Brussels is one of the forgotten capitals of Europe to go to on a city trip. You hear London, Paris, Amsterdam and Rome all the time, but people reacted even kind of surprised when I told them I was going to visit Brussels. Most people think of Antwerp, Ghent of Bruges when traveling to Belgium. Brussels feels like to have the position of the underdog. You can probably imagine how they reacted when I told them I was going to visit Brussels again for a second time one month later.
Brussels deserves more attention, because she has to offer things in such a wide range of interests: politics, art, comics, chocolate, history, beer, musical instruments, design, fries, shopping, old timers, et cetera. The buildings are a mixture of old and new with a lot of green city parks spread over the city.
Brussels has a compact city centre where you can find countless restaurants, bars, peeing statues and shops. Here you have to go by foot because of the narrow streets it has. If you go just outside this center you’ll find most of the museums and for example the Atomium. Public transportation can help you to reach these attractions. If you want to use the metro, tram or bus you can just scan your debit card and enter. Very easy!
Let me help you plan your next Brussels city trip. With all these travel tips you can easily enjoy yourself for multiple days in the city. If you only want to see the highlights of Brussels you’ll have enough time with two days, but if you want to explore more of the city or want to take your time while exploring I would recommend to extend your visit to four or five days. Especially if you want to visit a lot of museums you’ll need more time, because a lot of the museums are spread over the city and will take time to visit.
Some of the tips will be touristic, some will be hidden gems. I hope you’ll enjoy your time in this city during your visit just like I did! Here is my list of the best places to see and things to do.
1. Feel the elegance of the Royal Saint-Hubert Galleries
The Royal Saint-Hubert Galleries is an ensemble of three glazed shopping arcades: The Kings’, Queens’ and Princes’ Gallery. The Galleries include luxury brand shops and elegant restaurants and cafes.
The beautiful building had its official opening in 1847 and is absolutely worth visiting when traveling to Brussels.
2. Admire the peeing statues
I’m sure you’ve heard of ‘Manneken Pis’: the little guy that’s peeing in Brussels city centre, not far from the Grand Place. During city events he even gets dressed in matching clothes. This tiny bronze statue is one of the main tourist attractions of Brussels and even though I’m more a fan of the hidden gems of a city I have to admit you have to go see this little guy during your Brussels city trip. But did you know there are more peeing statues in Brussels?
Besides ‘Manneken Pis’ there is also a peeing girl called ‘Jeanneken Pis’. And having a statue of a boy and girl peeing in public a dog statue is the latest addition to must visits in Brussels: a peeing dog with the name ‘Zinneke Pis’!
Brussels seems to have developed a passion for statues who didn’t make it in time to the toilet!
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3. See the golden Grand Place
This central square is surrounded by opulent Baroque guildhalls, the Town Hall and the Brussels City Museum. It is considered one of the world’s most beautiful squares and hosts festive and cultural events during the year, with in August the famous immense flower carpet.
Looking around will show you gold everywhere. All the decorations on the guildhalls is in bright shining gold.
From the Grand Place you can go in different directions into the alleys of the cozy Brussels city centre.
4. Fall in love with the Belgian chocolate
Especially during the winter season you really have to treat yourself with hot chocolates. Belgium knows her chocolate and so do the cafes in the cozy city centre of Brussels. For the people who prefer ‘solid’ chocolate there are chocolate shops to buy your chocolate souvenirs (like if these treats will make it till home… 😉 ) all over the city and most of the time you can also taste some delights in these shops.
5. Find shelter from the rain in one of the museums in Brussels
Just like basically all northwest European destinations, there is a big chance you’ll not have the odds in your favor as for the weather. Luckily Brussels has multiple museums that are worth a visit. Here is a list with my favorites:
The Musical instrument Museum
The Musical instrument Museum got my interest because of the architecture of the building it’s based in on the Mont des Arts (Hill of the arts). Inside are 1200 instruments assembled, enhanced by images, sounds and text panels. You’ll get a tablet with you so you can put in the number of an instrument to hear it play.
The views from the MIM Museum in Brussels are also pretty good.
MIMA Museum. This contemporary art museum schedules two main exhibitions per year. Invader Rubikcubist was the exhibition I saw during my visit in October 2022, with more than a hundred works presented on the four floors of the museum.
The museum is right next to the Meininger Hotel Bruxelles City Center, which is the hotel I stayed in during my first visit to this city. It’s on the East side of Brussels, just outside the city centre.
The former medieval city gate is nowadays a museum about the history of the building, Brussels and its defence. The exhibitions are placed in the medieval chambers.
The battlements offer a panorama of the city, so go to this museum on a sunny day for the best views.
This car museum will show you old-fashioned carriages, iconic race cars, presidential limousines and much more. A must visit for the car enthusiasts. The museum is in the Jubelpark. I will tell you more about this city park later in this blog.
Like I told you in my previous tip: Belgium knows and loves her chocolate. This museum will tell you the journey of chocolate: from the harvesting of the cacao beans in Africa and South America, to the shipments and eventually to the making of the famous Belgian pralines.
At the end of the museum is every half an hour a live demonstration where you’ll learn about the different steps of making a praline and most important: to taste this delicious product.
6. Visit the European Union Parlement
Planning a city trip to Brussels means you’ll not just visit the capital of Belgium, but also the capital of the European Union. A lot of important decisions are being made in Brussels with for example three institutions of the European Union and the NATO headquarters based in the city. Want to learn more about the European Union? Then head to its visitors centre.
It’s also possible to visit the European Parliament. Both the Hemicycle and the Parlamentarium is open for visitors free of charge. The Hemicycle is the place where members of the European Parliament gather during plenary sessions of important debates. The Parlamentarium is the visitors centre where a multimedia guide will explain the path towards European cooperation, how the parliament works and what the European Members are doing.
There are also a lot of interactive things to do in this museum what makes visiting the European Parliament one of the more fun and interactive things to do in Brussels. The buildings of the European Union are outside of the city centre, but easy accessible with public transportation.
7. Stroll through the Jubelpark / Parc du Cinquantenaire
Very close to the European parliament is Jubelpark. This is one of the city parks Brussels has to offer and a nice addition to your visit of the Parlamentarium and Hemisphere. Right in the middle of the park is a beautiful impressive triumphal arch (Arc de Triomphe).
This monument is placed for the independence of Belgium in 1905. You can also find here the Autoworld museum, the Art & History museum, and the Royal Museum of the army and the military history. There are two metro stations close by to visit this area of the city.
8. Enjoy a culinary world tour at Wolf
Brussels finally has her first food market! Seventeen food stands offer you delicious food from all over the world to enjoy by yourself or to share with friends. I absolutely loved the atmosphere in this place. It’s the perfect place to hang out with your newly met hostel friends or any other food lover you know.
You can buy food at any stand and eat it at one of the tables with a local craft beer, wine or cocktail you can get at the bar.
9. Get a view over Brussels in the Atomium
Another well known touristic hotspot in Brussels is the Atomium. The building was designed and built for the Brussels World’s Fair in 1958. The nine spheres are corresponding to the nine atom unit cell making up an iron crystal. Located at the foot of the Atomium is Mini Europe. This is a miniature park with European sights such as the Big Ben or the Eifel Tower, on a scale of 1:25.
Unfortunately it is not easy to go to the Atomium from central Brussels without a car. Public transportation is an option, but it will take you some time. You can enter a few of the spheres for a view over the city, but only do this if the weather is on your side that day. If you only want to see it from the outside there is another option.
Go to ‘Poelaert’ in front of the Palais the Justice. Here you’ll find a panorama spot and if your camera has a good zoom function, you’ll get your picture of this monument without going all the way to it. I have to admit that this was my tactic as well!
10. Walk from Hill of the Arts to ‘Poelaert’
After walking in the narrow streets in the centre you can extend your route to the Hill of the Arts and following ‘Regentschapsstraat’ until you arrive at ‘Poelaert’ in front of the Palace of Justice.
On the Hill of the Arts is also a lovely city park called Warandepark, the spacious kings square and the Royal Palace.
Walking towards ‘Poelaert’ will bring you to a centuries-old Gothic-style church and a garden with big statues. After enjoying the panorama view and taking your Atomium picture, you can take the elevator back to the city centre to avoid a steep walk down the streets.
The elevator will bring you to the neighborhood Marollen, which I will tell you more about later in this blog.
11. Be amazed by the stained glass windows of the St Michiel and St Goedele cathedral
I probably insult the Belgian people by describing this cathedral as a Paris’ Notre Dame lookalike from the outside. But whether you’re a believer or not, you really need to enter this cathedral to see the beautiful stained glass windows it has to offer.
They are such artworks and something you should not miss when visiting Brussels.
12. Taste the Belgian Beer
Just like Belgium knows her chocolate… Belgium also knows her beers. Belgium is well known for the wide range of beers it brews. Not just in Brussels, but in the whole country you can find countless bars and breweries. There are a lot of places where they have their own crafted beer and I barely saw beer menus that are more extensive than the ones in Belgium.
13. Go on a quest for all the murals
Brussels has so many beautiful painted murals and (graffiti) art work on the walls of buildings. Just look around during your walks and you’ll be surprised by the beauty of some!
You can even follow a special route to see all the Belgian cartoon characters that are spread over the city.
14. Find the best (hidden/little) coffee places
I was surprised by the good quality of the coffee I ordered at different places in the city. All over the city are cafes where you can order your morning coffee with a nice pastry on the side. I want to tell you my favorites, but I’m sure I miss a few other good ones in this list, so please leave a comment if you have other recommendations!
My little Cup
Rue de la Croix Fer 53. This is to me the best coffee place in Brussel so far. It really is a little gem on the corner of the street with a small sitting area inside. The staff is so kind and they really know what they’re doing and creating. In the morning you’ll see a lot of business people getting their coffee before going to the office.
Rue Blaes 114. This is the perfect stop in the Marollen neighborhood if you went to the Halle Gate Museum and you’re heading back to the city centre.
Place Jean Rey 8. If you went to the Jubelpark and you’re heading to the European Parliament, you’ll cross this cute place. It literally feels like a living room by the way they furnished the place. The hot chocolate here is also delicious.
Rue de Namur 4
Right next to the kings square is this cute little gem. They serve sweet pastries to get with your coffee.
Rue de Marché aux Poulets 47. Don’t go here for just the coffee, but for the all day brunch! Everything on the menu sounds delicious and from my own experience I can tell you that it also tastes that way! My recommendations: The little house on the berry and the spinach, vanilla and coconut smoothie.
Rue de Rollebeek 30. Unfortunately I did not have the time to visit this place by myself, but I was told by a lot of people that this is also the perfect place for coffee and brunch. Tell me in the comments if you went here and what you’re thinking of it!
15. Visit the Royal Greenhouses of Laeken
These greenhouses are a part of the park that belongs to the Royal Palace of Laeken. The historic complex contains tropical, subtropical and cold greenhouses. This park belongs to the Belgian royal family and therefore it is accessible to public only a few days a year during a two-week period in April-May.
16. Visit the Botanical Garden (Kruidtuin)
If you’re interested in plants but you’re visiting Brussels in another time of the year than the two-week period for the Royal Greenhouses of Laeken, you can also go to the Botanical Garden called ‘Kruidtuin’. This a big city park that was built in 1826. The building of the park is under construction (during my visits in 2022), but you may still enter the park for free.
Close to this botanical garden is Hotel Villa Royale located which is the hotel where I stayed during my second city trip. It’s located on the other side of the city compared to the Meininger Hotel Brussels City Center and is close to Brussels-North train station. From here you can not only take the train but also the Flixbus to your next destination.
17. Find secondhand gems in the Marollen
This lively area of Brussels has multiple antique and vintage shops, small art galleries and a daily jumble sale. The elevator next to the Palace of Justice will bring you to this neighborhood, but you can also walk here if you’re heading back to the city centre after visiting Halle Gate.
18. Combine Brussels with other Belgian cities
I hope you’ll get the point that I’m a big fan of Brussels and therefore it’s a destination worth the visit. For me as a Dutchie it is easy to go to Brussels as a short city trip, but if you’re travelling overseas or if you are road tripping it is also a good idea to combine a visit to Brussels with other Belgian cities such as Antwerp, Ghent and Bruges. If you want to know more about these cities you can read the blogs of other Traveltomtom team member Ashley.
How to get to Brussels
Brussels is accessible by car, but it can be experienced as stressful due to the hustle and the bustle of the city traffic and the sirens of the police and ambulances. Therefore, I would recommend to enter the city with public transportation such as the train or (Flix)bus with daily connections to other cities in Belgium, Netherlands and France.
Brussels also has her own airport called Zaventem or ‘Brussels Airport’. From here it’s about 30 minutes by car, 17 minutes by train or 55 minutes by bus to central Brussels. But check prior to your flight which airport you’ll need to go to, because Brussels also has the Charleroi Airport, which is a smaller one but a little further away from the city centre.
I hope all the above tips are helpful for your city trip to Brussels. If you have any questions or other recommendations, please leave us a comment below.
This blog is written by Traveltomtom team member Margot who traveled to Brussels two times in one month to find you the best places to see, things to do, hidden gems and exclusive travel tips for Brussels.
Enjoy your trip to Brussels!