On a trip throughout Europe last fall, we planned on taking the train from Paris to Amsterdam. While trip planning, I read a few recommendations to stop in Brussels, if only for a few hours to see some of the city’s charms. Not quite knowing what to expect, we decided to book a six hour layover in Brussels, figuring it’d be cool to try and see as much as possible on our trip.
Pro Tip: If you’re coming in via train at Gare de Bruxelles-Midi, stow your luggage at the station for less than €5 so you don’t have to lug it around as you explore.
What we didn’t expect to find in Brussels was such an exciting cultural scene and so much historical beauty. Besides being the center of Belgium, Brussels is also the capital of Europe, home to the European Commission, the European Parliament, the headquarters of NATO, and a few other EU institutions.
When we arrived in Brussels, we hopped on the subway to city center- it’s a quick ~10-15 minute ride. Once downtown, we started wandering the streets and began to truly appreciate the city’s architecture and street art.
Art and history aren’t all Brussels has to offer though. In our short time visiting the city, we also munched on waffles from Maison Dandy, tried local beers, and indulged in fine chocolates and fries (Fritland is a city-center local favorite).
5 Things to Do in Brussels (if you’re short on time)
Visit the Grand Place (Grote Markt)
The Grand Palace is known as one of Europe’s most beautiful squares, and for good reason- it’s stunning. With ornately decorated buildings, you can stand in the middle of the square and be surrounded by architecture from three different eras.
The square used to be the city’s central market until 1959, which you can still see evidence of in neighboring streets since they’re named after food sellers.
We spent a bit of time sitting at an outside table at Le Roy d’Espagne, enjoying a beer and people watching in the late morning sunshine.
Window-shop at Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert
I’m a sucker for vaulted ceilings and fell in love with the beautiful glass ones in this shopping plaza. Housing over 54 luxury shops, this gallery has two major sections — the Galerie du Roi (King’s Gallery) and the Galerie de la Reine (Queen’s Gallery) — with a smaller side gallery called as the Galerie des Princes (Gallery of the Princes). If you have the time, it’s definitely worth a stroll through.
Visit one of the city’s chocolatiers
Chocolate has a long history in Beligum, dating back to the 17th century. Production standards for this treat are high in the country- all chocolate must meet a minimum level of 35% pure cocoa. Additionally, any chocolates labelled as Belgian must be produced within the country. Given these guidelines, it’s no surprise a lot of Belgian chocolate is still handmade.
A few of my favorite chocolate shops:
- Pierre Marcolini: Known for their single-origin Grand Cru chocolate bars, but they have other delicious treats to choose from, including amazing macarons
- Leonidas: One of the world’s biggest chocolate companies, this place was my personal favorite because of the variety offered for a good price
- Godiva: Even though Godiva is now Turkish-owned, we still stopped by their location in the Grand Palace for a chocolate covered strawberry
- Mary Chocolaterie: Nearly a hundred years old, this chocolate shop is rumored to be a favorite of the royal family. We didn’t get a chance to stop here, but it’s on my list to try next time
Kick back with a local beer
Delirium is only minutes from the Grand Palace, and has thousands of beers on tap- ranging from expected brews to ones flavored like strawberry, banana, chili and cherry.
Go on the comic book tour
We didn’t have time for this because we spent a bit too much time drinking beer, but I wish we had. Comics are considered to be an integral part of Belgian culture. The Comic Book Route takes visitors past more than 50 oversized comic strip murals, featuring famous Tintin and Broussaille. Following the route is a good way to explore Brussels, both its historic center and some of its less-frequented neighborhoods.
The one thing everyone told us to see that we skipped? Manneken Pis.
It’s just a statue of a tiny man peeing in a fountain. Sometimes, locals dress it up, but it seemed overrated to us and we couldn’t justify using some of our precious time to go find it.