Only got a couple of days to get to know a new city? Our Big Five City Guides can help. We break each destination down into culture, history, dining, shopping and relaxation must-sees and dos. Louise Reynolds checks in from the captivating Belgian and EU capital Brussels...


Brussels has been an economic and cultural centre of Europe since the Middle Ages.

Multicultural and bilingual, the city is blessed with fine museums, fabulous historic architecture and green open spaces.

It’s also a destination that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Comic book heroes are revered alongside Flemish masters. The Bruxellois love their city and you will too. It’s the capital of European cool.

Enjoy this Brussels travel guide.

Brussels travel guide

Brussels travel guide: Grand Place

History

There’s no shortage of top things to do in Brussels that will connect you to the city’s rich history.

The UNESCO World Heritage-listed Grand Place is the historic centre of Brussels and a fine starting point for exploring the city. After being bombarded by French troops in 1695, Grand Place was rebuilt in the amazing mix of gothic and baroque architecture we see today.

One of the best ways to explore Brussels and learn more about its history is on foot with a volunteer Brussels Greeter. Greeters are passionate about their city and will share a wealth of knowledge about its history and culture. They’ve also got plenty of tips for food and shopping highlights off the usual tourist trail.

Brussels is home to the European Parliament. The Parliamentarium (European Parliament Visitors’ Centre) outlines the history of the European Union and the rather complicated workings of its parliament.

Brussels travel guide

Brussels travel guide: European Parliament

Culture

Brussels is billed as the capital of the comic strip and with good reason.

Belgian artists have created many comic icons including Tintin, the Smurfs and Lucky Luke, and the Comic Art Museum is one of the top things to do in Brussels. Galleries are dedicated to the history and development of comic art and feature all the Belgian favourites.

Brussels travel guide

Brussels travel guide: Comic Art Museum. Image: Louise Reynolds

Around Brussels there are more than 40 murals depicting scenes from comic books. A map is available from the tourist office to help you plan a comic-themed walking tour. A visit to the Hergé Museum is a must for fans of Tintin. Located just outside of the capital, it is dedicated to the life’s work of Georges Prosper Remi – better known as Hergé – the reporter-sleuth’s creator.

A statue of a little boy peeing in a fountain may seem an odd choice for a cultural icon, but Manneken-Pis is a Belgian national treasure and one of the capital’s top attractions. On special occasions, Manneken-Pis is dressed in elaborate costumes selected by a special committee. His expansive wardrobe of some 900 costumes is held at the Brussels City Museum in Grand Place.

Brussels travel guide

Manneken-Pis is one of Brussels top attractions. Image: Louise Reynolds

Brussels has a superb range of art and history museums. The collection of fine arts museums under the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium umbrella covers everything from Flemish masters to surrealism. The pleasantly surprising Musical Instruments Museum houses instruments dating back to the 1500s. An audio guide allows visitors to hear what they sound like when played. Several Brussels museums are open for free in the afternoon of the first Wednesday of the month. The Brussels Card provides entrance to over 30 museums during a set time period.

So important is beer in Belgian culture that in 2016 it was registered on the UNESCO Cultural Heritage list. The Museum of Belgian Brewers on Grand Place is dedicated to the history and development of Belgian beer from brews produced by Trappist monks to modern craft beers.

Brussels travel guide

Brussels travel guide: Museum of Belgian Brewers. Image: Bigstock

Dining

Seafood is at the centre of Brussels cuisine.

The national dish of Moules-Frites (mussels with chips) is a standard in bistros across the city. The best seafood restaurants are found around Quai aux Briques (known to locals as the fish markets). Francois is considered one of the city’s finest restaurants. In all weather, Brussels residents stand at outdoor tables devouring takeaway seafood and chips from Mer du Nord.

At La Villette, traditional Belgian dishes can be washed down with around 40 types of beer. If 40 aren’t enough, the Delirium café made the Guinness Book of World Records for the size of its beer menu. It currently boasts over 2,500 different brews!

When it’s time for a sweet treat, tuck into a Belgian waffle. There are two types of waffles. The thick and sticky gaufre, typically served hot with no toppings, or the light and crispy liege waffle. To try for yourself head to the famous Waffle Factory. Right by Manneken-Pis, Le Funambule has been serving waffles since 1867.

Brussels travel guide

Brussels travel guide: Tuck into a waffle.

If your sweet tooth still isn’t satisfied, there are plenty of reminders that you are in the world capital of chocolate. Belgium is home to around 2,000 chocolatiers. The cobbled streets around Grand Place are filled with chocolate shops.

Relaxation

To burn some of the calories you’ve consumed from waffles, chocolate and beer, you’ll need some fresh air and exercise.

Luckily Brussels has plenty of pleasant outdoor spaces. The Cinquantenaire Park offers an extensive network of green open space and gardens, while the tree-lined alleys and ornamental ponds and walking trails of Osseghem Park and Laeken Park are ideal for a stroll. Nearby you’ll find the Atomium – one of the city’s most popular attractions.

Brussels travel guide

Brussels travel guide: Atomium

Thousands of trees line the pathways of Elisabeth Park. Pathways are laid out to form the monogram of King Leopold II who commissioned the park, but you probably won’t notice unless you have a helicopter.

Brussels Park is a great place to take some time out from your sightseeing. The manicured Jardin du Mont des Arts is ideal for enjoying a takeaway lunch from the nearby food truck.

Brussels travel guide

Brussels travel guide: Jardin du Mont des Arts. Image: Bigstock

Shopping

Brussels offers visitors plenty of opportunities for a spot of retail therapy.

The Rue Neuve pedestrian area is the city’s busiest shopping precinct, and is packed with all the usual big brand stores. For something uniquely Brussels, visit the charming Galleries Royales St Hubert. These beautiful glass-roofed galleries opened in the mid-1800s and are visited by six million shoppers each year. Boutiques offer giftware, clothing, accessories and chocolate.

Brussels travel guide

Brussels travel guide: Galleries Royales St Hubert

Neuhaus – the inventor of the praline – has been tempting the tastebuds of chocoholics around the world since 1857. Other Belgian chocolate powerhouses include Godiva and Leonidas. All three have boutiques dotted around the capital.

In keeping with its place as capital of the comic book, there are numerous boutiques and galleries that specialise in comic book art and collectibles. The best-known and most comprehensive is Multi bd. Tintin has an art gallery and the Smurfs have their own boutique.

The once rundown area around Rue Antoine Dansaert gained a new lease on life when young Flemish designers moved in and set up boutiques. It’s now the must-go destination for cutting-edge Belgian fashion. Top independent designers share space at hip Stijl.

Five tours we love

Highlights of Brussels by Bike

Explore beautiful Brussels on two wheels during this 3.5-hour guided bike tour. You’ll visit twelve top points of interest, including the European Parliament, the Grand Place, Petit Sablon square and Cinquantenaire Park. You’ll take a well-earned breather at world-famous Maison Antoine for the chance to enjoy delicious fries and beer (at your own expense).

Brussels Chocolate Walking Tour and Workshop

This 4-hour guided walking tour is the perfect introduction to Brussels – with a sweet twist! Visit several of the city’s top chocolatiers and its key cultural sites. You’ll learn about the history of Brussels and its fascinating chocolate making heritage.

Brussels travel guide

Brussels travel guide: Take a chocolate walking tour.

Brussels Night Walking Tour: Gourmet Belgian Food

Brussels is a gourmet’s delight and this 3-hour evening walking tour will introduce you to the city’s tastiest secrets. Sample Belgian specialties and learn about the country’s unique culinary traditions.

Small-Group Brussels Beer Tasting Tour

Join this Brussels beer-tasting tour and find out exactly why Belgium is world-famous for its brewing! You’ll learn all about country’s beer heritage and taste a number of amazing beers.

Ghent and Bruges Day Trip from Brussels

Looking to explore further afield during your stay in Brussels? The stunning historic urban centres of Ghent and Bruges are within easy reach. Visit top heritage sites including St Bavo’s Cathedral, the ancient port, St Nicholas’ Church and the Castle of the Counts of Flanders with your local guide.

Do you have any tips to add to our Brussels travel guide? We would love to hear from you. Please send us a message.

Additional images: Bigstock

 

About the writer

Louise Reynolds made up her mind at the age of about four that she would one day travel the world – and has so far visited around 30 countries across five continents and the Pacific. A hopeless Francophile, Louise has a particular love for France, its language and pretty much all things French. Her favourite way to explore the world is on foot and her boots have taken her walking on famous trails in Europe, South America and New Zealand. Louise also has a passion for her home state and loves exploring regional Victoria. While travelling she’s usually found with a pile of books and at least one teddy bear in tow. She also practices the little-known sport of extreme knitting in far off places.


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