Brussels, the capital of Belgium and of the European Union, isn’t somewhere that people necessarily have on their European bucket lists. In fact, people tend to underrate Belgium as a whole, but once they’ve been and seen it for themselves, they can’t stop raving about it. Within this small European country, where both French and Flemish are spoken, there are beautiful, smaller cities such as Ghent and Bruges to discover, and the harrowing memorials to the dead of the First World War to visit and reflect upon. If you only have limited time for discovering Belgium, the capital city is a good place to focus your energies. The heart of the capital city has a lot to offer, and you can while away a few happy days admiring the distinctive architecture, visiting museums and sampling the local delicacies.
To help you make the most of your time in Brussels, here are my top tips for things to do whilst spending a few days in the Belgian city.
1. Treat Yourself
One thing that everyone does associate Belgium with is food. None of Belgium’s famous delicacies are particularly healthy, but hey, you’re on holiday. There are countless boutique chocolate shops, some modern and some ancient, all of which offer an incredible selection of traditional Belgian chocolates. Just as famous are Belgian waffles, which you can either enjoy as a desert of with a cup of coffee at elevenses whilst sitting in one of Brussel’s elegant cafes, or grab from a street vendor. As far as savoury food goes, Moule Frites couldn’t be more quintessentially Belgian, and can be found at plenty of traditional restaurants all over the city. For non-meat-eaters, be aware that Belgian fries are cooked in dripping, so you won’t be able to go down that particular avenue of pleasure.
2. Drink in the Local Culture
If told to say the first word that came into their head when they think of Belgium, it would, for many, be ‘beer’, although I’m sure chocolate would also be a fairly popular choice. There are both traditional and alternative breweries all over Brussels and in the surrounding area whose wares can be sampled. For those who aren’t fans of beer, there are some delicious fruit beers known as ‘kriek’, with a taste that bears no resemblance to actual beer, but is typically Belgian so you don’t need to feel left out.
3. Stroll across La Grand Place/ Grote Markt
Probably the highlight of Brussels is the Grand Place, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The square is ringed with opulent buildings, including the Town Hall, and a building known as the Breadhouse which is now home to the interesting Museum of the City of Brussels which offers an insight into the city’s history. Come during the day to appreciate the architecture and back at night to see the square lit up. This part of Brussels is extra special during the festive season, when a huge Christmas tree goes up and the lights are done masterfully.
4. Haggle with the locals
Brussels is dotted with local markets throughout the week, although the numbers explode at the weekends. From local produce to antiques, there are markets selling everything, and if you turn up at the end of the day people are likely to be selling things off at bargain prices. These aren’t tourist traps, as you’ll be mixing in with the locals perusing the goods on offer, and getting a real insight into what daily life is like for residents of the Belgian capital. Enjoy the view
5. Enjoy the view
One thing Brussels isn’t short on is views. For one of the best, take the glass lift from Rue de L’Epee to the Palace of Justice in the Upper Town, from where you can enjoy the panoramic views of the city, with church steeples everywhere you look. To enjoy a different view, visit the rooftop restaurant found in the Musical Instruments Museum, which itself is something to look at, contained with a beautiful art nouveau building.
If you’ve got any time left after all that drinking, eating, sight-seeing and view-contemplating, simply wander the streets of the city centre and check out the countless quirky vintage shops, antique stores, traditional taverns and quirky cafes that you’ll find on every corner. Soak up the atmosphere, and find your own favourite corner of Brussels.