only pedestrian street in Brussels and the busiest. Chaussee d’Ixelles is the second-best shopping street in Brussels. Some other streets to shop in include the Rue Antoine Dansaert, Avenue Louise and Avenue de la Toison d’Or or Rue du Bailli.
18 European Parliament
Brussels is the capital of Europe and when you visit here, you have the chance visit the European Parliament. It is interesting to see where European laws are voted and the size of the Hemicycle. You can also access the Parlamentarium which houses a museum inside. Here, you can learn about memorable moments in the creation and history of the European Union. Check the official website for availability before you visit. The best part is that it’s free to visit.
19 Old England Building
The Old England building is an interesting building to go and see. This Art Nouveau building with a black façade and iron arched windows is a department store. The building is also home to a music museum as well. The museum has more than 2,000 historic instruments with plenty of places where you can listen to them.
20 Parc du Cinquantenaire
The Parc du Cinquantenaire is a series of vast gardens with monuments and a museum. There is an enormous stone arch which is comprised of three smaller arches. There are plenty of activities in the park all year round like sporting events, concerts and fireworks. The park was built for the 50th Anniversary of the independence of Belgium. It is a great place to have a picnic with friends. There are also two playgrounds for the kids.
21 Brussels with kids
- Chocolate Museum: Every kid loves chocolate, so why not to go to the chocolate museum? Here, you will learn about the history of chocolate. At the end of the tour, you will enjoy a demonstration of how chocolate is made.
- Museum of Natural Sciences: If the weather isn’t very good, you can go to the Museum of Natural Sciences. This museum is perfect for kids. They have an impressive collection of dinosaurs which is the largest in Europe.
- Parks: If the weather is good, I would recommend you relax in a park. You don’t need to go far in Brussels to find a park. The best example is the Parc de Bruxelles which is the largest park in the centre of the city.
- Water Parks: Maybe your kids prefer to play with water? If so, you could head to a water park like Aqualibi which is approximately half an hour from the centre of the city. There are dedicated areas for young children and many other slides for all ages.
Is Brussels Worth Visiting?
Brussels is certainly worth visiting! This destination is perfect for a weekend away. For UK residents it is even better because you can use the Eurostar for direct trains to Brussels. There are also direct trains to Brussels from Paris. This is a good option because you are travelling from city centre to city centre.
For the best train ticket information in Europe, you can read our article about Eurail passes.