I recently planned a quick trip to Brussels to visit my best friend who I hadn’t seen for about three years. I only had about 36 hours to spare and found that it was almost enough. You won’t need to spend more than 2 days to get a feel for the city. I find Brussels to be an excellent stopover if you are travelling between Paris and Amsterdam. Brussels is a cosmopolitan city with lots of character and it is also the home of the European Union. With the help of my best friend I was able to see quite a bit. If you’re planning a visit to Belgium’s capital city Brussels (also referred to as Bruges), be sure to continue reading.
BRUSSELS: MUST SEE
Royal Greenhouses of Laeken
Every spring, the Royal Greenhouses of Laeken are open to the public for only 3 weeks. If you’re travelling in the spring, you MUST add them to your list. The Greenhouses span across 2.5 hectares and are a part of the royal private gardens which are not usually open to the public. The botanical collection looks amazing against the glass and steel structure of the greenhouses. The three weeks that the Greenhouses of Laeken are open to the public take place when the rare and valuable plants are in full bloom and at their best.
The Manneken Pis is an iconic sculpture of a little boy urinating into a fountain that has been around since 1965. Legend has it that he saved the day by peeing on an explosive and prevented a fire. In person, Manneken Pis is a smaller statute than you would expect. When you plan your visit, please be prepared for the crowds of tourists with cameras flashing. Manneken Pis is often dressed up for various occasions, you never know what he will be wearing when you visit. You’ll find lots of great places to grab a waffle and souveniers in this area.
Manneken Pis’ counterpart is Jeanneke Pis who can be found not too far from him. Jeanneke Pis is a sculpture of a little girl urinating into a fountain. I had heard of Manneken Pis but not Jeanneke Pis. To be quite frank, I found the sculpture to be a bit odd but I’m glad Manneken Pis has a friend. If you visit one, you should definitely visit the other!
The Grand-Place originated as a market and now consists of the City Hall, Maison du Roi, and guild houses. It is the central square of Brussels and also a UNESCO world heritage site. You will notice a blend of architectural styles including baroque and gothic. The guilded halls are striking and scream opulence. There is a lot of beauty to take in, plan accordingly. As the Grand-Place is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Brussels, be prepared for large crowds. In the area, you will find nice restaurants but they are a bit on the pricey side. If you take a walk down some of the adjoining alleys, you will find more affordable food options and snacks. In the Grand-Place there is a Starbucks so you will have an opportunity to refuel, charge your devices and connect to wifi.
Insider tip: When planning your visit, take into consideration that biannually, the Grand-Place is decorated with a stunning flower carpet. I want to plan my next visit to Brussels around it so I can admire the botanical tapestry in person.
The Atomium represents a single unit of iron crystal magnified 165 billion times. It consists of nine spheres that represent atoms – you can’t visit six of the nine atoms. the top sphere has a restaurant with a panoramic view. The Atomium’s other spheres consist of exhibit halls and public spaces. I didn’t actually go into the Atomiom for the view as I opted to go for the view that the Basilique has to offer. There are several events and exhibits that take place in the Atomium so be sure to check out their website to find out more about the latest happenings as you plan your visit. As I was short on time in Brussels, I found that stopping outside the Atomium and driving around it was enough to satisfy my curiosity about this landmark.
Basilica of Koekelberg
The view from atop the Basilica is absolutely breathtaking. The external gallery provides a 360 view of Brussels. This Basilica has a very heavy Art Deco influence and is known to be the largest Art Deco building in the world. Wandering through the Basilica and paying respect is an added bonus as the environment is very calming and inviting. Whenever I travel to a new destination, I seek out at least one place where I can see a view of the city. This was one of my favourite stops in Brussels. The external gallery is an excellent setting for a photo op so if you want to do it up for the gram, you will have to check it out.
Mont des Arts
This park is a historical site which is ideal for gathering with friends or taking a little break. Mont des Arts consists of cascading fountains, perfectly manicured gardens as well as a line of trees to the side that resemble the trees outside of Palais Royale in Paris. The park itself is on a slope so if you go up to the top, you’ll be treated to another great view. This area is somewhat of a cultural hub as it is surrounded by museums. I adored it!
WHAT TO EAT & DRINK
There’s a common misconception that fries originated in France. They’re actually a masterpiece of Belgium. The fries here are double fried so they are the right amount of crispy. Fries are sold in little street stalls across the city and they taste best with sauces such as andalouise.
Belgium is known for it’s beer so it would be a crime to leave without trying the beer. If you’re a beer drinker, you will find yourself in beer paradise. If you’re not much of a beer drinker, there are lots of great options such as fruit beers. I usually don’t drink beer so I opted for the fruitier ones and found them quite refreshing. In Brussels my best friend took me to a place called Delerium, it was in the Guinessbook of World Records in for having the most variety of beers in the world at one point. It had a really cool vibe so if you only have time to stop for one beer, Delerium would be the place to go.
I have the biggest sweet tooth so I was happy to see no shortage of waffles. Waffles are as common as a 7-11 in a North American city. The place I went to had an option of all sorts of toppings so I went crazy. There’s something so good about the waffles in Belgium; they’re not the same as the ones we get in North America. I’ll be honest, I had quite a few! They’re great for an afternoon breakfast or a guilty breakfast.